Landscape Architecture

Instruments of Change

Tuesday, February 15, 2022 11:00amFriday, February 18, 2022 11:00am
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Virtual Events

To ensure the health and safety of everyone at Weitzman events, visitors to Penn’s campus are required to register in advance and complete PennOpen Campus on the day of the event. Members of the Penn community do not need to register in advance, but will be required to present a valid PennCard as well as PennOpen Pass for entry to in-person events. Please plan to arrive early. Double masking, or use of a KN95 or N95 mask, is required in Penn buildings.

Instruments of Change is a lecture series presented by the Environmental Modeling Lab (EMLab) at The Ian L. McHarg Center for Urbanism and Ecology.

A great deal of knowledge about our environments and landscapes is learned via instruments that detect what is otherwise imperceptible to human senses. Remote sensing, sensors, and image interpretation give rise to particular ways of seeing landscapes, thereby conditioning our design responses; yet the practices by which environmental data are collected and codified remain largely unexplored as part of the creative process in landscape architectural practice.

As frequent users of environmental and spatial data, knowing how, when, and why these data are collected enables landscape architects to improve their literacy about the practices that underpin how landscapes are conventionally represented. This knowledge provides insight into how such conventions can be augmented to develop approaches that better characterize local landscape conditions and dynamics. Sessions will explore ground-based sensors and aerial-and-satellite-gathered imagery, the use of models to simulate material behavior, and place-based experiments that directly manipulate landscape material.

The EMLab is co-directed by Andrew Gordon Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture Sean Burkholder; Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture Karen M'Closkey; and Senior Lecturer Keith VanDerSys.

Sensed Landscapes (Mapping Change)
Tuesday, February 15, 11:00-1:30 pm EST
This session examines the use of both ground-based sensors, and aerial and satellite-gathered imagery for mapping landscape change.
Speakers: Jennifer Gabrys; Victoria J. Marshall; Karen M’Closkey, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, Penn; Sarah Williams
Moderators: Robert Pietrusko, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, Penn; Keith VanDerSys, Senior Lecturer in Landscape Architecture, Penn

Simulated Landscapes (Modeling Change)
Thursday, February 17, 11:00-1:30pm EST
This session explores different types of models that are used to simulate material behavior for both form generation as well as forecasting change.
Speakers: John E. Fernández; Ilmar Hurkxkens; Fatemeh Nasrollahi; and Robert Pietrusko, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, Penn
Moderators: Bradley Cantrell; and Karen M’Closkey, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, Penn

Experimental Landscapes (Monitoring Change)
Friday, February 18, 11:00-1:30 pm EST
In addition to the previous sessions’ emphasis on mapping and modeling, this session considers place-based experiments that directly manipulate landscape material.
Speakers: Sean Burkholder, Andrew Gordon Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture, Penn; Monica Chasten; Iryna Dronova; and Brett Milligan
Moderators: Anya Domlesky; and Keith VanDerSys, Senior Lecturer in Landscape Architecture, Penn


If you require any accessibility accommodation, such as live captioning, audio description, or a sign language interpreter, please email to let us know what you need. Please note, we require at least 48 hours’ notice. If you register within 48 hours of this event, we won’t be able to secure the appropriate accommodations.

Sean Burkholder

Sean Burkholder is the Andrew Gordon Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania’s Weitzman School of Design and co-founder of the Environmental Modeling Lab (EMLab). He is also co-founder of the research and design practice Proof Projects and a member of the Dredge Research Collaborative. Burkholder’s work bridges the seemingly incommensurable subjects of environmental monitoring and modeling that includes working with ecologists and engineers on large coastal infrastructure projects, and the exploration of new methods of knowledge creation that both question and supplement rational science as our primary referent for progress and agency by way of curiosity-driven experimentation. His book Five Bay Landscapes: Curious Explorations of the Great Lakes Basin, co-authored with Karen Lutsky, is forthcoming from the University of Pittsburgh Press this year.

Bradley Cantrell

Bradley Cantrell is a landscape architect and scholar whose work focuses on the role of computation and media in environmental and ecological design. He is currently Chair of the University of Virginia Department of Landscape Architecture and has held academic appointments at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, Rhode Island School of Design, and the Louisiana State University Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture. Cantrell’s work in Louisiana over the past decade points to a series of methods that develop modes of modeling, simulation, and embedded computation that express and engage the complexity of overlapping physical, cultural, and economic systems.

