Saturday, May 31, 2008

Reading List: Nature, Landscape, and Building for Sustainability

I'm in the midst of reading a group of new books recently released that I picked up online. The first Nature, Landscape, and Building for Sustainability, edited by William S. Saunders, is the sixth in a series of Harvard Design Magazine Readers (published by Univ. of Minnesota). This entry in the series specifically focusing on landscape and our inevitable struggles with nature versus culture - amongst a range of other articles that have run periodically through the Harvard Design Magazine over the years.

:: image via Amazon

Ok, for full disclosure, I'm actually re-reading most of this information, as HDM was nice enough to publish PDFs of a number of these articles previously - which made me excited, but a little bummed when I got the book. Not for the content, but a feeling of lacking new info. It is nicely packaged in a small-format paperback which is great for reading on the bus. The following is my in-process view, as well as the reflection on the work as a whole.

As mentioned in the introduction, in a familiar refrain from Robert L. Thayer, Jr. - we've messed up... bigtime. "Humans have torn themselves from the rest of nature, and sustainable design is the only way to repair the rift." (vii). While it's arguable that 'sustaining' will repair anything - Thayer does mention that this is not exactly the point of the book, going on to mention that "...the interacting notions of nature, landscape, and sustaining design at times might seem simple, but they often slip sideways, like a blob of mercury, when pinned down." (vii)

Thus the fifteen essays in this book are part of the discussion, although not a solution, merely, "...recognizes a human rift with nature, strives to understand its cause, contemplates a resolution, and offers meaningful steps toward reconciliation." (vii) And that's just the first page.

Thayer continues to introduce the essays, outlining the various works by contributing authors. Part I consists of a grouping entitled 'Imagining Nature' - and includes a cadre of popular authors such as Bill McKibben (Ch. 2) 'Humans Supplant God, Everthing Changes', Lucy R. Lippard (Ch.3) 'Too Much: The Grand Canyon(s)', and Michael Pollan (Ch.6) 'Beyond Wilderness and Lawn' - discuss power, scale and lawn in the American landscape pysche. These essays are typical well written - quality essays by talented individuals - and I particularly liked Pollan writing about something else other than food (don't get me wrong, I love the food stuff - but it's nice to see that lens pointed elsewhere)

Elsewhere in Part I, essays by Albert Borgmann (Ch.1) gives an [literally] exhaustive overview of mystical nature and our need to return to this state in his essay 'The Destitution of Space: From Cosmic Order to Cyber Disorientation'. This part redeems with a couple of fine essays by Catherine Howett (Ch.4) 'What Do We Make of Nature Now?' and John Beardsley (Ch.5) 'Kiss Nature Goodbye: Marketing the Great Outdoors'. Beardsley tackles the homogenization of nature as packaged by stores such as REI, and the impacts of our created artificial nature on our psyche.

An interesting discussion from Howett, amongst other things, is reference to the conceptual ideas of Robert Smithson, and how (tangentially at least) his views on environmental art shaped the profession of landscape architecture - even though most LAs did not actively know about his work and writings. Upon his untimely death in 1973 at the age of 35, Howett explains:

"It is safe to say that few people in the environmental design professions -- few architects, even fewer landscape architects -- were reading ArtForum in those years; thus, the import of Smithson's death at thirty-five, when he was grappling philosophically and artistically with questions of how human making relates to nature, was not appreciated by those to whom, whether they knew it or not, it mattered msot. It mattered not because Smithson was 'digging through the histories,' as he described it, searching out the sources of how we came to think about nature as we do, examining alternative conceptions that might help us to think more perspicaciously about the relationship between human culture and the rest of nature. His death mattered because he took sharp aim at the romantic myth that sees nature as ineffeably grand, good, and godly, best encountered alone and in quiet out in the wilderness or at least out in the country." (p.45-46)

Part II: Designing (for) Nature, delves into action (sort of). A couple of essays to start span policy and ethics - including one by Rossana Vaccarino (Ch.7) 'Nature Used and Abused...', and Susannah Hagan (Ch.8) 'Five Reasons to Adopt Environmental Design'. Vaccarino delves into Gifford Pinchot's ideology of sustainable forestry and our notions of nature as a tabula rasa - devoid of human occupation and meaning. Hagan follows this up with a treatise on the difficulty of capturing the movement and dynamism of natural processes.

