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Design Under Sky discusses landscape architecture, the utilitarian but leaning towards the conceptual, thinking on modern occurrences and peripheral boundaries.  

DUS is the blog and personal design studio of Adam E. Anderson, a designer based out of the East Coast, currently a Critic at the Rhode Island School of Design, and a designer at Landworks Studio.

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December 2011
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Entries in Landscape Architecture (45)


Dredge Economies

[Dredge Economies cover, Image by Takuma Ono]

Over the summer of 2012 I had the priviledge of continuaing some of my thesis research as it overlapped with Takuma Ono's work while he was the first fellow of the Maeder-York Family Fellowship in Landscape Studies at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

[Section of Boston Bay and tetrapod stacks. Image by Adam E. Anderson]From Ono's site:

As we enter uncharted territory of climate change, and possibly burst through a climate tipping threshold, humanity looks to macro-scale design for consciously self-guiding the evolution of the biosphere. While strategies that reduce risk - such as conserving energy or coping - have their own merits, those which promote transformational adaptations have increasingly important roles in this era.

[Image from book by Takuma Ono, rendering by Adam E. Anderson]

Dredge Economies is of this strain of macro-scale thinking that imagines a transformational relationship between the anthropologic, biologic, and geologic; it imagines a way to confront the adverse effects of dredging while still acknowledging the role of containerization in a globalized economy; it looks at large patterns/trends and imagines cultivating the fields of the harbor in anticipation of accelerated change; it imagines making net positive impacts over time; above all, it imagines a designed process that could help balance the human condition with the evolutionary time scale of the biosphere.

View the issuu book at the Isabella Gardner Museum site here.


Designing Inevitable Irrelevance

[Somewhere between Utrecht and Arnhem, Netherlands]

I was fortunate enough to travel to Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord this summer, among other places, with a grant from the grad studies department at RISD. My main motivation for visiting the infamous landscape post-industrial park was to understand the acceptance and conscious conservation of the ugly, and how minimal safety precautions were inserted to the remaining machinery.

Are the derelict steel and coke production structures modern ruins?  While crumbling feats of an empire's architecture and engineering are marveled and protected, the iconic structures of man's leap into the mechanized industry stand like frozen monsters in the landscape. Now safe to approach, to touch, but the massive static parts allow us to imagine unbearable sound of massive machine, of heat and flame, and the haze of smoke that once emerged from these now silent beasts.

I was staying in Amsterdam. I took the commuter train to Duisburg, a 2 hour ride. The flatness of the surrounding cowfields slowly morph into a system of suburban / ex-urban industry, passing through the Dutch cities of Utrecht and Arnhem along the way, accompanied by the small residential neighborhoods that once housed the employees of the surrounding factories. The town was not dissimilar to my own blue-collar town of Chillicothe Ohio. Sporadic development deleting chunks out of the otherwise idyllic country landscape. Towers of smoke plumes a fixture in the western horizon.

A bus led me to one of the further most entry points from the epicenter, which was ideal. All I could make out in the distance was the towering smoke stacks. The rest concealed by trees, a mix of meadow and wooded path appeared to lead the way. It was late June, and the weather pleasant, so I was happy for this derivation..

The main grounds adjacent to the main machine structure are relatively simple, or unimposing, a few modest curry-wurst shacks and a visitor center. The majority of the ground is open to exploration, even amongst the machinery. Little in the way of 'keep out' and 'do not enter' signage that would no doubt be so prevalent in the US. For example, the industrial  structures at Richard Haag’s Gasworks Park, a project in a similar vain, have been kept off limits to visitors. Allegedly Latz was able to get around many risk and accessibility issues by successfully having the site classified as a wilderness, rather than a park

The marvel of Duisburg Nord is the restraint Latz Partners showed in over-designing. Volunteer plantings dominate as growing material, existing structures and catwalks lead into internal surprises of sound and light installations, bowels of concrete bunkers became a series of gardens, fragmented walls re-purposed for recreational climbing.

[The stacks at Duisburg-Nord]

Duisburg Nord was given back to the landscape. Not to be consumed and taken over by it but as a supplemental typology that embeds into the existing. It is not apologetic, to its contentious past, which allows for a homeostasis to be attempted. The man-made platforms give once unseen vistas, channels and wind -powered pumps give access to moving water. Being the only visitor in site, I could sense the park is now functioning as a new nature.

There is an abundance of documentation for the project, and its association with memory and remediation, so I see no need to carry on with description and analysis. But experiencing the park caused me to think about the inevitable irrelevance in our built environment. As I have referred to derelict industrial structures as ruin, Marc Treib preferably refers to them as ‘remains’ quoting, “A ruin, for instance, may be neither new to us, nor majestik, nor beautiful, yet afford that pleasing melancholy which proceeds from a reflexion on decayed magnificence.”

