Gavin Zeitz came to landscape architecture from a diverse background in cultural geography, ecological economics, and community design. He seeks to position landscape architecture as a critical tool for understanding our messy global systems and as a common language for connecting people to their everyday environments. Originally from Maine, Gavin has long been interested in northern geographies and for the past two years has focused his research on the dynamic changes currently reshaping the Arctic.
Gavin is interested in the ambiguous ways we define the Arctic territory and how geo-political or economic decisions drive our spatial practices and rearrange our cultural landscapes. Gavin argues that the Arctic is a prime testing ground for experimenting with new forms of collaborative resource management and territorial boundary-making. As a civilization we have, for the last few hundred years, been focused on land ownership and staking out claims on the Earth, instead Gavin envisions a future where the universal common good informs our spatial practices and allows the environment and those cultures tied to it to thrive.
In his research he has been fortunate enough to spend time with the people and landscapes in Alaska, Iceland, and Greenland. This summer he worked with JONAA (Journal of the North Atlantic and Arctic) to improve interdisciplinary collaboration and sharing of knowledge. This past summer Gavin also spent time in Greenland studying how receding glaciers are depositing what might be the largest sustainable sand extraction opportunity in the world. Gavin now works with Landing Studio in Boston designing cultural landscapes into our active industrial areas, he also enjoys teaching landscape architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design.
Project: The Arctic Commons
The Arctic Commons envisions a world where geopolitical cooperation and transnational
friendship generate an ethos of planetary collectivism promoting the future stability in the Arctic and rest of the world. The Arctic Commons encourages political action to create a new network of infrastructure that operates as a model for retrofitting global systems which currently fail to represent the common interests of the everyday citizen. Humankind’s current standards for social and environmental politics are underachieving at a moral and ethical level, but also failing at the spatial scale that operates in the realm of landscape architecture. Landscape architects have the power to envision futures at multiple scales and from a range of perspectives. This project seeks to traverse these scales and propose a collective perspective for the Arctic. The Arctic Commons begins at the global scale with a series of subversive maps that depict the dynamism of ecological and cultural systems operating within the broadly defined Arctic territory.
The mapping of the Arctic is a practice that spans from the earliest celestial observations and
Ptolemaic declarations of the North as the ‘frigid zone’ to the contemporary effort to
photogrametrically 74,929 DEM (digital elevation model) strips that cover 97.4% of the Arctic at
a 2 meter resolution to the Google Streetview that allows us to explore Murmansk, Russia from
the comfort of our homes. This fascination with remote areas of our planet displays the simplest
human conditions — curiosity, understanding, and connection.
Expanding on the knowledge gained through mapping the various boundaries that dictate
spatial organization, this project looks to create composite maps which illuminate specific areas
in the Arctic that offer opportunities for design intervention. Four infrastructural systems were
identified as crucial pieces of future development schemes: Shipping, Access, Safety,and
Resources. Through the layering of data we begin to see the pressure points of the system and
the smaller nodes for connectivity. These new infrastructural systems capitalize on the existing,
but neglected, infrastructure of the DEW Line in North America and the newly built
state-of-the-art Russian military bases. The Arctic becomes a fully demilitarized zone focused
on the communal and collaborative management of resources, logistics, and cultural activities.
The idea of a global commons may seem like a utopian daydream but in actuality it occurs in
several forms at this precise moment; we see it in the internet, public parks, the oceans, the
atmosphere, the wetlands, and the stars. In short it is not utopian, it is essential. The Arctic
Commons subverts the out-of-date “first come, first serve” politics of global development which
forefronts the objectives of the culturally elite and perpetuates the circulation of wealth among
top tier corporations and managing personnel. Inverting the EEZ to create an IEZ (Inclusive
Economic Zone) that is delineated not by arbitrary cartography, but by geophysical conditions
such as ocean currents or drainage basins we begin to see a global landscape that is by the
people and for the people. This new zone is a provocation that the North can be a model for
how we come together globally for the common heritage of humanity.