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Thaisa Teaching Thunderdome Style

(courtesy of UC Berkeley)

The University of California Berkeley has launched a debate series that highlights this year’s 100th anniversary of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning. Professor Thaisa Way was invited to debate with professor Randy Hester in a “generational face-off.” The following is an excerpt from a article published on January 30, 2014.

No more talking heads

“In general, academic departments run talking heads lecture series where a guest comes in and does an hour lecture, there’s a brief Q&A, and that’s it,” Hill said while explaining the reasons for the debate format. “That’s standard all over the country. Debate events are the exception rather than the norm.”

Thunderdome Debates participants defend their positions on important, often thorny, issues in the field and subjects that long have been associated with Berkeley’s Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning.

Participants have debated topics including the relationship between design form and process, the value of professional expertise versus community or public opinion, and the essential skills landscape architecture and environmental planners must have today. Coming debates will evaluate the value of hand drawing compared to illustrating with the aid of a computer, and the most essential components of a modern landscape.

Thaisa Way, a landscape historian and associate professor of landscape architecture at the University of Washington in Seattle, participated in a Thunderdome Debate last semester in a “generational face-off” against LAEP “master” and UC Berkeley emeritus professor Randy Hester, a leader in participatory design and author of “Design for Ecological Democracy.” Such pairings, Thaisa Way said, offer invaluable examples of the importance of defending ideas, with the gloves off.

“In the 21st century, the challenges posed by climate change, urbanization and human and environmental health are all too large and too important to be politely discussed,” said Way. “We must debate and debate hard and loudly, take a stance and argue, while listening and critically thinking.”

The academic heavyweights hitting the mat in the first round of the Thunderdome Debates included UC Berkeley’s own Walter Hood, who specializes in urban and public spaces, and internationally recognized Julie Bargmann of the University of Virginia, nicknamed the “queen of brownfield mediation” for her innovative work reclaiming industrial wastelands, such as abandoned coal mines and urban rail yards.

Student perspective

Daniel Prostak, who expects to receive his master’s degree in landscape architecture from UC Berkeley later this year, recalled the Hood-Bargmann face-off as “an apt pairing of two respected designers… perhaps the most robust personalities in the field.”

He said he appreciated their candid interaction and sharing of personal narratives that helped illuminate how they have arrived at their viewpoints, although the debate was less confrontational than some expected.

“While most of the audience probably came to see blood, at times Hood and Bargmann seemed to share the deepest sentiments, more so than not,” Prostak said. “Maybe by starting at the polar opposite ends, it streamlined the path toward common ground. All-in-all, the small venue, crowd participation and earnest tones made a memorable and provoking discussion…”

Way sees the Thunderdome Debates as building blocks.


To read the full article visit here.