A thesis is a thematic proposition offered for discussion and debate, typically developed through a piece of original research specific to a discipline at the end of an academic program. Theses are produced through various methods as appropriate to the disciplinary commitments of academic fields across the research university. Design research is propositional and projective rather than simply empirical or descriptive. It is characterized by its capacity to propose alternative and better futures while simultaneously producing disciplinary knowledge in design. Candidates in the Master in Landscape Architecture Program elect to pursue independent design theses at the culmination of their graduate work. The projects presented here represent original thematic propositions put forward through design research to stimulate discussion and debate. In this sense, they are as much about design discourse and disciplinary formation as they are propositions for how things ought to be.
Charles Waldheim John E. Irving Professor of Landscape Architecture Director of the Office for Urbanization
Vulgar: A Garden reconstructs the history and collective memory of Filipino immigrants in the San Francisco Bay Area. A series of gardens along a designed trail retell oral histories through subtle gardening interventions. These “vulgar” punctuations at various scales reveal local climatological phenomena, native flora, and the symbolism embedded in the surrounding Filipino cultural landscape of Daly City, California. Experimental modes of representation challenge the way gardens can be made, perceived, and experienced through various media including film and mixed-media collage.
The practice of long-distance running is an embodiment of the complex relationship of the Tarahumara people to the landscape. Can it serve as a multidimensional design driver for landscape architecture? This thesis explores running as a world building practice through the project of a greenbelt corridor in the city of Chihuahua, Mexico. The green belt, as a network of interwoven programs and typologies, presents a microcosm from which to negotiate the overlapping and fraught realities of the larger territory. Running reveals and deploys the landscape practices of the local Tarahumara people, renowned for their long-distance running ability. Running operates in dialogue with their culture and cosmology, which is grounded by environmental theocentrism, engaged in a constant process of negotiation with the landscape and environmental cycles.
Spatially, the project seeks to create a network of flows and sequences that allow for multiple narratives to occur in the everyday. As the practice of running interweaves the urban fabric and the existing ecology, the core of the experience is defined by our ability to navigate the landscape on foot. This experience includes a powerful social dimension, as ritualized games and races born from abstractions of the ancestral practice of persistence hunting shape running today. Materially driven activities, such as agriculture and water management, enable the nourishment and habits necessary for running and shape the spatial experience through process. The implicit universality of running as a human experience, embedded within a specific urban and territorial fabric, encourages us to embrace otherness.
In the contemporary urban context, a wealth of sensorial stimuli impoverishes sensitivity toward the understated. This project aims to heighten perception toward natural phenomena in the present moment by creating a space detached from the urban environment. To design with natural elements does not mean to reconstruct nature but to construct natural phenomena. These phenomena already exist in our living environment, yet they remain understated, evanescent, and often go unnoticed. The effects of detachment and withdrawal intend to bring them into the foreground from the flood of daily distractions. The project creates a void within saturation, an emptiness within density, a moment of quietude within constant excitement, and ultimately to defamiliarize the familiar.
The goal of this research is to look for an aesthetic sensitivity that lives in “circumstances” rather than “things.” We authentically see, touch, and feel within circumstances based in events. At the center of the ceaseless, copious changes in our living environment, it is possible to detach an individual experience from its confinement in the everyday, conveying a freedom of imagination and unique connection with nature. This moment of happening leaves a lasting impression carried on after the experience, and everyday life begins to look different.
In 1892, a wealthy estate owner built a grand colonial-era cottage on 310 acres purchased for that purpose in the Berkshire hills of Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The site became the original home for Tanglewood Music Festival in the roaring 1920s. In the 1950s, it served as a liberal arts institution attended by Arlo Guthrie. Most recently, the site was used as the grounds of a cult educational facility, since decommissioned. Today, the site awaits transformation as its materials disintegrate and its vegetation grows, but as a thick, layered palimpsest, it continues to write itself semiotically and materially. Much like the site, its dwellers write and rewrite their own narrative of personal histories in relation to their physical environment. This thesis processes landscape linguistically by translating and rewriting the site’s textual narratives into a healing garden that serves to archive the ground’s histories while encouraging its visitors to do the same.
The US Department of the Interior has consistently conceived of interiority as outside the sovereign bounds of the United States, training its view toward the exterior. Framed as a history of westward expansion, a true Department for and of the Interior has never existed. Interior proposes memorials to interiority, commemorating the absence of interiority for the American capitalist project while monumentalizing the methods used to territorialize exterior lands.
Central to the thesis is the relationship between two interiors: Arizona, the site for the memorials, and Afghanistan, a country commemorated in one of the memorials. Throughout the Cold War, the Department of the Interior produced films of American states, including Arizona, to gain support for its Cold War development aid projects abroad. These films captured American landscapes and distributed them to countries receiving aid, including Afghanistan, a major aid recipient in the United State’s effort to combat the spread of Soviet Communism.
