Page 1





The third issue of GROUND UP was made possible by the generous support of: The Beatrix Farrand Fund for Public Education in Landscape Architecture Department of Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning, UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design, UC Berkeley

EDITORIAL LEAD Shanna Atherton Naomi Canchela Elaine Laguerta Kevin Lenhart Mariel Steiner GRAPHICS LEAD Eden Ferry Catherine Reibel TEAM MEMBERS Micaela Bazo Delagah Dadbeh Miriam Eason Yue Fu Michelle Hook Stephanie Lin Jing Ma Alana MacWhorter Adam Molinski Saori Ogura Justin Richardson Grant Saita Story Wiggins Dongwan Xie Bingyao Zhu


Special thanks to: Daniel Prostak Rebecca Sunter Junice Uy Monica Way

GROUND UP is edited, designed, and produced by students of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, College of Environmental Design, UC Berkeley. For inquiries, contact Visit online at Printed in Emeryville, California Š Copyright 2014, The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.

Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning, UC Berkeley

No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form

Linda Jewell

their authors or original owners. The opinions expressed in

Professor of Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning, UC Berkeley

by any means without the prior permission of the publishers. Articles, photography, and image copyrights are retained by these articles are those of the contributors and staff, and are not endorsed by the Regents of the University of California.

FOREWORD “Put a bioswale on it!” recently became a catchphrase among some of us discontents here at Ground Up. In our design process, we found ourselves reaching for the same functional solutions despite working in vastly different contexts. Historically, landscape architecture has struggled to bridge art and science, favoring one or the other as the values of each era demanded. In this age of Big Data, economic and political pressure to quantify our designs and justify that they are “working” puts us in danger of losing our imagination. Solutionism is not the only threat—global normalization is razing the nuances of place, time, and identity. In this spirit, fighting the hostile takeover of place by an army of bioswales, we invited you to explore what it means to be here. Its slippery nature, its simultaneous desire and refusal to be defined, reflect both the zeitgeist and the challenge of landscape practice today. The submissions we received reveal a dynamic, multidimensional understanding of here—as expansive as the Alaskan seaboard, as hidden as the Oakland sewer system, yet as immediate as the chair you’re sitting on. These works honor the unseen networks that connect us, the fields that dissolve a freeway, the extents of our own perception. The pieces that follow reflect the ambiguous and existential nature of our inquiry with insight, imagination, humility, and beauty. We hope they provide an opening for you to consider new ways of seeing. Go anywhere. Start here.



12 16 18 20 26 30 34 37 40 50 52 58 60 64 68 74 76 80 86 88 90 92





















I SS U E 03


Nick Gotthardt

Intended to support normative surface urbanity, the storm sewer pipe is widely conceived as a non-place; a necessary conduit, a dumb system for moving water. What follows is a recodification of territory from the perceived non-here of the pipe to a zone of repetitively changing occupations. In Oakland, Depression era encampments were the first to colonize the underground. Today, pointsource homeless communities continue to thrive in the East Bay’s pipes. During the 1970’s and 1980’s, social and political anarchists the Suicide Club reached further. Today, contemporary explorers, geocachers, and artists are breaking the pipe’s constrictive form through virtual exhibition and organization. Concrete City, Unknown. Oakland Museum of California, 2010

Sites of the underground are both site specific and ambiguous­—specific in the ability to geotag photos and create trace mappings, ambiguous in the banality, generic repetition, and disregard for surface regulation of space. Here, the storm sewer is not simply a dumb system for moving water, but a tactical network that has quietly curated a parallel sub-urbanization. This story begins in Dolores Park, with a chance meeting with a local artist, explorer, GIS technician, urban farmer, and DJ. He told stories of his recent trip underneath Oakland, using the Oakland Museum’s Map of OaklandBerkeley Streams and Rivers. I told him I wanted in, and what started as a field study evolved into three stories of the pipe: colonization, transformation, and exhibition.

Colonization: The Concrete City In 2010, the Oakland Museum of California opened Concrete City, an exhibition showcasing Depression era homeless encampments within the city’s waterways, most notably at the Works Progress Administration’s East Bay facility. Living out of pre-fabricated pipes, residents of the concrete city participated in communal voting, mayoral elections, and schooling­—all within the confines of pipe diameters 36”, 48”, and 52”. The encampment was cleared after the Depression, but colonization of the underground continues today with occupants collecting at interface moments between surface and sub, wedging shipping skids into pipes to keep dry from low flow streams.

settlement. While contaminants from urban runoff have negated stormwater’s primary function as a source of drinking water and food, it remains usable for bathing and the occasional catch. However, unlike the ancestral flows that were abundant in opportunities for lateral settlement, infrastructural inscription has created a network ecology of colonized patches along now fragmented riparian corridors.

Through these stories, new geographies of here, Oakland, California, begin to surface. GOTTHARDT

As they did for the Ohlone in past centuries, waterways in Oakland have guided this spatial GROUND UP


Transformation: The Suicide Club In 1977, the Suicide Club made their debut in the course catalog of San Francisco State’s Communiversity, a free, alternative institution. Course objectives of the anarchist brigade included adventures, infiltration, and stunts. The Club operated in secrecy, leading expeditions and holding meetings in the catacombs of San Francisco and Oakland. Abandoned war bunkers, storm sewers, and infrastructural passages were fair game for exploration during the 1970s and 1980s. In 1979, the club held its most legendary event: the Black Tie Dinner in Oakland’s underground. The evening began with a meetup in Glen Echo Park, where over 100 members dressed in formal attire entered the storm drains.

The underground became a chartered passage used to traverse the city in secrecy—accessing previously restricted territories of the surface. They proceeded north through Glen Echo and turned west under W. MacArthur Boulevard. After a candlelit dinner in the Ettie Street junction box, the members proceeded west and exited through a manhole at the Oakland Army Base Rail Yard. Prior to transformation by the club, the storm sewer was a dead end network; visitors would enter and exit through a single portal. Graffiti

and artifacts rarely extended beyond a 50 foot threshold. Through Suicide missions, the underground became a chartered passage used to cross the city in secrecy, providing access to previously restricted territories of the surface. The club continued to use the underground in subsequent stunts which remain unmapped legends of the Bay Area, including: Street Theater, a series of nude streetcar rides (1979), Infiltration, a group protest at the American Nazi Party meeting (1982), and the Midway Games, an elimination style battle in Oakland’s storm pipes (1984).

their entry and passage transformed the infrastructural non-place of Oakland’s storm sewer into a destination of self-expression and exploration. The Black Tie Dinner has become legendary among Bay Area explorers and has been reenacted in the Ettie Street box through the 1990s and 2000s.


For the Suicide Club, Oakland’s underground provided the site and potential—the location for rally (the site specific) and the expanse for transformation into an alternative environment and identity (the site ambiguous). The Club’s general lack of organization, unclear social and political platform, and psychedelic inebriation did little to sway the political tides of the Bay and eventually led to its own demise. However, GROUND UP


Exhibition: Stories and photographs of Suicide dinner parties, along with the discovery of extant sadomasochistic lairs and neo-Nazi meeting rooms, broke the constrictive form of the pipe and scattered the tactical seeds of the underground throughout the country. Published in zines and later on blogs, the club’s activities inspired subsequent waves of urban infiltration and exploration. Contemporary explorers photograph oddities and graffiti, print zines and operate a social networking site,, where members can organize expeditions, share maps, discuss tactics for evasion, and arrange romantic rendezvous. In September 2011, I joined the network and solicited the aid of two East Bay explorers in documenting Oakland’s underground. Contemporary explorers like my internet friends in Oakland post photos of piping, a wake board form of sliding through the storm drain. Their medium of expression has evolved from graffiti into mixed media photography, digital composition, and environmental art. It is exhibited on flickr, tumblr, and Urban Explorers organize meetings and draw a small but diverse audience to the Bay Area for Midway Games and Black Tie Dinners.

Contemporary explorers pipe through the storm drain.

In addition to urban explorers, Oakland’s underground has gained popularity as a site of alternative recreation for scavenger hunt and geocaching groups. Continuing in the tradition of their Suicide roots, these organizations operate in secrecy. Using the now infamous OaklandBerkeley Waterways Map, which locates entry points into

Lateral settlement

the storm sewer, participants regularly enter the underground in search of clues and caches from gift certificates to PBR tall boys. Events in the underground create new ways to read and imagine urban ecology that contrast with and question more conventional recreation ideologies like trails, fishing, and education. These are three stories of the underground. The East Bay’s waterways currently flow a gauntlet of 370 pipe miles. There is a lot of work to be done. Nick Gotthardt is a designer with SURFACEDESIGN, INC., a landscape architecture practice based in San Francisco, and teaches studio courses at the Academy of Art University, San Francisco. He holds degrees in Planning, Geography, and Landscape Architecture.


Tactical settlement GROUND UP



The terrestrial overlaps of these drawn territories mirror a narrative of American nature as both sublime wilderness and conquerable frontier.

Sara Jacobs

At 650 million acres, almost one quarter of the continental landmass of the United States is publicly owned and managed by federal agencies that include the National Park Service, the Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Located mostly in the western United States, these lands have shaped the idea of the western landscape as sacred and sublime, wild and barren, conquerable and exploitable.1 Since 1851, the Public Land Survey System (PLSS), a mathematical survey of rectilinear geometries, has been applied to lands considered rural, wild, or undeveloped.2 The PLSS continues as the guiding principle of property division on public lands while creating layered histories generated by the seemingly objective land division in the Euclidean, abstract space of the map. The administrative boundaries of these lands have been drawn by politics and Cartesian geometry, distributing cartographic “lines of power equally across space” 3 without regard to physical or ecological geographies. Inscribing Wilderness proposes to carve out a new pattern of territory that calls into question the relationship between lines of political control and lines in the physical landscape, one displayed on maps and the other as the result of landscape management. Ecology and economy become interlaced through the BLM’s multiple use mission of balancing cultural heritage, productive industry, and ecological conservation on public lands to “best meet the present and future needs of the American people.”4

Inscribing Wilderness proposes expanding the Arizona National Scenic Trail, a system of walking and hiking trails, into a trans-state, trans-agency trail running through one of the highest concentrations of federal public lands. The proposed trail expansion is a 100-mile segment along the 112°W longitude in northern Arizona. Through this representation of what public lands could be, the project proposes an idea that weaves together nature, humans, and wilderness with the future of American public lands by highlighting the contradictions—or gaps—between what is seen or known and what is merely drawn, what is perceived and what is actual. Conflict over public lands inextricably relates to how they are represented to the public. As political discourses surrounding natural resources and conservation have changed, so have identities of public lands and the role of federal agencies in managing public lands. The visible relationship of land uses, whether for extraction or preservation, consequently effects how landscapes are perceived and therefore valued by the public.

The terrestrial overlaps of these drawn territories mirror a narrative of American nature as both sublime wilderness and conquerable frontier. Rejecting normative Euclidian geometry to delineate the margins or intersections of site through the PLSS, the project redraws and envisions new territories of wilderness, occupation, and conservation through the notion that wilderness is a construction5 and boundaries are both plural and porous.6 Using collage and romantic representations, Inscribing Wilderness positions the discipline of landscape architecture adjacent to topics usually reserved for geographers, regional planners, and ecologists. Lines on paper become lines on the ground. The result is a visual interpretation of political control thst exposes the irony of wilderness in order to confront the vision, value, and expectations of conservation. JACOBS

Compositionally, the postcard, as a means of propaganda, is the epitome of how the value of American landscapes are portrayed to the public,

usually distilling the representation of western wildernesses or national parks into a single snapshot. A series of new postcards explores experimental and historic landscapes through a representation of wilderness that includes human and nonhuman systems of management.



The proposed trail passing through Arizona and Utah.

Left: The trail is repositioned to run along the 112°W latitude, deviating only when it encounters extreme topographic changes. Below: Moments of intervention where landscape maintenance becomes both literal and perceived lines on the ground.

ENDNOTES 1. Kuletz, Valerie, 1998. The Tainted Desert: Environmental Ruin in the American West. Routledge: p. 13. 2. Skillen, James R, 2009. The Nation’s Largest Landlord: The Bureau of Land Management in the American West. University of Kansas. 3. Cosgrove, Denis, 2008. Vision and Geography: Seeing, Imagining, and Representing the World. I.B Tauris: p. 95. 4. Bureau of Land Management. <>. 5. William Cronon writes that there is nothing natural about the concept of wilderness. Wilderness is a social construction created through the erasure of history. Cronon, William, 1996. “The Trouble with Wilderness, or getting back to the wrong nature.” Uncommon Ground. William Cronon. W.W. Norton & Company: pp 69-90. 6. Cosgrove, Denis, 1999. “Liminal Geometry and Elemental Landscape.” Recovering Landscape: Essays in Contemporary Landscape Architecture. James Corner. New York: Princeton Architectural Press: pp 103-118.

Black Mesa Coal Mine Kenyata, Arizona

1mile x 1 mile land parcel Southern Utah Irrigated Crop Circle Farmington, New Mexico Rodon Crater Painted Desert, Arizona Uranium Tailings Mexican Hat, Utah Sedan Crater Area 10, Test Site, Nevada Central Arizona Project Glen Canyon Dam | Page, Arizona Hoover Dam | Clark County, NV Spiral Jetty | Great Salt Lake, Utah Double Negative | Overton, Nevada

The map shows the construction of wilderness by calling out previous large-scale landscape interventions in the western United States.

A series of new postcards explores experimental and historic landscapes through a representation of wilderness that includes human and nonhuman systems of management.


Sara Jacobs is currently a designer and project manager at SCAPE Landscape Architecture in New York. She has a Master of Landscape Architecture degree from Harvard University. As a designer and researcher, she is particularly interested in the map as a medium to visualize the unknown, unseen, and ephemeral landscape. GROUND UP



Urban identities can be forged in myriad ways, including through the physical and ideological borders that characterize the functions and phenomena of a city...

