To address increasingly complex environmental, technical, and cultural issues, new forms of practice in design have emerged, and established practices are evolving.  In July of this year, SWA moved to launch XL: Experiments in Landscape and Urbanism.  XL is a research and innovation lab unique within the field of landscape architecture and urban design. In concert with traditional landscape architecture design projects, XL will address these emerging complexities from a think tank-like platform.

Ideas have always been central to SWA’s work.  In 2008, the Patrick T. Curran Fellowship began supporting staff-led research projects. In 2010, SWA launched the IDEAS journal, which publishes work from our seven offices. In 2011, I.R.I.S (Infrastructure Research Initiative at SWA) investigated questions related to landscape infrastructure and published a collection of international case studies. In 2013, the Post-occupancy Initiative emerged, inspired by the need to develop rigor in evidence based design. More recently, some designers have been forecasting how autonomous vehicles will reshape the fabric of our urban and suburban environments. SWA states “our work is fueled by knowledge, research, and active debate. We advocate new ideas and innovation in design theory and practice. SWA’s identity is founded on research, experimentation, and risk-taking.”

XL continues this history of innovation by aligning past and current investigations and by initiating and executing new research and innovation projects. XL is currently working on projects in each of four foundational areas: foresight, research, visualization and simulation, and storytelling. Anya Domlesky and Emily Schlickman are leading these efforts. These projects engage the core mission of the lab in anticipation, analysis, experimentation, and thought leadership.

In the face of issues such as extreme weather events, rapid technological advancements and increased urbanization, it is no longer sufficient to make landscapes and urban environments that are solely beautiful and well built. We must consider how to design more effectively. In many ways that means finding ways to research better, develop more collaborative networks, and be at the forefront of changes in the field, the market, and technology. We all must adapt to this increasingly complex design environment.  XL hopes to begin a conversation on how we as designers can be more informed, more able to build and evolve for this demanding design environment.

Anya Domlesky and Emily Schlickman are landscape designers and co-leads of XL. They are based in Sausalito.



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