Understanding advocacy...the underlying importance.

Advocacy for the profession.

I had my first main advocacy experience this past May in Washington, D.C. while attending the Advocacy Day and Board of Trustees Mid-Year Meeting. It was a fantastic experience getting introduced to the importance of advocating for our profession. Most people, I think, find advocacy to be quite dry and boring. I don’t mean that people don’t care about the issues that they find important. I just think that people advocate to different people, in different ways, and at different times and intensity. Take for instance the issue of domestic abuse.

Advocacy Day 2014 - DC

Most people have a problem with this; a big problem. People will speak out if they see it happening or come to the aid of another if the hear about it happening. Many people will even help another work through events like this. Recently, because of a string of high profile incidents (in football) people have begun creating commercials which display the charged resulting emotion of this terrible act. These people have become advocates. They are advocating for change in people’s action as well as the type of consequence which are delivered to those who do it to other people.

Surely only a few ever go to Capitol Hill or their legislators offices to make a difference. This is needed though. The same goes for landscape architecture. Often, people would not feel as emotionally driven to go to bat for a profession as they would for a person. It takes a degree of connection to be put into place so that the beliefs and humanness of such a profession’s goals are reflected in the ‘job’. This association is often lacking however. Why would anyone want to go to a government representative and speak on behalf of the jobs that landscape architects do? Is it just serving a few people who want to only earn a paycheck or regulate the environments of the majority? No.

On the 24th of February I moderated a webinar which was led by Leighton Yates and Mark Cason. In this webinar attendees had the opportunity to learn about advocacy, what ASLA is advocating for, what advocacy resources exist, and about opportunities to get involved. The session was decently attended and there was some great engagement at the end of the webinar during the Q&A times.

Advocacy comes in many forms. Public relations (media), marketing (branding), government affairs (lobbying), and social media are but a few of those that exist. ASLA is advocating for a few key issues as directed by their membership surveys. Active transportation programs, community and urban design, green infrastructure, water quality and quantity, conservation, resilience, and licensure are the primary advocacy categories. Numerous resources exist for ASLA members. Step-by-step toolkits are on-line as are policy briefs, talking points, and bill tracking.

The key to understanding why advocacy is important is to reflect on why we are doing the things that we are doing. In reality we are advocacting for the people in our communities, the beauty of our surroundings, the wise use of resources, and the protection of our natural environment. It isn’t about going to some officials office just to get our way. It has to be much more than that. 

Creativity @ EDSA & OLIN's Critical Regionalism.

Cal Poly SLO

Designers are creative. Over spring break I had the opportunity to travel to San Luis Obispo, CA for LABash2015. LABash is the student organized conference for students. During my time there I listen to speakers from all over the US and made a lot of good new friends. The one common thread throughout the entire conference that I found of value was ‘creativity’. These people were creative. All of the projects that they spoke about, the workshops that we participated in, and the dreams that each student and professional has is creative. It is just part of who they are at their core. This is how they express themselves and how they see the world. It comes out in their production and interests.  I felt very lucky to be amongst such creative people.

Each speaker’s presentation held fantastic examples of how they were able to creatively produce a design that answered the goals of the client and one which engaged the people it served. Kona Gray’s keynote session was certainly inspirational. He began his address by bringing us into his understanding of design and creativity. He showed many examples of how he receives design inspiration and how others accomplish things in a creative manner.

The second video which stood out to me was a video which discussed the collaborative efforts between an architect and a dance company. The collaboration was an experiential effort which employed the use of architectural design in a way that informed and inspired the dancing. The company wanted to explore the movement of ‘pinching’, or to pinch something. The artistic interpretation of this was done by using plastic balls about 6” in diameter. The balls were place in shaped plastic bags which then were vacuum shrunk. A variety of methods were in place to allow the designs bend the forms into various shapes. They could also control how rigid the objects were by letting air leak into the tightly formed bag.

These produced dynamic shapes were then obtained by the dancers. The choreography then created a dance which had the dancers interact with the objects on stage in ways which highlighted or reflected certain qualities found in the shape and rigidity of the shape. The object became a part of the dancers and the dancers a part of the object. I honestly don’t enjoy this type of development but certainly understand the transference and relevance of creative collaboration.

And this was Kona’s main point and portion of his presentation…collaboration. He presented a recent project where EDSA is collaborating with an architecture firm and landscape architecture firm. Here, as a group, as collaborators they are able to look at the museum design and grounds and see how they can employ techniques in order to produce a creative experience and environment for visitors.

