Tuesday, March 31, 2015

LAR 560 Washington DC Field Trip (03.26.15-03.29.15)

Although I have only visited Washington, DC a handful of times, it has always been a fascinating experience and holds both history and intrigue within its borders. As I begin a career in Landscape Architecture, the exposure to a variety of firms and projects aided in building a knowledge-base for me to begin working from. As we begin building our portfolios and structuring our careers, having this firsthand knowledge as well as feedback from professionals will greatly enhance our experiences in the real world and give us valuable knowledge of the types of firms in existence before we begin searching for occupations with them.

Coming back to DC after a few years, I was able to engage with the city and community in ways that I had not in prior years. Staying at an Airbnb in Alexandria (just an Uber drive away from the rest of the class) provided an interesting dynamic and allowed me to see more of the city from a new lens. As I had spent the last trip (an architecture field trip) focusing on the built environment, it was completely different to spend this trip looking at materials, details, and the landscape. It felt like we were operating at a more human scale as we rode the metro and went to places like the Navy Yard, where details were plentiful. 

Because this trip was so well-planned, we were treated to a plethora of firms and experiences that helped us to gauge the very different ideologies of LA firms. Of the firms we visited, each had its strengths and setbacks.  LandDesign seemed like a decent firm to work for, but I felt like they were a bit too reliant on 3D imaging. I felt like  GGN has a firm grasp on using multiple styles to translate ideas, especially when it came to modeling.  MVLA was impressive in their attention to detail and their hand-renderings. I really enjoyed their presentation on the
Disabled Veterans Memorial and felt the attention to detail and scale of their projects was monumental.

Of all of the firms, HOK actually stood out to me as a firm I would feel comfortable working for. I was impressed by their scale, the variety of projects they worked on, and the resources (such as the materials library) they had at their disposal. I really appreciate the idea of interdisciplinary firms that can give clients a one-stop shop (so to speak) for their needs. The building itself was unique and had been renovated in a very articulate way. I was a bit put off by the mostly female staff at first (and the architects being hidden in the basement), but the amount of experimentation and different modes of expression is certainly appealing.  Being someone who enjoys to travel, the international element of their business seemed very intriguing and I could see many benefits in working for a firm with multiple offices around the world. 

There were many highlights from the trip. I enjoyed exploring Georgetown and Alexandria. I had never been on U-Street or visited Chinatown so these were very exciting experiences in terms of texture. The city has a lavish amount of texture and color that seems to be underrepresented in media. The people were also incredibly friendly. It seemed like everywhere we went people were buying us drinks and filling us in on great things in the city. It was refreshing to be in a city that size and meet so many wonderful people. It made us feel very at home and there was a spirit of exploration that I hadn’t felt in previous visits. 

One of my favorite moments was when Julie Beckman spoke about designing the Pentagon Memorial (with Keith Kaseman.) Despite it being freezing cold that day, I was enamored with her descriptions of their process and the many opportunities and challenges they faced in designing such a prominent memorial. Watching visitors interact with the space was particularly interesting. I think it is a beautiful and meaningful project and the mood it created was both refined and proper.

Visiting ASLA was also a very unique experience. I have seen photos of their green roof in magazines before and found it particularly impressive. It was great to learn about the process in renovating the space and how challenging the climate was in reference to planting and maintaining the green roof. As a person with a background in media, it was also wonderful to hear about how the magazine began and details about their process. I found their aesthetic very interesting and look forward to seeing how the magazine and ASLA transform in the coming years. 

My favorite moment was visiting the Kogod Courtyard (GGN) of the National Portrait Gallery. My classmate and I spent hours just in the courtyard: drinking espresso, taking naps on large marble platforms,  analyzing the space, and watching people. It was a space I had visited before but never fully appreciated. The sound is dampened, the moving water has a comforting tone, and the quality of light changed throughout our time there quite beautifully. The scale of the project is mesmerizing, as well as the structure. It was a warm, bustling oasis in contrast to rather stoic galleries. We spent hours just trying to figure out what was muffling the sound (was it the floor?) and admiring how successful the space was for encompassing a large number of people.

