Asphalt: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

The goal of the Asphalt Studio is to inspire change in the way we think about asphalt spaces. The asphalt landscape is the most public of all landscapes, at the same time the most undervalued. Asphalt is one of the most liberating inventions that shaped the 20th century world. It allows us to fly and drive everywhere we desire–making the entire world accessible to us. Our association with asphalt occurs on a daily basis; our streets are paved with it, we park our car on it. Asphalt is everywhere around us. Yet asphalt is for most of us a hated material. Public spaces such as parks and plazas are often seen as belonging to the traditional realm of landscape architecture. However, parking lots and roads are perhaps the most public spaces of all, as we use these spaces on a daily basis. But as a landscape space, they are often only serving the utilitarian function of accommodating the car, which it does excellently. This dichotomy between the omnipresence of asphalt in our daily lives and its public perception as a hated material raises the question how to reinterpret the ordinary landscapes of parking lots and roads.The objective for this studio is to revamp the parking lot. With students and research assistants, a series of prototypes will be developed that investigate the use of asphalt, and the different components of asphalt, for parking spaces, varying in size from 20 to 10,000 units. Among other inquiries, the studio will investigate designs for parking lots that are more engaged spatially, formally, and materially; strategies for maximizing vegetation and tree canopies; integrating runoff, methods to integrate other program components; and approaches to designing parking lots to better support community interaction. A component of the studio is dedicated to on site construction of new asphalt surfaces. The Asphalt Studio is a component of a larger research on asphalt spaces, as condensed in OnAsphalt, a website currently under construction. The studio work produced will be included here.The research outcomes and design prototypes are intended to be published. It is with anticipation that this publication will serve as an indispensible resource for academics and practitioners alike, and, ideally, it will be distributed to a variety of governmental and educational institutions, as well as design firms. The studio is an opportunity to inspire change, and directly intervene in the contents of our culture in a positive way.