The thread continues with essays by architect Peter Buchanan (Ch.9) 'Invitation to the Dance...', which discusses the impact and potential of sustainable projects like BedZED, as well as Robert France's (Ch.10) reverse homage to Thayer in 'Green World, Gray Heart? The Promise and Reality of Landscape Architecture in Sustaining Nature.' France definitely strikes a nerve in the LA as artist versus LA as ecological designer debate, by focusing on poignant combinations of both in tandem.

The idea of landscape in urban areas comes out in Kristina Hill's (Ch.11) essay 'Green Good, Better, and Best: Effective Ecological Design in Cities', which explores green infrastructure as a holistic idea - not just a collection of disparate places. Using Berlin, and the work of Herbert Dreiseitl, as well as projects in Seattle as examples - she explores the question of "...if these designs have the potential to be implemented widely enough to make a broad difference to the state of urban ecosystems." (p.145) She sums the process up, simply, in the following quote:

"The recent focus on the ecology of infrastructure systems in Berlin, the cities of the Pacific Northwest, and elsewhere supports the very real possibility of eventually creating a new urban ecosystem. In my view, that is the central challenge that ecological design must accept in all cities, if it is going to achieve anything of real importance." (p.155)

Other essays with some interesting technical insights are Michael Addington (Ch.12) 'Energy, Body, Building: Rethinking Sustainable Solutions', Niall Kirkwood (Ch. 13) 'Here Come the Hyperaccumulators! Cleaning Toxic Sites from the Roots Up', and Peter del Tredici (Ch.14) 'Neocreationism and the Illusion of Ecological Restoration'. I had read both Kirkwood and del Tredici's essay's previously and both were great the second time. Addington looks to human nature - notably our sensory inputs, as inspiration for design, and "...compels us to base design practice on the human as a living organism, not as a bureaucratic automaton." (p.xii)

This fits nicely into the final word, a work from art historian John Beardsley (Ch.15) 'A Word for Landscape Architecture,' provides apt summary of the concept and context of all of these writings. "

"Landscape architecture is neither art nor science, but art and science; it fuses enviromental design with biological and cultural ecology. Landscape architecture aims to do more than produce places for safe, healthful, and pleasant use; it has become a forum for the articulation and enactment of individual and societal attitudes toward nature. Landscape architecture lies at the intersection of personal and collective experiences of nature; it addresses the material and historical aspects of landscape even as it explores nature's more poetic, even mythological, associations." (p.186)

Wow, takes your breath away... and that's not even the payoff yet. After some discussion of the work of, amongst others, Peter Latz, and the fantastic Landscape Park Duisburg North - Beardsley gives some stature to the profession - even if we as professionals don't see this potential. Read on:

"Long overshadowed by architecture and the fine arts, landscape architecture is producing remarkable transformations in our public environments. The profession is maturing; conceptually, it is more complex. It is developing the artistic and technical tools to address extraordinary social and environmental demands. The ways in which we understand and represent our relationship with nature are enormously important in the expression of culture. The ways in which we meet the challenges of urban sprawl, open-space preservation, resource consumption and waste, and environmental protection and restoration are crucial to the quality of our lives - maybe even to the survival of our species. It is landscape architecture that confronts these challenges. I wish to make an extreme statement, if only to make an emphatic one: landscape architecture will prove the most consequential art of our time." (p.196-197)

Yeah, I got goosebumps yet again from reading it that one more time. What a way to end this collection...

In summary, overall I'm a big fan of 'readers' as a way to summarize and gather a range of disparate thoughts into one volume to provide a span of experience for the reader. It seems in a single-author/concept book - the idea or voice is often stretched too thin to accomodate the weight (or cost) of publication - and thus it get's fleshed out in graphics, typography, or formatting to give it the necessary gravitas. In this case, the essays chosen were diverse - allowing for many points, concise - giving a taste and most often leaving you satisfied, and coherent - there were a few turns into academic drudgery, but for the most part were a quick and fun read. This would be a great companion for a theory studio - and one worth a read from practioners as well.

For another HDM read from the latest issue, check out Kristina Hill and Jonathan Barnett's article on 'Design for Rising Sea Levels'... good stuff - and probably in the next version of the reader... where it can be re-read again.

Friday, May 30, 2008

80/20 for Sustainability

A recent post from anArchitecture mentioned the Pareto Principle - also known as the 80/20 rule. The idea, as explained on the site: "The 80/20 rule asserts that approximately 80% of the effects generated by any large system are caused by 20% of the variables in that system. The 80/20 rule is observed in all large systems, including those in economics, management, interface design, engineeing, etc."

