Monday, March 31, 2008

Integrating Habitats Competition: Urban Ecotones

Well it's finally official - the announcement of winners and the like for the Integrating Habitats Competition. The celebration was held about a month ago now (Feb 26) and we've all been basking in the warm glow of adoration since then... The team and our entry got lot's of photo ops at the celebration (that's some of us there below).

:: images via Uncage the Soul Productions

A follow-up for Metro is the voting for People's Choice Awards and their blog to keep people updated on next steps. Also a big step is the production of the competition publication, which can be had upon completion by emailing Metro. And the jury, well it was pretty awesome, including:

:: Stefan Behnisch, principal, Behnisch Architects-Stuttgart, Germany and Venice, Calif.
:: Joan Nassauer, professor of landscape architecture, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Mich.
:: Tom Schueler, founder, Center for Watershed Protection-Ellicott City, Md.
:: Susan Szenasy, editor in chief, Metropolis Magazine-New York, NY
:: Jim Winkler, president, Winkler Development Corporation-Portland, Ore.
:: David Yocca, director, Conservation Design Forum-Elmhurst, Ill.

The competition was interesting as it addressed a local issue with some global implications. From Metro: "Integrating Habitats sought multi-disciplinary, collaborative designs of the future that integrate built and natural environments. Winning designs selected by this world-renowned jury redefine the current language and standards of environmental sustainability by fostering balance between conservation and development, maximizing biodiversity and safeguarding water quality for this generation and those to come."

Our teams submittal, and the winner of Category 2, involved a commercial development with a lowland hardwood forest habitat interface, including big-box green home center, a lot of parking, and remnant wetlands. Here is some more detail about our submittal and how we solved this tough problem.

Urban Ecotones:
Transitional Spaces for Commerce and Culture
Project Team:

:: GreenWorks PC: Jason King + Brett Milligan
:: Bruce Rodgers Design Illustration: Bruce Rodgers
:: Ankrom Moisan Associated Architects: Scott E. Thayer, Michael S. Great, Justin C. Hunt
:: ESA Adolphson: John Gordon
:: SWCA Environmental Consultants: Christie Galen, Coral Mirth Walker, Kim Gould

Project Statement:
This design intervention provides a vision for how innovative home building centers can thrive economically, adapt to anticipated future city conditions, and provide a model for regenerating critical habitat corridors at a city-wide scale. We assert that the major challenge to current and future big box developments will be their reliance on fossil fuels, and generic, non-site specific land development.

Two Portland planning documents advised our design: Metro’s 2040 Growth Concept and Portland’s Peak Oil Task Force 2007 Report (Descending the Oil Peak: Navigating the Transition from oil and Natural Gas). Both documents critically examine transportation infrastructure and propose actions Portland should take to prepare for the future. Portland’s Peak Oil Task Force predicts that there will be a dramatic change in transportation and lifestyles due to fossil fuel shortages within the next 30 years. This fact has led our team to critically assess the prescribed parking requirement and its utility in the future. Our design proposal meets the current parking requirement and offers a regenerative economic replacement strategy should large parking areas become obsolete.

Our design strategy is guided by time based, economic and ecological systems to provide an adaptive development model for the shift from fossil fuel dependency to a more localized economy. For example, unwanted yard and food wastes are brought on site and transformed into compost to assist with the regeneration of low HCA areas and to generate economic capital. Stormwater management strategies utilize existing topography and hydrological patterns to collect and cleanse water with technologies that replicate wetland processes and habitats.

Particular attention has been given to thresholds at which commercial development meets natural systems. Rather than seeing these interactions as points of confrontation, they are approached as environments of unique richness—a synergy of both habitats akin to an ecotone: the transitional area between two ecosystems containing more diversity and biotic activity than singular habitats. Rather than impinging upon natural systems on site, habitat buffers are increased to provide a shared zone of mutually-beneficial interaction.

