Plants and Placemaking – New Ecologies for a Rapidly Changing World

In the face of crises spanning pandemics, political turmoil, and the rapid degradation of the planet’s natural systems—all with a backdrop of human inequality—the power and importance of our work as landscape architects is becoming clearer to those outside the profession. Erosive pressures associated with changes to climate have placed global plant communities under constant assault, yet abundant and resilient life still adapts and flourishes in most places. This course will encourage students to observe these patterns and to learn from context so that we can place the healing and restorative qualities of plants, essential to sustaining life on this planet, in the foreground of our work as leaders in this incredible and dynamic profession.

A frequent criticism of new landscape architects emerging from academia focuses on their limited practical knowledge related to plants and planting design. Let’s change this. We share a collective responsibility to lead and teach our peers, patrons, collaborators, and the public of the vital role that plants and well-considered planting design plays in shaping the human experience.

To reimagine the revegetation of a place after catastrophe or amidst the pressures of growth and large-scale human movements, we must first understand context by digging into the past to examine what ecologies were there before the present state occurred. With these informed perspectives, we can begin to repair fragmented natural systems, preserve (even create) habitat, sequester carbon, and buffer communities from destructive weather and climate—all while embracing the realities of how people gather, work, and live. Plants define the character of place; they shape who we are and who we become. We must get this right or the same patterns in more chaotic contexts will simply reemerge.

This course is open to those who crave a creative and interpretive, yet always pragmatic, approach toward utilizing plants to create landscapes that actively rebuild systems stretching far beyond site boundaries.

Expressive and iterative weekly exercises will encourage rapid design that inspires students to explore natural and designed plant communities. Conventional and non-conventional planting typologies will be examined. Together we will seek new and innovative ideas for how to restore biological function to the land. We will use empirical observations and investigations to explore multiple-scaled thinking about plants and their environments, including cultural and vernacular attributes. This course will not be a comprehensive overview of the horticultural or botanical history of plants; however, it will reinforce important methodologies for how to learn and research plants that can be translated to any locale, by studying individual vegetative features and characteristics. Together, we will translate these investigations into design languages that can be applied in future design work.

Products of the course will include mixed-media drawings that explore typologies of designed and non-designed plant communities. Videos, photographs, drawings, sketches, and diagrams, as well as conventional plans, sections, and elevations, will be the vocabulary of the course.