Times Square Renovation: Craig Dykers [TEDxBroadway]

After attending Craig Dyker’s Church Lecture at the Bijou, I was fascinated by his flamboyant personality, but intelligent delivery and knowledge of the many, high-profile projects that his firm, Snohetta, has worked on. Moreover, after discussing my project with Dykers in a rare, intimate setting in Ewing, I was impressed by his ability to speak at both a broad, conceptual level as well as delve deep into the technical, esoteric intricacies of architecture. Aware that he did a TED Talk a few years ago on  Snohetta’s Times Square renovation, I was interested to see a more detailed account of the process of engaging such a high-profile project. Similar to the ethos of Thomas Woltz, Dykers’ presents the Times Square renovation in a historical deep-dive of the site. As he begins to strip down the history of Times Square, we discover that its location is epicenter to the confluence of many creeks–thus creating a sunkenness on the island of Manhattan, and discovering elevation change of 8 ft within a few blocks. It’s Dykers and Snohetta’s deep-dive into the non-traditional aspects of site that makes them such innovators in design. Dykers’ peculiar research approach is also demonstrated as he focuses heavily on human behaviour and movement throughout Times Square. Whether noticing the many ways people used a newspaper stand or engaged a bench in Times Square, Snohetta would base their form and placement around human temporality. I think that’s what makes Dykers and Snohetta so innovative, they understand the temporality between space, form and humans and that designing for a multimodal environment is integral in a lasting design.

“Air Pollution and Human Health: Reflections on Research and Paths Forward.” -Dr. Michelle Bell (Baker Center)

In Dr. Michelle Bell’s lecture, she discusses the impact of forest fires on our health. If landscape architecture consists of everything outside the building, then quality of our climate contributes largely to the users of the landscape. As Dr. Bell argues, the damages done by forest fires on our health have been underestimated, and the research of its health impacts are rather scarce. Most shocking of her discoveries are the inevitable rise in wildfire occurrences. As landscape architects, we must consider that this eventual rise will produce more air pollution. Therefore, the question we must ask ourselves is: How can we, as designers, combat and mitigate climate change in our built environments? In order for designers to tackle this question, Dr. Bell’s break down of communities most affected by air pollution can help to answer some of these problems. As she states, the most at-risk subpopulations of air pollution mortality are the low income, urban demographics. This is caused by their more ubiquitous grayscape surroundings and lack of vegetative areas to absorb carbon dioxide emissions. Although highly scientific for an intended scientific audience, I believe that landscape architects can utilize this data to consider how urban design can acknowledge Dr. Bell’s data to inform how larger vegetation landscapes and carbon dioxide mitigators can be introduced in existing, low-income communities.

Geospatial Mapping for Biodiversity –Dr. Thomas Gillespie (Baker Center)

In Dr. Thomas Gillespie’s Baker Center lecture, he is beginning to use Geographic Integrated Systems (GIS) in tandem with remote sensing devices to accurately predict how plant communities thrive. Specifically, his work and “test subjects” were being demonstrated in Oahu, Hawaii. As he looks at the state’s flower, he observes the migratory pattern of its movement and richness in health. Moreover, he applies similar data collection by looking at more tropical vegetation areas in California, where he is a professor at UCLA. Throughout his taxonomic investigations in the increasing dryness of tropical forests and their plant communities, I noticed a tie in the scientific data collection of his work that could be beneficial in the way landscape architects approach landscapes in a world of mercurial climates. As his remote sensors record real-time changes in terrestrial vegetation, landscape architects could–and should–be utilizing his findings in order to help predict how architectural interventions could disrupt or strengthen vegetative change. A useful subset of those findings can also help us to decide where plants should grow. As landscape architects, it should be a present-day imperative that scientific scholarship on climate change and its effects on vegetation is integrated in the discourse of design as additional tools to help us create truly performative and adaptive architecture.

