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Landscape Thesis 2015 Student Profiles

image from Estrangement thesis by Elizabeth Mathews

The aim of the Thesis Studio within Auburn’s Graduate Landscape Architecture Program is to facilitate students’ development of a theoretically sophisticated understanding of the discipline of landscape architecture through engagement in research by design. Research by design is an open-ended investigation, with blind alleys, slow stretches, and periods of uncertainty, but if the explorations are nurtured with care and rigor, the ups and downs will be understood as necessary episodes in an exhilarating and rewarding process.

Although the thesis instructor provides an overall structure for the studio and a schedule of significant milestones, each thesis project has its own shape and unfolds in its own way. Each student's individual investigation occurs at multiple scales, locations, and timeframes. Despite the tremendous diversity among each investigation, the studio is collectively testing their topics within the dynamic political, ecological, hydrological, social, and economic condition that makes up the State of Alabama. As with any delineated boundary, the perimeter of this jurisdiction feels absurd at times, but offers the opportunity to engage in shared conversations and related investigations across the studio.

The MLA thesis spotlight of 2015 shines on two recent graduates of the program: Elizabeth Matthews and Tyler Richburg.  Both Elizabeth and Tyler graduated with a Masters of Landscape Architecture in May, and both have accrued impressive recognition for their work. Below are descriptions of each of the thesis projects by Elizabeth and Tyler.

Estrangement by Elizabeth Matthews

In abandoned rural landscapes, impressions of culture are overtaken by the steadiness of living things. The familiar succumbs to the wild, resulting in physical environments that arouse curiosity because of their uncanny presentation of reality. In these raw encounters with ourselves and nature, we find ourselves experiencing estrangement from the landscape. Estrangement is the perception of mystery resulting from the recognition of otherness. This thesis proposes that design can collaborate with the active and/ or latent energies of a site, inviting people to experience the landscape on its own terms. To accomplish this, the designer must make the landscape’s invisible characteristics palpable through simple, underwhelming maneuvers that empower the landscape. We need places that allow us to strongly connect with non-virtual reality in restorative and transformative ways. People need wild places, and this thesis acknowledges the real wildness that exists in abandoned, human-altered sites. In their book Lost Landscapes, the firm LOLA writes, “People need wilderness in their lives… An ecological perspective of protectionism or quantification does not address our need for wild experiences…. Therefore, landscape architecture, like ecology, should be an experimental playground.”

Fallow rural sites are fertile grounds for rich, experiential landscapes. This thesis acknowledges progress to date and seeks to further advance the field by exploring design and estrangement in human-altered wilds.

Estrangement: Elizabeth Matthews MLA Thesis 

The Formless: A Designer's Dialogue with Process by Tyler Richburg
This book endures as a demonstration of the pursuit of the formless. The thesis investigates a designer’s dialogue, a call and response, to engage intimately with the processes that continually shape space over time. The formless is not anti-form, but advocates for a relationship with the dynamic processes of the landscape, such as plant succession, energy flows, or human circulation.  The investigation initially stemmed from a study of form generation but evolved quickly into the discourse of process and experimentation.  This idea of formless seeks to dramatically expand the role of the landscape architect. Instead of merely designing a space by manipulating static forms, this study advocates that landscape architects become active participants that facilitate change over time, and engage in the rich dialogue with the processes that shape the spaces in which we live. The book captures the chronological timeline of the process that unfolded while discovering the formless in landscape architecture.​

Formless: Tyler Mathews, MLA Thesis