New Coastal Sustainability Studio Uses Team Approach to Tackle Tough Questions

A multi-disciplinary team of scholars at LSU that includes landscape architects, engineers and coastal scientists is embarking on a ground-breaking, collaborative effort to study issues related to sustainability along the fragile and vulnerable Gulf Coast. Their effort is called the Coastal Sustainability Studio and it is taking a comprehensive approach to studying one of the most critical problems facing coastal communities, particularly in Louisiana.

The Coastal Sustainability Studio is funded by a $300,000 donation from America’s Wetland Foundation, and brings together experts from disciplines across the University. Foremost among them are the College of Art and Design, College of Engineering and School of the Coast and the Environment, which will participate in all the studio’s projects. Many other disciplines will be brought in to work on projects depending on the specific subject.

“We really want this to be university-wide,” says Lynne Carter, associate director of the Coastal Sustainability Studio. “We’re trying to take a comprehensive look at how to build a more sustainable coast.”

The Coastal Sustainability Studio is ground breaking for a couple of reasons. First, it involves multiple Colleges and Schools within the University, each of which brings its own perspective to the multi-faceted problem of how to design and build sustainable communities in an eroding, flood-prone region. To that end, those involved with the Studio will be looking at issues of economic sustainability, environmental sustainability and cultural sustainability.

“This could be really significant, both for the University and for the state,” says Elizabeth Mossop, director of the nationally renowned Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture and director of the studio’s first project. “The Coastal Sustainability Studio can really take a role in looking at the complex issues of urban development and strategic planning.”

Second, as its name implies, the undertaking will be done in a studio setting. As a practical matter that means those involved will be rolling up their sleeves and working side-by-side in creative problem-solving to produce real, workable solutions. That’s easier said than done in a traditional academic environment.

“It’s an interesting model because it’s somewhere between conventional academic applied research and what happens in practice,” Mossop says. “A lot of universities are moving toward these models that are proactive and mirror what goes on in the professional realm.” For its inaugural project, the Coastal Sustainability Studio will focus on Bayou Bienvenue, a wetlands area near New Orleans Lower 9th Ward. Mossop suggested the site because it has been the subject of several design projects within the Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture over the past three years. Both she and her students have worked with community organizations and conservation groups on ways to restore Bayou Bienvenue and design sustainable communities along its shores.

The Coastal Sustainability Studio will build on that work. Its project will be done in several phases, beginning with strategic planning and ending with the development of a concrete proposal for redeveloping the area. Its finished product will include a public document and exhibition.

For those involved in the project, the Coastal Sustainability Studio is an exciting opportunity to work in a new way with colleagues from other parts of campus on an issue that affects an entire region of the country.

“The significance of the Coastal Sustainability Studio lies in the capacity for the design disciplines to work with scientists, engineers, economists and others to address issues effecting not just Louisiana, but coastal environments around the globe,” says Jori Erdman, director of the School of Architecture. “This is an opportunity to demonstrate the value of design research and our mode of practice alongside more empirical disciplines.”