My research focuses on foundational questions about creating regenerative landscapes and practices for the coming future of peak-resources and the transgressions of planetary boundaries. Regenerative landscapes are places that start healing the environmental impacts caused by humankind. Peak-resources includes the projected decline of oil production, global shortages of vital minerals, and widespread water shortages that will cause seismic shifts in our globalized economy and society; the ‘transition town’ movement in the UK is just one example of proactive engagement to create resilient localities. Nine planetary boundaries were defined by Rockström et al (Nature 2009), as the safe operating limits for humanity and include climate change, nutrient cycles, and biodiversity. Building on Landscape Urbanism’s focus on integrating ecological systems into the built environment, multifunctional landscapes, and performance metrics, I seek to actualize eco-cities and start repairing the damage inflicted on the planet so humanity can weather the coming crisis. As a landscape architect, I strive to make our cities become resilient, independent from carbon based fuels, and to restore the vitality of ecosystem services throughout the built environment.
The Salovich Zero+ Campus Project was funded to develop a tool to optimize campus performance and to create a graduate level curriculum on planning carbon neutral and net-energy positive campuses. An interdisciplinary endeavor between the University of Minnesota’s School of Architecture and Department of Landscape Architecture, the project is collaborating with the Institute on the Environment, Facilities Management, and Campus Planning. As envisioned, the modeling tool and protocols developed by the project will integrate ecological and energy performance of buildings and landscapes into a single model, and will contribute to the pre-design process at the University of Minnesota. Three months into the project, we have completed the review of existing modeling software, are in the midst of the literature review, collecting case studies and data, and have initiated development of the first set of course materials and engaging stakeholders in the University community. Expanding this research into a tool that can optimize the ecological and energy performance of cities is likely a life-long research pursuit into simulation of landscape performance and regenerative landscapes.
Floating Islands is my other active research project that was inspired by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. This design project proposes deploying hundreds of thousands of nutrient absorbing floating wetlands (>1,000 square kilometers in net area) throughout the Upper Mississippi River Basin to shrink the Gulf of Mexico dead zone. Floating wetlands are rafts planted with wetland vegetation whose roots are suspended in the water column below, and are typically used for water treatment in ponds. William Mitsch et al (2005) calculated that restoring 22,000 square kilometers of wetlands would satisfy the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force’s 2008 Action Plan’s goal of reducing nutrient loads by 45%. But accumulating this much bottomland in the Mississippi Basin is unfeasible – so floating the wetlands in the backwaters and outside the shipping lanes becomes a viable and cost-effective alternative. Installing floating wetlands in riverine systems is a novel application that can address regeneration at the continental scale. As an exploration of multifunctional deployable infrastructure and the creation of what I’ve termed ‘infrastructural wilderness’, Floating Islands will conserve or create new open-space in the inhabited regions adjacent to the river. Beyond researching and experimenting with the chemistry and hydrological aspects of the project for deployment in the Upper Mississippi River basin, there is also a potential for using the floating wetlands to restore the coastal ecology of the Gulf too.
My published writings, cover a range of associated topics centering on regenerative infrastructure, landscapes, and urbanism, and delve into the nuances of how infrastructure, culture, and the environment interact. The chapter about Owens Lake and the Los Angeles Aqueduct in The Infrastructural City: Networked Ecologies in Los Angeles (2008, Kazys Varnelis, ed.) emerged from my MLA/MArch thesis to restore Owens Lake in California. Immersed in the swirl of the Landscape Urbanism discourse at the University of Pennsylvania, my thesis explored Landscape Ruralism, as I developed an alternative to the Los Angeles Water and Power/CH2M Hill’s heavy-handed dust mitigation techniques for Owens Lake. Additionally, Landscape Journal has published a series of my book reviews that critically explore and situate texts about green roof systems (vol. 29-1), contemporary transportation infrastructure (vol. 30-1), and the work of Anu Mathur and Dilip da Cunha (in press, vol. 30-2).
From my engagement with online media, and my experience as a project manager, a secondary research interest is into the efficacy of alternative forms of professional practice, and the emergence of project-based teams as a dominant paradigm for small firms. I successfully convened the 2009 Greenbuild conference education session iGreen: How the Web Empowers Designers to Build Sustainably. Featuring Jill Fehrenbacher of Inhabitat.com, Emily Kemper of GreenDesignCollective.com, Quilian Riano of Archinect.com, and Cameron Sinclair of Architecture for Humanity the panel pioneered the use of video conferencing by panel participant at a Greenbuild. In my earlier practice in Minneapolis, I had the pleasure of working for an architecture firm that had pioneered the use of green roofs in the 1970s. At the 2009 Green Roofs for Healthy Cities conference, I presented a paper entitled ”30-years of Green Roofs in Minnesota” that utilized both the firm’s archives and my professional experience designing green roofs. My current interest in integrating ecosystem services into the built environment expands on my experience with designing green roofs within a broader category of ‘green’ practices.
One of the challenges of implementing green design concepts in the real world is the seemingly endless complexity attached to the problem. One way that I have found to make headway both as a professional and as an academic is to make use of diagrams and analytic drawings. As a designer, I’m fascinated by diagrams and analytic drawings. My review of Mathur & da Cuhna’s Soak: Mumbai in an Estuary (2009) in Landscape Journal, is just the latest exploration into the role of cartography, site index drawings, other forms of analysis, and infographics have in the creative process. Drawing temporal processes, latent phenomena, and complex systems is central to my design studio pedagogy and personal practice, and is part of my ongoing research into design processes
In my role as an educator, student research is a collaborative experience. In the two years that I’ve taught Infrastructure, Natural Systems, and the Space of Inhabited Landscapes, there have been several especially engaging term-papers that have contribute to my research of integrating ecosystem services into the built environment. This spring, I’m currently steering a group of fourth-year undergraduate landscape students through the research of future scenario forecasting and the measurement of ecosystem services to be the basis for designing regenerative urban landscapes. Time in the classroom is an ongoing experiment into effective pedagogical techniques for teaching about sustainability and design to inspire student engagement, action, and optimism.
Future research interests include: adapting cities to peak-water, forecasting urban scenarios, continuing the pursuit of tools to create eco-cities and optimize urban form, defining landscape performance metrics and modeling techniques, deploying green infrastructure in megacities/informal settlements/shrinking cities, and building integrated ecosystem services. With my multi-disciplinary background, I have the skills necessary to identify research topics that typically fall between the disciplinary silos. Collaboration is central to answering these challenging questions and it is with an eye for leadership and an entrepreneurial spirit that I look to the wilderness of tomorrow and towards a successful career creating regenerative landscapes.