[architecture in a disappearing environment]

The site for the project, Belle Isle Lake in Vermillion Parish in South Central Louisiana, and the existing marsh terraces arranged in a grid

Being in design school in southern Louisiana means that we’re almost constantly focused southward of Baton Rouge or New Orleans, on issues of coastal preservation, sustainability, and wetland protection. One of the most fascinating things about the coastal wetland is that it’s a disturbed place. Due to heavy industrial use for oil exploration, commercial use in fishing and trapping, and recreational use in boating and fishing, the wetlands have become a large disappearing network of dredged canals, sliced shortcuts between lakes, and pipeline scars that look like a patchwork suburban street system from above.

Section study showing how habitable concrete structures can also be used for land building and a varied experience depending on the 12-hour tide cycle

Canoeing through the marsh, it seems that this is a pristine, wild place that could very well be untouched by humans. It’s only when you see the miles of bullet-straight canals and learn about the dredging and marsh destruction that happens under the surface that the true picture begins to reveal itself. Is the right approach, then, to try and preserve as much of it as we can? Try to rebuild, or let the natural process take over?

3D diagram showing wind direction and general berm shape

One of the ways that marsh rebuilding happens is through marsh terracing, and it’s where my inspiration comes from for my design of the berm ecological park (cool name yet to be found). How can marsh terrace building be done in a more purposeful way, and in a way that allows the people visiting to connect to the site?

[The berm ecological park accepts all visitors. A winding, curving, looping concrete structure winds like a tendril through the marsh grass, the connection between sculpture and dynamic environment belies the concrete berms’ enormous scale.]

sketch perspective showing the experience of concrete berms used for exploration, bird watching, and land building

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[animating changing conditions using grasshopper]

One of the cool applications of the parametric modeling software Grasshopper is the ability to model changing conditions. In this case, a function is used to delete the points with the lowest elevation in sequence. The result is a diagram of the rising tide levels in the marsh in the context of a designed structure or surface.

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[parametric design and landscape architecture research]

It’s a concept of many names: whether you call it parametric, generative, associative, or responsive design, it’s all the rage these days among architects and urban designers, specifically within the emerging field of landscape urbanism. There are some small differences between all of these design tools and concepts, but I’ll refer to it as parametric design from here on out to avoid confusion.

In short, parametric design uses data to directly create form through algorithms or parametric equations. The resulting forms aim to be a precise result of real environmental data and are therefore justifiably suited to a specific site or place. For example, the shape of a building might be directly related to the input variable of sun direction, so a collection of vectors representing the sun’s rays throughout the year might directly correspond to the shape of the building’s facade. The parameters for the form are chosen and set up by the designer, and by their nature are a simplification of the true processes that they are attempting to model. Yet, this tool removes large chunks of the maker’s bias: rather than guessing at solutions based on cursory research or a preconceived notion of aesthetics, the designer is given a framework (the parameters) to adjust and work with.

From GroundLab and Plasma Studio – a site-specific grid arrangement of light boxes covered with technical drawings – has been conceived to immerse visitors in the systemic approach of the practices and their preoccupation with grids, ground and context.

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Human Habitation vs. Time and Water in the Marsh

Human Habitation vs. Time and Water in the Marsh

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[oasis in the desert: the Amangiri resort and spa]

The 12 of us packed into our 12-passenger van, we rounded the hoodoo (the name for a large, freestanding sandstone monument in the desert), the first traces of a man-made structure coming into view. The road swung around the outside of the cliff and a long, concrete slab abour four feet high and maybe even a hundred feet long came into view. This was the entrance to the untra-luxury Amangiri spa, though we didn’t quite know it yet.

Parking in a large crushed red gravel lot, the huge blue desert skies above us and all around us, we squeezed ourselves out of the van and took a look at our new surroundings. Without the windows and bobbing heads blocking my view, it was clear that this was a sensible, minimally classy design that fit in perfectly with the surrounding blanket of desert sand, bordered by high sandstone cliffs and the aforementioned hoodoos. A series of wide, long concrete steps led up to the entrance of the resort, situated against and seemingly carved out of the rock of the hoodoo. The entire resort, now in view after we had ascended the low steps, radiated away from the base of the hoodoo, each room looking out onto the desert expanse on its own. How we didn’t see this layout until now, I was not entirely sure, other than the fact that we had been ascending from below on our approach. 

But this isn’t the Amangiri.

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[post from Israel]

A food stand on the lonely but beautiful Golan Heights near the Syrian/Lebanon border

Post From Israel

Israel is a nation of contradictions, tension, and beauty all converging in an area smaller than many U.S. states. The homeland and the focal point of most of the world’s religions, cultures, and civilizations, Israel has a lot to offer to a designer.

Last summer, my trip to Rome exposed me to what a real layered city could be and could transform into- but Israel is on an entirely different level. The city of Jerusalem had thousands of years of existing infrastructure and buildings, and yet manages to straddle the modern world and the ancient world all the while managing to remain quiet and peaceful among the many rival cultures and religious factions that worship in same places.

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[landscape ARTitechture: a digital terrain illustration]

“Car Chase Scene 009” -3D Studio Max, Photoshop CS5, 12/09/2011

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