:: image via anArchitecture

I stumbled upon the idea of the Pareto Principal a few years back, when researching the economic benefits of green building to present cost-benefit analysis findings to developers and other clients. While looking at this from a design perspective seems a bit more vague - the 80/20 rule seems to fit well into ideas of sustainable strategies. While not quantified specifically using any rational or mathematical means - it's most useful aspect is to provide a compelling conceptual framework to envision why certain strategies rise above others from a cost perspective.

Applied to landscape architecture - it holds as so... 80% of the sustainability gains are achieved through 20% of the potential strategies. For instance, the cost of a strategy that is more attainable and affordable on a site with plenty of available area, like stormwater planters or wetland ponds -- make more sense than the pricier strategies, like permeable paving or green roofs - which may provide less benefit for cost invested. Obviously this is site dependent - and can't provide a consistent guide (i.e. it still requires expertise, analysis, and design) to certain strategies over others.

We prepared a study that used this rough approach to develop scenarios for an urban site. For starters - the using a range of options: ecoroofs, stormwater planters, swales, ponds, vegetated filter strips, permeable paving, and barring other methods, mechanical filtration systems. The study consisted of three scenarios:

1. The first scenario provided a baseline for standard design and engineering design - looking at a system of drains, pipes, and water quantity and quality handled through predominately mechanical means. This also included a cost of basic amenity landscaping for a site of this type. (Cost Factor = 1.0)

2. The second scenario applied every possible strategy in every possible location - with an end goal of eliminating pipe infrastructure completely from the project. The goal of removal of pipe was attained, but the significant cost increase made this not beneficial or reasonable for the project. (Cost Factor = 3.2)

3. The final scenario used a cost/benefit - using an 80/20 rule - where selected benefits of strategies were weighted against the costs specific to this site. By selectively taking advantage of the assets and opportunties on site - and using them in inventive ways to solve stormwater problems - the project goals were met, and cost was actually decreased. (Cost Factor = 0.9)

The other intangible benefit is the increase in amenity over the base case. While the amount of landscaping was adequate - the idea of multi-functional landscaping - which provided stormwater management, amenity, and code landscaping - both increased overall landscaping as well as saved money but providing visible and efficient use of the site area. Items such as permeable paving, aside from achieving sustainable goals, add amenity over typical concrete or asphalt paving - especially for accent and parking areas - articulating the site and providing beneficial design opportunities.

So imagine presenting ideas to a developer about the design that meets project goals, with lower costs, and increased amenities (read: marketability) of the site... saving money and increasing saleability. Thank you, Mr. Pareto.

anArchitecture posits the 80/20 rule and it's potential usefulness in architecture from a design perspective. I guess it's questionable how quantifiable this is - as the examples of 20% of design decisions impacting 80% of results. I actually like the idea of one of the post comments: "One could argue that 80% of a proposed architectural solution is already given by the surrounding contextual forces, and the architect only needs to provide the remaining 20% to complete it."

This has some interesting ideas for contextual design... and perhaps even from the site and immediate physical context. I guess it depends on what you mean by 'surrounding contextual forces' - so in lieu of other input - I consider this urban fabric, site, landscape - and social forces. Obviously there are a number of other inputs - economics, existing stylistic preference, material availability... but for the most part - it really starts to limit the hand of the architect...

...or, we can thinking of it as focusing it more. The act of design is one of identifying and making decisions and narrowing the focus to the essential elements that make a project unique and successful. Too many choices - and the design can be artistic - but lack the connection to place and purpose. Too few choices - and the design will be constrained by. It's again a question of art (lacking purpose) and function (lacking poetry). So some methodology is important to allow for a consistent amount of focus. By selectively utilizing 20% of available options - and achieving 80% of gains - it provides a modicum of restraint, and still offers a range of design options and artistic opportunities.

Another interesting idea to throw around - maybe from a more abstract business sense, from Wikipedia: "The Pareto principle was a prominent part of the 2007 bestseller The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. Ferriss recommended firing the 80% of your customers who take up the majority of your time and focusing on the 20% who make up the majority of your profits."

