What I’ve Got: The Underground Tree by Lamont/Houghton

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This is an example of questionable design practices… and one of the greatest mysteries of Harvard architecture/landscaping. For a some reason—one that likely baffles every single student and tourist who steps foot on this campus—someone decided to plant a tree in a hole right next to Lamont and Houghton Library. The tree is certainly beautiful (especially in the autumn as depicted in my photo above), and it appears to get its fair share of sunlight (otherwise I would doubt that it would have grown to such a size), but the placement makes little sense. Why put something so beautiful where it can be hidden? How does a tree in a hole add value to the campus in an aesthetic, economical, and environmental sense? If there was some way to access the tree, I might understand the design better, but after four years of scrutinizing this tree, I have yet to find a means of entering this “courtyard” that holds the tree. 

I’d like to think that there was a historical reason for this tree (my attempts at research have yielded nothing, however). Regardless of the reason for this initial design, this tree’s landscaping design has become outdated. This isn’t the worst design, and it likely harms no one. But for me, the tree is an example of how certain designs are not temporally permanent: While the tree’s placement might have made sense in the past, it now has no other appeal than to raise eyebrows. Tastes change with time, as do certain contexts, and some designs become irrelevant. As designers, we have to carefully consider our branding and style—Is it meant to exist for only a brief life span? Or is it meant to be something more long lasting? And if so, what considerations must we make to ensure that our designs can stand the test of time? And if our designs might become irrelevant, how can we design them such that they are flexible to change?

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