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MLA's Urban Armature Workshop

Urban Armature Workshop postcard image

In early March 2015, Julie Bargmann, founder of and Associate Professor at the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture, held a week-long, vigorous and intense Urban Armature Workshop for Master of Landscape Architecture (MLA) students at Auburn University. Ms. Bargmann is an internationally recognized landscape architect for her works in reclamation and remediation of post-industrial sites. Her motivation lies in unearthing site histories, discovering what’s hidden under the grittiness of the blacktop, concrete, and weeds that have reclaimed the landscape. Her work helps tell the stories of the past to link yesteryear to today.

The Urban Armature Workshop focused on just that - former industrial sites--namely an old Montgomery, Alabama rail corridor winding through the present day riverfront area to Cypress Nature Park. MLA students split into pairs and formed two large teams. Each pair of students were assigned a patch (ranging from 52 to 60 acres). The teams were charged with uncovering site histories, linking adjacent patches, and designing their area of interest.

Students quickly discovered some of their sites enjoyed a rich and diverse past--ranging from an old candy factory and worker housing to an old railcar round house. On day two, students traveled to Montgomery for a day-long site visit. They tromped their way through swampy conditions and walked alongside both active and abandoned rails leading to the riverfront. Along the way, they met and discussed with interested site developers and a park enthusiast to hear their ideas and the community wishes. Once back at studio, the students feverishly began developing their site designs and testing their ideas.The remaining portion of the week was dedicated to discussing their concepts with Ms. Bargmann, hearing her first-hand experience developing sites, and further refining their proposals.

By week’s end, students had developed their site designs and an array of supporting graphics to present to City of Montgomery, site developers, as well as to Auburn students and faculty. Their proposals included the transformation of the abandoned rail line into a pedestrian trail that would connect communities and community centers to Cypress Nature Park and redevelopment of certain areas to become civic centers, access to Cypress Creek, and future housing developments.

As the workshop came to an end, students walked away with a new appreciation of how post-industrial sites can play a role in the rejuvenation of cities. These sites can help shape spaces of the future in terms of ecological, social, and cultural importance.  Features from these sites can be remolded and interpreted into a new vernacular that is unique to the site and interlaces elements from both past and present landscapes.