Cities on Water: A Preparation

Among the reasons I chose the MLA program at the University of Minnesota’s College of Design is the 10 week Study Abroad program called Cities on Water.  This course has been developing for several years and this year promises to be an exciting and educational experience which will no doubt inform the rest of my career in landscape architecture.  While going on Cities on Water is a difficult decision in some ways (extra tuition, leaving loved-ones behind, difficulties in finding and applying for summer jobs and internships), the costs are worth the expenses when one considers the general experience of living abroad, of working in environments other than mid-western United States, of meeting professionals in international applications, and of becoming conscious of various strategies of making landscapes.  My own travel experiences include living in The Gambia (West Africa) for two years (2007-2009), traveling to Southeast Asia last summer for a month, and various tourist trips to Morocco, Guinea, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Spain, Italy, Mexico, and Canada.  Each of these experiences has been integral in my personal and creative development.

I will be traveling with eleven of my peers from the MLA ’13 class as well as one student from the Urban Planning program (she will stay for the first two weeks) and two students from the Architecture program (they will join us for the final five weeks).  The University faculty include Cynthia Lapp, Dean Abbot, and Robert Sykes.

The Cities on Water program involves two components.  The first four weeks are spent in the Netherlands researching ways that the Dutch have dealt with water.  Taught as a series of short research projects and design charrettes, we will embark daily from our hostel in Utrecht to visit various landscapes throughout the country.  As more than one-third of the Netherlands is below sea-level and because the country is “downstream” of a large portion of the European continent and is one of the primary sea ports in Europe, the Dutch have been coping with issues of water for more than 1000 years.  Recall that the English word “landscape” was introduced from the Dutch painters in the 16th century from landschap which meant  ‘a picture depicting scenery on land’.

In preparation of the Netherlands portion of the trip, each of the students was required to select a research topic to present to the class.  As depicted above, I looked into the Dutch Nature Preservation Society, Natuurmonumenten.  Part of our four weeks in the Netherlands will involve working with this group on the “Marker Wadden” project to develop a series of islands as natural and recreational habitat.  This opportunity is unique as it was only recently funded and is in the initial design stages.


The second half of the program is spent in Venice, Italy where we will primarily work on a single project focused upon the ecology of the surrounding Venetian lagoon and the UNESCO World Heritage cultural landscape of Venice.  While we will have many opportunities to develop our field-sketching abilities with the excellent artist Dean Abbott, we will focus our collective design-eye on the small islands north of the city of Venice including Murano, Burano, Sacca San Mattia, and Sacca Serenella.

In order to prepare for the cultural landscape of Venice, I conducted a precedent study of two of the 117 islands that make up Venice.  By studying the islands of Campo San Barnaba and Campo San Travaso, we can begin to design for new programming near Murano which successfully articulates with the historic nature of this unique city.

My journey to Europe begins on March 1.


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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