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In the latest LAM Lecture, Harvard Graduate School of Design landscape architecture professor Gareth Doherty examines the use of color in design through two climatic and ecological opposites: the landscapes of Bahrain and Brazil. The lecture, titled “Landscapes as Chromatic Relationships,” recounts Doherty’s travels through and fascination with the small desert island nation off the coast of the Arabian Peninsula, and Roberto Burle Marx’s observations of the riotous shades of flora in his native Brazil, both the focus of recent books Doherty has penned.

In Bahrain, as explained in his book Paradoxes of Green: Landscapes of a City-State (University of California Press, 2017), the color green, especially when it’s observed as flora, is a prized jewel in the beige desert. Its cannibalization at the hands of encroaching development prompts ever-greater displays of resource-intensive landscaping, which leads to an uncomfortable paradox: The presence of green is often not so “green.” It requires tremendous amounts of energy and irrigation to make the desert bloom. For his book, Doherty took an ethnographic approach, exploring Bahrain’s cities and countryside on foot, all the better to look around and chat with natives. In his lecture he recounts melancholy strolls through neglected date palm fields, and farewell ceremonies for beloved courtyard trees about to be torn from the earth at the behest of residential development.

For Brazil, Doherty recounts Marx’s forays into the Brazilian countryside to collect new horticultural specimens, and his newest book (available this spring), Roberto Burle Marx Lectures: Landscape as Art and Urbanism (Lars Müller Publishers), collects the South American designer’s assorted lectures. It includes this sensual appreciation from Marx for nature’s ad hoc genius for composing in color: “All of this polychrome is seated on a backdrop where form, rhythm, and color are in harmony. Nothing was isolated. It was an orchestra of color. The yellows linked to the blues, the blues to the violets, the violets to the pinks. One could speak, even, of a battle of color in which one color would dominate at a particular season, supported by a background whose forms, rhythms, and colors enhanced those of the plants in a very particular way. This instability is precisely one of the great secrets of nature, which never tires us, and is constantly renewed by the effect of light, wind, rain, and shadows, which shape new forms.”

Outside of graphic design and fashion, color is generally stigmatized as a field of inquiry across most design fields. But as Doherty’s lecture and books argue, its mutability of meaning across various cultural contexts makes color a vital artifact in unlocking what a society or community values.

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BY ZACH MORTICE

A 360-degree photo of Santa Marta. Photo by José Duarte.

Renowned for their ad hoc flexibility, material economy, and compositional resourcefulness, Rio de Janeiro’s favelas can be treasure troves for urbanists. Unplanned, unsanctioned, and often unmapped, they mutate (adding a story, turning a ground floor into a shop, switching from sheet metal to concrete as soon as owners come into a few more Brazilian reals) at a pace unseen in the affluent global north. But these communities are located far away from most of the world’s stock of urban design expertise.

Last spring, to bridge this divide, Penn State landscape architecture professor Timothy Baird and architecture professor José Duarte taught a new studio that engaged students in the study of one Brazilian favela via virtual reality (VR) technology. The studio, which paired architecture students with landscape architecture students, posited VR as a proxy for expensive site visits. “Developing countries can’t always afford consultants because of the distance and difficulty to travel,” says Baird, who recently became chair of the landscape architecture department at Cornell University.

The virtual reality environment in which these students designed was constructed after Duarte and a crew of Brazilian students traveled to Rio de Janeiro’s Santa Marta favela before the semester began. They took thousands of still images, 360-degree videos and photos, and collected (more…)

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