Thursday, January 31, 2008

Materiality: Plant Knowledge

There has been much discussion lately on the L-ARCH listserv regarding the role and knowledge of landscape architects regarding plants and planting design. (ah, a listserv, how 1997, but i digress). To sum up, there's a persistent theory that Landscape Architecture suffers from a deficiency of plant knowledge. Is this true? Well, I personally know I could stand to know much more about plants and characteristics of plants that I currently do - and plan on continuing learning, and growing for, let's conservatively say, ever.

:: Battery Park City Garden by Piet Oudolf - image via The Battery Conservancy

The issue with planting design, or any other form of landscape specialization, is that it makes you an expert at the expense of other vital skills. Does this diminish planting design? Perhaps... a bit, but the profession, as many point out, requires a high level of generalized knowledge, and aside from focus on a particular project or area of specialization, it is hard to gain depth in this wide swath of topics. Is the basis of our profession plantings, or is it synthesis of ecology, art, and science in the creation of spaces for people, which plantings is one, critical aspect?

This is not to diminish plants, and our need to understand them more and use them better. This goes for all materials, as craft involves an intimate knowledge of the tools at hand. Plants are tough. They go in small, grow, die, get to0 big, evolve, and always, change. There is a tacit assumption that, much like architecture, when it's done you walk away, and maintenance budgets reflect this. How many projects do you know that have future funds for planting, thinning, and changes after final completion?

This should be a challenge, as well as an opportunity. The trend towards Landscape Urbanism and addressing temporal change - acknowledging that there is and will always be change, and establishing fields in which these can evolve and flourish. While still a conceptual framework, it is an interesting approach. Thinking of landscapes not as static objects but as gardens that need to be tended and adjusted - perhaps would create new expectations and much better results.

Another aspect of the discussion is, whether to include a horticulturist and plant expert on a team, in addition to the landscape architect. For specific projects it makes a lot of sense, particularly ones with horticultural complexity. In this regard, a number a recent article 'A Landscape in Winter, Dying Heroically' in the New York Times, profiles the techniques of Piet Oudolf, who is the originator of a gardening style dubbed 'New Wave Planting' which couples ecology and design alongside an appreciation for structure and form.

Aside from his prolific writings, he has collaborated with many high-profile LAs on projects such as the High Line with Field Operations, Millenium Park with Kathryn Gustafson. He has also done extensive work at the Battery Park Gardens in NYC.

:: The High Line - image via Cool Hunting

This knowledge and approach gets the attention of high-profile LAs like James Corner, who is working with Oudolf on the High Line. Quoted from the NYT:

"Most people think in a formal way: if you put A and B with C, it will look like this — but only at a certain moment in time,” said James Corner... one reason he asked Mr. Oudolf to do the project’s planting design is that the way he selects and composes plants “ thought through not only in terms of summer, but also in terms of winter — all 12 months are interesting.”

The article outlines the concept of death, decay, decomposition (coupled with dormancy) and the full season changes and ebbs and flows of plantings in Oudolf's private garden.

:: images via The New York Times

This aesthetic is counter-intuitive to the Picturesque and Romantic notions of planting design strategies. This is perhaps why Oudolf has caught the attention of more cutting-edge designers, and landscape urbanists, like Corner and Charles Waldheim, both of whom are quoted. Waldheim's reference to Oudolfs abilites to set a new course in planting design, again from the New York Times: "He’s gotten away from the soft pornography of the flower. He’s interested in the life cycle, how plant material ages over the course of the year and how it relates to the plants around it."

Knowledge is a life-long thing. Learning from masters, experimenting, continually learning are all good things. Accepting that landscape architects are not 'plant people' is not. Learn the plants, go to the nursery and arboretum. Take classes. Then you can refine and test, and put forth new approaches and aesthetic sensibilities such as Oudolf mentions in the article: "You accept death. You don’t take the plants out, because they still look good. And brown is also a color.”

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Flux Paroxysm: A Found Poem

Jumping the shark a bit, but here's the first part of the found poem from the SoWa endeavors with David Oates, et. al. - enjoy!:

II. Flux Paroxysm
composers: Jason King and Claire Nail

Giants move
huddled together,
a tribe
in KKK regalia
rough pioneers, hard men
act out Ahab after vengeance
unhinged by luck
dirty quarrel, barks of laughter
bones will crack
rips of sobbing
gated community.