The next key-notes speaker was Laurie Olin. Laurie has an interesting background. He grew up in Alaska and had some art training. Eventually he came to a point in his art career that he did not think that he would continue to develop in a way which would make him excellent. He though he had capped out. He left art and began pursuing landscape architecture.

Laurie spoke about the importance of place in design. To him, it is becoming a problem that designs are developing with little or no relationship to the contextual surroundings. Design, he believes, should access the genius loci. This is true for all design. From one region to another, he thinks, a designed landscape or building should reflect the characteristics of the culture and landscapes. The international style is often heavily critiqued for lacking a sense of place. One can be traveling though one city, say Hong Kong, and see and experience little to differentiate the experience from the experience in another city. The form and materials are simply not there. Kenneth Frampton wrote a very interesting piece on this in ‘Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance.’

I also had the opportunity to speak with two individuals. Our session was ‘Emerging Professionals: Transitioning from Academia to the Professional World. It was a great experience to be able to share the things that I have learned while in this profession and previous careers. The session was highlighted by the presence and participation of a few tenured professionals.

One Friday afternoon all of the attending student chapter presidents, I, and the attending ASLA staff met to discuss the past year and some of the things hoped for in the future. These collective meetings are always a great moment for the student bodies as the leaders actively participate and bring up issues that are important for them and their peers. Student chapter success stories and difficulties are discussed and ideas are shared amongst the group. It is, however, rather a short time and really only a jump start to conversations which need to be taking place throughout the entire year.

All-day charrette.

One of my favorite sessions was the all-day charrette session led by EDSA. In this session EDSA started us off with a brief introduction to some of the key actions which need to take place in a charrette in order to provide a design solution. We then received base maps and tools to complete a rough inventory and analysis of the site which was located on a Caribbean Island. The second half of the day was spent generating and illustrating a design.

Historic NPS Lighthouse

Overall, the trip was great. Meeting the people who I will be with as a professional was a great kickoff to the beginning of post-graduation professional life. It didn’t hurt that I spent my last day in CA driving the west coast visiting beeches, watching sea lions, and eating bar-b-q. 

Debasing Design

Design can be stale.

Some designs seem to be driven by a market interest while others have a deeper cultural ethos and are driven by passion, expression of values, or ideation.

One of these is inspiring…the other…not so much. I’ll let you decide.

I don’t think one is more right than the other, but I do think one is more right for me than the other.

I am learning that I operate more from inspiration than logical conclusions and technical influence. The expression of cultural processes, beliefs and romantic gestures can be extracted into the everyday. These may not always be translated into a literal one for one iteration of materials and spaces. Most, however are watered down to a degree that they can be digested and understood by the majority…to a point where they can be experienced by the majority.

So having the ability to take that inspiration and position it in the realm of reality and communal experience is key to making it successful. Feng Zhu of FZD School of Design talked about this one time in one of his Q&A youtube videos.

I find it hard to operate, or rather start from a base of technical data and regulated dictated programs and ideas. This isn’t to say that I think one should abandon a provided program or client need. I just think that the point of creativity is to take those request, needs, and technical data sets and have the fluency and fluidity to make something beautiful and unique. I mean why hire someone else to do a job if you already know what you need?

Creative thinking bridges this gap between the technical and the human…the physical and the spiritual. Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to set up a manifesto or say this is the only way of doing things, but it feels right. Many firms choose to simply take the ‘brief’ and articulate it in creative ways…but sometimes this creativity just seems like a reorganized regurgitation of what the client has come to the table with. This may be why some of our cities and spaces are so generic and lacking in the ability to accomplish civitas and nourish our people. When I was learning counseling I often heard of the coming take over by the insurance agencies and their position that they would only back and pay for quantifiably based therapeutic services. This is a position which is creeping into all of our professions and I believe that many professions are responding to it the best they can. In landscape architecture, the industry change towards green based design that has performative backing is quickly becoming absorbed as a prereq. Science is becoming the rule. The spiritual and intuitive is out. Function is king and form is secondary. 

So why the rant? Who knows? Maybe I just see passion when I go into some firms and not when I go into others. Some seem to punch the clock and do it for the man while others are excited about what they are doing and find it a release to go to work every day. Not everyone needs to have a thrill ride when they go to work…because honestly some of the parts of landscape architecture and design can be pretty repetitive and boring. But having an idea and chasing it to see how it turns out in the end is fantastic. Finding relevance outside of that idea and oneself and having the ability to position it in the greater context of society really drives that experience home.

One example of finding a design which reached into the experiential and meaningful from today’s travels was the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial by Michael Vergason Landscape Architecture. The MVLA team’s ability to create and experience on the site which both honored and memorialized the efforts and those serving our country at a loss to their selves is great. Symbology, imagery, craft, the written word, and more all call attention to the sacrifice and greats an experience that transcends the physical structures and manifestations found on site. These types of spaces call to a deeper level of meaning and understanding that is not often found in the communities in which we live, work and play.


