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© 2014 Department of Landscape Architecture, Cornell University

Mud City

Location: Great Lakes Basin

Professor: Brian Davis

Level: 7010

Term: Fall 2014

Methods: Geomorphology Table, Balloon Aerial

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Description: This studio is a comprehensive, design research studio. In addition to demonstrating core competencies across the range of landscape architectural skills (the comprehensive part), we will approach the design work itself as a process of question-driven inquiry (the research part). This approach is in contrast to traditional interpretations of design as sophisticated problem-solving, and is becoming more important as the discipline of landscape architecture expands and attempts to take on more complex issues.

The Great Lakes Basin is the largest surface freshwater system on Earth and home to more than 30 million people in two countries and forty indigenous nations. It is a huge and diverse cultural landscape. It also comprises the heart of the North American industrial zone commonly referred to as the Rust Belt, as well as 7% of American farm production and 25% of Canadian farm production. This intensive and extensive combination of industrial and agricultural processes is especially important for our purposes; it not only spurred the growth of settlements such as Chicago, Toronto, Milwaukee, Duluth, and Buffalo, but also is a major contributing factor to the elevated nutrient loads, heavy metals, and other contaminants found in the ports, rivers, shipping channels and the lakes themselves that adversely affect ecosystems and public health.

Contamination is an important part of the system. Though the lakes are massive, outflows from the system are tiny- only about 1% of the water volume per year. This small amount means that anything arriving to the system generally takes a long time to leave. Contamination in the basin has spurned a variety of innovative policy and administration initiatives, both historical and contemporary. The Cuyahoga River fire of 1969 (there were several) lead to the creation of the EPA and adoption of the Clean Water Act in the early 1970s, the Love Canal lead to the creation of the Superfund Program (CERCLA), and the multinational Great Lakes Commission des Grands Lacs was established by the Great Lakes Basin Compact to help coordinate and guide cleanup and development efforts across state and national lines.


[As a means to assess the range of issues related to sediment and urbanism in the Great Lakes, the class assembled an Atlas, each student focusing on one of the EPA's Areas of Concern (AOC)]


[The Detroit River AOC, using design speculation to explore how the issues of the AOC might be ameliorated or counteracted through landscape; study by Jorge Champín]


[The Lower Fox River AOC in Green Bay, Wisconsin; study by Marouj Akbar]


[Hamilton Harbor AOC on the Canadian side of Lake Ontario, showing how the piling and stocking of contaminated material might create a viable habitat landscape in the future; drawing by Will Bishop]


[Clinton River AOC in Michigan; drawings by Sherry Zang]


[Torch Lake AOC, and the movement of contaminated sediment over time and through space as contaminants move with the water]


[Students at work with the geomorphology table, studying scenarios of the effects of urban landscape design on patterns and process of sedimentation in the Buffalo River]