Elizabeth Boults

HERE infers THERE—a dialectic of proximal space and distil space mediated by boundaries which are contextual and dynamic. Critical to one’s conceptualization of these binary positions in the built landscape is the border between them and its capacity to delimit PLACE from PLACEHOLDER. Urban identities can be forged in myriad ways, including through the physical and ideological borders that characterize the functions and phenomena of a city; examining the evolution of the pomerium, the sacred ritual boundary of ancient Rome, can shed light on what constitutes a city as a meaningful spatial unit. Particularly compelling in this history is the relationship of the pomerium to the Campus Martius—how a swampy placeholder outside the sacred center became the heart and soul of the eternal city. According to one legend, Rome was founded on April 21 753 BCE, after Romulus killed his twin brother Remus for ridiculing and then jumping over the boundary of the settlement he was constructing on the Palatine hill. Remus had been building his own city, Remonium, on the Aventine hill; priests were to take the auspices and divine through the flight patterns of birds which settlement was authentic. Romulus followed Etruscan tradition in describing his urban limits, and began by digging a trench around what would become sacred terrain. Plutarch refers to this ditch as the mundus, or world, into which was tossed the first fruits of the harvest to ensure the prosperity of the city;1 Romulus then plowed a deeper furrow and banked the earth toward

the center to construct the foundation for a wall. According to ritual law, the pomerium—derived from post (beyond) and murus (wall)2—bounded consecrated space and was to be neither inhabited nor cultivated. Archaeological evidence supports the existence of an 8th century BCE settlement on the Palatine, and Rome still celebrates her birthday on April 21st. The spiritual center of Rome resided within the pomerium. In the early Roman Republic, expressions of military power were forbidden within the sacred boundary; imperium was not recognized and one could not enter the city with weapons. Soldiers became citizens inside the city, required to dress as civilians. Military exercises and voting activities occurred outside the pomerium on the Campus Martius or Field of Mars, the floodplain to the north and west of the city boundary, between the seven hills and the Tiber river. In this area, triumphant generals exhibited the spoils of war, foreign ambassadors were received, strange gods were worshiped, the census was conducted, Plebian assemblies cast their ballots, and Julius Caesar was murdered. During the late republican age, patrician families and generals built monuments and temples in the Campus Martius, which was reclaimed through natural deposition of the Tiber and repeated flood control measures by government officials. (The origin of the word campaign comes from campus or level ground, a reference to the military and electoral functions of the space.3) Urbanization of these lands outside the pomerium continued throughout the Augustan era (44 BCE - 14 CE), as Augustus famously found a city of brick, and left a city of marble.4 As Rome transitioned from republic to empire and grew to a population of about one million people, successive extensions of the pomerium were made by magistrates and later emperors to ensure divine protection of the expanding city. The Campus Martius, as well as the Aventine hill, was finally absorbed by the augural boundaries of the city during the reign of Claudius in the first century CE.5

There becomes here; placeholder becomes place; rigid and absolute boundaries dissolve to create new transformative experiences. My conceptual model of HERE|THERE as PLACE|PLACEHOLDER was initially inspired by a fundamental understanding of the data sets that constitute how we communicate information today. Messages are embedded in endless streams of ones (places) and zeros (placeholders). This juxtaposition, or dialectical opposition, is necessary to construct a narrative of place. Spatial, temporal, and political boundaries are permeable and fluid—thus the Campus Martius, long excluded from the sacred boundary of Rome, became the very heart of the city. As we move through the built landscape, there becomes here; placeholder becomes place; rigid and absolute boundaries dissolve to create new sets of transformative experiences. ENDNOTES 1. Plutarch. Plutarch’s Lives, with an English translation by Bernadotte Perrin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1914. Web. Dec 2013. <http:// Plutarch/Lives/Romulus*.html> 2. Merrill, E. “The City of Servius and the Pomerium.” Classical Philology, Vol. 4, No. 4 (Oct., 1909). Web. Dec 2013 <> 3. Rehak, Paul. Imperium and Cosmos: Augustus and the Northern Campus Martius. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2006. Print. 4. Suetonius, and Robert Graves. The Twelve Caesars. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1957. Print. 5. Platner, Samuel Ball and Thomas Ashby. A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome. London: Oxford University Press, 1929. Web. Dec 2013 <http://penelope. Places/Europe/Italy/Lazio/Roma/Rome/_ Texts/PLATOP*/Campus_Martius.html>

Elizabeth Boults, ASLA, is a landscape architect and educator. She co-authored Illustrated History of Landscape Design. A former MacDowell Fellow, her interests are landscape representation, environmental history, and conceptual design. She is currently on the faculty at the University of California, Davis, and she organizes and directs independent summer study programs in Italy. BOULTS

Shifting the sacred boundary of Rome to incorporate the former locus of secular activities represented an important change in how society defined the spiritual component of place. The structures we associate with the ancient city, the expressions of imperium that today constitute the centro storico (the Pantheon, the Ara Pacis and

Mausoleum of Augustus, the stadium of Domitian, the Circus Maximus, the theaters of Pompey and Marcellus, etc) were situated in a once marshy appendage to the city proper, a sacred holding place that ultimately became the nexus and spiritual center of the city.



Succession of the Seas.



Sunset over the Mediterranean in Alexandria.

...the contour of the corniche defines the transition between terrains while embodying inevitable scalar, spatial, and visual contradictions.

Samaa Elimam

As a child, I used to stare out from the balcony of our Alexandria loft and watch as the setting sun disappeared into the deep blue Mediterranean water. During one sunset, my grandfather stood nearby and told me to wave out to the sea. Wave, he said, because if someone stood on their balcony in Turkey, they might see us and wave back. That thought never left my mind, and though I eventually gave up on waving, I wondered: “If I sailed straight ahead, how long would it actually take to reach the shores of Istanbul?” My grandfather, sisters, and I would enjoy the westward walk along the shore, hopping from sand to sidewalk, balancing on massive coastal rocks, never taking our eyes off of the steady cadence of waves striking from afar. We would stop to snack on grilled corn and cotton candy, and when we felt tired, we would rent a carriage to take us further. By the time we reached the old part of the city near our favorite fish market, it felt like we had trekked along the entire perimeter of the sea. The shore curved inward, and I would look back, attempting to find where we started, thinking: “We must have moved far enough along the coast to be across from Italy by now.” Goethe once said, “Those who have never seen themselves surrounded on all sides by the sea can never possess an idea of the world, and of their relation to it.”1 Years after those long Alexandria walks, I came across this line, elucidating my fascination with the sea. Fernand

Braudel of the French Annales School—and many scholars following him—identified the multiple nested scales that characterize the Mediterranean as a “succession of smaller seas” functioning similar to the whole sea, and to the entire world.2 Braudel attributed this to longue durée geographical conditions—the jutting of peninsulas, omnipresence of islands, and dramatic curving of coasts—that have historically made the Mediterranean a region of constant exchange of goods, people, cultures, concepts, and ideologies. The Mediterranean microcosm relies on territorial groupings that operate through points of interface, strategically located to facilitate circuits of trade and exchange. I am intrigued by the nodes where this geographic condition is heightened: port cities like Alexandria that are part of a coastal constellation thriving at once on a necessary immersion within, and isolation from their contexts. This phenomenon is often responsible for the idiosyncrasies that characterize a city facing the Mediterranean Sea, exemplified by Henri LeFebvre’s distinctive “pulse” or “rhythm” of the Mediterranean city.3


Alexandria FRANCE


As we reached the other end of the promenade, I saw the panorama of the city unfold before me, the path so long that it diminished into the line that separates water from sky: corniche and horizon became one. That very same line in my imagination as a child, beyond which the solar disc would disappear every day, connected my place and the other side of the sea—Turkey, Italy, the European continent, all of the world. At the corniche, I am surrounded by universalizing forces—the water, the sun, the sky. It is only when I read the unobscured horizon that I realize the contradiction of standing at land’s end. I am everywhere at once, but most importantly, I am where I am. I am here. ENDNOTES 1. Oetterman, Stephen. The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997. Print. 2. Braudel, Fernand. The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Phillip II. Vol. 1. New York: Harper & Row, 1972. Print. 3. LeFebvre, Henri. Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time, and Everyday Life. New York: Continuum, 2004. Print. 4. French phrase meaning, “to place into abyss.”

Samaa Elimam is an architect at XTEN Architecture in Los Angeles, California. She received a Master of Architecture degree with Distinction from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Architecture from the University of California, Berkeley. GROUND UP


Often, the most active and inclusive public space in these coastal cities, the Mediterranean corniche, or waterfront promenade, embodies the essence of this rhythm. This transition between land and water composes one of the most compelling spatial articulations in the minds of city dwellers, regardless of their socio-economic status. Alexandria, Beirut, Marseille, Nice, all are cities where the corniche is one of, if not the most dynamic of public spaces. It occupies a privileged position in their respective cultures—in poetry, literature, and even pop music—meaning these cities sometimes have more in common with one another than with the hinterlands of their own countries. Curiously, at the city’s outermost periphery, the contour of the corniche defines the transition between terrains while embodying inevitable scalar, spatial, and visual contradictions. The corniche is essentially a figurative landscape typology that allows a focused meeting of the global and the local, the universal and the particular, the collective and the individual. Its figure defines thresholds, delineates shifts in the landscape, and identifies common contours. Yet, more importantly, it is a line that mobilizes the panoramic as an optical device, situating the viewer in a sort of mise-en-abyme4 of scales inherent in its definition and exemplified in Braudel’s Mediterranean.

Alexandria EGYPT




90 operating kilns 360 mil. bricks/season

Typical brick kiln cluster

North Dhaka brickfield Approx. 6,480 laborers

Joshua Seyfried

Dhaka, Bangladesh, currently the world’s 9th largest city, is anticipated to see its population expand in excess of 20 million people by the year 2020. This growth will make it the world’s 3rd largest city. Like other megacities1 in developing nations, Dhaka relies heavily on a migratory population to sustain its global presence, with over 60% of its current population composed of rural denizens.2 This rural migrant population is often forced to inhabit the margins of the city, areas typically devoid of essential public services, and fraught with pollution and disrepair. It is also here, along the urban periphery, where the city’s burgeoning industrial activity occurs. Forced to live and labor in an inhospitable landscape, where they are subject to industrial contamination and insufferable working conditions, migrant workers often become indistinguishable from the products they create. In Mirpur, on Dhaka’s northwest side, the brick making industry dominates the landscape, with an endless array of chimneys dotting the horizon. Here, within the vast floodplain of the Turag and Buriganga rivers, lie over 90 brick kilns. An industry demanding intense physical labor, brick making attracts many rural migrants in search of job opportunities, steady wages, and access to education, fostering a marginalized population often characterized as poor but skilled.3 During

An inter-kiln connectivity network would increase social interaction and provide a much needed pedestrian corridor.

operational months,4 each kiln is fired around the clock to maximize production before the monsoon season arrives.5 Production capacity generally averages 18,000 bricks per day, translating to nearly 4 million bricks per operating season.6 The firing process requires roughly 1,200 tons of coal per kiln per production season,7 making the fixed chimney kiln the most significant source of fine particulate pollution in Bangladesh.8 Brick making accounts for 38% of total fine-fraction particulates every year, far exceeding the second and third highest contributors of particulate pollution: motor vehicles (19%) and road dust (7%).9

Like other megacities in developing nations, Dhaka relies heavily on a migratory population to sustain its global presence, with over 60% of its current population composed of rural denizens.

This dialectic creates a tumultuous relationship between rural laborers and the village cultures they often leave behind. The problem is compounded yearly, as thousands of migratory laborers uproot their families from rural villages as part of the massive rural-urban migration currently happening in Bangladesh. With each kiln employing over 75 workers per season, the population of the brickfields typically exceeds the total quantity of laborers. Often, workers relocate their immediate families to the kiln site, with individuals not employed at the kilns assuming domestic roles for survival in the brick fields.



Problems associated with this industry reach far beyond the pollution it generates. Dhakaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s brick industry is reminiscent of early 20th century Fordist manufacturing. Dangerous working conditions, in conjunction with the laborersâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; dire need for income, create a uniquely homogeneous condition in which man, brick, and industry are stripped of cultural, ecological, or social distinctionâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;the worker is rendered indistinguishable from the product.10 Each person is plugged into the rigidly linear brick production process, a replaceable commodity specialized in the act of methodic repetition.11 Individualism and cultural eclecticism are suppressed for the sake of economic gain.

Communal Agriculture Ecological Restoration Surface Water Harvesting


Clay pugging

Structure and infill

Material extraction

1 mi2

Mirpur transect 35,410 people

Infrastructure substitute

Green bricks: sun dried

1 mi2

Iowa state 55 people

Dangerous working conditions, in conjunction with the laborers’ dire need for income, create a uniquely homogeneous condition in which man, brick, and industry are stripped of cultural, ecological, or social distinction—the worker is rendered indistinguishable from the product.

Building material


=2,000 people

Dhaka city 59,640 people

Kiln firing

1 mi2





Brick categorizing



Working Conditions

Stacking and distributing




11% 12% 23%


Percentage of Monsoon Cover of Mirpur Brick Fields



How is it that the simple brick can cause a migration, degrade the landscape, uproot culture, and steal a person’s identity? Through a complex understanding of the ecology of a single brick in Dhaka, and a subsequent investigation into the performative structure of the brick making industry, we can develop a framework to dissect the systemic relationships that are fueling Dhaka’s problematic, exponential growth. Design operations at key points in the systemic structure of the brick making industry coupled with a regenerative ecology allow us to layer in elements of cultural significance, such as civic, recreational, and living spaces. These elements coexist within the active brick making industry. Brick kilns become distinct communal identifiers and civic organizers, while the expansive brick drying fields become places of informal agriculture and flood water capture. By leveraging the strength and spirit of the Bengali people, we foster a landscape that is not only ecologically resilient, but that exudes a distinct and recognizable sense of place and cultural pride: a sign of life within a landscape of industry. 

STAGE 4 4,663,807 CY

STAGE 3 2,494,195 CY

STAGE 2 1,243,860 CY

STAGE 1 1,195,198 CY TRANSITIONAL Deployable housing areas delineated Pedestrian mobility systems extablished Ecological restoration begins DRY SEASON Native vegetation established Agricultural land use once monsoon water recedes


MONSOON SEASON Water transportation networks during monsoon season Maturation of planting Water harvesting and pollution monitoring GROUND UP


ENDNOTES 1. A megacity is defined as a metropolitan area with a total population in excess of ten million people. 2. Dewan, Ashraf M., and Yamaguchi, Yasushi. “Land use and land cover change in Greater Dhaka, Bangladesh: Using remote sensing to promote sustainable urbanization.” Applied Geography. 29 (2009): 390-401. Print.

3 Co-mingled housing, civic use and industry

3. Seto, Karen C. “Exploring the dynamics of migration to mega-delta cities in Asia and Africa: contemporary drivers and future scenarios.” Global Environmental Change. 21S (2011): S94-S107. Print. 4. Operation generally runs from November to April. 5. The current process for drying bricks is dependent on solar exposure. Internal drying facilities currently do not exist in Dhaka. 6. Croitoru, Lelia, and Maria Sarraf. “Benefits and Costs of the Informal Sector: The Case of Brick Kilns in Bangladesh.” Journal of Environmental Protection. 3 (2012): 476-484. Web.

2 Dig, elevate, dwell monsoon diversion channel

7. The fixed chimney kiln is the most prevalent kiln typology in Bangladesh. Operation of these kilns requires constant manual labor. Centered around a central fixed chimney, bricks are loaded in a circular chamber allowing for certain bricks to be loaded, fired, and unloaded simultaneously. 8. Croitoru, Lelia, and Maria Sarraf. “Benefits and Costs of the Informal Sector: The Case of Brick Kilns in Bangladesh.” Journal of Environmental Protection. 3 (2012): 476-484. Web. 9. Ibid.

1 Conversion to VSBK kiln production

10. Coated with mud, dust, and ash, and exposed to the sun for long hours, individuals who live on brick kiln sites often begin to adopt the characteristics of a brick. 11. Schumacher, Patrik and Christrian Rogner. “After Ford.” Stalking Detroit. Ed. Daskalakis, Georgia, et al. Barcelona: Actar, 2001. Print.

A phased repurposing of the existing brick kiln takes into account the temporal nature of both inhabitants and natural systems

Joshua Seyfried holds a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture degree from Michigan State University. He is currently in his final semester of the Master of Landscape Architecture program at the University of Pennsylvania

Monsoon diversion channel

Retrofitted bull trench kiln as civic space: market, community meeting space, etc...

Deployable housing units

Agricultural land

Proposed vertical shaft brick kiln

ESTABLISHING CIVIC IDENTITY The repurposed brick kiln becomes a civic icon, an identifiable beacon within a field of indistinguishable elements. The adjacent, readily deployable housing typology more adequately serves the laborers.





Brick kilns become distinct communal identifiers and civic organizers, while the expansive brick drying fields become places of informal agriculture and flood water capture.


Sophie Hamer

How do we define our extents? What is the physical limit of our here?

In space, wherever I locate my body is here. Getting here, in this sense, is easy. Conventionally, here is positioned as the antithesis to there in terms of physical, measurable distances and time. There, at this moment, is wherever I am not. These established definitions conceal a singular understanding of the body as an object, encased and suspended in space. Space and body are considered as discrete, locational entities unable to engage with or cross-inform one another. Through drawing, this project launches an inquiry at this understanding of the body in space. The initial drawings search for a state of subjectivity in which the self is aware only, presently, of the self. The body as mark-maker becomes the anchor point for this series. Hundreds of drawings are produced in frenzied motion, aching for the moment of here. The marks on the pages, hanging vertically alongside the body, are increasingly giddy with here. Spilling over one another, the drawings take on characteristics of automationâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;the pre-reflective non-style of the surrealists.

To to repeatedly slip back and forth across this threshold between here and there.