Veg.itecture #27

The next installment of the Vegetated Architecture series - with a grab bag of interesting examples. For starters, the announcement that Jean Nouvel's winning entry for the landmark tower in Paris's La Defense district (featured in Veg.itecture #18) bested entries by Liebskind, Foster, and others. Some additional images of the project, and a quote via BDonline: From jury president Patrick Devedjian: "The jury chose the project because of the technical plan, sustainable development, and innovation. It presents tower typology never seen before. The powerful silhouette reshapes the landscape of The Defense around the La Grande Arche.”

:: images via BDonline

A bit more modest-scale is a project featured on Jetson Green, the Vader Garage in Philadelphia is up for sale on Craigslist - complete with some awesome material stylings and double canted green roof - visible from interior spaces. A few images:

:: images via Jetson Green

Similar scale with curve thrown in, is this residence via Dezeen: "New York-based architects Studio Dror have designed residential villas for Nurai, a resort on a natural island off the coast of Abu Dhabi." Something about green roofs that return to terra firma just makes for a stunning statement - interestingly enough - this is the only exterior shot... which is much cooler than the rest of the home, which is pretty interesting but nothing terribly special. Maybe it's landscape bias?

:: image via Dezeen

The idea of 'sweeping the amenities under the carpet' is mentioned, along with a statement about it's contextual ideology: "The carpet is an elegant and simple solution and native to the arts and crafts tradition of the Persian Gulf. We perceive it as a field upon which we can sculpt and manipulate landscape and topography to achieve suspended states of privacy." Another interstitial outdoor space is the pool between open curved roof planes:

:: image via Dezeen

Kicking earth-sheltered back up a notch - this project in Aragon, Spain by Foster & Partners comes via Mad Architect. Not a nod to Detroit, La Ciudad del Motor (Motor City) offers some stunning earth sheltered form - along with a really cool rendering of the vegetated and sun-filled atrium spaces.

:: images via Mad Architect

And veering slightly from the vegetated, via The Design Blog, I like the futuristic form nestled in the surrounding mounds, which takes a bit of the sci-fi quality down a notch... but really do you want your bubble windows facing just a mass of lawn? I guess the distant view ain't bad, either - and you can even see through the inhabitants. A form of veg.itecture in the true immersion in landscape.

:: images via The Design Blog

Alas, amidst the technology and designerly aspirations, integrated urban forms, and bioclimatic wonders - sometimes simplicity is just, well, simple. This project via Treehugger, embodies the concept of veg.itecture in it's true form: "Grand Designs Live, the slightly addictive t.v. show about house renovations, has named its Voters' Choice Home of the Year, 2008. Winner of the Best Conversion category, Black Sheep House went on to beat off all the other contenders to win the overall prize. That is quite a feat because some of the other houses were far more sophisticated, designer, and stylish. Instead voters went for a sweet hippy house on a remote corner of the Hebrides islands overlooking the sea. Its turf roof and gently curved stone walls blend into the surroundings; so much so that the house cannot be made out in an aerial photograph."

:: image via Treehugger

Mapping Evolution: NY Subway Map

For the record, I don't read Men's Vogue on a regular basis - no offense to the magazine - I just am already overloaded with periodicals so need to focus. So I was pleased when The Men's Vogue Web Team sent me a link to a recent story on the updates to the iconic 1972 NY Subway Map designed by Massimo Vignelli, as well as a pictorial evolution of the map over the years... as a certifiable map geek - I couldn't resist.

From Men's Vogue: "Massimo Vignelli's 1972 New York subway map was hailed as an instant graphic design classic. After recently updating his famous diagram, Vignelli signed 500 limited-edition prints that were available exclusively through Men's Vogue. While the signed version is sold out, unsigned maps are available for free within May 2008 issues of Men's Vogue at select retailers across the U.S."

:: 2008 NYC Subway Map - images via Men's Vogue

The new map is sleek, sexy, and appropriately styled for the NY urbanite... OK, I'm starting to see the whole Men's Vogue connection. But New Yorker's don't carry maps, do they? This isn't communication - this is art and style in manly map form. It's also a graphic design and cartography history lesson to see the evolution of the years of the maps... definitely check out the slide show for all of the maps and some interesting dialogue about the evolution of the graphics - here's a taste:

:: IRT Map (1905) - image via Men's Vogue

:: IRT Map (1924) - image via Men's Vogue

In 1940, the two subway lines were unified, making a much more geographically broad and dense map - that included more detail of the outer boroughs. These maps still had the more locational and scaled traditional map quality.

