Current Events Series: Activating Designs

Loves Me...Loves Me Not, 2005 Redmoon

Loves Me...Loves Me Not, Redmoon 2005

At the first of the monthly series “Current Events,” sponsored by the GSD Student Forum, faculty members and a Loeb Fellow presented their research and work in four short presentations. Jim Lasko (LF 2012), Maryann Thompson (adjunct professor of architecture), Jana Cephas (instructor in urban planning and design) and Jane Hutton (assistant professor in landscape architecture) talked about the processes behind their current projects.

Urban Alchemy, 2006, Jana Cephas with Karolina Chaney and Margot Lystra

Urban Alchemy, 2006, Jana Cephas with Karolina Chaney and Margot Lystra

Jana Cephas has been involved in academic and community-based work in Detroit for over 15 years. Cephas refers to her work as “incorporating practices,” which is her process of learning from her urban design work and community involvement, then applying her observations to her theoretical work and historical research.

For example, while at the Detroit Design Collaborative (whose director is Dan Pitera, LF 2005), Cephas and her collaborators constructed “Urban Alchemy” (2006), an armature of planters in a vacant storefront. Made of salvaged materials from an abandoned house in Detroit, the installation provides heat, water and light to grass seedbeds through sensors activated by passersby. The project visualizes how the body activates urban life, through the interaction between the public, space and the installation.

Demonstrating the dynamic relation between her urban design practice and research, Cephas’s doctoral thesis investigates the body as related to urban form. In particular, she is focusing on the decline of Detroit as a result of Fordist systems of labor.

As founding artistic director of Redmoon theater in Chicago, Jim Lasko strives to produce meaningful performance in the public realm.

A trait of Lasko’s work is to “create absence” leaving an opening for subjectivity and interpretation. He commonly uses puppetry in which the forms and actions of the puppets are incomplete; thus the audience must complete the narrative.

Redmoon’s work in the public realm is of necessity subject to the vagaries of its context. For example, the performance “Loves  Me...Loves Me Not” was intended to be “a clown-show on water.” For the staging, the company sank two homes into the lagoon in Chicago. A few weeks before the opening Hurricane Katrina hit, which prompted Redmoon to redesign the whole production to address the changing circumstances.

Following Lasko’s presentation, Maryann Thompson related her practice to creating stages for interaction. Her recent project, the Children’s School in Stamford, Connecticut, exemplifies her conceptual approach to architecture. She describes the result as a “woven construction” informed by her studies of Jean Piaget, the Swiss developmental psychologist and philosopher who highly influenced educational models. Thompson integrated Piaget’s constructivist theory of the “active object-active subject” into the design of the school. Children are active subjects who are able to move freely through spaces and interact with teachers and peers for a much richer educational process. In order to construct these spaces, Thompson worked with a hybrid steel and wood system to vary the roof heights, thus creating interconnected spaces filled with natural light.

Jane Hutton’s work is grounded in analyzing where materials come from and how we construct. She sees every building or landscape project as an archaeological record that reveals global relations at the time of construction. In looking at material use and consumption in design projects, she seeks to understand the metabolic processes through which materials move around the world and to better understand the limits of certain types of metrics.

Harvesting Ipe in Brazil

Harvesting Ipê, Brazil. Image: Jane Hutton

Hutton is interested in documenting the sites and ecological conditions associated with the production of different building materials. She is currently examining the ecological habitat of Ipê, a tropical hardwood from Brazil, which has gained popularity in the last few decades in public landscape architecture, notably on the High Line in New York.

She is also looking at the factors that drive both conventional and reduced impact logging and practices associated with Forest Stewardship Council certification. She cites activist campaigns, such as Rainforests of New York, that place public pressure on designers to choose - and municipalities to legislate - more responsible building materials.

Harvesting Ipe in Brazil

Ipê logger, Brazil. Image: Jane Hutton

The “Current Events” forum enables the GSD community to learn about faculty and collaborators beyond the usual course and faculty descriptions, and to discover the connections that exist between our work and theirs. While presenting diverse portfolios, these four practitioners shared the trait of incorporating experience, observation, and theory into their creative work.

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