Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Regional Green

A busy week, and apologies for lack of posting. I'm well under my once-a-day quota for March, but alas - work is hopping with exciting projects in the region. As I mentioned in a previous post, we tend to take for granted the innovative projects that come out of the Pacific Northwest. The recent National ASLA winners notwithstanding (with the exception of couple of residential examples), the PNW continues to provide stellar examples for sustainable design at a variety of scales. This does not mean that there aren't a number great projects worldwide, but sometimes as we push the envelope, we forget the fact that there are groundbreaking designs growing in our own backyards.

A recent small-scale project called The Commons, which is one of a number of projects that is vying to be the elusive first Living Building Challenge project. Covered in the Oregonian, as well as on Brian Libby's Portland Architecture blog - the project has also jumped out into the national spotlight via Jetson Green. Developed by a pair of brothers in Portland, Dustin and Garrett Moon and features a number of green features: green roof, composting toilet, rainwater catchement, fly-ash concrete, and most press-worthy topic by far... dirt floors. (for clarification they are earthenware - as Libby clarified after some 'backlash' about the tongue-in-cheek comment about this feature.

:: images via Jetson Green

While it's gained a lot of attention, the dirt floors are really an earthenware clay, which is an uncommon and sustainable material in typical building circles. There is a groundswell of natural builders throughout Portland with a large following - with mixed results. I liken it to the fact that whatever the material - a good designer will use it well, and the rest... well. Or, as Libby points out, there is a definite conceptual break between the DIY cob-crowd of sustainability and the flashy expensive LEED condos... "When I think of those few conservatives out there who are skeptical about green building, cob benches and dirt floors are to me precisely the kind of stuff they'll ridicule." He later adds: "I just am not fond of the cob and rammed-earth aesthetic, although I certainly can't fault the function and sustainability of these age-old practices."

:: Cob Structure - image via Portland Ground

Another local project with some sustainable features is the Portland City Storage by MulvannyG2, which caught the attention of World Architecture News: "This innovative facility will include dry storage for boats, retail spaces, offices, and amenities including a rooftop pool under a retractable roof. The project integrates an elevated pedestrian walkway providing splendid views of the Willamette River, its bridges, and downtown. Portland City Storage is targeting a USGBC LEED Gold certification and will also generate alternative electrical power thanks to a wind farm located at the top of the building."

:: image via WAN

I have a more substantial post underway about some of this more site-scale wind generation appearing on a number of buildings - and it's an exciting trend to see this evolution. I think it is similar to water movement in the fact that there is a specific visual and physical connection between natural processes and the subsequent sustainable element. Take this a bit further, as tossed around in a project meeting earlier this week, what about taking the idea of rainwater capture and gravity flow through pipes in a building from rooftop to storage - then intervene and tap the energy generating potential by adding microturbines within pipes that could provide additional electricity generation?

:: image via Hydro

This brand of experimentation and techno-innovation is one of the goals of our local Green Investment Fund, which is "...a competitive grant program that awards innovative and comprehensive projects that excel at energy efficiency, on-site storwmater management, water efficiency and waste prevention." Historically providing a catalyst for experimental projects, the GIF has moved more towards leveraging and expanding the sustainable features of large-scale, well-funded projects. While I can't say anything about the quality of projects, from Mercy Corps to Park Avenue West.