Hard to keep one’s temper pregnant
fleecing the rich
the storm, the insistent rain
too much rotten air.

All the ways of water:
the river churning
shining in metaled light
hard pressing, air chilling
stung with January.
Is it leaching into you?

A hundred years ago,
I have to stop and remember
a point of escape:
a deer, a bald eagle, an Indian fishing—
this riverfront the slingshot
path skirting a stand of burnt timber.
The map changes, the essence remains.

All the ways of water
funnel through the lobby
centuries of hydrology:
arithmetic and penmanship—
pouring, counting, constant needled rain.

Are there mysteries in Portland?
100 years ago today, fathers slept unaware.
Daughters tiptoed out early, strays of night.
Loping horses, where women now shop for shoes.

Let’s write the book on mystery now: come wild under its power.
Imagine the Banfield one evening rush hour, if we still rode horses,
if we stood up in the saddle and spread our arms.
The West of Imagination,
as free as anywhere Oregon, high boots gleam.

I’ve crossed a hidden river, live with vast infusion,
dripped mist,
through alders and cottonwoods,
the vegetative complexities
shave grass, hills of blackberry vine.

100 years from now, running late again
stale dreams stalled,
snagged, shaven,
a fetid cesspool,
sand and gravel.
Dire predictions:
all the unborn babies
poured unto the ether pavement.

Rehabilitate the lost;
why not the woodland path?
Live with vast infusion.
Touch the water.
Trace the watery extents.
Take that picture, damn it!

All the ways of water,
falling from darkness,
wishing they’d quit talking
strayed so far,


Pioneers of Planning

The historical roots of ecological planning and sustainability are varied. Metropolis magazine may not acknowledge the role of landscape architects in sustainability, perhaps this is because no one has specifically outlined a definitive history of ecological landscape architecture and planning. I began some time back to trace some of this lineage, which i will include a later date.

On a similar note, I found that the American Planning Association (APA) had previously (2003) released a list of 25 Individuals Who Influenced Planning before 1978, prepared for the 25th anniversary of the APA. A few notable LA's make this list of 25, along with a bevy of influential urbanists. This is by no means comprehensive, but telling as to the mark that the field has made on planning over the years (most links via Wikipedia):

1. Hippodamus (5th century B.C.)
2. Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806)
3. Pierre L'Enfant (1754-1852)
4. Baron Haussmann (1809-1891)

5. Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903)

:: image via
"Frederick Law Olmsted is widely recognized as the founder of American landscape architecture and the nation's foremost parkmaker. His first, most loved, and in many ways his best known work was his design of Central Park in New York City (1858-1876) with his partner Calvert Vaux. But Olmsted would go on to have a significant influence in the way cities and communities are built to incorporate the idea of nature and parks. He was one of the first to espouse the principles of the City Beautiful movement in America and to introduce the idea of suburban development to the American landscape."

6. George Pullman (1831-1897)
7. Camillo Sitte (1843-1903)

8. Daniel Burnham (1846-1912)
9. Jacob August Riis (1849-1914)
10. Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928)
11. Patrick Geddes (1854-1932)

12. Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. (1870-1957)

:: image via Cornell University
"Arguably the intellectual leader of the American city planning movement in the early twentieth century, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. was a worthy son of a distinguished father. While still an adolescent, "Rick" Olmsted worked and studied under his father before entering Harvard. After graduation in 1894, he entered his father's firm and a year later, as the elder Olmsted's health deteriorated, he and his half­brother took it over under the name Olmsted Brothers. "

13. Clarence Arthur Perry (1872-1944)
14. Alfred Bettman (1873-1945)
15. Clarence Stein (1882–1975)
16. Le Corbusier (1887-1965)
17. Robert Moses (1888-1981)
18. Lewis Mumford (1895-1988)
19. Catherine Bauer (1905-1964)
20. William Levitt (1907-1994)
21. Jane Jacobs (1916-2006)
22. William Whyte (1917-1999)
23. Kevin Lynch (1918-1984)

24. Ian McHarg (1920-2001)

:: image via Wikipedia
"Ian McHarg was one of the true pioneers of the environmental movement... He published his landmark book, Design With Nature, in 1969. In it, McHarg spelled out the need for urban planners to consider an environmentally conscious approach to land use, and provided a new method for evaluating and implementing doing so. Today, Design With Nature is considered one of the landmark publications in the environmental movement, helping make McHarg arguably the most important landscape architect since Frederick Law Olmsted.