Series 01 Drawings: Finding here via identifications of self as subject. Charcoal on paper

Ripening in this series is an understanding of here as a contested state of spatial occupation, rather than an inert location. Here is accessed via a state of pre-reflectivityâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;complete bodily engagement with mark-making. Then, the moment we become aware of our actions, we shift from here to there. Stepping outside the process, we look in post-reflectively on the self as object in space. HAMER GROUND UP


The question of how to get here is interwoven with the question of how to not go there. The second drawing series defines a specific there to test episodes of hereness against. From a studio drawing board, 360 degrees of space is mapped at eye level, producing a series of conjoint onepoint perspectives which stand-in as an ‘objective’ projection of space: there. Once mapped, the space is re-drawn through the pre-established techniques of here. Again the body thrashes, its relationship to space subjective, its pre-reflective existence disregarding the lines of the there. It proves difficult for the self to remain here. As the drawings progress, triggers are identified which toss the self into the indiscrete there. Doorways, windows, light, noises and colleagues all take their turn to exert external influence on the self. In the drawings, each of these trigger points becomes a slice—a cut, viscerally disrupting the drawing. These disruptions elicit an interweaving of the here and there mappings.

Mapping perspectival ‘objective’ space: the threre of the studio

The pages fold through one another, fighting for opportunity to reveal themselves, reflecting the earlier processes of drawing here. To design, then, is to repeatedly slip back and forth across this threshold between here and there. The pre-reflective and post-reflective states inform each other, pressuring the mind to shift to accommodate different spatial possibilities. Interwoven and interdependent, understanding here and there as competing pre-reflective and post-reflective states suggests a kind of bodily tool, in which our experiences of place are continually re-shaped by our understanding of our bodies within them. Here is not a static location. It is constructed through subjective inhabitation. Considering this, we can begin to draw out space and locate here with more physicality and more meaning. We might even begin to impress the here into existing spaces—to construct a series of bodily situations conducive to a more public hereness. Here is a defining, intersecting moment of space and self.

Collages 1 & 2: Replications and erasures of the body as understood as discrete objects in space



Sophie Hamer completed her Master of Architecture degree with Distinction at Victoria University of Wellington in 2010. She tutors within the school at both undergraduate and post-graduate level, and has held the role of Teaching Fellow. She also works as an Architectural Graduate for Andrew Sexton Architecture.



“Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating.” John Cage

E. Laguerta | A. Molinski | M. Steiner

A Movement in Queens is a polyphonic instrument played by the community. Individuals play through a spectrum of uses: quiet to loud, slow to fast. The space articulates and celebrates differences in individual ways of playing, moving, projecting, and perceiving. By manipulating doors, windows, and screens, users can shape the sonic space to tune their relationship to perceivers. Practice rooms invite musicians to weave a layer of intentional music into the existing tapestry of found sounds, such as bouncing balls, cutlery, game pieces, and conversation. Places of sonic isolation and projection offer a variety of experiences acoustically and socially, from the sound of one’s heartbeat to an exuberant urban cacophony. Visitors will discover opportunities for intentional and unintentional sympathetic resonance with the contrasting beats of others. The collage of paces and volumes synthesizes different walks of life into one ever-changing symphony.

The proposal offers different configuration of sonic projection (orange) and perception (teal). Users can manipulate doors, windows, and screens to shape their space.

The cadence of land use surrounding the project juxtaposes lively (orange), tranquil (teal), and mixed sounds (purple).

A map of linguistic isolation reveals the blocks where languages other than English are spoken, adding a layer of sonic diversity to the Queensway.

Different modes of transit surrounding the site offer ease of access and diverse tempos of travel.



A Movement in Queens provides a space to experience the neighborhoodâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s sounds, both lively (orange) and tranquil (teal). Users will selectively attend to different sounds, creating their own unique and unpredictable melody (purple). LEFT: These sounds would differ throughout the day. TOP: The proposal offers a seasonal rhythm of lively, tranquil, and unpredictable sounds.


Axon of the proposal, showing lively (orange), tranquil (teal), and unpredictable sonic experiences (purple).

1 2



Perspective of top level.





Elaine Laguerta, Adam Molinski, and Mariel Steiner are Master of Landscape Architecture candidates at the University of California, Berkeley.


Dear Designers in the Dongbei Region in Beijing: Out of empathy for the local populace, please set aside flat, shady, sound-buffered urban dance spaces for aging Chinese residents. These spaces should be large enough to accommodate at least thirty dancing bodies and located at some distance from major, polluted thoroughfares. Please site these spaces within a 15 minute walk from their homes, for they do not own cars. The dancing ladies and gentlemen of the city wish to remain active, stay healthy, and live long lives. In our designs, let’s leave them room to dance and to experience joy. Thank you, Caroline Chen


Caroline Chen studies the appropriation of interstitial urban spaces by aging Chinese residents for health and dance. With a background in German, Chinese, sculpture, and public health, Caroline brings an interdisciplinary perspective to examining how cultural practices motivate the transformation and redefinition of urban spaces into generators of health and social capital. She sat down with GROUND UP’s Miriam Eason and Jing Ma to discuss her ongoing work in China. GROUND UP: How did you become interested in the topic of the dancers in Beijing? Caroline Chen: I was actually in Beijing to pursue a different research topic as a follow-up to the Large Parks exhibition at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. My Fulbright fellowship was supposed to be a study on large park usage in Beijing. What really surprised me was that a whole lot of people, especially older people, were using public spaces just outside of the park. Across the street, under the freeway, there were groups dancing. I kept seeing this pattern throughout the city. Most people who saw it would say, “Well, that’s so amusing. Look at the old ladies dancing under the freeways,” then they’d just leave. I was wondering, “Why are these people not in the parks? Why have they

Caroline Chen

chosen this place—which seems to me, from a designer’s perspective—less desirable?” I started questioning what was wrong with the parks, and started asking, “Why do you prefer this space over the designed space?” Seniors need places to dance that are close to where they live, because they go dancing on the way to do errands. Think about how dispersed seniors are throughout the city. The dancers go wherever they can find a large enough space within a fifteen minute walk from their home. Some will take the bus for an hour to get to these places, but most walk. GU: What are the reasons behind the dancing? CC: In China, and in other Asian countries, too, filial piety has been the equivalent of long-term care for aging parents. It’s based on a concept of reciprocity— the parents take care of the children while they grow up, and then the children are expected to take care of the parents as they age. When the PRC [Peoples’ Republic of China] was founded in1949, the State started giving more social support and the family unit was weakened. However, filial piety still continued—it’s a traditional social norm for children to take care of parents. This relieved the government of the enormous expense of providing long-term care facilities or other institutions to take care of older

people. Then came the family planning policies of the 1970s that promoted longer intervals between children and fewer children. This worked really well for China’s economy, but now we have a situation called the sandwich generation, where each married young couple takes care of four older parents and their young child. The older people are trying to help by staying healthy and fit through finding their own support outside of the family. It’s a powerful situation for everyone involved. It’s a matter of changing social norms, a culture in transition. GU: Do you expect any changes in the dancing as the One Child policy changes? CC: Yes. I think it’s promising that there are population policy changes. But, on the other hand, there are also changes in what’s allowed to happen in public spaces. I’m very concerned about the banning of dancing in the streets in Shanghai. Dancing is a bottom up community response to a social dilemma created by old population policies. Seniors are using folkdance as a vehicle for preventative health. It is a creative and successful solution to a tough predicament. Banning dancing threatens this. Through dance, seniors can stay active and experience joy. Friends share information about how to promote their health. It is their way to get news, maintain social connections, stay fit, and structure their day. GU: What might be the concerns behind a government ban of this activity?

GU: What sort of designs could resolve conflicts with uses of public space? CC: Part of the solution is providing spaces large enough to engage in group activities in Beijing. They should accommodate twenty to sixty people. A sound buffer is really important to protect the dancers from eviction. Seniors choose flat, paved ground, so they don’t have to worry about balance. Overhead trees, or overhead protection from the sun, is preferable, but one should not plant too dense a bosque—I have heard tales of mid-dance collisions. It snows in Beijing, so the dancers I’ve been following actually move to different plazas during the winter, where the sun melts the snow. In the summer, they return to the place with trees. Storage is helpful because they bring their supplies with them. Some groups carry amplifiers to the space every single day, and some carry drums to the dance site on tricycles. A place for them to hang bags would be useful— right now, they hang their grocery bags and purses on the branches of nearby trees. They like to dance at night, so overhead lighting can help; presently many groups dance in darkness. Nearby bathrooms would be great. They bring their own little fold-up chairs to sit on, but long ledges GROUND UP


CC: There are some practical considerations. The dancing comes with music that’s very loud, and that bothers some people, but I think this is a design problem that can be solved. In the Western world there aren’t old people taking over the streets and dancing at night with loud music, so there hasn’t been an effort to address this design need. The preferred social norm of activity in Western cultures has more to do with walking or running or something that involves a narrow, winding path. The open spaces designed in China often follow prototypes [from the West], where sound buffering is not a great need. However, in China’s dense cities, sound is a big issue. Many issues arise when building spaces for groups to dance together. If open spaces are truly meant

for the public, they ought to reflect the kinds of uses that are actually popular in the community.


could also be useful. I think the visual connection to the rest of the community is really important to the dancers, as they enjoy interactions with the intergenerational audience. Keeping away from the polluting roadways would be a foresight. At this point they’re just struggling for space, but the dancers are also trying to protect their health. From a health perspective, dancing away from traffic just makes a lot of sense. GU: When people find a place to dance, do they consider the problem of air quality conditions? CC: Yes, we did discuss the irony: “The air quality today is in the 400’s [on the air quality index], and you’re dancing here for your health?” This is a place where three highways cross. Most dancers responded that they know the air is not good, “but we’d rather come out here and be with our friends and dance than sit at home alone.” So they’re making a conscious trade-off. GU: You mentioned a lot of characteristics for a good dancing place. Do people use parking lots and places under highways because the parks don’t have these characteristics, or are the parks too far away from where they live? CC: I am going to qualify that. People do use parks. They love parks. However, dancers are often restricted from entering parks because of their music and because they are big groups. Park administrators feel that parks are places for quietness and reflective strolling. They subscribe to this Olmsteadian idea—to them, groups parading around with drums don’t belong in the park. There are exceptions to this: people dancing with small radios are allowed to stay where they are. Spaces in parks are limited, so many groups compete. Individuals switch between groups, jockeying for better partners and better places. Other groups are not allowed in the parks at all. We either need a new kind of park, or a new way of thinking about the city. GU: Do you think the generation in their working years now may follow this pattern for health, or does this seem unique to the older generation? CC: That’s a really good question. The older people think yangge will persist as long as there are old people. I also spoke with some of their

children who came to watch. Some people said, “Yes, if I had time I would do this. This is really great.” There are also some people who I met who are ashamed of it. One person I met said, “If that was somebody in my family, I’d just make fun of them.” So, there are mixed attitudes, and I don’t know if this kind of healthful dancing will continue into the next generation. If it doesn’t, it saddens me to think that it may end because of poor urban design. GU: Since there are limited open spaces in Beijing, who would take responsibility to create a design to accommodate these dancing groups? Is it likely that a government agency in charge of health would do so, or would it be private families or corporations? How would that work? CC: I’m currently working with others who are interested in changing attitudes towards the active seniors. This semester, I am co-teaching a Pop-Up workshop at the Stanford with collaborators Deland Chan, Kevin Hsu, and Angelina Yu called “Parks, Plazas, Public Spaces and Play.” We are investigating uses of open space in San Francisco’s Chinatown, where many seniors are aging in place. In working with my collaborators, I find it interesting how advocacy happens differently across contexts. Authoritarian governments may not respond to demands for rights and calls for social justice, while these methods would elicit response in a democratic context. I’ve been taking these lessons and thinking about how to help the dancers in Beijing. This has led me to focus on public health after finishing my dissertation. Both the U.S. and China have a growing aging population, and are concerned about taking care of their residents. The argument for open spaces for the public’s health is an argument that many governments could understand. My hope is that through both top-down institutions such as universities and public health agencies, as well as attention to bottom-up innovations such as street dancing from the public, planning and design can converge for health.

Caroline Chen holds a PhD in Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning from University of California, Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design, a MLA from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and a Master of Public Health from University of California, Berkeley.


Conceived either as sacred navels of the world—Umbilicus Mundi—or as economic and political capitals—Caput Mundi—these cities have defined themselves as centers of global and even universal significance.

Felipe Orensanz / Zooburbia

Quoting G.K. Chesterton, Jorge Luis Borges once stated that there’s nothing more frightening than a center-less labyrinth. Whether out of fear or not, we are in more ways than one a species defined by centrality. We insistently seem to invent, build, and search for centers–or even push away from them–because they largely define how we signify our own hereness and how we ground ourselves in the world. Being here implies defining some kind of center–at the very least, that of our own physical presence–even in those places marked by off-center dynamics– peripheries, margins, thresholds, undergrounds, fringes, outskirts–even in the uttermost nowhere.

From the earliest forms of city-states to the global cities of today, urban settlements have defined a unique sense of being here. Even GROUND UP


In this quest for centrality, cities have historically played a key role and we usually turn to some form of urban settlement to depict the symbolic center of the known universe. In Christian tradition, the murderous Cain builds the first city in history, Enoch, after being expelled from paradise into a God-less–and therefore centerless–existence. In building his city, Cain seeks to re-signify his now meaningless life, decode his endless labyrinth, create a new gripping point, and define a new personal hereness.


Map by Heinrich Bünting (1581). The map was published in his book Itinerarium Sacrae Scripturae - “Travel through Holy Scripture” in 1581.

before cities became the dominant human settlement in statistical terms, they had already established themselves as the center of our political, economic, cultural, and symbolic structures. Being part of the city meant being at the very core of human geography; its air “made us free”–Stadtluft macht frei–and in doing so, allowed us to become part of the only here that mattered. To some extent, the walls of the ancient city didn’t mark the boundaries between here and there, but those between here and nowhere. Throughout history, certain cities have evolved into hyper-centers, places where hereness multiplies and unfolds into new forms of unprecedented intensity. Conceived either as sacred navels of the world–Umbilicus Mundi–or as economic and political capitals–Caput Mundi– these cities have defined themselves as centers of global and even universal significance. The ancient Greek city of Delphi, for example, was built at the mythological center–or omphalos–of

the earth, marked by the point over which two flying eagles, previously released by Zeus, met each other. Similarly, the capital of the Aztec Empire, Mexico-Tenochtitlan, was defined by an umbilical condition, and both of its toponyms include etymological references either to the heart or the navel of the world. In Rome, for many the first truly global city, the Miliarium Aureum, or golden milestone, was a symbol of political and economic power. This structure marked the central reference point to all distances within the apparently endless Roman Empire, eventually giving rise to the household phrase “all roads lead to Rome.” If there was one here that defined the center of the Roman Empire, it was, without doubt, Rome’s Miliarium Aureum. If Rome represents the Ancient Era’s quintessential political and economic Caput Mundi, Jerusalem is in many ways its spiritual and

religious counterpart. An indispensable holy city to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Jerusalem was for centuries considered to be the center of the world, to such extent that many medieval maps were geographically modified so as to position the city in the planet´s geometrical center, symmetrically surrounded by the three known continents–Europe, Asia, and Africa (see, for example, the famous “T and O” and Bünting Clover Leaf maps). Paris, on the other hand, was probably the first major city to base its centrality on time rather than on space. Unlike Rome, Paris wasn’t the capital of a vast empire, but as Walter Benjamin suggested, the Caput Mundi and spirit of the 19th century, the reference point of an entire era. It was the capital of modernity, its political ideas, its science, and its art. In a certain way, Paris became the first city to define not only what it meant to be here, but what we understood to be now. While Paris defined the 19th century mind and was its ideological breeding ground, London defined its muscle. As capital of an empire where “the sun never set,” epicenter of the Industrial Revolution, and the world’s most populated city for most of the century, London was an unparalleled Caput Mundi. It’s no coincidence that in 1884 it was the place chosen to fix the world’s first universal time standard, the Greenwich Mean Time, which would become the international reference for global herenesses and nownesses for the next century. Both Paris and London have managed to hold on to their worldwide hegemonic positions, but other cities have joined the race towards global leadership. The 20th and 21st centuries have witnessed an increasingly fierce battle to determine the next Caput Mundi. New York, for example, is home to the UN Headquarters and was recently named the world’s most powerful city by the Mori Foundation´s Global Power City Index, according to six key indicators: economy, research & development, cultural interaction, livability, environment, and accessibility.

