Thursday, April 30, 2015

Reflections on LAR 560: Final Assignment

Landscape Architecture, for me, is an illusive animal. It is a idyllic form of expression, a marriage of philosophies, and often nebulous in its form. Over the course of the semester I feel like it gained a certain level of merit where I had previously only known it in its base form. It metamorphosed into something more functional, more vibrant, and ultimately more challenging. After spending the last five years entrenched in the structural environment, it was transformative in terms of establishing a new foundation for learning and experimentation. I began investigating the built environment (and unbuilt, for that matter) in new and profound ways. The professional practice course aided me in seeing a more practical, methodical, and structured approach to a somewhat ambiguous profession. 

What exactly is Landscape Architecture? For me, it is dreams incarnate. It is a realm of possibility, where ideas can be implemented and cause a wide variety of changes to the environment. It is a paradoxical field in that we have the ability to greatly change and innovate a landscape but also must maintain its integrity. It encompasses more than the “landscape”-- the name is so far removed from its meaning that I feel it does not give the discipline due justice. Landscape Architecture has such a wide variety of forms, ranging from parks to city planning. It seems like an ineffective title for such a wonderful profession. I hope that someday we are able to redefine it somehow or, better yet, educate the public about how valuable and beautiful it is.

The contemporary landscape architecture professional is….:
1. Underestimated
2. Powerful
3. Innovative
4. Transformative
5. Responsible
6. Revolutionary
7. Creative
8. Ethical
9. Fearless
10. Extraordinary

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

TDDA Conference, Murfreesboro, TN (04.28.15)

I recently attended (and presented at) the TDDA Conference in Murfreesboro, TN for the Smart Communities Initiative. As I have very limited experience with development districts, it was eye-opening to see some of the initiatives, challenges, and practices that the development districts were working on and how advances in technology for storm water and infrastructural developments could have far-reaching potentials. Some of the initiatives they have been working on and planning were very interesting and informative in terms of articulating regional programs and implementing them into rural areas.

From a professional standpoint, the conferences I have attended for working with the SCI and my involvement in SCI programs has been incredibly beneficial. Meeting with local officials, professionals, and citizens has given me a chance to learn more about the region as a whole and build a network of people that have access to a wide variety of resources. The relationship has been mutually beneficial, as I feel more confident in the ability to help engage them with students and faculty and attempt to connect them to courses or ideas that may benefit their local programs.

The conference itself was more like a round-table discussion. Although we did not receive very many questions from the audience, I felt that the questions we did receive were valuable and thought-provoking. I am looking forward to working with the development districts in the coming years and feel this is an incredibly valuable experience to work with municipal partners and have to operate on both political and social levels in practice.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Creating Vibrant Cities: Talk with Gil Penalosa at the TN Bike Summit (04.24.15)

I was fortunate to be able to take part in some of the events of the Bike Summit this year and found Gil Penalosa’s speech both passionate and thought-provoking. His colorful use of language and real-world examples was well-received by the crowd and spoke of implementing positive change in communities and raising awareness about cyclists and pedestrians. He articulated several case studies and examples of data that fundamentally spoke to the lack of clarity about bicycle rights in an urban environment and outlined ways to alter this to be more inclusive and functional. He promoted the idea of making public spaces that could accommodate everyone (from age 8 to 80) and provided a wealth of information for how cities like Knoxville could benefit from very simple changes to how they design for cyclists.

As someone who once biked on streets in North Knoxville and downtown, I can testify that there was a lack of awareness and general annoyance with cyclists from those driving automobiles. I had several friends be seriously injured from bicycle accidents with drivers and have had things thrown at me from vehicles or have been yelled at. I am very excited about the implications of establishing a more open dialogue for discussion about how to improve this situation. As far as the environment is concerned, the improvements to public transit he mentioned and the many benefits of bicycles could be very transformative for a city like Knoxville.  I felt like his speaking engaged a wide variety of people and rallied the troops-- the passion he felt for revolution very clearly left all of us with a new sense of purpose and a great amount of information at our disposal. I hope to see some of his suggestions being utilized by the City of Knoxville, as I believe it will have far-reaching effects on our transportation and reliance on fuels in the future.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

LAR 560 Conference Call with Kevin Burke, PLA + PM with Atlanta Beltline, Inc (04.22.15)

I really can’t express enough how enjoyable Burke’s conference with us was. He gave us an incredible amount of information, from his fledgling experiences in the profession to what he has learned as a result of a quite impressive career. His list of companies, from Innocenti to CRJA, all had a variety of projects that take a very unique and diverse skillset. I really enjoyed also what he had to say about his work on the Beltline and how he desired to work on projects like that which fundamentally change the fabric of an urban city. What struck me the most was his advice that he gave us near the end of the conference call.

