Landscape Optimism: An Interview with Chris Reed

An interview with Chris Reed of Stoss LU by QUILIAN RIANO in The Design Observer Group reviews the practical applications of Landscape Urbanism, . Here you can judge for yourself, if LU is living up to the hype, whatever your opinion or view on wether Landscape Architects should slough off the ‘green mantle” and join the trans-disciplinary fray on reshaping the city more fundamentally.

Top: Minneapolis Riverfront Streamlines overview. Middle: Mussel ecology. Bottom: Industrial Cultural Complex with refashioned barge.

In 2000 landscape architect Chris Reed founded StossLU, or Stoss Landscape Urbanism. Since then the Boston-based office has emerged as one of the leading advocates for enlarging the scope and scale of landscape projects and practices. As Reed wrote in an essay in The Landscape Urbanism Reader, “Contemporary landscape practices are witnessing a revival of sorts, a recovery of the broader social, cultural, and ecological agendas. No longer a product of pure art history and horticulture, landscape is re-engaging issues of site and ecological succession and is playing a part in the formative roles of projects, rather than simply giving form to already defined projects.” [1]

In the past decade Stoss has indeed played a formative role in a range of ambitious projects, both built and proposed. Its growing portfolio encompasses the redevelopment of urban waterfronts, including the Fox Riverfront in Green Bay, Wisconsin and the Lower Don Lands in Toronto; the remediation of contaminated landscapes, including the Silresim Superfund Redevelopment Study, on the site of a former chemical plant in Lowell, Massachusetts; and the design of parks at multiple scales, from the recently completed, quarter-acre Erie Plaza in Milwaukee, to Streamlines, a finalist in the competition to redesign an extensive section of the Mississippi Riverfront in Minneapolis.

Along the way Stoss has racked up numerous awards, including the 2010 Landscape Award from Topos Journal, and been the subject of national and international publications, including a 2007 monograph. The firm has tenaciously articulated and acted upon the ambition not only to engage in but also to lead multidimensional and cross-disciplinary projects that blend landscape, architecture, urbanism, planning, ecology and economics; in this way it has made good on its name: stoss, from the German, means “to kick, as in ‘kick in the pants,’ to initiate, activate.” [2] And Reed and his colleagues have seen the concept of landscape urbanism emerge and grow, from an academic movement in the mid-1990s to an increasingly influential set of ideas to, most recently, the focus of lively debate on the future of urbanism.

Erie Street Plaza, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Stoss Landscape Urbanism
Erie Street Plaza, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. [Bottom two photos by John December]

Earlier this year I interviewed Chris Reed at his office at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard, where he is an Adjunct Associate Professor. We focused on the evolution of his design ideas.


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