Applied Research Consortium

June 30, 2021

Landscape Architecture as liberatory practice

How practitioners can advance spatial justice for people in the margins

The intersectional nature of landscape architecture ideally positions the field to act as a catalyst for liberatory changes that advance spatial justice, according to ARC Fellow Tera Williams. Through her ARC research project Radically Re-imagining Landscape Architecture as Liberatory Practice, conducted in collaboration with ARC member firm GGN, Williams recommends reimagining deliverables and changing the workflow to move through the design process in a way that inherently respects the community’s embodied knowledge of their environment.

“When you’re engaging in liberatory design, all the different project stakeholders are coming together to build a reciprocal relationship centered around the knowledge and values of the community with a sense of deep reflection, reflexivity, and ethics of care,” said Williams, who is earning her PhD in the Built Environment.

“This reimagination requires embracing the political dimensions of design and the tradition of oral storytelling in the margin in order to use design as an active tool for the facilitation of spatial justice,” she said.

Williams’ reimagined deliverables include a “liberatory compass built on a foundation of democratic community engagement that guides the project’s forwardmomentum based on the values, goals, knowledge, and grounding uncovered in the reciprocal relationship building process.” The process, she said, involves working with the community to re-evaluate and revise project goals, designing concepts that are created in the community, revising drawings based around community input, and working towards abolishing the systems that have held back the community.

“Tera’s research takes a critical eye to the traditional landscape architecture design process and identifies where the values of liberatory practice can become grounded and embodied in design, relationships, and space,” said GGN’s Azzurra Cox, who advised the project. “The goal is to render these values — and their power to shape the design process — accessible to a range of designers and stakeholders so as to fundamentally expand the vision, agency, and values of professional practice.”

Williams’ guiding theory and methodology was inspired by Tiffany Lethabo King’s The Black Shoals: Offshore Formations of Black and Native Studies. Williams uses the shoal — an offshore geologic formation that is neither land nor sea — as metaphor to theorize the encounter between designers and the community. Her final report, laid out in a trifold design, includes her original drawings that illustrate her theoretical concepts.

Landscape Architecture professor Lynne Manzo advised the project together with GGN advisors Azzurra Cox and David Malda.