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Great Lakes Design Labs

At well over 200,000 square miles, the size of the Great Lakes Basin is immense.  While certain indicators at the basin scale allow for recognition of particular landscape patterns and processes that may help us understand ‘where’, ‘how’, and ‘why’ certain conditions are occurring - the scale of the entire basin is rarely well utilized when approaching the design of specific sites, testing strategies, and making local land-based decisions.  

The Great Lakes Design Labs (GLDL) are an effort to explore such physical and social potentials of the ‘local/regional’ landscape and work to simultaneously establish a physical and social culture of adaptation within the Basin through the marriage of research landscapes and design labs. Recognizing the learning and engagement opportunities in the observation and documentation of change that is an inherent quality of a research landscape, the GLDL will work to elevate the cultural potential of these landscapes and questions through thoughtful siting, designs processes, and management strategies for Basin-based sites.

The GLDL is:

+ A regional network of designers, researchers, and students working and supporting each other by-way of critical engagement and collaboration throughout the Great Lakes Basin


+ A series of ‘Land Labs’ which test land-based design and management strategies that do following:

  • Recognize and engage the dynamic qualities of the Great Lakes Basin - i.e. focus on working WITH change 

  • Respond to critical environmental, social, and economic issues in the region

  • Are open-ended, adaptable, and embrace the 'unknown'

  • Engage local communities in the active and less-predictable processes of observation, documentation, design, and management

+  An effort to develop a ‘culture of adaptation’  through land-based questioning as a social and physical resilient landscape strategy



GLDL  Partnership:    LoDo Lab 

Great Lakes Design Lab partners Karen Lutsky and Jamie Vanucchi have been working with a fantastic group of interdisciplinary, trans-institutional collaborators across the fields of architecture, landscape architecture art, and science. Learn more about the collaborative and on-going projects here.

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GLDL  Partnership:    Freshwater Fish Futures Collective 

GLDL partners Karen Lutsky and Ozayr Saloojee are part of the Freshwater Fish Future collective. The group is "a collective of scientists, artists, writers, landscape architects, environmentalists, journalists, and community leaders dedicated to honoring reciprocal responsibilities to freshwater fish in watersheds locally and globally." Learn more about the collective and its fantastic leader Zoe Todd here.

GLDL Team + Partners


UMN GLDL Director + Founder:     Karen Lutsky __

Karen is an assistant professor of landscape architecture at the University of Minnesota.Before joining the faculty at UMN, Karen held teaching and researching positions in landscape architecture at number of institutions including the University of Pennsylvania, the Illinois Institute of Technology, Penn State University, the Ohio State University, and the University at Buffalo-SUNY. With an undergraduate degree in 'Environment and Society' from Brandeis University and a masters degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania, Karen has spent most all of her academic and professional career researching and working with the relationship between people and their physical environment.   


Her design research focuses on how landscape architects and designers might better design 'with' the changing landscapes of the Great Lakes Basin. Karen is interested in the potential of this highly dynamic land to better address larger environmental issues and establish healthier relationships between people and landscapes and water of the Great Lakes. Having grown up along the south-western shore of Lake Michigan and worked throughout the region, Karen is proud to note that she has lived in 6 of the 8 U.S. states that border the Great Lakes.

You can find out more about Karen's teaching and research here and access some of Karen's publications at the following websites:

Five Bay Landscapes: Curious Explorations of the Great Lakes Basin

Curious Methods - Places Online Journal

Emergent Shorelines of the Great Lakes - Places Online Journal

Big Old Tree, New Big Easy - Scenario Journal

GLDL  Partner:    Jamie Vanucchi, Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture, Cornell University