It seems that there are many places to start a design from and many reasons one would want to design a space. While I understand the need to develop cities and our social fabric/cities I am not so sure if capitalism is the best launching point.

Firm Visits & CAD Woes

This past week was certainly a whirlwind of technical skill building and travels. I had the opportunity to travel to Indiana and Ohio so that I could visit four design firms. Studio also kicked into high gear as we continue to refine our master plan design, section drawings and site callout designs. I did however miss my pro-practices class and the opportunity to hear from Bradley Cantrell and the work that he is directing. This was a big loss as he is conducting some progressive research on the large scale dynamics of infrastructure and ecologies; such as one might find in the Mississippi alluvial valley and around the dikes on the river. http://blog.ted.com/ted-fellow-bradley-contrell-on-computational-landscape-architecture/

A diagram of landscape monitoring and synthesis. Image: Joshua Brooks, Devon Boutte, Martin Moser, Kim Nguyen

During my travels to IN & OH I visited MKSK – Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf – Ratio Architects – and in OH I visited NBBJ. Each of these firms are doing some great work and changing the way in which landscape architecture influences communities, health, and economic vitality. The breadth of projects which these firms participate in is staggering. Community development, planning, riverfront design, private development, and more. I found that I was more excited the projects that sought to rethink and invent new concepts and forms than those that were add-ons to other projects and secondary in nature. These projects seemed to offer more flexibility in creative thinking and engaged a wider range of constituents throughout the project.

Riverscape -Columbus, OH - MKSK

Studio has been challenging this week as we are working through schematic design for our 52 acre site and very quickly moving into detailed site design. I find drawing by hand a more productive and creative way of thinking and am learning to do this more efficiently in CAD. As many designers have learned from experience, trying to do the basics while learning the basics of a design program is frustrating. Simple issues of how to use a program can kill workflow and efficiency as well as the creative process. I have enjoyed becoming more efficient this week though and learning from my peers, educators, and on-line forums as I strive to more fully understand CAD and Rhino.

52 Acre Studio site in Knoxville, TN - Old General Shale Plant

Design is fantastic. It is such a creative process that is completely circular and not linear. This can also be confusing to navigate as ideas come up at various points in the design phases and change parts of a design (for the better). I have begun thinking about materials more heavily, how edges are joining, what the user experience is like, how ecologies will perform and develop, and how the spaces will change over time in use and quality. I hope to bang out a site study model with my classmates as well so that we can have a physical representation of our site and gain a greater grasp of people on our site. We are quickly approaching the grading and drainage portion of our studio. This is one of my favorite parts of a design as I really get to see how a site works out in reality. Until next week!

Detailed Portion of Site - Early Iteration

Working against ecologies?

"We are not outside the ecology for which we plan-we are always and inevitably a part of it. Herein lies the charm and terror of ecology." Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972)

One of the things that I love most about landscape architecture is the professions keen awareness of how what we do and how we develop our environments, urban spaces, and places, is influenced by the living world around us. But then again, it really isn't just 'all around us'. I'm not going to take you to Avatar's Pandora, but the living world is around us and with us. It is inescapable. Our actions and choices in design all affect the many ecologies and living things around us. For better or worse - we are tied together. 

This week we had the opportunity to speak with EDSA of Florida and last Wednesday we spoke with Jason Hellendrung of SASAKI. Both of these firms approach design with similar but different perspectives and approaches. Jason presented some of the work that SASAKI has done and called out the 'Designing with Water: Creative Examples from Around the Globe' work. Like SASAKI many firms, organizations and municipalities are putting a concerted effort into addressing the imbalance that exists between our designed environments and nature. As events like Sandy and Katrina have dramatically called to attention this deficit, the design community is adjusting and moving to rethink the way that we address such issues.

SASAKI - Designing with Water

SASAKI - Designing with Water

EDSA also calls this out and seeks to be a thought leader in the industry for how they meet the needs of their clients and the way in which they respond to the environment. This is not something taken lightly as it sometimes conflicts with client goals and understanding. In some cases this conflict of ethical interest calls for a termination of business relations. But more importantly, they are most times afforded the opportunity to share their view on land development and help educate the client on the opportunities that are present.

EDSA - Luštica Bay Resort

EDSA - Luštica Bay Resort

Over the past few decades many professions have been exploring the implications of our interaction with and effects on the world's ecologies. Ecologists like Gregory Bateson and designers like Ian McHarg, James Corner, Nina-Marie Lister, George Hargraves, and Chris Reed have been pursuing the integration and acknowledgement of the land around us, our affects on the land, and how these landscapes are dynamic and changing.

