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Start semester

65 604 Trans-Alpine: from the polar to the peak

Full course name in English: 
Trans-Alpine: from the polar to the peak
65 604
Syklus 2
2018 Vår
2018 Vår
Bin Li

Landscape architecture students with interests in trans-geographical and trans-cultural inquiries, multi scales and dimensions of representation, design with topography, alpine landscape ecology, landscape field research.

Some knowledge on Rhino, Adobe suite (Photoshop, Illustrator, Indesign, Aftereffects, Premiere), GIS is preferred. Some knowledge on GPS, drone photography, 3d scanning, video and audio will be an add-on.  

Om emnet

"Such locations share various climatic, geomorphic and biotic characteristics, including low mean and absolute temperatures, regular snow fall and ice formation and high winds, with consequent glacial and aeolian processes shaping their landforms, and a limited range of flora and fauna whose adaptation to climatic conditions renders them unfamiliar and even invisible to eyes accustomed to more 'temperate' environment. These shared physical conditions account in large measure for the grouping of high mountains and polar regions in conventional geographical study. It was the commonplace of modern physical geography in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that the altitudinal belts of tropical mountains such as Chimborazo or Kilimanjaro allowed the climatic belts of the globe to be observed and studies over the limited space of a few miles..." [1]

Elevated from surrounding plains, a peak is like an altitudinal pole. Contemplating the horizontality of polar regions, high mountain ranges and peaks situate rock, snow, ice, temperature, inhabitation, flora and fauna in a vertically manner. Tree lines, snow lines, human lines of a peak present more on elevations than they are on plans of a polar region.

This studio will explore how the polar and the peak translate each other in geography. To understand this translation, one might think of the harsh conditions push back vegetation from the pole, creating sparse eco zones ringing the pole horizontally. This horizontality enables the northern territories to experience large amount of alpine features at low elevations, cultivating many low altitude peaks for alpine research. Such a northern peak, like Finse, with its limited altitudinal belts, is a sample for science practice that requires certain boundaries and isolations. On the opposite end of this spectrum, one can imagine an alpine peak in low latitudes that is extremely high in elevation, a dense laboratory with many eco belts, blurry boundaries and geographical correlations. Such a peak, like the 7556 meters Mount Gongga in western China, allowing topics and topographies from the northern territories to be observed and objectified over a limited space of 30 kilometers.

The studio will start with consider the large northern territory as a laboratory with many peaks of various topics (such as science, wanderlust, mobility, food, energy, habitation, etc.). Each student will select one of these topics and represent it cartographically in a variety of peaks. The studio will examine territorial relations of each topic and peaks in a planar drawing, featuring contours , boundaries, networks of rural and urban.

Each student will then isolate one peak and represent it from the perspective of the topic. An anatomy will be operated to the isolated peak, to inquire in section, elevation, model, image and film how the topic relates to the peak in space and time. For example, a wanderlust trail, represented as a line on plans, will be shown as it actually is topographical and transient. We will explore alternative representation strategies for peaks by transforming dimensions. Inspirations may merge along this hands-on operation.

"The moment in an excursion when the roaming gaze guided by a general interest focuses on observing a specific subject is not arbitrary...Only a personal and specific background first makes these aspects evident and allows us to recognize their interconnection and relevance within a particular framework." [2]

As a cartographic trope of 'the white spot', an alpine peak requires tools to measure. Tools to bring on an alpine excursion transcend the idea of survival, and decide, instead, what empirical materials will be collected. Design and use of tools will guide how to observe and objectify an alpine topographic place. Tool preparation for the excursion becomes an experiment of its own, for instance, a designed framework of field book, a designed workflow of GPS tracking device, a designed spatial sequence of photo camera, etc. Tools and topics will be discussed for a press fit. We will first test out the tools in the Troms region.

The studio will then be ready to move to China's Mount Gongga, the peak for studio excursion and design. Carrying research and survival toolkits, we will travel to China and experience Mount Gongga region for two weeks. As the highest peak of Hengduan mountains, Mount Gongga is situated inside correlating alpine mountain ranges, where the alpine territories of western China are experiencing a rapid rural urban transition. A personal and transcultural engagement in Gongga will orient the students to the landscape, with the specific topic they have chosen as their lens. While we are travelling, design concepts of the topic will begin to merge in specific alpine topography. Students will locate these places of ideas on their tools. The excursion will generate raw material for design representation and design ideas in place. The topic, the northern territory cartography and the peak’s topographical anatomy, and the tool preparation will help students to trust their intuition on site.

