Our capacity to truly see, read, and ultimately understand a landscape is directly related to the amount of time we spend observing and interacting with it.
A Reflection on ‘Four Trace Concepts’ by Christophe Girot
One of the core themes for this studio is to develop stronger landscape literacy. In order to accomplish this goal, we have been instructed to use Girot’s framework for design “discovery, inquiry, and resolution”. He outlines this approach by using the terms: Landing, Grounding, Finding, and Founding. I use these terms throughout my studio journal and to format my project portfolios, so I will take a moment to define them briefly here.
- Landing – First encounter with the site, “first act of site acknowledgement”.
- Grounding – Reading and understanding the site through observations, data collection, and analysis (recurs indefinitely over multiple visits).
- Finding – Discovering new potential, new narratives, new experiences, new ideas possible for the site given its context. Design strategies, goals and objectives are defined in this stage.
- Founding – Production of a new design which directly stems in response to the previous steps.
In this first week of classes, we have already been assigned our first project and have engaged in the landing & the beginnings of the grounding process. As this is my first time to engage in the design process, I reflect below on the pros and cons of my unfamiliarity with the site we have been assigned:
I believe my ability to analyze and interpret the form and function of our study site was not hindered by unfamiliarity with the space. I support the claim Jennifer Roberts made in her essay Patience in Observation: “just because you looked at something doesn’t mean that you have seen it” (Roberts 2013). Even if I were to have passed by the site on my own several times before being assigned to observe it, I would not have delved as deeply into the ‘grounding’ process described by Girot is his “Four Trace Concepts in Landscape Architecture”. Our capacity to truly see, read, and ultimately understand a landscape is directly related to the amount of time we spend observing and interacting with it. Roberts maintains this stance by stating, “it took me a long time to see some of the key details that eventually became central to my interpretation” (2013). Some may argue that our senses are more keenly attuned and observant when exposed to an environment for the first time but as Roberts states, “there are details and orders and relationships that take time to perceive”. The processes of “deceleration” and “immersive attention”, regardless of prior exposure, are what bring about successful and productive observation rather than acquaintance and familiarity.
We were given the following poem this week as source of inspiration to begin our landscape literacy development:
“One is the point, two is the line,
three is the triange, four the pyramid.”
— Speusippus, on Pythagoras
Five is the hobbled praying mantis,
Six the sunning cat stretched across a sidewalk.
Seven is where the cat was
That dissapeared before you looked back.
Eight is the tiny piece
Of another world in the mirror of a passing car,
Nine the same cat somewhere else-
Eyes closed, tounge stroking and stoking its fur.
Ten is the end of summer:
The ways the leaves in the wind sound when they are brittle
And then turn black in the gutter,
What the sun warms from its new angle,
How crushed crabapples clutter
The sidewalks with their bloodstains and sweet rotting smell.
H.L. Hix. “One is the Point.” (The Georgia Review, reprinted in Harper’s Magazine, 1993)
To assist us in our grounding process, we have been working in groups, choosing one of the 10 above categories as metaphor for site analysis and design. Each of the categories encourage analyzing and observing, leading to a specific kind of discovery, outlined below.
Point –> Feature; can be existing, potential, momentary, appearing relative to scale (spatial & temporal)
Line –> Boundary & Threshold; can be visible or invisible, people may make these connections, traces
Plane –> Surface; define and create space, spatial tension
Form –> Dimension; density vs. diversity, built by an organic impulse to find light
Order –> Structure; is human order superior to natural order?
Phenomena –> Presence; dynamic & complex, beyond our control? we can manipulate but not predict outcome.
Change –> Transformation; over space and time, ephemeral to seemingly static
Poetics –>Story; narrative, palimpsest, association
Ecology –> Reciprocity; nature-culture, mutual dependency/influence
Experience –>Value; perception, meaning, affect, we construct belonging & identity simultaneously
Having used these categories to develop our own research and absorb information through presentations by other groups, we finally ready to move forward in conceptual design of our site.
This week we conducted our final War & Landscape pin up. It was my first opportunity to have someone other than my studio professors give me feedback on my work, but unfortunately due to the size of our class, only a select few were able to take advantage of this opportunity with the critics. To see examples of precedents and my final conceptual design, click here.
After meeting with our client for the next project, there are several main themes which I believe will be important for the remainder of the term. First, the concept of designing within nested scales. We will begin this project by considering the entirety of the Lincoln Avenue Corridor on the south side of the University of Illinois campus from Florida Ave to Windsor Rd. We will then “zoom in” to focus our attention specifically on the campus of the College of Veterinary Medicine. Finally, we will design in greatest detail at the scale of a single garden/intervention area. As we slide between these multiple scales it will be important to recognize and reflect how each scale (and even other scales which are not explicitly assigned) relate and influence the other.
