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Wed, October 19, 2016 @ 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm

We are pleased to partner with the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape & Design to present our first Speaker Series event of the fall 2016 semester.

Responsive Landscapes. Curated Complexity

Guest Speaker:  Brad Cantrell, Associate Professor of Landscape Architectural Technology, Harvard University


Landscape architecture has seen a paradigm shift in the last two decades, requiring designers to respond to the dynamic and temporal qualities of landscape both through formal solutions and through methods of distanced authorship. This response upholds the long held view that landscape embraces an ephemeral medium constructed and maintained through generations. Landscape ― a dynamic and temporal medium ― is expressed through careful manipulaon of vegetated, hydrological, and stratigraphic systems. The coupling of this shift and the increased accessibility of responsive technologies presents a new approach for challenging static design solutions. A technological ability to sense and respond to environmental phenomena invites new ways to understand, interpret, experience, and interact with the landscape.

Amongst rapid technological development and an expanded view of humanity and the environment occurs a tenuous state that requires an important shift in our conceptualization of responsive technologies. The landscapes that we imagine have the capacity to not only embed themselves within their context but can evolve with a life of their own, a synthesis between the biological, mechanical, and computational. There are several aspects that must be addressed in this regard, particularly in reference to our relationship to the design of systems that focus predominantly on control. How might we leverage the potential of data‐gathering, analysis and visualization tools to improve a community’s sense of the challenges, risks and opportunities facing it, and support it in the aim of autonomous self‐ governance? How might we use networked technologies to further the prerogatives so notably absent from the smart‐city paradigm, particularly those having to do with solidarity, mutuality and collective action?1

These forms of embedded intelligence must be confronted across scale and time, which are drastically shifted within this new paradigm. Scale is not only about relationships spatially, from site to territory, but also refers to the extents of the issues designers are confronting. Issues that are global, through the myriad of systemic connections they make. The ability to address problems at the global scale requires more than monumental physical engineering, it requires a deft and evolving set of methods that fully adopt the complexity of ecological relationships. The scale of these issues also exists within a new temporal space. This space asks that landscapes are responsive to local processes as well as geologic shifts. These two scales of time were at once out of our reach but are slowly becoming clearer through simulations and models.

“In sum, the legibility of a society provides the capacity for large scale social engineering, high modernist ideology provides the desire, the authoritarian state provides the determination to act on that desire, and an incapacitated civil society provides the leveled social terrain on which to build.”2 With the pervasiveness of responsive technologies, and the integration of computation and biology, the goals of designers must shift beyond methods of control to methods of resistance and counter protocol. To engage new tools and methods it is important to deconstruct contemporary technologies and constructions to understand the implications of responsive systems as choreographers of human perception and curators of ecological processes. Through this lens it is possible to imagine responsive systems as agents within active and complex ecologies.

1 Against the Smart City, Simon Greenfield, pg 91
2 Seeing Like a State, James Scott
Text adapted from  Responsive Landscapes, Cantrell and Holzman, Routledge, 2015


Bradley Cantrell is a landscape architect and scholar whose work focuses on the role of computation and media in environmental and ecological design. Professor Cantrell received his BSLA from the University of Kentucky and his MLA from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. He has held academic appointments at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, The Rhode Island School of Design, and the Louisiana State University Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture where he led the school as graduate coordinator and director. His work in Louisiana over the past decade points to a series of methodologies that develop modes of modeling, simulation, and embedded computation that express and engage the complexity of overlapping physical, cultural, and economic systems. Cantrell’s work has been presented and published in a range of peer reviewed venues internationally including ACADIA, CELA, EDRA, ASAH, and ARCC.

More information here.


Wed, October 19, 2016
4:00 pm - 5:30 pm
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The Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design


Room 728, Bissell Building
140 St. George St
Toronto, Ontario M5S 3G6 Canada
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