[Volunteer species as planting strategy]

But consider that these ‘remains’ that exist today quite often became so in our lifetime. Change at large scale can occur within months creating rapid remains.

I like to imagine the possibility of landscape architects being engaged to design the future-future uses of industry. Knowing that resources in a given area would eventually be depleted and abandoned.

The industrial complex would be designed for sustainable excavation [as possible] and processing of material, limiting long-term ecological devastation. The machinery, buildings, and grounds are considered for spatial consequence, so as it one day is transformed into a public space, the transition is seamless. Perhaps taking note from the great Louis Kahn, and starting with the idea of ruin, and removing any indicators of time and scale, creating timelessness.

[Duisburg-Nord, belly of the beast]
How would this occur? What motivation would energy and resource big business have for taking these extraneous measures for the common good? I can imagine that post-industry design and planning becomes a requirement for all industry, where the question is asked, what are you doing for your inevitable irrelevance?


Metabolic Tectonic: Terraforming Waste

[Pressure and Deformation Diagram. Image by Adam E. Anderson]

I wanted to share some of the thesis work I did while at the Rhode Island School of Design. For me, it is the beginnings of what I hope to become the creation of a neo-nature. Please enjoy and share:

Metabolic Tectonic | Terraforming Waste into Our Perpetual City Organism [PDF Download]

Issuu Book


We are a geologic force.

We make marks visible from space.

We can create our own geology.

This proposal is a designed geologic cycle, the geology being waste.
More specifically dredge material from New York harbor, and fly ash from incinerated solid waste.

I designed a mountain that breathes the city’s waste,
and fuels its growth.

These materials come together and through a process of accumulation, sorting, piling, bio-remediation, and solidification through bacterial calcification,  over time, grow into mountain.

The mountain has no finality. The pressure and compression caused by its growth create stone. Stone that will be harvested as the main building material for the city, completing the cycle.

Waste to mountain, mountain to stone, stone to building........

I am unapologetic to this growth and to waste.

This thesis explores waste not as marginal byproduct of a city’s function, but as an integral and perpetual metabolic component.

Infrastructure as inhabitable organism. Landscape as Machine.

I question ubiquitous ideas of nature, especially in the city.

We can design our own neo-nature.

This is first done by either dismissing, or accepting everything, as nature.

This thesis is a study of this dismissal.


[Image by Adam E. Anderson]

To begin to critique.

Infinitely amazed by both natural phenomena, and the artificial, the line between the two started to blur for me and I lost an understanding of these as separate entities. This was a wonderful moment, as I began to see everything as nature, or nothing as nature, the word simply lost meaning, but the beauty of what we make and destroy is equally as beautiful to what nature makes and destroys.

This thesis was in part an opportunity to explore the manifestation of these ideas into a visionary but believable concept in hopes others will soon join in sharing and developing a neo-nature. If it’s conceivable to build an inhabitable mountain of infrastructure within a centralized location within a city, then truly anything is possible, and landscape architects should relish in knowing that tradition and contemporary restraints, while important should not restrain radical thought and expression. I believe this to be an absolute necessity for the transformation of the profession.

[Angles Diagram. Image by Adam E. Anderson][Mountain Formation Diagram. Image by Adam E. Anderson]

I have been fascinated by the speed in which technology develops, and how these technologies and sciences might be utilized by landscape architects. Particularly the possibilities of large scale 3D printing and bio-engineering of plant life, both have inexhaustible spatial capabilities. An idea undeveloped within my thesis, was that the mountain would be built by an army of multi-functional drones, acting as a giant 3D printer, controlled through a mainframe by team of landscape architects and engineers. A highly detailed digital 3D model would be the data source for drone programming and their movement determined by its form. Rather than trying to recreate idyllic nature, I can imagine bioengineered plants to allow us to create environments that could function better than nature, more efficient and capable of resilience in face of the complexities of urban systems. As of recent developments, these are very achievable ideas, and worthy of further engagement.

[In the Canyon. Image by Adam E. Anderson]

This proposal is however fraught with difficulties of a political, practical, infrastructural, and economic nature. The inclusion of the public into an infrastructural system proved increasingly complicated. Whether the infrastructure should be simplified to accommodate inhabitation or additional layers and networks be added is a level of detail that needs to be further explored.

