SWA San Francisco was recently shortlisted together with partner Studios Architecture and a handful of other teams for an ideas competition for the Berkeley Global Campus at Richmond Bay. The 130-acre site along the bay’s edge is just seven miles from the current campus and will grant graduate degrees related to world health, climate change,… Read more »
SWA San Francisco was recently shortlisted together with partner Studios Architecture and a handful of other teams for an ideas competition for the Berkeley Global Campus at Richmond Bay. The 130-acre site along the bay’s edge is just seven miles from the current campus and will grant graduate degrees related to world health, climate change, and urban studies in concert with overseas institutions.
Judged by a panel that ranged from developers to professors, the design process raised unique questions for landscape architecture in the globally transformed Anthropocene. Our investigations will certainly inform the future of the campus, but I continue to wonder about the larger cultural forces at play in spaces that will be transformed by climate change. Most importantly, how might the designer aid the articulation of such processes in ways that are culturally poignant?
In The Aesthetics of Disappearance, architect-turned-philosopher Paul Virilio writes, “The pursuit of forms is only a pursuit of time, and if there are no stable forms, there are no forms at all.” In his exploration of the effect of societal acceleration upon object perception, he frames the paradox forced upon designers facing an era of significant climate change. As landscape architects, we are fairly comfortable with change in the ecological realm—ideas of succession and ecological process are as old as our trade—even if it is often difficult to convince the public or clients of proposals that recognize these concepts. Inextricable from the ecological changes we will witness, however, are the more numerous and complex cultural shifts that will inevitably accompany these changes.
How can designers frame relationships to indeterminacy? How might the politics of the future be influenced by those of us who will shape interactions in liminal spaces such as the unknown extents of sea level rise? Perhaps some degree of vulnerability in the design itself offers the most good when the importance of such perceptions is valued. What could such landscapes look like and where would they exist?
Before these bigger questions could be explored, basic planning solutions were addressed to restore access to the bay for Richmond itself. One of several site frameworks emphasized easy and immediate access by foot to the surrounding and often marginalized communities and schools. Curiously, these paths found alignments with historic Eucalyptus windbreaks—one of the early results of European settlement in California that now hold significant cultural merit despite their common dismissal as an invasive.
Our proposal insisted (refreshingly) that the water be allowed to enter the site, proscribing a landscape design not framed by promises of permanence, but one which generates its identity through the changes across its breadth that would come with saline intrusion and the accompanying shift of native ecotones. Change itself becomes the generator of the site’s identity into the future and the landscape will invariably overcome the frames that situated it on day one, such that subtle migrations might be visible over time. If one approach is to emphasize this poetry of change, we were able to design for such transformation here.
Painter Rene Magritte stated, “I never show bizarre or strange things in my paintings…but ordinary things that are gathered and transformed in such a way that we’re made to think that there’s something else of an unfamiliar nature that appears at the same time as familiar.” As forward-thinking designers, perhaps we can follow his message and not just mark change, but embrace how this change might fracture the design frame itself and reveal its own history.