:: Unified Map (1948) - image via Men's Vogue

This dense amount of data led to more graphical examples, such as the one seen here from 1967 - which began to abstract the shape and landscape to accomodate a more easily organized system of information. This is an interesting phenomenon - as mapping no longer had to be tied to place and became a touchstone for development of more abstracted mapping. Via Men's Vogue: ""Now we have a map that is a dull distorted gray mess," wrote rider Peter Rosenblatt to the New York Times in 1959. "The whole thing is a neat job of camouflage." Salomon's color scheme was quickly replaced, but his approach of simplifying the city and foregrounding the train lines caught on.""

:: Map of New Lines (1967) - image via Men's Vogue

:: Current Map - image via Men's Vogue

The current map is more of a fusion of geographic scale and pictorial abstraction. I have a copy of this map at home as well as one of my favorites - not a subway map, but a pop-up version of Manhattan, which you could hold in your hand and expand to get some additional information. Other than the sheer inventiveness of the idea - I loved the fact that it allowed me to be covertly hide my tourist-status while not getting lost... priceless in a City where affect is everything.

Maps are interesting - as they are a fusion of design and communication - as well as a contentious and evocative pictorial story of place. Thinking back to settlement, or perhaps the potential Mannahatta of old - we get a glimpse of how much the concept of place is tied with topography, history, and usage. One quote from the Men's Vogue article sums up the idea and conflict between this design, reality and communication:

"When Massimo Vignelli was hired by the city to redesign the subway map in 1971, he was known principally as a designer, not a cartographer. His approach -- simplicity through geometry -- reduced New York to its essence. Vignelli straightened out bent subway lines, reshaped the city, and even rearranged roads, putting the stop for 50th Street and Broadway west of 50th and 8th for example. "Of course I know Central Park is rectangular and not square," Mr. Vignelli told the New York Times in 2006. "Who cares? You want to go from Point A to Point B, period."

:: Central Park Squared - the 1972 map - image via Men's Vogue

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

North Dakota Topography

Having grown up in the flat-ness of North Dakota, and spending 20 winters or so there through the height of the Cold War, I just had to share the recent post from Pruned that outlined an amazing landscape-art/homeland security from an anti-ballistic missile complex. The project stems from an installation for the Safeguard Program - a short-lived program from the 1960's to protect ICBM silos throughout the plains. Located in Nekoma, ND (near Langdon, like that helps) the facility photos come to Pruned via "... the HABS/HAER collections in the Library of Congress comes these gorgeous photographic documentations..."

: images via Pruned

A little more digging found an interesting article from Lone Prairie Art Works, entitled Nixon's Folly. The name comes from the origins in the Nixon administration. Some more on the form: "Nekoma's pyramid rises from the plains like a prairie iceberg. Most of it's cyclopic structure is buried below ground, leaving only the tip to poke through and be seen. According to our tour guide, one of the few men still taking care of the abandoned site, the interior of the structure has been stripped bare, but is so huge and cavernous that many of the hallways and passages deep inside have their own atmosphere. He told of how, on certain days, some hallways have fog rolling about inside. There is also much water, particularly since the water table in the region has been high since about 1993."

The site is still visible and visitable (or at least seems to be) from these pictures...

:: images via Lone Prairie Art Works

The beauty of these structures is the striking form - accentuated by the utter flatness of topography in North Dakota - an endless horizon that is both mind-numbing and amazing. My memories were always sort of a hypnosis as field after field of wheat, soybeans, or sunflowers rolled by, along with the persistent and level-thin horizon. This is something I never really truly appreciated until living in Oregon, where stunning mountains, forests and hillsides offers wonderful views - but rarely this thin line as far as the eye can see.

:: image via DKimages

I admit I've never seen the structures at Nekoma - and it's kind of disappointing (although I'm planning a trip in the fall - so maybe a side trip is in order). It's fascinating that this structure may be one of the most significant structures in the state - in terms of height and mass. With a low mountain range as the highest points of topography - maxing out at around 3,300 feet in elevation as a major feature, and a stunning valley topography as the other significant topography, the glacial scouring that flattened most of the state 10,000+ years ago definitely makes a statement. In fact the high point in the state is a mere 3,506 ft - White Butte and it's distinctive shark fin make for a very horizontal state.