At 300+ acres, and with its centralized location, the question of “what else can it do” is something I hope to continue to study. I briefly touched on this in the “Program Potential” diagram but the spatial consequences of a more complex program holds exciting possibilities in developing new kind of esoteric park. A place in which the fear, meaning the positive experience of it found in the wild might be replaced with fear of daunting mechanical movements and unfamiliar biological reactions. What this looks like, and the best way for people to experience this, I’m still figuring out.

While I believe the siting of the mountain on the Bay Shore Flats to be just, I still question the location of the two incinerators. Particularly the southern facility, which would be susceptible to storm waves and would need further protection. As the shoals extend farther south into the channel, with further design exploration and modification to the planned waste barge shipping routes, this is achievable. The choice to use incineration was based on research showing with some speculation of further technological advancements in their operation, to be the most efficient choice for reducing a city’s waste volume into a manageable quantity. And there is a question of the fly ash, the non-toxic but certainly non-healthy by-product of incineration and how it is to be properly managed when exposure to the public is a possibility. Further study could be done into the capabilities and limits of dredge as a major material resource for maritime cities, as well as material potential in recycling other non-biodegradable waste such as metals and plastics. Additional city waste product such as sewage and e-waste were intentionally not addressed in this thesis due to the complexities associated with their treatment that time simply did not allow.

The form of the mounds, derived from the study of the formation of the angles of repose of similar material types is an area I aim to continue to push to achieve more radical form making a deeper relationship to program and site environmental factors of erosion, deformation, accumulation and decay. A more intense understanding of material deformation will allow the material itself to become more widely used, and for others to also continue to manipulate its form for use in creating public space.

I see this thesis as just the beginning of an long exploration into the ugly, and the design and creation of a Neo-Nature.


Constructing the Anthropocene

[Bingham Copper Pit, Utah]

Predicated upon accommodation humans have become one of the geologic forces affecting the earth. Growth required materials and energy. And to produce those forces, extraction is required from deep within the earth to reach material made from millions of years of geologic pressures. Technology has allowed us to hasten certain geologic processes at our will.

Many scientists believe we have ushered in a new epoch of the collective affect of human intervention on biological, physical and chemical processes on the Earth system, they are calling it the Anthropocene. The Royal Society in one of its papers describes the name as “a vivid expression of the degree of environmental change on planet Earth.” It means that human activity has left a “stratigraphic signal” detectable thousands of years from now in ice cores and sedimentary rocks.

[Coal slag heap pile, West Virginia]

We can imagine geologists many of years from now studying the stratification layers and wonder how our epoch will unfold? Could it mark the end of an era caused by a self-inflicted catastrophic event, digging and burying ourselves out of existence. Or might this layer reveal the change that occurred at a period where the foresight to design our own geology perhaps delayed such an outcome. The boundaries between epochs are defined by changes preserved in sedimentary rocks—the emergence of one type of commonly fossilized organism, say, or the disappearance of another. The speed at which vast amounts of non-organic material can be produced might define a shorter geologic time frame. One that is conceivable to occur within our own, or our children’s time, even containing multiple layers.

The Bingham Copper Mine in Utah is one of the biggest man-made depressions in the world, it can be seen from space. Operating for more then a century now the mine represents one of the largest zones of human existence. Faced with the thought of what happens to the mine when profitable extraction ends, the operators looked to Robert Smithson to engage the mine. Rather then hiding the scars, Smithson proposed highlighting the violence of the creation of the negative hollow form, the realisation is made into the revelatory through physical manifestation. Bingham is of course only one of a long list of Anthropogenic zones of extraction. By 2250 most of the natural resources will be mined out of the Western US, leaving 100,000 square miles of reclaimed landscapes.

[Landfill Mountain]

Cities are possibly the biggest human geologic intervention. New York City, as stated by Friends of the Pleistocene, is its own geologic force. Buildings constructed from local sandstones and schist from the triassic and jurassic period form skyscraper canyons of transformed rock, at times aligning celestially with the sun displaying the phenomena of time in the same way stone monuments have done for millennia. Before the Pangaea split, the tallest mountains in the world stood where the skyscrapers currently sit, mimicking there scale, constructed from their remains.

The dredging of the harbor and digging of tunnels continues to altar the shape of the coast. Governor Island’s current form was created with the 4,787,000 cubic yards of fill excavated form the Lexington Avenue Subway tunnel in 1901. Battery Park extended Manhattan southward into the harbor using debris from the 9/11 attacks. The major shipping routes in New York Harbor need constant dredging. The Army Corps of Engineers plans to extract  roughly 2 million cubic yards of dredge material from the Harbor each year, that material most often getting shipped out of state to landfill or abandoned mines to be disposed. The dredgers artificially repeat the process that created the harbor, scraping the bottom sediment as the Wisconsin glacier did 12,000 years ago. The city is in constant flux due to it’s own geo-dynamics that will continuously transform it for thousands of years to come.

