7 LAYERS + 7 WATERS, In October of 2013, with mounting tensions in the Middle East, I found myself Within an Arab Middle School in East Jerusalem. The purpose of my visit was to speak with the teachers and students, in understanding the social dynamics of their community. I grasped the blatant and intentional dissociation within the Jewish and Muslim residents. It was the first time that I realized that the concept of urban segregation is a prevalent matter within modern societies. This moment had profoundly inspired me in ways that I had not fully understood at that time. Throughout the remainder of my career at Virginia Tech, this idea translated into an evolution of my design process and one I believe will be carried throughout my professional career. The prevalence of segregation brought me to the realization that physical space holds power within a community. It has the power to transform a landscape into a communal domain where an amalgam of cultures can harmoniously coexist. Over the next year and a half, my work as a landscape architect has explored the relationship of ecological, economic and sociocultural sustainability in pacifying conflicting communities through shared space.
In the spring of 2014, I was invited by the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities to speak at The Batsheva de Rothschild Workshop on Initiatives in Science and Education for Improving the Kidron/Wadi Nar Basin. This international environmental conference was regarding improving water quality to the Kidron Basin, a watershed that connects Israel, Jordan and the West Bank territories. I instantly bought a ticket to East Jerusalem so that I may present my student research of landscape architectures role in environmental peacebuilding. I introduced the idea of designing a community-engaged space outlining the proposed 1967 borders of Jerusalem. During the conference, I traveled around East Jerusalem and the West Bank studying the ecological complications affecting both Israel and the Palestinian territories. The goal of studying these issues was to mitigate the ecological problems as a platform for peace efforts between these two peoples. This experience captivated my imagination for what is possible within my work as a professional, and future potential for the beginnings of my thesis.
Contributor: Ashlee Taylor Wells – BLA