Jamie is an assistant professor of landscape architecture and Director of Undergraduate Studies at Cornell University, formerly at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, NY.  Jamie’s work seeks to merge science and design. She studies and designs novel ecologies and land-based infrastructures that perform work for cities with minimal or alternative inputs, and is especially interested in how novelty and uncertainty necessitate a shift toward experimental and adaptive design processes. She is currently working on a federal capacity funded project titled Increasing the Success of Community Adaptation to Climate Change: Assessing FEMA Buyouts of Flood-prone Housing. This project looks at how municipalities understand and manage flood risk, and uses mapping and drawing to explore and represent multi-faceted risk, vulnerability, and uncertainty in the floodplain. She has taught design studios and seminars focusing on the Great Lakes Basin, and is currently a member of CornellDesign, finalists in the Reimagining the Canals design competition sponsored by the Governor’s office, along with H + N + S (Netherlands). The team’s competition submission, titled Urban Archipelago, explores hybridizing landscapes with water in the landscape that extends from the Finger Lakes to Lake Ontario. You can learn more about Jamie's research and teaching here.

UMN GLDL Partner:     Mae Davenport, PhD.  + the UMN Center for Changing Landscapes

Mae Davenport is a professor in the Department of Forest Resources and director of the Center for Changing Landscapes. Her research interests are focused on the human dimensions of natural resource management, specifically sustainable land use planning; community-based ecosystem management; recreation planning; and human beliefs, attitudes and behaviors associated with landscape change.  You can find out more about Mae and her research here.

The Center for Changing Landscapes offers social science research services, conservation program evaluation, community assessment training, and research design assistance to natural resource agencies, nonprofit organizations, and communities in Minnesota and beyond. The Center’s researchers specialize in the use of interdisciplinary community-based research methods, innovative multi-methods evaluation, and inclusive project planning. A primary goal of the center is to empower communities and natural resource managers in inclusive and visionary planning and problem-solving for sustainable, livable, and equitable futures. You can find out more about the Center for Changing Landscapes and all the great work they do here.

GLDL  Partner:     Ozayr Saloojee, PhD., Carleton University + the Carleton Urban Research


Born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, Professor Saloojee previously taught at the University of Minnesota’s College of Design, where he was an Associate Professor of Architecture with affiliate faculty status in Landscape Architecture and Religious Studies. Before moving to Minnesota in 2005, he studied, taught and practiced architecture here in Ottawa, receiving his B.Arch and Post-professional M.Arch (Theory and Culture) from Carleton University. He completed his PhD at the Bartlett School of Architecture (University College London) under the supervision of Dr. J. K. Birksted and Dr. Iain Borden. 

Professor Saloojee teaches courses in architectural design, urbanism and history that explore themes and questions of infrastructure, post-coloniality, and alternative urban and landscape futures. Recent studios have focused on the desert landscapes of the Negev/Naqab, on future scenarios for the Great Lakes, on water and equity in Istanbul, and an upcoming studio on labour and the mining landscapes of Johannesburg.  His research and academic interests include a focus on politically contested terrains, ideas of resiliency and adaptation in infrastructure and landscapes through the crossings of architecture, landscape and cultural geographies. He is currently working on a project called “The Incommensurate Archive,” an outcome of his doctoral work that explored the issue of the archival gap in South Africa’s colonial past and post-colonial present.  You can find out more about Ozayr's teaching and research here.  Ozayr is also co-director and co-founder of the Carleton Urban Research Lab, you can find out more about the C-URL here.

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GLDL  Collaborator: Brett Stolpestad, Former University of Minnesota Landscape Architecture Graduate Student

Brett (MLA '21) was graduate student in the Landscape Architecture program at the University of Minnesota. He grew up in the Twin Cities where he spent spent much of his time exploring nearby parks and woods, and skating South Metro lakes and creeks. Brett earned a bachelors of arts in journalism and philosophy from the University of Minnesota in 2014 and went on to serve two years as an AmeriCorps member with the Conservation Corps of MN & IA. He has worked as a natural resources technician, field crew leader, and water quality BMP designer. He now works for Washington Conservation District where he assists landowners in planning and implementing water quality and habitat improvement projects throughout the county. Brett's interests relate to ecological restoration, plant-insect interactions, material life-cycles, and climate change adaptation + resilience.