Even the smallest cities and towns seem to want their share of worldwide recognition and significance, and to make their own hereness globally unique and relevant. Today, many North American small towns are self-proclaimed capitals of the world, often in the oddest of terms: Hadley, Massachusetts, Asparagus Capital of the World; Bonneville, Utah, Speed Capital of the World; or Le Mars, Iowa, Ice Cream Capital of the World, are but a few examples.

...the fear of falling off-center and into an endless labyrinth continues to haunt the ideas through which we define the notion of being here. But for others, from Constantinos Doxiadis’ prediction of a planetary Ecumenopolis to Rem Koolhaas’ genealogy of the Generic City, the dominant hereness implicit in the idea of the city as capital or navel of the world has gradually lost its relevance. Given the increasingly seamless nature of contemporary urbanization, we no longer have to physically inhabit Paris, London, or New York in order to share their particular form of centrality. From this perspective, hereness and thereness blur into one single experience, defined by the generic spatiality of Starbucks, GAP, or McDonald’s. Either way, the fear of falling off-center and into an endless labyrinth continues to haunt the ideas through which we define the notion of being here, and cities continue to play a key role in this process. From Deplhi to London, Jerusalem to New York, and Rome to Bonneville, our quest for the hereness of centrality continues to follow a predominantly urban path.

Felipe Orensanz is co-founder of Zooburbia, an architecture and urbanism collective whose work spans a wide variety of fields including design, research, and development of editorial projects. He received the Alfonso Caso Medal in 2010.



Tokyo, meanwhile, is the planet´s largest and wealthiest city (and will continue to be so for the next few decades) according to data from City Mayors and PricewaterhouseCoopers, while Washington D.C. is home to the government of

the world’s most powerful nation, and to many leading international organizations such as the IMF and the World Bank.



Prologue Far from the metropolis lie the dislocated hinterlands that support the mechanizations of modern living. The city is thoroughly embedded in a global network of landscapes and infrastructures that are too often forgotten, unseen, or ignored. In Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad sets the narrator of the story, Marlow, on a boat on the Thames, the city glistening, serene behind him as he recalls a voyage into the unknown. In doing so, Conrad sets the familiar world of the city in direct contrast to the distant continent in which Marlow’s voyage into darkness unravels. The exact location of this voyage remains obscure in the text, uncertain next to the certainty of the departure point. The “biggest and the greatest town on earth,”2 the site from which he embarks—the known from which we relate to the

Kate Davies | Liam Young

unknown—might be read as the true ground for the narrative. It is both focal point and backdrop. “And this also,” says Marlow, “has been one of the dark places of the earth,”3 weaving the two together. When the familiar is implicated in the framing of the unfamiliar, Where do we come from? is as important as Where are we going? This is the dialogue at the center of the Unknown Fields Division’s work. The Unknown Fields Division is a nomadic design studio that ventures out on biannual expeditions to the ends of the earth to explore extreme landscapes, alien terrains, and industrial ecologies. With groups of students and embedded collaborators, The Division reimagines complex realities of the present as sites of critical and speculative futures. The Division aims to remap the city and the technologies it contains, not as a discrete, independent collection of buildings and technologies, but as a networked

“Hunters for gold, pursuers of fame, they had all gone out on that stream...what greatness had not floated on the ebb of that river into the mystery of an unknown earth!... The dreams of men, the seed of commonwealths, the germs of empires.” Joseph Conrad1 Barrow ocean edge. Photo by Dessi Lyutakova.

object that conditions and is conditioned by a wide array of local and global landscapes. By developing an atlas of supply chains from consumption back to ground source, we can begin to understand the complex connections that exist between our everyday lives and a wider global context.



The emphasis of this research is to catalog sites along the global supply chain as a productive process. In order to speculate on how design may play a role in developing new cultural relationships with the inevitable by-products of industry—a changing climate and an anthropocentric world— we should first attempt to understand that world by bearing witness to some of these emerging infrastructural landscapes. These territories must be lived, experienced, and chronicled; but ultimately, they must also be reimagined. This complex web of interconnections and landscapes that gives shape to our world is too intricate to fully understand, but through storytelling and designed scenarios we

can start to relate to that complexity in meaningful ways; and we can use these imaginative leaps to test our responses to possible futures. For The Division, the journey is the site, along which we construct a series of parallel narratives and partial fabrications and chronicle some probable fictions we have imagined in response to the improbable truths we have witnessed. As architects, we have the ability to construct realities for others to inhabit, to help shape cultural narratives and inform the way we collectively think about the world. When considering these landscapes, it is critical that we engage with the stories our culture constructs around them. Whether political spin, science fiction, nature documentary, environmental protest, disaster film, fairy tale, folklore, or scientific analysis, these narratives have merit. By understanding the mythology and stories of these distant landscapes, and disrupting or intervening within them as a second site, we can bridge the gap between the here and there.


Traversing a Speculative Supply Chain Here, we narrate a scenic journey with The Division along a speculative supply chain. It is a field guide through the science-fictional landscapes of the present: the landscapes of technology, and the technologies of landscape. It is a trajectory woven from some of the very real, physical sites The Division has explored across the last few years. Stitching these places together forms a new territory for us to inhabit, a city of logistics and trajectories, of shifting resources and distributed ground. It is a space that is at once nowhere and everywhere. The Unknown Fields supply chain begins 1km below the surface crust of the Earth. The ground steams and rumbles as The Division stands in a new shaft of the Wiluna Gold mine, on the edge of the Western Desert in Outback Australia. The Division will follow the material of this excavated landscape of caves and canyons as it is scattered across the earth. We each have a little piece of Wiluna on us now, in our pockets—0.034grams locked away in our mobile phones. We travel up through the gold fields and monster iron ore mines, following the two-kilometer long trains that drag the mountains out of the Outback and onto colossal ships bound for China to build cities for a rapidly urbanizing population. Here lies the shadow of those cities, the silent twin: the void where a landform once was. These are the dislocated resource sites that support the world we are more familiar with. Australia’s is a landscape whose material has been exploded into a global constellation: from iron ore destined for the popup cities in China to bauxite for aluminum smelting in Iceland; uranium for UK nuclear reactors to gold for plating connections in supercomputers modeling climate change in Alaska; food grade titanium to paint “m&m” on candies sold in a convenience store in Los Angeles to diamonds for sharpening knives in a sushi restaurant in Tokyo. This vast infrastructural geology is cut out of the narrative landscape that embodies the

creation stories of the Australian Aboriginals. Aboriginal dreamtime narratives speak of an era when the ground was soft and creation beings shaped mountains and rivers, when the rainbow serpent slinked across the ground to create a river, and a wild dog came to rest to form a mountain. These origin stories and ceremonies are now spun together with the ghosts of modern technologies. Explosives, diggers, and drills have replaced the slow erosion of rivers and winds. The Division follows a railway to Port Headland, where iron ore is stockpiled for export to China. Here we meet the aboriginal painter Lorraine Sampson, standing in the red dust blown from the carriages, “watching the trains take her country away.” Mining survey planes track back and forth, laserscanning the earth in search of the topographic “Gravity One,” by Oliviu Lugojan Ghenciu. Australia Expedition.

anomalies that indicate pockets of undiscovered minerals in the ground. The scans locate a field to be core sampled, creating a geological map of the ore body below ground, a void in waiting. Traditional paintings of dreamtime stories have often been used to support land rights claims and are set in relation to the narrative of a fluctuating market that also lays claim to this landscape. The technologies with which this ground is surveyed and recorded also become the political means through which groups claim ownership over it. The Division moves along the supply chain to visit the Wiluna mine design office in Perth; we watch the shape of the excavation change as the variable gold price is entered into the engineering software there. As the gold price

rises, it becomes more economical to mine areas of lower gold ore concentration. The price drops, and the virtual mine shrinks as the software focuses the next cut around deposits of richer gold ore. Cut by cut, the fluctuations of the gold price are etched into the ground of Western Australia at the scale of the Grand Canyon. The steamy black void in which The Division previously stood is a live graph, a wormhole shaped by the frequency of electronic trades in London and New York. Gold is extracted from this ancient ground so it can be quantified and weighed. It is shipped across the world from one hole in the ground to another, to be stored below the surface once more in the vaults of HSBC and the Federal Reserve. Here, the majority of this material remains, to be traded virtually. The goldâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s value is a fiction, embodied in a block of material wrung

Australiaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s is a landscape whose material has been exploded into a global constellation: from iron ore destined for the popup cities in China to bauxite for aluminum smelting in Iceland...


We continue along the mineral train line, rumbling toward the vast ports of the Western Australian coast. Everything in Port Headland is painted red, dusted in the rich ochre of the interior, blown from the tops of stockpiles and loaders that fill immense ships bound for distant lands. Tanker by tanker, an ancient landscape is being atomized and redistributed.

oasis in a world shaped by power consumption. Energy here is harvested at 3 cents per Kwh—in the rest of the world, production ranges from 7 – 20 cents per kWh—and Iceland is rushing to create new industries to put it to use. This “clean” energy makes it economically viable to ship raw material extracted from half a world away here for processing, only for it to be sent back across the planet again for consumption. Alcoa runs an aluminium smelter near the town of Reyðarfjördur, which contains a hydroelectric power station with twice the energy output as all those used to power the rest of the country put together. Iceland’s unique resources flip the usual narrative about energy on its head.

The bauxite mined in the Western Australian Outback is shipped as alumina to the edge of the Arctic, ready to harness Iceland’s outpouring of energy for aluminum smelting. We travel with it to this next stop on the supply chain. An excess of geothermal energy makes this island an

Iceland is 30 milliseconds from Alaska, via the FARICE-1 and ARCTIC FIBRE undersea data cables. The Division clicks “cheap flights Alaska,” two price-comparison windows open, and we contemplate our carbon footprint—but not for the reasons you might think.

like blood from a stone, siphoned from vast tracts of land, only to sit, trapped, back in the earth. This landscape of conflicting narratives and value systems raises difficult questions about our role as its custodians.

world’s data; the ephemera of the cloud—its invisible web of virtual connections—finds an extraordinary physical form in the volcanic deserts of Iceland. Standing beside the vast server racks, our faces are illuminated by thousands of blinking LEDs flashing with every email, search, naughty chat, and magnum opus. These machines need little besides cool temperatures and cheap power to keep running. This ethereal landscape, laced with folklore and boiling with an abundance of energy, is the incubator for the new stories we may tell ourselves.

“Here Be Dragons,” by Will Gowland. Alaska Expedition.

The servers that enact this single search consume approximately the same amount of energy it takes to boil water for one cup of coffee. Contemplate the number of searches queried in any given second around the world,

These sites are landscapes where we find the future in the present tense, that act as condensers of wider issues we relate to only in an abstract sense...

The Arctic is more familiar as the protagonist in current environmental narratives than as the site where the complexities and contradictions of the energy debate are playing themselves out. The Division follows the data stream—the information supply chain—from one Arctic information hub to another, from geothermal warehouses to a large white room in Fairbanks, Alaska. At the Arctic Region Supercomputing Centre, we meet a supercomputer called Pacman, with banks of parallel processors performing trillions of operations per second, flanked by entire rooms full of data tapes. Each tape is full of readings and measurements, extrapolated figures and complex computational models. Mind-boggling numbers are involved as these computational behemoths carry out the task of predicting the future. This is a major hub in the global feedback system, where the effect of human activity on the planet’s ecology is assessed and extrapolated. We are reminded that now, as never before, our actions in a city halfway across the world have major implications on a faraway landscape we may never visit.

Here, digital technology is caught feeding. The Arctic North is becoming the home of the

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), a stretch of landscape in northern Alaska, GROUND UP


and it comes as no surprise that the carbon footprint of the IT industry is set to overtake that of the airline industry by 2020. Internet giants and their server farm empires are the newest industries to capitalize on Iceland’s “guilt free” energy.

Pacman computes climate and weather forecasts, modeling sea ice formation, arcticocean dynamics, ecological systems, and resource depletion. As our thirst for certainty about long- and short-term futures demands data at ever finer resolutions, places that support increased computing power relay information about complex natural processes and news of pressing environmental concerns to all corners of the world.


is caught in the process of becoming part of an international supply chain. In a café in Anchorage, we meet an oil lobbyist for Arctic Power. He discusses a possible future of the ANWR, arguing that the US has no option but to drill there. To support his claim, he reels off an exhausting list of products made from oil: the plastic spoon in his hand, the fertilizer for the food we are eating, our medicines, cosmetics, and clothes, among others. The computed figures and predictions convince him that the ANWR will one day produce a million barrels of oil a day. Others interpret the same figures very differently. Earmarked as a future oil field, environmentalists call ANWR an irreplaceable haven for wildlife. It is a place monitored by environmentalists and speculators alike, and it is woven with conflicting narratives for its future. Our supply chain comes to an end in a landscape in limbo at the top of the world. The Division lands on an icy runway at Barrow, on the far north coast of Alaska. It is winter solstice, and we slip into the darkness of an endless night. We stand on the frozen Arctic Ocean, its landward edge illuminated by streetlights along the shorefront. This is the landscape Pacman is thinking about. Here, climate scientists and Inuit work together to divine the future of this landscape. They watch this place. The Inuit compile ice diaries from careful observation and share ancestral knowledge. The scientists consult delicate instrumentation and differ in their outlook fundamentally. There is a thick streak of determined pragmatism from the Inuit community; as a culture, they approach change with confidence in their own ability to adapt, and so embrace multiple future scenarios with openness and resourcefulness. Environmental scientists, on the other hand, assemble their observations into climate forecasts with the hope of predicting the future as precisely as possible. The Far North is landscape as science experiment; it is a predictive model of itself, informing the future strategies of global environmental and energy policy penned back in the metropolises it supports. A distant landscape, conditioned by and conditioning the cities closer to home. A landscape mined for data as well as resources. A landscape measured in retreating ice and remaining barrels of oil. It is supply chain territory, precious and fragile, violent and terrifying. Jökulsárlón iceberg lagoon. Photo by Liam Young.

The Far North is landscape as science experiment...measured in retreating ice and remaining barrels of oil. It is supply chain territory, precious and fragile, violent and terrifying. 47

Returning Home As we come to the end of our travelogue, from the Antipodes to the North West Passage, we are reminded again that our point of viewâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;the here from which we relate to thereâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;is a large part of the story. Both of these terms presume a Northern European origin. Antipodal: the point diametrically opposite a given location on the globe, namely, Europe. North West: a location that assumes a South East from which to view it. We are aware that the connections between these places may tell a more accurate story than the nodes. This has been a narrative voyage through just a few of the sites we have visited with The Division

over the last 4 years. They are sites that offer us a new perspective from which to understand the emerging conditions we are designing for. These sites are landscapes where we find the future in the present tense, that act as condensers of wider issues we relate to only in an abstract sense from our more familiar cities. They are places on the margins of our knowledge, where issues such as climate change, resource depletion, declining biodiversity, and pervasive technologies play out with more immediacy and more urgency than anywhere else on the globe. They provide glimpses into alternative futures and form test beds for designers to critically evaluate the implications of emerging technologies.

â&#x20AC;&#x153;Port Headland Iron Ore.â&#x20AC;? Photo by Oliviu Lugojan Ghenciu.

ENDNOTES 1. Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. NY,NY: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1988, pg. 5. 2. ibid. 3. ibid.

Kate Davies is founder of the multidisciplinary group LiquidFactory. Kate teaches diploma Architecture courses at the Bartlett School and the Architectural Association in London and regularly runs international design workshops. Liam Young is an architect who operates in the spaces between design, fiction and futures. He is founder of the think tank Tomorrows Thoughts Today.



