Friday, March 27, 2009

Soak it Up

I'm currently working away on an upcoming presentation for a conference happening next week down at the beautiful Oregon Garden. Sponsored by Sprout (Sustainable Plant Research and Outreach), the conference "Soak It Up: Phytotechnology Solutions for Water Challenges" focuses on some fo the functional aspects of plants as vital components in addressing small and large-scale site issues.

Monday, March 30, 2009 - Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Location: The Oregon Garden Resort, Silverton, Oregon

:: image via Colorado State

From the conference site:
"The conference will raise awareness and provide education about plant based solutions for wastewater and stormwater challenges. The conference will provide practical information about implementing the latest technologies and designs such as constructed wetlands, greenroofs, and rain gardens that will enhance ecology in our managed landscapes. Scientists and engineers will present research and case studies of real problems and solutions. By facilitating conversation and connection across industries we are providing the opportunity to stay at the leading edge of learning and research in this dynamic and growing field. Come help us put plants to work for environmental sustainability and economic development."

The conference will feature leaders in the fields of phytoremediation, using plants to treat a range of issues - with a focus on water. Highlights include Gerould Wilhelm, PhD and Principal Botanist/Ecologist from Conservation Design Inc.; Eli Cohen, Founder and Principal Engineer of Ayala Water and Ecology; Dave Maciolek, Principal Engineer from Worrell Water Technologies; and Paul Stamets, Founder and President of Fungi Perfecti, LLC.

Two days of presentations will be followed by a day of workshops and tours of local facilities.

:: Living Machine - image via Worrell Water Technologies

I am honored to be giving a talk on Monday entitled: "Connecting Landscape Function to Ecological Function Through Design" which will look broadly at the concept of expanding the potential for science to better inform design solutions, as well as the need to frame ecological solutions within aesthetic and cultural expectations... and my presentation is right before the cocktail hour... convenient.

If you are in the region, it's an event worth checking out.

33 Blogs

One of the L+U favorites, A Daily Dose of Architecture (archidose) recently posted a list of their 33 Favorite blogs, and we happily find ourselves amidst the chosen few. This is some good company, and good reading - so check all of these out for your responsive, thoughtful, and visually stunning inspiration.

:: Arch Daily :: Archinect :: Architect's Newspaper :: ArchitectureMNP :: ArchNewsNow :: [the belly of an architect] :: BLDGBLOG :: Brand Avenue :: BUILD Blog :: City of Sound :: Coudal :: Design Observer :: :: Edificial :: Fantastic Journal :: HTC Experiments :: Landscape+Urbanism :: Lebbeus Woods :: Life Without Buildings :: loud paper :: Pentagram :: Polar Inertia :: Pruned :: PYTR 75 :: The Sesquipedalist :: sit down man... :: SpaceInvading :: Strange Harvest :: Super Colossal :: things magazine :: Tropolism :: :: Where

Nothing to say except thanks.

Delirious Detroit: Land of UnReal Estate

After a brief, work induced break from blogging, I've amassed a collection of posts from Detroit, which seems to be getting a lot of attention of late as perhaps the poster child of urban voids. The report that we worked on in last falls SDAT is slowly nearing publication, so definitely check back here for the full document soon. One of the major themes, obviously, is the rampant deterioration of both community and infrastructure in Detroit. Treehugger offers some more visual clues to the issue - a particularly poignant one being the box elder sapling growing from the detritus inside an abandoned Public School Facility.

:: Detroit Public Schools Book Depository - image via Treehugger

This image gives some clue to the solution - deterioration not equalling death but offering the potential for rebirth and regrowth. The flip side of all this chaos is the move towards positive change. For an ongoing update of some of the current goings on, an interesting blog analyzing the unique Detroit phenonomenon is Detroit UnReal Estate Agency, a collaborative with an aim to: "...produce, collect and inventory information on the 'unreal estate' of Detroit: that is, on the remarkable, distinct, characteristic or subjectively significant sites of urban culture. The project is aimed at new types of urban practices (architectural, artistically, institutional, everyday life, etc) that came into existence, creating a new local ‘normality’ and a new value system in the city of Detroit."

