Monday, November 1, 2010

College: Intra-Urban Geographies

Edit: Nov. 25, 2010 - Pictures added

Today, the Bellingham Weather System decided to stop denying that it is officially fall in Western Washington, and it's been chilly and raining all day. Because of this torrent of water, more and more puddles are forming all over campus, especially where there's tons of brick (which is everywhere).

One vast expanse of brick is known as Red Square, and today walking between classes I have discovered a hidden quality of it: there's a miniature terrain in the bricks.

Through age and imperfections in the Square, brick-lined estuaries, lakes, straits, islands, peninsulas, and other water-land relationships are created in miniature. As rainfall increases, there is a miniature urban flood that only conflicts with foot traffic through the square.
This accidentally man-made landscape slowly redirects the ebb and flow of students between classes. Those who wish to avoid getting soaking socks choose increasingly hop-scotch-esque routes among the "dry" brick-islands, while those with tall shoes, rainboots, or aren't concerned with wet feet, merely walk undaunted through the tiny lakes, creeks, rivers, sloughs, and channels that are created. Everyone that walks through Red Square in the rain is a wayward explorer, landing on dozens of unnoticed islands and mini-continents that will remain unclaimed.

Of course, there is the possibility that the apparent "flaws" in the way the brickwork sits may be on purpose. Perhaps a team of brick-layers worked together to replicate familiar (and perhaps imaginary) landscapes and terrains through the reaction of brick and trapped water.

On this track, I was immediately reminded of the plaza on campus just a little further south, Haskell Plaza. According to WWU's Walking Tour with Artists--Part of Western's Outdoor Sculpture Collection, Haskell Plaza is a miniature, familiar terrain:

"As you walk from Hamrol’s work further into Haskell Plaza, you will notice an increase of segmented, grassy mounds. These mounds along with the patterned brickwork represent the San Juan Islands just beyond Western and Bellingham Bay. The landscape architects, Campbell & Campbell of California, wanted to connect us through its miniature version to the larger world outside campus." [*] p.22

Whether on purpose or not, Western Washington University has at least two miniature worlds that connect students, faculty, staff, and visitors to the outside world; even if it is not as obvious to most people. Perhaps an intra-urban cartographer will one day map out the wavering brick-archipelagos and lake systems that are located within Red Square on particularly rainy days.

This line of thinking has me wanting to go browse through Geoff Manaugh's BLDGBLOG some more. Even of you aren't one for architecture (like I used to be), you should still check out his stuff!

Since tomorrow is my "off day" and it should be rainy out, I'll try to snap some pics of people interacting with these miniature systems and post them here.

I seriously have no idea why it took this long.

Examples of the micro-environments located in Red Square, Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA. Tried to take the shot from the same angle on various days to show the changing aquatic elements, as well as the way people travel around them.


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