Economically, our development model taps into Portland’s leading market for sustainable building practices and lifestyles, and fosters community by creating service- oriented building centers near regional and town centers to meet the challenges of post peak-oil conditions.

Through day-lighting, façade articulation and site responsive features, the architecture provides a contrasting experience that will attract nearby shoppers from adjacent big box developments for the engaging experience the site will offer them.

Additional Project Elements:

:: Enlarged View of Big-Box Green Home Center + Parking

:: Enlarged View of Community Agriculture Center and Composting Facilities

:: Site flows of people, fauna, flora, and water were balanced throughout

:: Parking (re)volution involved a unit with multiple possible iterations

:: Technical Detail of Parking Lot Removal and Replacement

Concept sketches:

:: Stormwater Ponds, Regional Trail + Transitional Parking Edge

:: Trail through HCA and entry to Home Center with Habitat Rooftop

:: HCA to Community Agriculture Transition Zone

Anyone looking for more information or higher resolution images, please feel free to drop a comment. We're planning on getting the word out and excited about the competition and it's potential to reshape the built environment and truly integrate habitat with development.

And for those of you in the Portland area - the winning entries for the competition will be on display, live and in living color, beginning April 1st in the Bureau of Development Services - 1900 Building lobby, located at 1900 S.W. Fourth Ave., in Portland. Check it out.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Veg.itecture: #19

aka. The Pooktre Vegitectural Prize Awarded

Well, all the lobbying for Jean Nouvel as one of the pre-emininent Veg.itects of our time has paid off with the recent announcement that he was recently awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize for 2008. While not as prestigious as aforementioned PVP, congrats are in order all the same.

:: image via NY Times

A review and acknowledgement that there are is a long line of storied architects whom have claimed this prize. Vegetated Architecture is not on the list of requirements, but fit nicely into the overall theme: "The purpose of the Pritzker Architecture Prize is to honor annually a living architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture."

His most known work of Veg.itecture is the oft-viewed Musee du Quai Branly in Paris. From the NY Times overview of the Pritzker award: "The bulk of Mr. Nouvel’s commissions work has been in Europe however. Among the most prominent is his Quai Branly Museum in Paris (2006), an eccentric jumble of elements including a glass block atop two columns, some brightly colorful boxes, rust-colored louvers and a vertical carpet of plants. “Defiant, mysterious and wildly eccentric, it is not an easy building to love,” Mr. Ouroussoff wrote in The Times."

One building in the US I did get to see and like (but was frankly underwhelmed by the landscape architecture) was the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, perched on the revitalized waterfront and making a bold statement for somewhat hum-drum prairie design. Not Veg.itecture, but a fine and tangible personal Nouvel project.

:: Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis, MN - image via NY Times

So as we celebrate Nouvel, we turn our attention to some of the recent Vegetated Architecture that is changing the face of the dual intertwined professions of landscape + architecture. Some notable additions to delicately place on foam, stick pins neatly skewering the corners, and a curt, hand-written label to the side.

So perhaps my heavy-handed allusion to specimen collecting was not lyrical enough to preface the announcment of 'The Worlds Biggest Butterfly House' happening in the UK, as reported on Treehugger. The project looks somewhat funky (perhaps just representational, as the buff colored materail reminds me of kitty litter) with it's geodesic dome and earth-sheltered pupae, nestled into the landscape of meadows and gardens. Probably something only a butterfly or Bucky Fuller could love.

:: image via Treehugger

The next project has a striking form, and has the press-cred to warrant lots of exposure... as well as some subtle integration of building and landscape in poetic and functional ways. Via Inhabitat, the design for Precinct 4, by Studio Nicoletti Associati and Malaysian architects Hijjas Kasturi Associates, " a refreshing and original with unique, marine-inspired structures - which also draw from traditional Islamic designs - arranged in a permeable, radiating block of bioclimatic architecture."

