The Loss of Laskey Landscape
Imagine walking into the Danforth University Center during your first week back on the Washington University campus, only to find that all of the seating—tables, chairs, couches and kiosks—have mysteriously disappeared. That’s exactly how most art and architecture students of the Sam Fox School are feeling this week. The Laskey Landscape, a coveted outdoor seating area made of wood and metal that resided between the entrance to Etta’s Café and the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, has been completely dismantled and carried away with no forewarnings or adieus.
The Landscape was magical. It encompassed three tiers of benches that could altogether hold over twenty sitters at a time, in approximately nine different sections. This seamless conjunction of mini meeting zones meant that you could be sitting and chatting with one other art student, or even enjoying a lovely Etta’s chili dog on your own, and you would still feel like you were part of a large community. The space was meant to be shared with the maximum number of strangers, lovers, bottomless-cup-of-coffee drinkers, professors, and circ-awaiters at any given time. It offered seats and camaraderie of all kinds, including the notorious boxed-in benches that faced each other; two seats were connected by a wooden canopy that created an intimate, sheltered niche within the expansive bench population. This roof of sorts allowed the bench to become a jungle gym for us sheltered art and architecture students who don’t get to see the light of day as often as recommended. Climbing on and in all of the elevated arrangements, the Laskey Landscape was like recess for studio-rats.
But all good things must come to an end. Laskey Landscape fell into disrepair and had to be removed. Built of recycled materials, it became a hazard to students, with loose screws and pieces of metal sticking out. Senior architecture major Matt Weinberg joins in the devastation. “I’m disappointed that it’s gone,” he said. “It was sort of a central hub…people would relax out there between classes and there isn’t another space like that at the art school.” Weinberg, among many others, would have preferred to see the piece fixed up rather than removed altogether.
The bench was built by two graduate students in 2009. Roberto Deseda and Justin Beadle won the 2nd annual Laskey Award for their design, which at that time was a competition open to all architecture students for self-proposed projects. Deseda and Beadle named the piece after Leslie Laskey, professor emeritus at the College of Architecture, who worked at WashU for 35 years and continues to practice his artwork in St. Louis.
According to Deseda’s portfolio website, the Landscape was a “wooden intervention meant to transform a site from a void to a space…The Landscape [made] sitters out of viewers and acquaintances into friends. Its tectonic language [weighed] heavily on ergonomics and human interaction.” This piece was originally built to be a temporary bench for art and architecture students, but it was clearly put to good use for long after Deseda and Beadle graduated.
Deseda and Beadle executed their design with help from their advisor, Arny Nadler, and with a budget of $5000 funded by Studio L and the Sam Fox School. Studio L is a group of students and friends of Leslie Laskey whose goals are to promote Laskey’s teaching methods and archive the influence that he has had on his supporters. They do so by hosting the Laskey Awards each year and managing the Laskey Fund with WashU. The award tradition has changed a lot over the years, and beginning in 2012 it became the “Laskey Charrette,” a sophomore design challenge in which student teams compete for one weekend to creatively solve a challenge given to them by a professor. Perhaps this year the challenge to be solved will be to replace the Laskey Landscape.
The school has not yet disclosed whether or not there is a plan to substitute the meeting spot in any way. We can only hope that the next architects who create a space as communal and pleasurable as Laskey Landscape will pursue a more permanent fabrication.