Gracie Villa

MLA I

Masters in Landscape Architecture Thesis Prize

City | Forest: Reordering Plant-Human Relationships Toward Healthy Cities

Advised by Gary Hilderbrand

Based in the belief that the quality of the urban landscape directly reflects the quality of its soil, I propose to utilize processes of beneficial disturbance to reorder the vegetative and soil regimes in the city’s public realm. The outcome is a regenerative living infrastructure identified as the City Forest; a collection of trees, associated undergrowth, and soil where people live, work, and play. This topology offers an alternative to the objectified street trees that make up most of America’s urban vegetation and curates an intensive dialogue between people and forest, or city and forest, not possible under current spatial practices. 

In this case study, the City Forest redefines major corridors in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as an efficacious place to begin intensifying the forest. Cambridge is a leader in urban forestry but has yet to boldly confront the socioeconomic practices inhibiting a healthy future. By rejecting the hierarchies and land use patterns inherent to our car-centric landscapes, the City Forest emphasizes solidarity with nonhuman nature and advocates against destructive forms of economic practice and ontological distinction, asserting that the natural capital that accumulates in the forest reciprocates directly with healthy lived experience in the city.

Aerial view of a city landscape showing trees interspersed with buildings.
The City Forest is a collection of trees, associated undergrowth, and soil where people live, work, and play. This aerial shows the City Forest along Massachusetts Avenue and Cambridge Street and reveals how the proposal will connect and expand the urban vegetation throughout the city.

Map of the City of Cambridge showing lines depicting Forest Corridors.
This city plan identifies the primary and secondary corridors in the City Forest proposal. As a regenerative infrastructure, the City Forest is also a political movement. By utilizing processes of beneficial disturbance to dismantle the city’s most prominent built infrastructure, the City Forest reorders the vegetative and soil regimes across the public realm.

Collage of photographs showing trees in an urban landscape.
As a physical space and political movement, the City Forest represents a relational way of being that requires solidarity. This collage represents the reciprocity that the City Forest strives to produce.

Section diagrams of proposals for lanes of traffic on Massachusetts Avenue.
These sections show how the City Forest will transform the street section. In the City Forest, soil and the lived experience take center stage while private vehicles are excluded, leaving only a 20’ dedicated bus lane, which will always be required for transit and life safety.

A series of five plans showing bicycle and pedestrian lanes on a major city road.
The City Forest prioritizes pedestrians and cyclists. These plans highlight the new pathways that will define the shared street. Starting on the left, a 2-way dedicated bike path, a beeline for pedestrian thru-traffic, sweeping traverses for diagonal movement, crossovers for quick access to storefronts, and a meandering path for lingering shoppers.

Chart showing lists plant species suitable for groundcover, shrubs, subcanopy, and canopy uses.
The City Forest planting palette will help the city plant species most adapted to the different environments throughout Cambridge, and ensure that the species selected are visually and texturally interesting, as well as ecologically significant to the non-human species that will encounter them – including birds, pollinators, soil microbes, and small mammals.

Map of the City of Cambridge showing areas of different ecotypes: lowlands, low-uplands, and uplands.Map of the City of Cambridge showing areas of different ecotypes: lowlands, low-uplands, and uplands.
This city plan lays out all three ecotypes, from lowlands to low-uplands to uplands. This map is intended to guide how different sections of the proposal are planted out as it is implemented. These zones are based on precipitation and flooding projections produced by the City of Cambridge.

Photograph of a city boulevard taken from the sidewalk next to a rendering of the same view with copious vegetation added and a bicycle lane.
The City Forest will be planted in three phases. The first includes larger trees, shrubs, and plugs in the most visited parts of the public realm, such as Central Square.

Photograph of a fire engine on a city boulevard next to a rendering of the same view with trees, pedestrian crossings, and a bicycle lane.
The City Forest will transform Massachusetts Avenue into a shared street. Without curbs, stormwater can sheet into the permeable ground and ensure access for all throughout the space.

Photograph of an ambulance on a city boulevard with separated bicycle lane next to a rendering of the same view with expanded sidewalk and vegetation.
Along Cambridge Street, two-way traffic will remain in place while the City Forest fills in sections on either side. Here, the existing parking spaces and bike lane remain intact to ensure less centralized businesses remain viable.

Photograph of pedestrian crossing on a wide city boulevard next to a rendering of the same view with added vegetation on the sidewalk and a large designated pickup area for vehicles.
Here, an alternative City Forest layout takes advantage of the existing conditions. Many of the species used in phases two and three are pioneer species, which grow quickly and create an environment that welcomes secondary growth. The introduction of flex zones will ensure buses, ride-share services, and delivery services can still serve the community.

Chart showing action plan and projected timelines.
Resilience, use, and equity are all key themes in the Healthy Forest, Healthy City report. As a result, the city’s action plan created a framework for the City Forest Implementation Plan. That action plan lays out 9 initiatives to be completed by 2025, and the City Forest’s implementation will fold into and ultimately expand 4 of them.

