LA 3180/6180 Site Assembly
Cornell University Department of Landscape Architecture

[Students in Site Assembly slowly loading their structural spans to failure, testing how theoretical forces work on a real world structure]

This course deals with the design and construction of real landscapes through the mediating instruments of professional landscape architecture. The focus of this course is two-fold: material assemblies, and technical representation. The course will involve experimental model-making, analysis, drawing, field trips and lectures, as well as design work regarding design development, and construction documentation.

Landscape architects must have the ability to understand, design, and oversee implementation of the material assemblies that compose landscapes. These may range from fencing and planting to retaining walls and overhead structures. In each case, the designer must be able to bring together a range of heterogeneous materials within a specific context, and to communicate this intent to professionals in trades who work with the different materials.

Assemblies: In a general sense assemblies can be thought of as unique agglomerations of component parts that are nonetheless irreducible to their component parts. As we will see in our early readings, this conceptual framework is a useful schematic not only for things like ecosystems but also for landscapes in general. This course will build on the approach from Designing the Urban Eden and Site Engineering, and be organized as a theoretical and technical study of material assemblies common to the practice of landscape architecture. While not every case or material can be covered, the introduction and development of important concepts and conventions, as well as a great deal of the technical information, will provide students with a foundation upon which to build in professional practice.

Representation: The importance of representation as both a method of investigation- figuring out how a material assembly will work- and a means of communication to convey design intent to professionals who will implement it is paramount. To this end this course will build on earlier courses in the curriculum on representation, and the lessons learned and work done in the LA 4100 companion course will be critical to the successful completion of the coursework for this class. In addition, some of the readings and one of the early lectures will deal with the topic of representation directly, raising important questions as students subsequently develop their technical capacities.

The course is structured in three main sections. There will be an introductory period where bigger questions that will guide our study are proposed, and historically situated. There will be a section on the elemental forces that are commonly at work in landscapes. Finally, the last portion of the semester will focus on assemblies themselves- complex organizations of a range of material components that must be understood simultaneously as unified wholes and as agglomerations of parts. Materials will be discussed in terms of their properties and capacities, as well as their historical and contemporary usage

Through illustrated lectures, field trips, short design projects, and the creation of a set of professional grade construction documents, it is my goal to instill in you all critical thinking skills with regard to the use of materials in landscape-making, technical knowledge regarding the design of landscapes, the importance of precise, technical representation, and a deep and abiding love for aggregate base course gravel.

[A scale model of a skate tunnel ramp, made for their casting project to learn the complexities of formwork and curing materials]

[All students produce their own complete set of construction documents through the course in conjunction with the technical representation course LA 4100]