Stoss Landscape Urbanism - Detroit

Stoss Landscape Urbanism - Detroit

They are adaptable, resilient, flexible, complex, and messy. These thoughts have been integrated into some of the design that have come about in the past decade. Hopefully, I can help integrate this type of thinking into my studio project and learn more about how we can plan for shifting dynamic ecologies.

Cameron Rodman - Grafted ecologies

No path is straight in design.

If there is one thing that I can take away from this past week it is that many career paths are not straight. We had the opportunity to hear from Cadence, a landscape architecture firm base in Florida and from Jefre Manuel of Studio JEFRE.

Each of the professionals who spoke with us had a very interesting career trajectory that seems to keep coming up again and again. Many professionals move through a few firms and try a variety of experiences. One trend that seems to be moving through our profession is the resurgence of smaller specialty firms who are able to bring a variety of skill sets. This is certainly a trend that is found in other professions as the 40 year tenure fades.

One of the benefits of being multi-experienced is the agility to market oneself into numerous areas and negotiate oneself through a variety of complex job types. Jefre has worked in architecture, landscape architecture and now as an artist who works with both of those professions.

Cadence has developed a strong community engagement model by engaging their community through a strong social media face, amongst other methods. Social media is not seen as a key driver for generating leads but rather a way of staying in touch with the community and generating positive influence in the community around the firm.

A third example of agility in the profession of design was exhibited this week at the ET-ASLA monthly lunch and learn. The industry representatives from Xeripave hosted us this week and had one of their clients come in and talk about their Xeripave SP Pavers. While we received an informative session on the product and the features and benefits, I enjoyed hearing more about the presenter’s story who Xeripave brought along to sell their product. He is a representative of sorts for the company who speaks on their behalf. He became involved in the industry when he wrote a white paper on the differences between perviousness and permeability. Now he travels to speak on the topic. Again here is the example of someone who inadvertently became involved in an area he enjoys through happenstance and his interests. I am excited by this trend. I look forward to seeing the journey that I take throughout life and how each new opportunity can be a complete game changer.

The fourth opportunity that we had was to teleconference in a lunch and learn with Zach Wolf of the Stone Barn Center. The center is a business, organization, restraint, educational center of sorts that engages communities in the beneficial realms of farming. Their mission is found here. There is a great video that talks about their efforts and purpose. I really enjoy that there is a changing future for farming that is rising up in the states and I assume globally. Resiliency and sustainable farming practices are key to this. A unique opportunity came up after this meeting where I was meeting someone to buy a new book bag off craigslist. During my conversation with the guy he told me he was moving out to Virginia to start a farm and practices the exact sustainable practices that I had learned about. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to connect him to Zach and the Stone Barn Center. http://www.stonebarnscenter.org/home-our-work/mission.html

In our studio we presented to Drew Wensley of Moriyama & Teshima Planners He is serving as an advisor and critic for our studio this semester amongst other things within our college.

Today we presented our competition boards for our design concepts. I certainly learned a lot and have a bit of refining to do as I learn to better present my ideas and concepts. Amongst the top, I need to learn to more succinctly state my ideas and focus on the key concepts that are driving a project. Below are the two boards that I presented today. One is an aerial perspective and the other is my diagrams board. The most critical and beneficial feedback that I received was to stay focused on my guiding theme and be sure to engage the ‘client’ within each presentation. All in all, a good week for learning and engaging professionals within and surrounding our field. 

Two Shifts, Four Threads and the White House.

Design thinking. The ability to think has been massively undervalued. I don’t mean thinking as though I thought about what I did last night or what I am going to have for lunch, but real deep, clear, creative thinking. Our country was once a leader in this. I am not sure any more. Goals for achieving enormous amounts of entertainment and leisure may be the reason that this has faded. Perhaps the pursuits of material gain is to blame.

One could attribute success to talent…however, I am beginning to believe it is one’s ability to ‘learn’ how to think, creatively.

Three instance this past few weeks have driven me to this tentative and speculative conclusion. The first is my visit to DC for meetings, the second is the essay ‘Two Shifts and Four Threads’ by Jane Amidon, and the third is my experience in studio this past week.


I traveled to DC to meet with the ASLA Executive Committee and other guests. During the Winter Ex. Com. meeting we discussed a variety of issues related to our growing profession, the societies’ members, etc. On the second day we had the opportunity to meet with the Council of Environmental Quality – which is a division of the Executive Office of the President of the United States (Ex. Office). I felt honored to be include in both of these meetings.

