Open for debate: teaching Thunderdome style
UC Berkeley NewsCenter
30 January 2014
The ongoing “Thunderdome Debates” initiated last fall at the University of California, Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design (CED) stake out their own special purposes and rules. There’s no blood, just verbal sparring by two leading minds in landscape architecture and environmental planning – one man and one woman who face off in Wurster Hall in front of an audience comprised mostly of well-mannered students looking for more than the typical and too-often-sleepy expert presentations.
Kristina Hill, an associate professor of landscape architecture and environmental planning, launched the debates in part to highlight this year’s 100th anniversary of UC Berkeley’s Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning (LEAP). Thunderdome Debates participants defend their positions on important, often thorny, issues in the field and subjects that long have been associated with Berkeley LAEP. Participants have debated topics including the relationship between design form and process, the value of professional expertise versus community or public opinion, and the essential skills landscape architecture and environmental planners must have today. Coming debates will evaluate the value of hand drawing compared to illustrating with the aid of a computer, and the most essential components of a modern landscape.
Thaisa Way, a landscape historian and associate professor of landscape architecture at the University of Washington in Seattle, participated in a Thunderdome Debate last semester in a “generational face-off” against LAEP “master” and UC Berkeley emeritus professor Randy Hester, a leader in participatory design and author of “Design for Ecological Democracy.” Subsequent debates have included UC Berkeley’s own Walter Hood, who specializes in urban and public spaces, and internationally recognized Julie Bargmann of the University of Virginia, known for her innovative work reclaiming industrial wastelands.
Accenting the exchange, Hill said, is the male-female pairing that “adds a layer of difference in style and emphasis to the differences they may have in intellectual positions...and it provides role models to students of both genders equally. It's interesting because the majority of (LAEP) students are women, even though the leaders of firms and most of their principals are men, and most faculty are men. Change is coming to the field, whether it wants it or not.” Hill added that she hopes the debates spur more creative thinking about significant issues in landscape architecture and environmental planning, and solidify CED's ongoing role in the UC Berkeley tradition of “public, thoughtful and passionate debate.”
The debates resume at noon next Tuesday (Feb. 4) with Catherine Dee of the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, an advocate of emerging drawing tools and practices, taking on UC Berkeley’s Charles “Chip” Sullivan, who said the integration of drawing in the design studio enhances problem-solving and helps students uncover the magic of design. The two will examine whether hand-drawing in design is dead, debate whether drawing is genuinely being used to pursue intellectual goals, and explore the differences in American and European approaches to teaching drawing to aspiring landscape architects. For more information about the upcoming debate, visit the event page.