Landscape Architecture as Kinesthetic Experience

Landscape Architecture as Kinesthetic Experience

Most people think of design as a visual discipline, but a project in the Landscape Architecture department at Clemson in spring 2014 explored a multi-sensory approach.

Collaborating on the project were Mary Padua, founding chair of Clemson’s Department of Landscape Architecture; landscape architecture professor Dan Ford; and Jennie Wakefield, Clemson alumna and former English department lecturer. Eight freshmen landscape architecture majors and one graduate student participated in the four, 2½-hour experiential workshops on an under-developed, topographically challenging site beside Lee Hall.

The workshops used kinesthetic experience and the creative process developed by renowned landscape architect Lawrence Halprin to explore a “qualitative rather than quantitative” approach to design, said architecture professor Annemarie Jacques, who photographed the project. Halprin (1916-2009) is the California landscape architect who was brought in to redesign downtown Greenville in the late 1970s.

The project incorporated Halprin’s vision of landscape architecture as the choreography of people’s movement and interactions through a place. This point of view grew from a lifelong collaboration with his wife, modern dance pioneer Anna Halprin, and daughter Daria Halprin, who expanded their work into new models for psychology, education and leadership through the establishment of Tamalpa Institute in San Francisco. Wakefield is a teacher training graduate of Tamalpa.

Jennie Wakefield 01april14It’s natural to begin making something by sitting down at the computer or drawing pad to think up an objective form. But a blindfolded walk from Lee Hall to the site, led by Padua, who worked with Halprin at one time, threw the students back on their senses. Then an unblindfolded score (Halprin’s term for a plan of action over time, like a musical score) asked them to investigate the site using that sensory awareness.

From a collaborative group-building activity using found materials, performed without pre-planning or talking, to the creation of scores for classmates’ movement through the site, the emphasis was on the process that leads to design. Only after fully experiencing the site through sensory, kinesthetic activities and poetic reflections did the students generate preliminary designs. Presentations of their ideas were grounded in imaginary, sensory and emotional experience.

This project explored the creative process and a way of learning, working, and being – both individually and collectively – that is holistic and expressive. As one student commented, it was an experience that “totally opens up your mind and your creativity.”

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