From Off-Shoring to Near Shore: Littoral Landscapes at Work
This studio will explore the complex environmental and social interests of multiple forms of landscape labor—people at work in working landscapes—through the design of regional frameworks and localized sites in coastal Massachusetts.
Since the 18th century, cheap fuel, cheap labor, and cheap nature lay the foundation for settler wealth in North America. During the 19th and 20th centuries, the economic logic of “fossil capital,” as argued by Andreas Malm, coupled industrial power generated from fossil fuels with wage labor. The primary orientation of this coupling was economic growth. Fossil capital has led to rising temperatures, melting ice, and decreased biodiversity—and the uneven distribution of effects on human populations. In New England, the techno-ecological landscapes that once supported everyday life—e.g. productive fisheries, forests, and fields— have been transformed by the market orientation of fossil capital. Relocated overseas, fragmented by urbanization, or restructured by changing economies, the physical remnants of socially productive landscapes have been romanticized, miniaturized, and historicized.
During the early 20th century, through the New Deal, the profession of landscape architecture undertook a broad range of public projects. During the 1930s, landscape architects planned, designed, and executed work across federal agencies as diverse as the War Department, Tennessee Valley Authority, Federal Housing Administration, and the Department of the Interior, creating thousands of jobs for out-of-work Americans. A broader examination of the history of landscape and the New Deal reveals that among the celebrated public initiatives were also many projects of environmental absurdity, constructed through grueling manual labor, often by racially segregated work crews.
Amidst the 2020 economic crisis and calls for a Green New Deal, the discipline of landscape architecture has the potential to again create jobs—“green jobs”—in service of a decarbonized economy. But without compelling visions for the future, the discipline will be limited to projects of climate change resilience that stabilize contemporary ways of life. This is an understandable sentiment in turbulent times, but it also represents the most pernicious form of “sustainability.” A new paradigm for working landscapes requires new associations beyond recreation and ecological restoration. The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed outdoors many activities that were previously limited to interior spaces. However, due to the urgency of this health crisis, most of these facilities are purely functionalist and designed for short- to medium- term deployment. This studio will explore the design of landscapes that can be new environments for health care, education, housing, and research that are disentangled from singular market orientation and hybridized with regional needs for food, fibers, clean water, and waste management.
Design approaches will be grounded in the material media of the discipline—soils, vegetation, water dynamics—and their controlling infrastructures, physical and policy-based. The studio will explore: how productive sectors will migrate due to climate risk; what happens to the land left behind; and how these landscapes can support dignified spaces for work and self-determination. These design propositions may lead to new forms, scales, and cadences for work and habitation that may seem improbable under current systems of funding, fuels, and power. In the 21st century, the socially productive landscape reconsidered does not merely provide the stuff of everyday life closer to home. It demands a paradigm shift from landscapes that are discrete and transactional to those that foster a commonwealth of human and natural labor.