:: Mercy Corps (Thomas Hacker Architects) - image via PDC

:: Park Avenue West (TVA Architects) - image via TMT Development

A good number of the projects make me scratch my head regarding the goals of the GIF. Is it to fund project sustainability and transferability, or is it to provide a little increment break for large projects? I wonder why are we dropping a chunk of cash (i.e. $100k or, over a quarter of the total GIF funds on one project) on projects that are multi-million dollar budgets to start out with, and that are really not in as much need of these funds. This is discussed as well on Portland Architecture, with Libby wondering: "Is it right that these projects, many of which seem to come from the city's biggest developers, are the ones getting a lot of the public investment from the GIF?"
On the other hand, this may be the kick to make these projects a reality. The description of One Waterfront Place, via OSD: "When completed in early 2010, One Waterfront Place will be the first speculative office building to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED(r)) Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The 270,000 square foot building and garage built on a former brownfield will use a combination of ecoroofs, rain gardens and planters to treat stormwater on-site and restore wildlife habitat to this now-barren property. Tenants, visitors and community members will be able to view many of the building's green features, including a large solar photovoltaic system, from the Broadway Bridge and the new pedestrian bridge that will connect the Willamette Greenway to the Pearl District."

:: One Waterfront Place (Boora Architects) - image via Portland Architecture

It's a good project and a very good developer. They all are. But is that the point? I think One Waterfront Place and all of these projects would have happened and been plenty green without GIF funding. I personally know of a few innovative small projects that had a GIF funding or nothing element to them... these are all great projects, but when I hear grant-funding I imagine something that can provide that edge to make a vision a reality. There are a couple of smaller scale projects that recieved funding, but I'm guessing based on these previous submittals - it's going to make it less likely that innovative small-scale projects (which could provide an experimental laboratory for larger-scale projects) will even seek funding.

To follow this up, I will post later this week about the Oregon ASLA award winners, which were announced at a celebration last weekend. Stay tuned for more on this. And spinning around to round this back to landscape architecture, congratulations on the announcement of landmark status for Herbert Bayer's fantastic Earthworks (via Something About Maryman). Read more about Bayer at the TLCF website. That's a big win for the good guys!

:: Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks - image via City of Kent

Saturday, April 26, 2008

It's an Eco-Planning World

Time to re-engage with the amazing eco-planning happening around the globe. We took a tongue-in-cheek look with the Suburb Eating Robots, as well as a more in depth and serious look at Auroville, a visionary community in southern India. For a great follow-up to this project, read Brice Maryman's first-person account of a design-build trip to Auroville, complete with video documentary that gives a great visual and personal account of the process. Looks like fun.

Taking mass-customization to a greater extend is the very unique ORDOS 100 collaborative project happening in Inner Mongolia. Led my Herzog & de Meuron, the project involved a unique platting of 100 parcels (by FAKE Design), and the subsequent selection by HdM of 100 architects from around the globe to design the individual villas.

:: image via Archidose

An overview from the website: "The scope of the project is to Develop 100 hundred villas in Ordos, Inner Mongolia, China, for the Client, Jiang Yuan Water Engineering Ltd. FAKE Design, Ai Wei Wei studio in Beijing, has developed the masterplan for the 100 parcels of land and will curate the project, while Herzog and de Meuron have selected the 100 architects to participate. The collection of 100 Architects hail from 27 countries around the globe. The project has been divided into 2 phases. The first phase is the development of 28 parcels while the second phase will develop the remaining 72. Each architect is responsible for a 1000 square meter Villa."

:: Zone B Site Plan - image via ORDOS 100

The most poignant comment about the layout comes via Archidose: "Looks like suburbia in Mongolia to me. Looks like it was designed by the client, not by the artist who collaborated with Herzog & de Meuron on the Bird's Nest, among other projects. It's apparently surrounded by more of the same, but it's disappointing nevertheless. The green space (in grey, running from the body of water on the left to the cluster of darker-grey cultural buildings on the right) attempts to salvage things, though its scale is a bit paltry."

It will be interesting to see how the build-out happens with the forced eclecticism. Also interesting is the concept of exporting the very western idea of suburbia, which is permeating China, Pakistan, Argentina, Europe, and Latin America. As mentioned in the USA Today article: "The suburbs represent, almost like a cliché, the American dream," says New York architect Kevin Kennon, who has worked in China and Pakistan and is the executive director of the Institute for Architecture and Urban Study. "I can own a piece of land, I can have my house on that land. … It allows people to point to something that they own and distinguish it from other houses, even if they look the same."

