Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Notorious H2O

Blue is the New Green - runs the headlines in last weeks NY Times blog, and not a moment too soon for that. Allison Arieff give an explanation: "A range of alternative energy technologies are available to us today; there is, however, no substitute for water. But there are new ways of thinking about water that can help us make better use of the available supply. ...there are innovations, large and small, now available that would provide for systematic management and optimization of our nation’s water."

:: image via Inhabitat

While this idea of peak-water is not news - it did spur an interesting debate. Arieff went on in the article to explain a range of strategies that aim to address the water dilemma, all of which are pretty common fodder on the landscape architectural front: Living Roofs, Living Walls, Greywater, and Rainwater Harvesting all focus around green building and sustainable sites.

:: images via NY Times

While many of the above examples ring truly green, the specific focus on blue, particularly in water conservation and stormwater strategies. Some other projects around the concept of water worthy of discussion. First, a great water diagram via a post from my buddies at Urbanarbolismo, (here's a link to the English translation) Jordi mentions: "Recently I published an article entitled: 10 original ideas for water treatment systems, without a doubt this project: "The mysterious story of the garden that produces water" would be the idea 11. This is a project for a garden that recycles waste water for the people of Cehegin (Murcia)." The idea comes from Monica Garcia and Javier Rubio from cómo crear historias - read more about the project at their site.

:: images via Urbanarbolismo

This may strike on one of those discussions we had related to telling stories with a minimal amount of imagery... in this case simple animated graphics that layer items upon each other to give relationships. Check these interesting and simple 'narratives'.

:: images via Urbanarbolismo

Pruned picked up a bunch of posts around water that are a fabulous cross-section. A snippet discusses the Central Arizona Project (if you've read Cadillac Desert you know this one)...

:: image via Pruned

...and follows up with a pairing that discusses the work Paisajes Emergentes and their second-place winning competition entry for an abandoned airport in Quito (Parque del Lago) with some amazing graphics - (be sure to click on the LONG site plan and exploded axon drawings below for sure).

:: images via Pruned

And some more focused imagery:

:: images via Pruned

While static, the following series gives another 'narrative' which is essential in discussing process-based designs involving water. This amphitheater / urban beach / rainwater harvesting storage tank is elegant and simple in design and function.

:: images via Pruned

This reminds me (albeit much more expansive and elegant) of a project I designed here in Portland (well Milwaukie, Oregon) that used the sunken amphitheater seating for additional rainwater storage in an urban plaza (i'll post some images soon)... the scale and quality of this are great in image - and from experience there are some logisitics that would need to be grappled with for sure to pull it off. More images of all of these projects are availabile via the Flickr site for Paisajes Emergentes.

Finishing off the triad - another project from Pruned that offers some interesting images (and fantastic graphic techniques) for the Marti Mas Rivera, of Universitat Politecnica De Catalunya, Barcelona, a rainwater harvesting project for the Arabic Fortress Hill of Baza in Andalucia. Check the full post, but check these amazing pics.

:: images via Pruned

eye candy offers a more simple view of an integrated rain chain via a project from David Baker + Partners Architects, showing the connection from imagery to action.

:: image via eye candy

There are definitely some other interesting phenomena out there. Lisa Town mentions in her recent trip to Venice, the phenomenon of rising tide intruding into public spaces: "In the areas where piazza is at it's lowest, which is in even outlined with lines in the paving that also used to provide an outline of the underlying cistern, the water sits in the plaza. It actually makes for beautiful pictures with the reflection of the surrounding buildings but is nevertheless an unfortunate event to see." Read her post for more pics... I'm particularly fond of the walkways where people patiently queue up to cross the water.

:: image via Lisa Town

Again, Lisa Town mentions the great Play Pump (see Aqueous Solutions for a reference here at L+U), which uses a merry-go-round to pump and store drinking water for use... particularly important in areas where access to fresh water may mean the difference between life and death. That's good, clean, and from the sounds of it, Green fun.

:: image via Lisa Town

Related: Aqueous Solutions Part I Part II Part III

Thinking Out of the Box, Pt. 2

Following the big box threads of the previous post, some of the speculative work of Lewis Tsurumaki Lewis (LTL) offers another viewpoint towards the idea of a tranformed development archetype.

:: image via LTL

I think half of my interest in LTL is the concepts, the other half is the interesting graphic techniques - many of them section-perspective overlays of sketchup and other 3-D graphics with a variety of hand-sketching, complete with graphite smearing that gives a wonderful feel to their drawings.

:: The Graphic Technique (Park Tower) LTL - image via AIA NY

They remind me (at least stylistically) quite a bit of the pomo sci-fi renderings by Lebbeus Woods that we all drooled over in college as we envisioned William Gibson cyberpunk novels come to life.