:: image via Detroit UnReal Estate Agency

A recent story on NPR discussed the work of a pair of artists who: "...have been recruiting artists from around the world to buy the foreclosed houses in the neighborhood and rebuild." The low cost of entry and abundance of stock allows for some artistic flair and innovation. A proposed redevelopment aiming to be completely off the grid, is the "Power House Project" From the article: "...they set their sights on the foreclosed house down the street — a working class, wood frame, single family house that was listed for sale for $1,900. The house had been trashed by scrappers who stole everything, including the copper plumbing, radiators and electrical lines... instead of putting it all back and connecting to the grid, we wanted to keep it off the grid and get enough solar and wind turbines and batteries to power this house and power the next-door house."

Read some more about this and the reinhabitation of Detroit at the
NY Times.

:: Power House Project - image via NPR

There are no shortage of recent calls from virtually everywhere to 'save' Detroit in a range of potential ways... these range from the practical, as urbanism points out the potential for public-private partnerships. A middle ground perhaps is a proposed high-speed train, seen via The Infrastructurist: "An outfit called Interstate Traveler, LLC is proposing to build an elevated high speed maglev train running between the depopulating metropolis of Detroit and the state capital of Lansing as the first leg of a multi-use national transportation network. The trains would travel at 200 mph along current Interstate rights of way with stations near current highway exits."

Check out this video of the proposal:

And perhaps falling into the outlandish, a proposal to build mobile nuclear reactors, as seen in a fascinating post from Treehugger: "After all, alternative energy is huge now, and in World War II Detroit retooled from cars to tanks in a matter of months. How much of a stretch would it be for them to start churning out these portable nuclear power stations that the Russians used until the unfortunate events at Chernobyl nudged them off the road. This is a TES-3 built on a T10 tank platform, with an 8.8 megawatt output." Yikes!

:: image via Treehugger

A range of other options include a proposal to use Brownfield sites for renewable energy production (via The Dirt); to perhaps the more innovative (yet illegal) ultimate in guerilla gardening, from a post on Where: "We all know Urban Agriculture is the big thing these days, hailed to save our urban youth by offering values, safe havens, and job training. My question is, what will happen to these urban farms when we legalize marijuana. I don't know the answer, and I am not implying there is one answer, I just think it's an incredibly interesting question, and so I thought I would poss (sic) it to the community here at Where. I mean, the inner city has historically been plagued with drug crime and addiction but perhaps the legalization of marijuana could offer a way out? I mean, the urban farms, the knowledge of agriculture is already there, and certainly the abandoned lots are there, and the drug colonies are there. On the other hand, maybe it would be a terrible thing leading people to dependency and bigger addictions. Either way it's a compelling situation to ruminate on. Rustbelt - Weedbelt."

:: Weed City? - image via Where

So what to do with all of these ideas? All of these options and more are on the table and can be your guide to a current competition entitled 'Rouse [D]etroit'.

:: image via Treehugger

"This is an international open ideas competition challenging people to come up with designs that will rouse the city of Detroit and encourage an evolution of our understanding of its unique urban environment. We have studied, examined, photographed, and proposed our ideas many times over, but how can we begin to take action to improve the overall condition of what so many believe to be a modern day ruins? Every city has its history and Detroit is no different, but now it’s our turn to “bounce back” and maybe not in the traditional or conventional way, but in a new, unprecedented way that is specific to the one-of-a-kind condition Detroit presents to us. So the solution too, will be one-of-a-kind specific to our Detroit… let’s see what you’ve got… Ranging from macro to micro, explore all options; this project is not just about the large scheme, but also the small details. We are looking for the most CREATIVE and thoughtful designs that could help Detroit and make it better in some way. The competition does have one condition; the site or sites must be in Detroit. "

The ball is now in your court... submissions are due July 31.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Freshkills Park Blog

A recent discovery via blog linking, the Freshkills Park Blog, offers some insight into the workings of the major large-scale and long-term landscape urbanist project of North America.