ASLA representatives in front of White House.

I don’t want to talk about the content of these meetings but rather my take away from these two meetings, the thinking which took place. Different styles of thinking and interaction took place. Some individuals were quiet and reflective while others engaged the topics through conversation and deliberation. Everyone was cognizant of what they were saying though. As the two days progressed I slowly realized that everyone in both meetings had a wealth of knowledge, experience, and wisdom. I needed to pay attention; not only to what they were saying but how they were delivering and addressing one another.

It was communication in its most basic and raw form. A skill which I think is disappearing from our generation. Sadly.

ASLA representatives with White House representatives.

The meeting at the White House was interesting. As I watched I learned that some conversations, such as ours, are simply set up to begin a conversation and to relationship of awareness. Not necessarily to resolve a goal there and then. First, commonalities and co-benefits have to be identified. The members of the ASLA Ex. Com. were sure to point out these common interests and identify areas where they could assist the Ex. Office. The Ex. Office was also very eager to receive this help as they were directing a train while laying the tracks shortly ahead.

'Two Shifts and Four Threads'

Our Pro Practices class had the opportunity and pleasure of conference calling Jane Amidon. We had a great conversation with her and had the opportunity to develop a conversation surrounding her thoughts and reflections on the changing field of landscape architecture and urban design, as exhibited in her essay.


If you have not had the opportunity to read through this essay yet I would suggest that you stop reading my blog and find her essay and read it. Jane succinctly summarized the shifts that have been taking place in the world of design over the past decade (or more). Four threads are identified in her essay as the most notable, and I would say forward looking, trends for the future of design and the cultural adaptation of our urban centers.

The first, ‘expanding scales’, the second ‘resourcing versus resolving’, the third ‘infomatics and the inductive landscape’, and the fourth ‘climate change = client change’. Design, at least in the planning and landscape architecture world is quickly shifting to something that once focuses on site specific finalized planning to something that is organic, process based, temporally active, structurally adaptive, and mulit-scalar. Granularity, edges, adjacencies, connectivity and flexibility are all driving design. (Amidon)

Brooklyn Bridge Park - MVVA

Again, we have come back to thinking. The thought process of design and the way in which we conceive of problems is changing. It is expanding. It is not unlike the changes that have occurred in past recent decades within the field ecology where systems were allowed pre-determined changes, where interactions were not possible, and static states were the norm. These preconceptions are lifting and dynamics are being introduced. Designers are now looking for future potentials. Creativity has certainly shifted.


I have had to change the way I think significantly in studio. I have had to stretch and abandon some of my developed tendencies and habits. You could call them constraints. The growth is good though. Currently we are moving, quickly, through a concept development phase; and I mean quickly. We have to move from our material explorations and show how we learned certain take-aways which informed our design concept. So moving from exploring concrete and plaster I wanted to translate my understanding of how these materials react to the placement of constraints (i.e. posts and forms).

Anyway, I have had to adapt to this new way of critical thinking which utilizes the concept phase as something to quickly communicate ideas and material aesthetics. We are developing diagrams, mappings, and renderings. Developing renderings which are speculative in nature and hint at potentials is difficult. I learned to draw renderings based on developed concepts and ideas. It has been good though.

process perspective

I am developing a variety of techniques as well. I have further explored plaster on a much larger scale and am working in Rhino, Illustrator, and ArcGIS.  Below are some images.

Large model - plaster

Samll model - plaster

Samll model - plaster

Large model 3d topo

Small model 3d topo

Large Model - Physical

Small Model - Physical

Construction notes for mold

diagram iterations

concept diagram iterations

concept diagram iterations

NBBJ + Jason Young of UTK CoAD + Studio

Professional Practices

To say that this past week was packed full is an understatement. Developing as a professional is something that has to take place while in school. Some academic faculty have the impression that students need to focus solely on school while in school. I disagree. I think this makes for a much less well rounded individual and that those individuals miss out on a ton of opportunities to grow as a professional and have a good time doing it.

Our Pro. Practices course held a web-conference call with NBBJ an international planning and design firm with offices in Beijing, Boston, Columbus, London, Los Angeles, New York, Pune, San Francisco, Seattle, and Shanghai. NBBJ was founded in 1943 and was names as one of the top 10 innovative architecture firms in 2014 by Fast Company. We had the opportunity and pleasure to speak with Nick Gilliland and Carmine Russo.

Amazon Headquarters - NBBJ

NBBJ is an interesting firm. They have worked in a variety of scales and markets. They seem to have done quite a bit of work in the medical, corporate, and urban markets. With a clever design eye that seems to lend itself towards a modern and contemporary aesthetic, they are creating spaces which not only are aesthetically pleasing but sound in performance and context sensitive.

