11/24/20 USC School of Architecture Research Lab Aims to Advance Climate Research


As climate change and sustainability have quickly risen to the top of USC’s list of urgent issues to tackle, USC Master of Landscape Architecture assistant professor Aroussiak Gabrielian has been deeply immersed in questions around the future of our environment. She recently founded the Landscape Futures Lab, which aims to advance climate-focused design-research that challenges current problem-solution based paradigms (i.e., engineering “fixes”). Engaging scholarship across the arts and sciences, the Lab promotes a new “climate imaginary” that pushes the conversation around climate change into new dimensions of thought and practice. 


“The Lab explores the productive interface of nature and technology through design, as well as material testing and fabrication. The faculty and students within the School of Architecture, as well as its facilities, provide the perfect ingredients for climate innovation and imagination,”

says Gabrielian.


While different groups and organizations across campus are aiming to tackle the issue of environmental sustainability, Gabrielian launched the Lab to create a space where those who might be working on similar topics can come together, think together, and make together in order to reimagine the future of our environment. “Our collective response to climate stress will require not just innovative tools and technologies, but social and economic transformation–a shift in our thinking about the biophysical world and our role and responsibility in it,” she explains.


One of the main goals of the Lab is to advance climate-focused design-research by collectively reimagining how we conceive of and construct our planetary land and seascapes. While it may be obvious how the sciences can contribute to improved environmental “outcomes,” the arts offer a new lens through which to break out of the traditional frameworks of Western science and imagine new and innovative responses to climate stress, adaptation and resilience.


“The Lab advances projects that address our multilayered environmental challenges in ways that mutually benefit humans, other species, and the physical environment, with the aim of designing more resilient and ethical futures,” Gabrielian explains. It brings together faculty and experts from critical disciplines across USC and local institutions, including from the Department of Computational Biology (biological science), the Spatial Sciences Institute (soil science), The Natural History Museum (urban ecology), Thornton School of Music (sound studies), the School of Cinematic Arts (interactive media), and industry partners–from technology to futurology–to develop multimodal and multi-scalar research. This creates opportunities for students to collaborate with experts from fields outside their own, exposing them to new methods and ways of thinking, and encourages them to lead and develop projects that they are passionate about.


Projects in the Landscape Futures Lab are led by graduate students under Gabrielian’s guidance and developed closely with the Lab’s collaborators. Students in the Lab are currently investigating the possibilities for multi-trophic aquaculture as climate infrastructure to mitigate storm surge and storm events, improve water quality, restore biodiversity, and encourage new relationships between humans and our aqueous co-species, coupled with studies at the material scale on novel uses and applications for kelp and aquaculture byproducts as design media. Other ongoing projects investigate the potentials for shapeshifting topographies utilizing landscape implants and AI-integrated sensors to transform landscape surface conditions in response to climatological stimuli or behavioral patterns of non-human species; experiments with scaffolds, substrates, and systems that can yield regenerative habitats to support future, mutually-beneficial symbiotic mergers; and experiments with mycelial strata as growing media for integrated agricultural production particularly within heavily contaminated sites.


The Landscape Futures Lab thrives on collaboration and welcomes a multiplicity of voices. If you’re interested in collaborating or learning more about the Lab, click here.

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