The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture

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fall 2008

ARC 560R:
Ghost Towns and By-Product Landscapes

Jason Sowell


Nearly 1,000 ghost towns dot the Texas landscape, each a testament to shifts in economic activity, transportation infrastructure, or climatic systems. Their obsolescence provides visible confirmation of the American landscape’s dynamic nature, and marks the abandonment characteristic of working landscapes defined by industrial decline, resource extraction, or agricultural exhaustion.

To date, the city of Bridgeport has resisted the above fate through the sequential exploitation of one resource after another. Yet, as an agrarian economy [cattle and cotton] transitioned to a mineral based economy [coal, aggregate, natural gas], the patterns of extraction have imparted a number of scars upon the landscape, and increasingly stressed local and regional infrastructure utilized in the transportation of raw materials. In order to ensure that future economic development relies less and less on finite resource extraction, the City’s Economic Development Corporation has initiated a number of projects and studies intended to direct the City’s and the County’s future land use. The policies anticipate the reclamation of 5,000 acres of aggregate quarries, and seek to establish a recreation based economy that takes advantage of the LBJ Grasslands’ existing 27,000 acres, Lake Bridgeport, the Trinity River’s west branch, and the development of new recreation focused landscapes and support facilities.


The studio’s investigations will engage a series of sites at the landscape, urban, and architectural scales, with an emphasis placed on identifying discrete locations within the city of Bridgeport and the 900 square miles of Wise County. In particular, the aggregate pits, the LBJ Grasslands, and potential conservation easements are to be the subjects for much of the reclamation work. Specific sites within these areas will be further informed from programmatic speculation and synthetic mappings that address cultural, ecological, and economic systems.


The studio will augment exiting regional outdoor recreation trends through the development of eco-tourism based landscapes, infrastructure, and support buildings. Depending on each student’s respective discipline and interests, the potential projects include the following typologies:

  1. a park that supports rock climbing, mountain biking, off road vehicles, scuba diving, paintball, hunting, hiking, horseback riding, and field based sports;
  2. an agricultural research station;
  3. a boutique hotel that caters to outdoor enthusiasts;
  4. a truck stop and hostel.


Intradisciplinary in nature, the studio will examine a range of scales and the longterm, phased reclamation of wasted lands. Functional analysis and programmatic speculation will structure each project's narrative framework, such that precise economic, ecological, engineering, and cultural criteria inform the development of appropriate landscape and architectural interventions.