In fall 2013, LSU Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture (RRSLA) fourth-year students in a design studio taught by Associate Professor Kevin Risk and Assistant Professor Forbes Lipschitz explored the agricultural, industrial, economic, and cultural landscapes of the Mississippi Delta Region. The undergraduate regional planning studio, LA 4001: Delta Divides, focused on regional regeneration in the Mississippi Delta.
According to Lipschitz, “The Delta is an ideal testing ground for exploring the paradigm of urbanization and rural decline.” Birthplace of the Blues, crucible of the Civil Rights Movement, and home to some of the richest agricultural land in the United States, the Delta has a rich and complex history but remains one of the most impoverished regions in the country. Local communities are floundering as farming jobs are lost to technology and globalization.
The objective of the fourth-year studio was to identify latent resources as well as untapped opportunities for design interventions to empower these struggling communities. Students sought to answer questions such as: How can rural areas such as the Delta gain cultural and economic relevance in an ever-urbanizing world? Can landscape planning strategies position cultural and natural ecologies as drivers of rural economic development? What scenarios, narratives, typologies, and generative spatial principles can landscape architects develop to reconcile rural resources with urban demands?
As a launch to the semester, the students journeyed up the Delta on a week-long fieldtrip. Visiting sites as far north as Memphis, Tennessee, they stopped in Natchez, Vicksburg, Clarksdale, Cleveland, Greenwood, and Indianola, Mississippi, where they toured a catfish farm and processing facility. In addition, the group visited the Delta Cultural Center in Helena, Arkansas.
While in Helena, Risk, Lipschitz, and two students—Erin Percevault and Matt Quitzau—were guests on the daily live broadcast of KFFA 1360’s “King Biscuit Time,” the world’s longest-running Blues radio show. Sonny “Sunshine” Payne—a national treasure admired by Blues fans around the world—interviewed members of the group and highlighted the studio’s work in the Delta and at the LSU Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture. (Sonny Payne has been broadcasting live since 1942!)
On November 22, the student groups presented their design solutions during final reviews to a special guest jury that included LSU School of Architecture Visiting Assistant Professor Shelby Doyle; Gale Fulton, associate professor and chair of the landscape architecture program at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville; Sarah Thomas Karle, assistant professor of landscape architecture at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; RRSLA alumni Ivan Donoso, landscape designer at EDSA in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Conners Ladner, landscape designer at Design Workshop in Austin, Texas; and Ned Dodington, an architect who specializes in animal architecture, a philosophy regarding the role of biology in design.
The students proposed rural regeneration solutions that ranged from food production and waste management to ecological restoration and regional-scale landscape infrastructure. Each project had a unique focus and objective. One group presented plans for retrofitting existing catfish ponds to support algae biofuel production. Another group proposed the creation of diversified local farms, designed to offer locally grown, fresh produce and grass-fed organic poultry and meat options to the sparsely populated regions of the Delta that are located in nationally defined “food deserts.” Yet another group developed a model for emergency housing that also supported local festival cultures.
As Risk summarized, “The interest in urbanism has allowed designers to largely ignore the issues facing rural America today. We saw this studio as an opportunity to identify ways in which design can engage rural landscapes.”
Studios that address topics such as rural regeneration are preparing students for the reality—and importance—of the landscape architecture profession today. Landscape architects and other design professionals can focus on how design solves more complex, global problems and create more stable, sustainable living environments for both rural and urban environments.
About Kevin Risk
Kevin Risk is an associate professor at the LSU Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture. His research focuses on the cross-cultural transmission, hybridization, and adaptation of garden forms and ideology from Old to New World landscapes, especially Southern landscapes. His teaching and applied research focuses on the preservation of regional cultural landscapes, with emphasis on the role that myth, memory, and historical narrative play in the interpretation and design of multi-layered historic sites. He has served as historic landscape consultant to the National Park Service, and his publications include cultural landscape reports and articles focused on a range of regional landscape sites, including Chalmette Battlefield, Vicksburg National Military Park, and the Valcour Aime Plantation garden, Le Petit Versailles. In 2009, Risk completed a cultural landscape report on William Faulkner’s Rowan Oak for the State of Mississippi. Risk has lectured about the influence of Faulkner’s domestic landscape on his fictional oeuvre. He is currently working with Associate Professor Cathy Marshall on a thematic documentation, exhibition, and publication of cultural landscape typologies in Louisiana entitled Ordering the Louisiana Landscape: Geology, Geometry, Cosmos. Risk holds a BA in French literature from Wake Forest University (1991) and an MLA and certificate in historic preservation studies from the University of Georgia (1997).
About Forbes Lipschitz
Forbes Lipschitz joined the LSU Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture as an assistant professor in fall 2013. Her professional experience in landscape architecture includes a wide range of public, private, and infrastructural projects. As a designer and project manager at dlandstudio, her projects included a pop-up storm-water management pilot for the Harlem River; historic restoration projects in Queens and Manhattan; and the winning entry for YUL-MTL: Moving Landscapes, International Ideas competition. She received a Master in Landscape Architecture from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where she was awarded a distinction and ASLA Certificate of Merit award for her thesis, “The New Regional Pattern: Syncing Livestock Production and Urban Systems in the Broiler Belt.” Her research explores the role of geospatial analysis and representation in rethinking landscape systems, with a particular interest in North American agricultural territories. Originally from Little Rock, Arkansas, she graduated cum laude with a BA in environmental aesthetics from Pomona College in Claremont, California.
About LSU Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture
The Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture has established an international reputation as one of America’s leading and consistently top-ranked programs. Part of the LSU College of Art + Design, the school offers Bachelor of Landscape Architecture and Master of Landscape Architecture programs. For over 60 years, the program has produced landscape architects who practice all over the world and participate in the full spectrum of the discipline. For more information, visit landscape.lsu.edu.
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