I was first exposed to the seminal short film produced in 1977 by the iconic team of Charles and Ray Eames, Powers of Ten as a student of landscape architecture at Cal Poly Pomona. I remember the mind-blowing film even today, one that takes viewers on a visual journey that begins with an aerial shot of a man lounging in a park, gradually zooming upward at scales of 10 further and further away, until the perspective is taken to the edge of the universe. From there the viewer is zoomed back downward back into the hand of the man lounging the park, eventually transported inward into an individual atom within the man’s body.
The film highlights an important aspect of the design process all landscape architects integrate into their practice: peeling layers of site inventory and analysis that influence the larger conceptual idea of any project. In doing so, the process reveals the importance of considering the entire range of scale of a site, from the smallest to largest elements.
The Eames’ short film continues to influence landscape architects and designers everywhere, broadening perspective and expanding understanding of scale. As I listen to the final presentations offered by our team of Cal Poly students about their research, analysis, and strategies for Coastal Resiliency in the City of Long Beach, I’m pleased in recognizing the philosophy of the Powers of Ten evident in their project.
The students’ proposed strategies for sea level rise extends beyond their neighborhood, engaging an interrelatedness outward to a larger scale incorporating natural, social, and economic systems – each affected by sea level rise. Our students recognize the effects from the macro perspective of global climate change all the way down to the individual Savannah Sparrow that depends on their assigned site for sanctuary, magnified by the powers of ten whether they know it or not.