Marie joins Ruderal from the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Applied Sciences in Freising, Germany, where she is in her second year. Prior to rerouting toward a career in landscape architecture, Marie worked with and co-founded several social entrepreneurship projects with a focus on environmental issues in Australia, India and Germany. She holds a BA in History from the University of Waterloo, Canada, and an Executive Master of Arts degree from the University of Melbourne, Australia.
Marie came to Georgia in August and September to shadow the daily activity of the studio and participate in the Common Territories field school in Marneuli. She also collaborated with Ruderal to produce research diagrams and public-facing texts on geomorphological diversity for Ruderal’s submission to the 2022 Quarry Life Award.
BH: Tell me a little about your experience in design school so far. What have you found interesting or provocative?
MS: It sounds simple, but I would say that the learning in itself is the most interesting part. My friends and family often ask if I’m having fun, but given the intensity of my first year in the program, “fun” is not quite how I’d describe it. However, it is definitely interesting all the time. I often feel like I’m trying to design a raft to keep myself from drowning without the necessary skills - out at sea, in the middle of a storm. But every attempt allows me to read the oncoming waves a little better. I see patterns emerge, find new tools, knowledge, and fellow raft-builders. Slowly but surely, this helps me design the best possible raft I can at that point in time and - if all goes well - take others along for the ride. Maybe I’ll be able to come up with a land-based analogy after my second year.
BH: So you’ve been in Tbilisi for some weeks now – can you describe a critical issue in the urban landscape that has interested you? Is there anything you wish would be addressed or that you would change?
MS: After four weeks in Tbilisi I can confidently say that the city makes no sense to me - and thus remains all the more fascinating. Due to its unique geographical location and history, Tbilisi is a vibrant and creative place, made up of a million puzzle pieces that don’t quite seem to fit. The architecture reflects this puzzle. Whether it’s Soviet brutalist blocks or hideous modern high rises, the Renaissance style Grand Theatre or Islamic Orbeliani Bath House - really, any iteration of “western” or “eastern” architectural styles imaginable - there is at least one of each to be found somewhere in Tbilisi. Apart from a few parks like Vake or Dedaena, however, there are few public places where the multiethnic population can meet without having to dodge the relentless and often dangerous traffic. Roads cut up the city and despite many people getting around on foot, safe walkways are scarce.
What seems to be on the rise are trendy cafes inaccessible to most locals but frequented by foreigners (like myself). With most cafe dwellers lost to their phone screens instead of in conversation, I wonder what will cut through the geopolitical tensions bearing down heavily like the summer heat in Tbilisi’s streets. For the younger generation, offline meeting places like art galleries or nightclubs might supplement digital dialogue. I’m certainly biased, but I have a feeling that more safe, green, and more harmonious public spaces could further contribute to bridging divides that have once again flared up since the war in Ukraine started.
BH: What about your favorite landscape in Georgia so far? Can you tell me a little about that?
MS: I haven’t been to enough places to feel comfortable claiming favourites, but I did love our hiking trip to Juta near Kazbegi in the north. Having arrived at night, our chins dropped when we exited the tent to take in 360° Caucasus mountain views the next morning. On the way up to the pass lush green hillsides continued to provide a sweet relief from the August heatwave we had left behind in Tbilisi.
With the toothy Chaukhi massif in sight, we passed giant boulders covered in neon green and mustard yellow lichen. As we ascended, harsh shale fields replaced swaths of lady’s mantel, bitter dock, and grasses of the calcareous grassland. This unforgiving alpine world reminds me of the Dolomites. A sobering jump into an ice-cold mountain stream definitely left me humbled and in awe!
BH: You’ll be joining the Researching Common Territories field school in Marneuli. Can you tell me more about your plans for that?
MS: Yes, during my last week in Georgia, I will get to participate in that program, which is a collaboration between the Tbilisi Architecture Biennial, One Caucasus Festival, The European University and Dekabristen. As an interdisciplinary group of scholars, we will conduct field research in the region of Marneuli Municipality in the South of Georgia, bordering Azerbaijan and Armenia.
I’m particularly interested in how the borderland is viewed and “felt” in conjunction with the experience of landscape - physically, culturally, and historically - for residents of the area. What constitutes a meeting place, what constitutes a contested area and why? Where do interpretations of place differ or overlap? And how does history interplay with the present and visions for the future?
BH: Great, we’re looking forward to hearing more about that when the Biennial opens in October!
A month or so after her departure, I had a chance to catch up with Marie on her next steps:
BH: Now that you’re back in Germany, how do you think your time at Ruderal inform your practice going forward?
MS: Researching the topic of “geomorphological diversity” at Ruderal and taking part in the summer school “Researching Common Places” reaffirmed my approach to questioning how we think about complex systems and the extent to which we can engage with them healthily. Whatever we do or do not do, we leave some sort of a trace. How this plays out might be dictated by externally prescribed parameters. Think, for example, of funding availability limiting how much time a firm has to properly analyse a site, or for a team to conduct research at a summer school. More often than not, there is never enough time. While I still don’t think yielding to this major system error will get us any further, I do believe we can help each other make the best decisions possible.
In our summer school that meant deliberately deciding that we will not draw conclusive decisions based on the very limited data we collected in the communities we visited. Instead, we celebrated having a lot of open questions. At Ruderal, team members also help one another question the limits of data and its interpretation, and the accurate representation of the observed. This respect for complexity and context is what I want to keep in my toolbox going forward.
Even before I’d arrived at Ruderal, I was thinking a lot about the training of landscape architects within current societal frameworks, mostly in the capitalist West since that is where I live. My understanding is that we, as landscape architects, are or will be responsible for co-creating spaces that support ecological and social sustainability. I thought this meant learning how to co-design well-considered and long-lasting solutions for the complexity of issues we face in this world, even when working on local, small-scale projects.
What I don’t understand is how hammering an unrealistic amount of information into our heads within short, burnout-inducing periods of time will help us develop the skills required for the job - without reinforcing the patterns that have led us to destructing our ecosystems in the first place. “This prepares you for the workforce” is what some of my profs like to say when I question how our unsustainable workload is supposed to prepare us for being cultivators of spaces we can safely co-exist in. For me, this is not a good enough argument anymore, when how we work needs to become more humane for us to create livable landscapes - spaces fit for life.
BH: And are there any updates from the Common Territories Field School? Now that the biennial is open, we are looking forward to seeing the results!
MS: As an interdisciplinary group of scholars our group focused on "Tracing Common Spaces", which is also the title of our exhibition that can be viewed at Praktika this Wednesday, October 20th as part of the 2022 Tbilisi Architecture Biennial.
Read more about Marie's and the Ruderal team's experiences at TAB 2022 in upcoming blog posts.Read on Substack