Advanced Topics: Earthworks

This seminar will examine two themes in earthworks: the techniques by which the land is altered through technology and design; and the way in which topography shapes our perception and experience of space.Land is the platform for design and, therefore, change. Land records time, the traditions of its inhabitants, and advances in technology. Earthworks are simply an accounting of human intervention. There is a primal connection to the land: the first earthwork projects were humble – the scraping of feet against the terrain recorded our presence. As society\’s sophistication grows, so grows its ambition to alter the land. Through time the earth has been shaped to improve the human condition: to provide shelter, aid in defense, sustain commerce, create passage, direct waters, sustain ceremony, and to make art that pleases our senses. Yet no matter how great or small the intervention, moving contours involves a process of analysis, calculation, scraping, and mounding that is tantamount to major surgery. The earth yields to our intrusions but it demands a proper response to its needs and limitations. This seminar will, in part, investigate these needs and limitations through the process of earthwork projects in design and construction.The land is a constant backdrop against which life\’s scenes are played, providing inspiration and challenge for change and imbuing humility through its power and vastness. The rise and fall of the earth\’s surface constantly alters our place and framework of interpretation. As the land confines, views are edited. As contours recede and the stillness of flat land becomes apparent, the eye and imagination extend outward. The navigation of slopes makes a physical connection to the body, as the heart quickens to steepened slopes or the pace quiets so that physical limitations are suspended and the landscape of the mind emerges. This course will, in part, examine our perceptions about topography and its ability to shape experience against the measured landscape.The course is organized in two sections: the first section consists of topics that will be examined through group discussions, field trips, and lectures; and the second section consists of student presentations of research projects related to earthworks. Every student will confer with the instructor to select and develop a research topic from a list prepared by the instructor.The study of soils as they affect building will be explored through a discussion with a geotechnical engineer. Earth moving techniques will be examined with an excavating contractor. The influence of grading on plants, natural systems, drainage, and the design process will be the focus of a lecture. Surveying techniques and equipment will be explored with a registered surveyor. To better understand effective methods for learning grading, students will participate in a workshop that explores tools for measuring, translating, and understanding grading. The experience of topography and methods for understanding and improving basic grading methods will be explored through measuring and analyzing existing landscapes. The basis for the course grade will be class attendance (25%); class participation (25%); and one research project (50%).