For Immediate Release
7 July 2016
Berkeley, Ca. Danika Cooper, a landscape designer, urbanist and researcher, has joined the department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Design as an Assistant Professor. Cooper received a Master in Landscape Architecture and Master of Design Studies from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and her Bachelor of Arts in Architecture from Washington University in St. Louis. Most recently she was the Designer in Residence Fellow at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign where her work focused on giving expression to underrepresented methods and materials in practice, theory and representation of landscape architecture.
Cooper’s current research explores water management in places that are drought-prone. She explained that social and environmental justice underlies much of the work she is interested in, adding that California’s geography is especially important to her research because of issues of both too much and too little water and how the two extremes play out.
In the fall, Cooper will teach “Contemporary Approaches to Visualization and Communication in Landscape Architecture” which will explore landscape representation through a number of drawing types and conventions, across a range of scales and through interplay between analog and digital media. The course will explore topics central to the San Francisco Bay Area, introducing students to new tools and techniques for surveying the San Francisco Bay and its surrounding ecological, infrastructural and social systems to ultimately communicate and imagine landscape strategies for the Bay.
Below is a Q&A with Danika Cooper on her research interests and her new role at CED.
What themes does your work focus on?
“Social justice and environmental justice underlies the work that I’m interested in, more specifically water management in places that are drought prone. Right now there’s prioritization for places that are infiltrated with water – coastal cities and rising tides, or urban spaces that are being affected by too much water. I think that inherently brings out these other geographies that are really influential on urban systems. The way that I’m approaching it is by asking, ‘how do we use innovative water management tools to not bring water from one area to another so that we don’t create extreme wet and dry places but use more innovative, local knowledge to feed those areas?’”
What made you want to join the College of Environmental Design?
“Broadly, this part of the country interests me, particularly in California where there are issues of too much water and too little water and how those dichotomies play out. The Los Angeles aqueduct is fascinating to me, as is the LA River and how there’s a big push to reimagine what that space could be. It’s really telling that there’s an interest and desire to think about water in new ways in places that have little water. In terms of the College of Environmental Design (CED) and UC Berkeley, their dedication to social justice, environmental justice and equity is a strong pull because sometimes schools don’t emphasize that enough. The fact that the [Landscape Architecture and Environmental Design] department was looking to grow its representation track and make that a much more robust part of the program made it a really good fit for me. I’m very much interested in representation and how we communicate visually to ourselves as designers but also to the general public but with the foundation that this is all in service of a greater good we’re working towards.”
A lot of your work is visually interactive. Do you plan to highlight that in your research and teaching?
“I think the strength of landscape architecture is that it’s so dependent on scientific research. It has this inherent need to synthesize and respond to data – scientific data, ecological data, demographic data – but we’re also designers, so there’s an aesthetic agenda that comes with that. Finding ways where those two things come together is the power of being a landscape architect, but sometimes one is prioritized over the other. I think when I’m making a drawing or working on a project, I’m always thinking about what the scientific agenda is and what the data tells me and how does it helps me create a place of imagination or fantasy. Something that has an aesthetic component that makes people want to be there.”
What are you hoping to offer or bring to CED as an educator, both to the college and your students?
“I think the role of being a faculty member is about facilitating a new way of thinking, or helping people think through their own ideas. I’m looking forward to learning from the students, and I really do think that talking through a project that isn’t your own makes you reassess your own work. Berkeley has such strong students and I know that’s going to be part of it. I’m going to be constantly learning from those interactions. What I hope to put out there is a really strong representational agenda for how we make landscape architecture more effective, or how to communicate these really complex dynamics. Because land is so rooted in the sciences, the way you communicate that aspect is really an important part of what we do. So making sure that we are facilitating that kind of interaction between the discipline and the outside world is really important to me.”