Reactscape device:space

Synthetic Urban Ecologies


Site: Port of Oakland, Oakland Army Base and Neighboring West Oakland Communities

Bradley Cantrell, Associate Professor, Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture

Justine Holzman, Adjunct Professor, Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture

Collaborators: Urban Biofilter, a non-profit ecological design firm based in Oakland, California

The interface between the constructed environment and ecological systems is slowly blurring new strategies in urbanism, biological engineering, and technological interfaces. Homogeneous, detrimental impacts within the constructed environment demand a synthesis of new relationships between industry, settlement, and evolving biological systems that frame the landscape as a synthesizer of biotic and abiotic processes. The interstices of these new relationships become the medium in which the course will examine new potentials for sensing, monitoring, automation, and robotics within the design of synthetic ecologies.

Synthetic Urban Ecologies Studio will build upon the work completed in Responsive Systems Studio Fall 2011, with an emphasis on site-specific urban and industrial influenced ecological systems. The studio will develop divisive interventions for the Port of Oakland, Oakland Army Base and Neighboring West Oakland Communities, a site whose environmental conditions have presented severe health risks, environmental impacts, as well as social and environmental injustice due to the concentration of air pollution in the form of particulate matter. Using the innovative work that Urban Biofilter is pursuing through Adapt Oakland, a project that develops standards and policy recommendations for green urban infill at both city and state levels, the studio will take advantage of the unique opportunities this site presents for adaptive design within a working urban and industrial landscape. This noxious output of particulate matter can be envisioned as a signifier for a critical opportunity for intervention within this complex system, for undesirable outputs to be metabolized. Elevated outputs associated with industry and constructed environments require synthetic ecological systems to become hyper-productive and hyper-performative.

The concept that ecological systems reach and desire stasis/climax has long been refuted. The design of synthetic ecologies requires the ability for adaptation and adaptive management informed by real-time sensing and monitoring of site phenomena. Adjustments to the system allow for an approach to environmental remediation that is preemptive, opening up new territory in active industrial sites, not just post-industrial landscapes. This view of ecological systems, through the lens of responsive technologies, posits that the designer is responsible for the creation and implementation of processes that curate, manage, and sculpt landscape systems. The role of responsive technologies focuses on the development of active methods for management of biological systems. This methodology spans a range of scales from micro adjustments of processes to regional management and monitoring. Primarily, responsive technologies create a new recursive or iterative relationship between computation and biology.

The studio will begin the semester with a site visit to Oakland, CA and will have access to the developing library of resources Urban Biofilter has been collecting and potential on-site remote sensing capabilities. This will facilitate a laboratory studio setting for immersion in building working site models with performative interventions. The studio will engage prototyping, virtual models, and physical models as the primary modes of exploration. Studio participants will be exposed to a range of tools for the prototyping of responsive systems and environmental simulations that will be required to develop proposals for the site. Participants will use this knowledge to develop expertise through multiple iterations and rigorous research and documentation.

The studio will focus on relationship between urbanity, industry, ecological fitness, habitat, and infrastructure. An essential question must be explored as we develop ecologically rich cities, a question surrounding the definition of humanity. The interaction between our cities and the ecological systems that we are slowly integrating into them will question our perception of ecological systems as we understand the aesthetic, performative, and systemic qualities of ecology as a curated medium. The view of the city as a nexus, utilizing resources from surrounding systems traditionally creates a relationship of opposition and scarcity. How does the site function as node within a large network? If we are examining a robust ecology how does urbanity interrupt larger systems? How can it contribute?

Responsive Systems Seminar

David Merlin will be teaching a seminar that focuses on responsive and parametric technologies. The seminar will be for 1 credit hour on Tuesday evenings from 4:30-7:30pm and will be condensed into 5 weeks from September 10th to October 8th. The seminar content will be directly applicable to the studio and it is recommended for all students.

