Photo by Chuan Ding

Photos by Chuan Ding

Unlike a painting or novel, the physical experience of a landscape is all-enveloping, surrounding us spatially with light and atmosphere. Irreducible, the landscape controls our experience extensively, permeating our memories and consciousness.

“As such, each of us space the world around us. Through spacing, we orient ourselves and construct our geographical being.” – James Corner.


We are all surrounded by landscape – in the city, suburb, or village. Whether we work in a bustling metropolis or escaping to the wilderness, the landscape awaits. So when we discuss a “landscape”, it is not only those spaces carefully planned and designed by a landscape architect, carefully composed by an artist, or even a natural space, but also the more mundane paths and places existing between our destinations. I find it very interesting to look at these areas in between designated destinations that we often pass through quickly and without thought, and enjoy observing how people behave occupying these spaces.

Public Life Mapping

One of my recent class assignments was to design the Metro Purple Line Station at Wilshire and Fairfax. The research we did before starting our design included a public life survey done by Gehl Architects; the study’s purpose was to provide information about the existing station, mapping out observed uses and performance.

Public-Life-SurveyMy job was to “follow” the people exiting the station, map out their destinations, and record their behavior. The results were impressive and unexpected: people spend more time moving through landscaped spaces, and when they do so, they engaged and interacted with the space. I observed a woman walking back to her car located in the parking structure next to the station; she took several steps up to the retail level, then back down, finally returning back to the path back to her car. Other pedestrians would walk really close to the building edge seeking shade from the sun.

Philosopher Maurice Mzerleau-Ponty once noted, “Space is not the setting (real or logical) in which things are arranged, but the means whereby the positions of things become possible.”

Taking this observation about space into account, I propose we start to look at the places we experience every day – the streets we walked from the bus stop to the office, the plaza we hang out during our lunch break – and make an effort to observe, record, and appreciate the beauty of possibility surrounding us.


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