"I am most inspired by the complexity of plant material, relationships between environmental systems and the role we play as designers intervening in all of this.”
- Degree: Master of Landscape Architecture
- Grad year: 2019
- Campus: Vancouver
Hailey Gooch began her studies in architecture at the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (SALA) and transferred into landscape architecture halfway through her studies. Her graduate degree is supported by a Bachelor of Fine Art’s from Emily Carr University, where she studied sculpture and painting.
Hailey’s graduate project investigated static representations of plant material in landscape architecture, and how these images impact how we see, and therefore shape, the environment. Her project was informed by the process of hand-drawing as a form of research, and as a means of expressing the individuality of plant species and their dynamic changes in form. Her research seeks new methods of depicting plants as alive organisms that move and transform over time.
Why did you choose landscape architecture?
Landscape architecture was a fit for me for many reasons. Given my background in sculpture, I am driven by the language of material, and how the innate qualities of a chosen medium will inform a project. The aliveness of plant material is such an inspiring medium. Plants move, are highly complex and communicate with each other in ways that we will never know and understand. There’s a level to which you can never have complete agency over the design work; you can create a platform and a framework, and Nature is going to do what it wants anyway. This inspiration initiated the transition from architecture to landscape architecture, where architecture is generally less systematic and more orientated around static materials. Although landscape architecture also involves hardscaping, I am most inspired by the complexity of plant material, relationships between environmental systems and the role we play as designers intervening in all of this. Embedded in the role of a landscape architect is also environmental stewardship. We have to ask ourselves complex questions on how to intervene with ecological systems, what our role is, and how best we as humans can resolve wicked problems. This is exciting and needful work.
What have you learned in SALA that is most valuable?
Learning to trust in process. This program is composed of students coming from many diverse backgrounds, which is an asset because we learn a lot from each other, but also because most of us are really pushed out of our comfort zone. This encourages oneself to take risks, to be vulnerable and to fail. Learning to trust yourself and process no matter how uncomfortable it may be at the time is integrous and valuable work. I’m very grateful to the professors who have helped fostered this in my experience at SALA. There are great educators who can see beyond what you can in any stage of your creative process and help foster what’s yours to grow into. The professors hold the discipline of landscape architecture in high esteem and prepare you to enter the field with sufficient skills, and the knowledge to maintain the integrity of the practice.
What advice would you give a student considering a graduate degree in landscape architecture?
Landscape architecture is such an exciting and significant discipline to study. It gives important perspective on the scale of environmental systems and our role in measuring and designing within them. It is a very complex discipline that studies dynamic ecological systems, environmental ethics, technical grading and large-scale issues. My first piece of advice would be to take your time and not rush through the program, as there is a lot to learn in little time.
Secondly, I would emphasize gaining hands-on experience in the field. Without this, relationship to landscape is largely mediated by computer software. These are fantastic tools to be able to measure and communicate the built environment, but they do not fully embody the human experience. Having a facility with a living medium such as plants is a big responsibility, and it’s important to have tactile experiences with them and understand how they grow. Understanding the materials and process with hardscape construction is also important; I believe it’s important to know and understand the materials we are using before we can maintain full responsibility in using them to shape the built environment.
Lastly, I would emphasize how important it was for me to hand-draw as means of form-finding, and to form ideas. There are many types of technical media that we are lucky enough to learn, but early in the design process it’s important to explore and be willing to throw ideas away. Hand-drawing is unofficial and fluid and allows distinctive access to creative ideas. My final project took many forms throughout the year that were entirely based on tracing paper. It’s ok to stay in process and use hand-drawing to explore and to loosen up an idea.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I am very inspired by the plants we are surrounded by every day that ultimately host us and sustain life. Although landscape architecture encompasses many forms and scales of study, I am most inspired by planting design. The way textures, colors, blooms and forms of plants can be shaped to form dynamic spaces is so complex and exciting.
This inspiration formed the foundation of my graduation project where I reinterpreted the planting plans from a nineteenth century plants-woman, gardener and artist named Gertrude Jekyll. She was famous for her herbaceous perennial borders, and maintained intimate connection and knowledge about plant material. My critique was based on how landscape architecture typically uses a static, homogenous language to represent plant life. Plants are alive and dynamic, however, they are represented as unmoving objects in only one stage of their growth process. Depicting plants as motionless undermines their agency as alive organisms and reinforces an anthropocentric (human-centered) agenda. I represented the plants in Jekyll’s plan as unfolding throughout five seasons — spring, summer, fall, fall/winter and winter. Each plant was researched and drawn by hand to depict their individual changes in form throughout the year. This was also represented in animation format. In this project hand-drawing was used as a form of research to study each individual plant. The project hopes to initiate new planting topologies or methodologies that can be used by landscape architects in the design ideation process, whereby a plants full scope of aliveness can be envisioned, and collaboration can occur between humans and non-humans.
How do you feel a graduate degree in landscape architecture has benefitted you compared to a different field of study?
Landscape architecture encourages one to think at multiple scales simultaneously, from regional to urban, and all scales in between. It is composed of many dynamic systems and must always include environmental ethics. This degree has given me perspective on environmental systems, and through this I have learned what my own unique role is and how I can make a difference. In the twenty-first century, environmental stewardship is more important than ever; this degree gives you the ability to be able to think critically about the state of the environment and harness the skills to successfully communicate ideas and solutions. Landscape architecture is strong at the visual communication of ideas. This is a rich skill that can reach many different audiences. With this degree I was able to penetrate my values around caring for the environment, while also fostering my creativity and have those things work in tandem. I am very grateful for this opportunity and the luxury to be able to learn from so many creative and intelligent people.