Only the wonkiest eyes light up when resource allocation is discussed in facts and figures, so architect Quilian Riano decided to have some fun in the Sun Belt with a game that reflects on two of the region’s most pressing issues.

Riano, founding principal of Brooklyn-based DSGN AGNC, created SANDBOXING, a pavilion that turns land and water scarcity into a puzzle and an urgent conversation.

(Courtesy Quilian Riano/Photo by David Leeson)

(Courtesy Quilian Riano/Photo by David Leeson)

SANDBOXING asks players to divide the finite resources of land and water between themselves equitably—or not.

Participants stake out a zone in the sandbox (a stand-in for developable land) and begin expanding their territory with the help of yellow wood dividers stacked outside the pavilion. When a player’s building spree brushes up against another player’s domain, the two are obligated to negotiate boundaries or fight shrewdly to get more land—a mirror of the real-time development battles that shape the Sun Belt. While these negotiations are underway, a working dew-catcher canopy collects moisture from the air, converting droplets to plentiful water for sandcastles.

“The spatial regeneration in the sandbox shows how you can discuss larger issues through a game,” Riano said. There are no winners, he explained, only open-ended discussions on how to share a finite resource. The pavilion was installed in November and fabricated locally by Ash studios.

The pavilion debuted at Jubilee Park and Community Center in Old East Dallas, a predominantly black and Latino neighborhood, to coincide with New Cities Future Ruins‘ (NCFR) November conference. NCFR is a four-year initiative that invites designers, artists, and others to engage with the “extreme urbanism” of the western Sun Belt. The arid region—anchored by sprawling metropolises of Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, and San Diego–Tijuana—is under ecological duress as suburban-style development devours desert ecosystems unable to support a growing population.

Although the conference has wrapped, Riano said the community wanted to keep the installation close by, so Ash studios has agreed host it in a lot adjacent to its office, free and open to the public.

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