Realities and Realms


The Realities and Realms colloquium focuses on the role of computation and robotics in landscape architecture and the expanding sensorial field of the built environment. These hybrid grounds of operation merge anthropogenic perception and technological mediation. As sensing networks expand, data grows exponentially in quantity and ubiquity, building an increasingly abstract landscape of information. How such data is elucidated, curated, and augmented forms new realities for design. This colloquium will explore design methodologies that address concurrent physical and virtual realms and the realities in which they operate.

In this context, a realm is a lens through which we sense an environment and a reality is place within which we take action. The Realities and Realms colloquium engages select practitioners, theorists, and academics for an afternoon to explore the future of responsive technologies to interpret and modify environment. Panelists will posit trajectories that frame the role of responsive technologies to imagine, choreograph, and evolve cyborg landscapes and synthetic ecologies.

The colloquium will be organized in two panel sessions followed by open discussions, exploring the tools, practice, theories, and futures of responsive technologies in landscape architecture.



Opening Remarks and Panel Introductions
Bradley Cantrell, Associate Professor of Landscape Architectural Technology, Harvard GSD
Justine Holzman, Assistant Professor, John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design, University of Toronto

Session 1: Realities

Justine Holzman
Sara Dean, Assistant Professor of Graduate Design, California College of the Arts
Alexander Robinson, Assistant Professor, University of Southern California
David J. Klein, Director of AI, Conservation Metrics, Inc.
Nataly Gattegno, Co-founder Future Cities Lab, Chair of Graduate Architecture, California College of the Arts

“Perhaps all boundaries are illusory, whether erected by ourselves through our lack of information about the nature of things, or by the choice of an oversimplified (or even over-complicated) model of reality?” —John D. Barrow, Impossibility: The Limits of Science and the Science of Limits, 1998

Advances in sensing technologies have fundamentally altered the methods in which the landscape is known and modified, ranging from oil exploration and precision agriculture to interplanetary autonomous rovers. The ability to sense, virtualize, and simulate environmental phenomena has resulted in a variety of composite physical and digital realities that often exist simultaneously across multiple temporal moments and scales. While responsive technologies further the blurring between physical and digital space, this mode of understanding the landscape by means of measurement and modeling requires a turn to the landscape, which has always been the principal practice of landscape architecture.

With the increasing accessibility of responsive technologies and open data acquired from sensing networks, what realities emerge? How can architects and designers craft new realms to engage this liminal space between the physical and the digital? How have sensing technologies shaped contemporary discourse, and how might we engage directly with their design and deployment? What models are necessary to engage real-time feedback in landscape systems?


Session 2: Realms

moderator: Erle Ellis, Professor, Geography & Environmental Systems, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Rob Holmes, Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture, Auburn University
Kathy Velikov, Associate Professor, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban planning, University of Michigan; co-founder, RVTR
Liam Young, Fiction and Entertainment Coordinator, SCI-Arc

“What landscape futures might we explore when entire terrains are internally mechanized, given partial sentience, and able to interact with one another wirelessly, over great distances of time and space?” —Geoff Manaugh, Landscape Futures, 2013

Responsive technologies, altered biology, and cybernetic ecologies are already influencing and shaping the landscape at various scales and velocities. Examples are seen at the planetary scale through the domestication of flora and fauna, at the continental scale through infrastructure and ecological maintenance, and at the territorial scale through contemporary agriculture. There is a complexity to the anthropogenic influence on ecological systems that ranges far beyond the scale of human interaction or intent. New fields of innovation and application are emerging which present strategies for synthetic biology, robotic ecology, and geo-engineering. For instance, technological advances have been made in precision agriculture to optimize agricultural production while implementing a framework for large-scale water resource conservation.

What regions and scales of influence are implicated in the re-shaping and the modification of the environment through responsive technologies? What role does design play in large-scale environmental management? How can we identify areas of innovation and engage the territorial scale without determining future scenarios?

4:15 p.m.

Closing Remarks
Bradley Cantrell
Justine Holzman
Erle Ellis

2015 CELA Conference

Excited to have presented a paper with Rob Holmes at the 2015 CELA Conference, Incite Change, Change Insight.

Paper: “Material Failure and Entropy in the Salton Sink”

The Salton Sea is a saline lake and the largest inland body of water in southern California, formed by a geologic depression below sea level at the bottom of an isolated basin similarly titled the Salton Sink. Once an outlet for the Colorado River to the Gulf of California, the depression was isolated over time through the deposition of sediments. The current volume of the Salton Sea originated in the first decade of the 20th century with the failure of infrastructures built to redirect the Colorado River for irrigation. The Salton Sea now functions both as an agricultural infrastructure, albeit one increasingly degraded by nutrients and contaminants present in the agricultural run-off irrigating the Imperial and Coachella Valleys, and as an ecological resource. This paper argues that the example of the Salton Sea demonstrates the capacity of material failure and entropy to generate novel landscape conditions that have properties which are valued.

The theoretical work of this paper ties together three distinct but related strands of contemporary theory impacting the field of landscape architecture: emergence and indeterminacy, new materialist thinking in philosophy, and discourse related to the concept of the Anthropocene. Theoretical arguments that engage these strands and a selective environmental history of the Salton Sea work together to advance our case for the generative capacity of failure and entropy. This case develops concepts for understanding how failure and entropy operate, applying a discourse that, within landscape architectural theory, has primarily focused on ecological phenomena and discrete sites to the behavior of geological, hydrological, sedimentary, and infrastructural assemblages at very large scales. Ultimately, the paper argues that there will be an important role for landscape architectural design that understands how to operate within the context of very large scale landscapes experiencing failure and entropy.

Citation: Holmes, Rob and Justine Holzman. “Material Failure and Entropy in the Salton Sink.” CELA Conference Proceedings, Incite Change, Change Insight 2015.

2014 ACADIA Conference

Excited to have presented a paper with Bradley Cantrell at the 2014 ACADIA Conference, Design Agency, at the University of Southern California.

Paper: “Synthetic Ecologies: Protocols, Simulation, and Manipulation for Indeterminate Landscapes.”

The finite methods of design and engineering have created static counterpoints to systems that are continually in fluctuation. There is a necessity to engage dynamic environmental phenomena through methods that mimic an indeterminate control framework as a means of developing infrastructures and settlements that are more tightly entwined with complex ecologies. The work outlined in this paper positions the design and curation of synthetic ecologies through the lens of simulation and monitoring as a way to develop logics of interaction.

Advances in computational design research, engineering simulation, and computational fluid dynamics are providing designers with the tools to challenge the determinacy of systems engineering with informed dynamic solutions. Synthetic ecologies describes a conceptual methodology for autonomous landscape manipulation guided by protocols that are informed through multiple physical and temporal scales of data, learning from past and future scenarios. This methodology, developed as a response to landscape indeterminacy, expresses a computational approach to designing complex and evolving ecologies.

Citation: Cantrell, Bradley and Justine Holzman. “Synthetic Ecologies: Protocols, Simulation, and Manipulation for Indeterminate Landscapes.” ACADIA Conference Proceedings, Design Agency 2014.