Mel Ford

My dissertation research is focused on architectural interventions in the ravines (los barrancos) that compose nearly half of Guatemala City’s terrain. Interested in the relationship between form, environment, and design, I study moments of encounter between ravine residents, urban planners, and architects to understand how they negotiate designs for a more socially and environmentally conscious urban future. Noting how “good design” is not just a concept solely reserved for the elite professional, my research also asks how residents of the ravines, too, are contributors that counter, implement, or negotiate ravine plans as the movement of urban ecological design sweeps and renovates Guatemala City. At a broader scale, I am interested in the politics and technologies of configuring terrain. I ask how local designers situate their expertise according to the history and functions of geometry, cartography, and colonialism throughout Latin America. My research aims to strengthen insight into how Guatemala City attempts to reckon and ameliorate social and environmental issues that result from the instability, marginality, and violence of the 20th century.

At Rice University, I have been a co-coordinator of the Ethnography Studio under Dr. Andrea Ballestero, as well as a predoctoral fellow at the Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences (CENHS) at Rice University. Before attending Rice, I received a B.S. in Anthropology and a minor in Gender and Sexuality Studies from the University of California, Riverside.

Research Areas

architecture & urban design; environments & ecologies; cultures of expertise; landscapes & cartography; development & modernity; Guatemala


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