Danika Cooper

Research Expertise and Interest

landscape architecture, arid landscapes, visualization, urban design, urbanism

Research Description

Danika Cooper is Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning at the University of California, Berkeley, where the core of her research centers on the geopolitics of scarcity, alternative water ontologies, and designs for resiliency in the global aridlands. Aridlands have largely been underexplored in landscape architecture—her work offers multiple ways of knowing, being, and engaging with desert landscapes to better inform current environmental and landscape architecture discourse and practice. This is especially important as populations in these regions increase and as the climate becomes drier and hotter. Through her scholarship, Cooper traces the ways that nineteenth-century, Euro-Western environmental theories and ideologies continue to influence cultural perceptions, policy frameworks, and management practices within US desert landscapes today.

Throughout US history, the desert has largely been imagined in contradictory terms—at times considered “empty,” “barren,” and “worthless” while at other moments brimming with economic potential. Her research shows how environmental discourse in the US is directly tied to a set of colonial beliefs and physical transformations aimed at deliberately exploiting the desert’s value for economic and political power. Her research highlights alternatives to prevailing nineteenth-century conceptions that the aridlands should and can be physically transformed through technocratic solutions. Contemporary climate realities promise that technocratic solutions, especially the implementation of hydraulic infrastructure that brings water from wetter places to the aridlands, are responsible for both exacerbating extreme climates and contributing to aridification (the long-term process by which environments become drier and hotter). Her work underscores the need for embracing aridity and designing with dry ecology, rather than attempting to forcefully change or thwart it.

Cooper's research and creative output has been published and exhibited across the world, and she has practiced architecture and landscape architecture both in the United States and in India. Prior to joining Berkeley, she was the 2015-2016 Designer-in-Residence teaching fellow at the University of Illinois, Department of Landscape Architecture.

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