Field Methods and Living Collections

Confronting the reality of environmental degradation requires more than remote sensing, statistical analysis or institutional restructuring. As images of the changing planet become emblematic of our time, designers are responding with a scrutiny towards amplified scales and extreme events. This has given rise to a growing interest in the materials or elements of this transformation, and in the particular category of evidence that can only be collected through first hand engagement. All research, from the molecular to the continental requires a scale of study and these scales are most often refined in the field. With respect to analysis, the course examines plant morphology, plant evolution, landscape trends, visualization and aims to bridge the discrepancy between geographic data and local fieldwork.

This course offers an opportunity for students to learn the basic theoretical and practical parameters of site description in order to account for how the living formation acts and reacts in response to complex factors. Moving between investigation and recording, coursework will promote a better understanding of the tension between the materialization of the landscape and its political or social development. Using Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum as an analogue or proxy to these spatial conflicts, students will study a transect between the surrounding urban fabric and the living collection, addressing the specific issues that emerge from observational analysis including historical, biological and societal layers. As a record of heterogeneity, the outcomes will help students decipher the kinds of information that are most important to collect while iterating skills for taking measure, reading ground conditions and fostering imaginative inquiry. The course expands upon techniques of fieldwork and the value of models, by exploring the remarkable activities and processes of plant life.

Lectures and discussions will be split between classroom presentations, laboratory demonstrations and outdoor investigations, with the support of key Arnold Arboretum staff, including Michael Dosmann, Keeper of the Living Collections, Tiffany Enzenbacher, Manager of Propagation, and Andrew Gapinski, Manager of Horticulture. Students are encouraged to develop a close reading of the Arnold Arboretum and will have access to key personnel and research that is associated with their projects.



This course takes place at the Arnold Arboretum grounds. Contact Professor Elkin with questions about location.