Ken with pie

I’ve long been intrigued by purposeful ideas and approaches that promote
places and landscape networks that are convivial, resiliently adaptive, and supportive of life.

I started out in professional practice: 3 years with the multi-disciplinary firm of Totten Sims Hubicki Associates, and +5 years with the Toronto-based environmental design firm of Hough Stansbury Woodland. My work with HSW principals - particularly Michael Hough - were most formative. Daily practice was guided by notions of design from first principles, interdisciplinary and participatory efforts, critical contextual research, and iterative and reflective design-through-time.

By nature I'm a generalist. As landscape complexity is better understood and socio-cultural diversity increases, standard arguments for disciplinary boundaries lose coherence. At the same time, the proliferation of branded trends contributes little to effective and meaningful environmental design. In my experience, robust and catalytic ideas are most likely to be generated when collaborators are engaged with people in their places. In these contexts we make progress in becoming
(to quote David Orr)specialists at things whole.”

My appointment at Penn State in 1993 provided an opportunity to focus on several linked themes that seemed underdeveloped in the academy:

  • the interplay between planning/design and the synthetic ecologies: landscape ecology, conservation biology,  restoration ecology

  • systematic ecological restoration strategies at larger landscape and regional scales

  • the regeneration of degraded and disused urban landscapes, rivers and waterfronts, spearheaded by empowered communities.

  • from the view of makeshift urbanism, convivial greenstreets in the quotidian city.
Much of my work has been interdisciplinary, exploring idea spaces between fields -- John Elder calls them dangerous ecotones. I've enjoyed collaborations with individuals from disciplines across the spectrum of natural and social sciences and the arts. Since 2005 I've contributed my voice as an ecological designer to climate change and globalization discourses that promote local-level resilience and adaptive futures. Throughout, my colleagues and I have sought  collaboration not just 'for' or 'in' but with underserved communities.

These efforts to interweave design, applied ecology and social concerns have taken place at various venues, including
the Penn State Center in Pittsburgh, Center for Watershed Stewardship, Carnegie Mellon's Studio for Creative Inquiry, the Graduate Ecology Program in Ecology, the DolceLab, AIB in Bonn, and AESEDA.

*  *  *

the engaged studio

      By now it should be clear that our concept of studio extends well beyond the physical. Analogous to the notion that church is less an edifice than a body of believers engaged in worship, the intention was for the Studio to transcend place to embrace a network of collaborators engaged in a catalytic process of analysis, discourse, envisioning, crafting, and action. Sometimes it involves small groups building on contributions from each individual, and sometimes it relies on the quiet ponderings of problems and possibilities by individual students and neighborhood participants. Studio, then, is a complex corpus of ideas, places, people, and processes.
    In the engaged studio, design becomes a verb. An inclusive and protracted act, it draws inspiration and agency from the near-at-hand, where the community–studio (re)asserts its collectively held values of equity, beauty, utility, and resilience. It weaves together the two traditions of architecture (...discovery) and engineering (...rational process) but extends by seeing community design as primarily vested in the community. Solutions emerge from the local, rather than being miraculously delivered as gifts or commodities from elsewhere . . .
    Such community-engaged studios can contribute to the scholarship and praxis of more resilient and convivial inner-city neighborhoods. The key is a mutually held commitment to constructive relationships, reciprocal learning, co-generation of knowledge and creative solutions, and sustained collaborations that provide tangible benefits to partner communities.
                        Tamminga and DeCiantis, 2012

research interests
  • convivial greenstreets in the city
  • creative local responses to anthropogenic climate change impacts; approaches to community / landscape co-resilience
  • restored and designed ecosystems and plant communities; regeneration of post-industrial sites and systems; novel ecosystems
  • community-engaged studios that leverage reciprocal learning and co-creative capacity
  • riparian urbanism
  • intersections of larger landscape planning and the synecologies; pre-emptive ecosystems planning
  • place- and landscape-based film; participatory video
  • Canadian / American dual citizen
  • home town: Toronto


    my V-strom makes a friend in rural Ohio

    Frisian flag with red water lilies

    on making cities

    Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.
                                       Jane Jacobs, 1961

    why I like edges

    ...Yet if you are like me, you will actually enjoy this experience of boundary. There's something disquieting, humbling at times, yet exciting and attractive about such close encounters with the unknown, with the experience of 'otherness': a chance to explore the edge of your competence, learn something entirely new, revisit your little truths, and perhaps expand your horizon.
        Learning at boundaries is likely to be maximized...when experience and competence are in close tension... Deep expertise depends on a convergence between experience and competence, but innovative learning requires their divergence.
                     Etienne Wenger, 2003

    riparian urbanism

    ...seeks to interweave urban and hydroecological functions and patterns within sustainable cityscapes and bioregions. It recognizes and protects riparian ecosystem services, and calls for ample space for riparian and aquatic processes and organisms strongly connected to larger biophysical systems.
        At the same time, it sees urban riparia through a progressive urbanist lens. It celebrates the city-water interface as an ordering network, an essential counterpoint to built form, and an accessible source of sustenance, conviviality, inclusivity, and inspiration for all life in the city.

            Schlee, Tamminga and Tangari, 2012