Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Olympic Topiary Gone Wild

It's not a secret that I'm a big fan and proponent of vegetation occupying the vertical spaces in our lives. Perhaps it's the ubiquitousness of the natural surroundings, but the jarring use of landscape that confronts us the way great architectural materials does - makes my day. On the other hand, perhaps this can be taken too far (even for a bit of literally greenwashing)... and a once per four year opportunity does not give one the right to mis-use veg.itecture in such ways... Period.

:: image via Inhabitat

I first received this via email from a colleague at work - and then it started making the rounds in the blogosphere - and I would be remiss in not making more people endure this - just so we can all look, walk away, and do better. I'm not a big fan of herbicide use, but the Beijing Botanical Gardens International Flower exhibit must be stopped... (apologies to the gardeners... as technically these are amazing...but...)

So first the passable...

:: images via Inhabitat

...the mediocre...

:: images via

To finally, the just plain awful...

:: images via

Plaza de España

Spotted via Dezain, a link to a series of Flickr images from Herzog & de Meuron's Plaza de España in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canary Islands.

:: image via Flickr - garbar53

As mentioned previously, there is definitely not a shortage of architects flexing their muscles in the public space realm - from the landscape urbanist stalwarts of Tschumi, Koolhaas, and Allen - to the recent Nouvel exterior excursion. This space offers a variety of experiences - from the dark cave-like structure, to the vibrant Patrick Blanc designed green walls, to the ebbing central water feature. Here's a few more pics on this visual tour:

:: images via Flickr - garbar53

It is interesting, similar to the Parc del Centre de Poblenou the starkness of these spaces (although I'd give Nouvel the nod for vegetation density at least). While ostensibly dubbed a 'plaza', this seems to give opportunity for expanded hardscape specifically related to civic space. The harshness of the environment must be intense in hot sun when the water has receded from the central feature. Plus, the spaces are definitely 'structural', owing to the architectural roots - perhaps appropriate in an urban setting. There is a ring of trees, as well as the cave and the adjacent slanted green walls, but it makes me wonder if there is enough urban refuge to counterweigh the expansive pool?

:: images via Flickr - garbar53

When filled with water, a totally different scene, one popular with children similar to the tidal Jamison Square here in Portland (although at a vastly different scale). Hands-down, my favorite detail is the pocket-planted cacti with the structure... giving some architectural flourish to a pretty contrasting dark structure.

:: images via Flickr - garbar53

Maybe just fuel for the ongoing debate... H&dM are a talented duo, and why not apply that talent to public space. Is it successful as site/landscape/non-building...? Perhaps so. Urban parks blend that combination of structural urbanity with usable spacemaking at a pedestrian and recreational-user scale. Would a verdant picturesque park be appropriate...? Hell no! Would a few more square feet of greenery and some shade canopy help...? I'd say yes. In this case, the scale seems off... too big, too grand, too sparse... something that at half the size would have been twice as good maybe? (Note: I don't know much more about this project that what appears on the Spanish language Flickr page, so I'm pleading ignorance with any other team members, landscape architects included...)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Veg.itecture #35

Sunday seems to be a prime time for summarizing the weeks Veg.itectural creations... as an aside, I had the opportunity to make a presentationon Veg.itecture to a diverse group of participants as part of the Summer Sustainability Series, which was a great success the past week... and it's true - people respond to the concept of greening buildings, literally and figuratively. This is reinforced by an article in BDonline, lauding the cumulative benefits of green roofs worldwide. Phil Clark mentions this point: "Green roofs do lots of things in medium ways, but it adds up to quite a lot"

Similar to the recent post on Namba Park, there are some 'old school green roofs', as Architechnophilia mentions in a recent post regarding the very picturesque Emilio Ambasz project Fukuoka's Tenjin Central Park, (circa 1995) which was around prior to the popularity of green roof technologies.

:: image via Architechnophilia

Atelier A+D featured some photos from Georg Parthen, including this image of earth sheltered design.