:: Sketch by Lebbeus Woods - image via e-tba

Shifting gears back to Big Box, my colleague Brett Milligan picked up Opportunistic Architecture while we were in the midst of the Habitats competition about a year ago... and I had another opportunity to take a closer look recently as well. The speculative project New Suburbanism is a great addition to this discussion of repurposing big box areas for new uses. Check out the remainder of LTL's work as well when you get a chance.

:: image via Better World Books

From the LTL website: "In New Suburbanism individual houses reformat existing desires, creatively reclaiming the normative suburban spatial logic determined by commodified rooms and features. In the New Suburbanism proposal, the house arrangements are made through exploiting the reciprocal relationship between the figural commodity rooms and the free space of the public programs, initiating a spatial play not achieved in the stilted plans of typical homes and setting the stage for unprecedented mass customization. In New Suburbanism, latent desires of suburbia are exploited, lamentable redundancies are absolved, and new sectional matings are established in continued pursuit of the American Dream."

:: images via The Curated Object

As you notice in the images of New Suburbanism above and below, there an interesting juxtaposition of 'big-box' elements tucked under and facing opposite to a more residential occupied space that sits atop the rooftop, utilizing this often disregarded spaces. This simple folding adds a level of complexity to the spatial arrangement, but also separating visually and physically the two uses - while allowing for the practicalities of auto traffic and movement of goods in an out of spaces.

:: image via The Curated Object

:: image via ArquitecturaMNP

The plan gives a further clue to the overall form, which does show the similar underlying box form, with the more residential character overlaid atop this - along with shared community amenities such as sports fields and open spaces. Definitely another interesting viewpoint to add to the discussion about big-box reuse and reconfiguration.

:: image via ArquitecturaMNP

And thanks much Damien from the great site World Landscape Architect - who directed me to the immense Chadstone Shopping Centre in Melbourne - weighing in at a hefty 1.6 million square feet, with an associated 10,000 stall parking lot. Not necessarily up to Mall of America (2.5 million s.f.) standards, but it brings up a good point... we discuss big box stores, but what about the greening of the mega-mall?

Wonder what LTL could do with this one?

:: Chadstone Shopping Centre - image via Google Earth

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thinking Out of the Box, Pt. 1

The ubiquitous big box store is a staple of modern life, which, along with it's associated expansive parking areas eat up a good portion of our cities. The collections of big box stores, known as power centers, exacerbate this phenonmenon by multiplying the footprint and impact of the store uses - creating significant gashes in the urban fabric. Tool around Google Earth and you can find these everywhere - particularly at the nexus of highway access points and areas of flat lowland zones.

:: Big Box Power Center in Portland - image via Google Earth

:: Sensitive Big Box Power Center? - image via Nave Newell

This urban typology has special resonance after working on a big box alternative in the Integrating Habitats competition entry for Urban Ecotones, where we re-envisioned a significantly sized green home store - giving a twist on the modern big box, amongst other idea - focused on parking, site, and building form.

:: Integrating Habitats Big Box - images via L+U

An article recently entitled Big Box & Beyond by Joel Garreau with the tagline: "Today's Temples of Consumption Don't Have To Be Tomorrow's Ruins. What's in Store?" provides some additional visions of the big-box phenomenon. This coincides with the publication of 'Big Box Reuse' by Julia Christensen - which furthers the great work from her blog of the same name. Although a range of 'reuse' options exist, everyone's favorite (and perhaps mine as well, having visited the factory back in the day) is the Spam Museum nee Kmart, in Austin, Minnesota.

:: Spam Museum - image via Big Box Reuse

Garreau's article jumps in with some stats: "This lesson looms because we're going to have to figure out what to do with a whole lot of big boxes, and soon. There are thousands of them -- vast prairies of Targets and Bed Bath & Beyonds and Costcos and Home Depots. Wal-Mart alone has 4,224 in the United States, more than half of them Supercenters into which, on average, you could comfortably fit four NFL football fields."

:: Even with Solar Panels - it needs some work - image via Treehugger

Christensen gives some context for her project: "In the background is this very large problem that is being thrust upon our landscape. The big-box buildings themselves were not necessarily wanted in the first place. These corporations are not held accountable for the fact that they are building hundreds and hundreds of buildings that will be abandoned in the future. Luckily, our communities are incredibly resourceful, finding amazing things to do with these buildings. That's key. That's the balance of this project, the thrust of the message."

And a clear definition as a starting point, narrowing in on not just vacant retail, but looking at a question of scale. Again from Christensen: "Big boxes are not only one-story, one-room places originally created for retail sales. They are of breathtaking size -- some of them as much as 280,000 square feet or six football fields. They are marked by dazzlingly tall ceilings -- 18 feet or more -- that beg to have additional levels, balconies and cantilevers added to them. And they offer world-class heating, ventilation and air-conditioning."

