Two Shifts, Four Threads and the White House.

Design thinking. The ability to think has been massively undervalued. I don’t mean thinking as though I thought about what I did last night or what I am going to have for lunch, but real deep, clear, creative thinking. Our country was once a leader in this. I am not sure any more. Goals for achieving enormous amounts of entertainment and leisure may be the reason that this has faded. Perhaps the pursuits of material gain is to blame.

One could attribute success to talent…however, I am beginning to believe it is one’s ability to ‘learn’ how to think, creatively.

Three instance this past few weeks have driven me to this tentative and speculative conclusion. The first is my visit to DC for meetings, the second is the essay ‘Two Shifts and Four Threads’ by Jane Amidon, and the third is my experience in studio this past week.


I traveled to DC to meet with the ASLA Executive Committee and other guests. During the Winter Ex. Com. meeting we discussed a variety of issues related to our growing profession, the societies’ members, etc. On the second day we had the opportunity to meet with the Council of Environmental Quality – which is a division of the Executive Office of the President of the United States (Ex. Office). I felt honored to be include in both of these meetings.

ASLA representatives in front of White House.

I don’t want to talk about the content of these meetings but rather my take away from these two meetings, the thinking which took place. Different styles of thinking and interaction took place. Some individuals were quiet and reflective while others engaged the topics through conversation and deliberation. Everyone was cognizant of what they were saying though. As the two days progressed I slowly realized that everyone in both meetings had a wealth of knowledge, experience, and wisdom. I needed to pay attention; not only to what they were saying but how they were delivering and addressing one another.

It was communication in its most basic and raw form. A skill which I think is disappearing from our generation. Sadly.

ASLA representatives with White House representatives.

The meeting at the White House was interesting. As I watched I learned that some conversations, such as ours, are simply set up to begin a conversation and to relationship of awareness. Not necessarily to resolve a goal there and then. First, commonalities and co-benefits have to be identified. The members of the ASLA Ex. Com. were sure to point out these common interests and identify areas where they could assist the Ex. Office. The Ex. Office was also very eager to receive this help as they were directing a train while laying the tracks shortly ahead.

'Two Shifts and Four Threads'

Our Pro Practices class had the opportunity and pleasure of conference calling Jane Amidon. We had a great conversation with her and had the opportunity to develop a conversation surrounding her thoughts and reflections on the changing field of landscape architecture and urban design, as exhibited in her essay.


If you have not had the opportunity to read through this essay yet I would suggest that you stop reading my blog and find her essay and read it. Jane succinctly summarized the shifts that have been taking place in the world of design over the past decade (or more). Four threads are identified in her essay as the most notable, and I would say forward looking, trends for the future of design and the cultural adaptation of our urban centers.

The first, ‘expanding scales’, the second ‘resourcing versus resolving’, the third ‘infomatics and the inductive landscape’, and the fourth ‘climate change = client change’. Design, at least in the planning and landscape architecture world is quickly shifting to something that once focuses on site specific finalized planning to something that is organic, process based, temporally active, structurally adaptive, and mulit-scalar. Granularity, edges, adjacencies, connectivity and flexibility are all driving design. (Amidon)

Brooklyn Bridge Park - MVVA

Again, we have come back to thinking. The thought process of design and the way in which we conceive of problems is changing. It is expanding. It is not unlike the changes that have occurred in past recent decades within the field ecology where systems were allowed pre-determined changes, where interactions were not possible, and static states were the norm. These preconceptions are lifting and dynamics are being introduced. Designers are now looking for future potentials. Creativity has certainly shifted.


I have had to change the way I think significantly in studio. I have had to stretch and abandon some of my developed tendencies and habits. You could call them constraints. The growth is good though. Currently we are moving, quickly, through a concept development phase; and I mean quickly. We have to move from our material explorations and show how we learned certain take-aways which informed our design concept. So moving from exploring concrete and plaster I wanted to translate my understanding of how these materials react to the placement of constraints (i.e. posts and forms).

Anyway, I have had to adapt to this new way of critical thinking which utilizes the concept phase as something to quickly communicate ideas and material aesthetics. We are developing diagrams, mappings, and renderings. Developing renderings which are speculative in nature and hint at potentials is difficult. I learned to draw renderings based on developed concepts and ideas. It has been good though.

process perspective

I am developing a variety of techniques as well. I have further explored plaster on a much larger scale and am working in Rhino, Illustrator, and ArcGIS.  Below are some images.

Large model - plaster

Samll model - plaster

Samll model - plaster

Large model 3d topo

Small model 3d topo

Large Model - Physical

Small Model - Physical

Construction notes for mold

diagram iterations

concept diagram iterations

concept diagram iterations