UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design Summer [IN]STITUTE: [IN]LAND
The University of Tokyo
It was a tough decision for a Japanese senior science university student, me, to choose to study abroad during his last summer vacation. We have a graduation thesis to write and an entrance exam for Japanese graduate programs to study for. Six weeks of summer course is surely a disadvantage from this viewpoint. Since Summer [IN]STITUTE of the University of California at Berkeley College of Environmental Design, the program which I participated, was not a part of any global exchange programs, I had some relatively harder obstacles to cope with, such as complicated application procedures, expensive tuition, housing problems, etc. which all made my decision harder. But I took that leap. I could not give up my dream to become a landscape architect.
I am currently majoring in landscape ecology and planning in the agricultural department at the University of Tokyo which is a field that is rapidly increasing its importance during this few decades. I am confident that landscape architecture is the best field to return my knowledge and experience to society. Unfortunately Japan does not have enough places and educational institutions for a landscape architect to do his work, and many teachers have recommended me to study abroad at a graduate school in the U.S. When I was looking for information of graduate programs, I found out that some schools, that I was going to apply, are holding introductory summer programs for their graduate programs. And Summer [IN]STITUTE was one of them. These programs are designed for post undergraduate students who were seeking for their second career, but I shoved myself in. I believe it is a rare situation when a senior student is the youngest in the classroom.
[IN]LAND was an intense course. The course description did state that it would be a really concentrated six weeks but I underestimated it. We had lectures and workshops 9:00-17:00 every weekday, though the weekends were fully free you have to work through the weekend to finish the assignments due on Monday. I was a slow worker, so I stayed up till midnight at the studio seven days a week. I wrote in the essay that I submitted to FUTI, that I would not go sightseeing and devote all my time for studying, but I did not expect that it would literally come true. However, the experience of concentrating 40 days, day in and day out, on one subject is a rare thing and I must say that I have spent the most fulfilled summer in my life.
[IN]LAND was a brief but thorough introductory to landscape design programs of graduate school level. During this course we designed three landscapes each diverse by their scale. Each project was given two weeks from scratch till the presentation on board. We learned how to strengthen your design concept, and how to deliver them effectively. Our instructors were very strict on desk crits, which was really helpful, and made me ponder on why I am taking this course and why do I want to be a landscape architect. It was a challenging experience for a humble Japanese student to impertinently show off his design in front of the experts of its field, but the fulfillment you feel when your design (that you have been working on throughout the past two weeks) has been approved was tremendous.
Our first project was to create an installation in a park to reflect the park’s virtue. My partner and I chose a plastic container, which actually did not fit in the natural landscape, and made it fit in by revealing its function. It was my first time building a large artifact in the middle of a public area, but it turned out quite good and we received great feedbacks from our instructors.
Our next project was to design a whole island that was once a dumping ground and now claimed by the homeless people that camp there. This project was really tough because you, a designer, is an outsider and you must cut into controversial social problems. For an example in this case is it ethically good to replace the campers? Since we students have a wide variety of backgrounds, there were different solutions and answers to this and each were neither right nor wrong. In real situations designers and developers will always face social conflicts, even ones that are nearly impossible to solve. This me a great insight of what problems landscape designers will confront and thus made me more attracted to its profession.
The last project was to design anything that you think could solve a problem in the Tenderloin area of San Francisco. Tenderloin is located right next to the business and politic district in the center of SF. It is infamous for its high crime rate, drug disabuse, and high SRO rate. Tenderloin is often referred as the desert of San Francisco. We went on a field trip to the site, which was quite an adventure, and found out that there were tons of problems that have not been solved. Many people say that the market of landscape architecture will not grow due to the fact that most major cities are shrinking. I believe that actually it will expand. We found countless problems and paradoxes during one field trip which was located just in the Tenderloin area. And there are various solutions to each problem. Everyone had their own unique idea and it was both interesting and fun hearing and seeing how they came up with the idea and how they displayed it as a design.
Before I took this program, I assumed landscape design had something to do with be artistic and having an experienced background in the field of fine arts. This idea made me recoil from determining my future career. Actually it turned out that how well you draw doesn’t matter. (It does matter to some extent but not crucial as I thought it would be.) Design was more about how you solve the problem, how sharply refined your solution is, and how well you can deliver your idea. I realized my experience and knowledge that I cultivated during my four years in UTokyo is well enough to compete with my peers who have experience in the field of arts. This realization crystalized my vision of myself as a landscape architect and encouraged me to decide to take my next leap; apply to graduate schools in the U.S.
Cooperating and communicating with my peer participants was also an invaluable experience. Every person had completely different and unique background. We had diverse values, beliefs, and talents. My partner for the first project is a professional dancer, my drinking companion was a carpenter. I was astonished at how wide the field of landscape design could be and how many different perspectives there are. The people I met throughout the six weeks of [IN]LAND were people I could never encounter if I had spent my summer in Tokyo. Since we all are moving forward to the same goal, we share interest on various topics and we all are rivals of each other. I believe friendly rivalry is quite hard to find.
To end my report, I would like to express the deepest appreciation to the people who have supported my best summer in my life. First of all, to the Friends of UTokyo, who offered me scholarship to attend this program. I wouldn’t have decided to study abroad without the financial aid given. I cannot thank Prof. Yokohari too much for writing a recommendation letter for a lazy student like me. And I cannot forget the support and cheers that my parents gave me to take my first step to realize my reckless dreams.