Architects operate in the fertile ground between culture, nature, and technology. We are in a unique position to synthesize diverse and complex factors, to pose alternate scenarios and counter narratives, and to communicate them with imagination and precision. The Unknown Fields Division aims to prototype alternative ways of thinking about and acknowledging this complexity. If we can reveal this hidden cartography, we can begin to acknowledge the interconnected nature of place and explore new ways to navigate this complicated planet. We are a generation privileged to bear witness to this emerging world. This is a powerful place to be, on the very edge of the potential for change.



The notion of the trace suggests the disappearance of origins, dislocations from the here and now. The trace of here leads to transformations, inversions, and reflections, refers back to itself as it changes into now, this location, this presence. The trace deconstructs its origin, dividing and multiplying into mnemonic and physical layers. Here implies multiple substitutions, the future of the now, the place and the placing of the subject and body. It is the gap between existences, a difference already in place at the origin. Here is the external condition of an inside, a place designating opposite territories, articulated through tracing and new meanings. Here is the breath before the word, a text awaiting its content, the desire for substance and exactness. Here is the tectonics of being and thinking, presence and absence, thought and the outside, change and inertia, a spatial-temporal structure of memories and images. Here is presence in its unconscious, a meaning inhabited by the notion of its replacement, the ghosting, the dislocation of the figure, of the thought of the moment. Here is a deep ecology2 of relations awaiting reparation, an open text of signs, altered continuously by dissemination, motion, affect. Here materiality is always a trace, untranslatable in one language, multiple in time and place, its meaning present only in its absence.

Aida Miron

Here bodies and thoughts slide into specific relations, habitations and forms. It is double movement in space and time, erasure into the future, dissolution into unknowing. It is the calcium of the bones, the outline of the stars. Here is the ontology of a body, its disappearance into the recesses of thought. Here is the true exteriority3 of being, the unconscious forgetting of the now, the other of finitudes. It is the unpossessed past, the mark of the disembodied. Here is never sameness, never single, never still. As Ishmael says in Moby Dick: “Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance. Methinks that in looking at things spiritual, we are too much like oysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that thick water the thinnest of air. Methinks my body is but the lees of my better being. In fact take my body who will, take it, it’s not me.”4 ENDNOTES 1. Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Baltimore/London : The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974. 2. Philosophy and term coined by Arne Naess. 3. Derrida, Jacques. Writing and Difference. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1978. 4. Melville, Herman. Moby Dick. New York/London: WW Norton & Company, 1967.

Aida Miron received a Bachelor of Architecture degree from The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture of The Cooper Union, a Master of Architecture degree with honors from the Escuela Tecnica Superior de Barcelona-UPC, and a post-Graduate degree in Urban Studies from the Bauhaus Stiftung in Dessau, Germany. In 2001 she studied at NYU with Jacques Derrida.

â&#x20AC;&#x153;One must ask the question of meaning and of its origin in difference. Such is the place of a problematic of the trace.â&#x20AC;? 1 Jacques Derrida



You are here: the corner of Houston and Hudson, the southern tip of Manhattan, New York, New York.

N. Claire Napawan, Brett Snyder et al.

In spring 2013, Mayor Bloomberg challenged designers to re-imagine the pay phone in the mobile era. Smart Sidewalks conceptualized the project as an opportunity to employ over 11,000 existing pay phone locations as a decentralized network for wayfinding (you are here), communication, and addressing impacts of climate change. This includes providing beacons during severe weather events, alternative energy sources during power outages, and water filtration to improve stormwater runoff quality. All these aims were confined to a limited footprint to minimize obstruction of the already overcrowded streetscape. From a pool of more than 120 entries, Smart Sidewalks was one of six finalists and was awarded the Best Functionality Award by Mayor Bloomberg and the City of New York. The project stems from the recognition of multiple scales functioning within a city: here is simultaneously the concrete sidewalk you stand on and the entire network of the city. You are here: the corner of Houston and Hudson, the southern tip of Manhattan, New York, New York. Thus the pay phoneâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s design was conceptualized at the scale of both object and network. At the scale of the individual, the pay phone was designed as an extension of the existing pattern of NYC sidewalks. Integrated with existing expansion joint patterning, Smart Sidewalks uses a 6â&#x20AC;? strip embedded into the sidewalk and a slender ribbon of steel to provide internet access, wayfinding, and solar power. The form is designed to withstand gale-force winds and accommodate wheelchair access.

At the scale of the city, the 11,000 pay phone locations provide an opportunity to integrate water filtration within the streetscape while also collecting real-time data on pedestrian flows and water volume, collectively building the cityâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s emergency reaction capacity.

This project also addresses the critical need for dualistic scalar thinking when tackling challenges of climate change impact. While environmental change occurs at the global scale, impacts are felt locally and resilience is built within individual communities. Smart Sidewalksâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; approach embodies important ways cities might capitalize on outdated infrastructure to build new networks for urban resilience at the scale of the individual, the city, and beyond.



Our proposal is driven by competing aims: the urge to pack as much function as possible into a single device and the desire to reduce the physical footprint of the phonebooth. We aim to create a new selfsustaining resource that builds on the way people communicate today while envisioning the continued evolution of connective technologies.


Urban Strategy: On & Off the Grid The building block of the pedestrian landscape is the 5â&#x20AC;&#x2122; x 5â&#x20AC;&#x2122; sidewalk grid. Our proposal has two main components that work within this logic. The first component lies horizontal but introduces a combined input/output sensor display with storm runoff storage below. The second component stands vertical and functions as a communication device, wifi hotspot, PV energy source, interactive touch screen, and more.

Exploded View: Vertical Unit

Data Visualization LOCATION-SPECIFIC



Colorways as Complexity

Using a single color for the web portal­—coordinating with the sidewalk bands and the vertical interface—allows the city to use a variety of schemes that might differentiate neighborhoods on one day, celebrate a Subway Series on another, or create storm preparedness by alerting residents to flood zone borders. This strategy aspires to provide maximum functionality for the technologically savvy, while lowering the digital divide and making vital city information available to all.

Ground Unit



User Interface Sidewalk Display

Screen Display We propose basic city information (weather, maps, and navigation) and WiFi be freely available to pedestrians at each Smart Sidewalk location. Beyond information, users might charge devices, look at photos from the area, browse the web, or use apps white-listed for the NYC app store. The touch-screen interface is adjustable to the height of the user, and is augmented by a hard keyboard with Braille support. The browser would be maintained by NYC, but the apps would be open-source.

Sidewalk Display Programmable LED sidewalks create a new way of navigating the cityâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;allowing a range of possibilities from coordinating neighborhoods to push notifications to guided tours.

Sense of the city The horizontal component, the 6â&#x20AC;? wide sensor strip, will produce a new granular database about how the city is being used. This data could be publicly accessible to facilitate smart planning choices.

Vertical Unit Form Logic

maximize accessibility


solar potential

Collaborators: Rama Chorpash, Director of Product Design and Associate Professor, Parsons The New School for Design, Rama Chorpash Design LLC | SinĂŠad C. Mac Namara, Assistant Professor of Structural Engineering, Syracuse University | Ben Busse, Product Strategist, Startup Leader, Technologist, San Francisco, CA | Jesse Ganes, architecture student, Syracuse University | Grant Foster, architecture student, Syracuse University



N. Claire Napawan is Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of California, Davis Department of Human Ecology. Brett Snyder is Assistant Professor of Architecture and Media Design at the University of California, Davis Department of Design.


W H E R E A R E YO U ? A R E YO U H E R E ?

Katherine Melcher

Where are you? Somewhere between the levee and the Mississippi, on “indifferent border strips of the dry land,”1 I walk through the underbelly of half-built bridges, where abandoned piers collect vines and vie with saplings for the late afternoon sun. Are you here? Here is a plush, faded-yellow recliner with tires for a footrest. The recliner is here on the river bank, but cannot be considered here without me. Without my presence, the bank would be somewhere else. Here is not only a location in space, it is also a personal connection. The “You Are Here” red star on a map is meaningless without the reader playing the role of you. Sitting in your seat. “Where are you?” is scrawled in Sharpie on the left armrest. “Are you here?” on the right. “Sitting in your seat,” running down the right arm, inviting—no, demanding—that I take a seat. I settle in, prop up my feet, and face out through a frame of leaves, trees, and vines to the horizon created by river and sky.

Here implies rest, sitting in a seat, dwelling. It is not the “Are we there yet?” of a road trip. It is the “Wish you were here,” of a sunset on a postcard. As Heidegger’s bridge turns the strips of dry land into banks and subsequently “gathers to itself in its own way earth and sky, divinities and mortals,”2 the chair gathers the earth, trees, sky, and river around me. Here means a chair on a river bank, yes, but it is not restricted by scale. It can also mean the entire Mississippi River, this Earth, this universe. I am here. On the night of a lunar eclipse, I watch as the Earth’s shadow inches over the Moon’s surface. The Earth’s shadow is my shadow. I am here. Illogically, I stick out my arm to see if I can see its shadow, if I can see evidence of my existence. Like people who painted on the walls of caves, carved initials into school desks, or took a Sharpie to a chair in the woods; I have this impulse to say, “I am here.” It is not just about place. It is about my being alive.

As designers, we want to create a here to counteract our “loss of nearness.”3 We want to create a somewhere amongst the indifference of anywhere and everywhere. But it is not the design, it is not the chair in the woods, that creates the here. It is the people. All we, as designers, can do is to offer them a seat, an invitation to rest, gather the world around them, sky and earth, and say, “I am here.” ENDNOTES 1. Heidegger, Martin. Basic Writings. Edited by David Farrell Krell. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1993, p. 354. 2. Heidegger, Martin. Basic Writings. Edited by David Farrell Krell. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1993, p. 355. 3. Malpas, Jeff. Heidegger’s Topology. Boston: MIT Press, 2006, p. 226.

Katherine Melcher is Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Georgia. In her research she is exploring how understanding people and place through qualitative methods can inform and expand the design process.




Michael van Gessel

â&#x20AC;&#x153;What is, is the great guide as to what ought to be.â&#x20AC;?1 -Joseph Spence

Michael van Gessel has practiced landscape architecture internationally and in his native Netherlands for nearly four decades. GROUND UP sat down with MIchael to discuss his ideas about place and its role in the process and profession of landscape architecture.

GROUND UP: How do you perceive the genius of the place? Michael van Gessel: People perceive the genius of place with different awarenesses, so it’s not something absolute. The genius of the place is something that you discover by being sensitive, by being perceptive, by listening, by just being, having an awareness of what is going on around you. The temperature, the climate, the atmosphere, that is all about the genius of the place. The other thing that fascinates me is the history [of the place]. I always study what was there previously. It allows me to understand why the place is as it is. GU: How do you think the past and present could be incorporated into the future of a site? MVG: If a site has a complicated history, it takes time to understand why it is as it is. In any case in design, you first have to understand before you interfere. I like to interfere as little as possible with a maximum of result. Maybe there’s no human history, but there is a natural history. If you understand this, how geologically it became as it is, then you can work with nature—you don’t try to force the site to do what you want. It is more interesting, more ecologically sound, and often more beautiful than when you interfere with design. I think it is better to interfere by process, by doing something like acupuncture, where you act somewhere and the energy flows to other parts, creating something surprising. When you hardly interfere, you are [still] able to generate a huge amount of result. That fascinates me. GU: What is the position of site in a complete design process? MVG: The site is the main thing. We, as landscape architects, are always site specific and ground specific. That is by definition.

It could also be that society asks you for something, be it a commissioner, a social constraint, some issue with the site—these are separate influences, and you try to bring them together. But first of all it is a question of respect, of holding back, seeing what the site gives you. That is what interests me. I see that designers want to interfere, they want to do a project. I see it also with the students. I ask them, “Why this? Where does this come from?” It will be a pattern they made up, an image they found on the internet that inspired them. But it’s just an idea. If you go site specific, it’s not an idea, it’s the site! It’s the character and the genius of the place. People have thousands of ideas, that’s not difficult. Having the right idea in the right place is what matters. Site and your intervention should go together and grow into something much more powerful. I’ve learned that my best designs are when I listen as closely as possible, and completely without prejudice, without having something thought out in advance, being as open and receptive as possible. In design, it is between making a forceful intervention, and being sensitive. You are powerful, decisive, driven, but also very quiet, very subtle, very focused. GU: You have said before that landscape architecture is an applied art, and our work is in the service of the site. Where do you find the balance between the client’s demands, the designer’s artistic intuition, and the site itself? MVG: I see it more as the site and the client. You are just the catalyzer. You try not to be the third person, but to listen to the client. The client will often come with a solution in mind, and I will get them to see that the design can be done in different ways than they think. That is your job [as landscape architect]—analyze, go to core of it, understand what the site can accommodate easily. Because the site is so specific, it can transform the client’s demands, producing a very different solution than what they had imagined. As a result of looking at the site, I often did something completely different than the client expected, or than even I had expected. That is openness. That is applied art. GROUND UP


When I was younger, I would feel this drive to create, to make. I’ve learned that it is better to first see what things come out of the site. It is very egocentric to want something. When you don’t come from a place of wanting, life, or the

site, will give you things to discover, and they are often very unexpected.


GU: You talk about the historical and geographical aspects of the site. What is the importance of culture in your reading of the site? MVG: It is just as important. If you look at any site, you will see that human intervention and natural conditions grow together, they merge into something. When you change the human intervention because of an assignment, you change that intricate balance between what we want and the natural possibilities and restraints of the site. When you are dead, people will do whatever they want with your designs, with your parks and your plazas. You must always think that you are just an intervention in one time and space, and that time will go on. If you defend [your design], it won’t work. You must always look at what is essential about your design, and be adaptive. New demands will arise, and you will need to change things, but I like that. That is life giving you a new design opportunity. The designer’s role is to think broadly, to be able to change. It doesn’t matter what the design is, as long as it is well-designed. GU: You have worked at many scales and in many settings. What are the challenges of working in these different contexts? How do you manage to read the place in different conditions? MVG: It is always about attitude, and that can be applied to all scales. Your own identity is ingrained in your design, so you [inherently] do things differently than someone else would. That doesn’t matter, as long as you don’t have [your individuality] as an authoritative goal. I always think, “I’ve never done this before,” but when I look back at all my projects, I can see my handwriting in them. I can see that they are mine from what I took out of the site. Of course, you can take many things out of a site. That is what makes studio [projects] so nice. Everyone has the same site, but each student does something different. People worry as designers, “I must be unique!” You don’t have to worry—you are unique! You don’t have to invent something that others have not yet done. If you go to your heart, [your design] will be unique.

People have thousands of ideas, that’s not difficult. Having the right idea in the right place is what matters. Site and your intervention should go together and grow into something much more powerful.

Of course I understand [this concern]. I wanted to study architecture, but I thought, “No I can’t. I have no creativity!” But you don’t have to be creative. The site and the question and time give you a different solution every time, and the red thread [connecting these solutions] is your personality. And that will come by itself. Don’t work on it, it will come. What I do work on is attitude. I read, I think about society. I also try to give society something that is new or that brings us a step forward. It is not only about beauty, but also about inclusiveness, flexibility, [design that] many people can use. You always have to develop. If you don’t develop, you become conservative, [thinking that] the past was better than now. Nonsense! It’s much better now. GU: You’ve had nearly four decades of professional experience. What was your transformation through this process? Are there particular projects that exemplify an evolution in your professional life or your approach to design? MVG: There aren’t epiphanies—it happens gradually. Things happen in life, and you grow. I studied tropical plant diseases at first, but then I went with my heart—I knew I would always regret it if I didn’t give [landscape architecture] a chance. I was first working in a group, and then on my own. Over time, I came to understand myself as an artist, but not in the strict traditional sense. There are people who are artists, who are very good at drawing, but I’m a good applied artist, because I listen well and I can explain well. To be good at this job, you must be a good communicator. It’s often about selling yourself and [expressing] your intentions, your generosity, your sensitivity, and not about your projects. Clients don’t always understand drawings, but they will trust you to do your work if you can communicate with them.