:: image via Georg Parthen

Another example of buildings tucked and folded with the landscape is via Arch Daily. The Remota Hotel by Architects: German del Sol is located in Chile, and features some stunning and simple rooftop greening.

:: images via Arch Daily

Another extensive rooftop span, via Arch Daily, of: "...the Expo Zaragoza in Spain (June 14th - Sept 14th) features an astonishing pavillion/bridge by Zaha Hadid, and buildings by spanish architects Nieto y Sobejano, Francisco Mangado and Basilio Tobías."

:: image via Arch Daily

Having been involved in a number of hospital and healing projects, the idea of views from building windows is always on the table in terms of rooftop greening. It also feeds into the recent popularity of incorporating LEED and sustainable strategies into heathcare as well, with those multiple green roof benefits adding up to a good number of site points. A post in Urban Palimpsest features the LEED registered Metro Health Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This is a "...LEED registered facility that includes same-handed design in the rooms. Patient rooms look out onto the green roof below."

:: image via Urban Palimpsest

A couple of green walls as well... the first a great representation from I (heart) Public Space, along with some refined bike facilities at a project in NYC.

:: image via I (heart) Public Space

Finally,, an example of being both experimental and innovative from a design firm (I'm trying to get our office to do as well...) Via BDonline the architectural practice David Morley Architects: "...has installed an experimental green wall project in its office courtyard. The wall, designed by specialist firm Biotecture, has been planted with a variety of specimens. It is designed to cool and insulate the wall’s surface, and to allow water to evaporate. The project, which began as part of the London Festival of Architecture, is also expected to improve air quality, noise attenuation and carbon offsetting, and possibly rainwater harvesting. David Morley Architects and Biotecture are also working with services engineer Max Fordham to investigate whether green walls can cool building interiors."

:: image via BDonline

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Unnatural Waters

This post stems from a fascinating post I spotted a while back on Treehugger. The topic was the Foreclosure Fish... a resultant reaction from the abandonment of homes, and more specifically swimming pools. "The mortgage crisis is not only wrecking peoples' lives, it's not doing much good for the environment, either. The swimming pools of abandoned homes are perfect mosquito breeding grounds, there are worries about rampant West Nile Virus infections. In California, authorities are using airplanes to find green pools and are filling them with the Gambusia affinis, or mosquito fish, which eats the larvae."

:: image via

Another in a long line of biological management strategies... the idea of these fish being able to escape into native waters is frightening. Again via Treehugger, re: the Gambusia affinis: "In Europe, the fish developed a taste for everything but mosquito larvae, and have displaced native fish. In Australia Gambusia caused extinctions of native fish and amphibians. In California they have decimated native species - yet civic authorities will give you a bag of them free if you have a mosquito problem. It may not seem risky putting them in a plastic and concrete pool, but the fish are champion escape artists, and can travel in as little as three millimeters of water."

This technique is used in Oregon as well, with Gambusia affinis recommended, and even supplied for free to people with open water bodies. This comes in handy in localized pools and man-made ponds, but what about this scourge being unleashed on local lakes and rivers... and they're so cute.

:: female and male Gambusia - images via
Multnomah County

A variation of unnatural water... the innovative plant for providing drinking water to the Dead Sea area... via

:: image via

"A research project from New York-based architect Phu Hoang Office seeks to address and solve these site specific issues with ‘No Man’s Land’, a series of artificial islands that would provide recreation, tourist attractions, renewable energy, and create fresh water. ... As a network of built islands with three distinct designs, ‘No Man’s Land’ would create an artificial archipaelago that employs a variety of building technology. In order to become a source of fresh water, the islands will extract water molecules from the air to be desalinated. Salinity gradient solar ponds, water purification tanks, and water filtering processes will all be integrated into the designated “water islands” of the chain. The other two island designs will be for tourists and solar energy production, providing self sufficient power as well as creating revenue."

