synthetic urban ecologies

S Y N T H E T I C   U R B A N   E C O L O G I E S
Studio, Fall 2011, Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture, LSU

Bradley Cantrell, Associate Professor, Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture (at the time) Justine Holzman, Adjunct, Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture (at the time)

Collaborators: Urban Biofilter, a non-profit ecological design firm based in Oakland, California

The interface between the constructed environment and ecological systems is slowly blurring new strategies in urbanism, biological engineering, and technological interfaces. Homogeneous, detrimental impacts within the constructed environment demand a synthesis of new relationships between industry, settlement, and evolving biological systems that frame the landscape as a synthesizer of biotic and abiotic processes. The interstices of these new relationships become the medium in which the course will examine new potentials for sensing, monitoring, automation, and robotics within the design of synthetic ecologies.

Synthetic Urban Ecologies Studio will build upon the work completed in Responsive Systems Studio Fall 2011, with an emphasis on site-specific urban and industrial influenced ecological systems. The studio will develop divisive interventions for the Port of Oakland, Oakland Army Base and Neighboring West Oakland Communities, a site whose environmental conditions have presented severe health risks, environmental impacts, as well as social and environmental injustice due to the concentration of air pollution in the form of particulate matter. Using the innovative work that Urban Biofilter is pursuing through Adapt Oakland, a project that develops standards and policy recommendations for green urban infill at both city and state levels, the studio will take advantage of the unique opportunities this site presents for adaptive design within a working urban and industrial landscape. This noxious output of particulate matter can be envisioned as a signifier for a critical opportunity for intervention within this complex system, for undesirable outputs to be metabolized. Elevated outputs associated with industry and constructed environments require synthetic ecological systems to become hyper-productive and hyper-performative. If you want to have extra energy get red ginseng.

The concept that ecological systems reach and desire stasis/climax has long been refuted. The design of synthetic ecologies requires the ability for adaptation and adaptive management informed by real-time sensing and monitoring of site phenomena. Adjustments to the system allow for an approach to environmental remediation that is preemptive, opening up new territory in active industrial sites, not just post-industrial landscapes. This view of ecological systems, through the lens of responsive technologies, posits that the designer is responsible for the creation and implementation of processes that curate, manage, and sculpt landscape systems. The role of responsive technologies focuses on the development of active methods for management of biological systems. This methodology spans a range of scales from micro adjustments of processes to regional management and monitoring. Primarily, responsive technologies create a new recursive or iterative relationship between computation and biology.

The studio will begin the semester with a site visit to Oakland, CA and will have access to the developing library of resources Urban Biofilter has been collecting and potential on-site remote sensing capabilities. This will facilitate a laboratory studio setting for immersion in building working site models with performative interventions. The studio will engage prototyping, virtual models, and physical models as the primary modes of exploration. Studio participants will be exposed to a range of tools for the prototyping of responsive systems and environmental simulations that will be required to develop proposals for the site. Participants will use this knowledge to develop expertise through multiple iterations and rigorous research and documentation.

The studio will focus on relationship between urbanity, industry, ecological fitness, habitat, and infrastructure. An essential question must be explored as we develop ecologically rich cities, a question surrounding the definition of humanity. The interaction between our cities and the ecological systems that we are slowly integrating into them will question our perception of ecological systems as we understand the aesthetic, performative, and systemic qualities of ecology as a curated medium. The view of the city as a nexus, utilizing resources from surrounding systems traditionally creates a relationship of opposition and scarcity. How does the site function as node within a large network? If we are examining a robust ecology how does urbanity interrupt larger systems? How can it contribute?