:: Brownsville or Beijing? - image via USA Today

One project that may offer a glimpse of both what ORDOS 100 will turn up architecturally - and a way of combating the homogenization that seems typical of suburban development is the Next-Gene20 project for the island of Taiwan. Via Archinect: "MVRDV, Kengo Kuma and Julien De Smedt are among the 20 architects designing 20 villas on the island of Taiwan. The Spaniard Fernando Menis, Berlin and LA based Graft, as well as 10 Taiwanese practices are among the other architects taking part."

Some project images via BDonline provide a glimpse of the diversity of this multi-designer approach.

:: Villa by Kengo Kuma - image via BDonline

:: Villa by Halim Suh - image via BDonline

:: Villa by Toshiko Mori - image via BDonline

:: Villa by Julien De Smedt - image via BDonline

:: Villa by Irving Hung-Hui Huang - image via BDonline

This may be the antidote to suburbia that is synonymous with row's of 'ticky-tacky little boxes', but in the economic sphere of development - does this make sense, or is it mere utopian thinking to imagine singular custom designs on a mass scale. It may not be affordable for the masses, whom are relegated to the cookie cutter subdivision and same variety of 3 houses. Perhaps the root of the issue is the pattern of development, so let's take a look at an idea of reinventing the suburban pattern.

:: Tessellated tile pattern - image via Treehugger

Treehugger offers one glimpse of this alternative through the work of Malaysian architect Mazlin Ghazali, who "...notes that "In developing countries only the very rich can afford to live in quarter-acre single-family houses located in a cul-de-sac. How can the cul-de-sac be made affordable for more people and for the environment? Can we have cul-de-sacs without sprawl?" He then builds on traditional Muslim tessilated designs to turn them into honeycombs with duplex, triplex, quadruplex or sextuplex units."

:: images via Treehugger

Or there are those not happy with the status quo who set out to create and live a different lifestyle. This lineage of utopian design and planning has a long and somewhat sordid past. Forbes magazine undertook a study of some of the successes and failures in the 'Utopia' special report. This requires some further posting, but a glimpse of the coverage, starting with successes, see a photo essay of 'Eight Modern Utopias' and the failures 'American Utopias'. Look for more on this report at a later date.

:: Findhorn Community - image via Forbes

:: Drop City Colorado - image via Forbes

When it comes down to it, the success or failure of eco-planning is not a singular question. It does rely on one silver bullet of planning, pattern, policy or design. Nor is it merely a question of lifestyle and utopian visionary thinking. All of these things succeed and fail in equal doses. And as we work to cure this and experiment - we also export our suburban ideaology and illness to other cultures. What makes one or the other concept work is the collective interweaving of good planning, flexible policy, appropriate design, and most importantly - people whom are open to and willing to make this work. I'd posit that our current suburban blight is less a design or planning issue than one of misguided and misunderstood social policy. That's where we will find these solutions... and these will continue to guide the myriad schemes and new ideas flooding our eco-planning world.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Veg.itecture #22

I'm giving a presentation next week at work about Vegetated Architecture, and spent a good amount of time sifting through some interesting additions, as well as some old favorites from the archives. It is interesting when compiling this information to see how the evolution of the concept has occurred over the very brief amount of time I have been writing about it. Between this and Grey to Green, I have definitely had rooftop and building greening on the brain - which, as you can see, requires a lot of catching up...

:: The Hermitage at Queen Caroline's gardens at Richmond (circa 1728) - image via

We have evolved, a bit. For starters, a stunning and expansive elevated site from Steven Holl for the invited competition for the New York Hudson Yards via G-Living. The proposal offers the following massive vegetated structure which: "...calls for a roof garden spanning 19 acres and thus creating a microclimate for the city. On site will also be an amphitheater, a performance hall, commercial and residential spaces, a water strip that will collect and purify rainwater, grey and stormwater recycling, and a co-generation plan... turning the underused space into a sustainable and thriving area."

