Architecture program tackles sustainability

At a talk titled “New York City’s Sustainable Parks for the 21st Century,” the city’s parks commissioner Adrian Benepe spoke about the role of public space.
At a talk titled “New York City’s Sustainable Parks for the 21st Century,” the city’s parks commissioner Adrian Benepe spoke about the role of public space. Photo by Kamaria Greenfield.

Over the past two weeks, several events at the School of Architecture have highlighted a growing focus on sustainable parks.

On Thursday, a talk entitled “New York City’s Sustainable Parks for the 21st Century” brought Adrian Benepe, the New York City Parks and Recreation Department commissioner, to New Haven to discuss the intersection between public park facilities and the environmental movement. In his talk, Benepe referenced many of New York City’s recent parks projects, including the Freshkills Park on Staten Island, for which seniors in the undergraduate architecture major have been designing works of energy-producing land art as part of a design competition.

Seniors in the architecture major recently started finalizing the designs for the Freshkills Park Land Art Generator Initiative that they have been working on since the beginning of the semester. Though the judges, leaders in New York’s sustainable design field, will not evaluate the designs until July, the students must finish their entries by April 18 for the school’s end-of-semester final review process.

Tom Zook ARC ’95, one of the professors of the studio class that is working on the Freshkills project, said that it has been instrumental in shaping their awareness of sustainability issues.

“I think that in trying to choose a way to generate energy, [the project] has revealed to me the complexity of the issue,” said Kevin Adkisson ’12, a senior in the class. “It’s one thing to have solar panels or farms in Las Vegas, but it’s harder to do something that works on the scale and under the conditions of New England.”

Daniel Whitcombe ’12, another member of the class, explained that producing an energy-generating mechanism that is also beautiful has presented the class with the challenge of truly reconciling sustainability and design.

In addition to the sustainability criteria, the aesthetic element of the project requires each design to include a recreational or artistic component. The seniors have responded to this in different ways, Zook said, with some focusing on the pragmatic possibilities of the project and others on the more esoteric. One member of the class, for example, is working on a large-scale vegetable garden that achieves the aesthetic component since its sheer size renders it a civic monument. Another student is approaching the project from the opposite angle and is creating a sculpture that celebrates the many sensory aspects of wind while generating energy.

The project has also motivated the seniors to consider the impact of their designs in a public context, as opposed to the more theoretical environment of the classroom.

“The public in general are not connoisseurs of architecture but like things that are beautiful,” Adkisson said, adding that his academic focus at Yale has been on architectural ornament. “Usually when we are designing in studio, it’s all very theoretical. But thinking about what everyone can appreciate has been interesting, and my project has ended up very ornamented.”

His project features metal flower ornaments in accordance with Dutch architectural tradition, Adkisson said.

Benepe’s talk came soon after the March 20 establishment of a lecture series that brings together faculty from the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and the School of Architecture, which have had a joint-degree program since 2006. The series aims to help increase the dialogue on sustainability in design, organizer Elisa Iturbe ARC ’14 said in an email.

The first event of the new series focused on the future of wood, featuring School of Forestry professor Chad Oliver FES ’75 and School of Architecture critic Alan Organschi ARC ’88.

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