Technology, Modeling, Prototyping

It is expected that all students have developed a repertoire of representation, prototyping, and modeling skills. The studio expects students to engage media and technology to develop nascent approaches to site design, ecological management, and infrastructure. The studio will introduce tools, concepts, and methodologies in order to expand our repertoire of modeling and site technologies. The studio will not provide specific tutorials with prescribed outcomes but will expect students to engage outside material to advance their work and techniques.

Project Schedule:

  1. Site Introduction, Site Systems Research: The site will be introduced through the lens of the Adapt Oakland Project. Site Research will focus on 8 topics that help to frame issues within the site and highlight potentials.

  2. Site Visit: The studio will spend 4-6 days in Oakland to understand the work of Urban Biofilter and the Adapt Oakland project. There will also be meetings with innovative architecture practices and landscape architecture offices as well as other practitioners in the areas of responsive technologies and robotics.

  3. Virtual and Physical Site Model Construction: The studio will produce a range of models describing site systems. The final product will be a composite, performative virtual and/or physical site model that can be hacked and altered to examine multiple prototypes.

  4. Virtual/Physical Prototypes and Initial Site Strategies: Initial testing will occur through virtual and physical methods.

  5. Site Strategy and Intervention Refinement: Final proposals will utilize a robust prototyping methodology to inform a larger site strategy for a synthetic urban ecology within West Oakland.

Studio Protocols:

Attendance is mandatory for the scheduled duration of the studio sessions (Monday, Wednesday, Friday 1:30-5:30). More than three unexcused absences may constitute grounds for placement on attendance probation (see Attendance Regulations in the LSU General Catalog). Since most class meetings or general discussions will take place at the beginning of the class period it is important that all students should be in the studio promptly at 1:30. Arriving late or leaving early, unless authorized by the instructor, will be considered an unexcused absence.

University regulations prohibit the consumption of alcoholic beverages and the use of any illegal substance in University buildings at any time. Violations are likely to result in serious penalties. Smoking is prohibited in University buildings and within 25 feet of University buildings at any time (this includes the balconies and porches of the Design Building and the courtyard). Repeated violations of any of these regulations may also result in the Design Building being closed at night and on weekends. For the benefit of all, please be aware of the serious consequences that could result from violations of these regulations.

Each student’s final grade will be determined by the student’s progress and final product of each project. This includes the quality of interaction, production, craft, content, and presentation of the student’s work. Students must engage in active discussions regarding the progress of their work. Projects will not be accepted that haven’t been reviewed by the instructor. Late and incomplete work will not be accepted unless the student has a valid excused absence. Students will be expected to participate in all class/online discussions, field trips, and reviews. Participation is critical for your progress in studio and is therefore required.

Grades are based on a 100 point scale where;

“A” 90 – 100 : Superior performance demonstrating complete and thorough understanding of the problem and the means for its solution. Solution is presented clearly.

“B” 80 – 89: Good performance demonstrating and understanding of the problem and means for its solution — yet lacks the thoroughness and completion of an “A” solution. The approach may be creative, but the solution may not be totally justified; requiring minor changes; solution is presented clearly and logically, yet not totally convincingly.

“C” 70 – 79: Acceptable performance; lacks total understanding of problem, process, and/or means for its solution. Major changes are required for solution to solve the problem; changes seriously affect overall solution. Ability to communicate solution is weak, incomplete or unclear. Basic skills are not totally understood, although strengths are being developed.

“D” 60 – 69: Marginal performance; lacks complete ability to solve the problem, apply the process, or communicate solution. Disregard for alternatives; solution does not resolve problem; major changes are required which radically change overall solution. Ability to communicate solution is poor, incomplete, and illogical in terms of process.

“F” 0 –  59: Inadequate; makes no attempt to understand or apply process; solution does not work; most phases of work unacceptable; or project not submitted.

Grade Breakdown:

5% Project 0.01 Site Systems Research

5% Site Visit and Field Trip

20% Project 1.00 Site Model

20% Project 2.00 Mid Term Strategy

40% Project 2.00 Final Review Strategy

10% Final Documentation and Project Write-up

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