At the culmination of four years study and two masters degrees—through which I had the privilege to learn from some of the best minds in our field—I was frustrated. The practical difficulty of coming to terms with the vast existential challenges of our era, many of which may come to challenge our cultural survival, often pushes design to opt for myopic, more easily marketed, or unrealistic solutions. My thinking is preoccupied with the reality of accelerating inequality, rampant environmental injustice, and design stasis in the face of climate change that demands tactical adaptation.
In the Spring 2014 Advanced Project Design Studio I was fortunate to benefit from the wise mentorship of Professor David Meyer, who gave me free reign to explore the potentials of our practice in a tradition of art through rigor. The result was simultaneously a design project, a study through painting, and perhaps, humbly, poetic.
Landscape architecture must help our communities confront the coming challenges of our era with ever decreasing resources. Respect, restraint, and honesty should be valued above the panacea solutionism which has been a trend of practice in recent years. The 16th Street Station studio project addresses a site in a neglected corner of poverty-stricken West Oakland. Here, disenfranchised communities are being displaced to accommodate a growing high income workforce while sea level rise and particulate pollution disproportionately affect the same neighborhoods. An abandoned and collapsing historic (1912) Beaux Arts train station sits in an empty field upon toxic bay fill, aside one of the largest freeways in the country (I-80). How can Oakland remediate this building, declared too expensive to repair, while also improving air quality in heavily impacted neighborhoods, and creating a park that pays homage to this grand building? Minimalism and a preference for maintenance before formal design strategies, guides the project.
Currently, the existing site is guarded 24/7 by a city funded private security guard. The project inverts this defensive approach and instead proposes that a caretaker live on site, acting as an advocate for the landscape. The site is thus maintained in an early French agrarian tradition of productive forests, but is wholly modern in its planting approach and intents.
The project seeks to ameliorate the major environmental and social challenges to West Oakland. Sustainability is found in the mitigation of particulate pollution, phytoremediation of the soil, and the preclusion of scheduled high-end development which would irreparably change neighborhood character. The plan acknowledges demonstrable shifts in the landscape over time, with a drainage plan that assumes an eventual marshland landscape where mature trees become rampikes and a living clock for a community threatened by rising tides. The plan encourages community participation with elements constructed by local craftspeople using materials found on site.
The 16th Street Station proposed design has been well-received and hopefully contributes to the expansion of the perceived limits of our practice. I was honored to receive recognition from the American Society of Landscape Architects with an Honor Award in General Design, 2014. I remain indebted to the faculty at the CED who challenged me to expand the limits of my practice and encouraged me to remain true to the larger philosophies I hold as a designer.