Project Overview

Ruston Way waterfront, Tacoma, WA

Ruston Way waterfront, Tacoma, WA

This blog will feature updates from the research project
“Layered Landscapes: Foregrounding Nature/Culture Interactions in Shaping the Land”

Research Summary
To explore how informal learning environments support, or do not support, learning about the collaborative interaction of “nature” and “culture,” we research industrial sites that have been re-envisioned and transformed into landscapes intentionally integrated with art.

Research Questions
This project builds upon previous research, in which we investigated environmental and science learning in botanical conservatories, by 1) focusing on intersections of art and place and 2) foregrounding the tensions of nature/culture. Questions we are exploring:

• What is the match or mismatch between the site’s educational and architectural design intentions and visitor perceptions and experiences?
• How do the intersections of art and place shape learners’ consideration of human’s relationships within natural and constructed ecologies?

Interaction of Nature and Culture
Re-envisioned industrial/constructed sites are contexts for place-based and environmental education because they are sites that potentially invite consideration of the processes of social and environmental transformation. These sites are environments that communicate both explicit and implicit educational messages about “cultural questions of weather and climate, ruin and waste, dwelling and movement, boundary and journey,” and allow reflection upon “the way the environment is experienced and imagined and on the place of art in the material world” (Alfrey, Daniels, & Sleeman, 2012).

While human activity and natural history have jointly shaped the land, terms like “nature,” “landscape,” “environment,” and “wilderness” can evoke a sense of ecologies that are separate from, rather than intersected with, human activity. In contrast, terms like “urban,” “constructed” “pollution,” “waste” can draw attention to how we define (and re-define) what is nature and what is culture (Centre for Contemporary Art and the Natural World, not dated).

Research Sites
The selected re-constructed landscapes, developed through public/private partnerships, feature design efforts to make previous uses of the land visible to visitors and use art to enhance visitor engagement. These sites raise questions of environmental ruin and transformation.

Tacoma Waterfront, Tacoma, WA
Aluminum smelter, lumber mill, and waterway re-envisioned as public walkways and waterfront parks

Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle, WA
Petroleum transfer and distribution center re-envisioned as a waterfront sculpture park

The High Line, New York, NY
Urban freight railway re-envisioned as a public park

Benesse Art Site, Naoshima, Teshima, & Inujima, Japan
Fishing villages and mines re-envisioned as art installation sites

Research Team: Amy E. Ryken and Holly A. Senn

Alfrey, N., Daniels, S., & Sleeman, J. (Spring 2012). To the ends of the earth: Art and the environment. Tate Papers, 17. Retrieved from

Centre for Contemporary Art and the Natural World. (not dated). Artistic and educational aims and programs.
Retrieved from

Amy E. Ryken

Amy E. Ryken

Amy E. Ryken studies partnerships that foster connections between schools and community resources, such as museums and outdoor environments. She is particularly interested in a broad definition of learning that considers how people learn, in a wide range of settings and activities, over the life span.
Amy E. Ryken

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