Brian Osborn Workshop

Fast, foreign, responsive–a few words to describe the Arduino workshop weekend with Brian Osborn. As a first year, adapting to complex, foreign technologies is an unaided reality that daunts the 1st-year MLA on a biweekly basis. The problem with the many technologies that we use in the program facilitate theoretical data and speculative conclusions. However, Osborn’s workshop merged the gap between the virtually speculative and real-life data collection. Even though we did not capitalize on the workshop in our studio work, Osborn’s visit provided us with a new toolset that makes data collection more accessible and its application as accurate input for design.

Working with the Arduino kits, Osborn’s proficiency in its software and programming with architectural modeling software, such as Rhino, shows how landscape architects can transcend the traditional characteristics of the profession. Compared to a landscape architect who does residential work, Osborn and the residential LA share the same title, yet their skills and work could not be further apart. Although landscape architects must be weary of hyper-specialization, people–like Osborn–culture a holistic pedagogy that creates a marriage and familiarity between the traditional and the ever-evolving techno.

Andrew Madl [faculty search]

Skepticism rose high as Andrew Madl’s visit to UTK for a position with the School of Landscape grew near. Skepticism mainly comprised of his youthful stature. As a current 3rd-year MLA at the Graduate School of Design, I was worried that his age and lack of private-side experience would be a crutch in the evaluation of his candidacy. Despite his age, the presentation of his work and skills exceeded the maturity of his age. Particularly, I was impressed by the proficiency of the many softwares that he utilizes in his daily workflow. His proficiency was demonstrated as he described how he was able to predict water flow by deploying gaming software that is used to show how blood pools. From a technological standpoint, Madl displays how landscape architecture can operate outside the traditional tools of the discipline. As UTKCoaD continues to embrace the” non-traditional” and emerging technologies, I think that his youthful vigor and adeptness to diverse applications will be beneficial to the School of Landscape Architecture. Moreover, under Gale Fulton and Brad Collett’s guidance, I think Madl would have an incredible opportunity to tune his pedagogical approach as well as continue to explore the various modes of landscape architecture data collection, interpretation, and visualization at UTK.

Nataly Gateggno–Fab Life [church lecture]

Nataly Gattegno is one of the few designers who has been able to converge the aesthetics of art with the performative nature of architecture. Although many of the projects that she pursues with her firm, Future Cities Lab, initially seem like art installations, the very process and impact of the their design is coated in data and real-life applications. I was particularly fascinated by FCL’s project “Lightswarm”.  How the lights change along the wall seems like a beautiful spectacle, but in fact it is responding to the movement of its surrounding environment, such as people passing by and the various levels of sound. What struck me about this project, and their other projects, was this notion of a responsive landscape. While we traditionally think of design as being stagnant and one-sided, the work that FCl is doing shows the two-way relationship that humans can have with design–and hopefully inform us about our surrounding environment. Moreover, Gattegno’s visit shows how designers do not have to adhere to the traditional definition of their field. While FCL is making marvelous architectural pieces, the processes of their work calls in the skill of different fields, such as programming and polling. Gattegno and FCL demonstrate how designers can be and do many different things outside the scope of design–and do it well.

Jessica Bundy Talk

I was particularly excited to talk with Jessica Bundy. Before I joined the MLA program at UTK, I thought that I wanted to work with the National Park Service after completing my degree. However, as my first year of graduate school has elapsed, I am starting to realize that my interests have diverged. However, I had yet to talk with anyone who works with the NPS. Although Bundy’s conversation did not redirect me back to my initial interest, I was surprised to hear the impact that landscape architects have in the NPS.

Although problems are never seen as a good thing in the design field, I appreciated Bundy’s candidness of the obstacles she has to overcome on a daily basis as a landscape architect with the NPS. The one she stated as the most prominent is the obstacle of a dual mandate. While her job is to promote and regulate federal areas, a lot of her difficulties arise from trying to preserve the wilderness while promoting it. While she is regulating the form and shape of trails along the Appalachian Mountains, it seems that a majority of work deals with the diplomatic implications of wilderness regulation and expansion. Her parting words of wisdom did not specify the ways to overcome the technical, but reinforced the need to have strong soft skills. As she stated, communication is essential in order to foster good design work.

Despite not doing traditional landscape architecture work, I appreciate the more diplomatic side that landscape architecture can take.