This was the inaugural year of the department's Excellence in Landscape Design Award funded by a generous contribution of the Narayanan Family Foundation. On May 21, 2018 the three students presented their projects to the original jurors of the award: Alma du Solier of Hood Design, Bry Sarte of Sherwood Design Engineers, Gavin McMillan of Hargreaves Associates, and Ari Daman of the Narayanan Family Foundation.
Dana Davidsen, “Energy Efficiency in Hybrid Landscape Design”
This landscape project demonstrated the incorporation of photovoltaic technology into public spaces at the urban micro-scale. It explored the relationship between vegetation and solar panels, and identified opportunities to site solar arrays in communities that could benefit from the energy produced through the shared renewables market.
The project researched the solar potential in California’s central and coastal regions and analyzed current vegetation conditions and land management practices under utility-scale solar arrays. It then developed a palette of regional grasses, shrubs and vines that could thrive in part to full shade conditions, and identified spatial capacity to site solar arrays in three cities with varied climates and urban conditions. Finally, the project designed an under-utilized lot as a site to test the combination of photovoltaic materials and structures with vegetation at the urban park scale. The proposed design envisioned an engaging community space that enhanced existing ecological systems, and added a new later of solar productivity to the landscape.
This project encourages us to think critically about how and where we generate energy through renewable energy systems. It explores how landscape design can both extend renewable energy access to under-resourced communities, and simultaneously improve urban ecological systems. According to Dana, “This research award allowed me the invaluable opportunity to pursue an independent research project in tandem with the landscape architecture curriculum. Presenting the project to the selection jury and gathering critical feedback will guide future research on this topic in my final year in the program.”
Alison Ecker, “E-Commerce Country: Cataloging Conditions and Speculating Futures at Sites of the On-Demand
In 2017, over twenty major retailers filed for bankruptcy; in comparison, the e-commerce sector grew by 16%. Within this context, the online retail industry is fundamentally reshaping consumer infrastructural systems by eliminating the need for a persistent storefront presence and instead relying upon a distributed network of warehousing and logistics. As an essential node within this system, online distribution centers are often situated just outside of major cities, transforming once somewhat disconnected places into a vital link of the on-demand urban economy. With e-commerce distribution warehouses requiring three times the amount of space of traditional brick-and-mortar retail warehouses, communities experiencing this growth are suddenly presented with a significant change to their local economies and spatial configuration. In this emerging, ubiquitous—and yet, still hidden—condition of the logistics landscape, E-Commerce Country catalogs system-wide conditions and connections while also proposing site-specific interventions at sites of online distribution center zones and clusters.
Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania’s dense configuration of online warehousing provided an ideal case study to examine how ecommerce functions as a regional system, especially in relation to Philadelphia and New York. This regional analysis then informed a series of landscape design proposals to simultaneously address both immediate and long-term concerns at the quickly-growing warehousing district surrounding the Lehigh Valley International Airport. In the immediate term, this includes addressing socio-environmental issues such as air, noise, and light pollution, which affect both workers and neighbors. In the long-term, these design proposals aim to anticipate both a loss of workers due to automation in addition to the potential loss of the warehousing industry and buildings altogether.
The findings from this thesis intend to prompt greater appreciation of this rapidly transforming economic system. The ELD award served as an opportunity to bridge Alison's various interests in both urban planning and landscape architecture. As she states, “It provided me the support to ask an ambitious question, find the ideal case study site to explore that question second, and enable travel to Lehigh Valley, visit various sites important to this industrial system, and interview local professionals working on this issue. It was a invaluable opportunity that will undoubtedly guide my thinking and pursuits in the future.”
Kate Lenahan, “Groundwater Level Rise and Novel Contamination Pathways”
This research examines sea level-induced groundwater rise as a vector of environmental contamination in the San Francisco Bay. The encroachment of groundwater upon buried hazardous artifacts and materials introduces a pressing dimension of predicted overall water quality decline within sea level rise adaptation. As groundwater advances in a lens above saltwater, it will infiltrate brownfield plumes, unlined dump sites, underground storage tanks, and cracked pipelines. Contaminants susceptible to groundwater migration will exchange with sewers, traveling into housing and businesses, and eventually emerge with a rising water table. This research maps, defines, and projects, vulnerability to groundwater inundation and toxicity in the San Francisco Bay. A case study in West Oakland anticipates district-scale impacts and speculates on alternative futures. By offering strategies of mitigation through design, the posit landscape architecture as a critical practice in mediating the disparate challenges presented by such complex sites. As new research connecting the projective consequences and geographies of rising groundwater pollution with opportunities for landscape adaptation, this project calls for further examination of groundwater impacts as a pretext to sea level rise planning.
The Excellence in Landscape Design award initially supported this MLA thesis research, but it also spurred continued interest and work beyond Kate's original pursuit. She will attend conferences to engage with the multiple disciplines intersecting in this project, addressing fields of soil science, geophysics, and geoengineering in addition to the more familiar circles of landscape architecture. She will present her work to agencies and offices around the Bay Area, alerting designers to emergent problems and considerations in sea level rise adaptation. Kate declares, “As a newly graduated landscape designer enamored of design research, I am grateful for the opportunity to carry my interests beyond Wurster Hall, to bring this knowledge to relevant decision makers, researchers, and stakeholders. I send my sincere thanks to the Narayanan Family Foundation and ELD committee, and to my excellent advisors who encouraged research that has profoundly shaped my curiosities, interests, and goals as I start a career as a landscape architect.”