Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Dozen of the Best of 2008

Well, in the spirit of the impending new year, it's time for a look back on the 300+ posts from Landscape+Urbanism to glean what was new, provocative, innovative, and just plain awe-inspiring. In my biased opinion, reading through the archives and downloads from the year - is that 2008 was definitely the year of Veg.itecture - both in visuals, technologies, and built works. So in this vein - a totally random and unscientific look the best of the best for Veg.itecture, Landscape and Urbanism that will continue to inspire into the new year.

1. Best Veg.itecture Project
Hands down, the most amazing project of the year was the California Academy of Sciences Building in San Francisco. Photogenic, innovative, and inspiring, this project blew everyone away, causing me to proclaim, in hyperbolic fashion, that Piano et.al. had reached the pinnacle of veg.itecture... and I still stand by this.

:: image via

2. Best Urban Agriculture Project (tie)
This is a tie between the practical and the visionary. First, these Agrotecture visions came from the Architecture Association of London (via Pruned), such as this airborne vineyard: "The audacious structure, the winery and the vineyard for red wine grapes are connected by a suspended transport network enabling the use of ground space for a public park. With a capacity to produce 10,000 bottles of red wine annually the project re-articulates private and public space blending productive infrastructure with quality areas to Londoners and tourists."

:: image via

And the tie comes from a radically different type of urban agriculture project, from What If, an architecture collective from the UK with a novel idea: "A formerly inaccessible and run-down plot of housing estate land has been transformed into a beautiful oasis of green. Seventy 1/2 tonne bags of soil have been arranged to form an allotment space. Within their individual plots, local residents are carefully tending a spectacular array of vegetables, salads, fruit and flowers. A new sense of community has emerged."

:: image via
What If

3. Best Living Wall
This one is via Balmori Associates for their design for the 'World Mammoth and Permafrost Museum', located in Yakutsk, Siberia. These interior living walls are made up of vegetation from the mosses and lichens that draped the Siberian tundra - and also regulate interior temperature and air quality.

:: image via Balmori Associates

4. Veg.itect of the Year
James Corner of Field Operations... big surprise?... Nope.:)

:: image via Metropolis

5. Best Book
While the new Patrick Blanc book was amazing, and I am constantly turning to Meg Calkins book on Sustainable Materials - my vote for best book of the year goes out to The Public Chance: New Urban Landscapes by a+t architecture publishers which offers solid and graphical analysis from a broad range of projects from around the world. Check it out - it's one that will continue to inspire (and it has since I've wrestled it back from my students from Fall term).

:: images via
a+t architecture publishers

6. Best Use of Materials
There were a ton of potential projects to choose from regarding inventive uses of materials, but in review, this project from Foster and Partners for the United Arab Emirates Shanghai Expo Pavilion utilizes patterns of Islamic art and culture as well as playing with color and light... as always - we shall have to see how it comes together in reality.

:: image via Atelier A+D

7. Best Magazine
I am pleasantly surprised to honor Metropolis Magazine with the best magazine of 2008, for a couple of divergent reasons. First, their expanded coverage of landscape architecture projects has been unprecedented, and will hopefully continue in 2009 with thoughtful and insightful features - not just blurbs about a range of projects. Second, the provocative Susan Szenasy's comments on landscape architecture have fueled some healthy and much needed debate internally - which makes us all better.

:: image via Metropolis

8. Best Blog
Spawned on March 09, 2008, Arch Daily seems like one of those blogs that has been around forever - and I'm constantly amazed by the amount and quality of imagery and posts from around the world. Plus this site is perhaps most low-key and informative in the trend towards vegetated architecture - showing built (yes, in the digital flesh) projects to show that yes, it is possible to do this stuff, and do it well.

:: image via
Arch Daily

9. Best Project Graphics
Coming via Pruned, this project from Marti Mas Rivera, of Universitat Politecnica De Catalunya, Barcelona, a rainwater harvesting project for the Arabic Fortress Hill of Baza in Andalucia. In the time of wicked computer graphics and the lost art of hand-drawing, these fusion-graphics restored my faith in the beauty of the minimal...