:: images via Inhabitat

The use of bioclimatic architecture makes us thing fondly for our other Veg.itecture pioneer, Ken Yeang, whose extensive use of vegetation as environmental strategy has defined the theory for architects such as these to follow. The use of indiginous forms and strategies derived from place and climate are vital to proper melding of these two concepts. Shifting to a neighboring region of Hong Kong, Dezain showcased a link to Hong Kong Jockey Club and their Central Police HQ by Herzog & de Meuron (Pritzker winners, as well). Not quite the same as the typical cop-shop in the US...

:: images via HKJC

A new building on World Architecture News in London by Renzo Piano (a Pritzker alum) knocked me over with a smashing green facade (until i realized it was merely a green wall of ceramic and glass, un-vegetated). Oh well, it's a nice thought. The project didn't disappoint, with a wonderfully rendered (if someone monocultural) rooftop terrace to more than make up for my disappointment.

:: images via WAN

While we're talking Starchitects and former Pritzker winners, a new one in LA by Frank Gehry has vegetation toppling down a cascade of building forms. Following our recent post on significant Los Angeles open spaces - this submittal include park connectivity as a major feature. From World Architecture News: "Also to be improved as part of the project is the existing County Mall, which will be transformed into a 16-acre park stretching from the Music Center at the top of Bunker Hill to City Hall at the bottom of the Hill. The park will become the new "Central Park" of Los Angeles and will be the scene of many citywide celebrations as well as daily events."

:: image via WAN

And to shift gears somewhat - and pick up a much earlier thread of growing your own Treehouse - growing your own park structure. Via Treehugger, a company named Plantware's approach: " known as tree shaping, arborsculpture, living art or pooktre."

Pooktre? I thought we were talking about Pritzker? Anyway, I gotta remember that one for Scrabble anyway. A notable quoate from Treehugger by Plantware CEO explains the inspiration: "A fantasy about building houses from living trees, inspired by the ficus tree, whose roots create amazing forms. We discovered a way to control the direction in which a tree grows, which can be used to grow structures that will be useful and environmentally-friendly." If you have the time, I'd definitely recommend it.

:: image via Treehugger

This is definitely not a new phenomenon, as Treehugger points out. On a related note - pooktre pioneer Axel Erlandson from California: "...started shaping trees in 1925, and by the late 1940's opened up "The Tree Circus," a tourist attraction which has now been transplanted to an amusement park in Gilroy, California."

:: image via Arborsmith Studios

Time to play, veg.itect style. I bet Nouvel would love these... and what's next, the Pooktre Vegitectural Prize? Why not?

Parks: With Los Angeles Style

A couple of recent announcements in World Architecture News has definitely aimed the spotlight at Los Angeles for cutting edge parks and open space implementation. And this doesn't even include the local media-saturated Orange County Great Park (subject of some upcoming coverage of our own here at L+U).

The first project is by one of the OC Great Park team members, LA-based Mia Lehrer + Associates (along with Denver-based team members Wenk Associates and Civitas). It's exciting to see collaboration between not just multi-disciplinary teams, but also amongst Landscape Architecture and planning firms to provide specific aspects of experience to a project, such as urban planning, water design focus, or environmental specialization. I expect for large-scale projects this makes more sense, but can be a model for other projects as well.

WAN profiled their work for a 'River Renovation at the Heart of LA' with a goal: " plan a comprehensive open space network in and around the Los Angeles River corridor." The summary continues to include the goals of the project: "Revitalizing the river includes four major goals: (1) enhanced flood storage, to slow flow velocities to enable reintroduction of vegetation; (2) enhanced water quality, through regional scale storm water treatment at river confluences, and localized “treatment terraces” at storm drain outfalls; (3) enhanced public access within the channel via terraces and ramps, small pocket parks and ponded areas; and (4) a restored riparian ecosystem."