:: images via G-Living

I think they might have meant 'positive microclimate' or something, as creating a microclimate takes absolutely no intervention. But alas, it is an interesting project and a grand scale - with at least sustainable features in the discussion from day one. Another one with some interesting form via
BDonline, (and ripe for interpretation) is the Nato's new Headquarters in Brussels by SOM - featuring some non-descript rooftop greenery in the webbing of the one of the 'fingers'.

:: image via BDonline

And sometimes seredipity - or just a constrant stream of greenery - as I write this, a notice that caught my eye - with the phrase 'Parti Wall, Hanging Green' via Architecture.MNP - which featured a collaborative project by the Young Architects Boston Group (consisting of - Ground, Höweler + Yoon Architecture, LinOldhamOffice, Merge Architects, MOS, over,under, SsD, Studio Luz, UNI, and Utile). This project addresses the blank facades left with potential future development - and comes up with a ecological and aesthetic solution... at least from afar.

:: image via

I definitely love the first image, but when a closeup is shown... it looks like something between a mossy shower curtain and a nasty green terry cloth bathmat. I think it is representational, as A.MNP mentions: "The supported planted panels will vary in dimension, and allow the team to tests different systems and plant types for permanent installations in the future." Phew! I like a green future, but maybe not like this.

:: image via

Veering away from our humble roots into space-age design is a hotel in Lernacken, Malmö, Sweden by Space Group Arkitekter. I am not sure what I like more: the ribbons of green space atop the bluff, or the ethereal overlooks to the water's edges - especially this tasty night shot.

:: image via

Snapping through, we find some strange green fuzz atop a Toronto development by Raw Design.

:: image via

...and a sprawling campus green in Pune, India for INOX Air Product Ltd. with some parking and low building roof vegetation that looks much better at ground level than from the air.

::images via
WAN well as Deep Green, Knowlton School of Architecture student Marc Syp's creation with a sweet rooftop futuristic space.

:: image via

And a happy ending in pure fantasy (what better to change the slow course of architectural discourse) is a visionary entry to the NVDIA/CGSociety competition for NVArt: Art Space. Spotted on The Design Blog, it's a vision that of course includes veg.itecture: "Technological creations occupy the center stage and yet the concept is in harmony with nature; the model is replete with green parks and gardens."

:: image via
The Design Blog

Past, present, future... full circle - that's Vegetated Architecture we can all appreciate.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

AIA 2008 COTE Top-10

The recently announced winners of the 2008 AIA COTE Top Ten Winners unearthed some fantastic projects - and a whole lot of sustainable features and some Vegetated Architecture as well. In honor of Earth Day 2008, we thought it appropriate to showcase those verdant and green selections here.

The Yale University Sculpture Building and Gallery by Kieran Timberlake Associates features sustainable landscape in a number of ways: "The green roof on the gallery and native plant landscaping, which includes mature trees, serves as a connective habitat patch for avian species moving through the urban corridor between these parks."

:: image via ArchitectureWeek

The next selection is the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Previously dubbed the "Greenest Building in the World" via Treehugger and some reported hyperbole via Rick Fedrizzi. The work of The Kubala Washatko Architects features some great features and is the first 'carbon neutral' operating building recognized by LEED. Some site features include wood harvested from on-site trees, rainwater scuppers, and a greater idea of fitting the greater landscape context - something Leopold would have appreciated.

:: images via Treehugger

The Ceasar Chavez Library in Phoenix by Line and Space featured sustainability with desert style - with rainwater harvesting and storage in a nearby lake - as well as high efficiency landscape irrigation system to cut water use by over 50%. Additionally (via AIA Top Ten): "Water from patio and foundation drains is piped to trees surrounding the library, and condensate from rooftop mechanical units is used to irrigate the vegetated island of the new parking lot."

