Congratulations to all the winners! And a massive thank-you to all who contributed their pragmatic and speculative design proposals to address California's drought.

We were delighted and impressed by the sheer volume and quality of the Dry Futures proposals. The winners are now highlighted in more depth on Archinect. Simply click on the winners' images below to see the full entry.


“…with National Guard troops deployed to protect dwindling water reserves…”

“As death tolls rise in the interior region of the state, the Governor has instituted martial law in several more count– ,” the voice of the news announcer breaks in and out, glitching as the digital glass wall is flooded with pop-ups. “I’m so lonely,” croons a simu-girl, her lithe form gyrating on badly-rendered sheets. “…with National Guard troops deployed to protect dwindling water reserves…” “…I see you’re close by, do you want to play?”

An error message, a flash of black: the gradual emptying of all pixels like sand falling through the slit of an hourglass. The images disappear as the digi-walls shut down. The blood-red light of the waning day floods the room like a spotlight in an interrogation chamber, accusing the constellations of dust and dried skin of conspiring with the heat. Now that car exhaust has been all but eliminated, the sunsets are not as spectacular as they once were.

Dry Futures
Dry Futures

A dusty glass rattles on the lucite table and the floorboards shudder. Another earthquake? Beyond the now-transparent walls, you see the prone body of the broken city folding into the hip of the mountains. A shimmer of variegated light hovers somewhere above the intersection of Santa Monica and Highland: just another water-line break. The clattering of the washing machine depleted of liquid confirms the situation. Even the new efficient models require some water.

You should’ve known better than to put the load in now, so close to the end of the month. A waste of water points – .37 to be exact. The red LED numbers on the copper plate mounted near the door and on the tablet resting in your lap don’t do justice to the loss.

You wait for it.

There, in the distance: a wail steadily increasing in pitch and volume until it seemingly materializes in the blue-red lights that pass into the room, that glide across your face, that refract as they pass through the glass walls into millions of little bean-like shapes that trace figures on the furniture. The lights disappear; the siren stretches out before stabilizing. You try to harness the sound to locate the disaster in relation to your own body. Yes, the line must have broken somewhere in Hollywood.

If the water was coming from the west – and it almost certainly was – then it will be undrinkable, contaminated with fecal matter. Many could get sick.

You can picture the dusty crowds standing beneath the spray, holding up gallon buckets to capture the excess of infrastructural failure. If the water was coming from the west – and it almost certainly was – then it will be undrinkable, contaminated with fecal matter. Many could get sick. Soon, the police will arrive, batons raised. You think about turning on your vis-helmet and watching the feed from their body cams, where it seems like it’s your own arm sending the hard plastic crashing down on the parched flesh. You feel sick.

It’s almost time to go.

You order a cab on your tablet. Two minutes later, it’s arrived and you get up from the couch and lock the door with your fingerprint. Inside the car, the curved glass dome runs an ad for the newest reality show: a group of young people partying inside a mid-century house set in a lush garden of palms and lawn. Must be in Brentwood. You pay for the images to disappear – a hefty cost of .56 points – but it feels worth it at the moment. The glass goes clear and you can see the empty homes roll by, the dried grass and the cracked sidewalks. At the intersection of Sunset and La Brea, a stray dog is illuminated by the blue glow of an LED street light, lapping up the last droplets from a broken water sack. You can practically see the liquid passing behind protruding ribs, moving through dried-out organs nearly visible beneath its thin skin.

Dry Futures
Dry Futures

As the car moves silently down the road, autonomously avoiding potholes and piles of rubble, the occasional patch of green weeds in the fissures of the asphalt signals that you’re near the border wall. It had been almost five years since they first barricaded the underpass with corrugated tin sheets. You hold up your student ID to the scanner and the gate inches open. The car moves along noiselessly, passing under the arcade of arching trees and Kudzu vines. The windows fog over from the rapid increase in humidity.

You get out of the car and walk up the steps from the sidewalk into the campus. Still beholden in some way to a political inheritance from the last century, the Academy doesn’t water its gardens even though it’s in the Zone. Barren patches of dirt are all that remain of the old quad. You walk up the balustrade of Building 3, beneath the Art Deco entrance way and into the air-conditioned interior. You shiver, but with pleasure.

You imagine what school used to be like, before the imposition of necessity, when architectural form was still tethered in some way to expression.

The teacher speaks solemnly. You imagine what school used to be like, before the imposition of necessity, when architectural form was still tethered in some way to expression.

Now that the hot of December is coming to a close, millions will attempt the dangerous passage across the Nevada deserts on foot, abandoned by society and with paltry resources. The cold nights of the single winter month means many will freeze. Meanwhile, those that have remained in the city – apart from those in Zone 1 – face broken infrastructure and profound resource scarcity. There is no shortage of empty homes, let alone materials like concrete and timber. But without water, the dry powder is useless and the wood becomes kindling. Still, with so many looking for work, and the need so great, your teacher’s imperative rings with urgency. What to do?