Design concepts will be further objectified into design representations after back to Tromsø. We will transplant the methods of the peak anatomy and what will have been informed and inspired to this place design process.    

Resonating the northern territory, each student will zoom out from the alpine place design to territorial scale again, composing a speculation of the alpine western China of the same topic.

Translate, transcend, transient, transform, transcultural, transplant, transition...Trans-Alpine studio disperses these words. The studio is as much about translating the polar and the peak of alpine ecologies, as it is about transforming scales and dimensions of representation. It is as much about transcending the tools of use in alpine excursions, as it is about transplanting the inspirations from the polar to the peak.


[1]  D. Cosgrove and V. della Dora, 'Introduction: High Places', in D. Cosgrove and V. della Dora (Ed.), High Places: Cultural Geography of Mountains, Ice and Science, London and New York, 2009, p.3.

[2]  G. Vogt, 'Between search and research', in A. Foxley, Distance and Engagement: Walking, Thinking and Making Landscape, Baden, 2010, p.11.


Student will learn how alpine ecology translates each other in high latitude and high altitude geographies, with the concept of horizontal eco zones and vertical eco belts. Student will test how tools work together with field research. Student will develop a personal approach to trans-geographical and trans-cultural landscape inquiries.

Student will learn how to research and design through zooming in and out scales. Student will study how to transform contours and other drawing lines from plans to other dimensions of representation with supporting softwares. Student will learn to design the use of tools for landscape observation.

Student will learn to integrate a specific topic, a specific tool, and a specific topography in research and design. Student will learn to produce finished work on each stage of the studio, and understand the studio as a process instead of an end goal.


Praktisk organisering og arbeidsmåter

Teaching team: Bin Li, Hannes Zander, Biljana Nikolic.

We will schedule two deskcrits every week, one focusing on techniques and skill, the other one focusing on methods and knowledge.

We will invite guest speakers to lecture about alpine ecology of the polar regions and high mountains, alpinist expeditions and preparations, and hopefully indigenous challenges.  

We will hold workshops on 3d modeling, ​representations and field research.

The studio will conduct a field trip to China from end of February or early March. We will collect base data, like GPS tracks and drone images, as a group work. Each student will use their specific tool to collect specific data for individual design. Optionally we will do short excursions around Tromsø to test field research tools first.

We will schedule the midterm review in mid April and final review with exhibition at end of May.

The studio's final work will be exhibited in Tromsø and in Oslo.


References (is growing)

A. Foxley and G. Vogt, Distance and Engagement: Walking, Thinking and Making Landscape, Baden, 2010

C. Girot and F. Truniger, Landscape Vision Motion : visual thinking in landscape culture, Berlin, 2012

D. Cosgrove and V. della Dora, High Places: Cultural Geography of Mountains, Ice and Science, London and New York, 2009

E. Imhof, Die grossen kalten Berge von Szetschuan : Erlebnisse, Forschungen und Kartierungen im Minya-Konka-Gebirge, Zürich, 1974

L. Sheppard and M. White, Many Norths: Spatial Practice in a Polar Territory, New York and Barcelona, 2017

M. Hvattum, B. Brenna, B. Elvebakk and J. K. Larsen, Routes, roads and landscapes, Farnham and Burlington, 2011

R.L. Burdsall, A.B. Emmons, T. Moore and J.T. Young, Men against the clouds : the conquest of Minya Konka, Seattle, 1935

Global Mountain Explorer, USGS



Ecological and environmental change research group, University of Bergen




Virtual library Eduard Imhof, ETH-Bibliothek



Gongga Mountain Observation and Experimental Station of Alpine Ecosystem, Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment of Chinese Academy of Science


VurderingsmappeIndividuellBestått / ikke bestått We will have on each stage a pin-up review to present a finished work of that stage. We will invite an external censor to evaluate the outcomes of each stage in the final review and give a final assessment for P/F.
Karakterskala:Bestått / ikke bestått
Kommentar: We will have on each stage a pin-up review to present a finished work of that stage. We will invite an external censor to evaluate the outcomes of each stage in the final review and give a final assessment for P/F.
Oppmøte We expect that students will attend individual deskcrits, lectures, workshops, excursions and reviews. Students should inform and explain in advance for absence. Students will deliver a finished work at each stage of the studio.
Forventet arbeidsinnsats:
Kommentar: We expect that students will attend individual deskcrits, lectures, workshops, excursions and reviews. Students should inform and explain in advance for absence. Students will deliver a finished work at each stage of the studio.