Fall 2021

ARC 342R (00910) ARC 388R (01205) LAR 388 (01810)


Course Description
Hybridity is a word often used with regard to cultural or artistic mixture, and usually associated with post-colonial cultural theories. While aware of these rich associations, I instead use hybridity to describe certain fundamental characteristics and operations of many historical and contemporary designed sites of landscape/architecture, sites of architectural design and of landscape design, and in particular those where the intersection of landscape and architecture occur in design thinking, processes, and construction. Hybridity may be considered an analogue to ambiguity, multivalence, fusion, and interbreeding. Hybridic structures can mediate between elements very different from each other, as in a designed ramp that becomes a bridge that is also an architectural structure, a building—an example is the Rialto Bridge in Venice, Italy. Construction materials can be hybridic in their properties, and especially new, emerging materials mingle domains of food production, technology, and nature. I call these multivalent, ambiguous forms "mediating structures," a term that has deeper resonance in the thinking of such 20th-century cultural and literary theorists as Raymond Williams.
Hybridity appears to be attractive and meaningful to us, because it articulates or structures issues of complexity, that mirror the complexity of human life. Studying and discussing hybridity can lead us to reflect more deeply on the relationships between our work, our lives, and the larger, often difficult or complicated, issues confronting us worldwide today—a philosophical venture.
Works of architecture and of landscape design can be artistic works that have ambiguity at the center of their conceptualization, for example the Falling Water House of 1935 by Frank Lloyd Wright near Pittsburgh, which is all-in-one a rocky cliff, a waterfall, technologically-advanced cantilever-terraces, and shelter. And landscape architecture is one of the most hybridic, complex and ambiguous forms of design, in that it partners or interbreeds with natural and plant systems, scientific technological processes, art, architecture, urban spaces, and territorial-geographical systems. It is also thus one of the most synthetic design practices, in that it often simultaneously brings most of these dimensions together in one work. Such "partnerships" of hybridity may take the form of traditional pergolas or trellises in historical gardens or they may be reinterpreted in contemporary forms, mingling industrial relics, pathways, and new planting, as in Peter Latz's Landscape Park Duisburg Nord of 1994 in Germany, or actual pergola forms, as in the 3.5 kilometer-long and 6 meter-high Park Pergola Máximapark created in Utrecht, The Netherlands, by West 8 in 2013-2015. They may also mingle spheres of sea and land, as in Kate Orff's and her firm Scape's Oyster-tecture project devised for the exhibition, Rising currents: projects for New York's waterfront, at the Museum of Modert Art, New York, in 2011.
And yet our understanding of these contemporary works would be lessened, had we not the rich lexicon of historical examples from which to draw in our analyses. For example, ambiguity and hybridity were particularly favored by the ancient Romans in Italy and the wider Roman Empire, by Islamic garden designers and Italian Renaissance garden designers, all of whom mingled architecture, water features, garden and landscape elements in complex hybridic structures. The famous Dining Grotto or Cave of the Emperor Tiberius at Sperlonga south of Rome can best evoke this earlier period, in which ancient Romans created seaside dining grottoes in caves that were at once outdoor gardens, permanent garden furniture, fish ponds, scultpure museums, and architecturalization of natural forms.
This exploratory seminar proposes to study mediating structures and hybridity in landscape architectural design by using historical and conceptual lenses to consider contemporary works of landscape and architecture. Students will receive a grounding in historical examples and modes of conceptualization of hybridity and ambiguity, which they will use to focus on the study of contemporary works, or, depending on their interests, on historical works. Topics will include:
--Hybridity, the Human, the Grotesque, and the Natural.
--Shared Conditions and Forms: Bridges as Buildings, Roads as Urban Plazas, Military Bastions as Terraces, Gardens as Outdoor Rooms.
--Edge Conditions and Hybridity: Ambiguity, Ambivalence, Borders, and Boundaries.
--Ambiguity of Ground: Horizontal and Vertical Hybridity in the Terrain of Landscape / Architecture.
--Hybridic Living and Inert Materials, and their Interaction.
--Contemporary Definitions of Ambiguity and Hybridity in Landscape and Architecture.
Students will have weekly seminar readings for group discussion; execute several works in-class using pencil, watercolors, and other media; and prepare a final research report that includes an exploratory bibliography on hybridity and ambiguity in design.
The course is intended for and open to graduate students and upper-level undergraduate students, including MLA, M.Arch., M.U.D., M.A. and Ph.D. students, and B.A., B.Arch., B.Engineer. etc. Unique course numbers are created for each category of student.
Goals of the Seminar
On a broad level, the course encourages students to consider and explore the range of forms and meanings of a category – hybridity – that is particularly relevant to contemporary design in architecture, landscape architecture, and urbanism today. The goal of the seminar is to foster sustained and deep investigation of hybridity in design through conversation and discussion in seminar, as well as through oral presentations and a final project. Students are expected to read the assigned readings on widely-ranging topics of hybridity and to discuss them in seminar class, and are encouraged to apply them to their design studio work, if they are design students, or to their research and thinking in other courses. The purpose is to give students an understanding of the synthetic act of design and a strong inter-disciplinary grounding in analysis and in advanced research methods applied to a category that is inter-disciplinary in itself—hybridity is a design concept, but more broadly it is one that is philosophical, social, cultural, material, aesthetic, and with ethical implications. The seminar's main theme is posited as hybridity in landscape / architecture, raising the key issue of how landscape design and architectural design, and by implication urban design, relate. Thus, students in architecture are exposed to approaches to the category of landscape itself and to approaches to landscape architectural design; conversely, students in landscape architecture are exposed similarly to approaches to architecture. The same expansion of horizons can be had for students in art history, geography, and other disciplines. A central dimension of the work of the seminar is exchange between students from different disciplinary fields, which is enriching for all. As well, the student is gain strong intellectual, conceptual, and historical frameworks with which to approach design creatively today, by rehearsing the translation of the synthetic act of design from past examples to the present and by understanding how the contemporary design professions and by understanding how the design profession carves its territory of concerns and interests, from concrete and technological to spiritual and philosophical.