:: image via Wikipedia

The terrain made larger structures very visible - but the most insidious cargo hid underground, in the architectural equivalent of a brown paper bag. The interesting part of the landscape of North Dakota is that it is both possible and impossible to hide missile silos - and any traveler of a back road will see the familiar site alongside - thin gravel road, rectangular chain link, small buff colored out-building, a couple of antennae, and a Letter-Number designation. See below for a typical entry shot, (a protest), and aerial photo showing the innocuous looking sites amidst plowed fields.

:: image via Picassa (Judy)

:: image via ABC News

:: image via Minot AFB Minuteman Missile Site Coordinates

Overall it's interesting to see how ubiquitous these landscape elements were - even in their stealthy locations in a sometimes featureless landscape. The last time I visited North Dakota - it was the week of 9/11 - and a trip from Minot to Teddy Roosevelt National Park showed no traffic - save for armed humvee's with machine gunner at the ready on top. It was as close to some form of apocalypse I've felt. It was not nice.

It's telling how much we can see, and accept in our landscape. Whether this is nuclear missiles, toxic waste, strip mines, clear cuts - and any scar we inflict or poison we hold. It's something that we pass by and accept (sometimes willingly, other times oblivious) - perhaps more in the open landscape than in our cities. A final word from Lone Prairie Art Works, Julie R. Neidlinger, about the removal of her family's nearby missle silo:

"I had to relearn the horizon without those lights being there. They'd been there my entire life. Now I, along with many other people here including my father, wonder what the plans for the buildings on this much smaller site are, and if we'll get a crack at them since it was on our land. I know of more than a few farmers who have inquired about the metal quonset-like structure. The realization is, unfortunately, that by the time the military gets around to the issue, the buildings will be fit for the bulldozer and not much else. They've been empty for about ten years.But I still miss the lights. Texas has their Friday Night Lights and football. We had our nuclear missiles.Nostalgia. It can even make you miss nukes."

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Eikongraphia's MoPo 2008

In this day and age of exit polls and populartity projections - time for one related to the top architecture blogs out there. A L+U favorite is Eikongraphia, has a great, semi-scientific method for determining the popularity of focused blogs out therer. It's not mistake that certain blogs have extremely high readership and popularity is by being inclusive of a number of topics. And one with perhaps the broadest range is BLDGBLOG.

:: image via BLDGBLOG

The list of MoPo 2008
2. City of Sound
3. Archidose
4. Pruned
5. Interactive Architecture
6. Architecture.mnp
7. Subtopia
8. Life Without Buildings
9. Tropolism
10. Mirage Studio 7
11. Strange Harvest
12. Architechnophilia
13. The Where Blog
14. The Arch
15. Super Colossal
16. Sit down man, you’re a bloody tragedy
17. Brand Avenue
18. Architecture Chicago Plus
19. Hugh Pearman
20. Varnelis
21. Lebbeus Woods
22. Part IV
23. Eye Candy
24. Architectural Videos
25. Kosmograd

There are definitely some I don't read often - and it's a great opportunity to add and augment my reading - based on my recent dissatisfaction with a number of the blogs that are more tangential than these. A few had dropped off my reading, such as Part IV and Subtopia, for lack of relevant content. Others I just don't really connect with what the directive is, such as Lebbeus Woods (love the drawings), Architectural Videos (not a fan of videos), and sit down man, you're a bloody tragedy (great band name though).

To classify a blog as 'Architectural' has it's own range of perils - as a hundred other topics are woven throughout the content of all of these - with perhaps the common thread as buildings. Ideas such as urbanism, sustainability, landscape, planning, design, materials, and on and on... For instance, Pruned is not a blog about architecture in any form, but is also not purely about landscape - which is part of the appeal. The Where is less about architecture than planning and urbanism - with forays into the realms of architecture where necessary. City of Sound for the most part is a lot of information from a very wide net, and the random bits I glean are gold, amidst clutter. Ditto for a number of the remainder of the list of 25 - the range of info is broad - which is indicative of the blurring of lines between all of these varied disciplines.

Honestly, for all of my joy of some of these blogs, the are always hit or miss. BLDGBLOG for instance, is either so far into some abstraction that it's not relevant (to me) - and I skip it often. The next post blows me away with something amazing. So we keep reading. Additionally, there's a taste-factor. Writing styles, pretty pictures, heady dialogue, witty critique. We're all looking for that something that not only draws us in but keeps us coming back.