:: images via

10. Firm/Collective of the Year
My vote goes to a collective of Spanish designers that make up the group Urbanarbolismo - and are constantly producing great and inspiring work around the concepts of veg.itecture, landscape and urbanism - reconnecting the natural to the built environments. Plus, their site can be instantly translated into Spanish for those of us who's bi-lingual skills leave something to be desired.

:: La Torre I-214 refrigerada mediante bosque - image via

11. Best new resource
Land8Lounge is like Facebook for landscape professionals without all the annoying stuff I hate about Facebook. In addition to being a good social networking site, the L8L community provides opportunities for discussions of the profession, the ability to show and see new work, as well as the possibility of getting exposure to the world-wide professional community like never before.

:: images via

12. New Idea for 2009:
My vote for best new idea of the upcoming year isn't a static technology or implementation, but a re-alignment of design with nature that will illicit a vibrant and change-provoking dialogue for years to come. PHWREE Urbanism was coined by Dave Brown (minusa 'silent or lispy W') to become PHREE Urbanism - which stands for POST HUMANIST REWILDED ECO ETHICAL URBANISM... remember those words...

:: image via
Tomorrow's Thoughts Today

Again, Time to Get High

I'll try to keep my fawning at bay as I post some new info from the High Line (although my obsession is well known)... but sometimes I just can't resist. I recently plugged through some of the recent High Line Blog posts, and particularly appreciate the short lived 'What will grow here?' - which aimed to investigate some of the horticultural aspects of the HL, and I guess was weekly, even though it only lasted a couple of said week in mid-year. A tough call for a horticulturist to sit inside blogging at the height of summer indeed. Some highlights, from Melissa Fischer, the High Line horticulturalist:

:: Eupatorium rugosum (aka White Snakeroot) - image via High Line Blog

The first post discusses a trip to the Greenbelt Native Plant Center - where some of the plantings were being grown for Section 1... "...our exciting challenge will be to see the plants through their transition from ideal nursery conditions to the more rugged micro-climates of the High Line. Thirty feet above the street, the temparature can be up to ten degrees warmer or colder than on the ground, high winds often sweep off the Hudson River, and the sun beats down in some areas while others are fully-shaded by buildings that hug the Line."

"With this in mind, it’s interesting to consider the High Line planting plans, created by designer Piet Oudolf and Field Operations. With their intentional intermixing of species found on the High Line after its abandonment (such as the White Snakeroot pictured at top) and numerous other selections chosen for their bloom time, seed heads, foliar textures, and seasonal color like this Saliva nemerosa ‘Rhapsody in Blue,’ the High Line planting scheme is, at once, wild and intentional."

:: Salvia nemerosa 'Rhapsody in Blue' - image via High Line Blog

One interesting phenomenon is the use of the the 'indigenous' vegetation found on the High Line prior to development - which in one of those modern horticultural switcheroos uses plants and seeds collected from the site that are propagated off-site and brought back to the site for final planting. A follow-up post, perfect for those of use with the desire for planting-on-structure techno-nerdiness offers some in-progress construction photos of the waterproofing, drainage mat, gravel substrate, and other rooftop drainage flashing and other structures.

:: images via High Line Blog

Picking these apart a bit, this is pretty typical rooftop layering - providing a solid, well drained base to allow water to dissipate quickly, as well as, in this case, plenty of soil depth for some of the intensive vegetation and grasses that are planned for the final installation. Areas of drainage are wrapped in filter fabric to allow water passage but retain aggregates. Another interesting detail is how the railroad tracks are 'floating' prior to soil installation, which you can see in the next section of photos backfilled to finish grade.

:: image via High Line Blog

Another post from September shows some active planting and highlights the craning of vegetation, on-site layout of plant schemes, and installed vegetation within the cracks of the reinstalled train tracks. I still wonder about the train tracks and why these were put back in place - although there was some great pics of a rail-lounger... which I imagine will be up there somewhere... check these out.

:: images via High Line Blog

And to wrap it up, Tropolism featured some year end photos from Friends of the High Line from their year end newsletter of the current construction - where you can see these horticultural endeavors in action. Tasty.

