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landscape art and urbanism

Dr. Markus Jatsch, Martha Schwartz

Written by Aaron Odland, Project Manager

On Thursday evening, January 18, 2018, Dr. Markus Jatsch of Martha Schwartz Partners was welcomed to town by the Central Texas ASLA, AIA Austin, and Landscape Forms.  The lecture, held at AIA Austin’s headquarters, brought together landscape architects, architects, and urban designers.  Dr. Jatsch’s professional and teaching careers have spanned all of these disciplines, and in the lecture he described a vision where there were no such distinctions and we all worked together under the general umbrella of design.  He cited the Bauhaus school in Germany which operated from 1919-1933 and was founded with the idea of creating complete works that included all arts, with architecture just being one of many.  According to Dr. Jatsch, challenges facing us today such as climate change are of such a scope and scale that they require not only creative but collaborative thinking, such as that of Bauhaus, to find solutions.  

Dr. Jatsch’s recent studio course he taught at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design took on the challenges of global warming.  The studio, titled “SEQUESTROPOLIS: The City as a Machine for Combating Global Warming” focused on what the city of Boston, as envisioned in the future year 2060, could do to lower global temperature and balance its own carbon footprint.  In his AIA lecture, Dr. Jatsch summarized the process and outcomes of this studio.  One of the key texts referenced in the studio was a publication edited by Paul Hawken called “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming”.  This book compiles thought from Project Drawdown, a coalition of over 70 fellows with academic and professional experience who came together to develop an implementable plan for reversing global warming.  Some of the top ranked strategies were non-design items like “Refrigerant Management” and “Reduce Food Waste”, but many of the top solutions are linked to the work of landscape architects and other designers.  These include things like “Mass Transit”, “Alternative Cement”, and “Green Roofs”.  Each strategy included calculations such as CO2 equivalent reduction, net cost, and lifetime savings.  These figures allowed the Harvard studio to calculate the overall numeric success of their project as an urban carbon sequestration device.  During the later question and answer session, one professional noted that the importance of their design work felt small compared to such a global challenge, but they were still inspired by Mr. Jatsch’s studio to try and meet that challenge.

project by Martha Schwartz

In the  second portion of the AIA lecture, Dr. Jatsch presented an overview of projects he has worked on at Martha Schwartz Partners in his 15 plus year tenure with the firm.  This included sites from around the globe, in locations such as China, Indonesia, United Arab Emirates, Ireland and the United States.  One of the key characteristics of all the projects was a focus not just on the infrastructure function of the landscape, but also on the artistry of the design.  In Dr. Jastch’s opinion, it is that art component which allows people to have an emotional connection to a place.  Without that connection you won’t have a designed space that people care about. One example of this was Grand Canal Square in Dublin, Ireland.  This project completed in 2007 was the first phase of the Dublin Docklands Redevelopment plan to spur reinvestment in a waterfront portion of the city.  Built over a parking garage, the square creates a unique public space that literally rolled out a “red carpet” of pavers to invite people in.  The colorful pavers and dynamic red poles combine with water views and water features to give the park an iconic, artistic character that made it an attractive location for businesses to move.  As a result, the development continued to thrive even during an economic downturn in Ireland.

Overall, Dr. Jatsch remains optimistic about the role of designers and others to reverse global warming.  It is not just the creativity of people, but the fact there are real economic incentives driving some of the solutions.  They just make financial sense, and as he opined, “there’s a ton of money to be made in reducing global warming”.  As such, we shouldn’t just view the challenge of addressing climate change solely as a burden, but rather as an opportunity in front of us.