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Environmental Architecture (MA)

Isabel Palacios-Macedo Aguilar

Isabel Palacios-Macedo Aguilar is a Mexican architect and writer, based in London. She graduated with a five year BArch from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México with Diploma al Mérito.

Convinced that architecture is a language that conveys ideas in the same way that words do, she devotes much of her time to searching for the points of intersection between both mediums. Through her texts and drawings, she explores the constant power exercised by human beings over their environment. She uses her work to demonstrate how ecosystems eventually find ways to reclaim their territory.

Two men methodically harvesting cork from the oak, on a hillside in Alentejo, Portugal.

o som da terra

Working in collaboration with Will Gibbs, this research project is an investigation into the contemporary sound of labour in Alentejo, Portugal. It is articulated predominantly through sound and its texture in order to create speculative places of conversation surrounding labour relations and how paying attention to sound can offer an alternative insight to these conditions. It is materialised through a live broadcast between Hyde Park and the Royal College of Art, a series of collaborative radio broadcasts with partners in Alentejo and online archive of sound.

The assembly of these sounds positions the work, through its conceptualisation of the machinic, as a collective memory, which can be used as evidence of environmental ruptures constituting the larger metabolic rifts that exist throughout space and time in Alentejo. The research focuses on the relation between changing labour conditions and between historic and contemporary realities impacted by the intensification of industrial agriculture in the region. 

Three lines of inquiry of greater specificity have been outlined orbiting the concept of Polyphony: Signal, Frequency and Interference. All these three form a series of broadcasts and help to unpack the labour-relations on and beyond the ‘field’ as well as demonstrating them as being intimately environmental concerns. What is more, labour’s manifestation through the materiality and physicality of sound allows for an insight into the role of translation and communication of realities and resistances to them, as well as a broader understanding of labour in the Alentejan context that extends to the many non-human realities that exist in their own right.


Claims translated and emitted as electromagnetic signals. Thrown undirected into the ether as bandwidths are tuned into the corresponding frequency. Emissions are intercepted, translated and listened to as sound.

A continuous dialogue with environmental conditions. Frequencies reacting to solar cycles, atmospheric particles, topographies, infrastructures, territories and stories.

A tua voz – A series of flyers used for a open call of audio recordings to be used in the project's radio broadcast and archive
Launch Project
A TUA VOZ - Work in progress material and final flyers for an open call to submit sound to o som da terra radio. May 2023, A5 / misc. Pencil on paper, 2023


The sound of workers themselves is central to the project. The flyers are written in 6 different languages, reflective of Alentejo's contemporary population with a focus on migrant communities: Portuguese, French, Arabic, English, Spanish and Hindi. The open call is intentionally broad in what it refers to as the sound of labour. It expands its definition beyond the extent of the field and into what can be deemed socially necessary. The flyers have been distributed in collaboration with partners in Alentejo, who are engaged with ongoing labour-relations in the region.

osomdaterraradio online archive interface. Screen recording of website. June 2023, 00'31"

Collective Memory

The online archive acts as a collective memory of sound and broadcasts. Not only does it store these radio-spaces, places in which to refer back, but also becomes an environment in which to directly engage with the unrevised sounds of labour themselves whilst continuously being revised itself.

The field recordings, testimonies and audio files submitted to o som da terra radio open call are categorised according to their speed of sound at the time of recording. This categorisation is inherently environmental in its engagement with ongoing and ever-changing conditions such as geography, temperature and weather events. Just as with sound, so too is the categorisation reflective of the project’s framework: radio. Climatic events, solar conditions and conditions within the upper reaches of the atmosphere all affect levels of interference and thereby encourage one to be aware of the many translations and material changes sound undergoes from emission to reception. 


Live signals. Drawing on a methodology developed around the idea of the 'machinic image', Broadcast 1: sonic textures is a work-in-progress broadcast of the many sounds of labour gathered under the project’s umbrella, arranged and machined into an emission for the airwaves. It sets out the project’s overarching ideas, aims and research lines as well as intent for further progression most notably a further dissection of what is meant by labour. How does one engage with this through sound and how might that in turn allow us to redraw certain boundaries and distinctions of who and what is engaged in, exploited by and exploiting labour-conditions in mono-crop agriculture seen through the specific conditions in Alentejo.

The low-powered broadcast emitted from Hyde Park within range of the RCA Darwin building is thought to be extended and shared with a local radio in Beja, Alentejo.

Broadcast 1: 'sonic textures' – Early stage radio work-in-progress broadcast performance setting out the project’s overarching ideas, aims and research lines. June 2023, 9'43"
Sonographic comparison of 8 field recordings from Alentejo, Portugal
Comparative Sonographs – Sonographic comparison of 8 field recordings from Alentejo, Portugal. May 2023, x8 1'00" excerpts

Graphic Sound / Field Recordings

Conceptualised through the polyphonic arrangements seen in Cante Alentejano, a form of music originating from Alentejo, polyphony has become a lens through which the project explores the sound of labour. It engages with a diversity of types of sounds such as testimony, field recordings and the sounds of non-human actors in its attempt to critique the homogenous landscapes of irrigated mono-crop plantations that conversely result in forms of monophonic arrangement.

Below is as an ongoing collaborative playlist 'Primeira polifonia' composed of field recordings and material sent by people in Alentejo, portraying their work and environment. Further below are the two recordings of contemporary labour practices. One defiantly manual and complex, the other mechanised and monotone.

Playlist 'primeira polifonia'. Started in May 2023
Cork Harvest – Field recording of cork harvest near to Alqueva, Alentejo. May 2023, 5'15"
Pesticide spraying in Super-Intensive Olive Plantation – Field recording of pesticide spraying near to Pisões, Alentejo. October 2022, 00'51"
Machinic Abundance – Performative lecture, projection, overhead projection. March 2023, 20'58"

Research Methodology

Machinic Abundance is a ‘performative lecture’ exploring the machinic as an experimental methodology of using various media such as film, audio, drawing and writing to investigate environmental ruptures. 

Through film, writing and drawing the work explores the use of language and testimony to generate a dialogue between different voices, both human and non-human, as well as personal interpretations of them in order to assemble a complex of narratives. With this machinic image the research is positioned as collective evidence of the metabolic rifts that exist throughout space and time in Alentejo.

The work focuses on the changing water currents of the region that affect and are affected by the soil, social makeup and climate. It delves into the mechanics of production, agricultural labour-relations, plant breeding and ecosystem services and in so doing the distinctions between, environments, resources and infrastructures.

'Uncooperative Aquifer', animation, pencil on paper
'Uncooperative Aquifer', animation, pencil on paper, March 2023
'Underground poems'
'Underground voices', January 2023

Beca Arquitecto Marcelo Zambrano