Lian (Harvard GSD M.Arch.I)

I graduated in 2013, but still blog here once in a while.

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    Live Blog: Diana Balmori and Joel Sanders on Landscape and Architecture

    By Lian Chikako Chang
    Jan 31, '12 10:09 AM EST

    Hi Archinect!

    [Left to right: Charles Waldheim, Diana Balmori, Joel Sanders, Mohsen Mostafavi, Ben Prosky (facing away), and Chris Reed in Piper Auditorium before the lecture.]

    Balmori and Sanders are in Piper tonight, talking about their book Groundwork: Between Landscape and Architecture. I remember Sanders as the man in steel-toed boots who spoke very sternly to us at the Yale SOA open houses, so I'm looking forward to seeing him again in this very different context.

    6:40pm: Charles Waldheim, GSD Chair of Landscape Architecture, gives the introductions.

    6:45pm: JS and DB take the podium.

    JS: "An integrated practice of landscape and architecture can have dramatic consequences..."

    "The overall objective of our book--the promotion of innovative modes of crossdisciplinary environmental practice--can only be achieved by...transcending deep-seated [disciplinary boundaries]."

    "...A first generation of environmental thinkers in the second half of the 19th century (Thoreau, Roosevelt, Muir), were confronted with a prospect not much different than today's: the disappearance of wilderness. Nature was depicted as a woman, a virgin in need of guardianship, to be protected by man."

    "The professional segregation of landscape architects and architects...not only shaped the dual design professions, but also design approaches."

    Example: Frederick Law Olmsted's Central Park. "For Olmsted, nature's rejuvenating effects were visual. But for Olmsted, this required [allowing people to see a landscape in which the man-made is hidden." He created a "pastoral vocabulary that even today, people assume to be natural."

    Fast-forward to 1937. Henry-Russell Hitchcock's exhibition "Contemporary Landscape Architecture and its Sources" aimed to do for landscape what [seminal MoMA show on international modernism] did for architecture." ...Hitchcock championed Corb's Villa Savoye and Neutra's Lowell House, in which the architecture is conceived as being set in a pastoral, untouched landscape.

    Ian McHarg's Design With Nature: The Plight.  "Here at Yale...excuse me, here at Harvard, you all know that McHarg pioneered a methodology that encouraged designers to consider a range of interconnected environmental factors." But in so doing, design was often avoided, because McHarg's regional approach was so large.

    JS is presenting his view of contemporary "Wilderness Values."

    DB: "Well, I hope you caught that the architect gave a landscape history, so that means the thing is really working."

    "I would argue that one road to overcoming this dualism is to adopt a new view of nature. ...The interface between landscape and architecture, humans and other species, nature, and culture." Heterogeneity.

    Conceptions of nature have been constantly changing since the 1960s. Raymond Williams has stated that the concept of "nature" is one of the most difficult in the English language.

    "Between 1840 and 1890, there are the beginnings of a shift in the concept of nature. In 1879, Ernst Haeckel introduced the idea of ecosystem," something which we didn't understand as a culture until the 1960s.

    [Haeckel's radiolarians]

    At the same time there were Darwin's finches, and Buckland's idea of geology, in which different species exist at different altitudes or in different geological zones: nature reacts not just in one way. Starting to diversify the older concept of nature.

    "It was artists, not architects or landscape architects, who first embraced an ecological understanding...who embraced an ecological understanding of natural processes." Going from copying the forms of nature to copying the performance of nature. Example of Herbert Bayer's park, with its hydrological functions.

    JS: Sanders takes the podium again, and explains that in their book, Groundwork, they saw three main themes: topography, ecology, and biocomputation. They're presenting projects from the book in each of these categories. (But I missed the "topography" section while fiddling with images.)

    DB: "Sustainable design tends to be product oriented...[considering] performance efficiency" rather than form. "Ecological designers, instead, are more interested in the potential of different scales."

    In the "ecology" section there are many projects that defamiliarize buildings. She's showing one of Eric Höweler's speculative projects:

    [Höweler + Yoon]

    There are also projects that recycle materials, such as Snohetta's Turistroute in Eggum, which reuses wood and stones from the site.


    Now the biocomputation section:

    "From Leonardo's Vitruvian Man, to Corb's Modular, to... architects have searched for a vocabulary of geometric form that they believe influenced their creation. ...Currently, various designers interested in biology and design...[are working algorithmically] with forms and patterns that are adaptive, self-emerging, and without external control." Exemplified by Aranda:Lasch. Also Tom Wiscombe's skins, which emulate "not only the look but the behavior" of [some kind of sea critter].

    JS: "We try to practice what we preach, at least when we don't have conservative clients and conservative budgets. ...Diana and I at Yale, in the advanced studios we teach, call our integrated design approach 'interface.' For us, landscape doesn't mean working with trees and plants; the distinction between landscape and architecture doesn't have to do with organic materials but with degrees of enclosure. ...Focusing on the threshold where these two zones come together, our object is to have a single concept (programmatic and spatial) that treats the interior and exterior as linked entities that shape human experience."

