Planted Form and Re-Formation: Horticultural Interpretation and Invention

Planted Form and Re-Formation is a seminar that investigates how and why vegetation (as a living design medium) changes over time, and what these changes reveal about the cultural, political, and environmental dynamics of a place. There will be an emphasis on how these processes are interpreted as particular to the history of a landscape, and how designers can initiate a critical dialogue between this history and invented horticultural futures.

The effects of environmental and biological variables that influence plant behavior — light, moisture, soil biology, soil chemistry, etc.?can be intensified or curtailed by funding, technological advancements, management/maintenance practices, and program. Contemporary designers are now inheriting 19th and 20th century landscapes which bear the accumulated effects of these externalities, and the foundational plantings of these landscapes are reaching maturity. To move beyond mere restoration, and to speculate on the re-formation of these landscapes, this seminar will ask: What was the pre-existing condition? What was planted? What forces have acted upon the landscape? What are the connections among different populations of the same species? How do we distinguish the causal and the coincidental? What should happen next?

Students will investigate two case studies of mature landscapes: Dan Kiley’s interior atrium for the Ford Foundation Headquarters in New York, and a European beech stand, designed by the Olmsted Brothers, in Boston’s Franklin Park. For the final project, students will research a landscape of their own choosing; this may be the work of a designer or an existing collective/cultural landscape. This research should take a position on the future of these landscapes over time.

Independent research, field work, brief written responses, and analytical drawings will be the primary means of investigation. Guest speakers throughout the course will discuss their practice and research on urban landscapes and their layers of planted history.

The course format is 65% lectures, 35% student presentations and discussion, and one required site visit. Students from all disciplines are welcome, but completion of Ecologies, Techniques, Technologies I (SCI-6141) or basic knowledge of woody plant material is recommended.