Summer has come to an end here in Los Angeles. Despite the unabated high temperatures, the days are becoming shorter. Gardeners are already planning the transition from the growing cycle of warm weather into the cooler autumn months in preparation to plant next year’s bounty. Vacation season has come to a close too, with students returning to school. In recognition of this seasonal transition, we’ll be focusing on a Back-to-School theme for September, specifically one from the perspective of the landscape architecture education and profession. We hope you’ll learn something from their lessons.

Looking back to my time in graduate school to today, one thing that sticks out in my development as a designer is the evolution of my thoughts about representation and landscape. The power of representation – collecting layers of a site’s history to tell a story – gives designers the tools to communicate, inform, and influence design in unexpected ways.

I took one studio during graduate school entitled, Stateline, a class that focused entirely on representing a site’s history in varying ways. We were to portray the Lower Wabash River between Illinois and Indiana with drawings, culminating with a group gallery exhibit of our work. There was an emphasis on digital media and hyper-narrative landscapes, and the studio was divided into different assignments that experimented with organizing a site’s history in numerous ways. The following is what unfolded:

All images: Jessica Roberts

For the montage assignment we were directed to ignore space and time. Instead, we were advised to layer moments of the landscape on top of one another – the extinct Carolina Parakeet, historic canals, railroad systems, whiskey barrel, and glacial movements – they were all stacked up with no respect to scale.

Conversely, for the narrative montage assignment we were told to compress time in space. Highways and historic canals were to exist at once, and abandoned trains and displaced buffalo returned to the present.

Click above for full image.

The timeline explored the site through a deep ecological perspective, visualizing the connections across the epochs. For example, glacial sand barrens and current melon production in the area that benefited from the sandy glacial deposits are shown sharing common ground.

These exercises taught me about the rich palimpsest of landscape and the importance of understanding a site’s histories, rather than glorifying only the new. Looking back at this studio helps me remember the strength that comes with storytelling, and the possible design opportunities that can only be unearthed in the process of creating a drawing.

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