:: image via

Shifting gears a bit, to a more functional topic, that of stream restoration... or the unnatural recreation of nature. A New York Times article in June investigated some of the science of Stream restoration: "...scientists say 18th- and 19th-century dams and millponds, built by the thousands, altered the water flow in the region in a way not previously understood."

:: image via
NY Times (click to enlarge)

While it is reported that over $1 billion per year is spent on stream restoration, this 'inexact' science often leads to failures. As William E. Dietrich, a geomorphologist at UC Berkeley mentions: " awful lot of stream restoration, if not the vast majority of it, has no empirical basis... it is being done intuitively, by looks, without strong evidence. The demand is in front of the knowledge.” The results, are often, sporadic.

:: image via NY Times

Often, this work is done by eye (as mentioned above) not through the scientific empirical basis of fluvial geomorphology... as mentioned in the article, Dr. David R. Montgomery from the University of Washington says: "...most people agree that the best approach is to create landforms and water flows that streams can maintain naturally. “But how you translate that into action and at this stream rather than that stream really requires a lot of work to figure out,” he said. With an ailing waterway, he said, “sometimes there’s a clear line between the symptoms and the cause, and sometimes there’s not.” Read the remainder of the article for more info...
A final version of unnatural waters, a visionary post-apocalyptic view of London. Via Inhabitat: "As part of London Festival of Architecture 2008, award-winning media production studio Squint/Opera envisions London life in 2090, long after sea levels have risen from global warming. Imitating some of the techniques of the super-idealistic Victorian landscape painters, Squint/Opera have used a combination of photography, 3d modeling and digital manipulation to present five unique visions of a tranquil utopia in a familiar, yet drastically altered, landscape."
:: image via Inhabitat

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

High Performance Infrastructure Guidelines

In searching for some new landscape-related links to explore, I stumbled across the blog for Design Trust for Public Space (aka I (heart) Public Space) and their 2005 publication High Performance Infrastructure Guidelines.

:: image via Design Trust

This "...detailed handbook describes practices for creating sustainable city streets, sidewalks, utilities, and urban landscaping. Following the acclaimed High Performance Building Guidelines, this sister publication launched a new era in the design and construction of public infrastructure." Looks like another version, High Performance Landscape Guidelines, will be available in 2009.

This definitely has parallels with the Living Site and Infrastructure Challenge (Cascadia GBC), as well as the Sustainable Sites Initiative (ASLA) which is starting to broaden the discussion (and tools) for site-related sustainability.

Another more focused resource is an intriguing NYC-related blog, Sustainable Parks for the 21st Century - which holds promise, as: "...this project will provide the Parks Department with research and instruction in methodologies for the creation of high-performance park design, helping the City bring its 29,000 acres of parkland into the new millennium."

:: image via Sustainable Parks

And a little bit about the broad organization, via their site: "The Design Trust for Public Space is dedicated to improving the design, utility, and understanding of New York City's parks, plazas, streets, and public buildings. As the only New York City organization devoted to bringing private sector expertise to bear on public space issues, we generate powerful working relationships that enrich the urban experience for all New Yorkers by making the city more sustainable, functional, and available to all."

The landscape architecture profession definitely needs to push these boundaries of sustainable sites - and definitely communicate and collaborate with consistency - but also don't place all of our eggs in one basket, such as the ASLA sponsored Sustainable Sites Initiative. I like the idea of regionalism, which is more appropriate for sustainability, versus a one-size-fits-all LEEDesque approach. What does a sustainable park look like in NYC, versus Portland, or Tucson? This is a great question. Are there consistent themes? Absolutely. Do these need to be refined and adapted to local places - including values, climate, and opportunities? Even more so. So I will read these documents for ideas, and look to apply them on this coast... looking forward to it.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Fusionopolis by Ken Yeang

Well, it's not a secret that I am an admirer of Ken Yeang, and his unique brand of Bioclimatic Architecture - mostly because of its reliance on multiple tenets of the Veg.itecture concept: 1) use of vegetation for environmental systems; 2) use of vertical and horizontal surfaces; and the mixing of these concepts for aesthetic means. Inhabitat recently featured an amazing version of this, Fusionopolis (along with a link to a much more extensive article in the Telegraph), slated for downtown Singapore is a "... research and development complex, this structure will adorn Singapore as the island nation’s most eco-friendly skyscraper."

