Observing Place through Mapping

Thompson Island Aerial

Thompson Island Image Source: Google

This week Jenna and I, along with Glen Valentine a principal at Stephen Stimson & Associates, had the pleasure of talking to a group of high school students in the Green Ambassador program about the field of landscape architecture and the design process. The workshop was held on Thompson Island, part of the Boston Harbor Islands and a former agricultural school for boys. The students, who all worked on ecological restoration on the island last summer, will be working with a carpenter to build visitor infrastructure on the island this summer.

During the presentation, we talked to the students about what landscape architecture is, explaining that it ranges in scale from the very small – a roof garden or a pop-up parklet – to the very large – a city-wide system of parks or a multi-national trail. We discussed iterative design as a non-linear series of steps and showed them several Boston area case studies. After fielding questions, we went outside to show the students how site analysis works in practice.

We gave each student a slip of paper listing the features that we look for when we analyze cultural landscapes for NPS and another slip of paper listing the questions we ask ourselves as landscape architects in training to gauge the qualitative aspects of a place. In teams of 3 or 4, the students traversed the island and sketched on a basemap we had given them to record their observations. Some teams used pictorial icons to denote features such as hot areas (a sun) and shady spaces (a tree). Others wanted to show features in plan view more or less to scale. We use both methods in landscape architecture to create maps and site plans. We didn’t give the students instruction on a particular way to represent their observations, so their styles of depicting what they saw and experienced were completely their own.

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On Thursday, after a trip to Lowell that Jenna wrote about in her blog this week, we got to go to an SCA sponsored pizza party at Assembly Row in Somerville. We enjoyed pizza, music, and good conversation with other SCA interns.

Until next week,


3 responses to “Observing Place through Mapping

  1. Your presentation approach reminds me of the saying, “If you want to learn something, read about it. If you want to understand something, write about it [or draw it]. If you want to master something, teach it.” The Thompson Island program sounds terrific and I look forward to your update in August.

    • Thanks for all of you encouragement, Margie! I’m also looking forward to our return in August to see what this amazing group of students design over the next month.

  2. Pingback: Island Adventures and a Big Birthday | Designing the Parks·

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