Monica Chasten

Monica Chasten is a Coastal Engineer and Project Manager with the Operations Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Philadelphia. Her responsibilities include oversight of federal coastal navigation projects in New Jersey and Delaware and five reservoir projects in Pennsylvania. Chasten has over 35 years of experience with hydraulic and coastal engineering projects specializing in dredging, beach nourishment, inlet processes, and coastal structures. Serving as the lead for the Philadelphia District’s Engineering with Nature Proving Ground and a co-lead for the Seven Mile Island Innovation Laboratory, she has been instrumental in developing, constructing, and monitoring innovative projects that use dredged material to restore marsh and support resilient shorelines. Chasten began her career at the Corps’ Coastal Engineering Research Center and remains passionate about advancing science and evolving practice along our dynamic coasts.

Anya Domlesky

Anya Domlesky is an urban designer and landscape architect. She is Director of Research at SWA Group, where she runs XL Lab, the firm’s innovation lab undertaking practice-based research. The lab explores near future conditions in the built environment, performs analyses of design performance, experiments with new technologies to create tools for the field, and does topical investigations that address emerging complexities and unprecedented challenges. Her research has been exhibited at the Shenzhen and Venice Biennales and is published in books such as Third Coast Atlas (2017) and Studio Ecologies (Routledge, forthcoming). Her design work focuses primarily on issues around urbanization, coasts, and water. Domlesky has previously worked at the New York City Department of City Planning Waterfront and Open Space Division and Hood Design, and taught at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and Boston Architectural College.

Iryna Dronova

Iryna Dronova is an Associate Professor jointly appointed in the Departments of Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning (College of Environmental Design) and Environmental Science, Policy & Management (College of Natural Resources) at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research combines landscape ecology with remote sensing and geographic information science to investigate multi-scale dynamics of human-dominated landscapes and improve the monitoring and assessment of ecological restoration outcomes, with particular emphasis on wetlands and land-water interfaces. She is particularly interested in how the increasing accessibility, spatial resolution and temporal frequency of remote sensing products can facilitate landscape planning and decision-making and strategically complement ground-based data collection and monitoring. Besides wetlands, Dronova also works on questions related to nature-based climate solutions in cities, particularly the important potential of urban green spaces to provide microclimatic cooling together with various social, public health and ecological benefits.

John E. Fernandez

John E. Fernández is Director of the MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative, enlisting the capacity of the MIT community in the transition to a net zero carbon, biodiverse, and equitable future. He is a professor in the Department of Architecture at MIT, affiliated with the Department of Urban Studies and Planning and a practicing architect. Fernández founded and directs the MIT Urban Metabolism Group and is a member of the World Economic Forum Global Commission on BiodiverseCities, the Urban Climate Change Research Network and the Leadership Team of Oceanvisions. He is author of two books, numerous articles in scientific and design journals including Science, the Journal of Industrial Ecology, Building and Environment, Energy Policy and others, and author of nine book chapters. He is formerly Chair of Sustainable Urban Systems for the International Society of Industrial Ecology and Director of the MIT Building Technology Program from 2010 to 2015.

Jennifer Gabrys

Jennifer Gabrys is Chair in Media, Culture and Environment in the Department of Sociology at the University of Cambridge. She leads the Planetary Praxis research group and is Principal Investigator on the ERC-funded project, “Smart Forests: Transforming Environments into Social-Political Technologies.” She also leads Citizen Sense and AirKit, which are participatory and practice-based research projects funded by the ERC that address air pollution and citizen engagement. Gabrys writes on digital technologies, environments, and social life. Her publications include How to Do Things with Sensors (2019) and Program Earth: Environmental Sensing Technology and the Making of a Computational Planet (2016). Her newest book, Citizens of Worlds: Open-Air Toolkits for Environmental Struggle, is forthcoming from University of Minnesota Press and is available on Manifold as an open-access publishing experiment. She also co-edits the “Planetarities” short-monograph series published through Goldsmiths Press. Her work can be found at

Ilmar Hurkxkens

Ilmar Hurkxkens is an architect and researcher interested in digital terrain modeling technologies and the development of new design and construction processes with natural granular material. He is a postdoctoral researcher at Gramazio Kohler Research and lecturer at the Master of Science in Landscape Architecture at the ETH Zurich. Previously, Hurkxkens worked at the Chair of Landscape Architecture of Prof. Girot, where he directed design research studios and developed digital tools for large-scale landscape design. He is co-founder of LANDSKIP, a laboratory for landscape transformation, and he practices landscape architecture with projects in Switzerland, The Netherlands and Greece. In 2020 Hurkxkens was nominated for the ETH Medal of outstanding doctoral research for his dissertation

"Robotic Landscapes: Topological Approaches to Terrain, Design, and Fabrication" at the NCCR Digital Fabrication.