"Freshkills Park Blog is compiled by members of the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation team working to develop Freshkills Park. Blog entries represent the interests and views of just a few individuals, and should not be taken to represent positions or opinions of the agency or City of New York as a whole. Mostly, we just think that Freshkills Park is a fascinating and inspiring project that weaves together a series of unusual issues and disciplines: waste management systems, ecology, landfill infrastructure, urban planning and landscape architecture, public art, land reclamation, sustainability, renewable energy, New York City history. The list goes on."

:: image via Freshkills Park blog

One juicy tidbit was a link to Popular Science, with a graphic exposition of the transformation of Freshkills from landfill to park. Having just finished The Watchmen graphic novel, the art is a bit minimal, but the story is just as compelling. Check out the full spread for the whole story.

:: image via Popular Science

Also, for some ongoing images of the park, check out the Freshkills Park flickr photos here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The 21st Century Park & The Contemporary City

Via ASLA's blog The Dirt, an announcement of an upcoming event that resonates with recent resurgence in thinking and discussion about the role of large civic parks. Happening in New York City and sponsored by The Forum For Urban Design some info from the Forum's website: "In the past few years, there has been huge interest and investment made in designing new parks for cities and development projects around the world. The belief is that parks and open spaces bring significant value, distinction and amenity to the city, enhancing both the environmental and social aspects of city life. Many of these new parks assume very different programs, characteristics and forms from some of the famous urban parks of the 19th and 20th centuries, raising important questions about current and future directions in park design and programming."

:: image via Forum for Urban Design

Day one of the event includes a Landscape Architects Panel, including a who's who of modern park design: James Corner from Field Operations, George Hargreaves of Hargreaves Associates, and Michael Van Valkenburgh from Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. Day two features civic leaders, moderated by Marion Weiss from Weiss/Manfredi. Those in the proximity, definitely check it out.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Malcolm Wells: Infra Structures

Subtitled "Life support for the nation's circulatory system", the 1994 book Infra Structures by Malcolm Wells offers a chance to revisit the integration of our architecture and infrastructural systems - appropriate for our new found interest in the workings of our society and urbanity. The the juxtaposed pipe/greenery on the cover, the thrust of this book is quite specific from the get-go.

:: image via Malcolm Wells

Wells has a cult following as a purveyor of early ecological design, particularly his notable installations and visuals of underground architecture. The interesting thing about the book is not so much another treatise regarding massive projects and the myriad ways architecture can influence these, but rather how they MUST exert influence to infrastructure in a positive way. The separation of the word into the separates of 'infra' (below) and 'structure' (something constructed) alludes to this architectural dualism.

:: something constructed below - images via Infra Structures

:: Subterranean Shopping Mall - image via Infra Structures

:: green covered boat house - image via Infra Structures

The 'story', if you will, leads us on a tour of future buildings and structures that exist in the not-too-distant-future, strangely enough more a contemporary vision of the early 21st Century. Based on the preponderance of veg.itecture in the world, Wells may have been somewhat prophetic (p.23):

"... I hesitate to make any but the most general of predictions for even the next 50 years. With everyting changing at an ever-faster rate it would be silly to stick my neck out too far. The only thing to do is try to make our buildings adaptable to greatly changed, rapidly changing occupancies. ... Animals and plants will continue to need the out-of-doors in life on earth to be sustained. That means underground architecture for the human species."

Although the words aren't half bad, my favorite aspect of Wells' book is the visuals - a throwback to an era that could've existed anywhere between the 1960s and today - but with a simple pen/ink/watercolor combo that is both illustrative and evocative. While some may bristle at the dated 'look' of the graphics, they are successful in their goal - communicate intent, form, and materials. Call it graphics for veg.itectural non-form. A common theme is ubiquitous infrastructure - such as the highway... snaking through virtually everywhere, the linear path that severs can be re-imagined into habitat corridors and earth sheltered bridges.