25. Paul Davidoff (1930-1984)

The list is diverse, showing the multiple voices that together shape movements such as planning. From ancient philosophers, to housers, writers, theorists, urban legends, and yes, landscape architects - planning, like many disciplines, is the product of genius and hard work in it's many forms.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Veg.itecture: New Additions

A visual tour of some of the latest in Vegetated Architecture. From the wonderful to the integrated to the sophmoric - the ideas are flowing and the concept is here to stay. A few recent projects:

In todays readings, from Archidose, the amazing pioneer of vertical greening, Patrick Blanc is at it again, creating a softly architectonic form for the CaixaForum Madrid in Madrid, Spain by Herzog & de Meuron (2008). Rusted steel panels and vertical green juxtaposed together. One word: stunning.

:: image via Archidose

A new hypergreen tower by Jacques Ferrier shows elevated pockets called 'vegetated sky lobbies' . Again this is one where representation versus realization is a question it provides a compelling building-landscape integration. So good it deserves two shots...

:: images via Green.MNP

A new project, Tuin house, by Reinier de Jong, provides a model of two-story homes are stacked into taller structures - creating vertical suburbs, aimed at providing the amenities of single-family dwellings in high-rise fashion to keep people in more densely populated areas... maybe in Vancouver. While the concept is laudable, the model, which has been floating around for a while, reminds of crappy balsawood models we did in the first year of design studio.

:: image via MoCo Loco

Finally, greening the big box. This prototype Wal-Mart store in Chicago, with gasp! a green roof. I know Wal-Mart is on a kick to 'green' up their image (forgetting the third leg of social equity now and again with its employees...) But, how the heck does Chicago get big-box stores to do this. Maybe something Portland can learn from?

:: image via Jetson Green

Monday, January 28, 2008

Reading List: A Pattern Language

Some books are classics. You read them, you reference them, you let them gather dust on the shelves until one day something jogs your memory and makes them vital again. This, along with other more obsessive reasons, is why I tend to collect design books with never any thought of letting them go. And design books tend to be heavy, sometimes in content, and often in heft.

:: image via Architecture.MNP

No book proves both of these points like Christopher Alexander's tome, 'A Pattern Language'. Written in 1977, this book elucidates a series of broad to specific patterns of development. The recent post by Architecture.MNP linked to a fantastic online version of the pattern language - which seems even more useful when framed in a hypertext format. Building on the strengths of the linking pattern heirarchy, this online tool allows you to access the pattern with paging through the book, even including illustrations. Each one is nested within a larger order of magnitude, and reduced to smaller constituent parts. For instance, Pattern #14: Identifiable Neighborhood, is connected from:

"... the Mosaic Of Subcultures (8) and the Community Of 7000 (12) are made up of neighborhoods. This pattern defines the neighborhoods."

These are further reduced to the parts that:

"...mark the neighborhood, above all, by gateways wherever main paths enter it - Main Gateways (53) - and by modest boundaries of non-residential land between the neighborhoods - Neighborhood Boundary (15). Keep major roads within these boundaries - Parallel Roads (23); give the neighborhood a visible center, perhaps a common or a green - Accessible Green (60)‹or a Small Public Square (61); and arrange houses and workshops within the neighborhood in clusters of about a dozen at a time - House Cluster (37), Work Community (41).... "

The online version allows for simple jumping from point to point, and back, which is a true mark of the successful pattern - context and detail. The site includes illustrations from the book, such as this visual discription of Pattern #4: Agricultural Valleys:

:: image via A Pattern Language

The language is timeless, although the vocabulary may be in need of updating. For instance, usage of the term 'green street' has evolved, and the concept remains, but as seen in Pattern #51 - Green Streets, the definition differs somewhat from our current use:

"There is too much hot hard asphalt in the world. A local road, which only gives access to buildings, needs a few stones for the wheels of the cars; nothing more. Most of it can still be green."

:: image via A Pattern Language

While the original pattern still has merit, the idea of pattern languages is an interesting point-of-departure for any type of analytical undertaking. An example, somewhat dated as well, takes the idea to separate application of the principle, Ecotrust developed their Conservation Economy Pattern Language, the goal to provide a framework for an "...ecologically restorative, socially just, and reliably prosperous society."