:: image via AIA Top Ten

Closer to home, the Discovery Center at South Lake Union by MillerHull is a great example of design for deconstruction and reuse amidst native PNW landscaping. It is interesting to see how temporariness and deconstructabilty lead to a very light touch in regards to landscaping - but I guess that makes sense rather than invest in significant landscaping that will be ripped out eventually (but this building is in a park so that's definitely a debatable issue).

:: image via Treehugger

The Pocono Environmental Education Center by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson is located in Wilkes-Barre, Pennslyvania for the National Park Service, and involved a creative reuse of materials and simple details. From AIA Architect: "The design is a layered solution in which visitors pass through the forest, cross a wetland, enter the building through an opening in the dark north wall, and cross through a bar of service spaces into the bright, sun-lit main room. The jury said they were impressed by the economy of the project and applauded the use of simple materials and simple details... The jury also said they loved the creative use of the discarded tires reclaimed from the site for use as walls."

:: image via AIA Architect

Other projects that have garnered awards this year include:

:: Garthwaite Center for Science & Art, by Architerra (Boston, MA).

:: image via AIA Top Ten

:: Lavin-Bernick Center for University Life by Vincent James at Tulane University.

:: image via Tulane

:: Nueva School Hillside Learning Complex by Leddy Maytum Stacy.

:: image via AIA Top Ten

:: Macallan Building Condominiums by Office dA and Burt Hill in Boston, Massachusetts

:: image via AIA Top Ten

Finally, one of my favorite projects of the year so far, is the Queens Botanical Garden Visitor Center in Flushing, NY by BKSK Architects has been featured on L+U previously, with a wide range of sustainable features and vegetated architecture - including a native plant green roof, innovative stormwater management, and a mountable sloping vegetated rooftop to ground connection.

:: image via Wired New York
Check out more on this project here. Overall, it's interesting that these projects, the cream of the green crop is starting to evolve into the realm of integrated site and building, with some inventive irrigation systems and green roofs but there still seems to primarily be the standard disconnect between green building technology and how this interacts with landscape. It's going to be an interesting trend to see how vegetated architecture continues to drive these award winning projects. Should be even more exciting in years to come.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Reading List: Inspired by Nature: Plants

This past weekend, I swung by my local mecca of all things printed word, and as always was both struck and disappointed with the selection of architectural titles. One they had in the newish 'green building' section at Powell's was 'Inspired by Nature - Plants: The Building Botany Connection' by Bahamon, Perez, and Compello (published by WW Norton). I had seen something about this and bookmarked it for future use, but decided to pick it up. And for anyone whom appreciates the metaphorical abstractions of architecture and vegetation would do well to pick up this one. (NOTE: most images below are not from the book, but are examples and diagram similar to the projects shown therein)

:: image via

The book was published in Spain originally in 2006 and thus is penned by a trio of Spaniards - Alejandro Bahamon (architect), Patricia Perez (landscape engineer) and Alex Campello (architect and landscape architect) - which makes it a truly interdisciplinary endeavor. The overall conceptual framework is not Vegetated Architecture as much as it is a primer on organic architecture source material and it's potential inspirations for architectural form. Drawing from a number of vegetal sources and architectural examples. "Accompanying the images of built examples... are botanical drawings and an explanation of why natural forms make good models for structure."

:: Botanical Diagram Analog - image via Unified Worlds

This direct connection between architecture and building is extrapolated in the Introduction by Perez - who proposes that: "...the observation of nature and experimentation have long served as tremendously valuable methods in designing architectural forms." She proposes that "...the main objective of this book is to reveal the analogical similarities that can exist between contemporary architecture and the vegetal kingdom as a result of adaptation processes." Continuing: "...the diverse formal, structural and physiological attributes proper to the vegetal element will be analyzed on the basis of the relationship between plants and their surrounding space and environment, comparing the most relevant adaptation and survival methods with those reflected through architecture."

