Site | Walk | Design: 2018 Glimcher Seminar

While advanced digital imagery and navigation technologies allow landscape architects to analyze and design for a site, it is also possible that these interfaces—deeply embedded in current design practice—can potentially isolate one from the physical landscape. The premise of this year’s Glimcher Seminar was to have landscape architecture students experience immediate and visceral contact with a site, and discover how walking the terrain has value in the design process.   

“This seminar employs walking as an analytical and generative tool—a way of revealing existing site conditions and responding to them,” stated Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture Katherine Jenkins, who led the seminar of graduate and undergraduate students.   

Using Waterman Farms as the site of inquiry, with the addition of constructed drawing armatures, students created sets of three large-scale drawings, measuring 90” x 42”, that employed different mediums and criteria for representation. “Each drawing visualizes how a path of movement responds to specific terrestrial conditions. Walks are represented through the accretion and erasure of graphite and charcoal and through the disruption of digital fields,” commented Jenkins.

Students were guided in their drawings through discussions with 2018 Glimcher Distinguished Visiting Professor Mikyoung Kim, over her three visits to the Knowlton School during the autumn semester. Founding principal and design director of Mikyoung Kim Design, Kim is an internationally-recognized designer whose work includes the ChonGae Canal Restoration Project in Seoul, Korea (2005), and the Crown Sky Garden in Chicago, IL (2012). In 2018, Kim received the American Society of Landscape Architect’s National Design Medal, and her firm was the recipient of the National Design Award from Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

Visiting Waterman Farm, seminar students created digital drawings that mapped a series of group and individual walks. Noting occurrences when their presence was having an effect on their immediate environment, such as the impression of their steps on the ground or the movement of air as they moved through the landscape, students represented their walk as a disruption through the farm’s highly tactile and ephemeral patterns. The digital representations of the walk used darkening or accretion of ink or marks, as well as voids, to illustrate how students interpreted their experience of movement.

“As we attempted to represent the experience of walks that we had taken or could imagine taking, digital drawing tools were useful in creating marks that could then be quickly replicated, stretched, densified or deleted,” commented second-year graduate student Sarah Coleman. This conventional drawing method, however, does not always do the landscape full justice in terms of its tactile and irregular qualities, suggested Jenkins. A goal of the seminar was to have students explore how a line that represents a path can have a thickness and different densities, as well as be recorded as a solid or void. “Essentially, the path of movement contained information within it, instead of it being drawn as a dimensionless line,” added Jenkins.

The second set of drawings attempted to compress the space of a walk into a piece of paper. Using a 250 ft. length of string, students represented their Waterman Farm walks by shaping the string into the pattern of their movements. Overlaying the string with paper, students created a charcoal rubbing to reveal their path. “When you visualize the space of a walk compressed on a sheet of paper, it feels chaotic. It is useful, though, in reminding students how to understand and use scale,” stated Jenkins.  

“Analog drawing techniques perhaps provided a more apt analogy to the experience of moving across a site. Materials like charcoal and graphite have various hardnesses that can both physically resist and be responsive to the body that applies them to a page,” commented Coleman. “Analog techniques, therefore, generate more direct records of a bodily encounter, both between materials and page, and by extension, body and site.”

The final set of drawings were composed by student-built drawing armatures. In this series, the armature structure guided the armature drawing, creating a friction between chance and control. In one example, a 3D-printed top with a charcoal nib, when spun, would leave a looping impression on the paper. The marks, however, are not meant to read so highly literal, suggested Jenkins; they may instead suggest in the looping pattern how one returns to a site or a landscape during a design project. 

Reflecting on his seminar experience, second-year graduate student Tyler Cloud commented: “The seminar helped evolve my understanding of how much one can influence a site with even just a few steps and how the accretion of these small changes can greatly impact your perception of a place. This reciprocal hewing of impressions is the medium that we try to articulate in a design. How and where I manipulate this principle can generate an incredible range of experiences and conditions on a site.”

Curated by Professor Jenkins, student work produced in the seminar appears in the current Banvard Gallery exhibit, Trace Trail Loop Line. The exhibit will close on January 18, 2019.

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