Landscape Architecture

Symposium: Simulating Natures

Thursday, March 19, 2015Friday, March 20, 2015
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Meyerson Hall, Lower Gallery

210 S. 34th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104


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In order to design for movement, a whole new system of conceptualizing must be undertaken. Our present systems of design and planning are invariably limited by our techniques and our methods of symbolizing ideas. We know only how to delineate static symbols, so that is all that we do.

–Lawrence Halprin

The relationships between stasis and change, control and flux, and form and process are central to conceptualizing landscapes. Such notions pertain not only to the material growth and transformation of the landscape itself, but to how our knowledge of such processes is fused with the methods we use to represent them. Our current understanding of nature as comprised of complex, interactive and dynamic systems—and the inseparability of humans from these processes—is an outgrowth of a broader paradigmatic shift toward systems‐thinking that swept across the sciences in the early to middle of the twentieth century. The emergence of this ‘ecological’ perspective is inseparable from the twin developments of digital imaging and modeling.

This symposium will examine the substantial changes that have occurred within the digital realm over the last decade, focusing in particular on the development of computationally enabled modeling and simulation. The 1980s and 90s saw a plethora of work that favored information over form (mapping, data-scapes, game theory, etc.) in order to bring to the fore the invisible factors, such as codes and policies, that give rise to spatial organizations. How can these technologies and techniques be used to develop design responses that give physical expression to information beyond its quantification into graphs, maps and charts? How can we better engage the invisible biotic and abiotic interactions and flows that exist outside of human creation but can only be understood through our systems of representation?

This symposium considers emerging methods and vocabularies that engage these questions; it looks to our allied fields—architecture, art, ecology, engineering, and philosophy—to seek points of convergence as well as to challenge our presumptions when designing with nature today.

Registration Required

March 19, 6-8pm

Event Kick-off with Keynote by James Corner

March 20, 9am-6pm

Session 1: Flows (Modeling the Invisibles)
Session 2: Agents (Designing for the Invisibles)
Session 3: Indicators (Revealing the Invisibles)

Session 1: Flows (Modeling the Invisibles)

This session considers the procedures and effects by which hydrodynamic models enable us to perceive materials in motion and their change over time.

The description of a terrain is not limited to mapping topography but also includes complex topological properties, which chart relationships among various processes that flow through the landscape. Computation has greatly expanded our ability to capture and convey these temporal and relational conditions, but such tools are used more often by our collaborators than by designers themselves. In the wake of increasing climate volatility and demands for resilient infrastructure, scientists are modeling complex air‐water interfaces during storm events, and engineers are determining the infrastructures—the controls—for dealing with such events.

What modeling techniques might designers embrace to better engage a fluid conception of the environment? How does the description of a landscape change if visualized by spatiotemporal vectors rather than fixed boundaries or conventional mapping designations? How might this affect our notion of control versus contingency? And how are such “controls” visualized to direct or incorporate change over time?



Session 2: Agents (Designing for the Invisibles)

This session examines computational techniques that are used to analyze and simulate the behavior of heterogeneous and adaptive living systems.

The desire to assess the intricacy of biological interactions has led to the widespread development of agent‐based computational models that simulate the dynamic interaction of multiple entities. Rather than working with fixed spatial types or discrete objects, agent‐oriented methods construct rule‐based, localized interactions that output scenarios of varied extent and composition. With increasing concerns over biodiversity loss, and the within the conceptual framework of “analogous habitat”—which does not distinguish between human‐altered and natural environments—agent oriented techniques would seem to offer a repertoire of relevant methods and metaphors for addressing contemporary narratives of ecology in design.

What new forms of visualization are necessary to enable a broader agency in the creation, construction, and management of our landscapes? How do contemporary notions of nature as everywhere, rather than “out there,” impact how we define conservation and restoration in urbanized environments? Does this approach broaden how we understand “sustainability” mandates, which have become ensconced in practice through routine solutions?



Session 3: Indicators (Revealing the Invisibles)

This session explores how information is made tangible by translating data in real‐time or through interactive human‐machine interfaces.

Our epoch has been dubbed the Anthropocene Era to mark the significance of human activities as the greatest force of environmental change. Both macro‐scale and micro‐scale environmental patterns (e.g. those pertaining to climate change or pollution) are not often locally registered or directly experiential given their intangible and dispersive nature. For centuries, humans have created tools to uncover and understand the complexities that underlie our environment’s immediately visible characteristics, from telescopes and microscopes to infrared and ultraviolet satellites. Today, ever more elaborate technological devices are created to perceive, interpret and continue to open horizons of insight and understanding about our world.

How have recent interactive and digitally‐modulated projects bridged scalar incongruities by linking real systems (matter, energy) and abstract systems (digital signs, data output)? What is the relationship between quantitative and qualitative information? Do these new modes risk perpetuating a vocabulary of rationalist instrumentality?



Organizers and Funders

This symposium is organized by Karen M’Closkey and Keith VanDerSys and generously supported by the Gary and Barbara Siegler Special Projects Fund, PennDesign's Office of the Dean, and Office of the Vice Provost for Research.