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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:

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.


GLDL  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  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.


GLDL  Collaborator: Lindsey Strange, Apparel Designer + UMN Apparel Design Instructor

Lindsey Strange is an apparel designer and educator located in Minneapolis, MN. She is passionate about keeping designed objects in use and develops circular economy strategies at the intersection of design, business, and education. With experience ranging from costume to technical design, she currently teaches apparel design at the University of Minnesota. Lindsey holds a B.S. in Apparel Design from the University of Minnesota and an MBA in Sustainability and Circular Economy from Bard College. Recent projects include developing an innovation toolkit for New York Center for Material Reuse, receiving 2nd place in the Patagonia 2018 Case Competition for a carbon neutrality strategy, and ongoing research developing tools to design for a circular economy. She is also a co-founder of Cahoots Co. – a kids clothing rental and repair company.

Lindsey is partnering with the GDL to experiment with how textiles interact with landscapes and is enjoying learning more about the trees and forests of the upper Midwest. When Lindsey is not working, she can often be found sewing, mending, reading a book, or taking a walk in the woods with her family.


GLDL  Former Research Assistant: Erin Pouba, Apparel Design Student, University of Minnesota

Erin is an apparel design major minoring in sustainability studies at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. She incorporates sustainability into every decision she can, especially in design. Through research, questions, and practice, she is constantly learning about eco-friendly practices in order to help push the environmental movement into a standard for every industry. Fashion being her main career path, she has created her own sustainable fashion brand, Empfashion where the fabrics she uses include deadstock, fabric scraps, thrifted materials, and anything she has before purchasing more. She also creates in small quantities to decrease waste, energy and resources. Most of her work is Convertible Clothing, so that each piece can be worn in multiple ways with the idea to limit consumption. Her brand recently began collaborating through Estudios22 in a virtual fashion show to encourage sustainable fashion.

Virtual Fashion Show:


GLDL  Former Research Assistant: Olivia Bergerson, Apparel Design Student, University of Minnesota


Olivia is a junior at the University of Minnesota majoring in Apparel Design. From a young age, Olivia has had a passion for design and helping others. She is intrigued by the way these two factors can come together, believing that design is an opportunity for change. Design can deliver a message about individuality, equality, social justice, and influence change. Her goal is to be an apparel designer who uses their work to make a social impact. She wants her designs to be a call to action. In her work, Olivia is largely inspired by nature, clean aesthetics, pastel tones, and the behaviors of those close to her. As a designer she is futuristic, valuing creativity and growth. Aside from design Olivia enjoys singing, yoga, and spending quality time with her loved ones. In the future, she hopes to move out of Minnesota to pursue design in a more enriching urban environment. Olivia aspires to own her own company where she is free to create and explore her passions all while helping others.

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GLDL  Former Research Assistant : Bria Fast, Landscape Architecture Graduate Student, University of Minnesota

Bria is a graduate student in the Landscape Architecture program at the University of Minnesota. Bria was raised in Minnesota and has spent extensive time traveling in and around the Great Lakes. Until her move back to Minneapolis in 2016, she was working for a variety of organizations in Nepal and the United Kingdom which were focused on providing shelter and settlement to those affected by natural disasters. Because of this, her research and academic interests are largely connected to themes of home, change, infrastructure and power. Some of these interests include invasive species and rhetoric, speculative development, alternative urbanism, extraction economies, and arctic design. Bria is interested in studying the various futures of the Great Lakes, and has a special fondness for the North Shore of Lake Superior in the winter. 


Former GLDL  Research Assistant : Zoe Weingarten, Landscape Architecture Graduate Student, University of Minnesota

Zoe is a graduate student in the Landscape Architecture program at the University of Minnesota. Zoe  grew up in Northern Michigan where she spent much of her youth exploring the shoreline, trails, and communities of Lake Superior. Zoe earned a bachelors of arts in education and anthropology from Ripon College and went on to serve a year through AmeriCorps working with the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation in Northfield, MN. She has worked as a teacher, facilitator, and freelance designer. Most recently Zoe worked for two years in Waldorf Education in Minneapolis exploring environmental curriculum and arts-based programs. Her interests relate to the evolution of human and natural geographies, post-industrial communities, and storytelling through design. 

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