More recent, Alexander's new series is a four-volume set entitled The Nature of Order, investigating a broad world-view of architecture in four parts: The Phenomenon of Life, The Process of Creating Life, A Vision of a Living World, and The Luminous Ground. I have yet to check this out, other than a cursory glance at the bookstore, but i imagine they involve some density - and patience to get through, but alas, something as light as understanding the Nature of Order should require a bit of heavy thinking.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Revisit: Olympic Sculpture Park

In light of the recent AIA Honor Award for 2008, some revisit of the fantastic Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle. Designed by internationally renown firm Weiss/Manfredi Architecture/Landscape/Urbanism along with local Seattle Landscape Architect Charles Anderson.

The main theme of the project is a folded Z-shaped pedestrian spine that traverses a significant grade change between the upper portion of the park/urban interface and the lower portion of the park/waterfront interface - also spanning the riverfront roadway below - connecting the park seamlessly from Elliot Bay to adjacent Belltown. This is shown below in a simplistic 'model' of interlocking planes:

:: image via Weiss/Manfredi

This theme provides interesting details, as well as a design parti that permeates both the site, landscape detailing, as well as the architectural forms. The buildings are appropriately designed, but in true Landscape Urbanism fashion, take their forms from the surrounding landscape fabric, not dominating or directing landscape spaces.

:: images via Weiss/Manfredi

I had the chance to visit the park about a year after it was completed, and the following photographs are from this trip. I took note of the specific landscape/built-form interactions, and some of the detailing that bridges and smooths these transitions. (all following photos by author)

:: Waterfront Pathway

:: Wall detailing

The clash of sharp angles provides some dynamism, as well as some particularly difficult details. The following photos illuminate the successes, particularly my favorite space in the park, the slightly offset angular convergence of sloped concrete walls above the roadway.

:: Roadway convergence

:: sloping pathways and spatial merging

As has been mentioned elsewhere, the parks success is less about the art it contains and more about it's contribution to the urban fabric. Thus the art-container transcends the art. In contrast with say, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, where the grounds provide a simple field for art placement, here the dynamic space often overshadows some of the lesser art pieces. While the collections will ultimately evolve, this follows other precedents in architecture where the museum becomes better known as a piece of architectural art, rather than as a functional space.

There are a few art-elements of note, in addition to the photogenic and iconic red form of the 'Eagle' by Alexander Calder. The first is shown below, not a consistent favority, but one i liked, is a sun-shade and canopy aptly titled 'Seattle Cloud Cover' by artist Teresita Fernandez, which plays with abstract colors and textures, as a piece in itself, as well as throwing interesting patterns on the ground plane:

:: Seattle Cloud Cover - by artist Teresita Fernandez

A consistent favorite is 'Wake' by Richard Serra, consisting of multiple forms of rusted steel forms evocative of ships and waterforms, tying the installation into the local context. Built as an interactive piece, it evolves based on the viewers point-of-view, although exists with a 'no-touching' policy which is strictly enforced, leaving some of this interactivity unrealized.

:: Wake - by Richard Serra

While primarily an urban park, there are some special moves that allow for pockets of refuge and immersion in nature along the pathways. The Grove, which naturally zig-zags up a hillside triangle, offers a dense planting of aspens along with site-specific artworks spaces along the pathway. This is a counterpoint to the dynamic rigidity to the adjacent areas.

:: a view of the grove - immersion in urban nature

The overal zig-zag concept makes for some stunning detailing, but allows for some difficult spots, particularly where there is a convergence of very sharp acute angles, which either create clunky merging of materials and lines, or allow for pedestrian crossing that degrades vegetation. The uppermost photo shows the difficult merging - and the lower shows the temporary fencing to avoid cross-cutting at waterfront level until vegetation is established.

:: Tapered crossing zones with depleted vegetation

In spite of these minor issues, the OSP is impressive - even more so in person than in the photos here or elsewhere. The combination of setting and strong design concept is powerful and seems to fit the Seattle aesthetic well. The softening of spaces that provide some counterpoint to the overall plan are successful, including adjacent fields of native groundcovers and other low-maintenance materials. The wall and pathway detailing, with a few exceptions, is impeccable, using relatively simple forms but making them vibrant by using them in subtle ways.

For additional information, here is a link to some interactive media about the OSP. Definitely check out the park flora link, as well as the construction slideshows showing in-process photos of various design elements.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


A meditation on plants, picking up on some earlier threads of vegetated abstractions, whether they be sculptural or metaphorical, aesthetic or functional. First is the idea of global warming, and it's impacts on the biological functioning of plants. While often reported as a purely negative or neutral, the shifts of hardiness zone allows for greater biodiversity, but changes the natural makeup of the ecology of regions.