:: image via WAN

This involves an expansive vision that included not only the river itself but extends into the surrounding urban fabric: Via WAN: "Greening the neighborhoods extends the River’s influence into adjacent neighborhoods, encompassing five goals: (1) creation of a continuous River Greenway that serves as the City’s “green spine;” (2) reconnecting neighborhoods to the River through a system of “green streets;” (3) recapturing underutilized or brownfield sites in park-poor areas as neighborhood parkland, and incorporating stormwater management practices into all public landscapes; (4) enhancement of River identity through signature bridges and gateways, and through programmed events; and (5) incorporating public art along the River."

:: image via WAN

A recent summary involves a historic reinterpretation of Los Angeles State Historical Park and have connections to the overall LA River corridor as well. The winner of a recent design competition (via WAN): "...the Hargreaves Associates proposal restores the lost connection of the people of Los Angeles to their history, their River, and to nature. The 32-acre park expresses the site's interwoven histories and cultural significance through the Nueva Zanja, tracing the route of an historic water channel and re-interpreting it as an historical walk that recalls the multiple histories and meaning of the site."

:: images via WAN

Again via WAN: "The design provides a plaza for gatherings and events, gardens and recreational spaces, pedestrian and fauna bridges, wetlands and interpretive centers. The project also provides a key link between the mountainous Elysian Park, and the channelized LA River. The project proposes a flexible edge to the LA River, adaptive to different possibilities for the future of the river that free it from its current channelized state."

The connections to the river in this case are both accomodating of pedestrians, as well as habitat - including two 'fauna bridges' as shown in the diagram below. This acknowledgement of the overall habitat connectivity and accomodating types of urban fauna is an important trend of park development and aids in not just the physical restoration of the park and riparian corridor, but the liveliness of the social and ecological systems.

:: image via WAN

And representationally, the graphics for this competition mimick many of the recent submittals including the illustrative collage technique that focusses not just on spatial form but is evocative of the use of materials and forms. In this case, structures are more abstracted, rendered in a generic translucent white, which really accentuates the vegetative and site qualities such as the overhead structure (top), and the death-defying section cut stairway and water play feature (below) all populated with an appropriate multi-cultural cast of characters that is indicative of a LA user group for urban parks.

:: images via WAN

And we finish with a landscape art as semi-orgasmic experience, via the LA Times coverage of Patrick Dougherty's installation at the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden, and author Debra Prinzing's poetic summary: "Titled "Catawampus," the installation ... beckons from the main path at the in Arcadia, sunlight slipping between the warp and weft of twigs. The tactile quality of each thread-like branch appeals to me: the in-and-out, the over-and-under. I run my hand along the twisted surface, marveling at the density of 4-inch-thick walls. My fingers stroke the soft tips, velvet against the rough bark."

:: image via LA Times

May everthing we ever design illicit such a response...

Saturday, March 29, 2008

City Farmer News

City Farmer and it's 'Urban Agriculture Notes' has been around offering great urban agriculture links from Vancouver, BC for a number of years at their old, no-frills site and their demonstration garden. I was pleased to visit recently and see the link to the new blog-ish City Farmer News (added to the BlogCheck) site and tap into a number of those recent posts of some pretty tasty urban-ag happenings.

:: Demonstration Compost Garden - image via City Farmer News

A compelling profile of the CERES farm, located in Brunswick East, Victoria, Australia. CERES stands for Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies, and is also the name for the Roman goddess of agriculture. From CFN: "CERES farm demonstrates how an urban city farm can contribute to the local community by providing locally grown organic food, education in community food systems, a happening & ethical market place and employment for farmers, teachers and market workers."

:: image via City Farmer News

With a goal of encouraging urban agriculture, "City Farmer teaches people how to grow food in the city, compost their waste and take care of their home landscape in an environmentally responsible way." One notable example is the study for urban agriculture around the upcoming 2010 Olympic Games in the Southeast False Creek are of Vancouver. From the City of Vancouver: "SEFC will be a model of sustainable development. Unique features include: urban agriculture; a rainwater management system; green roofs; and a neighbourhood energy system."

