Monday, January 31, 2011

suburbia: what next?

Architectural Record has a great interview with June Williamson from the School of Architecture at The City College of New York focusing on the challenges surrounding suburbia. She discusses the idea that suburbia as we know it has grown over the past 50 to 60 years and we can expect a similar time frame to retrofit and repair it. This shift will be increasingly difficult as more and more of the population abandons the 20th century American dream of a single family house with a yard for the comfort of denser urban living conditions.

The suburban context is far different than it was years ago, as the demographic is shifting from middle income families to lower income immigrant populations. Williamson discusses the notion that retrofitting will require responding in unique ways to the wide variety of suburban demographics. There will be no quick fix prototype and no widespread adoption of a plan that can work universally. The challenges will be site specific and the future uses as diverse as the current suburban complex.

There is also the discussion of larger regional transportation networks and systems that interact with both the urban and suburban fabric of the American landscape. Given the state of local economies nationwide it is unrealistic to think we can radically change suburbia as we know it. However, there is a real chance to begin to centralize development and create nodes that respond to and grow from existing infrastructure. Williamson also addresses the idea of land use planning as an effective tool to begin to change the way suburbia will grow in the future; pro-active planning that challenges the system that fostered sprawl and to physically affect future growth patterns.

Sure, there are many critics who claim all efforts to shift the course of our faltering suburban landscape are rooted in academia and so they will remain. Whether we want to believe it or not, the challenge of developing creative solutions for a grim fated suburbia is one that will stick with us for many years to come. It is this challenge that is exciting many designers and one that will continue to be addressed here on dimensions.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

precedent setting

Nearly a year ago we were busy developing concepts for an exhibition to display student work for the Rutgers University Landscape Architecture Department. These concepts grew and were developed into the pulse, a collaborative student effort that changed the face of the landscape architecture department. This past weekend at the New Jersey ASLA convention the pulse was awarded a merit award for communication in landscape architecture.

The pulse communicated student work to the public in a way that had never been done before in the department. It gave people who were unfamiliar with our profession and our curriculum the chance to understand it by looking at a variety of portfolios that spoke to a variety of work. We also communicated the design process of the pulse, from concept development to construction implementation, in the form of 8 boards. This narrative combined with the abstract form of the pulse to create a user experience that was truly unique and memorable.

The project also spoke loudly to our department chair and university Deans. A new course was developed and implemented this spring semester and will continue to challenge students to think about design across the spectrum of abstraction to implementation.

The pulse became more than just an exhibition; it morphed into a teaching tool and a form of design communication that has set the precedent for what Rutgers students can achieve in years to come.

Friday, January 28, 2011

global data sharing

The amount of geospatial data available at a global scale is undeniably more than ten years ago and will certainly continue to grow in quality and quantity in years to come. Designers are utilizing this mass of data to fuel international work and basing many design and planning decisions off of geospatial data.

We can weigh this as both positive and negative and give numerous reasons for both ends of the spectrum (pragmatic concerns of accuracy, meta data reliability, consistency, growing design markets, less time required on site, etc.) However, one question that stands out is how geospatial data is impacting the cultural component of international design and planning efforts. With such an abundance of data covering the physical and social landscape it is easy to plan and plan well for sustainable landscape ecologies, profitable economies and successful development goals.

If we visit sites less because of geographical and economical constraints when working in the international realm and rely more on the abundance of geospatial data that can be viewed on our screen, what happens to the cultural layer of proposed design solutions? How much does understanding place change when we enter a site with preconceived notions developed by analyzing data before the visit? Do we bias plans more towards the type of data we have? To this end, are we seeing a paradigm shift in site analysis now that geospatial data is so abundant?

In response to this quandary one must ask how can we better map culture and what would this mean, what would this look like and how could we use it to make more informed design decisions in the international context? As designers, we have the ability to transform the notion of data into an entity that captures sense of place. It is culture and diversity that combine to make places special - in a world shrinking through hyper data flows we must ask how new data can be entered into the system, in 2D, 3D and 4D forms.

a beta welcome

Dimensions: exploring landscape paradigms is a blog dedicated to the exploration and development of ideas related to landscape architecture, architecture, urban design, land planning and a multitude of related disciplines. As the title suggests, we will be exploring multiple dimensions and paradigms of design, ranging from theoretical dialogues to the pragmatic and conceptual integration of technology into design process and framework.

As the world progresses further into the 21st century design will continue to morph and respond to the shifting needs of society and the way people interact with landscape and structure. This blog was conceived as a tool to understand and react to the continual paradigm shifts of the future and propose new, unique ideas in response.

We intend to address a range of issues and present ideas in a variety of ways. We will pose questions, provide solutions, introduce lessons learned from multiple software platforms, discuss contemporary issues and continually bridge the gap between design disciplines.

This blog will grow through contribution, thus we welcome all comments and suggestions. Most importantly, we encourage YOU to challenge us and critique us in an effort to operate this blog in an open studio format.

Thank you,

the Dimensions team