LA201+221+272+281 Traveling Studio Mississippi River, aka The Savanna Studio

Iowa State University Department of Landscape Architecture. Fall 2005 and Fall 2002


2003: Gary Highshoe, Ashley Kyber and Matthew Tucker

2005: Mira Engler, Peter Butler and Matthew Tucker

In 1972, Iowa State Landscape Architecture alumni and former Professor Robert Dyas conducted field research on the savanna region of North America, stretching from Manitoba to south Texas. This seminal work was important in raising awareness to the prairie landscape of the Midwest long before the prairie resotration movement of the 1980's gained fervor. In the spirit of his teachings, in 2001, former Dyas student and ISU LA Professor emeritus Gary Hightshoe developed the "savanna studio" as the introductory comprehensive studio for the  ISU BLA program. 

In 2003 and 2005 I was invited to co-instruct the ISU Savanna Studio. The Savanna Studio combines all coursework for incoming BLA students into an integrated pedagogical platform based in the observation and interpretation of the urban and rural landscape through multiple lenses.  A centerpiece of the studio is an extended period of travel ( 2, 3 week trips) and establishes a learning community of BLA students. As part of their instruction, 3 instructors and up to 36 students travel across the mid-continent studying landscape ecology, cultural history, representation, and regional identity. Impromptu lectures, site visits and discussions are combined with development of landscape observations and documentation. For example, in 2005 I created a "Water Log" that required student to document 4 different significant water experiences as well as to collect water samples for laboratory testing. Inspired by the PBS "River of Song" project, I also developed a collection of musical selections based on musical influences in the different ethnographic regions of the Mississippi River watershed. 

The studio experience provides tremendous learning opportunities and requires adaptive instruction while traveling. A case in point, in 2005 studio traveled the length of the Mississippi River from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, with stops in Minneapolis, St. Louis, Memphis, Natchez and New Orleans. The studio arrived in coastal Louisiana and New Orleans just weeks after Hurricane Katrina. Students not only witnessed the devastation and emptiness of America's most culturally energetic and diverse city, but they also gained exposure to the complex inter-relationships between socio-ecological landscape processes have created an unsustainable cultural and biological coastal environment.