Thinking Landscape – Making Cities

In this design seminar, students will reframe the interrelationships of a city’s built and landscape form to engage the effects of changing climate rather than adapt or retreat from them. Yet changing climate is not merely a technological, engineering, or design problem, it will upend existing social and cultural practices. A broader cultural response is called for. Beyond their spatial concept and plans, students will be challenged to create images for new ways of living.

Two frames provide a base for our conceptual speculations. First, the Koeppen Climate Index sets current climate and weather conditions for the the world’s climate zones. This is a prompt to imagine designing with and for weather. Second, students will develop their concepts and strategies in site plans. These will be developed at different scales appropriate to each project. The plans will not be records of a fixed idea but rather expressive representations of space, time and action.

Three propositions inform how students can build their concepts. First, the seminar is based on the proposition that the health and productivity of regional and local ecosystems is as important as the needs of urban development. Second, the concept of regenerative design and development, which enriches rather than depletes resources, implies a cyclical metabolism of between city and region. Third, students will create quality, experience, and sense of place by drawing from a city’s characteristic images and artifacts in the arts, industry, and the landscape itself. The frames and propositions are supported by case studies, readings, and presentations by students, instructor, and guests.

Open to all students at the GSD, the course offers city building skills for landscape architects, and urban and landscape design thinking and skills for architects. For urban designers, it will offer landscape ecology strategies as a basis for social and spatial planning, and for city planners it will offer an opportunity to invent policy and future forms of social organization and representation. From whichever discipline, students will work individually and in teams, to imagine new spatial structure and new ways of living and working. The goal is to go beyond the standard renderings of buildings and landscapes with familiar figures at work or play to depict the spaces and occupations of a new urban milieu.

Following the first two introductory meetings the seminar is structured in three phases. First, after choosing a city from the Koeppen Climate Index, students will develop concepts and strategies measured in site plans at different geographical and temporal scales. You will select, describe, and depict a climate change stressor (heat, flooding, fire, or wind), and show how your design concept engages with your chosen stressor. Second, as the work evolves, you will develop an experiential narrative focused on the essential cultural, social and landscape qualities implied by your concept. You will choose a cultural, artistic, spiritual activity or a landscape feature that is critical to the place and character of the city as you envision them. Finally, the third phase will synthesize phase one and two in a speculation on what impact this would have for daily life, society, and politics.

Designers in practice face immediate and concrete questions. Through discussions and presentations, the course will produce plans and images for an uncertain future.

Up to six seats will be held for MDes students, with priority given to Ecologies Domain and ULE Area students.


This course will be taught online through Friday, February 4th.