Another important consideration is how we will attempt to address the conflicting values which exist within the clients interests. On the one hand, some stakeholders place strong emphasis on the use of native prairie plantings while other stakeholders strongly prefer a manicured professional look for their landscape. The question that we will need to try and resolve is weather these two desires need to be at odds and if it is possible for both to be satisfied with one design. To begin to answer this question I recall reading, “Messy Ecosystems Orderly Frames” by Joan Iverson Nassauer in the essay on aesthetics theory I have written for this class.
After individual landings, we worked again in groups this week, creating products to represent a grounding process for the Lincoln Avenue Corridor.
Human: activity along and within the corridor is separated/disconnected from uses surrounding; physical, visual, accessibility obstacles.
Non-human: Lincoln Avenue acts as a barrier to non-humans (flora and fauna).
Landscape Legibility: Lincoln Avenue Corridor tells a story, but pedestrians have limited opportunity to engage with or “read” it.
Click here to view some artifacts.
Lincoln Avenue Corridor Pin Up
Founding – The Vision: Lincoln Avenue Parkway
Our corridor development will be a poetic and pragmatic one, driving social performances and creating a vivacious atmosphere based on qualities which stem from the landscape surrounding Lincoln Avenue at large. The Parkway will act as a southern gateway into the UIUC campus center while providing connectivity for those coming from the more northern areas of campus. The corridor reformation will address issues like isolation of adjacent uses, lack of recreational and visual functions and obstacles for non-human groups by “thickening” the corridor with improved and purposefully designed biking and walking paths. Another major goal is to have the Lincoln Avenue Parkway narrate the history of the land, story of the farm, veterinary college and new integration of the park. The design of the paths is carefully planned to take pedestrians on a journey that weaves through the multiple uses along the corridor, not just past them. Our “thickening” of the corridor will terminate in a wetland buffer on the south side to deal with drainage issues and treat and clean water which runs off the agricultural land uses to the north.
This weekend we were assigned to create something to represent our Vet Med Landing. I wrote a haiku which expresses my impression of the campus as a “moat and fortress” and the visible disagreements within about how its landscape should function (as mentioned above).
Vet Med Grounding inspiration:
– Be responsive to the way people already use the space.
– Think of the lot not as a blight but as a space for architectural invention worth engaging with
– Parking lots don’t need to be dead zones.
-porous surfaces, shade trees, storm water collection/rain gardens
-green wall concept
This week we conducted our Midterm Reviews for our Vet Med Project. Some of the most important take home-messages for me resulting from this process are as follows:
- Different styles of thinking engage the process of design differently, and that OK!
- Articulating a sense of the larger context of the site is a must. Express important relationships to surroundings.
- Show exactly how your analysis data (grounding) supports, relates, and justifies your design values and decisions.
- Establish credibility by outlining or providing a sense of your research agenda.
Developing multiple design alternatives was the goal for this week. We conducted group pin-ups to help us make decisions about the direction we should develop. Below are some of the options I developed as part of my Vet Med design process.
This was a solid work week for us to develop our topographic, circulation, parking, planting, lighting, etc. studies for the Vet Med project. During my desk crits I more strongly developed my direction regarding the alternatives study from the previous week. This made firm the location of the cafe, healing garden, pet park, wetland, and prairie restoration along with the already conceptualized redesigned parking lot and installation of a green wall.
Master Plan development, and more desk crits. I decided this week to focus on 3 major design ideas rather than spreading myself so thin with a multitude of interventions which are never fully developed. From here forward I will be focusing on the parking lot/rain gardens, green wall, cafe area and wetland restoration as they most strongly correlate to my values and objectives for this project.
Click here to view the final product of my Vet Med Design.
Final Vet Med Presentation Reflections
Goals and Objectives were outlined for this project outside of just my own developed for the design. For this project, as students we were required to do the following:
1. Support the institutional needs of our clients by:
- helping the client to articulate ambitions, goals, and needs for the future
- identifying and satisfying programmatic needs of multiple constituencies in the College community (public, students, faculty, staff, animals, alumi, benefactors, etc.)
- analyzing and projecting alternative visions for community, identity and growth.
2. Embrace design as a way to advance research values, agendas, and processes by:
- exploring research-by-design as a model for professional practice
- identifying potential individual interests, thesis topics, or future specialization
3. Master contemporary analysis and visualization skills in landscape architecture by:
- adapting techniques that are conceptual, expressive, precise, and communicative
- demonstrating skills that are useful in future employment or teaching opportunities
IN PROGRESS – full mastery will come with more practice and experience with design software.
4. Engage reading (landscape values) and writing as part of the design process by:
- testing a variety of design themes, values and theories in the process
- demonstrating and measuring the performance values of landscape design
- producing clear written statements that inform/explain/teach client about alternative design theory and values they may elect