There are potentially some aspects of this that are beneficial, such as the extended growing season, which allows for greater plant functions, such as the uptake of carbon, as well as more vigorous growth (i.e. faster production). While the long-term results are inconclusive, this may be a subtle way of nature trying to balance out some of the man-made global temperature increase and carbon spikes by using it's available means - similar to James Lovelock's idea of the Gaia Hypothesis, in which the earth is a self-regulating organism.

:: image via Treehugger

The origins of trees - both physical and metaphor take on complexity when couple with chaos theory and fractal geometry, investigating the innate form and structure. Similar to biomimicry, and riffing on threads of golden section, drawing trees requires both artistic process as well as a scientific way of looking to parse the specific formal properties. 'Branching', an interesting study on drawing trees, provides a play-by-play of a significant artwork.

:: image via sevensixfive

While trees are but a part of the overall strategies for landscape and urbanism, there are some specific functional aspects that are vital components of design and planning strategies. Two examples show a range of functions of urban vegetation. The first is more holistic, in terms of loss of habitat, is summed up in a reference on Treehugger to the significance of habitat loss, referencing Wikipedia:

"Habitat destruction is a process of land use change in which one habitat-type is removed and replaced with another habitat-type. In the process of land-use change, plants and animals which previously used the site are displaced or destroyed, reducing biodiversity. Urban Sprawl is one cause of habitat destruction. Other important causes of habitat destruction include mining, trawling, and agriculture. Habitat destruction is currently ranked as the most important cause of species extinction worldwide." [emphasis from Treehugger]

:: image via Treehugger

We talk often of urban ecology and providing habitat for particular species of plants and animals that are mutually beneficial to urban dwellers. This often comes at the cost of providing available habitat for more vigorous adapted species that we consider nuiscances. This balance will only shift more as habitat destruction and displacement occurs throughout the world, creating pressure on particularly mobile species to find refuge in our urban zones.

The second aspect involves some more specific potential strategies for mitigation of global warming, by planting and adapting plants for particular qualities that provide higher levels of surface reflectivity, or albedo. Mentioned on various sources, including BLDGBLOG's reference to a recent Guardian article on the subject involves plantings with silver, while, or lighter pigments for increased reflection of suns rays. Studies have shown that switching from darker and more uniformly surfaced plantings to ones with higher surface area (i.e. hairy leaves) and lighter colors can reduce temperatures significantly.

:: image via BLDGBLOG

How these seemingly disparate threads converge in a strategy? A previous post tied together aspects of current plant bioengineering techniques, touching on the good and bad components of these endeavors. As with many science, design, and planning strategies, we tend to look at the individual issues in isolation rather than as an aggregation of potential benefits. Unlike monocultural agriculture, the idea of plant life is one not of isolating and maximizing productivity - but rather it using more of a biodynamic perspective to investigate plants innate synergies with each other, and by default with us. And to not look at plants solely as a solution, but to other possibilities as well. While plants provide multiple functions, other man-made elements are more simplistic, and have possibilities, as BLDGBLOG notes, for some simpler solutions, including " architectural side to all this: "Other scientists have suggested different ways to cool the planet [such as] painting roads, roofs and car parks white." Recent trends in cool roofing and green building are steps in this direction.

In this regard we can tie together the following threads into something resembling coherence. First, we look at the responses of nature to man-made situations such as global warming as potential strategies to emulate in coming up with solutions. Second, we take a closer look at nature's patterns and processes at a more specific level - knowing plants, and their characteristics and synergies in new ways, not just as commodities or products of aesthetic appreciation. Third, we balance solutions not as a single goal, but a collective benefit - to humans, to habitat and it's related flora and fauna, and to providing overall solutions, taken FROM nature's processes. Finally, we don't look to science to remake similar mistakes (such as getting rid of conifers, genetically modifying plants for single uses, such as biofuels, and planting monocultures of broad-leaf and high-albedo species) but to find a balance.