:: images via Tropolism

Monday, December 29, 2008

Urban Roof Farming x2

One of those interesting trends that may be the hot topic of 2009 (and a major topic of conversation in 2008) is the growing of food in cities - particularly on rooftops and buildings. A couple of recent articles present some viable examples of rooftop agriculture used for education and production. The San Francisco Chronicle offers a great story of Graze the Roof - a project atop the roof of the Glide Memorial Church.

:: images via SF Gate

The project is a collaboration between Glide and the Oakland non-profit Bay Localize: "... which promotes edible rooftops and urban self-reliance. Such gardens are seen as an important, and largely untapped, opportunity to increase local food production. In addition to providing veggies for participants, the garden demonstrates to apartment dwellers that having a flat roof is all you need to grow good food." The article continues with some basics on green roofs and rooftop gardening, as well as some varieties of planters, spanning from raised beds, to 6" deep planters to hydroponics. Give it a read for more info.

A second project via a City Farmer link to the Chicago Sun-Times involves a 2,500 square foot production farm in Chicago atop the rooftop of the Uncommon Ground restaurant. The interesting addition - it may be the first certified organic rooftop garden. "The uncommon farm is built on recycled deck material 20 feet atop the street. The farm currently has arugula, beans, beets, collard greens, cucumbers, peas, peppers, pumpkins, tomatoes and watermelon."

:: images via City Farmer

Taking a cue from Chicago's City Hall, the roof has beehives, in addition to the garden beds: "The rooftop farm also has a pair of beehives that produce 40 to 50 pounds of honey for the restaurant. Cameron met her beekeeper Liam Ford at the Hideout block party; after all that’s how Chicago works. ... Farm equipment includes 28 cedar planter boxes, designed by Cameron and the Organic Gardener in Evanston. The planter boxes were built by the restaurant’s construction team. They have digitally programmed irrigation systems for water efficiency. Another 12 earth boxes were delivered from the Growing Connection, a group affiliated with the United Nations. The enclosed organic boxes are used as an educational tool and growing system for places worldwide. Cameron is working to have the space certified as an organic farm through the Midwest Organic Services Association. "

More info via a press release from Uncommon Ground here, as well as a detailed fact sheet - making sure that wide-spread adoption for other projects is met as a goal. Also, check out the link for a couple of high-resolution panoramic images from the garden as well. These two projects remind me of one of the first examples of this kind, Portland's Rocket Restaurant - which unfortunately, according to the word on the street, is closing its doors... It'll be interesting to see what the fate of this project, and seeing how other projects adopt this in the face of rising fuel and food costs... even in these difficult economic times.


A new(ish) blog called TerraMode is a collective of three designers, James Fink, Kavan Donohue, and Michael VanBeek. Their premise is simple and good: "Landscape Architects interested in design communication and it's influence on the profession." While posting has been spotty, there's a trio of North Dakota based project images that were posted initially on the site. Due to the Fargo-ness, and the 6 years I spent, I figured these were worth a look.

The first is Barrett Street Corridor, which is quick hand-drawn info...

:: image via TerraMode

The next project is entitled Eco Village: Fargo, ND and steps up the graphics quite a bit - with some nice computer graphics.

:: images via TerraMode

The final post, Jefferson Neighborhood: Fargo, ND offers the most refined graphics on the site so far, and are really good - particularly the rendering of the aquatic vegetation. What I really want to see is a rendering of this same site in January - with ice-covered water and piles of snow...

:: images via TerraMode

I think the idea of a blog investigating graphic style in landscape architecture is a worthy endeavor, but I definitely have a minor issue with the lack of authorship - who's project? - who did the graphics? - what the project is about? is it real or an academic exercise? We need some, any context to give some indication of the project. It's one of those virtual ideas I keep harping on... any graphic dialogue about landscape representation needs to come with some minimal explanatory text or links to ground the project in some form of reality. Otherwise, it's just more visual masturbation. Sometimes it's really good, sometimes it's really bad... sometimes it's just plain utilitarian - whichever way it really doesn't mean much.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Veg.itecture #47

As we delve into this installment of Veg.itecture - it dawns on me that the current format of this feature may be ringing a little hollow and venturing into cliche after a year or so of it's existence. It is definitely a valuable viewpoint to push forward these projects and visions, and I've definitely tried to round out the dialogue with some of the practicalities involved in applying this flora to buildings in a variety of ways. But is there something more needed to increase the dialogue and informational aspects of vegetated architecture. I'm not sure if this will be possible due to the pragmatics and lack of information on projects, but perhaps a worth spinoff... so starting with Veg.itecture #50 (giving me some time to experiment with a process and format) - we shall adopt a more rigorous analysis of projects - versus the typical eye candy... any thoughts on this would be welcome.

