This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Landscapes of the Uglyful




McGraw, Rachel

Type of Degree



Landscape Architecture


Landscape architects can use new radicalisms to move away from the ingrained and the habitual. There is an opportunity to push the boundaries of aesthetics and abandon inefficient design norms that are fixed in the realm of “perfected decorums” (Scogin and Elam, 2012). We can design landscapes to be more than high-maintenance copies of ecological systems (Roncken, 2011). Instead of using an overly aesthetic design framework we can evoke a set of qualities of landscapes of the Uglyful. This framework will be used to uncover hidden ecological, aesthetic, and social nuances of two sites- both a large and a small scale site. Under the framework of the Uglyful these designs aim to evoke the strangely familiar, the sublime, and the unresolvable qualities of these places. Can the new radicalism of landscapes of the Uglyful be applied to landscape systems in order to make them more economically, ecologically, and socially eco-revelatory, and resilient? This research question is valuable as an element of postmodernism that can be used in the design of emergent and resilient landscape systems. Conventional landscape design is often fixed in a reliance on aesthetic norms and ill-perceived social values (Ronchken, 2011). This project seeks to describe the significance of using new design frameworks such as landscapes of the Uglyful. The success of the framework has been analyzed and will be discussed. This project situates itself amongst postmodernism as a new design thinking that can be utilized in landscape architecture theory and practice. This project seeks to answer this research question by utilizing methods of research by design. We can advocate for new frameworks that push the boundaries of modern landscape design. This research is situated in strict studies of ecological, social, and economic systems of two sites. The goal was to identify how these systems could be re-designed to become more resilient, adaptive, and eco-revelatory. Elements of the Uglyful that stem from the original concept developed by architects Mack Scogin and Merrill Elam will be adapted and combined with elements that have been proposed to evoke the Uglyful or the “strangely familiar” in landscape systems (Scogin and Elam, 2012). This framework will be used to uncover ecological, aesthetic, and emotional nuances of a place and highlight these through design. This research question will be tested at two different scales: a regional scale of a coastal landscape system and a suburban scale of a residential landscape system. This project seeks to engage unconventional design that addresses issues at the forefront of contemporary landscape architecture practice and theory. Conventional landscape designs have often been criticized for being based on a “perfected decorum” (Roncken, 2011). This leads to disconnected experiences between humans and landscapes. It is not always beneficial to create landscapes that are picturesque or versions of an ingrained set of symbolic images of landscape because these symbolic images often have a preoccupation with projected appearances (Roncken, 2011). Barthes describes a public that is “interested in its own projected desires” (Roncken, 2011). We cannot continue to base our designs on these “disproportioned beautifications” that require large amounts of maintenance to keep up the projections of what landscapes should be. These projections are often based on ill-perceived aesthetic and social values. This can be problematic as there is often a large amount of “Botox” needed to maintain these projections (Roncken, 2011). We should seek to benefit from living mechanism instead of “imitating them” (2011). We can make landscapes productive as well as revelatory. Designers often try to downsize nature into a human scale. We attempt to fit ecological systems into in high-maintenance copies of themselves (Roncken, 2011). We can instead engage design that addresses suburban, regional, and global needs. By employing techniques such as the design framework of landscapes of the Uglyful we can create landscape systems that are no longer fixed in aesthetic classifications but instead privilege ecological processes. Landscape architects have the opportunity to better connect the parts within these open systems to coexist with one another and to re-establish a lost experience of humans as part of these systems. Landscapes of the Uglyful have the ability to do these things for many reasons. The qualities that two landscapes evoke will be described in detail as components of landscapes of the Uglyful. Both Gaillard Island and Dixie's Backyard uncovered successes as well as critiques of this design framework. These critiques will be reflected on and included in the theoretical framework of this design research. Concluding the investigation of the framework, these design iterations will be analyzed to determine their overall success in uncovering new territories in practice and theory.