Coming full circle, we look at the big picture, examine the components in detail, identify problems and solutions, and provide balanced approaches that are locally and globally beneficial. Kind of like nature does already.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Finding SoWa's Soul

Under the radar, a series of South Waterfront District Artist in Residence events have been happening at the South Waterfront District, with an eye to honing in on some sense of place in our cities newest neighborhood. AiR Studio is hosting, Linda K. Johnson, wants to provide a sense of history for a place that is percieved to have none. She will be implementing place-based ephemeral and performance works throughout the year. Check out Corpus Botanicus for a taste of the site-works, and investigate her Daily Movement Journal: 'A day-by-day accumulation of movements sourced from a rotating series of sites in the neighborhood, this extended dance phrase will capture Johnson’s daily impressions of the neighborhood over the residency year.'

:: From the Daily Movement Journal - image via

To expand on the placed-based approach Stephen Beaven profiles Johnson's approach and writes in yesterday's Oregonian about the monthly rotating series of 13 guest AiRs that are looking to engage in a variety of media to explore this common themes. Currently, I have been working alongside a group of much more talented writers, some of them SoWa residents, under the expert tutelage of writer David Oates exploring themes of Portland's Past, Present, and Future, and culminating in a collaborative piece of found poetry.

Another fascinating upcoming event is the Urban Acupuncture Project by Artist Adam Kuby. Slated as the guest residence for March, his project aims to investigate this phenomenon: In the artists words:

"I plan to bring together a group comprised of acupuncturists, city planners, art professionals, people from the city’s Asian communities, poets, writers, etc. Together we will re-envision Portland as a metaphorical body, map its meridians and diagnose its health. As a group we will explore how energy flows through the city and what parts of the metropolitan area might correspond to what bodily systems."

:: Urban Acupuncture - image via Adam Kuby

Will these art endeavors successfully unearth some of the hidden history or dare I say, a Soul of SoWa? Time will tell, although participation by residents and other community members at least allows us to feel connected to a place. There is already history and place. These alone provide fertile seeds.

In addition to site, good architecture, the signature tram project, expert planning, and quality built form - add taste and texture. Along with these activities, the upcoming SoWa Neighborhood Park design being completed by Hargreaves Associates, and implementation of (in some form) the SoWa Greenway designed by Thomas Balsley and Walker Macy will add some much needed ground-level greenery and context to the mass of current urbanization. Finally, the Greenway Art Plan created by Seattle artist Buster Simpson will hopefull infuse some additional, more permanent, artistic placemaking into the mix.

:: image of South Waterfront Greenway via Portland Parks

The final ingredient: perhaps, is time.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Vegetated Architecture

New terms, or juxtaposition of terms, continually occur in the design dialogue. Sometimes these provide language for describing something new - a technology, process or approach. Other times, this language provides a new use of terms that gives resonance for a fresh approach to something old. Terms like living buildings, civic ecology, living architecture, natural building, cradle-to-cradle and eco-architecture are all natural variations on the concept of sustainability. The fact that we have adopted and perhaps transcended the basic conceptual framework of sustainability as somewhat status quo, leads us to continue to reinvent new terms or co-opt old ones as ways to explain our specific approachs. With this comes new ways of outward expression in tow.

It's an interesting phenomenon, mentioned in Landscape Urbanism previously, that architecture has adopted landscape as a new medium. The distinct line between building and landscape has thinning the point of transparency. This new term is vegetated architecture, which is specifically the focus of much of this blog, is simply a blurring of the line between landscape and architecture. This offers a number of benefits, added value for the overall aesthetic and function. While used for design purposes, often as an ambiguous green face, applied as skin or roof. While the values of green roofs and living walls are summarized elsewhere, there is the need to ground this approach not just in terms of ecological systems or high-design strategies, but as the two mutually beneficial idealogies at work in tandem to create sustainable and visually stunning projects.

A few recent examples to further elaborate on the idea of vegetated architecture:

This project, recently featured on Inhabitat, is the School of Art, Design and Media at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. The green roofs provide environmental benefits, as well as accessible open space for informal gatherings. The monoculture of grass is a uniform 'green mantle' as well, although perhaps not the most sustainable material.

:: image via Inhabitat

Suspended greens, by Architect Taketo Shimohigoshi, a winner of a 2007 AR emerging architecture award, complete with moss-covered overhead structures in Tokyo:

::image via G-Living Network

A full interior/exterior landscape fusion by Shigeru Ban Architects for a vertically oriented Swatch store in Japan. The Nicholas G. Hayek Center is described as an urban oasis with living walls, trees, and planters spanning multiple floors.