The introduction continues to discuss ideas of plant evolution, as well as delving into some of the analogies between the botanical world and architecture. One idea that is prevalent is the idea of a building as a tree - and particularly the idea of immobility, efficiency, and competition. This spreads beyond form to the arrangements of elements, an analogue that draws the following summary: "Urbanism in architecture and plant sociology in ecology are are disciplines that, as well be demonstrated here, can offer parallel readings of the different forms of coexistence that occupy the planet."

The intro ends with a overview of the structure of the book, which essentially becomes the functional analogues that are taken from plants and applied to buildings:

:: Light and Spatial Arrangement
:: Water Control
:: Temperature Control
:: Extreme Conditions
:: Defense
:: Homologies

This is really the meat of the book - and probably the more successful of the parts of the book (compared to the actual project examples). Most of these are self-explanatory, and drawn from scientific processes that are the language of botany and agronomy. For instance, homologies, which "...refers to the general and quite ancient observation of similarity of form seen in the biological world of animals or plants...", and the "...anatomical correspondences between different species..." is a common scientific evolutionary function.

:: Plant Homologies - image via Berkeley Understanding Evolution

This translation of function to form is a great methodological lesson - which is applicable to not only aesthetic ideas, but functional aspects as well. In this way it bridges the art/science question, and becomes a sort of code-book to applied Vegetated Architecture. Some of the other notable projects featured in the book illuminate these ideas a bit more. For instance, the Fire and Police Station by Sauerbruch Hutton Architects in Berlin - which features multi-hued movable glass panels that elicit a parasitic relationship to the more austere existing structure.

:: image via
Picassa album by Rich

A further analog is drawn between the idea of plant canopy and the concept of interception and water capture in the
World Birding Center by LakeFlato Architects in Mission, Texas.

:: image via

Another idea is the concept of season variation and leaf fall - epitomized in the transitional facade of the Somis Hay Barn by
Studio Pali Fekete Architects in Somis, California. The peeling away of the hay bales creates temporal change and constant evolution: "At the end of the fall when it is stacked, the hay is freshly cut and green in color. Over the following months and after the hay has dried and adopted a yellowish color, it is removed and used to feed the cattle."

:: image via
Architectural Record

The elegance of some of the vegetated abstraction is subtle, using forms of nature in artistic ways by modifying or perforating the surface material. One elegant example is the Sfera Building by
Claesson Koivisto Rune in Kyoto, Japan. The pattern of cherry blossoms is evocative of Japanese concepts of patterned screens and woodcut engravings.

:: image via
Build Blog

There are many more, and I do really like the ideas, but perhaps something is lost in the cultural translation of the 'buildingbotany connection' as some of the examples were slightly forced, or less relevant when analyzed further. Also, there was definitely a fair amount of reliance on discrete metaphor to make these links (i.e. building as a tree) - such as Alsop's Sharp Centre for Design...

:: Sharp Centre for Design, Ontario - image via

...or quite literal used of plant forms - such as the use of abstract panels and other facade treatments evocative of plants, of which there are many examples in the book, including the Dutch Embassy in Poland by Erick van Egeraat.

:: Dutch Embassy, Poland - image via

These are definitely some original ideas (or at least a methodology for presenting them) that have gained even more traction in recent months and have been featured here on L+U - as examples such
'Sakura' by Mt. Fuji, Mcdonough's 'Building as a Tree' or Maynard's 'Tattoo House' offer some great additional ideas. The other concept I think interesting is the fact that the book is set up as a potential series... Inspired by Nature - with a range of other ideas to include - as there are a catalogue of potential options to run out this theoretical thread.

One final thought... in perhaps an example of Lost in Translation came in reading the bibliographic reference is the Spanish title 'Arquitectura Vegetal: Analogias entre el Mundo Vegetal y La Arquitectura Contemporanea' - which from a quick translation is roughly, gasp!... "Vegetal Architecture: Analogies between the Vegetal World and Contemporary Architecture."

Familar and Brilliant... totally brilliant... and from the sound of it, maybe even more brilliant in the original Spanish...