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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.”

Southern Roots + Global Reach


Clemson Architecture Center Genoa

Clemson Architecture Center Charleston

Clemson Architecture Center Barcelona

In 1913, the world was rushing toward its first Great War. But it was also a time of exploding creativity. The Woolworth Building in Manhattan, one of our earliest skyscrapers, had opened in April. The Armory Show had rocked the art world when it opened in New York in February, changing forever how we view art. A scientist named Albert Einstein was hot on the trail of his General Theory of Relativity that would explain how space and matter affect each other to create the universe in which we live.

And in the deep South, a forward leaning land-grant college called Clemson would realize that young architects trained in design and the building arts would soon be in great demand to imagine and design the spaces in which we would live, learn, play and work.

Almost a hundred years later, in the spring of 2010, Clemson historian Jerry Reel tapped the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities on its proverbial shoulder and pointed out that the year 2013 would mark the centennial of architecture education at Clemson University. A celebration and a commemoration seemed in order, he suggested.

The college agreed with enthusiasm, but in retrospect, not a soul who was listening to Professor Reel speak that day could have imagined the wild ride of research, discovery, writing and making that would unfold during the next three years. Students, faculty, alumni, emeriti and staff of Clemson’s School of Architecture and the larger University joined together on a voyage of discovery that will culminate this fall with a retrospective display in the Lee Gallery and a reimagined “Beaux Arts Ball” — millennial style.

Looking forward by looking back

Planning for the centennial celebration began by looking backward, to the program’s earliest beginnings, to that tipping point when Clemson Agricultural College recognized the need for architecture education that was separate and distinct from its engineering program.

As the centennial committee delved into the history of architecture education at Clemson, they sifted through some 700 student projects that have been kept in storage. Records, documents, photographs and film footage were scoured. Alumni and emeriti were queried. An impressive collection of source material was soon at hand. Within a matter of months, however, the growing and collaborative group of scholars, students, librarians, artists and writers would realize they were even more interested in looking forward — ahead to the coming century. They wanted to learn how the decisions and achievements of the school’s first 100 years might give form and meaning to its next. They wanted to draw lines between the careers of alumni to the broader scope of the profession and to world events. They were looking for connections and scanning their horizons.


Lecturer and shop manager David Pastre stands in the Charleston center with the interactive display for children that will be unveiled statewide this fall. Commissioned by the S.C. chapter of the AIA, the display was designed and fabricated by students and faculty in Clemson, Charleston and Genoa.

Bending space and time

Peter Laurence, assistant professor and director of the graduate program in architecture, writes, “Since its first year of instruction in 1913, architectural education at Clemson has been mindful of its geographies — its connections and relationships to both the state of South Carolina and to the wider world.”

No kidding. The School of Architecture has grown from its humble beginnings in Riggs Hall to become an interconnected Fluid Campus, with centers in Genoa, Italy; Barcelona, Spain; and Charleston, S.C. The centers are joined at their cores by student travel and residency, by professorships-in-residence, and by digital and distance learning techniques — working together as one campus across great distances by bending space and time in ways that would have made Albert Einstein proud.

Just this year, for example, a studio project that began in Clemson soon moved to Genoa for further research and development, then on to Charleston for fabrication and fine tuning, and finally back to Clemson this fall for completion. That project, an interactive exhibit for children based on the Reggio Emilia Approach to education, will roll out in cities across South Carolina this fall. Watch for it.

Marking times

Throughout the year, the centennial has been observed with lectures, symposia, design projects, essays and celebrations. And others joined in as well. In August the South Atlantic Region of the American Institute of Architects held its fourth annual Architecture for Health conference at Clemson on the topic “Local Roots and Global Reach,” in keeping with the centennial theme. A reception and alumni gathering helped celebrate the 45th anniversary of the Architecture + Health program at Clemson.

Also worth noting, the year 2013 marked the 40th anniversary of the Clemson Architecture Center in Genoa, the 25th anniversary of the Clemson Architecture Center in Charleston, the 45th anniversary of Clemson’s Graduate Program in Architecture + Health, and the 13th anniversary of the Clemson Architecture Center in Barcelona — all observed during Clemson Architecture’s centennial year. The celebration, begun in those cities last spring, is gathering steam as it heads into Clemson this fall.


Extending roots and reach

The timeline created as part of this celebration makes clear that the trajectory begun in 1913 will not level out as the School of Architecture begins its second century. Simply scanning the range and scope of alumni accomplishments illustrates an influence in both the design of buildings and the building of communities.

In an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Clemson President James Barker ’70 said, “If architects want to be influential, we need to get out of our ateliers and connect with the curriculum, engage the culture and serve our larger communities.”

This year’s annual meeting of the American Institute of Architects made it clear that the graduates of Clemson’s architecture program have taken that challenge to heart. Clemson alumni captured three of the institute’s national awards — the Twenty-five Year Award, the Honor Award for Architecture and the Young Architects Award. And Harvey Gantt ’65 captured the Whitney M. Young Jr. Award for social activism and responsibility.

Join the celebration!

On September 30, the exhibition “Southern Roots + Global Reach: 100 Years of Clemson Architecture” opens in the Lee Gallery. Explore the people, themes and stories of the past century.
On October 18, the symposium “The Architecture of Regionalism in the Age of Globalization” features a keynote lecture by Alexander Tzonis and Liane Lefaivre, Ph.D., and a panel presentation including Frank Harmon, FAIA, and Marlon Blackwell, FAIA.
On October 18, get your Beaux Arts on with “Upcycle!” This formal reception and dance will be held in the Wedge in Lee III, the new addition to Lee Hall, designed by Thomas Phifer ’75, M ’77.

Celebration School of Architecture