Juan David Grisales


From Humboldt to Caldas: On Environmental Liberations by Means of Tropical Altitudinalization

Advised by Pablo Perez-Ramos

When we stand on earth and think of the world in latitudinal terms, we are minimal, yet this is the world we attempt to conquer and pretend to comprehend. When we stand at low altitudes in the tropics, in front of tropical glaciers, we can see the world—through altitude—without the need to go out in space to synthesize an image of this planet.

This thesis proposes a deviation from reading the world in latitudinal terms, to see beyond north vis-à-vis south dichotomies, and to transcend binary norms that have largely defined and misinterpreted tropical environments. While many of these territories have achieved political independence, the colonial structures of power and imperial views remain, and they continue to govern us.

The work is developed through two interconnected components. First, a group of essays that examine and conceptualize a series of “Environmental Liberations” in the tropical Andes, which include liberations of ecologies, grounds, and publics, but most importantly, liberations of the mind, social constructions, and imposed norms that are constantly manifested in the built and nonbuilt environment.

Second, these ideas are also narrated and abstractly projected through time and space to generate a “Tropical Journey,” as a timeline to disseminate history and a device to assess tropical diversity. This historical trip and landscape narration is an invitation to read the earth’s short elevation, which only extends a few kilometers, and explores how altitude becomes “a Tropical Liberation”—a disassociation from misperceptions of “tropical” as a homogeneous hot and humid climatic condition.

Map of the tropical latitudes of Earth.
Altitudinal Diversity — Temperate, Cold, and Freezing Landscapes in the Tropics

Aerial photograph of a green hilly landscape of grassy mounds, organized planted areas, and trees.
Guadua Angustifolia (Guadua Bamboo) — An Andean bamboo from lower altitudes, where humidity allows it to grow thick. It is known as the strongest bamboo in the world for architectonic and structural purposes.

Aerial photograph of a section of river surrounded by green trees, and a single tree covered with white foliage.
Cecropia Peltata (Silver Yarumo) — A Neotropical species which turns silver to project light to itself when above 1,600 meters above the sea.

Color photo of steep hillsides with Quindio wax palm trees and other plant cover within a valley enveloped by clouds.
Ceroxylon Quindiuense (Andean Quindian Wax Palm) — The tallest palm tree in the world, which reaches up to 70 meters in height to penetrate the clouds in search of sunlight.

Diagram showing a landscape stretching back into mountains, with various geological features labeled.
Tropical Diversity — Biogeographical conditions in the Tropical Andes – going from intense heat and dense vegetation at low altitudes to perpetual snow tropical glaciers at altitudes of more than 4,800 meters above the sea.