Joanne Li

MLA I

Masters in Landscape Architecture Thesis Prize

Ovis Versatilis: Icelandic Sheep Farm as Land Art Museum and Evolution Lab

Advised by Sergio Lopez-Pineiro

This thesis explores the role of evolutionary biology in landscape architecture, examining designed landscapes as potential drivers for species evolution. It argues that any landscape design makes direct and immediate impacts on the fitness level of the inhabiting species. Therefore, landscape designs need to consider evolutionary consequences at longer time scales. The proposal focuses on the evolution of Icelandic sheep (Ovis aries) and designs a sheep farm network that serves as a land art museum and evolution lab in a northern Icelandic valley. The farm consists of an assemblage of land art works with farming and lab infrastructures designed for sustainable sheep farming, ecological restoration, and sublime visiting experience. The purpose is to create resilient sheep herds (Ovis versatilis, the fictional Latin name for the new sheep species) and revive the sheep farming industry, while generating an iconic cultural landscape that celebrates the cultural, economic, and ecological sheep farming traditions of Iceland. 

Green pasture and mountain landscape with a triangular sloping land form constructed in the center.
“The Fold” is one of the spring landform pastures. It has two folds for the sheep to graze on, one facing the sun and the other below the ground. As the visitors observe the pasture from the west, the sunlight from the south accentuates the shadow. The geometric shape forms a stark contrast with the mountain at the back.

Diagram of the slope of a land form with drawings of sheep and associated data.
Genetic mapping of the Icelandic sheep herd grazing on the landform pasture “The Fold.” As sheep graze, the individuals that are able to get onto a steeper slope will get a higher reward: they get to eat more species of grasses.

Diagram of slope and radiation analysis and initial planting plan.
Geometric analysis and planting palette of the landform pasture “The Fold.” The surface has continuous gradients of slopes and solar radiation, forming an unlimited array of microclimates for vegetation growth. Farmers plant more species in areas with a steeper slope.

Diagram overlaid on a rendering of a green pasture landscape with a triangular land form.
Operational steps, weight assessment, and sheep grouping on the landform pasture “The Fold.”

Graph of many lines rising slowly from left to right over an x-y axis.
This graph explains the grouping and assessment mechanism. As sheep grow, their grazing needs are monitored and analyzed, and the result is used for sorting them into the most suitable paddock.

Topographic map of a mountainous region along a river, with details about grazing throughout the calendar year.
The landform pastures are situated along the river and the road in the Icelandic valley. The farmers lead sheep onto the pastures and perform grazing management according to the schedules. The pastures vary greatly in slope and are used in different seasons, which will support a wide array of grazing needs.

Wide view of a river passing through a green pasture and mountain landscape with the sun shining brightly in the sky.
“The Flood” is one of the summer pastures. It touches the bank of the river and cuts into the earth. The river is the glacial outlet of the ice cap Hofsjökull. During the summer, when the melted glacial water overflows the river, the water floods into the cut, which appears as a geometric shape etching into the earth.

Aerial view of a green pasture landscape with a single road, a winding river, and a long narrow landform in between the two.
An aerial view of the landform pasture “The Flood” during flooding in summer. The shape of the pasture forms a stark contrast with the naturalistic river.

Diagram of slope analysis and planting plan.
Geometric analysis and planting palette of the landform pasture “The Flood.” The surface has continuous gradients of slopes and solar radiation. Farmers plant more additional species of grasses in areas with a steeper slope.

Diagram of a cross section of a landscape showing a sloping trench cut into the earth with drawings of sheep and associated data.
Genetic mapping of the Icelandic sheep herd grazing on the landform pasture “The Flood.” Slope gradients with diverse grasses accommodate the grazing needs of all the individuals in the yellow group. Sheep that climb high and get the most grass, are more likely to possess genes for a high muscle fat ratio.

Rendering of a pasture landscape in winter covered in snow. Sheep pass along a central pathway cut through hilly landforms covered with windmills.
“The Enclosed” is a winter landform pasture. It is located near the base of the three farms so farmers can manage the sheep without traveling far in the cold winter. As farmers lead the sheep into the pasture, the early winter sun aligns with the entrance pathway, which allows appreciation of the last sun rays before the long winter starts.

Diagram of a sloping landform showing drawings of sheep and their associated data.
Genetic mapping of the Icelandic sheep herd grazing on the landform pasture “The Enclosed.” As sheep graze, the individuals that can climb a steeper slope will get more rewards: they can eat more species of grasses. As sheep walk on different slopes and eat different grasses, they start to develop different muscle tones.

Drawing of a hand holding a package of meat in front of a refrigerated supermarket shelving display. The meat packages are labeled with data about the individual sheep.
Farmers sell the lamb at the farm store. As visitors pick up the packages, they will see all the details extracted from the microchip of the sheep, including the pastures the sheep experienced, the grasses the sheep ate, the growth curve, etc.