Heather Ring of Archinect just published a fantastic feature interview with Julie Bargmann -- a principle at D.I.R.T. Studio, whose crew we've long admired for their work restoring and redesigning degraded industrial landscapes. Whether the acronym stands for Dumping It Right There or Design Investigations Reclaiming Terrain (both are mentioned), the studio has had their hands in the dirt on a number of remarkable bioremediation sites.
Bargmann notes the increasingly common merging of architectural, scientific and engineering disciplines, such as on her own campus at University of Virginia, where architecture and landscape architecture share a single deparment. She mentions several projects that invited diverse expertise to complete massive site clean-ups, such as Ford's River Rouge factory and Duisburg-Nord in Germany, which is now a huge park marked only decoratively with the artifacts of its former identity.
The way we perceive landscapes like these has changed dramatically over the years because people like Bargmann treat them not as eyesores, but as opportunities to reclaim and regenerate potential space. There's a distinction, though, between recreating a space by erasing all traces of its past, and finding a way to restore the health of land while preserving the legacy of what came before. D.I.R.T. considers the longterm lifecycle of a place. "You can almost smell the hundreds of workers that contributed to the site's evolution," says Bargmann, "For an industrial ruin to maintain that history while constructing new use and meaning -- this is what I call the sublime."
That experience of profound beauty amidst industrial decay encapsulates our changing perception of land. It's unmistakable in contemporary art such as Ed Burtynsky's Manufactured Landscapes or The Canary Project's photos of altered geographies, which portray places we'd once have concealed from public view, and surely never granted status as art.
And just as our ideas have evolved about what makes a landscape beautiful, so too have our definitions of a "good designer" -- or really a designer at all. Invoking Samuel Mockbee of Rural Studio, Bargmann points out the enhanced importance today of social justice and ecological responsibility in design. Further, she asserts that what it takes to self-identify as a designer now is not a degree from art or architecture school, but a willingness to be proactive in creating a world we can live in. We would argue, of course, that the two go hand in hand: in order to achieve a just and sustainable planet, we're all going to have to consider ourselves designers of the future. D.I.R.T.'s work is a local-scale model for transformation, proving that true collaboration can bring balance to ailing places, and reestablish a setting where life can thrive.