Infinite Urban Landscapes: A Journey Through Cambridge, Massachusetts is a multidisciplinary project by Leah Brunetto, occurring in three parts from 2011 through 2013. Click below to learn about each phase:
- Undergraduate thesis at MIT
- Exhibition at MIT's Rotch Library of Architecture and Planning
- Community art project funded by the Cambridge Arts Council
In my late teens and early twenties, I observed that my most vivid experiences in the city occurred within and traveling across local urban landscapes such as public parks in Cambridge and the campuses of Harvard and MIT. When I was very young, large sprawling lawns and their clear sightlines gave the illusion of rolling, infinite grass, and the insides of large manicured hedges led to different worlds. I believed these places were much larger than they were, and that they led to the wilderness- this remained inspiring throughout my lifetime. As I grew older, I continued to spend time in these landscapes, but my focus shifted to how much they were actually enclosed, and how heavily layered and artificial the urban landscape is as a whole. As my perspective broadened, landscapes started to feel smaller and their forms felt more fragmented. To help understand this disconnect between initial impressions and reality, I asked the question: What are the differences between true natural landscapes and constructed landscapes?
I was led into an investigation of the history of the Boston area, the construction of urban landscapes, successes and problems in modern landscape architecture, and a broader discussion about nature and cities. My research revealed the differences in form, usage, ecology, and meaning that distinguish natural and urban landscapes from one another.
Methods of research on urban landscapes included:
- Literature review, drawing especially from the research and writings of Kevin Lynch, Clare Cooper Marcus, and Anne Whiston Spirn
- Traveling across the city by bicycle to take notes, capture reference photos, and detect variations in elevation
- Identification of five types of urban landscapes in Cambridge: private landscapes, neighborhood landscapes, courtyard landscapes, shoreline landscapes, and exit landscapes. Each of these categories describes the arrangement of living and nonliving elements, the level of energy (activity of foot traffic, bicycles, and/or vehicles), the stage of life when one occupies it (childhood, adolescence, and/or adulthood), and the type of people who are there (family, neighbors, and/or strangers)
- The development of a form generation and analysis method using digital photography, tracing, and painting to deconstruct landscapes into their living and nonliving elements.
This thesis research project was written in completion of the Bachelor of Science degree in Architecture at MIT (June 2012). I was jointly advised by faculty from the MIT Program in Art, Culture, and Technology and the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, both within MIT's School of Architecture and Planning. The thesis review was held on May 23, 2012 in MIT's Wiesner Building (E15).
An exhibition of paintings created using my form generation process was displayed June 1 - July 31, 2012 at MIT's Rotch Library of Architecture and Planning. View the collection on this website's home page.
Official description from exhibition:
Arranged in chronological order, the painted urban landscapes in this collection trace the artist's journey from her backyard to the edges of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Places such as public parks once felt physically infinite and natural in childhood, but are revealed as man-made and enclosed by the inorganic frameworks of the city. The level of fragmentation in each landscape increases along the timeline, reflecting the increased pace and complexity of life further away from home. These energetic forms lead to city exits such as highways, where one-point perspective reintroduces the notion of infinity.
While at first glance some of the featured landscapes appear natural, their artificiality is revealed by the geometries of elements such as fences, pavement, and bridges. The compositions were developed iteratively using digital photography and tracing to find the most dynamic forms and rhythms. Site photos were deconstructed literally into two different layers- inorganic and organic. The final images subtract the inorganic layers from the organic layers, resulting in a distinctly modern, urban aesthetic.
Community Art Project
In May 2013, I co-taught a three-part workshop in partnership with the Cambridge Creativity Commons (CCC) to Upper School students (grades 6-8) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I was the first visiting artist to the Cambridge Creativity Commons. CCC director, Kyle Browne collaborated on curriculum design and coordinated students through their weekly afterschool program, the Creativity Club.
The CCC emerged as a distinctive creative program in Cambridge in 2011 under the guidance of its Partners Advisory Board: the Cambridge Community Foundation, the Cambridge Public Schools (CPS), the Cambridge Arts Council, and Lesley University's Creativity Commons and Art Institute of Boston. CCC is founded on the principle that every child is creative, and that this ability can be developed in environments where creative processes are practiced. The CCC works with CPS teachers and OST staff to develop new approaches to teaching and learning through meaningful, arts-integrated programming and serves East Cambridge students in grades 1-8, primarily from the Kennedy-Longfellow Elementary and Putnam Avenue Upper schools, as well as out-of-school programs, at no cost to the district or the students.
The workshop was focused on the image production process of the original thesis. Students captured then traced digital photographs, and then painted the image's living environments to produce their own artworks. Student work was on exhibit summer 2013 in Porter Square, find out more.