Find What Inspires You: An Interview with MLA Student Brianne Fast

July 10, 2019

As a child, Brianne Fast (Landscape Architecture) was captivated by stories of polar expeditions. It’s a fascination she’s incorporated into her studies and, in part, one that led her to spend a semester abroad in Norway at the Oslo School of Architecture (AHO) investigating the United Nation’s Man and Biosphere (MAB) program in the Lofoten Islands.

In this interview, Fast discusses her experiences as an international student; the arctic landscapes of Tromsø; and how the semester has shaped her views on urbanism, ecology, and design.

Why did you decide to study abroad in Norway?

My decision to come here was twofold. First, I have always been interested in the Arctic. I grew up in Minneapolis listening to and being inspired by some of the greatest polar explorers of our time. The ends of the earth and the extreme climates that surround them have always captivated me. When I began the landscape architecture graduate program at the U, I knew I was interested in studying and working with these extreme landscapes.

In addition to my interest in arctic landscapes, I wanted to expose myself to other methodologies of teaching and learn about design in a different context. I came to landscape architecture from a background other than design, as did many of my peers at the U. Though I see this as an asset, it often means that these three years will be the extent of our formal design education. I believe we are deeply shaped by our program and those who teach us and I think it influences how we see and understand landscapes, design, and our place. With this in mind, I wanted to study abroad to increase the diversity in my worldview and the way I engage with design.

What has the focus of your research been while studying at AHO?

The focus of my current semester has been to investigate the application of the United Nation’s MAB program in the Lofoten Islands of Norway. Unlike a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which seeks preservation, the MAB explores ways to strengthen the relationship between humans and the environment, and the ways that this relationship can evolve in a mutually beneficial way.

Norway is currently transitioning many of its ships to run off electric power. As Lofoten is currently one of the only areas free from offshore drilling, I wanted to explore the concept of fully electric harbors in hopes of generating an economy dynamic enough to withstand the pressures of oil exploration. Through my studio project, I am currently investigating what new or retrofitted harbor infrastructure could look like that not only supports the local economy through its creation but is bio-active and biodiverse.

What do you hope to do with the research you’ve done?

I’m going to continue studying in Norway this summer at the University Center in Svalbard (UNIS) where I’ll be taking a course on arctic petroleum. The course will cover a broad range of topics surrounding oil including geopolitics as well as environmental management and response. With my experience at AHO, UNIS, and a generous fellowship from the Minnesota Torske Klubben association, my capstone project next year will continue to investigate the Norwegian Arctic and hopefully explore topics such as carbon sequestration, sustainable tourism, and post-extraction economies. In the future, I hope to continue studying these topics through a Ph.D. program, and to both teach and practice design that critically examines arctic development and ecology.

What advice do you have for future or current landscape architecture students?

Although I do think it’s important for landscape architects to be able to work in a variety of different environments, I think it’s perhaps more important that they lean into the areas of this field that inspires them the most. The blessing and the curse of landscape architecture is that it is a broad field that encompasses many topics. To navigate this field it is important to know yourself and what inspires you. As landscape architects, we need to apply the incredible skills we have been taught to areas that interest and inspire us, in new and different environments, or in our own backyards.

Photo courtesy of Brianne Fast.

High above the Arctic Circle in the fishing village of Vardø, Norway sits the Steilneset Memorial. Created by architect Peter Zumthor and artist Louise Bourgeois, the memorial remembers the 91 women and men who were burned at the stake after being found guilty of sorcery in 1621.

A guest post from landscape architecture student Luke Nichols.

This July, four million people in Cape Town, South Africa, may be without water, their pipes dry as the city succumbs to a devastating drought. Around the world, governments and their citizens are grappling with issues of water availability, cleanliness, and management.