When investigating the complex cultural and environmental legacies of two centuries of urban landscape changes, traditional landscape architectural graphic methods prove inadequate. This is an ongoing creative project on the legacies of over two-hundred years of cultural and biophysical interplay within the site of contemporary Chinatown in Manhattan.
The ten-acre case study site has a largely unrecognized, yet highly significant place in American history, as it was once the notorious Five Points slum. The project entails a series of original hybrid maps that interpret the mostly invisible history of this site.
Water quality is arguably the strongest indicator of landscape health and land use in a watershed. A topic most apt for city planning, water quality is also a great source of leverage in urban design. But including water quality in the urban design discourse is not without its challenges. The relationship of land use and water quality is not immediately perceptible, which can make this relationship vague if not totally unknown to the general public. Because of its scale and invisible characteristics, water quality is difficult to represent visually, making it an abstract concept for planning purposes. This project tests representational methods that can help make the relationships between water and land vivid and clear. Mapping and walking are used methodically in TRAVERSE to examine and compare the contemporary engineered courses of Amazon Creek to the creek’s historical meanders. This creek, Eugene, Oregon’s second largest waterway (the Willamette River being the largest), was, until less-than 60-years ago, a winding shallow creek that, along with associated wetlands, flooded seasonally each year. As was the case in many North American cities during the post war development explosion, the stream was diverted into concrete channels, and became a major conduit for the city’s storm water runoff. As with many urbanized waterways, the future of Amazon Creek continues to be threatened by renewed development pressures within urban growth boundary. My objective was to catalog the social and environmental context of this creek. I constructed an exhibit of map-based representations that shed light on the current and historical relationships between land use and water quality in this urban watershed. Kathryn Kuttis assisted me with the project.
Joan Iverson Nassauer, “Design Leverage: How water quality can lead to quality of life”, public lecture, University of Oregon, 4.19.07
I braid sculptural forms into fields of tall grass. The work of braiding acts as a form of maintenance, contemplation and construction. Usually a solitary figure in the field, I’m bent over, weaving handfuls of grass together, my posture recalling that of a farmer at work.
Yet, in contrast to one raising crops or cultivating the land, this labor done in a prone position is not practical, but instead is a critical practice. The Braided Fields series problematizes the pastoral landscape aesthetic through braiding large swaths of tall grass in fields, as both a time based activity and a form of land art.
By layering a new aesthetic layer into an old one, the work highlights the tension between the idealized landscape and the realities of the work and maintenance it takes to make the place. Pastoralism is a common aesthetic that has had a deep influence on European and American landscape design for centuries. Its roots lie in ancient texts like Virgil’s Eclogues, where the pastoral is the serene joining of nature and art. In the pastoral landscape, one can be in nature, but safe from the dangers of the wilderness, wherein one is free, like an idyll shepherd, to create music, art and poetry.
Like French braids on a head, plaited grass form lines in the landscape that have variable height and width, which wind around each other in spirals and waves. The interplay of shadow and light sharpen the visual experience by providing different levels of contrast through the day. Once complete, the braid structures remain, changing not only through the day, but also into rigid, golden structures through the season.
PERMEO CARDO: a plutonium memorial
STALKING THE STRIP
Making-do in Chinatown
Making-do describes the personalized, culturally specific amendments created by immigrants using inexpensive materials to adapt existing structures.The resulting hybridized physical environments are the combination of old structures and new accretions and are specifically modeled on the ways makeshift structures were created in the domestic landscapes of the immigrant’s original home. The most common materials of making-do in Chinatown are a glossy, transparent and usually slightly yellow tape pink plastic twine and familiar Asian white, red and blue woven plastic bags known as Amah bags. Making-do shows up in various forms, but very often these inexpensive materials are used to make barriers, shelters, temporary awnings, splash guards and walls. They attach cable wires, gutters and signs to walls and ceilings. Tape and bags repair holes and cracks to keep roaches from entering the gaps created by shifting buildings. Pink twine holds a door open or shut. Several Amah bags strung together become a curtain blocking customers’ views into a shop’s backroom. One defining characteristic is that there are no mediating forces between the 19thcentury tenements and these personalized attachments. They are new creations of culture layered into old creations of another culture, which result in a new hybrid signifier of making-do indicating a particular cultural origin.
Making-do is important to explore as it can be read in a multiplicity of ways; as simply a practical solution to everyday matters, and/or a potentially subversive act of inventiveness, ownership and resistance to assimilation. In Chinatown, various Chinese cultures are folded into the existing tenements (incidentally, the original New York tenements) and public and section-eight housing of this neighborhood. This little-studied vernacular caught my attention, in part, because the effects of the bricolage attachments are analogous to hybrid-maps as both the making-do phenomenon and the hybrid-mapping technique bring together temporally and materially incongruous things resulting in a new hybrid condition. They also strike me as expressing key dynamics in immigrant culture between identity and enfranchisement. Making-do in Chinatown is a powerful way to claim urban space.