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06.23.21 – MLA grad Ambika Pharma wins 2021 WLA Award of Excellence

Ambika Pharma, a 2020 graduate of the Daniels Faculty’s Master of Landscape Architecture program, has been awarded a 2021 World Landscape Architecture (WLA) Student Award of Excellence in the Concept-Design category for her MLA thesis project: On Thin Ice

The project is a sweeping response to increased maritime traffic through the Bering Strait, which has emerged as a vulnerable ecosystem and a chokepoint for shipping traffic as Arctic Sea ice melts. On Thin Ice sees a “reinvention of nautical systems that wraps economy, trade, and ecology around a new formulation of logistical landscapes and time.” The project proposes different scales of intervention on the Diomede Islands, creating both maritime infrastructure and a proposed bioreserve, “imagined as a device for political and ecological innovation in this tenuous region.”

Pharma’s project was selected from more than 400 other entries for the WLA Student Awards, submitted from landscape architecture faculties around the world. On Thin Ice was also recognized with the Heather M. Reisman Gold Medal in Design, presented by the Daniels Faculty in 2020.

“I was interested in the spatial planning of major maritime chokepoints - natural and manmade straits and canals that bottleneck maritime trade, but also marine ecosystems and migration paths,” said Pharma.

“With the thaw of the Arctic, the Bering Strait is slated to become one of these locations and part of a new Transpolar Sea Route that would change this relatively untouched passage to a high-risk, high-traffic zone surrounding sensitive ecosystems. The project still proposes that the TSR transverses this Strait but creates a new hierarchy where nautical systems prioritize the protection of marine ecologies over logistical efficiency, separating primary production zones, nesting areas and migration routes from vessel access.”

Images: Megastructure; Maritime Chokepoints; Bio Reserve.

“Ambika demonstrated remarkable talent and creativity throughout her time at Daniels, and her capstone thesis project was no exception,” said Fadi Masoud, Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture and Urbanism at the Daniels Faculty, and Pharma’s supervisor for her thesis.

“Her thesis imagined a not-so-distant future world in which economic, social, and ecological pressures converge in one of the earth’s most fragile and contested regions – the arctic. She expanded the agency of landscape architecture to envision the future of post-carbon arctic maritime logistical landscapes and an arctic wildlife sanctuary park nestled in between the Diomede Islands in the Bering Strait. Her proposal bends the international dateline around the park to create a space outside of our understanding of normative time and nation states.”

Images: Bowhead; Pond Cell; Geothermal Greenhouse.

Pharma was also recently recognized for a winning design called Moonlight Orgies in the LA+ Creature competition (designed in collaboration with Niko Dellic, while completing his Master of Architecture thesis at the Daniels Faculty). That competition acted as a design exercise that imagined an animal as the client for a design team. Pharma and Dellic’s entry imagined a moody recovery and breeding area for mangrove horseshoe crabs, whose blood is incredibly valuable for use in pharmaceuticals. The project’s proposed design was fully aware of the complex trade off between providing habitat, and treating the animal as resource. Their proposal was similarly connected with the sea, proposed as a facility built on a barge.

“I like ports,” said Pharma. “I’ve always been captivated by activities around maritime infrastructures, their history of major earthworks, and the movement of ships. So, throughout various projects I began studying their roles as critical international passages against their potential as productive landscapes.”

Pharma now works as a designer at celebrated landscape architecture firm Reed Hilderbrand in Cambridge, Massachusetts.