NBBJ strong urban and planning focus is highlighted in their projects ‘Rising Seas, Delta City’, & ‘Second River, Second Chance’. Concepts for highly connected, diverse and ecologically sensitive communities are the result of client goals, cultural trends, and the firms values. Corporate and health design are also a focus of the firms portfolio. The Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System and The Cleveland Clinic Foundation all reflect the firm’s vision for design.

The Cleveland Clinic Foundation - NBBJ

These opportunities to speak with established professionals allows us an inside look into firms and into the design thinking that is permeating landscape architecture as a collective whole. Nick and Carmine shared their thoughts on critical skills which need to be developed by emerging professionals as well as the tenured pro. If one primary word of advice could be identified it would be this – clarity.

Design needs to be clear.

Portfolios need to be clear.

Ideas need to be clear.

Without the successful communication of ideas, the idea is lost. Clarity is key.

Church Lecture

Our church Lecture this past Monday was the Professor and Director of the School of Architecture here in the college of architecture + design. A few things stuck out to me in his lecture tonight.

  1. “Urbanism is capitalisms seizure of the natural and human environment.” – he was quoting Guy D. 1967
  2. “The relational assembly of an object gets out in front of the object.”

  3. “The idea can steal from the object a level of experience and dominate with a different experience.”

Much of Jason’s talk was surrounding the macrophenomenal effects of things like NASCAR, Cabella’s stores, truck stops, Home Depots, and more. We as people experience our environments, our lives, in ways which transcend not only the ways in which objects and places were intended to be experienced but those objects and places entirely. The most clear and basic example for explaining this is the instance of Cabella’s stores. Embodied in the store is the experience and illusion that you can achieve that goal of hunting and killing the game that every major game hunter seeks. It is all of the emotions and dreams, anxiety and anticipation, and longing that accompany the goal of the kill. The actual event of hunting is then replaced by an illusion of sorts, a disconnected experience which is apart from the actual event.

I can relate to this experience. For years I hiked in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. My photos, my memories, my stories, my hikes with my children, the gear sitting around my house, and the nature around my house all serve as a proxy for this once experienced reality. For now it has been traded and shelved by grad school child 3 and child 4, additional professional responsibilities and other things. But when I look at my gear or recall my hiking stories I am transported to those times. These are the ways in which certain macrophenomenal events, entities, institutions, etc. have the ability to affect such reaction in human kind.


Studio progress slowed a little this week due to some other responsibilities which required travel. However while out I managed to steal some time and work on generating iterative sketches for how I could transfer my physical concrete and plaster models onto our selected site.

Image 1:

Here I began thinking about the scale of transference. The scale of my model would have to be appropriate and would need to translate into a scale which was human. It would need to have the ability to be read and understood at both the detail scale and as a simple move across the entire site. The design needed to be varied enough to not seem repetitive but it also needed to have enough similarity so that a common discernable language was felt throughout the site.

Image 2:

Once I decided on the scale I began exploring by thinking about the techtonics of my molds (see previous images of my explorations in concrete). I constructed a basic grid on a rectangle (as a representation of our site) and established varying densities in two directions. These densities created a single open space which I then replicated across the entire site by multiplying the deniteis across the site in a variety of ways. It is important, I think, to not always make design moves, which inform, devoid of meaning. So I began to brainstorm ways in which these regulating lines could be generate by any number of things. (ecological highlights in the city intersecting with highly urbanized axis; social and economic overlaps; or even regulating lines derived from the old buildings on site)

Image 3:

I tried another quick iteration of this same concept. It was a bit stiff so I highjacked this sketch as a diagram and began to tease out interesting spaces which were created by the opposing rise and fall of the landscape. Edges, axis’s, interior and exterior spaces are all found in this landscape.

Image 4:

In section I noticed that in certain areas that some rises in land created spaces which seemed smaller in scale while others were more open and called for a different kind of program to be inserted. High pools, plateaus, low dips, and valleys were all created in this landscape.

Image 5:

It was important to revisit the techtonics which were developed in the modeling phase. I noticed during the modeling phase that the rigid members which served as form-makers protruded into the latex-rubber causing the concrete to become thinner in this area while other areas of the mold were thick. This could be translated into the site as well possibly in numerous ways. For instance, where the hills appeared the high topographic areas could be expressed as hardscape and the lower areas could be expressed as vegetation or water (or vice versa).

From here I will be building a much larger model which seeks to push the rubber latex further and the relation with the site.

