Material Ecologies Workshop

Landscapes are shaped by continuous flows of materials and energy driven by anthropogenic and non-anthropogenic forces. Designers participate in this reorganization of materials around the globe, the great majority of which is bound for varying periods of time as urban parks, buildings, and highways. In landscape architecture, these materials range from abiotic to biotic composition, from simple to complex manufacturing processes, and from local to distance sources. While materials are selected for ecological, structural, and aesthetic performance characteristics desired for a particular designed site, their production is linked to a network of distant forests, quarries, and factories. Through material specification designers inadvertently transform remote landscapes, concealed and abstracted through the commodification of natural resources. Typically outside of the designer’s purview, these relationships are critical to re-conceptualize the present and future of landscape construction. This seminar aims to expand the consideration of materials in design beyond a single-state, incorporating multi-scalar, socio-metabolic lenses to better grasp the scope of material practice for design. The course simultaneously examines theories and metrics associated with material practice, including urban metabolism, materialism, and labor history, through spatial and temporal frameworks. Student research projects will parallel course themes through an in-depth study of a single material stream. Structured as a collaborative research workshop, the course is driven by reading discussions, lectures, and site and archival research, and will draw from the GSD Materials Collection in the Loeb Design Library. The course is relevant to landscape architects, architects, and other designers interested in the ecological potentials and expansive effects of material practice.