As a student of landscape architecture, I’m very fortunate to be learning to notice the spaces I’m in and to think about what makes them effective and enjoyable. One interior space that I’ve become very fond of is the inner courtyard exhibition space in the 2002 Steven Holl addition to Rapson Hall which houses the Departments of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. This space is massive, dramatic, and lit from all sides by beautiful natural light.  It is constantly changing, almost moving. Beyond the architecture though, what goes on within the space is truly inspirational.

I’m in Rapson about 40 hours per week right now and the second year graduate landscape students say that this will soon increase to twice that.  My tasks there:  Observe the created spaces of others; learn to create spaces of my own; and exhibit my spaces for review. A major component of learning to design is learning to observe.  The space in Rapson Hall provides me with new observation opportunities everyday.

There are gatherings of various sizes and degrees of formality involving both students and designers.  Some of these events are openly advertised receptions to exhibit some major happening or another. For example, a couple of weeks ago I attended a reception exhibiting the work of students from the 2010 Cities on Water semester abroad where architecture and landscape architecture students spend part of a semester in Europe. Seeing the sketchbooks, design posters, and projects that the students exhibited from their trip inspired me to think about Italy and the Netherlands and has me excited for my own chance to attend that course (Spring semester 2012).

Besides the formal receptions that happen in that place, the courtyard also provides temporary exhibit space for student projects and peer reviews/critiques.  Sometimes works are only on display for a few hours while others might stay up for a couple of days. The catwalk around the courtyard on the second floor also has pin-up space with work that is constantly revolving.Whether one is a student of landscape or of architectonics, there are many opportunities to be inspired in Rapson.  The cross-pollination of ideas will inevitably lead to better designs and I am actuated by the work of other students around me.  As I rush around Rapson from a classroom to the studio or from the library to a computer lab, I inevitably slow my pace to study the form of some twisted piece of paper pinned to the wall, to look at the light on a series of sketches I don’t comprehend, or to evaluate a model that one of my peers has displayed.What is the story with this one?  What was the model-maker thinking when this was designed?  Did they somehow plan for that amazing shadow to be thrown at 3:46 in the afternoon or is it serendipitous?  Sometimes there will be a formal pin-up on the second floor catwalk and the crowd of students and reviewers necessitates that I walk all the way around the building to get to my studio when normally I could just go up a flight of stairs and walk right in.  While this might seem like an inconvenience, it actually forces me to review the work that my peers are creating.  Sometimes I can linger near the review and hear the designer defend the project pinned to the wall or listen to the critique from one of the faculty reviewers.

At other times, nobody is around a piece of work and I am free to observe it at my leisure.  I approach it absentmindedly, possibly distracted on the way to somewhere else. Just as I’m about to walk by though, something catches my eye.  The brilliance of color perhaps. Or the juxtaposition of elements.  The shadowplay.  I take a moment to look at the object from different angles, squint out the background.  And I begin to wonder what inspired this or that design.  What was the process?  What would this be like if constructed on the landscape?  Where would it go?  What might accompany it? Maybe it isn’t even a model of something or somewhere.  Perhaps the student is simply experimenting with form, with light, with an idea.

And it is the idea itself that inspires me to create something of my own.  From that folded piece of paper, I move to my studio chair and quickly sketch some kernel that popped on the right side of my brain.  I’ve seen my own projects pinned anonymously on the wall next to those of my peers and cohort.  An enormous poster of pools in the landscape, photographs of the design process, drawings of flowers, stark white models of mythical places.  Who paused on their way to class and looked on my design?  What did you think when you saw what I created?


About matthewtraucht

Graduate school student at the University of Minnesota's College of Design pursuing a Master's of Landscape Architecture, class of 2013.
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