Capstone Studio: Exploring the Potential of Our Practice

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.

16th Street Station
16th Street Station – Axonometric Birdseye Enlarge [+]

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.

Private security guard
The existing station is guarded 24/7 by a private security guard Enlarge [+]

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.

Planting
Planting is selected to remediate soils and provide seed for cloning. Enlarge [+]
Irrigation and drainage.
Irrigation and drainage. The existing raised rail deck is repurposed to stage water for distribution. Enlarge [+]

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.

Box section of roof trusswork
Box section of roof trusswork is recomposed into a sculptural trellis. Enlarge [+]
Section Elevation
Section Elevation with Enlargements Enlarge [+]

2014 Distinguished Alumni Awards

Each year CED honors a select few outstanding alumni who have made significant contributions in their professional careers. Since 1998, 68 alumni of the departments of Architecture, City & Regional Planning, Decorative Art/Design, and Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning have been recognized for their achievements.

This year the college celebrated the remarkable accomplishments of Meric Gertler, Gwendolyn Wright, and Mark Francis, FASLA, with the 2014 Distinguished Alumni Award during the fourth annual Berkeley Circus Soirée. On March 14, Dean Jennifer Wolch presented the honors at a ceremony held in the skybox of California Memorial Stadium.

Meric Gertler (MCP, 1979)
President, University of Toronto

Professor Meric Gertler
Professor Meric Gertler Enlarge [+]

Professor Meric Gertler is internationally renowned for his research on the geographical underpinnings of innovative activity and the economic dynamics of city-regions. In 2013, Professor Gertler began his term as the 16th President of the University of Toronto after having previously served for five years as Dean of the University’s Faculty of Arts & Science division where his research has been responsible for $8.4 million in external funding to the University.

Gertler’s numerous accolades include the 2007 Award for Scholarly Distinction from the Canadian Association of Geographers, the 2014 Distinguished Scholarship Honors from the Association of American Geographers, and an honorary doctor of philosophy from Lund University, Sweden.

Manufacturing Culture — The Institutional Geography of Industrial Practice by Meric Gertler

As author of seven books and more than 80 journal articles and book chapters, and co-editor of the widely used Oxford Handbook of Economic Geography, Gertler is one of the world’s most highly cited scholars in economic geography and planning. Professor Gertler has served as an advisor to local, regional and national governments in Canada, the United States, and Europe, as well as to international agencies such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (Paris) and the European Union.

According to Paul Waddell, Professor and Chair of City & Regional Planning, “Meric Gertler’s accomplishments are the epitome of what we strive for our field, and have had enormous impact on theory as well as on urban policy and planning practice.” Jennifer Wolch, William W. Wurster Dean and also a Professor of City & Regional Planning, adds. “We’re so pleased to able to honor Meric Gertler with the highest award bestowed to an alumnus by the college, and incredibly proud to see such a remarkable graduate of the Department of City & Regional Planning leading one of the world’s most renowned research universities.”

Gwendolyn Wright (M.Arch., 1974; PhD.Arch, 1978)
Professor of Architecture, Columbia University

Professor Gwendolyn Wright
Professor Gwendolyn Wright Enlarge [+]

Gwendolyn Wright is Professor of Architecture in Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, where in 1986 she became the first tenured woman in the school. Wright is perhaps more widely known as a recent co-host since 2001 of the popular PBS television series, “History Detectives.”

Wright has received numerous accolades for her work focusing on the interconnections between architecture, urbanism, and political culture from the late-19th century to the present. She has been honored with fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities, the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and other notable institutions. In 1985 she was elected a Fellow of the Society of American Historians, and was also made a Fellow of the Society of Architectural Historians, the highest honor in that field.

USA—Modern Architectures in History by Gwendolyn Wright

Wright is the author or editor of six major books including Modern Architectures in History (2008). Her many articles have appeared in scholarly books and journals as well as newspapers around the world.

Chair of Architecture and Eva Li Chair of Design Ethics at CED, Professor Tom Buresh said of Wright’s contributions, “Gwendolyn Wright is an author and scholar of the highest order. Her work spans architecture and urbanism from the late-nineteenth century to the present day and is appreciated by a diverse audience. She represents in body and deed the very best of Berkeley’s architecture department.”

Mark Francis (B.A. Landscape Architecture, 1972)
Professor Emeritus, Landscape Architecture and Environmental Design, UC Davis

Professor Emeritus Mark Francis
Professor Emeritus Mark Francis Enlarge [+]

Mark Francis’s work centers on participatory landscapes at the intersections of landscape architecture, environmental psychology, geography, art, and urban design. He is Professor Emeritus and past Chair of Landscape Architecture at UC Davis where he founded and directed the Center for Design Research for twenty years, and is also founding partner of the firm CoDesign/MIG.

Francis has been honored with over a dozen awards for his research, writing, planning, and design. In 1999 the American Society of Landscape Architects awarded him the Centennial Medallion for the Davis Central Park and Farmer’s Market, cited as one of the most significant designed landscapes of the past 100 years. He is the only person to receive ASLA professional awards in all four categories of design, urban design and planning, communication, and research.

In addition to receiving the Ralph Hudson Environmental Fellowship, Francis was elected a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects, Fellow of the Institute for Urban Design in New York City, and Fellow of the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture. He is the author of six books including The Meaning of Gardens (MIT Press 1990) and over 70 articles.

“We are delighted to celebrate Mark Francis’s remarkable, multi-faceted, career as an advocate, educator, practitioner and researcher,” said Professor Louise Mozingo, Chair of Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning and Urban Design at CED. “His work has inspired his colleagues and students, illuminated the profession, and made communities better places to live.”

Central Park Gardens/“Garden in a Park” in Davis, CA
Central Park Gardens/“Garden in a Park” in Davis, CA Enlarge [+]