I was brought up in modernism, when everything was rationally defined. Later, we got postmodernism in the 1980s. Everything was a design on top of a design. [Think of] La Villette. We were thinking of layered elements, and we realized that we can also layer nature. In my design, I borrow a lot of patterns from nature, because no one can design as beautifully as things happen in nature. I never liked post-modernism. Everything is overdesigned, so many materials, it’s so tiring! I love good ingredients and simple elements—grass, trees, a concrete wall, that’s it. We won a design competition in Warsaw calling for a “Garden of the 21st Century.” In my opinion, the garden of the 21st Century is nature. They wanted the garden to go with a large museum, but the museum was so big that the garden was insignificant, so we put the museum underground, and the garden undulating over the top of it. The garden is filled with plants, which are to be left to grow and interfere [with each other], developing on their own. It’s playful and relaxed, and doesn’t need to be taken care of like La Villette, where everything must stay in a certain shape. The design works with nature and change. I defended modernist neighborhoods because they were made out of great idealism, [the notion] that people could make a better world after the war, which is lovely. You can see now why it didn’t succeed, so you have to take those negative aspects away. Over the last forty years, we have grown into very individual people, which is not bad, but different. We want to be free, and this is good, but we are not a society taking care of each other any more. So, we have to adjust environments that were made with the thought that people look after each other, because these environments don’t work any more. We have to transform them without destroying them. ENDNOTE 1. Joseph Spence was an 18th century Oxford historian and professor of poetry. Spence, Joseph. “Letter to Rev. Mr. Wheeler (on gardening) (1751).” Genius of Place: the English Landscape Garden 1620-1820. Ed. Hunt, John Dixon and Willis, Peter. New York: Harper & Row, 1975. Print.

Development sequence for Wouwse Plantage, Netherlands



Michael van Gessel received his education in landscape architecture at the University of Wageningen (1978). Since 1997, he has practiced as an advisor in the broader field of landscape architecture and urbanism.


“Musa Isle, 1923” by Claude Matlack © HistoryMiami


Greg Corso | Molly Hunker

“A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image.” Joan Didion

While the chickee hut’s primary function was that of shelter, our proposal departs from the idea of enclosure for an interest in spectacle.

DawnTown’s inaugural design/build competition invited architects from around the world to design an installation at The Museum of History, Miami. The focus of the competition was to celebrate the architectural history and evolution of the city of Miami. As a finalist, our entry, History / In the Remaking, attempts to reconcile Miami’s past traditions with its contemporary character. Our intention was to explore the idea of folk vernacular as affect, leveraging nostalgia, memory and forgotten crafts to develop visual and spatial design elements. This was done by reconsidering one of Miami’s first architectural models, the chickee hut. The chickee hut was a prevalent architectural manifestation adopted by the Seminole Tribe in response to the Indian Removal Act (1830) and the Second (1835–42) and Third (1855-58) Seminole Wars, when U.S. government interest in the territory and resources of Southern Florida violently forced the tribe off their lands. Meant to be easily assembled and transported, these minimal shelters consisted of a grid of wooden posts with a canopy of palm fronds tied with natural fibers.

Although chickee huts are still built today, they exist predominantly as an architectural novelty often found at poolside bars and kitschy tourist attractions rather than as primary shelters. It seems that the design tendencies of the Miami of popular imagination privilege an environment of stimulation and spectacle over function and narrative. This vision of contemporary Miami showcases a variety of modern eye candy–neon signs, high fashion, fast cars, and loud music, among others. Defined by a culture and an aesthetic that is colorful, shocking and vibrant, Miami is curated as a dynamic urban performance. History / In the Remaking is a contemporary iteration of the chickee hut that reflects the provocative context of modern Miami and its interests. By reimagining the potential of the chickee hut’s traditional composition, we intend to create a new dimension through which this typology engages the public. While the chickee hut’s primary function was that of shelter, our proposal departs from the idea of enclosure for an interest in spectacle. By interpreting the supports as a field condition rather than just structural components, we trade a reading of the familiar and simple for that of the exotic and complex. The project embraces an elegant mutation of spatial and visual legibility as a performative technique. Within this composition are variations in color (wood stain) and unconventional elements (brightly colored rope) to enhance and augment the desired effects.

Palm Fronds, Locally-Grown

Colored Cotton Rope

Stained Wood Dowels

“Ocean Drive” by Craig ONeal1

Material Layers Diagram



Milled Plywood Base







To Front Desk

To Temporary Gallery

Palm Frond Canopy


Wood Columns

Cherry Stain

Walnut Stain



Golden Oak Stain

Chestnut Stain


Plan with wood dowel staining

Plan: Structural Grid

Top View

Plan: Structural Grid



The project demonstrates the notion of spectacle by means of formal complexity, gradients, and exaggeration while remaining grounded in a folk craft and material tradition that ties directly to the city’s history. The installation is meant as an experience that venerates the past and highlights the modern city and its present values. In contrast to the way that architectural movements of Miami’s past (Tropical-deco, Modernism) showed reverence for technology and concepts of “the future,” our project looks to the past to help illustrate the sensibilities of the present. ENDNOTE 1. ONeal, Craig. “Ocean Drive.” Web. March 2014. < craigoneal/5196788334/>

SPORTS is the design collaboration of Greg Corso and Molly Hunker, based in Los Angeles and Chicago. Corso and Hunker both currently teach at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Architecture.




All drawings and renderings © SPORTS +0’-2”



Nate Kauffman | D’Genaro Pulido

Lines In the Sand is a collaboration between Nate Kauffman and D’Genaro Pulido. Nate Kauffman wrote this account of their motivations and visions for the project.

Approaching Shaktoolik from a historically relevant perspective—defining the Village as inhabiting an entire region, not a specific location—can reframe the problem and its potential solutions.

On our second night in Shaktoolik, we gathered in the elementary school, a portable trailer-style building more at home in Arkansas than Alaska. The villagers had joined with us to discuss the history, plight,w and possible future of their home. They’d brought us salmon cured three different ways, and we’d smuggled them blood oranges and tangerines from the more forgiving latitudes. Albert, the chief whose express invitation was required for us outsiders to visit their Village, sat at the head of the table. It was forty below zero outside. I’d never seen Alaska, and in February the landscape was a crystal clear, shockingly serene parade of landform dressed all in white. The richest experience of the place, though, was defined by its people, their stories and their prospects for a future inextricably linked to a landscape in flux. The elephant was very much in the room: we were visiting a location that many of us already considered doomed from a sustainable habitation perspective. We met warm, gracious, and thoughtful people, many of whom had lived their entire lives in these Villages and were only the latest link in a very long family chain. As they taught us about their ancestral home, fed us their salmon, and sheltered us from a deadly cold night outside, we found it difficult, to say the least, to tell our hosts it was time to pack up and go.








Forces affecting the Shaktoolik peninusla threaten the Village’s stability. The Shaktoolik and Tagoomenik Rivers wash sediment into the Norton Sound and scour sand away from the northern end of the Shaktoolik peninsula.

Shaktoolik is not the only Village facing this choice. All Native Alaskan communities are under imminent threat as a function of a warming planet. Melting ice caps, receding glaciers, thawing permafrost, and, especially, more severe and frequent storms are literally washing away the ground upon which some of these Villages sit. A delayed and diminished shorefast ice complex is especially problematic for the Villages located on coastlines.

In Shaktoolik’s case, the peninsular sandbar upon which the Village currently sits is highly problematic for long-term sustainability and safety. Shaktoolik’s extremely low elevation and proximity to the marine shore and river corridor represent an imminent threat to the town and its inhabitants. In addition to major spring flooding, Shaktoolik’s violent fall storms send dangerous run-up waves to within feet of the village’s homes and other structures. Furthermore, the Village’s current freshwater supply is being threatened by the highly attenuated nature of the peninsula at the Tagoomenik River’s ‘First Bend’, south of the Village. Critically, the forces of waves, wind, and flowing freshwater are transporting sediment away from the peninsula at a rate outstripping GROUND UP


The Bureau of Indian Affairs, operating in the 1930s under a mandate to build schools in Alaska’s Native towns, supplied many of their most remote locations with raw construction materials for this purpose. These Inuit, Inupiat, and Eskimo cultures were traditional huntergatherers for millennia, their ways of life elegantly coupled to the Arctic’s seasonal rhythms and the dramatic flows of the Alaskan landscape’s resources. Upon receiving their building materials, many of these communities settled then and there, at the beaches and river bends where barges could efficiently deliver supplies. These locations, though convenient for material delivery, were inevitably precarious places to settle, too near eroding coastlines and meandering riparian corridors.

Erosion and sediment transport are normal, natural processes that shape and define all coastlines and river corridors. Though constantly in flux, these areas can achieve a relatively stable equilibrium when the forces of sediment transport—to and away from a given site—is in balance. Equilibrium of present-day VIllage sites is compromised by the increasing liquid water volume and inherent energy manifesting in Alaskan hydrologic systems, threatening many of the Native Villages.


A proposed Resource Camp, a seed settlement where Villagers stockpile supplies and develop key infrastructures. Resource Camps can serve as future settlement sites.

Section of proposed driftwood gabions. The gabions are an engineered cage of local driftwood stayed by cables snaked through large upright cedar logs. Through repetitive forces depositing particulate matter around the driftwood matrix, the modules create a kind of skeleton around which matter is gathered and stabilized. They function on the principle of providing a permeable barrier, through which wind and water energy pass diminished, while knocking particulate sand and snow out of suspension to collect in bars, dunes and drifts. Over time, the â&#x20AC;&#x153;Dunebuilderâ&#x20AC;? articulation will accrete windblown sand and develop protective dunes, stabilized by local vegetation.

their replacement. In the event of a washout at First Bend, the entire hydraulic system will transform, and Shaktoolik will find itself a barrier island, even more isolated and imperiled. This outcome is bleak, but not inevitable. The Villagers are far from helpless, able to call on a breadth of cultural and physical resources to protect their current location while they relocate. Approaching Shaktoolik from a historically relevant perspective—defining the Village as inhabiting an entire region, not a specific location—can reframe the problem and its potential solutions. We propose a solution on multiple spatial and time scales that makes use of the local material ecology in a way that draws upon the resourcefulness of the Alaskan Native culture. In the short term, we propose placing driftwood gabions on the coastline as a way to armor Shaktoolik during the Villagers’ transition to more stable ground. As a function of the outflows of the Tagoomenik, Shaktoolik and Yukon rivers, the Shaktoolik Peninsula receives a huge volume of beached driftwood annually. Although the present beached driftwood matrix onshore may provide some beach stabilizing effects, when mobilized by the marine force of a storm, the driftwood pieces become dangerous, scouring projectiles. However, the driftwood is also a material resource. Deployed in various anchored orientations on land and in the shorelines framing the Shaktoolik peninsula, driftwood gabions utilize and dissipate wind and water energy, building land while providing a buffer to break storms’ fiercest leading edges. While driftwood gabions can protect the current settlement from sea surges, ultimately Shaktoolik must withdraw in phases to more stable regions. To scaffold this withdrawal, a regional suitability analysis should be used to identify locations with critical natural resources





Marine/Delta system Extremely exposed 20-25 miles

Bay/Lagoon system Well-protected 6 miles

Major river system Extremely exposed 5 miles

TELLER Marine system Moderately well-protected 10 miles

SHAKTOOLIK UNALAKLEET Marine/ delta system Very exposed 7 miles

and features necessary for supporting workers and inhabitants. Key features such surface bedrock, as access to fresh water, and a location suitable for construction of an airstrip should be sought. We propose that these locations support Resource Camps, seasonal seed settlements that process and stockpile building materials as well as employ local workers and tradespeople to develop key infrastructures. A network of overland transportation infrastructure links the current Village and its local Resource Camps, encouraging continuous human and material flows between them and fostering the productive use of territorial assets. Upon the Resource Camps’ reaching a critical threshold of stockpiled building material for the construction of key community buildings and an adequate number of family homes, residents will begin relocating to the more safe and stable future Village site. As staging for the future Village site is underway, the Shaktoolik peninsula will be developed to maintian its vital role as a hub for air and barge material supply lines. The phased migration of annual residents of the peninsula—even as it is fortified by the landform interventions— represents an investment in a future vitality for the peninsula as a location of critical cultural

NULATO Major river system Exposed Small-scale relocation underway 4 miles

ABOVE: A proposed network of resource exchange for Villages facing similar challenges. BELOW: Proposed future of Shaktoolik peninusla as a shipping and material exchange hub.

exchange and events intended to bolster interactions between widespread Villages. The systems proposed for Shaktoolik—the deployed land fortifications, Resource Camps, and material exchange networks, in addition to their phased relocation plan—represent systematic solutions applicable to many Alaskan Native Villages. A suitability analysis that seeks to define the closest, safest, and most stable locations for future settlements should be applied to all villages facing environmental threats. Though each Village faces specific challenges, and possesses various and particular material and resource availability and processing capacities, the emergence of a network to support one another in a common struggle will help unite them and improve their long-term prospects in facing an uncertain future. On our last full day in Shaktoolik, as the Iron Dog Snowmobile Race was whipping the local kids into a froth, I used the elementary school’s projector to set up a large map of the area and diagram some of the key places I’d observed: Christmas Mountain, an extinct volcano looming

large to the East; Besboro Island to the South, key for hunting walrus and seals; and Cape Denbigh, a headland used for gathering eggs. An older man walked into the room and introduced himself as Simon Bekoalok Jr. He was a tribal elder and former mayor of Shaktoolik. We spoke for nearly an hour, and I told him of my impressions of his Village, constantly referring to the tiny spit of sand on the map. “You have to understand something,” Simon said at one point, grasping a fundamental gap in our communication. “Shaktoolik isn’t here,” he pointed to the village. I opened my mouth to say something and managed a lingering silence. He grinned slightly, fixed me with an almost pitying look as he swept his hand over the entire territory—the marshes, mountains, rivers, sloughs and a healthy swath of sea—”it’s here.”

Nate Kauffman is a Master of Landscape Architecture candidate at the University of California, Berkeley. D’Genaro Pulido is a Master of Architecture candidate at the University of California, Berkeley.




Nature has become a commodity, contrived for the ease of tourists to experience “The Last Best Place.”

Bradford Watson

Understanding where someone grew up or where they live now can inform our opinion of them. We generalize that people from warm climates cannot tolerate the cold, and those from the northern mountains are somehow tougher. While these generalizations had some modicum of truth prior to the industrial revolution, we no longer live in a world where environmental conditions completely dictate our lifestyle. Our sense of place is a modern manifestation of our aspirations. We choose to live here as an expression of our personality. We choose a picturesque landscape because it fits our desire to be surrounded by wilderness, but not encumbered by it. We are situated in a world best exemplified by the inscription over the entrance to the Engineering Building at the University of Wyoming: STRIVE ON — THE CONTROL OF NATURE IS WON NOT GIVEN.

Historical settlement patterns were based on the quality and abundance of natural resources, and the infrastructural systems those provided for the community. For example, communities evolved next to waterways due the ease and value of drinking, irrigation, and transportation of goods. People understood the value of soil for growing crops and built structures that responded to their environs. Today, the places we inhabit often appear completely independent from existing natural systems thanks to heavy infrastructure designed specifically to defy them. We want to live here, not because it is hospitable, but because it is what we desire. This is evident in certain

areas across the country where the population is booming despite high susceptibility to flooding from climate change or in regions with limited freshwater resources. We now settle based on our desires for perceived aspects of a locale, a picturesque vision that embodies only what is desired and not the realities of place.

snow-covered mountains and clear, flowing rivers full of trout. This scripted vision has created a significant influx of population—one that is only interested in the picturesque and has no ties to the harsh reality faced by miners, farmers and ranchers who originally settled this region. Almost 70,000 miles of roads cross the state of Montana, the second least densely populated state in the Continental US. While some of these roads support interstate shipping of goods, they are all vital to the commodified access to “The Last Best Place,” Montana’s unofficial motto. Montana has 14 residents per linear mile of road, significantly fewer than the national average of 80, and this massive infrastructure is necessary to support people’s desire to inhabit this landscape. We must also contend with complex geology throughout the Mountain West, which was the initial impetus for mining and modern inhabitation of the region. In Colorado, this is evidenced by the significant drilled pier and grade beam foundations required for the continued growth of the Denver/Colorado Springs region. The Front Range, home to over 80% of Colorado’s population, is built to defy more than a foot of ground movement due to clay soils with high swelling potential. Additionally, taxpayers spend an average of $1.4 billion annually to “fight” forest fires, natural occurrences vital to maintaining healthy ecosystems, in order to sustain the ongoing development of wilderness into suburban communities of 4,000 square foot log cabins.

