Jennifer Birkeland + Jonathan A. Scelsa

Cornell Sage Knoll

Built Environment

Cornell Sage Knoll

In the future, it is understood that communities will continue to develop and migrate across the landscape, clearing forests, hillsides, and habitat. These shifts cause ripple effects across ecosystems, and impact the environment at large. Designers and engineers have had to develop solutions that negotiate between the needs of people and other agents within nature. One of these responses has been the development of soil stabilization products known as geocells. The re-stabilization of sculpted terrain is underlaid with a blanket mesh typically made from non biodegradable materials, engineered to mimic the natural stabilization that a plant root zone once provided prior to the clearing of land. This practice has minimized natural elements and simplified once complex systems into engineered slopes in support of the new adjacent human urban developments. 

Cornell Sage Knoll showcases this geoforming practice, through new material and technical investigations. The project implements a small hill on Cornell University’s Ag Quad in the shape of Lake Cayuga, which Ithaca sits at its southern tip. 

The lake’s bathymetry is reversed to showcase a positive mound, visualizing the current and future shoreline erosion effects on the Finger Lakes and their watersheds. The mound’s retaining wall structure is composed of porous ceramic 3d printed geotiles, made from interlocking duo-tone terracotta and stoneware. Filled with a mixture of sand and soil, the ceramic geotiles support the shape of the lake and provide cavities for the planting of the local variety of species of sage. The center of the mound features a series of vertical bird feeders, which support habitat growth within the bird’s migration pattern and pays homage to the towers of Cornell’s architectural legacy. 

Jennifer Birkeland + Jonathan A Scelsa (United States)

Jennifer Birkeland is currently an Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture at Cornell University in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.  She is a licensed landscape architect in the state of New York and a LEED accredited professional. Jennifer received her Master of Landscape Architecture at Harvard University and has a Bachelors of Science in Landscape Architecture from California Polytechnic State University Pomona.

Jennifer has worked with internationally renowned offices such as West 8OLIN, and Ken Smith Workshop. Working on a wide range of projects including several national design competitions for the National Parks Service, including the winning design entry for the Washington Monument Grounds at Sylvan Theater in Washington DC, as well as the Presidio Parklands Competition in San Francisco

Jonathan A Scelsa is an Architect, Urbanist, and an educator. Prior to the founding of op.AL Jonathan had worked in several international offices including Foreign Office Architects, Hashim Sarkis Studios, Smith-Miller + Hawkinson and Bohlin Cywinski Jackson.

As an educator, Jonathan is an Associate Professor of Architectural Design + Technology at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. Prior to joining the faculty at Pratt, Jonathan held teaching appointments at The University of Pennsylvania School of Design,  Harvard University Northeastern University, Rhode Island School of Design,  The Boston Architectural CollegeSpitzer School of Architecture and Parsons the New School.

Jonathan is a Licensed Architect in the state of New York. He received his Master of Architecture in Urban Design with Distinction from Harvard University. He received his Bachelor of Architecture from Carnegie Mellon University.

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