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Published on Nov 20, 2013
In the mid-nineteenth century, British geologist Charles Lyell travelled through the antebellum American South; what he found shocked him: forest-clearing, shoddy farming practices, and rainwater had worked together across broad swathes of the South to gouge vast and deep gullies that had no apparent geologic precedent.
This extremely rapid change—it took only a few years for millennia of accumulated soil to completely erode, leaving wounds that gaped often fifty, sixty, even eighty feet deep—might be understood as an example of how landscapes are prone to rapid perversion through the aggregate impact of many actors (in this case, farmers) behaving in accordance with misaligned incentives (in this case, a system of tenantry that favored exhausting plot after plot over developing sustainable practices for a single plot). Collectively, these tendencies both present difficulties for the design of resilient human settlements and suggest the need for designers to become better and more rigorous futurists.
About Rob Holmes: Rob Holmes teaches and practices landscape architecture in Virginia, at Virginia Tech and with Michael Vergason Landscape Architects. Prior to returning to Virginia, he was the visiting Bickham Chair in Landscape Architecture at Louisiana State University, and is currently the Trott Visiting Professor at Ohio State University's Knowlton School of Architecture. He is co-founder of both Mammoth, which investigates infrastructures, logistics, landscape, and architectural possibilities in contemporary cities, and the Dredge Research Collaborative, which studies human sediment handling practices in the Anthropocene and organizes the DredgeFest event series.
His writing, research, and design work has been published in various magazines, journals, and books including Landscape Futures, Bracket, Urban Design Review, Landscape Architecture, Fulcrum, and Scenario Journal and recognized with awards in competitions including the Arid Land Institute's "Drylands Design" and Van Alen Institute's "Envisioning Gateway". Recent public appearances include Louisiana State University, Cornell University, Studio-X NYC, and MediaLab Prado.