RA003 | DIAGRAMMING DISTURBANCE explored a critical approach to ecological disturbance as framework for imagining futures for abandoned industrial, mining, and transportation sites in the Midwestern United States. Participants challenged dominant paradigms of ecosystem restoration of disturbed sites in favor of the cultivation of places of rarity. The former railyard was seen not as a wasteland in need of cleanup, but as a laboratory for testing how disturbance can be engaged as both progenitor and actor in guiding the emergence of idiosyncratic, novel landscapes and ecosystems. Participants’ investigations included illustrating modeling the formal and functional implications of this hypothesis.

Site Location
Former Railyard in Columbus, Ohio.

Artisterium III, Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia 

Site History
The site is a former railyard that runs parallel with Interstate 670 in Columbus, Ohio. Currently, one half site is dedicated to 20 meter-high stockpile of road salt. This bright white “industrial mountain” exerts a sublime presence over an otherwise flat site. The other half of the site features artifacts of the railyard, such as concrete slabs and the roundhouse foundation, groves of young trees and wildflower meadows. Rubble piles dot this landscape, colonized by trees and shrubs that thrive in these harsh habitats.

Provocation: Adaptive hazards
The salt stockpile is both a landmark in Columbus and a source of storm water pollution. Currently hyper-saline runoff from the stockpile contaminates the Scioto river through the stormwater system. In this seminar, we entertained the idea of channeling both the chemical and visual possibilities of this runoff to create an accessible, idiosyncratic and sublime landscape–visible from the adjoining Interstate 670 highway–that prevented the runoff from entering the stormwater system.

Field study program

  • Ruderal plant inventory
  • Investigation of soil saturation and compaction due to contemporary and historic disturbances
  • Survey of existing topography
  • Documentation of saline evaporation and deposition patterns
  • Site material and artifact documentation

Studio Program

In the studio we sought to develop a site-specific approach to site work that engages the aesthetics of disturbance as means to increase habitat and biodiversity, intensify ecological systems, and allow for public access. The notion of disturbance is central to the work depicted here. Disturbance is a term used by ecologists to describe a change in the state of an ecosystem. Disturbances are events that change the form and spaces of landscape.

First, participants created diagrams of 5 sample landscapes drawn from current conditions on the site models. The diagrams depict five states of change in the landscape: setup, initiation, development, disturbance and response. Setup shows a combination of found elements such as existing plantings and railyard artifacts and new earthworks. Initiation portrays the first year of growth in response to the setup. Development is the maturation and expansion of this growth. Disturbance is an action that radically shifts the form and function of the landscape – for example, the removal of a stand of trees. Response depicts the formal reaction of the landscape to the disturbance.

Next, participants translated the diagrams into Rhino surface models, focusing on creating subtle grade adjustments to capture the spectrum of colors expressed in the fractional crystallization process that occurs after each rainstorm. These 12″ x 12″ surface files were then CNC milled from 2″ thick Baltic birch plywood. These “blanks” were then hand-tooled to create textured areas depicting different types of vegetation, then “planted” with fibers showing ruderal growth patterns. The blanks were milled at 12″ x 12″ to accommodate shipping limitations in transporting the work to Tbilisi: the work had to “pack flat” and fit into two suitcases each less than 70 kilos. A series of cross-section drawings depict the formal and spatial character of the landscape.

Justin Braun

Ross Caliendo
Daniel Dobson
Abigail Downs
Jesse Hartman
Kirk Hiatt


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