For now, we shall move deftly into the projects - as it is an important element - if even to elicit discussion. This project by from Chile came via World Architecture Community provides some graphics of the Centro intercultural indigena, by Pablo Correa. The stepped forms allow for a delicate insertion into the surrounding site, as well as usable open spaces - particularly the fully accessible upper roof. The greenery is the typical lawn-like coverage which looks more like a soccer pitch than anything else.

:: images via World Architecture Community

And a similar quickie from eye candy features a verdant rooftop scene from nabil gholam architects of a building tucked into the woods...

:: image via eye candy

Herzog & de Meuron's BBVA Headquarters is one of those uber-provocative examples that needs some real analysis... but looks good on paper - or at least digitally.

:: images via Dezeen

And some snippets of architectural statement from HdM (via Dezeen): "We propose the creation of an artificial garden, an oasis, evolving from inside out—a place that establishes a balance between the natural environment and the buildings, and functions like a small city... A linear structure composed of three-story buildings, alleyways and irrigated gardens is laid over the entire site like a carpet that follows the topography. Analogous to an Arabian garden, a cool, moist, fresh microclimate is created. Each workspace has a “green view."

:: image via Inhabitat

A simpler entry, the Rock Row Townhouses, via Treehugger, offers some minimal vegetated terraces.

:: image via Treehugger

And a couple of images of the The Eco•Laboratory in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood by Weber Thompson, winner of the Natural Design Talent Competition at Greenbuild. (via Treehugger + Inhabitat)

:: images via Inhabitat

:: image via Treehugger

The concept of technology and nature has been subject to some recent dialogue, notably the idea of PHRWEE offered by urb... epitomized by this project by Harrison Pitt for the Flood Design Competition by Norwich Union, replete with a "...New Survivalist dream houses with water tanks, photovoltaics, terraces to grow and dry food, everything but a gun rack."

:: image via Treehugger

And an interesting subterranean project with a splash of greenery - directly addressing nature/culture, via Arch Daily. The Pionen, White mountain by Albert France-Lanord Architects is located 30 meters below Stockholm, Sweden. "The starting point of the project was to consider the rock as a living organism. The humans try to acclimate themselves to this foreign world and bring the ‘best’ elements from earth: light, plants, water and technology." What better spot for a green wall.

:: images via Arch Daily

This reminds me of a recent post on Land8Lounge by Lisa Town related to the Zurich, Switzerland airport's installations of interior greenery from around the world - sort of a large-scale terrarium and botanical garden for the weary traveler. Some images below:

:: images via Lisa Town/L8L

And check out the botanical labels - in this case Epipremnum aureum, a plant indigenous to the Salomon Islands of Malaysia... something Patrick Blanc probably knows pretty well... although we know it better as Pothos, a common houseplant.

:: image via Lisa Town/L8L

And a visual feast at Contemporist, featuring the large and beautiful portfolio of Green Fortune's Plantwall System (seen here at L+U). A couple of nice ones here:

:: images via Contemporist

And some interesting links, including an interview with Renzo Piano from Today Online - discussing amongst the California Academy of Sciences building, as well as some great quotes... a mashup of a few to chew on:

"Ecology can be a lovely source of inspiration and an enormous opportunity... Environmental constraints should not be seen as an assault on freedom. You find that the planet is vulnerable. Does this have to be a crisis? ... Architects should be able to interpret the changes of their times and live with their times ... Our duty is to translate the codes of this ecological language in a poetic way, to marry beauty with respect for the environment..."

Sounds like Veg.itecture to me...