DIRT Studio: Turning Detritus Into Regenerative Landscapes

Julie Bargmann, founding principal of DIRT Studio, knows how to turn trash into treasure. Literally. Her reclamation, decontamination, and development of urban landfill, manufacturing, and other industrial sites goes beyond superficial beautification to a transformation of these "undesirable" spaces into productive landscapes of economic, cultural, and environmental significance. A professor at the University of Virginia's Department of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, Bargmann established DIRT ("Dump It Right There") with an interdisciplinary and optimistic commitment to "excavating the creative potential of disturbed landscapes." DIRT’s project portfolio includes a proposal for the reclamation of New York City’s High Line, a transformation of the Ford Rouge Plant in Dearborn, Michigan, a collaboration with William McDonough, and a slew of other efforts that aim to turn two centuries of industrial remnants into truly productive and healthy landscapes. Some of DIRT’s most interesting projects involve the decontamination and conversion of landfill sites into parks, such as the Antioch Community Park project in the small township of Antioch, Illinois. The location of an H.O.D. Landfill site in historic downtown provides an opportunity for commercial revitalization and community development. Using methane as energy to heat the local high school and storm water treatment to revitalize surrounding ecologies, the proposal turns an eyesore into a newly-fecund space. Playgrounds are constructed atop former landfill cells, trees are planted, and public spaces given back to a thriving downtown.


Other landfill conversion projects include Duisburg-Nord in Germany, now a large public park that integrates visual cues and artifacts of its former industrial state. This integration of a past sense of place into the transformation process is a key element in DIRT's design process. Instead of erasing any trace of the site’s past, DIRT's solutions incorporate the legacy of an industrial past into a landscape’s future as a regenerative space, emphasizing the lifecycle of the land.

What makes DIRT Studio special is a multi-faceted, holistic approach to sustainable development: one that transform crisis into opportunity, sculpts detritus into productivity, respects the past, present, and future of a site, and forges partnerships that go beyond the scope of the project and property lines.