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GLDL Collaborator: Kyle Franta, Former University of Minnesota Landscape Architecture Graduate Student

Kyle (MLA '21) was a Master of Landscape Architecture Student at the University of Minnesota. He grew up on a farm in South Central Minnesota and spent his time exploring the perennial grasses in drainage ditches, climbing trees in windbreak groves, and boating and fishing throughout the Minnesota River Valley. Kyle has a bachelors of landscape architecture from South Dakota State University where he largely focused on plant identification, planting design, geographical information systems, construction and assemblies, and rural design. He has worked extensively in construction both in design and agricultural settings, and he currently works as a design intern and as a fellow for the Resilient Communities Project where he is collaboratively assisting with equitable community engagement tactics for the City of Little Canada. Kyle’s work and research focuses on helping people know their place in the world by helping them see in new ways and imagine new possibilities. He is always looking to see how landscapes have transpired and seeks to imagine what they could be.

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GLDL Assistant: Nicole DelPizzo, University of Minnesota Landscape Architecture Graduate Student


Nicole is a graduate student in the Landscape Architecture program at the University of Minnesota. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Theatre Arts with an emphasis on Set Design from the University of Minnesota, bringing skills in storytelling through design to her landscape practice. With ties in the Midwest and on the east coast, Nicole is interested in exploring littoral spaces and changing landscapes. Playing with experimental representation, she seeks to create spaces that engage community; landscapes that honor people and land; and art that serves a visual impact.


GLDL Assistant: Emily Morton, University of Minnesota Landscape Architecture Graduate Student

Emily is a graduate student in the Landscape Architecture program at the University of Minnesota. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Architectural Design and Visual Studies from the University of Toronto. Emily grew up in Minnesota visiting Lake Superior every summer. She has always found interest in the transitional zones of aquatic ecosystems and adaptive plant life that grows in challenging site conditions. Emily has worked in the Twin Cities’ landscape-design build industry with focus on urban stormwater management and terrestrial/aquatic native restoration. Her current work at the University of Minnesota explores material narratives across time scales. Additional interests include urban ecology, infrastructure, and circular design.


GLDL  Former Research Assistant: Maura McDaniel, Landscape Architecture Graduate Student, University of Pennsylvania


Maura is a graduate student in the Landscape Architecture program at the University of Pennsylvania. She received her Bachelor of Science in Architecture from the University of Minnesota. She has always had a deep appreciation of the natural world around her and continues to nurture this interest by taking an annual road trip to explore new landscapes. She is particularly interested in how we can create beautiful and environmentally responsible public spaces that promote equity. She believes that creating connections between people and the landscape is increasingly important, both for our changing climate and for our own quality of life. Her interest in research and investigation is driven by a belief that design is about finding the right questions to ask through a rigorous and exploratory process.


GLDL  Former Research Assistant: Sam Phipps, Landscape Architecture Graduate Student, University of Minnesota


Sam is a graduate student in the Landscape Architecture program at the University of Minnesota. Growing up close to the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin, he spent much of his youth exploring the tallgrass prairies and big woods forests of the St. Croix River Valley. Sam received an undergraduate degree in environmental design from the University of Minnesota and is currently living and learning in Minneapolis where he enjoys hands-on work and getting into the field design-wise, having worked previously in landscape design, implementation, and maintenance. His interests in both work and research relates to the intersection between design and the ways in which people interact with and perceive the spaces they occupy, specifically within urban and/or degraded contexts.

Additional Former GLDL  Research Assistants:

Bria Fast (Old Growth Canopy Trail Site Investigations, Walker Art Museum 'Tree Time 1', Water in Flux), Zoe Weingarten (Resilient Design Workshops, Third Coast Studio, GLDL Experimental Forest Seminar and Workshops ),  Olivia Bergerson (Local Fibershed Deer Fencing Project), Erin Pouba (Local Fibershed Deer Fencing Project)

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