[Anthropocene Construction Sketch. Image by Adam E. Anderson]

We are focusing on the “Anthropogenic” layer of waste. The effort and energy of extraction, production, and disposal of fossil fuels, geologic commodities, and construction is awesome in scale, as well as the waste material created as a result.. The now closed Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island New York is monumental, reaching over 150 ft. in some areas and containing some of the most noxious chemicals known to man. It is a human geologic event, an archeology of excess caused by rapid city growth and abundance. The landfill upon becoming full, and closed, becomes a mountain. In the case of Fresh Kills it was treated as a massive wound, covered with little acknowledgement to the toxic human generated strata below.

We seek to understand the fear associated with waste that results in its displacement to marginal landscapes, often to the detriment of low-income inhabitants. Part of this fear we believe stems from how many view nature as idyllic memory of it without us. Landscape paintings from the romantic period depict pristine wilderness’s and disregard the reality of human development, which inevitably leaves behind the ugly, waste. The images of Field Operation’s Master Plan propose a similar notion of nature rescued, with renderings of flowered covered meadows, and as critic John May refers to as “wholly fantastical Photoshop collages of upper-middle class recreational enjoyment.”

[Anthropocene Geologic Construction Timeline. Image by Adam E. Anderson]

The critique of the Fresh Kills proposal stems from its contribution to the perpetuation of the fallacy of pristine nature, especially in urban conditions, and when, and only when we are able to think beyond these ubiquitous idyllic notions can innovation in how waste is treated in the urban system occur.

This is a proposal of constructing this layer of the anthropocene in a way that challenges how we view waste, not by romanticising it, but by giving it authenticity, by accepting the ugly and transforming it into a perpetual functional organism of the city.

The landscape architect becomes not only a designer of landscapes but of geologic processes. The landscape architect is contracted to a project for life, continuously sculpting the site at his will. The landscape becomes a long performance, and the architect its conductor.



Metabolic Tectonic I

[Image by Vince Guallart. Denia Mountain.]


My recent work at RISD has led me to a final proposal in which I will be looking at the formal and chemical transformation of waste heaps to build a new landscape tectonic, particularly using the deployment of protocell and soil bio-technology.

RISD has dominated the schedule as of late so posting has been sparse, but this will begin a series of posts on my exploration and research of metabolic landform.

We'd like to consider a post-natural agenda that accepts the implausibility of recovering a pristine version of nature, but understand that the instinct of nature still exists within us, and around us. In the construction of our habitat, let us move beyond the role of landscape as a decorative device, or merely pragmatic sustainable infrastructure. A new framework can act as a catalyst for change, for a co-evolution of nature and man, progressing us towards non-autonomous landscapes that emphasize and value the inseparability of ourselves from the environment.

By constructing through the deployment of protocell technology we have the capacity to create devices that co-evolve with surrounding environmental conditions, metabolizing with that condition to establish a new landscape typology. This new metabolic landscape typology will make the once or soon to be un-inhabitable, habitable. Most importantly, this is a low-biotech solution, which uses ubiquitous materials that are available, durable, and affordable throughout the world..

Landfills and waste heaps are a landscape stratum that demarcates the human condition. Both sublime and tragic in their colossalness, they present a severe environmental detriment, but also an opportunity to use the remediation as a process to utilize its massive scale in creating a habitable condition.

One adequate and seemingly successful transformation of the landfill is through burial and park creation. This however is only a surface treatment, leaving a potentially collapsible landform, CO2 emission, and leachate [trash juice] which inevitably penetrates insufficient protective liners, and enters the groundwater system.

We will be looking at the potential of protocells, which have the capability to be chemically programmed to respond to certain environmental conditions. Through the design and development of a skeletal fabric structure as the form work for landfill, artificial landform is constructed. The landform however is not static. Stored protocells from the skeletal fabric are released and begin to chemically lithify the waste and leachate, preventing its release into the groundwater, and creating a structural landscape typology.

There is the potential for additional benefits of artificial landform generation beyond the obvious management and remediation of landfill. As our climate warms, and sea levels rise, our landscape systems need to adapt. With a new capability to build up quickly, we can begin to inhabit cooler atmospheres and avoid the encroaching sea rise. Micro-climates in interstice of landform can respond to a multitude of extreme atmospheric conditions.

At the moment we are not sure that this is even possible, but in reality, anything is possible, so we will proceed.