The trip was successful. It really aided us in gaining new perspectives in the operation and maintaining of firms, different typologies, and how they handled day-to-day operations and administrative tasks.  The experiential qualities of the trip, however, were the main takeaways for me. There was a sense of camaraderie and purpose in the visit and I feel that for me personally it was a rewarding experience in furthering my education and knowledge of professional practices in the future. I spent way too much money at times, but the lessons we received on this trip were clearly invaluable.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Design, Bitches lecture (03.23.15)-- “The Comma is Everything”

The Comma really is everything.

Katherine Johnson and Rebecca Rudolph of Design, Bitches spoke with us about their work and design aesthetic. As a young almost-professional beginning my career, their work is striking, original, and similar to my design philosophy in terms of how I initiate process. The ideas that architecture is adaptable and derived from popular culture of the “everyday” make so much sense as design strategies. The concepts of accessibility to broad audiences, connecting us to everyday life and minute experiences, and generally engaging the public with their environment in a marriage of beauty and function were all central to their work and speak volumes of how philosophically they integrate pop culture and architecture in daily life.

“Without the comma, design is purely an adjective. Design becomes an address-- a challenge.”

They also brought up the idea of ego in design and how by challenging the constraints of architecture, they return the focus to design rather than the authors themselves. What I found most invigorating about their work was the use of layering, unique materials, colors, and textures, especially in their work from LA. Their work becomes a symbol of adaptation-- of taking the malleable urban context and shifting it playfully into an artful and engaging landscape, full of narrative and nature in context. Their work centers on perceptual play and connection to the human scale.  Neon, as an element of design, both invoked nostalgia and modernized the structures they presented in highly visual ways. It is my hope that as I continue in this profession, I may find a way to use some of these playful elements in designing parks or other public spaces that connect largely to the human scale.

Other useful thoughts included:

“The facade is a window to a street-- the existing facade can be a blank canvas but also a window the the past. Doors and windows are thresholds.” 

“The path is not always linear.”

On the idea of  a “neighborhood haunt”-- “We are interested creating something that becomes part of daily existence.”

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

LAR560 Meeting with Herb Kupfer of the NPS/GSMNP (03.25.15)

I really didn’t know much about the National Park Service, so Kupfer’s information and down-to-earth enthusiasm was incredibly refreshing and educational. I really enjoyed hearing about his work in Denver and his work with the transportation division piqued my interest as well. As I have been on Newfound Gap Rd before when visiting the mountains, I found it very interesting to hear about the challenges they faced in implementing infrastructural changes while attempting to preserve existing structures along the Foothills Parkway.

Although the idea of working with federal road projects seemed daunting, the fact that the work was designed by consultants is interesting to me. The citizen-engagement aspects with public meetings and in-person awareness meetings are valuable tools, in my opinion, for doing such public-facing projects. I really found the concept of having to build ninety-two bridge segments in less than ideal circumstances incredibly compelling. Kupfer’s humor and openness about his experiences with the Federal Lands Transportation Program (and with “Bigfoot” especially) were very eye-opening. I feel like sometimes we as young, enterprising professionals forget about these types of programs because they are primarily more engineering-based. It was very enlightening to hear Kupfer talk about his LEED experience and how he used his skillset to shape his design process and to troubleshoot potential blunders that might have occurred had they consulted with someone who did not have an appreciation for historical structures or the knowledge of sustainable practices.

While I don’t know if I would ever have to desire to work on such projects, I find the work that the NPS does is very admirable and I imagine, very difficult, as well. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Workshop with Sara Dean (03.04.2015)

I had the privilege of being in Sara Dean's workshop, which focused on citizen engagement in crowdsourcing and using social media as a tool to instigate projected change. Sara had a wide variety of examples of how popular culture and social media, with the rise and transformation of digital technology, have become very useful platforms for social service and design.

Beginning with the automaton,  Sara crafted a unique narrative of potentially calibrating strategies engaged between reality and fantasy. Whether speaking of the fantastical wrestling melodramas or authentic applications of rapper T-Pain’s voice, using technology as a tool to engage the public in a systematic manner is fundamental to success. Citizen engagement apps for phones to help mark points of interest or inform about disaster relief, queries, databases for Oxford (such as public submissions of translations of ancient Greek scripts), and public submissions of less useful information (such as FOUND magazine) were all examples she gave of how we can use tools to engage with the public. She presented us with two citizen-based outreach projects “Global City, Sensor City” and an exhibit at the “2012 Detroit Design Festival”, which although very different, helped inform my partner Carissa and I in forming the process for our project.

