Landscape Architecture at Harvard University Graduate School of Design

One year ago, I started my graduate program to earn a master of landscape architecture at Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD). Studying here at the GSD is extraordinary. I’ve been very much enjoying many aspects of my life here: thinking, designing, reading, writing, and just feeling.

At the core of the GSD’s curriculum are studios. In a studio, each student is assigned to and works closely with an instructor. There are overall themes and structures across the studio, but a specific theme to be pursued depends on the interests of both student and the instructor. In both of the semesters I have completed so far, I have had the fortune to have inspiring and thoughtful instructors. We worked on three different projects during the first semester and a single project during the second semester. In the first semester, thus, we were more focused on learning basic techniques and thinking processes required to design a landscape, while in the second semester we were more asked to create a proposition or argument through design.

Among many things that I explored this past year, three concepts not only shaped my projects but also influenced the ways I look at landscape, design, and even my everyday life.

  • Materiality

The theme of the very first project of the first semester was “materialities.” Each student was assigned to a single material through a lottery, and designed a courtyard by questioning and defining the logic of its “materialities.” My material was an oak tree, and I designed an acorn pond that invites people to engage with the trees through the underfoot experience of acorns.

The site was non-site and enclosed. To me, who have a background in urban planning and thought that design needs to start by understanding surrounding contexts, this self-referential approach was new and inspiring. Through the project, I gradually understood the importance of expressive landscape as a means to create identities for places, while at the same time, I realized my lack of knowledge, awareness, and appreciation of/toward materials that designers need to manipulate.

  • Monumentality

The second project in the first semester was about redesigning Boston City Hall Plaza, Boston, MA. The plaza sits in front of Boston City Hall, Brutalist architecture. Prompted by one of the lectures by a faculty, I started thinking about “monumentality”. This led me to define “monumentality” in the absence of volume, rather than its muscular, static, and powerful presence, by the subtle, simple, and elegant gesture of the negative landform. For someone long intrigued by land arts, this was a great opportunity to confront those works. As I was critiqued on the suburbian aspect of my design, how to think and approach “monumentality” in cities will continue to be my theme of exploration.

  • Repetition

In the second semester, I started to understand and embrace different kinds of aesthetics that I did not have before, which is “repetition”.

The theme of the second semester was “landscape of remembrance,” and we were asked to design a cemetery in the southern part of Franklin Park, Boston, MA. We started from site analysis and case studies. Through close examination of cemeteries across the world, in terms of not only their design but also cultural, social, and environmental aspects, we started brainstorming how time, memories, and death/life can be embedded and should be embedded in the landscape.

In the design phases, huge thanks to a push by my instructor, I started to think about a landscape defined by a repetition of graves stone and rectilinear flat paths, which had not been my formal language before the semester. Other than finding and incorporating a new vocabulary of forms and composition in design, I started thinking about mass death caused by Covid-19 and how landscape can respond to this worldwide tragedy. This led me to design a place of burial for Covid-19 victims as well as a place for the living and future generations to spatially experience and remember the tragedy of Covid-19.

Outside of the program, I’ve been enjoying jogging, reading, and hanging out with friends. I love jogging along the Charles River while observing diverse vegetation, wildlife, and phenomenon. My weekend morning starts at nearby cafes. I like indulging myself with books at their outside terraces. I also like keeping companies with my diverse, intellectual, and inspiring friends through hiking, biking, movie nights, and chatting over drinks.

To conclude, I would like to express enormous gratitude to Ito Foundation U.S.A. and Friends of UTokyo, Inc. I sincerely acknowledge my privilege of being able to pursue further education in the field that I am passionate about. Without your support, all this valuable experience would not have been possible.