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    Lecture - Ken Smith

    By RMartz
    Sep 6, '13 10:39 PM EST


    Welcome everyone. It is a shame you all couldn’t make it to the lecture on Wednesday. After hearing Kens presentation I certainly have a newfound respect and understanding for his work.

    To start us off Kristy Balliet, assistant professor and organizer for this lecture series, shined some light on the series as a whole, “Loose Fit”. In general the name describes the range of lecturers we have this year. Power-house architects Daniel Libeskind and Steven Holl, innovative landscape architects like Ken Smith, theorist and Baumer visiting professor Sylvia Lavin, even our own Doug Graff (any lecture with Doug is always great). More specifically its name is intended to describe the goal of contemporary theories to break down polarities and strike a balance between Loose “casual and approachable” and Fit “defined and articulate”.

    Kens lecture lent itself to this theme rather well with his discussion of craft and his ability to work at multiple scales. Big general ideas, small details to make it a reality. Our newly elected landscape section head Dorothée Imbert introduced Ken, touching on his design approach and past history here at OSU. As the Glimcher visiting professor in 2003 they created a number of dumpster gardens, one placed outside of the university president’s office.

    He began the talk with the general premise that we are in a “craft moment”; that there has been a rethinking of tradition. Rather than startling forms, simpler ones with a greater attention to detail, he referenced a Thom Browne suit and recent fashion trends coming from Paris and New York. With that he walked us through a number of projects, lending us a new insight on the designs of his “Larger Landscapes”.

    The first project was the Orange County park, completed in 2010. Backstory is that it is a former military base being converted into a large park for Orange County California. The specific portion we looked at was a series of former hangers and small buildings being converted into an arts complex. The main portion we discussed was a large plaza between two former delivery buildings which is ringed by a series metal shade structures, filled with trees, and laid with intricate stone patterning. There are three points I want to touch on relevant to this idea of craft. Firstly, the metal shade structures have a unique hex patterning that the office developed. They could have just randomized it using software, but rather they used photos of clouds Ken took while on flights to generate the patterns to great effect. Secondly, in paving projects the indicator of a great job is to have no stone slivers. His team laid out the entire plaza in detail to ensure none at all; quality at its best. Lastly, in any field a designer has to understand the materials their working with, their pros and cons. One existing site condition that had to be contented with was having the buildings be on different elevations, resulting in a torqueing in the ground plane. Understanding this the team used simple asphalt, a much more forgiving material compared to stone, to bridge a connection and hiding the existing issue. Seemingly minor, but very important when trying convey a flat, taught ground plane.

    The second of the three projects I wanted to touch on is a renovation in a corner of Anaheim. The city restored one of the last Sunkist citrus packing plants and a neighboring Packard dealership into a farmers market and retail outlet. Connecting the two buildings and creating a great public space then became Kens opportunity.  The design, to put it briefly, is a large public promenade connecting the two buildings with outdoor sitting spaces around each. Two unique and great design features that you should look up are the boxcars and the fireplaces. Behind the packing plant are the formerly used rail-lines. Capitalizing on this they actually put railcars back in place with custom shade structures and turned them into outdoor café space. The second is a set of two outdoor gas fire places. The client suggested putting fake logs, as is typical in residential design, to indicate the function. Rather, Kens team used a large log (maybe 1’6” dia.) and embedded the gas jets inside to quite the effect.

    The last project is the East River waterfront in New York City. This is a continuous project cleaning and updating the area with pathways and seating. I’ll keep it brief but want to touch again on the craft, care, and innovation they put into the work. Firstly, because of the numerous codes, regulations, etc. in NYC the types of light poles used in projects are always mandated to certain standards, something they wanted to avoid. If you visit the site you’ll notice that there are none in the entire space. They took the time to build the lighting into all of the furniture and planters. But the big gesture was to turn the adjacent highway into a giant light-source. Using one of the large metal beams as a reflector they blast it with LED light for nearly 2 miles, turing a negative into a positive. The other note on craft is a mussel bed placed at one of the piers. To achieve the right layout and style his team went out and hand placed every single stone. The story is that the city called and asked him what his team was doing (aka that’s not part of the contract and thus not being paid for). His response was that they wanted it done right, regardless.

    As an architecture student I’ve spent less time then is warranted learning about Landscape Architecture, but was really impressed with Kens work and any designer reading this can appreciate his attention to detail and uniqueness in design
    Once the video is processed you can find the whole lecture on the Knowlton website  ( and join us next week with planner Tridib Banerjee.

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About this Blog

This blog will be a feeder for recent news, events and student work occurring at the Knowlton School at The Ohio State University. Posts will typically center around updates from the school's lecture series, exciting projects from recent student reviews and updates from other school events.

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