Planted Form and Re-Formation: Past Futures and Antecedent Inventions

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. The course will emphasize how these processes are particular to the history of a landscape, and how designers can critically understand environmental history toward the design of new horticultural futures. A fundamental objective of the course is to expand the scope of traditional landscape architectural preservation: to recognize the extant built work of the discipline while articulating and questioning theories and practices adopted from restoration ecology, political ecology, architecture, and art.

The effects of variables that influence plant behavior¾light, moisture, soil biology, soil chemistry, etc.¾can be intensified or curtailed by funding, technological advancements, management practices and human use. 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: Who defines pre-existing conditions? What was planted? By whom? What forces have acted upon the landscape? What are relationships among different populations of the same species? How do we distinguish the causal and the coincidental? And, most importantly: what should happen next?

The course is structured around three case studies of mature landscapes: Dan Kiley’s interior atrium for the Ford Foundation Headquarters in New York; a European beech stand in Boston’s Franklin Park, designed by the Olmsted Brothers; and Frederick Law Olmsted’s World’s End in Hingham. Lectures and site visits inform succinct analytical and projective design drawings; in-class discussions will link readings and design propositions. 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 2-3 required field trips. All disciplines are welcome, though working knowledge of woody plants is recommended (e.g. completion of Ecologies, Techniques, Technologies I – SCI-6141 or equivalent).