How can we design for a continually changing world? Landscape and environmental issues, and all of the realms of the world they touch—political, financial, psychological, urban—are conducted on scales and spaces so vast they can be difficult to understand and predict. A team of students at Berkeley, interested in augmenting both their education and the edification of their peers, decided to create a publication to delve into difficult questions regarding the nature of the built environment. I had a chance to talk to Darryl Jones and Christopher Esteban Torres, the creative directors behind Berkeley’s new GROUND UP Journal, about what it means to design for uncertainty.
Sarah Kathleen Peck: What is the theme of the inaugural issue? What are you hoping to uncover?
Darryl Jones and Christopher Torres: The theme of the inaugural issue, Landscapes of Uncertainty, is derived from the dynamic and exciting changes in the physical and social landscape we see happening around the world. For example, this includes the haunting statistics of joblessness, the political climate and the Occupy movement in the United States and global uprising as a result of the Arab Spring that are continuing to change the conversation about inequality, work and survival.
The scalar and transnational change is the crux of the theme. Regional and local issues are becoming intertwined with global change. What’s happening in one part of the world is affecting another, and all this change and uncertainty has a specific territory or landscape.
SKP: What are the aims or intentions of publishing–is there something you hope to achieve through putting this collection together?
DJ + CT: What we find most interesting about this discussion is the multiplicity of voices across disciplines, cultures and sites. For example, one essay by landscape architecture professor Judith Stilgenbauer’s Civic (Agri)Culture addresses food and public space in Sacramento, CA, which is immediately followed by Zain AbuSeir’s A(rch)natomizing Somalia, which maps in surprising detail pirate attacks and displaced persons the unstable republic. By coupling these projects, among many others, we are trying to show the breadth of change and the range of perspectives and interpretations of this idea of uncertainty in order to critically analyze how landscape and design fits in the contemporary world.
SKP: Why did you start the journal? Tell me the story around the students’ initiative.
DJ + CT: Starting the journal was partly a response to the diminishing extracurricular study available in an underfunded and overworked educational system. The budget crises we’ve seen in higher education here in California have had a clear impact on our education. Our fees go up, our professors have more administrative responsibility and less teaching time, travel opportunities happen less; this motivated us to start something to fill some of those educational gaps and create a way to share our inquiries beyond the classroom.
SKP: What do you see as the value of this sort of external communications? Do you think there is a difficulty within the design fields of teaching others about what we do? Why is publishing so critical?
DJ + CT: Publishing volumes like this is important because it is helps us keep pace with the changing ideas and to pause long enough to consider those changing ideas. We see a journal as a type of publication that can slow down a conversation–for example, about rapid social and environmental change–long enough to see the examples and consider them in print, as we continue to search for answers to mounting design questions.
Because landscape is literally the grounds for most of the life on this planet, landscape architects and other environmental designers are important voices that need to take time to observe and comment on issues that affect the land.
SKP: What does uncertainty mean to you? What does it mean for landscape design?
DJ + CT: For us, uncertainty means a lot of different things: when we were first brainstorming, the growing political and social uprisings and the “Occupy” movements were quite influential. The growing inequality in this country, coupled with our own experience of the increasing costs of education hit home. On both a social and political level, the future seemed—and still seems—very uncertain.
Uncertainty or change, is an integral part of both the study of landscape and the design of it. For example, working with water or living systems involves understanding how processes of water dynamics, succession and living cycles will change over time. In addition to the processes inherent in a landscape, we’re seeing change happen on a social and political level that is very relevant to land issues: where people occupy, for example, is a question of public space availability. Understanding how landscape contributes to these uncertain social, political, and economic developments require evolving forms of design to create innovative solutions to these new problems.
SKP: What is the role of designers in a changing or fluctuating economy and environment?
DJ + CT: Design is about responding to change. The submissions in Landscapes of Uncertainty tackle extremely complex problems with different types of innovative solutions. The constraints and opportunities of a site can change so quickly that it is hard to identify what is the best long-term solution. What we’ve seen in the submissions are designers around the world becoming more systematic in their thinking and more insightful about how to design in a ways that are adaptive to conditions that you cannot predict.
The first issue of GROUND UP was published in May 2012. You can purchase a copy of Issue 01: Landscapes of Uncertainty through William Stout Books in Berkeley, CA or you can purchase it online at Stout Books.