Trees on their own terms

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Image courtesy of Karen Lutsky.

New Forest Research at the Tree Survey Symposium.

Forests are many things to many people – reservoirs of carbon, factories for our atmosphere, quasi-sensitive biological networks, and climate salvation totems, to name just a few recent complaints. But how do we understand forests independently of how humans see them? An online symposium later this month will showcase new research and open inquiry into forest life, with quick presentations covering various topics under the broad canopy of trees as ecological and cultural subjects and actors. Questions will include the public value of forests, carbon sequestration, numerical representations, etc. “Arboreal Surveys Symposium: Recent Forest Explorations + Design” will take place on March 31, 2022, beginning at 9:00 a.m. CDT.

The symposium’s holistic approach to forests sees them as assemblages of many types of living things with their own agency. It’s an interesting way to “understand change and uncertainty,” says Jamie Vanucchi, co-organizer and director of undergraduate studies in landscape architecture at Cornell University, because the individual species in these complex matrices are vital indicators of anthropogenic change.

Organized by Vanucchi and Karen Lutsky, assistant professor of landscape architecture at the University of Minnesota, the symposium will consist of 11 short presentations, primarily by professors of landscape architecture. Each will present the forests as places of design investigation, if not definitive action. The symposium will “seek to focus exploration and questions rather than looking for design ‘answers’ or treating the forest as a problem to be ‘solved’,” says Lutsky.

Topics will include morphological issues of forest spaces and investigation of forest materials. Presenter Aidan Ackerman, ASLA, from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, will examine how forests are represented in digital technology; Chad Manley and his collaborator Daniel Irvine will explore the forests in the story.

Additional presenters include Nicholas Pevzner from the University of Pennsylvania; Paula Meijerink, ASLA, Ohio State University; Kamni Gill the University of Manitoba; Nate Heavers, ASLA, of Virginia Tech; Suzanne Matthew from the Rhode Island School of Design; David Buckley Borden, ASLA, from the University of Oregon; and Emily Knox, ASLA, and David Hill, ASLA, from Auburn University.

With this exploration, Lutsky and Vanucchi aim to illustrate that while forests do not exist separately from human impacts, direct management and active design intervention are not always necessary. Forests, says Lutsky, “are not necessarily something we are interested in taking action on, but something we are interested in”.

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