Landscape Architecture students spread out across the Bonneville Salt Flats

Landscape Architecture’s Immersive Semester Investigates Landscapes and Issues of the Great Basin Desert Firsthand

October 26, 2022

The Master of Landscape Architecture program offers an immersive semester, bundling together a six-credit studio and a three-credit seminar to facilitate a deeper investigation of landscapes and issues. This year’s immersive semester, taught by Visiting Assistant Professor Nancy Locke and Associate Professor Joern Langhorst, with the support of Lecturer and Visual Resources Center Production Manager Jesse Kuroiwa and Cornell University’s Professor Emerita of Landscape Architecture Paula Horrigan, dives into the landscapes of the Great Basin Desert, one of four deserts on the North American continent.

Students walking past the Bonneville Salt Flats welcome sign.
Welcome to the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Allie Schima feeling the wind blow across the Bonneville Salt Flats.
MLA student Allie Schima takes in the full experience of wind as it blows across the Bonneville Salt Flats.

“At the center of the immersive experience is fieldwork, exposing students to a range of techniques and approaches to understand landscapes through a deep, thick, and long “read,” revealing the many forces and actors that shape a landscape over time,” said Langhorst. “Their in-place investigations, ranging from the objective-scientific to the artistic-intuitive will inform students’ design responses to a wide range of phenomena and issues.”

Students outside of the Center for Land Use Investigation next to a tin wall surrounding a retired air plane.
Center for Land Use Investigation in Wendover, UT.
Alexa Engle looking into an exhibit at the Center for Land Use Investigation.
MLA student Alexa Engle explores an art installation at the Center for Land Use Investigation in Wendover, UT.

“There was plenty of apprehension going into the Salt Flats – it’s the desert, the last environment I feel connected to. What are we going to do out there all day, in solitude, separated from one another? Just being,” Engle reflected following the first day of the trip. “But then we got out there, carved out our space, and allowed ourselves to see what might come up. And I loved it. Any amount of time given to experiencing the flats felt too short, and I’m already itching to go back.”

MLA students and faculty at the Bonneville Salt Flats.
The CU Denver Master of Landscape Architecture Immersive Studio + Seminar group at the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Students walking through the Sun Tunnel land art near the Bonneville Salt Flats.
A group of students led the class on an interpretive exercise at Sun Tunnels, an artwork by Nancy Holt near Great Salt Lake Desert.

“The ongoing drought and decreasing water levels portending an ecological and hydrological catastrophe will be as much a concern as the cold-war military history, historic and current mining operations, land use conflicts, or the iconic works of land art by the likes of Nancy Holt, Robert Smithson or Michael Heizer,” said Langhorst.

Master of Landscape Architecture group photo at the Great Salt Lake.
Students pose on the shore along the Great Salt Lake.
Omar Ba Yousef waving to camera above the Spiral Jetty.
MLA student Omar Ba Yousef above the Spiral Jetty.

“Like everyone else, the Spiral Jetty invited me to descend towards the retreated Salt Lake,” said Ba Yousef. “Subconsciously or imitatively, I did the spiral walk toward the center, trying to interpret while jumping between rocks to keep off the salty sand. The next morning, we realized how the Spiral Jetty invited us to look around in a panoramic walk. It is surreal!”

Students sketching along a mountain ridge.
Students sketching on a ridge above Spiral Jetty.
Hannah Van de Vorst sketching on a mountain.
MLA student Hannah Van de Vorst sketching near Spiral Jetty.

“The students’ designs will respond to such concerns, but also engage an intimate understanding of the experience of the sites they are working on, looking at their designs as the next chapter in the long history of changes that create the landscapes, places, and sites we respond to and live in,” said Langhorst. “This approach goes beyond the traditional methods of site analysis, engaging the many voices, perspectives, stories and experiences that shape the lived reality we call landscape.”

Group of students in the distance near the Spiral Jetty.
Students at the Spiral Jetty, a land artwork by Robert Smithson on the north side of the Great Salt Lake. Students met amateur geologists who were digging selenite crystals.

Photos by Jesse Kuroiwa, College of Architecture and Planning’s Visual Resources Center Production Manager and Lecturer