Courses Unpacked / featured

Nocturnal Landscapes: Codes, Flows, and Atmospheres

Craig Reschke

My name is Craig Reschke, a Designer-in-Residence at the University of Illinois. Last year, I taught a studio workshop called “Nocturnal Landscapes.” My students designed public spaces integrated with proposals for new solar installations. Globally, we’re turning to renewable forms of energy to decrease our carbon footprint. In the region around Las Vegas, where the studio was sited, that means taking advantage of solar energy.

In the past, designing a public space at a location where energy is produced would have been hard to sell. Who would want to play next to a coal mine? Green energy production is different. Wind and solar installations are fairly benign and can be transformed into inviting public spaces.

My students designed landscapes at sites that generate power during the day, but these landscapes are meant to be experienced at night. The average summer daytime temperature in Las Vegas is now above 100° F, and is expected to rise as the climate changes.

Because of the extreme heat in the day, people in Las Vegas occupy landscapes at night. Darkness and artificial illumination completely transform a landscape. How can we shape the landscapes where nighttime experiences occur? What tools and design strategies might we use? In this design studio, my students explored the “codes, glows, and atmospheres” of nocturnal landscapes.

At the beginning of the semester, our class took a field trip to Las Vegas to explore the region. Then they designed and programed a variety of sites at the edges of Las Vegas.

Emily Griebe designed solar installation sites inside flash flood basins. These “ruins” in the middle of the desert, which are only used about 5 times a year when it floods, became attractive public spaces, with well-rounded daytime and nighttime programming for residents in the surrounding neighborhoods. Light coding was used to warn people when flash flooding would occur.

Yingzhe Du designed a solar installation site at a cemetery on the edge of Las Vegas. Cemeteries inside the city are filling up quickly, creating a need for new ones on the outskirts of town. What might draw people to visit a cemetery at night? Yingzhe’s unique design took advantage of lights, projections into the sky, shadows, and even energy from decomposing bodies to create an eerie atmosphere to celebrate the dead.

I’m Craig Reschke, a designer in residence at the University of Illinois. This semester, I’m teaching a studio workshop called Nocturnal Landscapes. My students are designing public spaces at solar installations outside of Las Vegas, NV.

Globally, we are turning to renewable forms of energy to decrease our carbon footprint.

In the region around Las Vegas, where the studio is sited, that means taking advantage of solar energy. In the past, designing a public space at a location where energy is produced would have been hard to sell – who would want to play next to a coal mine?

Green energy production is different.

Wind and solar installations are fairly benign and can be transformed into inviting public spaces. The students are designing landscapes at sites that generate power during the daytime, but these landscapes are meant to be experienced at night time. The average summer daytime temperature in Las Vegas is now above a hundred degrees Fahrenheit and is expected to rise as the climate changes. Because of the extreme heat during the day, people in Las Vegas occupy landscapes at night.

Darkness and artificial illumination completely transform a landscape. How can we shape the landscapes where nighttime experiences occur? What tools and design strategies might we use?

In this design studio, my students are exploring the codes, glows, and atmospheres of nocturnal landscapes. The class just recently returned from a field trip to Las Vegas to explore the region and they’re now starting to design and program a variety of sites at the edges of Las Vegas.

“My project is kind of a balance because I’ve been focusing on the Las Vegas watershed as a whole and taking these large water basins that are like ruins in the middle of the desert, that is only used five times a year when they have flash flooding. So, I’m able to do light coding and make different programming for different neighborhoods. My process right now is taking the neighborhood that each place is in and doing a case study for each of these basins. Then, it can be something that is well-rounded for the whole city and really have this larger impact on the nocturnal landscape and re-use these spaces.”

“He’s [Craig Reschke] really encouraging us to build digital or physical models because he thinks that it’s really helpful to help us to understand the scale and if the design we’re thinking of is even practical.”

Each student is given the parts and pieces to run with, but then they get to invent their own project and programs. I think that’s one of the things that is really exciting about the studio. I hope it teaches the students to be critical thinkers about both site program and all of these other issues like energy, climate, and daytime versus nighttime.