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Grounds for Engagement: design, landscape and environmental health

Jan 26, 2015
McLeod Suites
12:00 pm

Grounds for Engagement: design, landscape and environmental health

This half-day conference, held in conjunction with the Petrochemical America exhibition, presents a forum to discuss citizen science tools, landscape architecture and strategies for visualizing environmental data and the health impacts of our industrial landscapes.

12:00pm – 1:00pm – Welcome and Lunch
1:00pm – 2:00pm – Featured Speakers

Kate Orff is a landscape architect & winner of the 2014 Buckminster Fuller Institute Challenge, socially-responsible design’s highest award.

Dr. Sara Wylie is the co-founder of Public Lab, a non-profit, open source hardware and software community that is redefining the concept of scientific societies by building a free, online forum for public interest research and development.

Laura Perovich re-imagines how people interact with data by taking the information off the screen and putting it into the physical world. She is currently making human-sized bar charts and data clothing to share results from chemical testing in homes with environmental health study participants. 

2:00pm – 3:30pm – Moderated conversation with Aleszu Bajak

3:30pm – 4:30pm – Reception and Gallery tour of Petrochemical America with Kate Orff at Gallery 360


Kate Orff
Landscape Architect, Principal, SCAPE Landscape Architecture and Professor at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation

Kate Orff is a registered landscape architect and the founding principal of SCAPE, a landscape architecture and urban design office based in Manhattan. Through her creative leadership of the firm, she explores the cultural and physical complexity of urban landscapes and their unique textures, ecologies, programs and publics. After graduating from the University of Virginia with Distinction, Kate earned a Master in Landscape Architecture from the Graduate School of Design at Harvard. In 1996, she was a member of small research group focused on the urbanization of Pearl River Delta, led by architect Rem Koolhaas, which became the first case study in the internationally recognized Harvard Project on the City. Kate later worked for the planning and landscape architecture firm Hargreaves Associates and for OMA/AMO.

Kate is also an Associate Professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, where she teaches graduate design studios and interdisciplinary seminars focused on sustainable development, biodiversity, and community-based change. She is the co-author of Petrochemical America (Aperture Foundation, 2012) and co-editor ofGateway: Visions for an Urban National Park (Princeton, 2011). Her essays have appeared in The Great Leap Forward, Waterfront Visions, Volume, Land Forum, and other books and journals. Kate was named a United States Artist in 2012, a National Academician in 2013, one of “50 for the Future of Design” by H&G, a Dwell Magazine “Design Leader” and was featured in “Front Runners: 25 Young Designers Leading The Pack” by Azure Magazine. She lectures widely in the U.S. and abroad on the topic of urban landscape and new paradigms of thinking, collaborating and designing for the anthropocene era.

Sara Wylie
Co-founder of Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science and Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute, Northeastern University

Sara Wylie seeks to develop new modes of studying and intervening in large-scale social issues such endocrine disrupting chemicals through a fusion of social scientific, scientific and art/design practices. Dr. Wylie is Director of Toxics and Health Research for Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science, and has a joint appointment between Health Sciences and the Sociology/Anthropology program as part of Northeastern’s new Institute of Social Science and Environmental Health Research. She completed her Ph.D. in MIT’s History, Anthropology, Science, Technology and Society (HASTS) Program in 2011. Her dissertation, entitled “Corporate Bodies and Chemical Bonds: an STS analysis of the American Natural Gas Industry”, involved ethnographic study with The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, a non-profit founded by Theo Colborn, lead author of Our Stolen Future, whose independent research on chemicals used in natural gas extraction influenced national discussions of hydraulic fracturing. Ethnographic study with this organization and communities experiencing natural gas extraction lead to her develop web-based tools to help communities and experts across the country study and hold extractive industries accountable for their social and environmental impacts. This project called ExtrAct was developed in collaboration with artist and technologist Chris Csikszentmihalyi, in MIT’s Center for Civic Media. Following her interest in digital media, Wylie taught classes on practicing social science critique of science and technology through art and design and co-lead a research group with Jeff Warren on Environmental Justice in Rhode Island School of Design’s (RISD), Digital+Media Department. In 2011 Wylie co-founded a non-profit dedicated to developing open source, Do-It-Yourself tools for community based environmental health research, Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science ( PLOTS won a Knight Foundation’s News Challenge Grant in the summer of 2011. Read about Sara’s latest endeavor here. 

Laura Perovich
Ph.D. Student & Research Assistant, Media Arts & Sciences, MIT Media Lab

Laura re-imagines how people interact with data, by creating the new field of “Data Experiences” which takes information off the screen and put it into the physical world. She is currently making human-sized bar charts and data clothing to share results from chemical testing in homes with environmental health study participants. She also spent five years as a researcher at Silent Spring Institute investigating environmental causes of diseases including cancer and asthma. 

Laura previously served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guinea, West Africa.  She hold a masters degree in Media Arts & Sciences from MIT, and a BA in mathematics and religion from Bowdoin College.  Her work can be seen at

Jane Amidon – Introduction
Professor and Director of the Urban Landscape Program at Northeastern

Jane Amidon is a Professor of Landscape Architecture and Director of the Urban Landscape Program in the Northeastern University School of Architecture. Jane teaches studio, lecture and seminar courses focused on the ideas, histories and design strategies of changing cities.

Jane has lectured and published extensively on contemporary urban landscape and the related topics of modernism and modernization of the American landscape. Recent publications include “Big Nature,” in Design Ecologies: Essays on the Nature of Design (Blostein and Tilder, eds) and “Eclogue for the Metropolis,” in PRAXIS Journal v. 10. Published books include Radical Landscapes: Reinventing Outdoor Space (2001) as well as monographs on Kathryn Gustafson (2005) and Dan Kiley (1999). She served as the founding editor for Source Books in Landscape Architecture series. In 2011 she co-organized the symposium Landscape Complexity and Transformation with The Cultural Landscape Foundation, and continues to lecture at universities and institutions internationally.

Phil Brown – Welcome
University Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Health Sciences Director, Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute

Phil Brown is University Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Health Sciences, and Director of the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute. From 1980 to 2012, he taught at Brown University, as Professor of Sociology and Environmental Studies.  His recent books are Toxic Exposures: Contested Illnesses and the Environmental Health Movement  and Contested Illnesses: Citizens, Science and Health Social Movements. At Brown, he founded the Contested Illnesses Research Group in 2000, which is the predecessor of Northeastern’s Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute (SSEHRI). He is co-director of both the Community Engagement Core and Research Translation Core of PROTECT/Puerto Rico Test Site to Explore Contamination Threats (Superfund Research Program).

Aleszu Bajak – Moderator
Northeastern School of Journalism faculty, 2013-14 Knight Science Journalism Fellow and former producer for the NPR talk show Science Friday

Northeastern School of Journalism  faculty, Aleszu Bajak is a journalist covering science, energy, the environment and health across the Americas. He’s the founder and editor of, a resource for science news out of Latin America and was a 2013-14 Knight Science Journalism fellow at MIT. He is now an instructor in journalism at Northeastern University’s Media Innovation program where he also edits, a under-the-hood guide to digital storytelling.

Before freelance reporting from Latin America, he worked as a producer for the NPR talk show Science Friday. He’s no stranger to the lab bench, having embarked on scientific research in the Chesapeake Bay, Columbia University and at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City.

He writes for Nature, Science, New Scientist, and Guernica, among other outlets.