Blog Post

Introduction: Visual Inventories of the Landscape

Hello everyone,

I’m a 2nd year student pursuing my Master of Landscape Architecture (MLA) degree at Temple University’s School of Environmental Design. I’m excited to share with HASTAC various components of my projects and exchange diverse perspectives. And also receive great suggestions for resources.

One of the most compelling aspects of Landscape Architecture to me is its interdisciplinary components that reach far into dynamic intersections of social, historical, environmental, and visual facets. The process of designing a space (small and large) involves a wide range of data collection, from diagrammatic inventories of districts to video interviews of residents and community leaders. I am particularly interested in the inventory/analysis phase as a means to understand the challenges and opportunities inherent in public places in order to conceptualize progress through spatial design. I’m interested in creating a repository for the data collected in various landscapes/places in the Greater Philadelphia area -- from neighborhoods to parks.

In past projects, our studios have adopted the use of diagrams to analyze a given space; specifically, the “Lynch” diagram, based on Kevin Lynch’s Image of the City, which details key elements that are conducive to the “imageability” of a place. These are: paths, edges, districts, nodes, and landmarks. These diagrams are useful in examining the relationship between the physical and psychological perimeters of any place, as utilized/visualized by locals. As a filmmaker, I am also compelled to use storytelling/interviews as a tool to explore the social characteristics not only of spaces that I am designing, but of the humans I am designing for.

The other component to my coursework at Temple is the emphasis in ecological restoration (here's a short video that I made about it). This pushes me and students of the program to define the native ecosystem associated with each natural environment we are planning, in order to develop a design with utmost sustainability. This means that we are constantly out in the landscapes: old-growth forests, woodlands, streambanks, pine barrens, etc. -- both healthy and degraded. This merging of ecology and design, science and architecture can be absolutely harmonious, but it comes with challenges. For example, how do you design a wetland in its restored form, if the goal is to create one that aims to look and function as if it had never been handled by humans? And how do you design for a place that takes decades (even centuries) to achieve significant results, such a forest that will outlive us by a long shot – and how do you quantify and visualize its growth? I suppose that the way we have answered these questions was to really look at exemplary old-growth forests and degraded ones to project what we’d like it to be. We collect reference plots (mostly 100’ x 50’ patches) where we diagram existing species from trees, shrubs, understory, and herbs to understand natural communities that live together in harmony. Then represent them visually by hand and by using programs such as Photoshop, Illustrator, SketchUp, AutoCAD, and basic GIS to provide context.

All of that said, I am thinking of ways to utilize visualization tools for our collected inventories, diagrams, and videos to have them coexist in a web platform that is publicly accessible. Simultaneously, it should also be easy for multiple users to upload information that they have collected. I suppose it would be kind of like expanding beyond the google street view mode of experiencing a place – to find ways to represent various spaces as a palimpsest, with layers of information, history, stories, and images from the past, present, and rendered futures. Perhaps some of you have already done this or are doing something related? I’m just in the brink of it, so any thoughts would be absolutely appreciated. 

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