The Internet itself is a system of constant iteration. We were tasked with crowdsourcing and decided to use Instagram and Twitter as a means to provide public information. We began @yourknox and #yourknox as an experiment in connecting the local public with upcoming events. I look forward in the coming months to see if it actually takes off as a crowdsourcing experiment, but so far it seemed to have spread virally in a matter of hours!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Helene Binet Lecture (03.09.15)-- “Composing space 24 Bartholomew Villas”

Helene Binet’s work is astounding and it was incredibly powerful. She asked us “What is the experience of space? How do we perceive space, how does it influence us, and what can we bring back to analog form?” These were powerful questions indeed and as she began to show us her work, from Liebskind to Zumthor, she brought light of the the darkness and challenged the role of the physical versus the sensory elements of design.

“We hear better in darkness (attributed to Aristotle)” was central to her argument that we create stories through our experiences and sensory perception. The idea that experience is personal and reflective of the spaces we inhabit within us was quite profound. As she showed us her studies of the physical and metaphysical presence of light and voids (of absence), the atmosphere generated  in these images and words was a large take-away for me. As a photographer myself, I often forget the many layers of existence and how passionate and transformative the subtleties of the landscape can be. The narrative we present through our designs holds equal importance to the functionality of the designs themselves and creates a sequence of mental and visual paths. The network of materiality and light can serve as a reference, a form of nostalgia, or fire new synapses and create new “universes” as a way of perceiving space.

“What is our role on Earth?” She spoke about the idea of dimension and building a dimension through graphic patterns in a parking lot or the desolate and reflective qualities of a barren desert. She spoke of Berlin: “The city is like the womb in which the building is born.”
Beautiful, tragic, and abstraction in memory. Our role here on Earth is simple: to articulate memory through creation. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

ET Index Livability Annual Report 2015 Meeting (03.06.2015)

This week I attended the East Tennessee Annual Report meeting. My first internship was for PlanET so it was interesting to see the livability report and how over the course of a year, so many unique projects had been occurring in the region. I think meetings like this are very important as they function both as a manner of citizen engagement but also serve to notify local government officials to real issues affecting the public and ways to sustainably combat environmental problems. The quality of data and available information about the infrastructure were incredibly powerful. Networking and speaking with local Chamber of Commerce members as well as the Mayor were particular highlights of the meeting for me.

Working for the Smart Communities Initiative, we are doing similar work from the background and it has been very valuable to be engaged with projects like this from the ground up. I can’t even begin to express how wonderful it has been to see projects potentially be implemented by the group I work for in rural cities and help to solve livability issues that cities are struggling with. I feel this experience has been an incredible opportunity and many of the skills I am learning now will greatly influence my life path and decisions I make in the professional realm of design. I hope to continue being involved in civic projects and combat community issues through my work in the future. Seeing what groups like PlanET have done for the community and how local officials are working towards a more sustainable future is so exciting and promising. The potential for change is there-- we just have to harness it.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Lecture with AREA Architecture (03.02.2015)

AREA Architecture (Glenn Wilcox and Anca Trandafirescu)  was established in 2003 and focuses on making things, using tools, and working through different platforms. They are innovative in developing unusual research strategies of assembly, construction and manufacturing. Their projects are very invested in the public realm and how we engage with it.

 Anca said that “Glenn built boxes during the day and she tore them up at night.” They met as undergraduates and began making projects before they even graduated. Their projects have a wide range of functions and forms but many, such as their “Protomoments,” deal with unstable objects that embrace failure.  These objects are not scaled version of known objects but rather innovative experimentations into the prototyping process and establishing new materials. Their work has a high emphasis on social interaction and modes of craft, yet conversely they write code to generate geometries in a digital medium (which seems the the oppose the ideologies of “craft” we were accustomed to in architectural studies.)