The film Arizona and Its Natural Resources demonstrated American technical expertise, the transformation of Arizona landscapes, and the ensuing bounty that characterized American life. As a result, the landscapes produced through US involvement in Afghanistan were constructed in the image of American landscapes captured in the film. The Memorial to Interiority in Afghanistan is a cinematic tour of such landscapes. It enervates audience members—American tourists—out of the role of placid spectator into the role of engaged visitor, asking visitors to see themselves in the grounds of our many embroilments abroad.
By viewing the continental shelf as a new agricultural field and territory, the boundaries between terrestrial and oceanic become blurred, allowing for symbiotic and cyclical relationships to form between human and nonhuman entities. The project reimagines the ocean, which has been portrayed as an existential threat, to become the future productive landscape to advance toward rather than to retreat from. The project draws upon the multitude of histories, practices, and processes that have been intertwined with the ocean and its spatialized entities.
Land-based agricultural production and commercial fishing extraction cannot sustain themselves given the projections of human population growth, ecosystem degradation, economic decline, and carbon emission. These issues bring the human diet into the conversation of multiscalar climate change drivers and question the stability of traditional food staples.
These ideas take shape within the territory of the Nantucket Shelf Region, focusing on key sites between the city of New Bedford and the edge of Georges Bank. These sites act as nodes in a network of farms that cultivate marine macroalgae and bivalve mollusks for food consumption and various material supply chains, forming circular economies and restorative feedback loops.
This project weaves together the multitude of contexts that have acknowledged the continental shelf—the legal, geophysical, urban, biological, and chemical—into a singular narrative thread. This narrative envisions a future system of oceanic food production, labor, and economies that resuscitate declining coastal communities and reconnect the people with the water during a transitional time in its state.
After Plastics: The Gardens of the Glacial Foreland is a transitional landscape— from glacial to postglacial—where microplastics play a critical role in the development of a new plant growth pattern, strategically augmented through the intervention of the landscape architect. The production of the garden is in continuous evolution as the landscape is perpetually reformed through a new compositional stratum of the post-Anthropocene material: plastics. Its operation relies on a metabolic process that transforms and transfers novel material conditions between an interconnected web of mycelium, slime mold, ancient lichens awakened from their dormant state, and a wide range of Allium species.\ The thesis questions the potential emergence of microplastic particles in the most remote, pristine places on Earth over the next two centuries and the imminent implications on landscape systems and their formation through parallels between geological and biological timescales. Organized in a series of laboratories— Landscape Performance, Material Taxonomy, Material Ecology and Garden Prototyping—After Plastics engages in a telescopic lens from the emerging micro scalar ecologies of biological structure and chemical compounds to the larger scale of networks and flows that generate new material ecologies.
Gardens perform the cultural work of collecting and representing social relationships. They have the capacity to solidify shifting social hierarchies into moments of clarity and cultural meaning. The history of garden-making in the Republic of Georgia reflects a patchwork of imported formal approaches intended to reinforce the social hierarchy of the various political regimes that have governed the nation. Despite these impositions, Georgians have consistently appropriated urban space to practice distinct forms of gathering and social ritual. Among the housing blocks of the post-Soviet microrayon, this theme of identity creation plays out in the struggle between individual autonomy, the integrity of the public realm, and an influx of international real estate investment. As Tbilisi’s Soviet-era neighborhoods are sized up for renewal and densification, the collective values of the socialist space are at risk.
This thesis draws on three Georgian modes of garden-gathering—the Safavid, the Supra, and the Soviet—to propose the creation of a new garden city. The state-sponsored paradise of the Safavid Garden, the fleeting social hierarchy of the Supra, and the formal codes of Soviet urbanism act as models for a new urban landscape in which vegetation and topography are manipulated into gardens for Georgian rituals of gathering. The project experiments with the revival and reconfiguration of hierarchy, formal relationships, and symbolism drawn from the historical gardens of Tbilisi to imagine contemporary gardens of harvest, friendship, family, and community. Gardens of ritual toasting and dining reclaim the microrayon as a site for the production of collective values.
This thesis proposes a series of clearings for interacting with the animal inhabitants of a coastal forest on Cape Ann, Massachusetts. The artful clearing of trees, soil, and stone stimulates change in the postglacial terrain as a method for calling attention to animal encounters. The script for cultivating these circular spaces suggests multiple futures that draw the mythical and ecological into conversation. By recalling the history of an early 20th-century naturalist who studied animal life in this forest, the project revives a practice for gardeners, naturalists, poets, and mystics—the nature fakers—who argue that close observation and imagination are essential to the opening of human-animal dualities.