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Landscape Architecture: The Forgotten Stories of Our Future (Personal Statement)

Landscape architecture is a field in which its practitioners design constructions that allow people to connect to themselves, to each other, and to their environment. However, my connections are both formed and forged through the conduit of stories. My parents immigrated to the U.S in the 1990’s in order to seek medical relief for their firstborn child, Charlie. Hence, my own story began when I was conceived in an attempt to be the bone marrow donor for my dying brother. But to my parents’ greatest dismay, I was not a match. Thus, the truest and most potent of stories are not those found on a page or a screen but those that come alive through our experiences and more importantly, honored through our memories. Therefore, my work as a sociologist, poet, writer, filmmaker, photographer, painter, printmaker, mixed media artist, sculptor, or entrepreneur — all share the same purpose. I aim to tell stories regardless of form — mediums are finite, yet stories are immortal.

My current research interests and artistry are at the intersection of media technology, visual art, and cultural sociology. Thus, studying landscape architecture will allow me to synthesize tech, culture, and narrative in an artistic, creative fashion while teaching me to design informed continuations of the conversations present in today’s socio-political climate. As a cultural sociologist at Cambridge, my research focused on analyzing how people are misrepresented in contemporary media, such as how people of color are excluded in new media research. As the daughter of immigrants, and a bisexual woman of color, I have greatly questioned my own space within academia and society. However, it was within these neglected spaces that I gained a newfound affinity for crucially focusing on the lack of representation of marginalized persons and communities. My field review essay analyzed the ‘#MeToo’ movement as I critiqued the biased coverage of the social movement to highlight the invisible but deeply embedded power structures still in place in society today. Following this experience, I conducted a research thesis on how the usage of social media applications influence modern romantic relationships. Yet, my conversation again focused on both the people and subjects that were excluded from contemporary research such as which media applications were analyzed for data collection to the lack of romantic relationships explored outside of the heteronormative space. However, it is not enough to merely analyze and critique society through the framework of sociological theory. Learning of the power misused through mediated narrative has only further motivated me to be a practitioner in using art and technology as tangible social interventions.

Beginning as an undergraduate at Columbia University, I maintain a practice as a visual artist and filmmaker by utilizing different mediums to express some of the most intangible emotions. My recent exhibit is a collection of acrylic paintings that invoke pigmentations of visual narrative. Each painting in the collection “Sensory” had a two-fold goal. It allowed me as the artist to informally engage in a meditative therapeutic process whilst simultaneously rendering a formal artistic by-product. It also allows the viewer to engage with my abstractions of intangible emotions whilst forming their own contextual impressions. As an artist that works across multiple scales from the canvas to mass video installations, landscape architecture provides me with a form of visual storytelling at the largest scale. Art is infinite - it can be expressive but can also serve as a conduit that catalyzes visual satisfaction into a social function (design).

Academically, Harvard has a comprehensive curriculum within the program but also includes the flexibility of taking advanced workshops throughout all of the different design departments. Therefore, this multidisciplinary educational model will permit me to further engage with the other disciplines in my journey towards becoming a better-informed designer. For my landscape architecture practice, I hope to pursue three different forms of stylistic design. The first aspect is storytelling - a visual curation that will enforce me to not only understand the historical past through a sociological lens but more importantly, how to build the constructs for the stories of the future. The second aspect would be to embody an element of both impressionism and escapism throughout my practice by infusing my design with the expressive abstract notions from my artworks. Lastly, I seek to demonstrate a design-driven awareness of both the natural and built environment as well as the social-cultural landscapes of its residents.

My father’s first American property was not a car or a house but instead, the burial site for Charlie. In an almost poetic fashion, I viewed this milestone in our family life’s as honoring a respectable home for the dead rather than for the living. Architects Arakawa and Gins “believed that through a radical recalibration of the built environment, humans could solve the ultimate design flaw: death”. But I tend to disagree. Both my immigration identity, and my very existence were brought into this world through the fear of death. However, this ending became the foundation for my beginning. My goal is not to prevent death but rather, to reanimate and give life to the stories that have been momentarily unnoticed.

I am most interested in designing burial grounds through an amalgamation of sustainable technology, storytelling, and visual installation. It is not only about re-imagining the physical space of burial grounds but honoring both the stories that each plot beholds as well as reformulating our practical approach to death. Modern burial practices diminish the memory of our loved ones through mechanical executions in which corpses are buried into muddled earthly cubicles. Moreover, both burial and cremation processes introduce toxins into the earth long after the body has naturally decomposed. Hence, I am greatly curious about both the technological possibilities of preserving our memories and consciousness in the digital space whilst aiming to completely redesign the architectural function of graveyards. This would include utilizing innovations such as burial suits seeded with “pollution-gobbling mushrooms” to help ensure that bodies nourish, instead of pollute, the natural environment long after decay.

Pursuing my goal of becoming a landscape architect does not take away from my lifelong practice of telling stories but instead further informs it. In the landscapes I hope to design, create, and re-imagine, I need to not only understand the history of each embedded space but also how to crucially create new history through the natural and built environment. Stories only become alive when people choose to listen, so I believe it is my responsibility to honor the stories that should not be forgotten.