Karen M'Closkey

Karen M’Closkey is Associate Professor of landscape architecture and co-founder of the Environmental Modeling Lab (EMLab) at the University of Pennsylvania’s Weitzman School of Design. She is co-founder, with Keith VanDerSys, of PEG office of landscape + architecture. Their work focuses on the opportunities and limitations enabled by advancements in digital modeling, and how the assumptions embedded in our methods and tools shape our understanding of landscapes and environments. Their work has been acknowledged through numerous publications, exhibitions, and awards, including a PEW Fellowship in the Arts. They are authors of Dynamic Patterns: Visualizing Landscapes in a Digital Age (2017), and guest editors of LA+ GEO (2020) and LA+ Simulation (2016). M'Closkey was the recipient of the 2012-2013 Garden Club of America Rome Prize in landscape architecture.

Victoria J. Marshall

Victoria Jane Marshall is a senior visiting fellow at the Department of Architecture, National University of Singapore where she received a PhD in Geography. She also received a Master of Landscape Architecture and a Certificate in Urban Design from the University of Pennsylvania, and a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture from the University of New South Wales, Australia. Her previous teaching includes the Urban Studies Program at Yale-NUS College, Columbia University, Cornell University, Harvard University, Parsons School for Design, University of Pennsylvania, Pratt Institute, and University of Toronto. From 2016-2020 she was a PhD Researcher in the Urban-Rural Systems group at the ETH Future Cities Laboratory, Singapore. Marshall’s design studio—Till Design—was the site for her creative-research and professional practice from 2001-2021. She is co-author of Patch Atlas: Integrating Design Practices and Ecological Knowledge of Cities as Complex Systems (Yale Press, 2019).

Brett Milligan

Brett Milligan is Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Design at the University of California, Davis. He is a founding member of the Dredge Research Collaborative, a nonprofit that explores the human alteration and design of sedimentary processes and landscapes through public events and transdisciplinary design. At UC Davis, he is director of Metamorphic Landscapes, a research lab prototyping adaptation to conditions of accelerated climatic and environmental change through immersive fieldwork, ethnography, and applied design research. Recent projects include Franks Tract Futures in the CA Delta, and the Public Sediment Team’s Unlock Alameda Creek for the Bay Area Resilient by Design Competition. Milligan is currently a designer and scholar in residence at the Exploratorium Museum, where he is exploring, monitoring, and engaging with the San Francisco Bay’s shifting edges.

Fatemeh Nasrollahi

Fatemeh Nasrollahi is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering at Drexel University. Her doctorate research utilizes hydrologic and hydraulic modeling tools to simulate historical and future compound flood risks in the Eastwick community of southwest Philadelphia under different adaptation scenarios. Nasrollahi has a BArch in Architecture from Iran University of Science and Technology, a MArch in Architecture from University of Calgary and a MA in Islamic Architecture from George Washington University, and worked professionally as a Project Manager, Designer, and Estimator for various construction and design firms prior to beginning her PhD work.

Robert Gerard Pietrusko

Robert Gerard Pietrusko is an Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. His research and practice focus on the history and speculative design potential of environmental media and modeling. His design work is part of the permanent collection of the Foundation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in Paris and has been exhibited in more than 15 countries at venues such The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Palais de Tokyo, ZKM Center for Art & Media, and the Venice Architecture Biennale, among others. For the last three years, Pietrusko has been a visiting faculty member at the Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture, and Design in Moscow, and was recently awarded the 2020-21 American Academy Rome Prize for Landscape Architecture.

Keith VanDerSys

Keith VanDerSys is Senior Lecturer and co-founder of the Environmental Modeling Lab (EMLab) at the University of Pennsylvania’s Weitzman School of Design. He is co-founder, with Karen M’Closkey, of PEG office of landscape + architecture, which has been recognized through numerous publications, exhibitions, and awards, including a PEW Fellowship in the Arts. His research and teaching explore the applicability of new media and fabrication technologies to site applications. Most recently, he has been using a combination of remote sensing, geospatial analysis, fluid dynamics, and parametric software to develop practical methods for integrating today’s emerging technologies into the conventions of landscape analysis and design. VanDerSys is co-author of Dynamic Patterns: Visualizing Landscapes in a Digital Age (2017), and co-guest editor of LA+ GEO (2020) and LA+ Simulation (2016).

Sarah Williams

Sarah Williams is an Associate Professor of Technology and Urban Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where she is also Director of the Civic Data Design Lab and the Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism. Williams’ combines her training in computation and design to create communication strategies that expose urban policy issues to broad audiences and create civic change. She calls the process Data Action, which is also the name of her recent book published by MIT Press. Williams is co-founder and developer of, a web-based software product that visualizes and allows users to modify zoning in New York City. Before coming to MIT, Williams was Co-Director of the Spatial Information Design Lab at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation (GSAPP). Her design work has been widely exhibited including work in the Guggenheim, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Venice Biennale, and the Cooper Hewitt Museum.