Culturing the Soil City: Re-Envisioning Carbon, Waste, and Climate, Site to Planet
Graduate Studio, Department of Landscape Architecture, Cornell University (Fall 2017)
Scholars writing about the Anthropocene frequently advocate that in order to come to terms with our current planetary circumstances we need to find, not only technical solutions, but also fundamentally new ways of imagining, envisioning, and sensing our living planet. Bruno Latour has characterized this task as a project of landing on an entirely new earth, whose material forces and flows are essentially unrecognizable relative to those that humans have previously known. He argues that in order to achieve this arrival, we need not more data, but rather new aesthetic sensitivities and new visualizations. For Latour and many of his contemporaries, these should be developed through transdisciplinary projects that engage not only scientific measurement, but also political representation and the arts.
Among the design and environmental professions, landscape architects’ tools, techniques, and transdisciplinary frameworks are uniquely calibrated for this task. However, we are not currently utilizing them as effectively as we must in order to make an impact on our current climatological situation. If we are to take seriously recent Anthropocene discourse – and there are many reasons that we should – then we will do well to develop the political and experiential dimensions of our work. It is time for us to develop new climatological imaginaries, new ways of seeing, and new ways of relating: within our local communities, across cultures, and in connection to the planet on which we live.
In this course, we build on our profession’s deep history of integrating creative and technological innovation in order to solve these new environmental challenges. In resonance with earlier landscape architectural practices in the United States – such as 1930s modernist experimentation, 1960s environmental innovation, and 1990s phenomenological explorations – we question more recent assumptions in our field regarding how we understand cities, landscapes, infrastructures, humans, and the roles of landscape architects in engaging them.
Our specific task is to cultivate earthly cultures and boost urban carbon sequestration: with aesthetic, technical, and social approaches, and with strategies that operate simultaneously at immediate and planetary scales. Specifically, we conduct soil-based material research; develop a carbon sequestration plan for Ithaca, NY; and design sites that engage local communities to promote new ways of experiencing connections between soil, carbon, and climate. We approach Ithaca as an infrastructure and as cultural epicenter: understanding the city as a rich milieu of growth, ideation, production, waste, and decay. In this urban environment, humans, materials, technologies and nonhuman living beings exist in close intertwinement with each other, and in extended relationship with landscape dynamics that operate well beyond their edges.