California – and much of the Western United States – is currently in the midst of a severe and unprecedented water crisis. After four consecutive years of exceptional drought, Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order earlier this year intended to limit water usage and preserve the few resources that remain. But many worry that the measures amount to “too little, too late.” And the stakes couldn’t be higher: not only is California the most populous state in the country, it is by far the largest agricultural producer. Built on centuries of questionable riparian practices and infrastructure, this agro-industrial behemoth not only consumes the majority of the state’s dwindling water reserves, but amounts to a significant chunk of the national and international economy.

Water may very well end up being the determining issue of the next century.

According to many experts, the drought in California correlates to both unsustainable human practices and the larger product of unsustainable human activity: climate change. It is simply irresponsible to imagine that a solution will magically appear off the coasts or in the clouds or anywhere else. California is on the verge of collapse. And for millions around the world – from Syria to Brazil – drought is already a determining factor in everyday life, creating conflict and reorganizing social relations.

While the practice of architecture may have not traditionally taken the primary role in determining how water is used, today, we no longer have a choice. Water is not only a fundamental precondition for dwelling, but the manner in which we choose to build (or not) is pivotal to the future viability of entire regions of the world. Water may very well end up being the determining issue of the next century. Yet, increasingly, it feels that the discourse of the “smart city” has overtaken all considerations of the future of architecture. How will ecological crises and technological advancement cohabitate the same future?

Archinect is launching a new competition oriented around the unfolding drought crisis in California. We believe architects possess a remarkable set of tools and skills that uniquely establish the capacity to adapt to a problem that is both multifaceted and enormous. We are looking for the imaginative, the pragmatic, the idealist, and the dystopian. The competition will comprise two categories:

A. Speculative

ie. proposals that involve technologies that are not yet available and/or imagine alternative realities or futures

B. Pragmatic

ie. proposals that exist within the realm of possibility and could be actually implemented within current economic and technological conditions

Let’s start building a different future.


Archinect has enlisted a team of professionals suited to evaluate the complex and multi-valent issues inherent to the drought, including a senior water scientist at JPL, architects specializing in California’s unique biome, a vanguard environmental studio, and other practitioners in and around the field of architecture.

Allison Arieff

Allison Arieff is the Editorial Director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR and is a contributing columnist to the New York Times. She writes about cities, design and architecture for numerous other publications including California Sunday, Dialogue and the MIT Technology Review. She is former Senior Content Lead at the global design and Innovation firm, IDEO. She was editor in chief of Dwell from 2002-2006 ( and was the magazine's founding senior editor). Dwell won the National Magazine Award for General Excellence under her tenure. She is author of the books Prefab and Trailer Travel: A Visual History of Mobile America, and editor of numerous books including Airstream: The History of the Land Yacht and Hatch Show Print: The History of a Great American Poster Shop. She lectures frequently on cities, design and architecture, most recently at the New York Times' Cities for the Future conference as well as at institutions including Stanford University, the Architectural League of New York, the LA County Museum of Art, and the Hearst Lectures at Cal Poly.

Charles Anderson

Charles Anderson, FASLA, is the President/Principal of Los Angeles, California based WERK, a continuation of his former practice Charles Anderson Landscape Architecture in Seattle. His work is founded upon the goal of creating places for civic expression that reveal ecological and social phenomena, processes, and relationships. There are two distinct threads that he explores as part of every project and which also define the trajectory of the larger body of work. The first is a genuine love of nature and the second is a passion for the arts -- particularly land art and sculpture. This love of wild landscapes and contemporary art informs his work philosophically and provides a lens through which his projects are understood.

He graduated in 1985 with a Master of Landscape Architecture from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. In practice for more than thirty years, his experience includes an extensive record of large and complex projects completed with internationally recognized architecture firms and artists. His landmark civic projects include Metropolitan Park, a 500 acre park in Athens, Greece; the Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park; the visitor centers at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument; and the International Peace Garden at the border of Manitoba and North Dakota.

Colleen Tuite and Ian Quate

GRNASFCK is a nomadic landscape architecture studio investigating urbanism and ecology in the context of deep geologic time. Their projects and writing been shown at StoreFrontLab in San Francisco and at MoMA PS1 in New York (in collaboration with Andres Jaque Architects), and published in Manifest: A Journal of American Architecture and Urbanism, Lunch, and Archinect. The studio is the collaborative project of Ian Quate and Colleen Tuite, based in New York City.

Geoff Manaugh

Geoff Manaugh has written about design, landscape, and technology for The New Yorker, Popular Science, New Scientist, The Atlantic, and many other publications, including multiple books, exhibition catalogs, and artist monographs. He is also the author of BLDGBLOG, a long- running website dedicated to exploring architectural ideas across various scales and genres.