:: image via Inhabitat

As usual, not just eye candy, but some serious green architecture in a literal and figurative sense. Via Inhabitat: "The 15-story building will be 1.4 Km high, and boast of a ‘green infrastructure.’ The building will be home to the longest continuous vertical stretch of vegetation of any building in the world. A vertical spine of planting will rise up through the building, and landscaped garden terraces will be located on each floor of the building. The vegetation will help in passive cooling and insulation. The vegetation will also improve the sense of well being of the residents."

:: image via Inhabitat

Continuing: "Natural daylight will be directed into the building interior by prisms which deflect the sunlight as it hits them. The drainage and irrigation system will also integrated green features. The whole building will function as an ecosystem, and strive to strike a balance between the organic and inorganic elements so as to make the building work like a living system."

:: image via Inhabitat

These images are part of a larger master plan by Zaha Hadid, making Fusionopolis a potential regenerative community with a mix of buildings and uses. This building up is sometimes percieved as resource-intensive, but Yeang definitely believes density is the way to protect valuable land surrounding cities. Via the Telegraph: "Some may question whether a real environmentalist should ever build a skyscraper, but he's unrepentant about this. He very much supports the case for skyscrapers, arguing that these are better than the alternative, namely cities – in countries such as China and Singapore – that expand by growing ever outwards. Their urban sprawl, he says, gobbles up valuable land better served for food production."

:: image via Inhabitat

The cutting edge design of Yeang is world-renowned, and really deserves some implementation on a larger scale, both to test out the viability and provide some compelling examples of Bioclimatic Architecture on a large scale. This project boasts, via the Telegraph: "...the longest continuous vertical stretch of vegetation in any building anywhere in the world."

That's something we all deserve to experience...

Serendipitous L+U

In the midst of writing a rave review of Alan Berger's fine tome Drosscape (look for it in the next week), a very brief post from Pruned with the cryptic text 'We ♥ P-REX' appeared, and sent me to the site of Berger's Project for Reclamation Excellence, which has a ton of great information... after a look, I'd say I 'heart' P-REX as well.

:: image via P-REX

Some background on P-REX, stemming from Berger's copyrighted tagline:

"Systemic Design Can Change the World© ... Systemic Design implies that there are larger scale forces in the built and natural environment that, if properly understood, will lead to more intelligent project scenarios as opposed to superficial cosmetics. Systemic Design merges the existing stresses on a landscape with multi-layered, time-based strategies that work to reclaim value and increase sustainability in the built environment. Systemic Design seeks to interact with the environmental, economical, and programmatic stresses across regional territories.

Understanding how natural and artificial systems dynamically function in regions and cities, and ultimately feedback from new design and planning interventions, forms the basis for smarter urban landscape projects in the future. Rapidly expanding technological and design mining tools enable new readings of landscape systems, and the invisible flows and forces that shape the tactile world. Professionals who are prepared to understand, use, and act on those readings will produce the next generation of strategic solutions to address the most pressing environmental and social challenges of our time, including: climate change, landscape toxicity, renewable energy, water process, deindustrialization, environmental justice, and adaptive reuse. We believe that innovation and discovery must be fostered through transdisciplinary inquiry and performance. Acting individually, professional fields are having marginal to no effect on urban sustainability. Conversely, Systemic design reorganizes disciplinary thought and process around one critical idea: innovation. The goal: to plan and design more environmentally sustainable urbanism at all scales."

