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.