Lawn Stories will be an interactive, experimental website that presents an object-study of a seemingly banal landscape: the American front lawn. The project will connect an overview of the lawn’s history to personal accounts of midwestern lawn-owners; ultimately, Lawn Stories will address the negative effects of lawns on our social and natural environments.
Growing up in suburban Michigan, lawns were a significant feature of my habitat: I spent my childhood sprinting through sprinklers and squishing my toes in the thick carpet of waterlogged grass. But as my midwestern summers grow longer and hotter, as droughts plague the west, and as hurricanes rattle the southern coast, I must look critically at this landscape that has become the default. Lawn Stories will combine interactive medias to form a comprehensive argument against the continued proliferation of lawns. Michael Pollan’s 1989 essay, “Why Mow? The Case Against Lawns,” takes a similarly critical stance against this landscape, yet nearly thirty years later, trees near my house are still being cut in large swaths to build new subdivisions—each fronted with large, lush, green lawns. The data is more staggering today: in his book, American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn, Ted Steinberg claims that in the U.S., lawn maintenance kills seven million birds each year, spills seventeen million gallons of gasoline each summer, and everyday, tracks chemicals into the home which enable chronic exposure to toxins. Lawn Stories will bring research on the effects of lawns to the web, where it will be more accessible to read and more interesting to interact with.
Lawn Stories will not be a method to shame or blame lawn-owners, but rather, it will be an invitation to do better—to open a dialogue on the next steps of landscape design in the age of climate change and resource conservation. The primary audience of Lawn Stories is midwestern suburbanites, particularly young, new home-buyers; this project will bring the critiques of lawns to those who live in areas where impacts of rising sea levels and water shortages have not quite reached. Lawn Stories is of personal importance to me because, in addition to gaining practical experience designing content for digital platforms, the larger goal is to safeguard my home for future generations.
Lawn Stories will be an experimental web page that uses non-traditional techniques of navigation and scrolling to display information. The site will contain a 1,000-2,000 word essay accompanied by various visual and auditory medias: charts, graphs, maps, photographs, illustrations, animations, sound clips, and videos. The essay itself will outline the history of lawns in the United States, ending with our current time. It will then move to challenge the necessity of lawns in a future where responsible resource use will be necessary. Intermixed throughout this larger context, individual accounts will aid the storytelling—personal interviews with midwestern suburbanites will aim to capture the culture of lawn-ownership first-hand. For the exhibition, Lawn Stories will be displayed on a large desktop monitor set on a floating shelf against the wall. Behind the screen, artificial turf will cover the wall in a rectangle as wide as the shelf. Lighting will be bright and even, preventing reflections on the screen and preventing a glowing screen effect. Users can use a mouse or trackpad to scroll through the site, which will be displayed in fullscreen with the browser toolbar hidden. Headphones or directional speakers allow viewers to engage with the videos and audio clips.