Some highlights from this included:

“You really have no idea what you’re doing.”
“Seek out people who know more than you and learn from them (drop the ego).”
“Do not mimic-- you can learn from bad habits also.”
“Keep detailed records-- no detail is too small when you need to support a decision you made two years ago.”
“Make no little plans-- go big or go home.”
“What are they going to say? Yes, No, Maybe.”

And, most especially: “Be very careful of burning any bridges-- the person you may tick off today may be someone you need five years from now.”

I recently had a moral dilemma about this last statement, involving a classmate who is graduating this year. He is a very drive, headstrong individual who is incredibly talented but also a bit willful in terms of dealing with people on a social level. He posted publicly to his Facebook, basically saying that he was tired of being “polite” to “superficial classmates” that he would never see again and that now he was graduating and didn’t need any of them anymore. This really struck a chord with me when Burke mentioned to not burn bridges, as I felt that the classmate had burned a bridge with most of the students. While I have a lot of respect for him, I felt this was entirely unprofessional and wonder if, in five years, he will need the aid of one of these people that he burned a bridge with. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

LAR 560 Conference Call with Stephen Stimson Associates (04.08.15)

This week we were able to take a look at Stephen Stimson Associates and learned about some of their projects. Although the talk itself didn’t particularly leave me with any burning questions, I found it very interesting that the firm had such a wide variety of scales and typologies for their projects. Whether it was a campus (Yale) or a residential project (such as Clyde Street), the projects all seemed to carry unique design strategies and investigations that outlined the complexities of landform and meeting a client’s unique needs.

As I am still relatively new to the profession, perusing their web site and seeing the amount of variety in their projects was comforting to me. Coming from a background in architecture, our scope of landscape design was very limited in terms of the projects we were exposed to. It is incredibly valuable to speak with these professionals and see so many applications of design principles in various mediums and forms. Some of my favorite projects (though not in the presentation mostly) include Savage Harbor, Arkell Art Center, and Harvard Science Center. I did very much enjoy his description of the process behind Cove House and how collaborative projects can become a lifeform unto themselves. As a person who is standing on the line between multiple disciplines, I am very open to collaborating with other groups in my work in the future. I hope to gain experience in multiple practices throughout the course of my career, as I feel there are definitely many things we can learn and contribute to multidisciplinary projects. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

LAR 560 Meeting with Drew Wensley of M+T (04.01.15)

This semester we have had the wonderful experience of working with Drew Wensley, Executive Vice President of Moriyama & Teshima. He began speaking with us from a professional practice standpoint while giving us a brief background into how he became fascinated with integrating built form into the landscape under the tutelage of Shimeya Misuno.

Some pearls of wisdom:
“When you’re job hunting, interview them as much as they are interviewing you.”
“Be a sponge. Be aware.”
“Understand a firm’s ethos-- Why do they do what they do and how did they start their practice?”
“Less information= Best information.”

He spoke to us at length about the challenges and opportunities present within the Wadi Hanifah Comprehensive Development Project in Saudi Arabia. The idea of restoring a 120 kilometer oasis is daunting, yet he fearlessly and passionately believed in the social and environmental impacts of the project and took great pains to work towards developing a sustainable future for the site.

From talking with us, I gained valuable insight into the professional world and complications one can face when working remotely. As he spoke at length about humanitarian efforts with his projects, I felt very inspired to somehow attempt to implement this form of work into my projects and future planning. The idea of doing something that is greater than yourself and has far-reaching impacts on the quality of life of people is far more important to me than anything I could do in my career singularly. I hope to take this inspiration and further develop humanitarian projects through the course of my career. Having such a distinguished person for our Governor’s Chair has been incredibly beneficial for us. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Nina-Marie Lister lecture (03.30.15)-- “Ecological Design: Resilience Beyond Rhetoric”

This week we had the pleasure of hearing from Nina-Marie Lister as she informed us about the nature of resiliency in projective ecologies. Her work with Plandform is very interesting and although I have not read her book, I am looking forward to investigating her ideas further in the future. As she spoke about policy changes in response to natural disasters, such as flooding and other major environmental issues, resiliency was a paradigm shift in establishing a new set of design strategies to combat these major events.

I find the idea of a resilient and adaptable landscape very intriguing. Because we cannot entirely project significant change over a long period of time, we have to focus on the transformative capacity of the landforms and design them for diversity in the face of unpredictable circumstances. I completely agree with her argument that while science is fundamentally important to aid in this design process, we must look at other aspects of the environment from psychological and physiological standpoints. The dynamic ecosystem is one that is diverse and has the ability to adapt to these changing circumstances while maintaining a high quality of integration into the socio-ecological system it inhabits.

As I have a vested interest in scientific studies of biological ecosystems and remediation strategies, I feel Lister’s lecture offered a wide range of projects and concepts that will benefit us in our profession. Engineering resilience in landforms and finding ways to mitigate floodzones in a multimodal format that has longterm feasibility in forming an innovative and responsive system are of particular interest to me. I look forward to reading more about projective ecologies in her book!