Chris Reed | Plaza at Harvard

Chris Reed is Founding Director of Stoss Landscape Urbanism. He is recognized internationally as a leading voice in the transformation of landscapes and cities, and he works alternately as a researcher, strategist, teacher, designer, and advisor. Reed is particularly interested in the relationships between ecology and landscape and infrastructure, social spaces, and cities. His work collectively includes urban revitalization initiatives, climate resilience efforts in Boston, Dallas, Abu Dhabi, China, and throughout the Midwest, speculative propositions, adaptations of infrastructure and former industrial sites, dynamic and productive landscapes, vibrant public spaces that cultivate a diversity of social uses and cultural traditions, and numerous landscape installations.

On 29 October, Chris Reed, lectured to students and faculty at the Fay Jones School of Architecture + Design. He began by explaining what kind of work he specializes in and gave an overview of some projects. Secondly, he spoke about the importance of water, and finally, he spoke in-depth on a current project in St Louis - The Stitch + The Loop . Some of the major themes discussed throughout included climate change, water supply/food security, city economies, resilience, and landscape as a solution for large-scale city planning. I was interested in his regarding the Plaza at Harvard - a Stoss project from 2013.

Reed began practicing landscape architecture around the same time he had children. He spoke about observing his children and the way they interacted with their surroundings. Children encounter objects and respond in directly, in a way that is unencumbered by the knowledge of particular uses. Reed spoke about watching his children make up games by jumping from one type of paving to another or between manhole covers on the sidewalk. This inspired him and prompted a greater inquiry into how people engage unknown spaces without being told how to use them.

After a research project into children’s play and space-making, this interest lead to a study in how people engage with something as simple as a bench. Reed pointed out that there are many types of people with different body shapes and spectrum of movement. He pointed out that some people in the lecture hall were sitting with their legs crossed, others were sitting up straight or leaning father back. With all of these variations, he wanted to design a bench that could accommodate not only different body types but modes of engagement.

After going through several iterations, the benches were eventually fabricated and deployed in a new Plaza at Harvard. The Plaza at Harvard was designed to connect to parts of campus with an underutilized overpass as a public space. The project was to accommodate a spectrum of different uses from a circulatory node to an event space. The paving pattern was laid out carefully to hide specific utilities and attachment mechanisms for tent poles for events. I was very interested in this concept for the event space in our studio project, I think we can design something similar that allows for greater use value across various cycles. I was excited to see this project and realize how many common goals it shares with the programmatic public space in our studio project.

Like Reed, I am interested in how public spaces may function different at different times. How can human and natural cycles impact place-making? I am particularly interested in work/play patterns over the cycles of the day, week, and four seasons. Below I did some quick sketches to visualize how our studios event space could be used for parking, farmers market tents, food trucks, and an ice skating rink. I think another opportunity could be an outdoor venue for live shows or movie screenings. It was exciting getting to see a great example of a similar concept being constructed on such a prominent scale. I think the Plaza at Harvard is an important precedent moving forward.