:: image via Jetson Green

While none of these ideas are specifically new, there seems to be significant amounts of traction related to the concept in architecture the past few years - giving rise to more edgy design and experimentation with technology and form. Expanding on simple themes of green roof, living wall, these designs imply a more holistic approach to the inclusion and melding of buildings landscape, as well as not being marginalized as eco-driven or 'natural' design strategies. Significant projects seem to be localized around Europe and Asia, particularly France and Japan, although there are many more daily examples of vegetated architecture worldwide. Perhaps this is the 21st Landscape.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Materiality: Concrete

The concept of mundane materials taking new forms may offer the ability to literally 'recast' their use in a new light. No material is this more true than concrete. In it's many forms concrete is a malleable soldier of the building trades, and provides countless opportunities for architecture and design. While a number of building materials rarely make the trek into landscape territory, concrete is one that is used much - perhaps a staple of the profession due to it's use in paving, as well as it's mutability for organic forms, walls, and other built elements.

Due to it's commonality, there are often two pitfalls which range somewhere in the categories of monontony/overuse, and bad/clunky detailing. While for every example of bad use of material, there are equal and opposite (and perhaps more) examples of great uses, both typical and innovative. In this regard, we celebrate the wonder of concrete, and some of it's many forms, in the following 'Ode to Materiality Series'

The following example of black-tinted concrete comes from Andrea Cochran in her aforementioned Pacific Heights Residence. Would this have the same modern clean lines and impact with a stone or block material? Or, would it blend into the scene and surrounding metal and gravel as seamlessly if it were typical gray concrete coloring?

:: photo via Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture

Both of these examples are via Dezeen, and involve an opposite idea. See through concrete in a couple of forms. The first example is from Hungarian architect Áron Losonczi, Litracon, which is shortening of Light-tranmitting Concrete available in a blocks of varying sizes. The second, dubbed Translucent Concrete, created by Andreas Bittis. Both are essentially the same idea, with Litracon having the international patent... but a combination of concrete and optical fibers woven through the mix that are able to be lit and provide levels of translucence through the materials:

:: image of Litracon via Dezeen

:: image of Translucent Concrete via Dezeen

A simplistic form of concrete is the concrete masonry unit, or CMU. This shows up in many types of construction due to it's low-cost of manufacture, easy transportation, and simplicty of installation. It's variants include the 'decorative' versions with texture and color variations, as well as the modular walls systems we all love to hate, such as keystone or anchor. A new take, by Loom Studio, is part of their project 12 blocks, which provides textural variations of the volume of the CMU itself, celebrating the prefabrication as well as the malleable nature of the form, and allowing for interesting patterning and combinations without adding significantly to the cost.

:: images via Loom Studio

While this could go on... and probably will - the simplicity of alternative finished concrete paving. To provide an aesthetic quality of paver material without the cost of unit pavers, we like to try to dress up our concrete to give it something beyond it's flat gray nature. Thus our use of coloring and patterning, via Bomanite or other types of systems that involve either a rubber stamp or a roller. The problem with these systems is 1) they tend to look artificially textured and tinted, and 2) the quality and consistency is usually lacking in the actual installation. I have heard some techniques for how to provide more quality control (i.e. use both integral and surface color) but it seems that there are few contractors we can go to with confidence for this service and know we are getting a good product. If anyone has great experiences or examples (i have few) of colored concrete and texture, I think it'd be a great discussion.

I've tended to lean more towards simplicity of textures, without color or with some subtle variations (although going back to Andrea Cochran's walls, i may rethink this). We have not moved much past the simple texturing methods that have long been used (i.e. broom finishes) due to their simplicity. There are a number of options available depending on the needs. One of my favorites is to use rock salt finish on paving, to give it a mottled appearance that is a bit softer.

:: image via Concrete Network

Another method that I have seen, for walls specifically, is board formed concrete, using the grain of the wood to embue a certain texture and quality to the overall finished surface. Again, quality is an issue, but even some inconsistencies work because of the nature of revealing a materials nature (the fluid malleability of concrete) and the process of creating it (the traces of wood grain, bolt holes, and joints remaining in the final mix). I will post a pic as soon as i find a good one.

