Capstone: Beginning the Design Process

The capstone design process is underway.  Beyond last semester’s research and analysis of a particular problem- how can modern design reflect both the past and the future in preservation projects- the ideas are now being drawn out, experimented with, rejected, revised.

hopewell ceremonial landscapeBubble diagrams are drawn to explore the ideas of program on a regional spatial scale. Are there places in the Newark complex where different parts of the Hopewell story might be articulated?


Sketches explore interpretive problems.  Here are two examples of imagining how the typical touristic experience can reflect what might have been here had the earthworks not been plowed over for agriculture and urban development. The above uses digital imaging to obscure the modern background.


The modern context intrudes into the site but sculptural objects set in the foreground might allow the earthen architecture to become a background field thus pushing the modern further out of view.



These sketches consider the idea of sequencing to lead the modern visitor through a processional much the way that the Hopewell likely accessed these powerful sites.

eagle moundThis sketch was drawn in December while I was visiting the Great Circle in Newark, Ohio. The foreground is the Eagle Mound which reflects the hills on the distant horizon two miles away.  The middle ground is the 15 foot tall wall of the Great Circle and its accompanying internal ditch.  If you’ve been here, you know that these relationships are obscured by the presence of so many trees.  Archaeological investigations and pollen studies suggest that the site was a prairie 2000 years ago.

The next three sketches are design drawings considering earth as a material.

barrier mound

slice piled

The first few weeks of studio work have been consumed with a design and analysis charette which was presented to guest critics.  This required quick studies to explore different ways of designing the experience.

Internal Charette External CharetteThe review was a combination of design and analysis.  This was a good opportunity to begin to consider my graphic language and ability to present abstract concepts through diagrams.  I am fascinated by the Hopewell designs and tend to speak at length of their complexity.  As I move through this project, I hope to use graphics to tell more of that story in a simplified, easily understood way.

Here, I am demonstrating the movement into and out of the Octagon (above) and the Great Circle (below) as it has changed since Hopewell times.


The diagrams below demonstrate ways that the earthen architecture dictates space.


Another aspect of diagramming helps us more clearly see the design of the sites themselves.  Modern intrusions such as the trees planted on the golf course at the Octagon obscure the design intentions of the Hopewell.  The below sequence brings the design forward to help us understand spatial relationships in the designed landscape.

construction linework1

construction image and linework

construction linework

Part of the interpretation of these sites also involves making temporal concepts understandable.  The linear timeline is one way of relating to the spectrum of occupation and use of the Ohio Valley where the Hopewell were part of the sequence.  The timeline below plots various events relative to our understanding of the complexities of the site.  I chose to chronicle the passage of time in years before present as is commonly found in archaeological literature.  You may notice that I designed the articulation of the Ohio Hopewell to resemble a bird in flight.  In his essay “Riverworld: Life and Meaning in the Illinois Valley,” Douglas K. Charles analyzed Hopewell art to explore their concepts of time and space.  Birds are common themes: The raptor flies in a circular formation and swoops from the sky to the earth to capture its prey.  The waterfowl flies in more linear fashions back and forth as the seasons change and occupies equally sky, land, and water.


Another way to consider time is to explore the oral tradition of storytelling in many Native American cultures.  We have no stories from the Hopewell other than those we can tease out of their artifacts, art, burials, and architectures.  Paula Underwood (1932-2000) was an Iroquois oral historian who developed the idea of ‘Past as Prologue’ using Native American methodologies of learning and story telling.  Her collection of oral histories The Walking People includes a passage called “The Great Earth Snake.”  While Ohio’s Serpent Mound is not part of the Ohio Hopewell nomination to UNESCO’s World Heritage List, the story itself is very informative.

great earth snake

moonrise; northernmost extreme


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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One Response to Capstone: Beginning the Design Process

  1. BSU365blog says:

    Reblogged this on ASLA Blog and commented:
    Here’s an interesting take and example of the background work required for a Capstone project. As our 5th years are busy working on their Capstone thesis projects and are preparing for Midterm reviews, we not only wish them the best of luck but would love to see a quick outline of what they’ve researched and where they are with their projects now! Good luck to everyone working on their comprehensive project!

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