:: land bridge - images via Infra Structures

The books' author offers some fun with the text, resorting to comic-book like thought bubbles to illustrate the point, as below (p.21): "It would be nice if animals - as well as plants - could make use of the land-to-land connection bridges offer human travelers. And the all-weather aspect of covered roadways does have a lot of appeal... But an earth-covered bridge? Come on. Next thing you know he'll be proposing underground airports."

:: elements of graphic novel - image via Infra Structures

And there is plenty of infrastructure, including highways, bridges, wastewater treatment, sports stadiums, and the aforementioned underground airport... looking much like a storyboard from The Empire Strikes Back zooming over the mood of Endor.

:: underground airport

:: sub-surface sports complex

:: ferry terminal with under greenery parking

:: city-scale living machine for waste treatment - images via Infra Structures

So what can we learn from looking back at some of the work and visuals of Malcolm Wells? While again we can see the vision of this man who looked at infrastructure as both a design problem and environmental solution - leading the way to what could literally be the emergence of figuratively and literally green architecture. Perhaps it's a nudge to pull out your sketchbook and envision a reality beyond what's sitting on your desk, in your computer, or outside your window, but what could be. Finally, it's a call to arms for architecture (and more broadly the allied arts) to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. From Infra Structures, p. 29:

"What a structure does, that is, how it acts upon the world around it, is far more important that how it looks. That would seem to go without saying, but it appears never to have concerned those of us who have built over our rich America land. ...If a building, a bridge, a dock, or a road destroys land, it's simply not doing its job. A handsome structure that kills land is an enemy, and we are only now slowly coming to realize it. If, on the other hand, the structure is kind to the land, chances are that it will be its very appropriateness be both appealing and beautiful."

:: image via Infra Structures

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Stats, Kind Words + Aggregation

I've been somewhat busy, and haven't had a chance to see who has actually been reading the blog and commenting on it elsewhere - so a change for some interesting highlights I discovered in a recent search.

Our recent review of the fantastic 'The Infrastructural City' caught the attention of the folks at and resulted in some kind words ... "A really insightful and beautifully illustrated review of our book [link]. It’s great when reviewers get what we were after. The blogosphere is coming into its own with a better—and deeper—appreciation and understanding of our books than print periodicals. Things are changing in architectural journalism…and they’re changing very, very fast."

:: image via The Infrastructural City

We also received a nice email comment from contributing author Barry Lehrman (who wrote the fantastic chapter on Owen's Lake found in the book as well as taking the eerie pic of the dry lake bed).

Another that I must have missed was a pickup by one of my favorite conceptual aggregators - prss release nabbed one of the L+U posts from November 2008. Materiality and Light led off the issue of prss release #23 with the visual tour of some projects related to building skin that had was perforated to allow for and celebrating light.

:: images via prss release #23

Aside from these features and a good number of readers (many thanks to the 1000+ that register on my counter), there are also some interesting stats I found - in addition to the fact that readership just recently crested over 200,000 visitors and almost a half-million page views in a bit over a year:

:: Google PageRank: 5
:: Google Links: 382
:: Yahoo Links: 5,210
:: MSN Related: 109
:: Technorati Links: 7,743
:: Google indexed pages: 459

What does this mean? I actually have no earthly idea - and probably not much... as I've never been a big one for stats, but obviously it means something to someone (perhaps the same people who like memorizing batting averages or somesuch).

Mostly I tend to appreciate the comments (both direct, sometimes very direct and any other) that expand the dialogue about landscape+urbanism. And it's interesting to find that L+U has appeared linked on a number of sites, on more than one syllabus, a couple of CVs, a few articles, and many posts. Many thanks to all.