It's always one of those 'how do I rate?' sort of reactions... but for the life of me I can't parse the system in a degree to be able to tell what is apples to apples. Either way, I'm happy with a Technorati rating of almost 50, and readership in the range of 300+ a day. And in the short time I've been posting and tracking, I've recently hit milestones of 20,000 visits and 50,000 page views, both of which blow me away.

Anyway, I'm glad to see these lists, if purely for the opening up of some more resources for keeping this blog as well rounded - and well read, as possible. If Mr. van Raaij is willing to see how I rate, I'd love to see - but alas, I'm pretty happy with the three months of exponential growth - and the great feedback, commentary, and criticism. As always, any of the above is much welcome.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Local Aquaculture

The decentralization of agriculture offers a range of potential options for food production, but usually we think of this. City Farmer featured a home-scaled aquaculture as a means to produce high amounts of food, in this case 2000 lbs in a year (38 lbs per week).

:: image via City Farmer

Tilapia is a common fish used in aquaculture, due to it's large size, rapid growth, and palatability. Further explanations gives more creedence to their use, via Wikipedia: "This is due to their omnivorous diet, mode of reproduction (the fry do not pass through a planktonic phase), tolerance of high stocking density, and rapid growth. In some regions the fish can be put out in the rice fields when rice is planted, and will have grown to edible size (12–15 cm, 5–6 inches) when the rice is ready for harvest."

:: image via Wikipedia

The potential for this fish is amazing - and differs from some of the more popular 'farmed' fish: Again via Wikipedia: "One recent estimate for the FAO puts annual production of tilapia at about 1.5 million tonnes, a quantity comparable to the annual production of farmed salmon and trout. Unlike salmon, which rely on high-protein feeds based on fish or meat, commercially important tilapiine species eat a vegetable or cereal based diet. Tilapias raised in inland tanks or channels are considered safe for the environment, since their waste and disease should be contained and not spread to the wild."

:: image via
Tilapia Vita Farms

Some additional info can be gleaned from Edgar F. Sanchez of Orlando, Florida, proprietor of the Tilapia Vita Farms who has a website outlining his personal home-scale aquaculture program.

:: images via Tilapia Vita Farms

Another pair of small-scale examples are found via Treehugger - the first a 2007 summary of aquaponics (the hybrid of aquaculture and hydroponics). From the site: "Basically, the process involves fish, plants and bacteria. The cycle consists of fish by-products (or to the less delicate … ‘poo’) being pumped into grow beds filled with gravel. Bacteria convert the ammonia from the ‘fish poo’ into nitrites and then other good bacteria convert the nitrites in nitrates, which are used by the plants as nutrients. The beauty of the system is that a balance occurs in the eco-system whereby the water is sufficiently filtered by the plants who inturn obtain all the necessary nutrients from the fish."

:: Aquaponics - image via Treehugger

A more recent post via Treehugger, of which the "...Urban Aquaculture Center (UAC) in Milwaukee. The UAC intends to combine a 150,000-sq ft indoor aquaculture/agriculture facility with educational facilities, sustainable farming exhibits, a restaurant and fish market."

:: image via Treehugger

Some additional technical info, from the UAC website: "The Great Lakes WATER Institute and Growing Power are conducting tests on the ability of plants, worms and bacteria to remediate water in a perch grow-out system. The results thus far are encouraging. Adult perch have done well in a greenhouse environment with only a pump to move water to gravel beds containing plants and beneficial nitrifying bacteria. This system, which closely mimics nature, shows promise."

:: image via UAC

While the 'home' scale label of the above is debatable when you consider the land-print required for this endeavor, some more pictures of Mathieu Lehanneur’s Local River (previously on L+U here). I dismissed the concept a bit in the previous post - and definitely double this resistance with incorporation of sea-snakes in the tanks. There's snakes in the house!!! Someone get Sam Jackson.

:: images via Dezeen

Finally, acknowledgement of one of the pioneers of aquaculture (and many things sustainability, before it had a name) is John Todd. A posting in Inhabitat featured Todd and his receipt of the Buckminster Fuller Challenge award. His winning proposal is entitled: "Comprehensive Design for a Carbon Neutral World: The Challenge of Appalachia, which lays out a strategy for transforming one and a half million acres of strip-mined lands in Appalachia into a harmonious self-sustaining community."