I realize this is an ongoing investigation, but it has inspired me to endeavor to look more closely at some of the materials we tend to take for granted in design and construction, and investigate the nature of the material, it's uses, and new innovations for application. Suggestions for other materials to investigate are welcome.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

P/A Award: Taichung Gateway Park

A wide range of 'progressive architecture' awards were recently announced on ArchitectOnline going to a wide range of winners. The process and product of what defines 'progressive' is a constantly shifting target, due to new jurors as well as new architectural directions. From the article:

"Last year's jury, for instance, favored projects with a sense of social and environmental responsibility, including an orphanage in Haiti, a school for working children and women in Lebanon, and a retirement community in Arkansas. This year, by contrast, no single agenda dominated the jury's decision-making process. While clearly mindful of the critical issues in contemporary architecture... [the jury] weighed each project according to its own individual strengths—whether those be social, environmental, technological, aesthetic, or otherwise. The results of their selection process are diverse, to say the least; the eight winning projects range widely in budget, location, program, scale, and architectural intent..."

My vote for the most 'progressive' architecture, that of the mostly non-architecture of Taichung Gateway Park in Taiwan. Designed by architect Stan Allen, this 620-acre park is adapted from a former airport. The site actively rejects historical park planning concepts of space ringed with circulation (i.e. the Central Park Model, which at 840 acres, is similar in scale), instead weaving landscape and park functions in and out of the fabric of the community, " increase the possible surface area for adjacent buildings." This is diagramatically reflected in the overall plan configuration:

:: Traditional v. Contextual - images via Architect Online

Continuing a line of significant urban parks designed by architects (la Villette, Downsview), this is another example of the more directed trend towards Landscape Urbanism, with capital L & U... which to paraphrase Waldheim '...provides the buildings blocks of urbanism not with architecture but with landscape...' Essentially the idea reversed of building structures and filling in the voids with greenery, there is a distinct blurring of the line between urban and landscape until the two become indistinguishable.

Via the landscape urbanist principles shown by Corner, there is the typical compartmentalization of functional overlays (infrastructure, structures, ecology, amenities), shown below in diagrammatic form:

:: image via Architect Online

The main strength of the approach is a cohesive and flexible infrastructural system that will be realized many phases down the line, allowing for responsiveness to a wide range of unpredictable variables. A major tenet of Landscape Urbanism, this adaptability is the cornerstone of many alternative modes of thinking, specifically in the dis-realization of what we know and can predict, versus the realization that what we must allow processes to unfold over time and provide fields in which to accomodate them. The fact that this process can create rich spaces and uses, as well as changing environments, is shown in some of the potential visuals from the website as well.

:: image via Architect Online

The great the quantity of significant landscape projects (esp. beyond paper architecture) that have significant temporal strategies at their core, will continue to allow for greater traction beyond the static 'finished product' of so much landscape architecture. This is reinforced by this particular project's timeline, which is slated to occur over a long period of implementation, making this flexibility of program and form even more important.

Again from Architect Online:

"By necessity, the project will be completed over several phases, beginning with the ecological aspects (water regeneration, reforestation, and the greening of pocket parks), then moving on to infrastructure (primary and secondary roads, bike trails and footpaths), and then finally into the urban program (anchor buildings, then the cultural, academic, and canal districts). The first stage is slated to commence in the fall, and the entire scheme may take decades to complete."

Monday, January 21, 2008

Tree | TREE | tree

As we have seen, trees occupy a litany of places in our senses and psyche - and just beg to be used as fodder for sculptural and architectural abstraction. Some recent adaptations of the theme take on some interesting forms, due to the use of material (a future topic) form, and function.

Three examples of the abstraction in it's literal sense, followed by a building-as-metaphor:

'The Ancient Tree' by Christ & Gantenbein Architects, a concrete park structure evoking the arching form of a large canopy species.

:: image via Coolboom

Solar power trees, via Treehugger, these found in Adelaide, Austrailia:

:: image via Treehugger

And the l'Arbre de Flonville in Lausanne, Switzerland by Samuel Wilkinson a combination of steel trunk and exposed 'roots', offering seating and structure, along with a softer wooden canopy.

:: image via MoCo Loco

Where does this all lead? While many items can take the form of, or evoke the style of a tree, even maintaining the majority of tree-functions, the metaphor can be further elongated. As mentioned in William Mcdonough's writings often, there is the strong metaphor of making a building function like a tree. A form of realization of this metaphor of the Skyscraper as a tree for a speculative building in dubbed the 'Tree Tower':

:: image via Jetson Green

While the aesthetic possibilities of architectural greening are myriad, there exists possibility of many functional ideas taken from nature. Looking at concepts such as biomimicry as guides, and using technology alongside, not in place of natural systems, can we learn from nature's ways of providing function and beauty, art and science - while allowing for the innate process of self-regeneration? That's our challenge.