2015 J-Term Roundup

GSD students, faculty and Loebs use Harvard’s January term as an opportunity to explore areas outside their routine classes and delve into their passions. Current Loebs Thaddeus Pawlowski and Maria Jaakkola and LZ Nunn (LF ’13) worked closely with students on projects with great practical value: heritage landscapes, cultural entrepreneurship and climate resilience.

Maria Jaakkola conducted a tutorial titled Experiencing Blue-Green Infra with architecture student David Pilz, to envision art and design interventions along Boston’s Emerald Necklace that would increase its value as part of the urban experience and city structure. An introduction to the context and historical perspective–the Olmsted heritage–followed by a lengthy stroll along the Fens identified key issues, including lack of lighting and wayfinding as well as accessibility and continuity compromised by the dominance of car traffic. Better contact with water, both physically and visually, is desirable. Discussions were guided by the principle that a good urban park enables the user to be inside and outside the city at the same time, and that design in the environment should be both analytical and poetic.

Jaakkola and Pilz identified potential improvements to the park experience: facilitating the bike connection; using light for visibility and enhancement and adding kiosks, restrooms, activities and other services to meet human needs. Pilz generated concepts for transformative lighting sculpture, new path networks and structures to facilitate cycling between different parts of the park.

“I might not have discovered these places on my own. I learned a lot about landscape”, Pilz said. He was also introduced to the Nordic landscape architect’s rule about site visits: there is no bad weather, only bad preparation.

LZ Nunn, director of management programming at the consulting firm Boston Global, joined forces with Wendy Swart Grossman and Jen Guillemin of the Boston University Arts Administration Program, to offer Innovation and Cultural Entrepreneurship at the Harvard innovation lab. During the one-day workshop, students from the MDes and MUP programs, as well as from the Business School, Arts and Sciences and Boston University, toured and talked with representatives of the i-lab, the Artisans Asylum, Le Laboritoire Art and Science gallery and the Cambridge Innovation Center. They heard case studies of strategic entrepreneurial thinking from organizations like the BARR Foundation, ArtPlace America, National Endowment for the Arts Our Town program and Boston’s Innovation District.

The students’ varied projects included an app that will help historians and researchers find historical documents and information about culture and place. Other apps were aimed at helping people locate office shares and co-working spaces or aggregating cultural resources and public art so users can organize their own “art tours.” Participants were helped to develop their pitches, find partners or collaborators and rehearse strategies to turn their ideas into viable ventures. The range of model programs, “design thinking activities” and the “insight into the process of bringing new ideas into fruition” left them energized and motivated to take their ideas to the next stage.

The Boston Harbor Association's Living with Water competition presented an ideal opportunity for Thaddeus Pawlowski to explore how Boston is preparing to meet the challenges of rising sea levels and storm surges. Students from the design studies, urban planning and landscape architecture programs in Joyce Rosenthal’s (assistant professor of urban planning) Creating Resilient Cities seminar formed teams to develop 3 competition entries.

The intensive workshop began with Pawlowski’s "nightmare" scenarios of how Boston neighborhoods might be affected by climate change in the absence of aggressive action by communities and government.  Nancy Seasholes, author of Making Ground, presented the history of land-making through landfill in the competition sites, and the class walked along land created over former trash dumps on Morrissey Boulevard. There Anamarijka Frankic, director of the Green Harbors project at UMass, described oysters rebounding in Dorchester Bay and a community working to protect salt marshes.  Students heard about ecological and gentrification threats to the generations-old Fort Point Arts Community and the historic Italian North End. John Dalzel, the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s representative for the competition, addressed how planning and economic development processes are changing to adapt to climate change.

Students’ own ideas about the future were more hopeful than the earlier worst-case picture.  Sarah Lidgus of IDEO.org coached them on developing their ideas through a collaborative process in the communities.

Students initially brainstormed for all 3 neighborhoods, then formed subgroups to create proposals for the individual sites, which were presented to a jury of faculty and external experts. The panel–which Joyce Rosenthal helped to assemble–and audience included current Loeb Jamie Blosser, Mark Mulligan (interim Loeb curator and associate professor of architecture) and Jim Stockard (LF '78 and lecturer in housing studies). Comments focussed on presentation strategies, costs and incentives for citizens and businesses to make necessary building changes, and anticipating the degree to which technological progress will enable implementation of some of the creative solutions that are currently out of reach. Students will be submitting their entries this week for Phase 1 of the competition and will learn about finalists on February 26.


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