Although sometimes they practice separately, the end result of their combined talents and cumulative efforts is both beautiful and interactive. The idea of “laying ground” in the public realm, which is a process often replete with idiosyncrasies, seems to be articulated through flat-stock forms of material and laser-cutting in much of their recent work. The ideas of the module, of prototyping and generative complexity are inherent in their work and the meaning that they produce in their anthropological interest into the impact of digital technology in the public realm. I have found their work incredibly fascinating and inspiring for my work with tectonics this semester and hope that this enthusiasm is someday reflected in my work. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

LAR 560 Conference Call with Bradley Cantrell (02.25.2015)

This week we spoke with Bradley Cantrell about his work with GSD and how he got into landscape architecture. His path was typical. As an undergrad he was a painter and computer scientist,  yet also very interested in horticulture and farming. He realized that there was a design side to environment and got his undergrad from university of Kentucky. Afterward, he went on to graduate school.

Conceptual underpinnings--- there was no way at the time to get digital illustration side to it, so he 
dove headfirst into a whole range of computation courses in 2000 at GSD. He also took courses at MIT and Harvard that dealt with computing, and ended up working for Hargreaves among others. He knew he wanted to teach and pushed himself to teach, so he came back to GSD to teach and lucked into tenure track position.

As I also would like to teach at some point in the future, I found his talk with us very inspirational.  He felt like part of the push has been in terms of landscape architecture and technology. He holds a firm belief that our profession, while wanting to engage technology, has love/hate relationship with it. I agree with him that it needs to be fostered more in profession and also have a b ig desire for profession to take technology “by the horns and guide it to move forward.” 

In terms of research, it has evolved a bit over the years, but his current research is in "responsive landscapes"--design visualization and digital workflows. The point of first book was to bridge this gap 2000-2007-- huge gap between idea that representation comes from physical analog tools (the way we draw)-- has been important to our profession as an aesthetic and an altruistic analog model.
The Process of using a drawing to represent how to construct something or our speculation about some landscape or future architecture has evolved over time. 

Some other highlights:
“While we are wanting to be cognizant of our place in the world, we also have to recognize the effects we have on it and work symbiotically with it. Technologically responsive and about understanding and mapping out ecological systems and about how as human beings we build structures in them.”

“Working methods: big issue with responsive technologies is developing models or abstractions of landscapes that allow us to act upon them. Building inventories of sites, analyzing them, and then acting upon that information. How might we build a model that is continually updating and evolving and how can we use that to create a relationship between landscape and representation?”

He also spoke at length about computational fluid dynamics and analog model of flow. James C. Scott-- “all of these technologies are all about controlling us. They all control us based on a narrowing of vision and to make decisions based on this narrow vision requires us to have a cynical view of our reality.”

I agree with him that selective reality is a conscious choice and serves as a model of our world. It is indeed a lens we build for ourselves-- extremely personal and subjective in terms of articulating our worldview (which is inherently distorted by our cognizant experiences. When he showed us the Mississippi basin model, it did seem to represent a very tangible and performance reduction of the essence of the basin and its functionality in a very distilled manner. As in the model with the alfalfa sprouts and with differentiating layers of strata, the combination of digital and analog models is a very significant leap in technology and resolving environmental issues through the interplay of science and technology.

Other highlights included:
“How do you see your work as a tool to be translated for someone who is wanting to use implementation for data to use safeties on the ground? If we cannot use tools to build and construct, we're not doing anything.”
“Telling a story that has different levels of honesty all the time--There's always a piece about it that is inherently a lie-- the key is that it isn't the central aspect of that illustration or that it is know that there is not a truth to it. The honesty comes from acknowledging the lie.”
“What do you want to express and get out of project by using drawings as a vehicle for expression?”

“Who are you following?” Great question. 

He told us that he gains a lot of inspiration from artists doing work from digital fabrication and developing autonomous art. As a former artist and someone who wears many hats artistically and scientifically, I can highly relate to this as an influencer of work and process in general.

Overall, I was enamored with his work. Although I highly doubt I will ever go to Harvard or engage in projects in such a highly-functioning way, I am extremely interested in the work he has been doing and will continue investigating it in the future.