Capital Petrolera

Alejandra Espinosa

Originally published in Issue No2 of DESIRED LANDSCAPES.
Drawings by Dimitris Zampopulos.

There is always a line or, better to say, infinite lines between the spaces we aspire to inhabit and those existing within the actual realm of possibility. Sour Lake, or Lago Agrio in Spanish, is an Ecuadorian city that challenges western and modern conceptions of an ideal city. Emerging in the center of the Amazonian region, Sour Lake’s aesthetics and its architecture perspire oil: buildings, streets, stores and all the brick and mortar composing its urban dynamic are influenced by oil resources exploitation. Altogether, as the city grew, it came to be defined by an “unfinished” aesthetic that puts into discussion the relationship between urban imaginaries and their realization.

Lago Agrio was originally founded as a base camp of the American oil company Texaco Inc. (now Chevron), which began exploring the Amazon region during the 1960s. Echoing the excitement and burning ambition of the Spanish colonizers when gold was discovered in South American lands, the discovery of oil was linked for many with the promise of a wealthy future. Settlers (known as colonos) began to arrive from different parts of the country, looking for job opportunities and a new life. Even the name “Lago Agrio” comes from one of the first oil wells drilled by Texaco,[1] and nowadays the city is known as capital petrolera (capital of petroleum).[2]

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[1] Gobierno Autónomo Descentralizado de Lago Agrio (2015), Actualización del Plan de Desarrollo y Ordenamiento Territorial del Cantón Lago Agrio. Alcaldía 2014–2019 (Ecuador: Municipality of Lago Agrio 2015).
[2] In Spanish, “Petrolera” means “oil company,” “oil-rich,” “related to petroleum,” or anything based on petroleum. There is no direct equivalent for this word in English.
[3] Gobierno Autónomo Descentralizado de Lago Agrio, (2015). Actualización del Plan de Desarrollo y Ordenamiento Territorial del Cantón Lago Agrio. Alcaldía 2014–2019 (Ecuador: Municipality of Lago Agrio, 2015).
[4] Ingrid Gjermstad, “On the Unfinished in Architecture: A Reflection on Temporality, Superposition and the Indetermined Life of a Building,” Master thesis, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, 12 Jan. 2015, pref.
[5] Ibid., p. 33.
[6] Ingrid Gjermstad, “On the Unfinished in Architecture: A Reflection on Temporality, Superposition and the Indetermined Life of a Building,” Master thesis, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, 12 Jan. 2015, p. 35.