Future Forests is a deep investigation of the role of forests in creating sustainable and healthy environments. It engages design and planning to test the potential of the planted forest as a cultural and genetic archive and as a potent mitigator of the most pressing social and ecological challenges.
Forest preservation and stewardship is now recognized as a critical strategy in the fight against climate change. The scientific literature acknowledges a host of benefits provided by forests across the planet: greenhouse gas mitigation, conservation of soil, clean air and water, biodiversity, food production, and improved human health and well-being. Now, more than ever, forests must be protected to keep the vast stores of carbon they regulate from being released into our atmosphere. At the same time, it’s imperative that we replant the places that were once home to forest ecosystems. The clearing of land for commodity agriculture and urbanization continues to reduce forest cover across the planet. Urban forests, in particular, are challenged by conditions hostile to plant life, including paved surfaces, elevated temperatures, soil degradation, polluted air and water, and harmful management practices. Cities are struggling to keep trees alive at a time when the mitigation of elevated temperatures and management of stormwater is more important than ever.
The focus of this advanced studio is the development of ideas for growing biodiverse carbon sanctuaries in a changing climate. We take the position that there is no turning back the clock, no return to some prior ideal condition. We do not seek reforestation or ecological restoration as a strategy for putting a historic forest back where it once was, but rather use these frameworks as strategies for redesigning new forest formations as a response to the climate emergency. These new forests may be strange and unfamiliar. The creation of such forests will require methods and practices that are untested, with thinking that spans generations.
Who among us has experienced the majesty of an old-growth forest? Or understand what is conspicuously absent from a timber plantation? If we are to realize the potential of reforestation as a strategy for recovering planetary health, we must begin by asking what is a forest? What is its architecture? How does a forest grow and evolve? What entanglements of microorganisms, plants, insects, animals, and humans are present? How have forests been shaped by indigenous communities and farmers across hundreds or thousands of years and how are they shaped still today? How have forests been designed by different cultures to provide food and medicine? What must we unlearn and rethink to plant the forest of the future?
The fall 2023 Future Forests studio will focus on agroforestry in the city of Rome. The studio will investigate contemporary challenges to urban forestry in Rome and develop proposals for new formations strengthening cultural ties to agricultural traditions.