Monday, March 3, 2008

Architects Plus

The current issue of Architectural Record includes a great article on the continual blurring of the line between landscape and architecture as well as illuminating the new collaborative model of design involved in vegetated architecture.

:: image via Inhabitat

One project that was highlighted was the California Academy of Sciences Building by Renzo Piano, and the collaborative nature of the design with landscape architects SWA Group. As John Loomis, SWA principal points out, there is a desire and benefit from having LAs at the table:

From AR: "As architects attempt ever more ambitious feats with green projects, the collaborative relationship between members of a design team is becoming more important. Landscape architects, in particular, are codifying their role and taking on additional responsibilities." Loomis goes on to say: "It is not about just dressing something that the architect gives us... We would always like to be in there right at the same time the architect starts on the project, if possible."

:: Roof Panel Mockup Test - image via Inhabitat

This collaborative potential offers the ability for integrated solutions, often generated and refined by the landscape architect, in collaboration with the team. The article continues to describe a solution and the integration of landscape of the technically complex roof into the building structure and design intent:

Again via AR: "SWA solved the problem by designing a semi-rigid framework that is laid across the roof to hold the sections of soil systems in place within a 24-foot grid of gabion curbs, which are wire baskets filled with volcanic scoria rock that are linked together. A interconnecting subsystem of epoxy-coated rebar and reinforced nylon strapping to maintain the alignment of the curbs. The grid is strong enough to hold the soil systems in place on the sharp inclines of the slopes, yet accommodates water runoff even at high rates during winter storms."

:: Gabions + 'portholes' - image via Inhabitat

One omission in the article was the contribution to the Cal Academy Building by Rana Creek Habitat Restoration and Living Architecture and Executive Director Paul Kephart, who was profiled in a two part interview via Inhabitat. The article highlights some of the seminal work with William Mcdonough at the GAP corporate headquarters, as well as many other significant land- and roof-based projects. The work of Rana Creek deserves a longer and more focussed post, so stay tuned.

:: 901 Cherry, Gap Headquarters - image via Airhead/CNT

This is a significant paradigm shift from the standard power structure that has existed, and is often a learning process of allowing the landscape architect a seat at the table. One aspect, often overlooked, as the difference between LAs and planting designers in the ability to design and detail complex structures. Another complex project profile via AR was the collaboration between Steven Holl Architects and Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates on the Whitney Water Purification Facility. I'll spare the detail, as it will show up in a later post, as I am now completely enamored with this project.

:: Whitney Water Treatment Facility - image via AIA Top Ten

Again this project omitted another collaborate - the mysterious 'green roof' consultant - in this case Charlie Miller and Roofscapes - but, hey, at least they did include the LA... To get the credit, Miller and company have been on the forefront of the trend (along with Rana Creek) for years - and deserve much of the credit for the popularity and success of the green roof phenomenon. It is interesting to see how the credit is divided in these collaborative projects - as it's much harder to pin down and celebrate the starchitect - when you know many others were working to acheive this goal.

All projects require collaboration - between clients, designers, contractors. There is not one project built that has not required some form of integrated design. There is, as shown here repeatedly, a strong desire to integrate landscape and building into a more seamless dialogue - and this requires redefining our roles (as well as giving up a little ego and power). As we all evolve, and our creativity pushes us to demand more - the parity and benefit of these interactions will result (and has already) in some amazing solutions.

Concluding the AR article is some hope for a more integrated future: "As the environmental details of sites become more integrated into architectural design, be it to store water or to absorb the impact of a large building, landscape design is becoming a major part of the architecture. And as green roofs are growing up in our own backyards, the relationship between architect and landscape architect is sure to blossom."


  1. Green roofs don't work, without very good waterproofing. So credit Simpson Gumpertz & Heger Inc. for waterproofing consultation to the Architects on Cal Academy of Science. Peace.

  2. No project works very well without the entire team of people involved. With over 20 built green roof projects, I know the roofer is a key point, so thanks for providing the credit to Simpson Gumpertz & Heger for the CalAcademy building... and here's thanks to everyone else that worked on the project. It's often too long a list to include, but if there is anyone whom feels slighted - feel free to drop a line and I will include credit where it is due.


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