LA 7010 (3rd year graduate studio)
Fall Semester

Mud City

“The greatest invention of the 19th century was the invention of the method of invention.”
-Alfred North Whitehead

Design Research
This studio is a comprehensive, design research studio. In addition to demonstrating core competencies across the range of landscape architectural skills (the comprehensive part), student learn to approach the design work itself as a process of question-driven inquiry (the research part). This approach is in contrast to traditional interpretations of design as sophisticated problem-solving, and is becoming more important as the discipline of landscape architecture expands and attempts to take on more complex issues.

Problems are not ready-made and received, either from reality itself, or from the knowledge of some expert. Instead, they must be actively created and constructed. Problems always inherently contain the possibility of their own responses. Because of this the construction of the problem is the first creative act in landscape architecture research.

What separates design research from regular design production is this: design research is structured by a testable question (this is the thesis). Starting from the original problem (which is based on observation of some aspect of reality), this question is developed using inductive logic. The researcher then develops a hypothesis using abduction and tests that hypothesis using the methods of landscape design such as field work, modeling, drawing. This test is the speculative proposition, or what we usually just say is ‘the design’.

This design can then be analyzed and theorized to draw conclusions deductively. The conclusions are a critical part of the process, and the importance of failing cannot be overstated. In science, progress is made and new knowledge created by showing the limits of things. Scientists talk about this as the ‘falsifiable hypothesis’. For designers this can be understood as showing when the model breaks, the theory is inapplicable, the landscape concept or technique is inappropriate (for instance, a rain event or social gathering beyond a certain limit will push the waterfront park into a different state). You may not always find that line in your design research, but showing that something doesn’t work can be just as edifying, and help contribute to the knowledge in the field just as much, as showing that something might work.

The 2014 version of this studio- Mud City- investigated the relationships between sediment and urbanism in the Great Lakes Basin, with a specific interest in the city of Buffalo. Our way into these sprawling contemporary topics was a focus on the sediment itself and the technologies, places, and processes that sediment implicates in this region. Through sediment we began to discover, map, and speculate on social and environmental issues and layered site histories. We identified operative scales, both temporal and spatial, and worked to understand how sediment is classified and conceptualized. Some of the broad questions were:

+ what are the historical environmental and social issues related to sediment and cities in the Great Lakes Basin?
+ can dredge contribute to the creation of new forms of urbanism in the Basin?
+ can dredge material be handled differently to create more value, or more space?
+ what are the key temporal and spatial scales for understanding and working with sedimentation and settlement in the Basin?
+ what are the aesthetics of dredge right now? how can we expand and/or focus the range of aesthetic and affective possibility?
+ what are the limits of the modern paradigms of control and efficiency with regard to landscape-making and dredge? How might landscapes organized along different lines take shape?

The Lakes
The Great Lakes Basin is the largest surface freshwater system on Earth and home to more than 30 million people in two countries and forty indigenous nations. It is a huge and diverse cultural landscape. It also comprises the heart of the North American industrial zone commonly referred to as the Rust Belt, as well as 7% of American farm production and 25% of Canadian farm production. This intensive and extensive combination of industrial and agricultural processes not only spurred the growth of settlements such as Chicago, Toronto, Milwaukee, Duluth, and Buffalo, but also is a major contributing factor to the elevated nutrient loads, heavy metals, and other contaminants found in the ports, rivers, shipping channels and the lakes themselves that adversely affect ecosystems and public health.

Contamination is an important part of the system. Though the lakes are massive, outflows from the system are tiny- only about 1% of the water volume per year. This small amount means that anything arriving to the system generally takes a long time to leave. Contamination in the basin has spurned a variety of innovative policy and administration initiatives, both historical and contemporary. The Cuyahoga River fire of 1969 (there were several) lead to the creation of the EPA and adoption of the Clean Water Act in the early 1970s, the Love Canal lead to the creation of the Superfund Program (CERCLA), and the multinational Great Lakes Commission des Grands Lacs was established by the Great Lakes Basin Compact to help coordinate and guide cleanup and development efforts across state and national lines.

For the studio we took a trip to Buffalo (with a side trip to the bizarre and interesting Love Canal), and met with Sean Burkholder of the University of Buffalo, and Renata Kraft of Buffalo-Niagara Riverkeeper. Student developed their work through three main projects:
1. an assessment (mapping of one EPA-denominated Area of Concern). These were compiled into an Atlas of the Great Lakes AOCs.
2. a review of the state-of-the-art (case study of one contemporary sediment handling practice in the Great Lakes).
3. speculative proposition (a design proposal looking at the Dike 4 confined disposal facility and its relation to the Buffalo River).

Some of the works can be seen above. You will also be able to download a compiled document of this information here soon.

[Students working around the geomorphology table, testing sedimentation scenarios for the mouth of the Buffalo River]

[An analysis of sedimentary change in the Buffalo River due to proposed design interventions; the analysis uses a hand scan of point cloud as a basis for measuring surface change using a grasshopper script; the result is then colored to make areas of deposition an cut more apparent; image by Darren Graffuis, graduate student]

[A photographic series of the geomorphology table trying to capture movement and flow during the sedimentation scenario]

[A mapping of the Whirlpool CDF in St. Joseph Harbor, Michigan; this mapping by Jorge Champin reveals the relations between sedimentation, dredging and dewatering processes active in the municipal harbor]

[A design speculation for the Whirlpool CDF imagining a future center for soil production, by Jorge Champin]