This collage, exploring the Mountain West region, takes images from the region’s travel, sport, and promotional magazines in combination with geological realities and overlaid agendas.

Bradford Watson is Assistant Professor in the School of Architecture at Montana State University. He received a Bachelor of Architecture from the Pennsylvania State University and a Post-Professional Masters of Architecture from Cranbrook Academy of Art. He is a licensed architect in the state of Ohio where he spent 12 years in professional practice with an emphasis on cultural and performing arts planning and design. His current research focuses on the specifics of place through an understanding of infrastructure and systemic processes.


These efforts to control nature may be highly visible on the landscape as an ever-present reminder of the effort required to settle inhospitable regions. We see this in the massive water systems of reservoir dams and concrete drainage-ways in the Southwest that have become part of the collective understanding of the landscape. In Montana, the attempted control or defiance of nature is much more subtle, yet equally profound. In stark contrast to the concrete dams so ubiquitous in the Southwest, the collective image of Montana is

This region is consistently included in national lists of best places to live, further affirming a collective understanding of place based solely on nostalgia and romantic ideals, rather than understanding of the implications of unregulated development. If we hope to inhabit the West into the future, we have difficult choices to make about where we will continue to defy nature and where we will acquiesce.



M Y P L AC E | T H E I R P L AC E | O U R P L AC E

Jeffrey Hou

“My Place—Their Place—Our Place”1 is the title of a project for a multidisciplinary group of undergraduate students in the Faculty of Architecture and Planning at Vienna University of Technology (TU Wien) where I was invited to teach this past year as visiting faculty.2 My host, Assistant Professor Sabine Knierbein, and I developed this project to have students explore their “comfort zones” as well as the “comfort zones” of others in the city of Vienna. The project serves as a vehicle to explore Urban Culture, Public Space and Knowledge: Education and Difference, the 2013 theme for the Interdisciplinary Center for Urban Culture and Public Space (SKuOR).3 The project also builds on my recent work Transcultural Cities: Border-crossing and Placemaking (2013), in which a group of colleagues and I examine how placemaking can serve as a vehicle for engendering cross-cultural learning in contemporary cities.4 Focusing on place, this student project seems like an appropriate point of departure to explore the notion of here.

Like many other capital cities in Europe, Vienna is undergoing significant changes with the influx of new populations. As a gateway to Central Europe, the city attracts many immigrants from Turkey, Germany, and the former Eastern Bloc.5 Unlike some European cities, Vienna adopts a rather benevolent approach with its new residents. It helps that the city has the largest stock of public housing among major cities in Western Europe, which keeps housing generally affordable for the growing population. The city’s participatory planning processes also actively reach out to diverse populations. Nevertheless, tensions between established residents and newcomers are on the rise. To address this problem, the

city recently created a policy called the Vienna Charter, aiming to promote good neighborly relations among its inhabitants.6 In the context of such tensions, the word here evokes many emotional responses concerning who have been here first, who are permitted to stay here, and how diverse populations in the city may come together and coinhabit a place.

Assisted by Tihomir Viderman, an urban researcher with a focus on participatory methods, and by Lale Rodgarkia-Dara, a sound artist and activist, students made recordings of the spaces in the district to go beyond the typical visual media and representation of spaces and urban experiences that are a comfort zone for designers.

Exploring ‘Comfort Zones’ in the Fifth District of Vienna

The students’ findings ranged from mundane to surprising. Some mentioned a sense of comfort evoked by the presence of bike lanes, parks, and bakeries. One student was initially at a loss to find something she could connect with, but this sense of unfamiliarity dissipated after a chance encounter with a construction worker moving a large storage box on the sidewalk. The mystery box sparked a conversation, and it turned out the worker and the student could communicate in their native tongue. The chance encounter transformed how the student felt about the district. The unfamiliar became the familiar.

Our project focused on Margareten, the Fifth of Vienna’s 23 districts. Because of its proximity to the city center and availability of decayed and thus affordable apartment spaces dating back to the 1800s, the Fifth District is home to many immigrants.7 The presence of ethnic populations is felt particularly in public parks, where some often congregate in large groups. According to planners and architects at the district’s Gebietsbetreuung (Area Urban Renewal Office), noise and behavior complaints about these new neighbors continue to be the most common issues brought up by longtime residents. It was in

...the notion of here is never uniform, and is instead layered, multiple, contested, and often exclusionary.

the context of these tensions and conflicts that we asked the students to explore how one could develop a better understanding of the diverse cultural practices in different communities and consider how design and conception of public spaces in the district could potentially negotiate those differences.

Engaging Drug Users I was back in Seattle when my co-instructor Sabine Knierbein informed me that one of the teams chose to work with drug users for the second project phase. I was first surprised by how well connected these students were, and how liberal and progressive the Viennese must be. As I later found out, the students on this team did not know quite how to the approach their subjects, and were simply curious about how such a marginalized social group could find a “comfort zone” in a city in which their activities are banned. GROUND UP


We began our project in conjunction with the Urbanize! Festival, an annual festival hosted by dérive, a nonprofit architecture and urbanism magazine based in Vienna.8 In a weeklong summer workshop, students were asked to explore their “comfort zone”—My Place—in the district. As most students were from outside the district, the notion of a “comfort zone” served as a pedagogical device for them to explore the environments of the district and question their own sense of the familiar and unfamiliar.

In the second phase of the program—Their Place—took place between October and November 2013, in which students were asked to explore the comfort zones of “others” in the district, populations with whom they were unfamiliar. Free to select specific population groups, the student teams each focused on distinct communities: people in a neighborhood bar, people who work in the district, young children, homeless people, and drug users. This second phase of the program proved to be more challenging than the first, as the students lacked social entry with many of these populations. But finding ways to overcome social barriers and their own hesitations became a rewarding learning experience. I highlight the work from two of the student groups.


For their first presentation, the students mapped locations drug users were known to frequent in one of the Metro stations in the outskirts of the Fifth District. They first had a conversation with an employee at a nearby rehabilitation center who concluded that there were no comfort zones for drug users in public space and that planning and urban design would not offer much support, as practitioners would only cater to influential political demands to discourage illegal drug use in public places.

Participating students meeting with instructors at the Vienna University of Technology

The students returned to the station intending to engage in conversation with regulars there. Suspicious of outsiders, the drug users first mistook one of the students for undercover police, and verbally confronted him. Undeterred, the students returned, this time with audio equipment. Having experience with staging audio installations for the first project phase, the students planned to play music in the station to interact with the regulars. However, the tentative volume of music failed to attract any attention. Out of frustration, the students sat down in a corner of the station wondering what to do next. The drug users did become curious about the students’ intent, but concluded that they were “useless people doing useless projects.” With their guard down, the drug users began to engage in more extended conversations with the students. It was revealed that while most people might find the presence of drug users uncomfortable, the drug users felt equal discomfort with the presence of strangers, especially those suspected of being police.

Additionally, Vienna’s recently enforced old AntiCamping Law enables the police to evict people sleeping in parks and public spaces, further limiting opportunities for people to congregate, particularly drug users and homeless people. People Who Work in the District Another group of students set out to learn about the comfort zones of people who simply work in the district. While the focus seemed rather banal, the findings were as fascinating as those of the previous group. Without social entry to any particular organizations, the students began by interviewing easily accessible shopkeepers and store clerks. None of those interviewed lived in the district, and they had difficulty identifying comfort zones in the area. As “temporary local migrants” themselves, it was much easier for them to identify areas of discomfort in the district. Several mentioned the large number of immigrants often gathered in public parks on the western half of the district. “Cold, unfriendly, and lots of migrants,” was one worker’s description for this area. The same interviewees described the more affluent eastern half, with less of an immigrant population, as more welcoming. Given the small sample and the potential biases of workers who did not live in the district, we urged the students to return to the district for more fieldwork. This time, they interviewed a shopkeeper at a floral shop, a market vendor, and an organic grocery store owner who was also a neighborhood resident. As a resident, the storeowner was familiar with the district and found great comfort in the surrounding environment. He also noticed little of the distinction between the eastern and western halves of the district noted by the initial interviewees. Along with the others interviewed during this second visit, he believed that immigrants make the area more attractive, colorful, and interesting. The students discovered that he himself was an immigrant from Switzerland who had lived in the district for over a decade. The new findings introduced the students to both the nuances of comfort zones in the district and the diversity of experiences within them. The findings also highlighted the potential for fallacy

based on limited fieldwork and participatory practices, and suggested the importance of soliciting and including multiple voices. Understanding the Transcultural City Given more space, I would have liked to describe the work of other student groups as well. But these two cases alone reveal a range of challenges as well as opportunities in the contemporary city when it comes to overcoming the fear of others that include immigrants, drug users, and other marginalized social groups. In terms of challenges, we see that while the users and inhabitants of the contemporary city all share some aspects of city space, they (we) are divided by visible and invisible boundaries created through legal systems and social norms, and the entrenched stereotypes and biases that inform them. These in turn, are reinforced by ignorance of each other’s life experiences. The unknown and unfamiliar inspire excitement in some but fear in others. Because of our differences and biases, the notion of here is never uniform, and is instead layered, multiple, contested, and often exclusionary. In terms of opportunities, we see the possibilities for overcoming barriers and engendering understanding between different social and cultural groups. Through conversations and dialogue, the unfamiliar can become familiar. Through chance everyday encounters, familiarity can elicit a sense of comfort and lessen fear. Through further inquiries and discoveries, our biases and stereotypes can be overcome. In the book Transcultural Cities, we found similar lessons in a collection of case studies around the world—from Sydney to Salt Lake City. Specifically, we identified processes that include supporting everyday sites of interaction, making safer spaces, developing mediums for understanding, working with transcultural agents and actors, and turning conflicts into opportunities as ways for overcoming barriers between different social and cultural groups in the contemporary city faced with an influx of new populations.

program that was broadcast online and on air through Radio Dérive in English and German, mixing their own narratives, recorded sounds of the city, and voices of its inhabitants. I invite you to listen and envision. Acknowledgements The author is indebted to Sabine Knierbein who kindly corrected and commented on an earlier draft of this article. He is also grateful to everyone at SKuOR who made his stay in Vienna a productive and rewarding teaching and learning experience. The final radio recording of the students’ work can be accessed at ENDNOTES 1. Urban Culture and Public Space Course Description. Web. 12/10/2013. Vienna University of Technology. < wintersemester-2013/urban-culture-and-public-space-an-introduction-to-urbanstudies> 2. Urban culture, public space, and knowledge – Education and difference Phase II – 2013. Web. 12/10/13. Vienna University of Technology. <http://skuor.tuwien.> 3. Hou, J. (ed.) Transcultural Cities: Border-Crossing and Placemaking. New York and London: Routledge, 2013. Print. 4. The largest migrant groups are Turkish and Germans. However, migrants from the former Eastern Bloc are more stigmatized, and are considered ‘migrants’ by the Viennese. 5. The Vienna Charter. Web. 12/10/2013. <> 6. Knierbein, Sabine, Ali Madanipour, and Aglaée Degros. “Vienna: (Re)Framing Public Policies, (Re)Shaping Public Spaces?” Madanipour, Ali, Sabine Knierbein, and Aglaée Degros (eds.), Public Space and the Challenges of Urban Transformation in Europe, New York and London: Routledge, 2014. 23-37. Print 7. In 2001, 23.2% of the Fifth District’s population was of foreign nationality, predominantly from Turkey, Serbia and Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and other Eastern European countries. Web. 12/10/2013. < statistik/daten/rtf/vz2001staatsang.rtf> 8. My Place: A Public Space Autobiography. Dérive. Web. 12/10/2013. <http://>

Jeffrey Hou is Associate Professor and the Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Washington, Seattle. He is the editor of Insurgent Public Space: Guerrilla Urbanism and the Remaking of Contemporary Cities (Routledge 2010) and Transcultural Cities: Border-Crossing and Placemaking (Routledge 2013). GROUND UP


For the final phase of the project—Our Place, we asked our students in Vienna to envision ways in which the comfort zones of different social groups in the Fifth District might begin to blur or overlap. They have done so by producing a radio

Gathering at a Margareten public park





Erik Jensen and Justin Richardson are students of Landscape Architecture at University of California, Berkeley.

This project was a winner of the 280 Freeway Competition, sponsored by the Center for Architecture + Design and the Seed Fund, and co-sponsored by the City of San Francisco.


E. Boudreaux | W. Gentry | E. Percevault

Despite advances in computer generated imagery, location remains vital to the film industry. Filmmakers reframe and reinterpret sites, creating multiple heres from a minimum of locations. To achieve a cinematic sense of place, they seek landscapes imbued with cultural richness and scenic diversity, places with distinct yet pliable character. This cinematic demand of the landscape presents a unique challenge: capture the essence of a place, yet keep it flexible as a medium for expressing location, culture, and emotional tone. Stretching from Vicksburg, Mississippi to Memphis, Tennessee, the Mississippi Delta is vast in scale and rich with life. Economically, the region has followed an agrarian model for over two centuries. Following the Civil War and the mechanization of agriculture, unemployment in the Delta rose, leading to an outward migration of the workforce and a weakening of the economy. To date, the Delta continues to rely on the removal of natural resources to sustain itself, despite its need to cultivate new regional industries. The Delta represents a time capsule of the South. Preserved in Delta towns are 1950s era storefronts alongside churches built in the 1920s. Plantations and company stores still dot the highways following the Mississippi River from Vicksburg to Memphis. It was here that the blues was born, and the Civil Rights battle was

The Mississippi River connects urban and rural landscapes to each other and the rest of the world.

waged. Tourists drive to see famous graves, battlefields, and festivals. They pass crop fields and catfish farms, through towns that once prospered from riverboat traffic.

ENDNOTES 1. Gaul, G., & Morgan D. A Slow Demise in the Delta. The Washington Post. 2007. Web. Oct 2013. < article/2007/06/19/AR2007061902193.html> 2. The Economist. Scratching A Living: A Shocking Rate of Depopulation in the Rural South. The Economist. 2013. Web. Oct 2013. <http://www.economist. com/news/united-states/21579025-shocking-rate-depopulation-rural-southscratching-living> 3. United States Department of Labor. Local Area Unemployment Statistics. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2013. Web. Oct 2013. <>

Elizabeth Boudreaux, Wes Gentry, and Erin Percevault are fourth-year Bachelor of Landscape Architecture students at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.



In our proposal, the film industry would benefit from a hub system, providing both the filmmaking resources of a major city and the unique aesthetics of rural towns, wgranting filmmakers quality production infrastructure and scenic variety, as well as the historic and cultural wealth of the Delta. Our analysis of economics, agriculture, infrastructure, and current cultural attractions led us to select Memphis, Tennessee and Helena-West Helena, Arkansas as urban and rural typologies. Our study explores current conditions in each of these locations, and reflects on the potential for the Delta to represent both distinctly regional characteristics and transparent, unspecified cinematic settings, evoking both here and everywhere through the lens of film.

Hub system showing major cities and rural towns.

Taken as a whole, Delta landscapes present a spectrum of settings, urban to rural in character, yet universally charged with a unique and powerful identity. As a repository of charismatic, cinematically adaptable locations, the Delta exists as an underutilized resource for the filmmaking industry. By bringing film to the Delta, we can capitalize on this resource, contributing to artistic and economic prosperity in the region as we memorialize its landscape on the screen.