Screenshot (112).png

We have also begun to work in GIS and Autocad. Maps are being developed. I hope to utilize some of my mapping techniques that I practiced this past semester. 

Final semester iterations.

It is my final semester…My last studio, my last class, my final time to be a student at UT. To say that this is bitter sweet is an understatement. I am glad to see the end of school approaching. I look forward to not working through the nights and into the weekend. I yearn for more time with my family, my wife, my children, my friends, nature, my church family. I will miss time with my classmates in the retreat that is academia. A different kind of deadline and urgency. This semester I will be picking my blog back up and walking through this journey one final time. I am not sure what my website will become after graduation. One designer that I follow (Alex Hogrefe) turned his site into a site for architectural visualization. I don’t think I will go that route. I am also not sure if I will seek writing opportunities once more with Landscape Architects Network or other outlets such as the PLACES journal or ASLA or another less formal outlet like Archinect, inhabit or Land8.com.

For now, I will be creating an account of my time in my final design studio and Professional Practice courses. So here we go.

Our studio has been off to a great start. I chose to attack our assignments without abandon this semester. By this I mean that I am creating and experimenting without reserve…I am just making moves and exploring freely. I have chosen to explore the material ‘concrete’ which was given with the word ‘soft’. So my task is to make concrete soft.

After exploring Google and Pinterest for ‘soft’ ‘concrete’ (and finding some intriguing imagery) I starting mixing. To accomplish more in less time I began working with Plaster then moved to concrete. I have never worked with concrete before so found myself very intimidated and at a loss for how to make it do what I wanted it to do. Here are some images of my experiments.

learned a few things. The latex from the balloon makes a neat matte sheen on the latex and the balloon softens the concrete nicely. The plastic makes for a high gloss sheen. Depressing both materials gives the illusion that the material is soft and pliable as does the creation of bulges.

I hope to create a few more experiments with the concrete this week. I have a huge piece of latex rubber which could be handy and I hope to melt some plexiglass with a heat gun to create a mold which may generate a soft sheen and shape. Here’s hoping.

This past week also marked the beginning of Professional Practices. I am looking forward to interacting with numerous industry professionals over the course of the semester and learning the backend of our profession.

We had the opportunity to chat with Shawn Balon, ASLA, who is now the Professional Practice Manager with the American Society of Landscape Architects. Shawn’s journey to his current position has been circuitous and very interesting. I learn with every new professional interaction that there are so many paths that we can take as professionals. I am eager to move into the professional so I can experience new opportunities and begin to more clearly understand those niches which I enjoy and those which I do not enjoy.

I hope to reflect more on each week and each experience and learning as they come about so stay tuned to my blog to see these take place.


Semester end...only too soon.

If you are or ever were in design school you learn to love the end of the semester. Projects are getting checked off your list of to do's. All nighters are fading from memory as sleep becomes a part of your daily routine. And you get to clean your desk area as though purging on a binge diet. I say desk 'area' because at this point in the end of the semester you desk has now begun to leak onto the floor and walls, onto your neighbors' desk, and even hangs from the ceiling and throughout the building. 

I hope to have my website updated over the next few weeks. I have decided to move to a more collective arrangement as my current and future begin to merge. I have begun creating for professional designs and studio is not always the work I would like to focus on. Other courses and endeavors are here and I have to find a way to curate them in a better more collected fashion.

Keep your eyes out for extended versions of the following images. 

Back in the Studio, CHEAPecologies, LAF research concludes, ASLA State awards, and more.

Medium-Mega Superscapes in studio and CHEAPecologies in Programming. The semester is off to a quick start and the summer was crazy busy. The past 6 months have been fast paced and very full.


My fellow third years and I (graduate students) have been busy in studio creating. We are exploring the yet to be imagined potential of Knoxville, TN and its urban realm. In a type of free-association exploratory process we have been soldering copper wires to create shapes and spaces which help progress our chosen terms and ideas. 

Model 1 - Based on term 'Amalgamated Interchange'

After a few models we photographed our models and took our imagery into Adobe Illustrator where we explored mapping systems through annotations annotational iterations. We worked multiple iterations and let our transformations take on characteristics of their own so that new spatial configurations and languages could be developed. We are in the process of overlaying our mapping systems over a post-industrial section of the city where we will then create ideas for future imaginative schemes.

Graphical mapping of potential trajectories. 

By this point in school I have learned to go with the flow of ambiguity and non-concrete direction. It is a much less stressful way of working as there really is no wrong way of interpreting something, rather there is just more exploration or less. I look forward to where our studio is going and I hope to keep up with our experience here this semester. Watch the Works – Studio – Fall 2014 page for more imagery and photography. 