:: image via City of Vancouver

There are links to a number of studies available by Holland Barrs Planning Group, which outline some of the urban agriculture goals. One such study centered around 'Designing Urban Agriculture Opportunities for Southeast False Creek, Vancouver, BC' and described a number of strategies for planning and desing urban ag into the fabric of the community.

:: image via Holland Barrs

A summary from the Holland Barrs site: "Develop design considerations and guidelines, technical considerations, and management strategies for effectively integrating urban agriculture (UA) into a high density neighbourhood. The report focuses on how UA is an innovative tool for urban design and can play a key role in building community around food. Topics covered in the report include: perspectives on food security, design principles for UA, a UA space typology, design ideas and considerations for UA in the public and private realms, technical considerations and support systems necessary for UA, and management strategies for endurance of the UA program over time."

From a more historical viewpoint is a short profile of the book by University of Western Australia prof Andrea Gaynor entitled 'Harvest of the Suburbs' which definitely piqued my interest in some historical precedent from Australia for urban agriculture.. From CFN: "Drawing upon sources ranging from gardening books and magazines to statistics and oral history, Gaynor presents an environmental history of non-commercial suburban food production in Australia. Her narrative traces animal, fruit, and vegetable production from the close of the 19th century to the present day. Particular attention is paid to the effects of economic conditions on home food production."

:: image via City Farmer News

And today we end with a related urban-ag link that was pretty funny came via Treehugger and the Wayback Machine to the not so-distant past of 1984 and a book entitled 'The Future World of Agriculture' offered by none other than Disney. And much the series title, Epcot (which I did visit with horror as a 9 year old in 1982) - this is a horribly dated and dystopia view of agriculture fits right in... where "Robots tend crops that grow on floating platforms around a sea city of the future. Water from the ocean would evaporate, rise to the base of the platforms (leaving the salt behind), and feed the crops." Yikes. I can't help but think of the machine-harvesting human pods in The Matrix, but I'm sure that would never happen... right?

:: image via Treehugger

Unlike the 'utopia' shown above, City Farmer News offers wide-ranging and practical solutions to encourage site- and city-scale urban agriculture. And you will find that robots are seldom necessary. Check it out.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Green Roof in a Box?

No it's not the new SNL Digital Short with JT, but a rant about the commercialization of green rooftops. I usually don't mince words about 'packaged' vegetated systems and my disdain for them as a one-size-fits-all solution. It's not that I don't think there's value in the marketplace for an easier to implement solution. I tend to find that these systems lack the regional and site-specific qualities that make them successful in their search for Ikea-like packability. Some thoughts:

Thinking about it in terms of prefab, a good number of prefab houses come with the prefab green roof addition. The miniHome DUO is an example (amongst many) that has this feature, and it's represented in that sort of boxed, add-on, generic sort of way that is typical of modern prefab:

:: image via Jetson Green

A new product seen a few places recently jumped out at me for this very reason, mostly due to the simple commodification aspect, is Urban Roof Gardens, a UK company that literally is selling 'A Green Roof in a Box' for 12 square meters of vegetated rooftop for £590.00 (that's about $1,185 for 129 sf for ya'll on the non-metric part of the world) - which is pretty competitive in terms of pricing at less than $10/s.f. Although I'm always wary of a product that only offers you one grainy glimpse of the system.

:: image via Urban Roof Gardens

From the website: "...all you need for an instant green roof delivered direct to your door! Easy to install and low maintenance, your environmentally friendly green roof will provide recreational space for you and a habitat for wildlife. Your pack comes complete with a 4 component system ready for you to lay down: a RoofMat (comprising a root barrier and waterproof membrane), a GreenMat (for insulation, water retention and feeding), a GroLayer (special growth medium) and finally the SedumSpread (fasting rooting macerated sedum plants). We can supply in any quantity, and we're also happy to come and fit it - email us for a quote. Available NOW!"