The article continues with some of the motivations behind the phenomenon - sometimes due to economic downturns where stores are closed, but also due to policies such as 'dark stores' - in which a property is still owned by the company but kept undeveloped to limit direct competition with a replacement Superstore. Uses such as churches seem a popular choice - and are more viable because they don't compete with the original owners. There were many options kicked around, including homeless shelters, cemeteries, and the favorite - inverting the box and using it for a litter box for a 10-story tall cat. Now that, is adaptive reuse.

:: image via Washington Post

So what can one do with such specialized open framework? As Garreau mentions and the article shows, quite a lot... and the options are not necessarily limited. "Nonetheless, big boxes are nothing if not generic. So possibilities that can be imagined here can work elsewhere."

:: The Estates at Place W - images via Washington Post

After this interesting rumination on the topic, the interesting aspect comes as the Washington Post collected a series of architects, developers, engineers and artists (no landscape architects...?) to re-envision the big-box paradigm through visual media. The premise: "Let your imagination soar. So what if big boxes seem at first glance like bridesmaids' dresses -- big, ugly and not a whole lot you can use them for. At second glance, with some alterations they can be made to seem so promising." A collection of these items with some narrative is found below, but check out the full visual feast here.

In Build A Town in the Parking Lot, Christopher B. Leinberger and Darrel Rippeteau use the big box parking as a field for future urbanization. "The vast acreage of big-box parking lots seems almost providentially proportioned to be turned into walkable city blocks"

:: Build a town in the Parking Lot - images via Washington Post

Esocoff & AssociatesArchitects look at gardening and design for disassembly: "The vast roof supports solar voltaics, which enables not only a greenhouse, but a recharging area for electric cars, and a veneer of apartments for people who really want to get near their groceries. Everything is designed to be easily disassembled and moved as the economics of the box location changes."

:: La Vigne de la Grande BoÎte - images via Washington Post

Rusty Meadows and Tammy Kim of the Perkins+Will Washington office used viticultural as a point of departure, draping the roof and parking lot with grape vines: "The interior of the big box has plenty of space for a retail outlet as well as areas for bottling, case storage, processing and shipping. It also features a wine-making school and a cafe."

:: Variation on a Garden - images via Washington Post

The final one that I really took a liking to, maybe just for the montaged lined paper presentation, is by Darrel Rippeteau called The Gardens of Gathiersburg. "Organic gardeners routinely lay down weed-suppressing black plastic into which they poke holes to plant their seeds. Asphalt is just like that, only a little thicker, observes Darrel Rippeteau, principal of Rippeteau Architects. So in the process of creating a truck garden (below), the parking lot becomes an orchard. Under the parking lot you find an elaborate network of drainage pipes..."

:: The Gardens of Gaithersburg - images via Washington Post

I'm actually amazed by how many similar design moves and concepts that we investigated in the Urban Ecotones submittal for the big box ended up in these sketches... gardening and urban agriculture, parking lot adaptation, re-development of urban parking voids -- I guess great minds think alike.

Look out soon for Part 2, which will feature another unique big-box transformation by a great firm, Lewis Tsurumaki Lewis (LTL) - from their book 'Opportunistic Architecture' which was and continues to be one of those influential texts for us, at least. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tel Aviv Port

Dezeen featured this project recently, and I thought it worth an opportunity to investigate a little further. The Tel Aviv Port by Mayslits Kassif Architects. I was struck by the utter simplicity of form, as well as some of the interesting detailing of this highly trafficked open space, and some of the subtle ways of defining form. What first caught my eye is the was the undulating boardwalk - which aside from being visually interesting, makes for an interesting exercise to see how it was detailed.

:: images via

The site plan shows a variety of these spaces... particularly reinforcing the design intent... Via Dezeen: "The design introduces an extensive undulating, non-hierarchical surface, that acts both as a reflection of the mythological dunes on which the port was built; and as an open invitation to free interpretations and unstructured activities. Various public, political and social initiatives – from spontaneous rallies to artistic endeavors and public acts of solidarity – are now drawn to this unique urban platform, indicating the project’s success in reinventing the port as a vibrant public sphere."

:: image via

The overall form definitely gives thought to the concept of an urban beach - offering a more structured interface with the shoreline.

:: image via
This takes a variety of forms that are analagous from wharf steps, shorelines, dunes, replete with umbrellas for viewing the sea. There are also 'rocks' giving a reinforcement to the beach concept and creating nodes for seating and relaxing... but doing so in an organic way similar to natural settings.

:: image via

The overall form and detailing is interesting, and the breadth of space given to the public is laudable. There is, however, a certain barreness to the space that I can't help thinking would benefit from at least some minimal planted areas. Perhaps this is the tradeoff due to heavy use and climate, or maybe a design gesture. While the wood would stay cool, and the umbrellas provide some shading, there seems little respite from elements - giving one a simple option of sun, or head elsewhere to the surrounding buildings.

:: image via