I ' M N OT F R O M H E R E

Sarah Gunawan

We departed on the overnight Greyhound, carried through the darkness and across the border. Glowing street lamps passed by, and I turned over in futile attempts to sleep, restless with anticipation. Morning came, and the skyline gazed at us from across the river; the bus rattled through the tunnel, passing below the water, and emerged in the city’s beating heart. We were here. We would stay for a time—lounge on the great lawn; eat Indian food among the cab drivers; cross beneath the massive steel of the bridge and wander the streets, lost in conversation. We would relish all that the city had to offer, knowing we wouldn’t remain long. Eventually, we packed our saddle bags, mounted our bikes, and, with determination, set out on the road. From the seat of a bicycle, the world takes a different pace: not stagnant, not accelerated, but slowly, constantly rolling. The pedals turned, and suddenly we were somewhere between one there and the next—caught, here, in the middle. Each morning we cycled, following the lines of the map. Curious locals took note; they knew we weren’t from here. Facing the red of an intersection street light, a mother pulled her car up alongside us to inquire. “Where are you going?” We told her of our plan; where we had been,

Photos captured during journey.

where we were going. She turned the corner, wishing us well, hoping she too, would someday ride from here. Each afternoon we took rest. We wound through hills and descended into a nothing town in the valley, barely a mark on the landscape. Famished and aching, we feasted on a simple shepherd’s pie at the only place with an open door, cuddled with playful bar kittens, and then perched outside on the curb to eat ice cream. Each evening we arrived at the edge of a new town, just beyond the doorstep of a new stranger. Blanketed in darkness, illuminated by campfire, we communed as cyclists. The wolves howled in the distance, and we shared stories of our passage late into the night. Each day followed the same rhythm. Peddle, pause, eat, then peddle again. Arrive, unpack, unfold, wash, then eat and sleep. Awake, fold, pack, then wave farewell and pedal away again.

orchard, the darkness of a long abandoned subway tunnel. It was the ominous quiet of a standing train, an empty parking lot on the edge of town. But mostly it was an earthen path, near silent except for the sounds of rustling autumn leaves and the whir of rolling tires. Every photo captured through the lens, imprinted on film, sought to hold it, to retain it. Every note scribbled beneath dim light grasped tightly to what just was. But here can’t be had or kept. Here is presence in a place for a moment in time. Once that moment has passed, once you’ve moved from the place, it becomes there, and here takes new form. Sarah Gunawan is a recent graduate from the University of Waterloo School of Architecture and a fledgling cyclist. She is fascinated by the tensions, interface, and overlap of architecture and urbanism with the natural environment. She hopes to use her Master of Architecture degree to explore the potential for integrating ecological thinking into design processes.


For 684 miles, here was an amorphous thing sliding from point to space to feeling. Here was the taste of a stolen apple from a trailside



K N OW I N G L A N D S C A P E C O R P O R E A L LY Developing a phenomenological method for landscape inquiry

Sonal Mithal Modi

Here is about presence, hence time and place. It emerges from immediacy. It exists only as long as the witnessing body. Hence, here is a performance, and a constitution. This article describes the performative research methodology that I developed during the course of my dissertation work, which advocates for the constitution (understanding) of heritage as a function of performativity and temporality grounded in immediacy and the presence of the corporeal body in a landscape setting. The intention was to develop a practice-based research methodology that could help a researcher to gather corporeal knowledge, through corporeal or active experience, and to share, by active archiving, a heritage landscape. The research method makes explicit an understanding of landscape as temporal, by itself being a temporal process. My research brings here­—the contemporary momentof-being—center stage to the discourse of heritage landscape. Recent discussions about how heritage is constituted, especially as articulated in the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) Ename International Charter of 2008, call for revising heritage interpretation strategies to include ongoing processes of subjective experience. From that perspective, there is a need for a strategy that recognizes the value of individual interpretation taking place by the experiencing body at the moment of its engagement with the heritage landscape. In Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau-Ponty suggests that “spatial forms are not so much relations between Stills from “Tracings...”

different points in objective space as they are relations between these points and a central perspective—our body.”1 This means that body assumes a centrality in a space with which it is intimate. This is specifically pertinent in defining the world as being produced by the presence of the body, thus, interpretation of a heritage site purely on the basis of its physicality can at best offer an incomplete and disengaged appreciation. The argument was explored through close study of a specific situation: Śāntiniketan, India. As India’s 2010 nomination to UNESCO’s World Heritage List, Śāntiniketan is currently under consideration for that designation. The role of subjective experience in shaping its character makes this an ideal moment to reassess the process through which it and other sites are nominated and evaluated. Śāntiniketan is a university town set within a landscape of mangroves, laterite soil, rice paddies, and small ravines. In 1922, the poet, musician, and painter Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), eventual laureate of the Nobel Prize in Literature (1913), established Viśva-Bhāratī University at Śāntiniketan in order to promote performing and visual arts. As a modern educator, Tagore prioritized individual experience over objective knowledge of the external world and shaped both a method of learning and a curriculum based on being-in-the-landscape. Gathering, presenting, and sharing the embodied knowledge, here

Rhythmanalysis is a constant negotiation between immediacy and memory. To externalize their embodied experience, the participants remembered and documented the process of their corporeal engagement using drawn lines in colors of their own preference. The intensity and length of the lines indicated the intensity and duration of engagement. Embodied knowledge presented Tracings… acknowledges landscape as active, and that landscape is known only in its contact with the body. The landscape setting is a color palette, a textured deposition of multiple soils, a tracery of emerging and disappearing light, a container resonating sounds from far off and nearby. Each individual body embodies landscape differently and presents it as an individual reflection. Movements serve to express the continual process of emergence and ruination, erosions and renewals, and thus tell a story of landscape history. The exercise of making the video Tracings… addresses issues of landscape literacy and heritage presentation. By conceiving experience in terms of intentionality (individual); and intersubjectivity, Tracings… attempts to deliver heritage as something which is known in an unmediated way, treating history as habitus, bringing the present and the presence center stage to (in) landscape inquiry. ENDNOTES 1. Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception, trans. C. Smith. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962. Print. 2. Lefebvre, Henri. Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time and Everyday Life. London: Continuum, 2004. Print.

Sonal Mithal Modi is a Doctoral Candidate in Landscape Architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana, Champaign.


In order to develop the practice-based research method, my dissertation used two strategies to create and share an embodied knowledge of landscape. The first involved rhythmanalysis, a method developed by sociologist Henri Lefebvre. In undertaking research, the rhythmanalyst uses his or her own bodily rhythms as a reference through which to experience and evaluate landscape as a system of rhythms. That part of my research engaged dancers with the available rhythms such as sounds, textures, wind, and humidity. The second strategy acknowledged the corporeal body as a site upon which personal experience becomes deposited as embodied knowledge. To gain access to that knowledge, the video camera was theorized as an embodied vision engaging with the experiencing bodies. It followed the dancers’ movements in a semi-

choreographed work, while the dancers emulated landscape elements in stylized gestures. From the resulting footage, I created a short video titled “Tracings…” to demonstrate embodied knowledge.



E C O S O N G PA R K , S H A N G H A I

As rapid urbanization continues to drive economic development in China, landscape architects play an influential role in shaping the countryâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s open spaces. The Ecosong Park Project was undertaken by Meyer + Silberberg Land Architects in 2012. The proposed design was developed in response to an invitation from the Chinese government, which is working to promote green spaces near the city of Shanghai. The project site is an 8,900 acre piece of agricultural land next to the Huangpu River, in the Songjiang district of Shanghai, China. Michelle Hook and Adam Molinski of Ground Up sat down with David Meyer, Ramsey Silberberg, and Rob Tidmore to discuss the processes, challenges, and sucesses of the Ecosong Park Project.

Meyer + Silberberg Land Architects

We wanted to keep the people, the farmers, on the land. They have been living there for hundreds of years. Their soul is there.

GROUND UP: Can you provide us with a narrative of the project? What was the goal?

GU: What were some of the initial discoveries you made during your site visits in China?

Ramsey Silberberg: The site is roughly 36 square kilometers—longer than if you were to drive across Berkeley from the Bay to the hills in terms of its length. It was basically a small city.

DM: We visited the site three times. During the first trip, we tried to get oriented. We spent about three days photographing and getting into the site. We really felt the culture—the people, the farmers—and found the underlying beauty there.

David Meyer: The city did a competition for five sites around Shanghai in an effort to create a necklace of what they were calling “National Parks.” At first, that term was really baffling to us. We think of National Parks as Yosemite, The Grand Tetons—places where there is natural wonder and beauty. Here, they were trying to make a National Park out of an agrarian landscape. We found that extremely challenging. How do you develop a National Park when there isn’t really any grandeur there? But we found a lot of beauty that inspired us during our site visits.

DM: We really uncovered that.

RS: I think, in stark contrast to the part that was quite lovely, we were shocked by all of the pollution on site. It’s quite staggering the level of pollutants that were in the air and water. We saw a real dichotomy in the landscape between this pastoral beauty, which was very quiet even though we were just miles from one of the biggest, densest cities in the world, and the pollution. You could hear birds singing, and there was a serenity about the place. And then you would look out at the water, and dead pigs’ heads would be floating there; and you could see factories standing in the middle of farm fields. As a site, it was incredibly challenging to solve. DM: I think that’s a great point. The Huangpu River is really theatrical in its commerce because


RS: It was an Olmstedian problem. They were creating a green belt that wrapped the city, and they were taking sites that were really nothing and trying to figure out how to make them something. Although in many ways, our site had an inherent, natural beauty to it; it was just very working. People were living on it, and working on it; there was a lot of farming, and nurseries, and things that really activated the space in a landscape way, but maybe less in the classic sense of a “park.”

It’s a very flat landscape, and it’s a canal landscape. The site runs right along the Huangpu River, which is tidal. Many nurseries were operating there for the purpose of transporting plants to other landscape projects, and there was a lot of farmland, but it had a pleasant quality to it.



non-stop barges travel up and down it toward Shanghai. You get not far off the river, though— you go inland half a kilometer—and it’s very pastoral and peaceful. Then you go further inland to the edge of the park, and all of a sudden you’ve got a 12-lane freeway roaring by; and on the other side of that, just mass development. I think that’s one of reasons why the government is doing this: they realized that they were developing, developing, developing, and they needed to carve out a piece of land that they could say, “this is going to be kept for the people.” GU: Did they give you any guidelines for the park? DM: They didn’t give us a program, which was really challenging. At first we wondered: “How do you turn this into a National Park?” But that idea was actually a big turning point for us. After coming back, we really had a mandate to restore habitat, enhance economic resources, and clean the water. Cleaning the water was a major part of our proposal, and—maybe the thing that was most controversial in what we were doing—keeping the people. We wanted to keep the people, the farmers, on the land. They have been living there for hundreds of years. Their soul is there. When you walk through the site and watch the elderly walk with their children down these little rural lanes, you don’t want to pull them away from this.

...[A]t such a realize you can actually start to solve problems in the landscape in a meaningful way. RS: One of our strategies to support the moves we were making related to the park was to create economic development. Similarly to what you see now in the United States, it’s hard to take land that is active and actively functioning in the economy and take it out of that role to make it just a park. People need and want some sort of economic driver or program to help maintain that activity while supporting the functionality of the park. But, there seems to be little government support now to create livelihoods around parks. We created a program based on organic farming, agritourism, agriculture research institutes, resort vacations, and the culinary aspects of food. It was a web-like strategy tied back into the agriculture of the existing site. It was fun to pry it all apart and start to think about the different ways agriculture could function there, so that it could be both a beautiful place to spend time in—a park-like setting—but also be the sustenance for people to live off of. DM: A big part of our job was to convince the government that this was a good idea. We had to show them that there is a way to cleanse the environment; keep the culture; and, at the same time, have the land be prosperous.

GU: The local people are an important component of your design. Did you receive any feedback on the project from people who will be living in the park? DM: We tried to do it indirectly through our local contact and through intuition. Rob Tidmore: Keeping the people wasn’t really a part of the government’s plan. They were planning to move them to housing developments outside Shanghai to make way for this new park. In my mind, the radical thing we did was say, “This is their home, and we are going to keep them here. This is where they belong.” GU: Earlier, you mentioned that water pollution was a major challenge on your site. Can you talk about how water issues informed your work? DM: How we cleaned the water set the ecological bones for the design. We layered the agricultural landscape on top of that, and reforestation on top of that. That was when these landscape typologies started to define: where you develop, where you don’t develop, interactions along the water’s edge. RS: The site provided many clues that helped form the overall gesture and geometry that integrated the water cleansing system into our design. Because the system really was a gesture that wrapped the entire length of the site, and it functioned in different ways. We took a close look at existing water systems: the series of canals, the aquaculture. Aquaculture was one of the biggest water polluters on site; there was a lot of stagnant water. Rob did a great job of mapping and understanding the existing conditions. We spent the first two weeks just trying to understand it all, absorb what was there.

GU: What are your feelings about the final design? RS: To have the opportunity to think at such a scale is really stimulating, and you realize you can actually start to solve problems in the landscape in a meaningful way. We want all of our projects to be elemental and speak to the places they are in. It’s exciting to have the opportunity to think on so many different levels. There is the design piece we love, and we are dedicated to that; but we are also interested in the economy of the landscape, the culture of the landscape, and the ecological function of the landscape. All of those things, you can tie them together and create a narrative that bridges the gaps and evokes a sense of place. DM: On a small site, good intentions generally turn into token acts. But at this scale, the intentions become real, if the client executes the design. And in China, if they commit to it, the project will get done within five years. Here in the United States, to try to take on a project like this might take 100 years. RS: I think as landscape architects, we struggle with “What’s the effect?” or, “How do we quantify the effect—the science—of our art?” At this scale, there are real numbers and functions that you can calculate and understand. GROUND UP


RT: It was an iterative process. We started out with a rough, color pencil and marker sketch that David and Ramsey had done. We would work that up in CAD and develop it a little more, and then we would print that out and come back with something a little more detailed. Over the course of two months or so, it finally developed into a plan with a great composition. It felt like it was actually a part of a large park. The beginning was very gestural, but eventually we translated it into a complete, complex proposal.

The park will draw large numbers of visitors through agritourism and perservation of the rural heritage.


RT: To expand on [Ramsey’s] point, you are so much more effective when you get to think about the factors affecting a site holistically, when you don’t have to implement a plan that simply responds to the economic goals of a given developer. We got to do it all, and everything worked well together. It was harmonious. DM: And fun to not follow the rules—because there were no rules. We just did what we thought was best, and that was liberating. GU: How do you approach a site? Is there one way that you tackle a design? RS: Every site is its own problem to uncover, and there’s not necessarily a single formula that we can just apply. It’s really about looking at the place and trying to understand its essence. We are interested in how a site relates to its surroundings. Context is very important, so we don’t isolate ourselves to just the footprint model. We try to understand the site’s impact and how someone will feel in it. DM: We try to find the place’s essence and express it. Express it with respect, honesty, and distinction. We like to have a light hand. That is, we make one little move that brings the core of a site out, brings it to the surface. We consider that to be enough at times. GU: Do you have any take aways from your work that you would like to share with our readers? RS: [We are not perfect], but some of our most successful projects are the ones that, when you look at the very first drawings, it was there—the essence of the idea. It never got lost in the process. Sometimes I feel like the most important work we do is to try not to change too much, because those very first ideas are usually strong and elemental. They come from the heart. Visit for a video of this interview and a fly-through of the site.

Meyer + Silberberg Land Architects are practicing landscape architects in Berkeley, CA. They ground their work in the physicality of space and the intention of design. David Meyer is a Professor of Landscape Architecture in the University of California, Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design.

The incorporation of composting toilets, polishing canals and treatment wetlands function to treat water pollution at the source. The water system will help restore the polluted Huangpu River and will provide cleaner drinking water for Songjiang community. GROUND UP


GROUND UP IS the student journal of the Department of Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning at the University of California, Berkeley. IS an annual print and web publication intended to stimulate thought, discussion, visual exploration and substantive speculation about emerging landscape issues affecting contemporary praxis. IS an examination of a critical theme arising from the tension between contemporary landscape architecture, ecology and pressing cultural issues. IS intended as a discursive platform to explore concepts grounded in local issues with global relevance. WILL be guided by the interests of our readers and collaborators. We operate on an open call with invited entries from academics, practitioners, students, designers, scientists, and activists.

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you