SCAPE / Landscape Architecture

Emerging Voices News

A 26,000 square foot green roof for Cornell’s Milstein Hall.
Matthew Carbone

The Architectural League’s 30th annual Emerging Voices Award brings a focus to creative practices that will influence the direction of architecture. Each of the eight firms will deliver a lecture at the Cooper Union’s Rose Auditorium at 41 Cooper Square in Manhattan. The next lecture takes place on Friday, March 9 at 7:00 p.m. when SCAPE / Landscape Architecture and Studio NMinusOne will present their work.

SCAPE / Landscape Architecture
New York City, New York

“Let’s not wait for the billions of dollars to drop from Mars; let’s do it now,” is Kate Orff’s mantra. And the work of her New York–based landscape architecture firm, SCAPE, is very much of the here-and-now variety, whether or not there are funds. The firm’s work is as much science lab as landscape architecture. There’s built work, too: the 26,000-square-foot green roof atop OMA-designed Milstein Hall for Cornell University and the 103rd Street Restoration Garden for New York Restoration Project, both of which were completed last year. An array of terraces and gardens for the Battery Park City Community Center is under construction.

But Orff seems as much at home with landscape design as activism. The roots were formed in her independent coursework at the University of Virginia that led to a self-curated major in eco-feminism. Later at Harvard, she worked with Rem Koolhaas, who taught her the power of marrying graphics, text, and design with big ideas. Publications are the firm’s bedrock. “It’s fine arts and politics,” she said of the books.

Left to right: A detail of the green roof atop Milstein Hall at Cornell; Subway map for "Safari 7," a self-guided wildlife tour that SCAPE collaborated on with MTWTF & Urban Landscape Lab; SCAPE worked with Studio Gang on the Ford Calumet Environmental Center in Calumet, Illinois.
Glen Cummings (center); Courtesy SCAPE (left, right)

Oyster-tecture, a graphic project for the Museum of Modern Art’s 2010 Rising Currents exhibition, depicted an underwater landscape of active oysters helping to clean New York Harbor. But the graphics were backed up with a real-world pilot project that continues today through private funding at a site in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Recently, Orff worked with Alexander Brash and Jamie Hand on Gateway: Visions for an Urban National Park, a book on the Van Alen Institute’s challenge to re-envision the polluted Gateway National Park in Jamaica, Queens, and recently published by Princeton Architectural Press. The next book, Petrochemical America, due in April from Aperture, combines photographs of Louisiana’s notorious “Chemical Corridor” by Richard Misrach with Orff’s data mapping of the socioeconomic, cultural, and industrial death of the region.

If Orff’s books have the ring of manifesto, perhaps it’s because she wants most to rethink the governing systems entwined with the landscape. The layers of federal, state, and local jurisdictions overseeing the waterways alone are as convoluted as the “black mayonnaise” at the bottom of Jamaica Bay. Orff said that over the next twenty years she hopes to continue shepherding the landscape, whether through existing channels, like the EPA, or, better yet, by helping to design a new agency.

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