:: images via Inhabitat

Arguably, we wouldn't be having these conversations with the inspiration of Todd and his group of innovators from the 1970's. The idea of Todd's 'eco-machines' which are synonymous, sans trademark, to living machines - offer a glimpse of the ideas of the moder aquacultural movement. It will be interesting to see how these are adapted to increase production, reclaim wastes, adapt to climates, and also start becoming incorporated into more urban and dense areas. Sushi anyone?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Plants for IAQ

The potential for plants to contribute to remediation of air, water, and soil have all been mentioned at L+U. One item that was discussed in some length was the idea of indoor biofiltration or the use of plants and living walls to provide indoor pollutant reduction. This can be done either passively through introduction of plants, as well as actively, through integration into HVAC systems.

A recent reference in Inhabitat discusses a feature related to Plants for your Health from Good Magazine - which features a much more comprehensive (and pretty graphically awesome) display of plants and their functions for mitigating such air pollutants as Trichloroethylene, Formaldehyde, and Benzene.

:: image via Inhabitat

From Inhabitat: "Good has made it easier to fight indoor air pollution by pairing pollutants with there botanical adversary in this quick reference chart for the home. Indoor air pollutants like gas heaters, smoke, pressed wood, insulation, paint, pets, humans and even air fresheners. All of which can have detrimental effects to your health including headaches, bronchitis, asthma, and skin irritations, just to name a few."

:: image via Inhabitat

A closer look reveals a number of usual suspects, such as Chrysanthemums, spider plants, English ivy and weeping figs and some common sources of indoor pollutants. So time to dust off the plants, give them some water, and appreciate them for what they give back to you - hey, they may even save your life...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Manual for the Machinic Landscape

I've been looking for this book for a while now - anyone know of a source for a copy? In lieu of the actual book, I guess I will be content for now with a recent review, via Archinect:

:: image via Archinect

Landscape Urbanism: A Manual for the Machinic Landscape
By Mohsen Mostafavi (Author), Ciro Najle

"Perhaps the only weakness of this book is in the graphical “explorations”. The pictorial imagery even if data generated, never really addressed specific landscape/plane scale design. They were more often simply formulated form. I think they would have been more powerful, if attached or developed more closely to actual site-specific issues.

The essays however are deeply informative and “challenging”, in the way they strive to move theory into the realm of ethos and practice. I would hope that the strength of their diagrammatic approach could be developed more fully within a site specific argument. Especially of interest is Professor Najle’s announcement of a convoluted contemporary architecture. He argues that the most and best that is achieved “Flickering”, is simply a frantic state of agitation. Also, compelling is Keller Easterling’s examination of the concept of Error and it’s relation to the built environment. Particularly, his suggestion that “site is not topological space, but diverse points of information”

Ultimately, this book would not be as useful to a first time reader looking to grasp the field of landscape urbanism, who might be better served by an anthology such as The Landscape Urbanism Reader. Still this work which sometimes feels like a post-studio publication, is highly stimulating after even a second glance."

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Veg.itecture #26

Some new additions, as well as revisits to some projects featured previously. While I loved the Parti Wall, Hanging Wall concept - I also jested about the vague resemblance to a bath mat in closeups... A significant amount of more detail of the production and installation offers some interesting ideas.

:: images via Archinect

Definitely less like bathmats - and more like sedum mats. After assembly the system is laid out ready for 'raising'.

:: images via Archinect

And the final product. It'll be interesting to see how this holds up, as it seems more of an ephemeral solution, but very cool nonetheless (and remarkably like the renderings):

:: image via Archinect

Next, a dynamic new project featured on arcspace is a Moshe Safdie project, Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. With landscape architecture from Peter Walker and Partners - the building and landscape integration is pretty stunning - at least as representation.

:: images via arcspace

From arcspace: "...a hotel sky garden bridging across the tops of the towers, offering 360-degree views of the city, bay and sea, accommodating outdoor amenities for the hotel including jogging paths, swimming pools, spas and gardens."

:: images via arcspace

I previously gave an overview of the 2008 Green Roof and Wall Design Awards - and couldn't resist another pic of the California Academy of Sciences Building... nice.

:: image via Inhabitat

The use of vegetated forms has been well documented - and this inventive bike security method - uses 'bike trees' to save space and allow for some added measure of security.

:: image via Treehugger

A final installment includes some new pics from a previous post of a great project using abstracted vegetated forms, the Medellin Botanical Gardens in Colombia, a project by Plan:b Arquitectura.

:: image via architechnophilia