Some interesting projects (and graphics) include those associated with the Wellington-Oro Site Planning, in Breckinridge, Colorado, which: " overarching ecological strategy that integrates all 7 project areas into one functioning system combining remediation and recreational land uses. On a larger scale, hydrological, ecological, and circulatory systems for recreation run through the entire site and are woven through the concept plan’s 7 project areas. On a smaller scale, each project area consists of environmental and time-based ecological design strategies that incrementally build new habitat, vegetative communities, and biodiversity, while cleansing water and soil degraded from previous landscape activities."

:: images via P-REX

Another project I like is the Pontine Systemic Design, which is described as such: "The site strategy is to artificially re-introduce a gigantic new “wetland machine” for filtering, habitat, and biological exchange. ...The Wetland Machine’s dimensions are directly related to the amount of wetland area needed to treat the amount of water in the Canale Aque Alte—the major collector for this highly polluted zone. At 220 l/s, with a load around 50+ mg/l of N, at least 2 square kilometers of treatment wetland will be required. The design retro-fits and widens existing canals to serve as flow distributors. Furthermore, soil cut/fill operations are used for terraforming shallow ridges and valleys to hold/treat water and make raised areas for new public space and program."

:: images via P-REX

It's interesting graphically, and picks up on the sum total of Berger's work in reclamation, both in theory, competition and practice, found in many of his writings as well. One interesting aspect on the site was the concept of projects described with both the Landscape+Urbanism title, and abbreviated L+U... which seemed oddly familiar, no? Not sure the timeline of this usage versus my own, but hope to find out - any ideas?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

People who live in Grass Houses...

This one via Arch Daily is quite odd... I'm strangely fond of the form of the Amalia House by GRID Architects in it's very modern form, as well as the verdant color of the building skin. I was also mesmerized by the glowing green facade - and wondering, maybe, if it was something vegetal.

:: image via Arch Daily

Alas, the effect is from the use of... yep, artificial grass panels, covering a frame of wood panels...

:: images via Arch Daily

Via Arch Daily: "To give tribute to the nature around her and maximize the interchange between inside and outside, the house is completely covered with artificial grass -with only the windows left out. ... Amalia is the first artificial grass camouflage building in Austria."

:: images via Arch Daily

Tribute to nature huh? Well... artificial grass is neither natural nor terribly sensitive, made up of such natural materials as polyethylene and nylon... While perhaps it is somewhat blended with it's environs, and perhaps some landscaping in the building site would be a bit more of a 'tribute'. Like I said, I really like the form - and love the soft velvety green surface... but something rings a bit wrong with this one.

I guess it eliminates the need for a welcome mat...

Veg.itecture #34

Time for another installment... a good amount of new projects, both interior and exterior vegetation. The first, shown a while back in Veg.itecture #31 has gotten a lot of press of late (and some new images) - under the moniker Xeritown. Sounds kind of dry...?

:: images via Xeritown

A little bit of greenery atop Brisbane, Australia's Limes Hotel by Alexander Lotersztain. I really like the wall surfacing in the courtyard in the second image as well.

:: images via Dezeen

Tod Williams and Billie Tsien are, according to the NY Times, developing: "...Harmony Atrium between West 62nd and 63rd Streets as a “theatrical garden” featuring 20-foot-high walls of plants and rods of falling water. ...The two plant walls are to consist of ferns, bromeliads, moss and flowering vines. “You’ll really have a sense of the oxygen they give out,” he said."

:: images via NY Times

Fresh on the heels of some photographic vegetation at Wimbledon - some more vegetated architecture on some adjacent housing, via BDonline: "All three units are to be topped with sedum roofs, and the architect also plans to include grey water recycling, ground source heat pumps and underground water tanks to hold surface water."

:: image via BDonline

Jetson Green featured a sedum-covered rooftop on the is Blue Ridge Parkway Destination Center in Asheville, North Carolina.

:: image via Jetson Green

Wood Wharf in the London Docklands, with a range of rooftop greening, as well as a waterfront park designed by Martha Schwartz (via BDonline)

:: images via BDonline