April 29, 2020 Redesigning the Relationship with National Parks

Landscape Architecture students in Adjunct Assistant Professor Andrew Madl’s studio redesigned the ways in which we see and interact with our national parks.

During spring 2020, students were challenged to see the bigger picture of design and how design affects our environment and its many systems. A premise in the studio was that in American culture, national parks are seen as “untouched wildernesses,” but the students learned about the greater complexities and identities of these parks.

“National parks are viewed by the general population as being pristine fragments of the world that have managed to remain unscathed by urbanization and development,” explains first-year master of Landscape Architecture student Faith Jackson. “This view is problematic on many fronts. Our studio has focused on changing this narrative of ‘unscathed wilderness’ into one that recognizes the complex systems and processes that exist inside and outside the parks.”

Throughout the semester, students researched the many systems and operations of national parks and how these impact the environment, animals and the public as a whole. By understanding how park maintenance and construction, tourism and nature are interdependent and interrelated, students are becoming more aware about the larger impact of design.

“I’ve always been focused on environmental aspects of design, and I try to make decisions that have a positive impact on ecosystems,” says first-year MLA student Alex Bonner.  “My program and professors at UT have challenged me to expand upon this way of thinking. For example, if I’m designing an ecologically minded park, I might want to plant trees for carbon sequestration, but we have to think about what else these trees are doing. Are they reducing water runoff, or are they a non-native species that have the potential to impact biodiversity in the area? Seeing how design impacts more than one thing has become a main focus in my work.”

By viewing these parks as fluctuating identities influenced by preservation, conservation and daily operations, students gained a new appreciation about the interrelated nature of design and environment that will influence their future works.