Manaugh’s ongoing collaborations with architects Smout Allen have appeared in the 2012 Venice Biennale of Architecture and the forthcoming Chicago Architecture Biennial; and he is currently working with Smout Allen on a new project, called L.A. T.B.D., which will debut in the University of Southern California’s Doheny Memorial Library in October 2015.

Hadley and Peter Arnold

Peter Arnold, a native Coloradan, studied environmental design and physics at CU Boulder and earned his M.Arch. at SCI-Arc. He has taught design and geospatial research studios at Woodbury and UCLA, and has photographed the infrastructural landscapes of the west extensively.

Hadley Arnold was trained in art history at Harvard, served as Associate Editor at the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities, received her M.Arch. from SCI-Arc, and has taught urban history, theory, and design studios at SCI-Arc, UCLA, and Woodbury.

With support from the Graham, LEF, Bogliasco, and Frankel Foundations, the Metabolic Studio, the World Water Forum, Woodbury University, and major grants from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and the US Environmental Protection Agency, the Arnolds have focussed their teaching, research, and practice on drylands design since 1998.

Jay Famiglietti

Jay Famiglietti is a hydrologist, a professor of Earth System Science and of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Irvine, and the Senior Water Scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

He was appointed by California Governor Jerry Brown to the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board, and he was the Founding Director of the UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling (UCCHM) at UC Irvine. He is currently working on his first book on the disappearance of groundwater resources the world over.

Peter Zellner

Peter Zellner holds a Master in Architecture from Harvard University Graduate School of Design and Bachelor of Architecture with First Class Honors from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia.

In addition to his award-winning work, Peter Zellner is a long time faculty member at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) where he led and teaches in the school’s Future Initiatives Urban Design program. Peter is a former Design Principal at the global design and engineering firm, AECOM.

Founded by principals Peter Zellner and Paul Naecker, ZNc is a nimble, LEED-accredited architecture firm. Peter and Paul have led collaborative teams realizing several notable public museums and private art galleries, non-profit organization and community spaces, residences, university facilities and creative work places in Los Angeles, San Francisco, St. Louis, Tijuana, Riyadh and New York.


Archinect launched the competition on Tuesday, July 28. Other important dates are as following:

Tuesday, July 28

Competition launches

Tuesday, September 1

Submission deadline
Cut-off time: 10 P.M. PST

September 7 - 11

Jury review

Tuesday, September 15

Announcement of Winners
(Updated date!)


Speculative Category

1st $1,000 CASH + custom 1 week survival kit including back pack
2nd custom survival kit- 1 week supply of food/water/emergency items
3rd custom survival kit- 72 hours supply of food/water/emergency items

Pragmatic Category

1st $1,000 CASH + custom 1 week survival kit including back pack
2nd custom survival kit- 1 week supply of food/water/emergency items
3rd custom survival kit- 72 hours supply of food/water/emergency items

These custom survival kits are curated with Archinect staff picks, including products kindly provided by Mountain House (survival meals), Life Gear ("Wings of Life" packs & "Grab and Go" packs), MENOSUNOCEROUNO ("Just in Case" packs), GRAYL (water filtration cups), and Reliance (water storage containers).

All winners and honorable mentions will be exhibited online on Archinect and Bustler.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I have to declare which category, “speculative” or “pragmatic”, my submission is for?

Yes, check the category selection in the submission page.

What is the submission format? What files are required?

Your submission will require a title, author(s), text description, and imagery. The submission will be uploaded and reviewed by the jury online, so it’s highly recommended that you format your submission with imagery that is easily viewable on computer screens rather than large format printed boards.

How many images can I upload?

You can upload up to 20 images (Must be JPG, GIF or PNG format in RGB (not CMYK); Max. file size: 2MB for each image). The images may be uploaded individually or simultaneously. After uploading the images you can re-order the images by dragging them. Each image can contain text captions.

Can I include other types of media, like videos or PDF files?

Our submission system only allows image uploads (see above). If you would like to include other types of media, please provide links to your hosted media within your submission description text. For videos, we recommend uploading them to YouTube or Vimeo. For PDF files, we recommend Issuu.

What format do I upload my submission text?

The text isn’t “uploaded”. It is submitted into an online form. If you have already written it, you can copy/paste the text into the text field.

How many winners will there be?

There will be 1st, 2nd, 3rd prizes, in addition to honorable mentions, for both of the categories.

Does my submission have to be a piece of architecture?

No, your submission can be in the form of any design response to the drought.

Do I need to be an architect to submit?


Do I have to live in California or in the United States to participate?

No, this is an international competition and designers from around the world are invited.

Is there a fee to enter the competition?

Yes, there is a US$20 submission fee to offset the costs involved in hosting the competition.

I have a question. How can I contact you?

Please contact us at You may also call us at +1-213-863-4550.