A few of us went to NYC last week to hear dland studio and Mass Design Group present some of their work at the Emerging Voices conference hosted by the Architectural League of NY. The Architectural League is a great source for students and professionals; they have frequent conferences, publications, exhibitions, and lectures. Student membership is $35 a year and gives you free access to almost all of the events.
Susannah Drake of dland studio, a landscape & architecture firm in NYC, talked about how global problems are often caused by local conditions. She explained how infrastructures originally intended for military operations are still being used today – that traditional engineering methods worked until they didn’t. Today, she said, infrastructures must be treated as living, breathing organisms susceptible to change that are part of a larger system; if roads were remapped and canals expanded there could then be less open and fragmented spaces, thus slowly restitching America.
Dland studio is interested in using the city infrastructure to come up with new programs that will alleviate and solve problems to maximize the value of the landscape for both the people and the plants. Releasing streets and bridges to become permanent open spaces by having an open parkway as opposed to a covered bridge is one example. Susannah also explained the impact of planting trees and how if the city of NYC planted 350 trees, the combination of pollution control, naturally recycled water and shade value could save up to $50 million over a 10 year period – the catch is that no one party is saving this money, but it would benefit all.
Dland studio is arguing for a serious rethinking of ecological infrastructures by considering all the different forces that make up a good city. Historic preservation, improved habits, cleaning up toxins, and understanding how the quality of land and space has direct correlations with public health issues (ie. asthma) are a few examples. Susannah said that one of the biggest challenges is the relationship between where cities want to be and existing federal government regulations.
Mass Design Group uses architecture to design for public health; Michael and Alan began by simply asking, why is it that the poor get the bare minimum treatment for health as opposed to the best? Similarly for architecture? Mass is interested in not only stopping the bleeding but also preventing potential indicators of disease and infection. They explained how the structure of the existent hospitals in Butaro, Rwanda was not designed for ‘airborne’ resilient conditions, thus creating ‘hospital inquired infections’ as opposed to healing people. By making a few key changes allowing the air to circulate strategically throughout the building, Mass’s new hospital design kept the infected separate from the healthy. They argued that just as buildings make us sicker, so they can also make us healthier.
The takeaway from both presentations was seeing architecture as an opportunity to empower people and solve larger problems vs. simply produce objects.