We have also been very busy in programming. Since I have elected not to complete a thesis, I will not be using this class to develop a thesis idea. Very glad to have made this decision. Anyway, we have three primary assignments where we explore 3 topics of interest. Our first phase is working through ‘Identifying’ a topic. Here we are focusing on the communication methods and visualization methods for bring a topic to people’s view in a clear and concise manner. Our second presentation will be focused on ‘Framing’ the topic of choice, while our third presentation will be on ‘Proposing’ a topic of choice. The class has worked out very well so far. After getting back in a work mode from a light summer things have finally hit a good workflow groove. 

The first topic that I focused on was CHEAPecologies. Here I have explored the interaction of economic and social systems in gateway communities outside of national parks. Often times we find that these types of bedroom communities over-develop and lose their sense of identity, turning into kitschy renditions of what was once there or of the ideals and values which lay dormant and are subjugated to an out of control capitalistic system.

Pg. 1 of Cheapecologies presentation

Senior-itis has definitely hit by the way. 

This summer I and a team of three other students, one faculty member, and a team of employees at Perkins+Will (Atlanta) completed our Case Study Investigation for the Landscape Architecture Foundation. My site of study was the Mid-town Atlanta office for Perkins+Will. Our research is due for release in the next few weeks and my blog on LAF’s website has already been released. We also produced a webinar which covered every teams three projects. No clue where that is at though. Landscape Architect's Network also let me write an article on the site. 

Perkins+Will // Atlanta Office

The Landscape Architecture Foundation has a strong mission for research and scholarship. Our research focused on three different sites. Renaissance Park by Hargreaves Associates, the Atlanta BeltLine (East Side Trail) by Perkins+Will and the Perkins+Will office in Midtown Atlanta. I focused on the office studies. My primary focus was on the stormwater management aspects of the site, the sociological aspects of creating urban open space, and a variety of other fascinating parts of the design. I can’t say that I minded eating their blueberries from their blueberry bushes while on site either. 

Medicinal and Edible plants on site. They taste awesome!

Over the summer I and a team from a previous studio (Fall 2013) submitted works to the Tennessee American Society of Landscape Architects State Conference Competition. I wasn’t able to travel and attend the conference this year as we had a death in the family. While there our team learned that we were awarded with an ‘Honor Award’ for our Norris, TN Master Plan (see Works – Studio – Fall 2013) and I was also awarded an ‘Honor Award’ for my Camp Montvale Therapeutic Designs/Design Theory (see Works – Studio – Spring 2014). I feel very honored to have been a part of these studios and learned so much from my classmates and professors. There is no way that I/we could have done it without one another. 

Montvale Design Theory - Entry selected page

Norris, TN - Master Plan

Well that is more typing than I can handle tonight. I look forward to picking this blog back up as the semester finds a groove.

Have a great fall!

The pursuit of happiness...Thomas Jefferson...& graduate school.

So to say that I or my peers have been busy over the past year is a huge understatement. We have quickly learned that pursuing a graduate degree in landscape architecture is very...very intense. Will Smith acted in a great movie with his son numerous years ago. The Pursuit of Happiness. My wife and I LOVE this movie. It gets at the heart of achievement and perseverance and hope and struggle and trials and the list goes on and on. Here's the quote: 

" It was right then that I started thinking about Thomas Jefferson on the Declaration of Independence and the part about our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And I remember thinking how did he know to put the pursuit part in there? That maybe happiness is something that we can only pursue and maybe we can actually never have it. No matter what. How did he know that?"

While I don't entirely agree with this statement, there is something resonating within it that is stiring - motivating. Why do we  endure sleepless nights, long days, stressful deadlines, crank professors, snarky studio mates, and constant eating on the run? I wonder if we have forgotten how to live a balanced life. I watched a video by FZDdesign (a concept artist school in Singapore). In it the founder talks about perseverance and learning a skill. In it he answers some letter from fans and responds to one asking about how to balance life with school.  His simple response is, you can't and you don't. Balance comes after school. Right now is a time out of balance where you learn and develop. Put in the hours now, get the job, then adjust.

Another person that I follow is financial advice guru Dave Ramsey. He comments similarly. He says that when he started out (this was after going bankrupt twice and almost loosing his marriage) he had to take a lot of speaking engagements to get to the point in his career and development that he could begin turning things down. He had options and was sought after for his experience. 

Anyway, I'm loosing you and myself and getting bored. My point is this, why do we pursue so crazily after things? I don't know. Maybe you have figured this out. Let me know. But I do know this, it can be fun...especially if you are chasing the things of your heart. 

do what you love - love what you do