LSU Design Week 2021 an International Challenge

The LSU Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture held Design Week January 11-15, 2021, in which landscape architecture students tackle a contemporary design challenge. Guest experts visited in-person and virtually to give final critiques of student work. Critics joined the event virtually from Tokyo, Denver, NYC, and Cairo.

Landscape architecture students from all years, from first year BLA candidates up to third year MLA graduate students, participated in LSU Design Week 2021. There were six teams of 18 students each and two faculty advisors for each team. The hybrid model of socially distant, masked meetings, and virtual communications, was an additional challenge compared to Design Weeks of previous years.

Kona Gray, FASLA, PLA, EDSA principal and 2021 Marie M. Bickham Chair in Landscape Architecture at LSU, led the Design Week challenge, said Nicholas Serrano, assistant professor of landscape architecture and Design Week faculty organizer. “Kona Gray brought the problem, gave daily critiques to each team, and organized to have critics from all over the world join for the final review.”

​This year teams were tasked with designing a central park for a new city and governmental center of Egypt. The challenge is for the park to function as a global destination while also serving local residents, also important because of critical lack of open space in Cairo.

Design Week 2021 was inherently different than in previous years, Serrano said. “Fewer teams with more students allowed for teams to dive deeper into the problem,” he said.

Lake Douglas, associate dean of research and development, said he was impressed with how the students collaborated well despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. “To me this was one of the most successful of recent Design Weeks because each team worked out its own way of working – in person (socially distanced) and remotely.  This is the future of office practice, even post-COVID, apparently.”

Teams collaborated remotely using Miro and Discord, then 2-3 members of each team came to campus every day for in-person critiques with Gray. Students agreed that it was a rewarding experience.

“Design Week was unique and memorable this year, as Kona Gray introduced us to a city-scale project near Cairo, Egypt,” said Joshua Crawford, BLA candidate. “This gave us a design problem that not only broadened our design scales, but also opened us up to a completely different landscape, creating striking designs and conversations!”

“It’s amazing how all the students have responded to COVID-19 restrictions and adapted to remote design/studio working together, through various new platforms,” Douglas said.

“The best part of design week this year was being able to take part in our studio culture once again,” said Taylor Lasorsa. “This week reminds me how important communication and collaboration can be in taking big ideas to the next level.”

About Kona Gray

As an EDSA studio leader with a 27-year career and experience in 30+ countries, Kona Gray’s global management sense has positively shaped the outcomes of many environments. Gray’s heritage originates from Liberia, West Africa, which has influenced his sense of community based design and place making. His portfolio ranges from large-scale planning to detailed site design, with emphasis on communities, parks, hospitality, urban public realms, healthcare and campus spaces.

Domestically, his work includes parks and public realm experiences in rural and urban communities. His international experience encompasses the design for mixed-use destinations, resort communities, and large-scale parks in the Caribbean, North Africa, and the Middle East including a 5,000-acre Central Park in Cairo, Egypt. He leads a team of designers and landscape architects on projects in Florida, Georgia, California, Virginia, Arkansas, Puerto Rico, The Bahamas, China, Dubai (UAE), Egypt, India, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Antigua and St. Lucia.

About LSU Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture

The Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture has an established international reputation as one of America’s leading and consistently top-ranked programs. The school offers programs leading to the Bachelor of Landscape Architecture and the Master of Landscape Architecture. For more than 60 years, the program has produced landscape architects who practice all over the world and participate in the full spectrum of the discipline.