    "We strive to articulate the interface where inside and outside meet."

    [image from a project by Balmori and Sanders; this was their intro slide for their own work.]

    Project: Broadway Penthouse. The goal was to impact lifestyle. They wanted to bring the outside in.

    [Note the sexy showering lady.]

    Project: Olympic Equestrian Center design for NYC bid for 2012 Olympics.

    DB: "Rather than treating the stadium as an enormous object set in a landscape, we treat it as an earthwork." The berm, an S-shaped earth mound, defines two spaces for spectatorship. One is the stadium, and the other is an overlook over the training spaces. "At the end of the stadium, the ribbon folds horizontally..with a green offer spectators a view of the training area." They needed a cost-effective solution for the temporary bleachers, and came up with a planted scrim (?) that "confounds the distinction between nature and artifice, landscape and architecture."

    Now they're presenting a few projects that they've done individually. One of Sanders' is a community center for LGBT seniors (!), integrating assisted living and independent residences within a common landscape to foster community. The proposal uses softscape and hardscape to provide separation and privacy.

    JB: "The homes are created both for those who crave interaction with their roommates and neighbors, and those who cherish their solitude."

    [close-up of the above slide]

    "The lap pool also acts as a feature that fosters community interaction by erasing fences that typically isolate domestic spaces."

    "This was...inspired by my grandmother. I don't mean to be sentimental but she meant a lot to me. Up to 100, she lived in a [lively community] in South Beach and when she moved to an isolated rural nursing home, she died almost immediately."

    Balmori is now presenting an urban scale project, Plaza Euskadi, in Bilbao. There are, however, no scale figures engaging in various stages of foreplay. She should have presented this before Sanders' seniors community center.

    Another large-scale project, this one in Korea, which also attempts an integration of architecture and landscape. "The intention was to have all the agencies collected" so that they couldn't ignore each other, "a common disease worldwide among government agencies." There is a continuous outdoor public space on a flat, six story roof. "The prime minister will move in at the end of this year and the rest will be occupied by 2015."

    "No doubt, the professional and academic alliances between landscape and architecture have a long way to go. However the projects we have shown this evening represent a first effort towards this goal. Thank you."

    Done. Questions. A few questions from the audience, then one from Scott.

    PSC: On your last point about the inside and outside. At a large scale, for certain kinds of buildings--we occupy interiors and socialize them in very different ways. Should they really be like outdoor space at all times? Is this an overarching approach?

    JS: "I don't think we're saying that interior and exterior are the same...but...we're saying that they need a way of thinking in which you can't have one without the other." He's also describing

    "I'm going to slightly disagree with you--no, I'm going to disagree with you. I think we're moving in a direction where there is reciprocity and continuity between these. But there [are still interiors.] In the museum for example." [laughter]

    Now one from Ingeborg Rocker.

    IR: "I'm an architect and am interested in how you talk about design in relation to nature, and I'm wondering how you use ecological systems in the design of landscape. I'm also wondering how you escape the danger of using nature metaphorically, or let's say, as  kind of "green wash."

    DB: "We always tell our students that you can't just paint it green and call it landscape. There is a green wash at work in lots of projects; it's become a popular color. I think the metaphoric use is dangerous. There's a precision about what nature is today, and that precision is where we need to work."

    JS: "Just to add to the point about green washing. We were looking for projects that often had a slightly surreal or unnerving way in which landscape is incorporated. And we love Höweler-Yoon's project, which reinterprets the green wall in a way that is sci-fi and a bit creepy and threatening [Eric, in his all black outfit, is nodding]."

    IR: "...How far do we design, or do we just plant seeds for ecological systems to emerge? Ecological systems often fail when the human is too much of a master designer."

    JS: "You can't think about nature without people." And we think about the interaction of these systems, how they reciprocally work together. "And we wanted to champion people who...emulate how nature works, not just how it looks. ...But we're not ecologists. What we're trying to say is that sustainability needs to be thought of reciprocally, and it has to embrace design. [As opposed to] when you go into a house and it has the same kitchen counter but it's made of--ecological whatever--"

    Charles Waldheim wraps it up.

    Thanks for reading!


    P.S. For the record, Sanders was not wearing steel-toed boots.


    • 1 Comment

    • Ben Ledbetter

      Sanders spoke very STERN-ly to you at Yale?  (I won't go there.)

      But yes, they are tough at Yale, in their steel-toed boots and leather jackets.  Seems like at Harvard, too.

      Feb 2, 12 12:31 pm  · 

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About this Blog

This blog was most active from 2009-2013. Writing about my experiences and life at Harvard GSD started out as a way for me to process my experiences as an M.Arch.I student, and evolved into a record of the intellectual and cultural life of the Cambridge architecture (and to a lesser extent, design/technology) community, through live-blogs. These days, I work as a data storyteller (and blogger at in San Francisco, and still post here once in a while.

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