Conversations with students, part I: land-art
There is a series of books called ‘conversations with students’. Various architects and other guru-like teachers are portrayed, as they interact with students. You can find a list here. I particularly like the book on the teachings by Ian McHarg: Dwelling in Nature (Princeton Architectural Press; 1 edition, 2007). And very recently another inspiring teacher is added to the list, Gunther Vogt, professor landscape architecture at the ETH in Zurich. Here is the address of the publisher. I do not know Vogt personally, but his work is very refined and he loves excursions by which he gathers the most minute details, structures, fabrics and anecdotes to learn about a place.
Inspired by these books and teachers, I have made a decision about this years theme of blogging. I will display my own teaching methods. These will reveal how I conceive bachelor design exercises and experiments with master students as they combine research and design. It will contain more photographs and less ‘long reads’, I expect.
Background of the students | The first series of exercises that I will discuss with you, is a second year class in landscape architecture design, called Site Design. We are currently working with a group of around 30 students that are highly motivated and eager. Yet their competences at sketching, computer animation and even their knowledge on trees and plants and constructions is primitive. They have joined Wageningen University to become a scientist in the first place and a designer in the second. The first year bachelor contains mostly cognitive courses on soil, ecology, theory, geography, hydrology and even maths. So not much sketching there…
The education environment | The aim of my team of four teachers and one assistant (planting, sketching, digital and design) is to embed the students in an integrated studio environment. Learning skills is as important as delivering a product at the deadline. As an assignment we were lucky to have been asked to join in a design venture by one of the most successful private firms in the Netherlands: H+N+S landscape architects. They had become fascinated in an old estate nearby Wageningen by the landscape architect Springer (1855 – 1940), a legend from the hay days of landscape architecture and founder of our educations program. The estate (‘Oostereng’) has now turned into a very diverse forest because it was damaged during the war, turned into an arboretum for various forestry experiments, recuperated as a nuclear research institute to foster plant life and after this facility was abandoned and torn down it was largely neglected for over twenty years. Now, a group of volunteers is doing field work for forestry and trying to lay bear old structures and remarkable trees.
The exercise | we have designed several small exercises as part of a series of theoretical seminars and a reader. The whole course is eight weeks long. This particular exercise took place in week 3, after a full week of excursions to Potsdam (estate designs by Lenné 1789 – 1866) and Berlin (that is rapidly losing its Ozzy [former DDR] architecture and feeling). We offered the students an afternoon of land-art practices and theory, explained by one of the (currently) leading land-artists in the Netherlands, Paul de Kort. He is also our sketching teacher… great to have him on board.
The following day we scouted the whole estate for locations, landscape typologies and their specific qualities. We were guided by our client (and tree specialist Leo Goudzwaard). In the afternoon we asked the students to group in fours or fives and make several interventions on locations that are typical for the estate or rather exceptional. They were allowed to add simple materials and had to clean up afterwards. They knew about this assignment and had brought gears, paper, cloth and such. They were asked to make a picture and frame their work, to be able to present it the next morning. We asked them to consider whether they were making an object or a site. An object we defined as something that can be either anywhere or is so dominant over its context that it tends to outshine the remaining quality of the place. A site we defined as an upgrade of an environment that makes noticeable an otherwise unnoticeable (historical) meaning, detail or atmospheric moment.
The result | It was fairly cold, but the light was bright and atmospheric, so the winter forest was shining. These are the photographs, one selected from each group work, that we considered to be well spotted or well articulated. We watched the photographs in silence first, and fairly long. Only thereafter we discussed them and learned from them. I reckon you can do the same. Click them to enlarge and enjoy in full detail. If you have any questions… ask!