Pretty much every company has some form or other of pre-packaged system, including the major big hitters in the roofing world. The names are pretty amusing as well, and deserves a more intensive posting to look at the variations. A few for some fodder and discussion: Garden Roof (Hydrotech), Sopranature (Soprema), Nature Roof (Corus), Eco-Roof (WP Hickman), Living Roofs, and Elevated Landscape Technologies to name a few.

A ready to install variation is from Xero Flor America, who is a grower and supplier of pregrown vegetated mats. Another company and product that deserves more attention (there are a couple of local Portland examples I'd like to see and profile). The vegetated mats were used in the US on the ground-breaking Ford Rouge Plant, where it was used to immediately cover literally acres of rooftop for instant coverage. Again price is an issue, but when you factor in instantaneous cover and reduced maintenance, it starts to make a lot of sense.

:: image via Xero Flor America

The green roof tray systems definitely come with a 'box' mentality. These include the popular GreenGrid, Green Roof Blocks, and a newer Portland company AVRS. The box idea is quite popular, and the advertising does reinforce the easy installation and flexibility of moving or removing if there are problems or changes. One drawback is the additional cost, which may or may not be worth it depending on the configuration of the rooftop.

:: image via

Another variation is 'Green Roof in a Bag' with a company called GreenPaks which offer some of the benefits with less material (and I'm guessing less cost).

:: image via GreenPaks

A rooftop agriculture version of the 'box' comes via City Farmer News, and a recent post on Earthbox. Advertised as 'Homegrown Vegetables Without A Garden', it definitely talks a good game: "Our maintenance-free, award-winning, high-tech growing system controls soil conditions, eliminates guesswork and more than doubles the yield of a conventional garden-with less fertilizer, less water and virtually no effort."

:: image via City Farmer News

:: Organic Ready to Grow Kit - image via Earthbox

A company I really admire that provides a measure of packaging with some customization is innovator Charlie Miller from Roofscapes, and the offerings of custom designed 'systems' such as the Ultralite Plaza and Roofrug which is advertised as the 'Industries Best Value' which includes install and two full years of maintenance. The regionalism and semi-commodification is handled through the Roofscapes Network, which has local companies that are representative installers for a particular geographic region.

:: image via Roofscapes

It is healthy and good for a product or system to evolve from initial customization to commodification, but in the case of green roofs, I wonder if perhaps the concept is self-defeating. The ways in which this would make real market sense is that the products were able to be mass-produced with a lower price point. Most of these packaged systems tend to be priced at least the same or typically higher than a custom system.

A less product oriented, and perhaps more flexible solution comes via RoofBloom, a Minnesota based resource with a focus on garage-roof greening. A collaborative partnership between a number of groups, including the Minnesota Green Roofs Council, which is one of those local groups based on a more regional approach to green roofing that I think is the key to success.

The RoofBloom resource is a document entitled 'Green Your Garage, Volume One' which does a good job of not only giving the basics but also setting the local context for watershed protection. Also, it explains some of the scale issues, looking at not just one garage but the overall potential. From GYG: "Garages and other outbuildings do represent a significant land use in urban areas. As an example, fifty thousand two-car garages, each with a 480-square foot roof, represent 24 million square feet of impermeable surface. That's 550 acres of green space."

:: image via RoofBloom

Volume Two hints at some 'systems' that would work, and it would be interesting to see how adaptable they are to particular site and building specifics. In essence, a group in every city and region is somewhat necessary to facilitate and translate all of the myriad information in the universe into what will work in a particular locale or climate. I'd call that group green roof designers and landscape architects... preferably ones with a track record of success. By maybe I'm biased...

In summary, the old adage that all sustainability is local holds true - and perhaps is even more appropriate when talking about sustainable landscapes. So perhaps all green roof solutions are local as well. And while pre-packed systems are valuable and applicable to a number of conditions, more often than not, they don't come neatly flat-packed in a box. Sorry IKEA.