The Architectural League’s 31st annual Emerging Voices Award brings a focus to creative practices that will influence the future direction of architecture. Each of the eight firms will deliver a lecture this month in Manhattan. The next lecture takes place on Thursday, March 14 at 7:00 p.m. when dlandstudio and MASS Design Group will present their work.
One of the first things you notice when talking to landscape architect Susannah Drake is her doggedness. Like many landscape architects today, she is working to broaden her profession’s influence. Drake’s New York-based firm, dlandstudio, has been unusually successful at identifying sites and opportunities, dealing with government officials, and securing funding to bring her civic-minded projects closer to reality.
Drake, who also trained as an architect, has taken a novel tact of developing green infrastructure prototypes, which can then be tested and, she hopes, ultimately deployed at a larger, system-wide scale. Acknowledging the realities of climate change, rising sea levels, and crumbling infrastructure, dlandstudio is working to find smarter, softer solutions that enhance urban life, while meeting these changing conditions.
Her best-known projects—a speculative plan to cap the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway trench, and the Gowanus Canal Sponge Park, which would help mitigate pollution along that toxic waterway—began as grant-funded research and were later adapted into smaller, scalable forms.
A prototype portion of the Sponge Park is being built with support from a variety of public and nonprofit entities. The BQE proposal has been adapted to a site in South Williamsburg and has garnered support from local officials. A new project, which she calls the Highway Scupper, captures rainwater from elevated highways and prevents its movement into the overburdened sewer system.
Drake and her team have developed two model Scuppers, one of which is under construction in Queens, while the second one, in the Bronx, will be built this fall.
Drake attributes her ability to operate at the scale of the object/prototype, and at the larger system-wide level, to her training as both an architect and landscape architect. Through persistence and savvy navigating multiple levels of government, she’s also become a self-taught expert in the psychology of bureaucracy.
“There is often a fear within government agencies that change might not be effective. Doing prototypes based on grant funding helps give agency cover to try new things,” Drake said. “These projects are proving very effective.”
Soon, New Yorkers will begin to see the results of Drake’s determination. She has public projects in three boroughs breaking ground this year.