Veg.itecture: VIA Roofs

As the dialogue around green roofs shows that we've come a long way in vision and implementation. There seems a veritable cornucopia of projects and thinking on the subject. Read this interview with green roof plant expert Ed Snodgrass via Skygardens, and some more reinforcement of habitat potential for rooftops via Treehugger for some applied knowledge. Haven Kiers and Linda Velasquez offer some green roof hot ideas for 2009 - which are compelling but lacking in great detail... as a complement to my 2009 predictions as well.

As for projects, Treehugger swoops in with the obvious that green roofs are not new - stating that Europe has been vegetating rooftops for centuries... so yeah, there is a difference between these older models and the modern equivalents. Utterly shocking :)

:: image via Urban Greenery

They go on to point out a wonderful example from the 1950s by architect Richard Neutra for this sod-rooftopped, mid-century modern gem in Bozeman, Montana.

:: images via SpaceInvading

A Daily Dose of Architecture offers a variation on the theme, with earth-sheltered bunkers tucked into the hillsides or laced with subterranean tunnels, which has also been making quite a resurgence in our terror-prone times. A couple of cooler examples.

:: Federal Reserve Communications and Records Center - image via Archidose

:: Library of Congress - Packard Campus - image via Archidose

And the partially earth-sheltered, for instance this Mies van der Rohe Award finalist for this green roofed Multimodal Centre in Nice, France.

:: image via Bustler

Urban Greenery has been hard at work with some images of older green roof projects in North America, including these pioneering varieties:

:: LDS Convention Center, Salt Lake City - image credit American Hydrotech

:: Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Reseach Center, Connecticut - image credit American Hydrotech

:: Library Square Building, Vancouver, BC - image credit American Hydrotech

And another project that is reminiscent of Mountain Dwellings by
BIG, which was recently awarded a Forum AID Award) for Architect... is an older project from Tadao Ando for the Awaji Yumebutai Conference Centre in Japan.

:: images via SpaceInvading

Finally, another shot or two of these infamous Mountain Dwellings a few weeks back I made the distinction, similar to Edouard Francois' Eden Bio building - the the reality left us feeling a bit, lacking. Follow-up, here's some other angles that show the brief emergence of green and a bit of redemption in this author's mind... still a ways to go, but heading in the right direction.

:: images via Arch Daily

:: image via Bustler

Veg.itecture: VIA Walls

As I recently mentioned, there is a steady parade of visuals promoting the veg.itectural - which make sense. The distance from idea to implementation is a common theme, and requires an amazingly large amount of coordination, client will, and ingenuity. We are constantly underwhelmed by the result - but more often amazed by what is actually available when the all of the stars align. A pair of posts, starting here, looks at the updated walls and roofs in the Vegitecture series.

Walls... living, green, vegetated? Where to start. Jetson Green goes retro in an advert/post for Green Screen the old standby trellis system used on many a project. Urban Greenery drops a few old projects from Patrick Blanc in both Thailand and France. And for some newer content, first, via Inhabitat, is from Mexico City's El Japonez Restaurant, by Serrano Cherrem Architects‘ project with an inventive solid wall of vegetation. The wall, aside from being stunning, has purpose: "More than decorative in nature, the wall helps keep the thermostat steady throughout the year while infusing the interior spaces with fresh air." See some images and details below.

:: images via Inhabitat

Following up, a more more intricate (and less real fo sho) project by bluarch Architecture that for The Greenhouse Nightclub provides alternating discs of vinyl 'vegetation', LED lights, and wood - which oddly enough are supposed to "...convey the dynamic richness of nature as a living system." Read and see much more at Contemporist.

:: images via Contemporist

So you decide. Is the 'living system' or the artificial 'dynamic richness of nature' more successful? I guess they are both relevant, but real vs. metaphorical nature is one of those easy ones to get polarized about... Another hybrid is the Mossenger, spotted via VULGARE in the post Mossenger. The project entitled 'Sporeborn' by Anna Garforth uses moss as ink for wall-mounted writing.

:: images via VULGARE

Finally, I mentioned an interior living wall to go along with the Flowerbox building, and here's a pic - design by pulltab, image via Contemporist.

:: image via Contemporist