Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hot in the City

Sitting in front (or anywhere near) a computer in the past week has been somewhat trying... a lowdown of the past 5 days (via National Weather Service)...

July 29: 106
July 28: 106
July 27: 103
July 26: 93
July 25: 90

The prediction for the next few days are hovering around 100... FYI, our average high temp at this time of year is around 80... it's making me silly, because I think this is funny. Stay cool ya'll.

:: image via Princessa's Royal Diary

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Annals of Artifice

This project made me think specifically of the MOMA rooftop garden by Ken Smith... something about artifice that seems somewhat contrived... but I guess that's the point :) Via Treehugger: "Purists sneered at this garden made out of plasticine when it was first exhibited at the Chelsea Flower Show. Designed by the star of Top Gear, James May, it offended the sensibilities of the traditionalists who believe only real flowers and gardens belong in the show. But the last laugh is for car-loving May: not only did the "garden" win a gold (plasticine) medal at Chelsea, but it is now on display at a stately home in the English countryside, as part of the National Trust's "Food Glorious Food" campaign. What is going on here?"

:: images via Treehugger

Garden City Detroit

A great dialogue that happened a few weeks back over at Kaid Benfield's blog at NRDC (read it, the links, and the comments... good stuff) - about the fate and potential for Detroit. Seems that without reading the report - there's a lot of knee-jerk reaction to what has been percieved as 'bulldozing and planting sunflowers' as an urbanist theory. I posted a semi-long response with a wee bit of thought - and thought it a good idea to repost - as it's definitely a very important idea. The following mini-essay is the result.

Garden City Detroit: Landscape Urbanism in Action

"They paved paradise, to put in a 'lifestyle center'..." - adaptation from Joni Mitchell - 'Big Yellow Taxi'

The SDAT for the City of Detroit, was a good process and definitely began to coalesce into a vision - but was also a week long and should definitely not be construed as 'the solution' to what is a complex problem. I am going back to this topic often, as I was left with a permanent imprint from my short time there that is both innate fascination and specifically driven by the completely different nature of Detroit versus Portland in terms of urban evolution and issues.

One of the major points of conversation in the SDAT process was that people were (finally) beginning to acknowledge that the expansive and sprawling growth of the City of Detroit was not ever going rebound in terms of pure economics nor develop in the same way that created to initial urban form. And really this was way pre-recession - not a product of the recent downturn. People were relieved, as years of 'let's get the economy back and we'll be ok' mentality did little to create viable economic change nor good solutions for the City in general. This did acknowledge the urban flight problem, but set the only metric of success as full re-inhabitation, offering little in way of solutions.

Rather than provide a utopian 'garden' in the fabric of this shrinking city (thus my cringing at the analogy to 'english countryside' - the landscape provides a variable and adaptable field for a number of potential uses (to name a few: agriculture, open space, habitat, power generation, new industry, as well as vibrant good development) that were meant to become the next wave of urbanization. We were very specific in not taking any land 'off the table' for future development but rather looking at many empty acres that required infrastructure and upkeep. Agriculture is at best a productive use for land otherwise left fallow - at worst a temporary interim use for land until it is re-inhabited in, hopefully, a better way that takes advantage of good principles and gives people choice and options. If the size of Detroit in population rebounds - it still won't need the sizable urban footprint that it has - but the concentrations of population will provide dense centers. This is why 'urban growth boundaries' isn't appropriate - there's way too much land already.

I know this isn't 'urbanist' thinking but that's the point. The tenets of landscape urbanism, quoting Waldheim: "...describes a disciplinary realignment currently underway in which landscape replaces architecture as the basic building block of contemporary urbanism. For many, across a range of disciplines, landscape has become both the lens through which the contemporary city is represented and the medium through which it is constructed.”

It's changing the way we think of urbanism (especially for traditional planning theorists) and definitely is in need of more discussion, but it sure makes a lot of sense, particularly in Detroit and other shrinking cities. The key is not thinking of the land or buildings for that matter as binary - either development or landscape - but always in flux and in need of intervention and evolution. Sometimes this means protection of cultural and historical resources. Sometimes it means, for lack of a better term, a redo. This is the key to our future - getting out of the idea that one direction leads on a direct and singular path - but that it is constantly forking and twisting to what inevitably will be different and much more wonderful than any planning process, no matter how well thought out, can envision.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hoax of the Week

:: image via curbed

This one was pretty good and definitely had a bunch of folks going (via > via curbed)... The concept: "Bulldoze under Central Park and replace it with a modern, international airport. The idea is so simple, so beautifully elegant, so inevitable that it’s hard to believe we didn’t think of it ourselves. Rather, credit the shadowy figures behind The Manhattan Airport Foundation, who’ve worked up an incredibly detailed plan to turn Frederick Law Olmsted’s bucolic paradise into a postmodern universe of runways, terminals, and baggage claims. Good news for purists, too: per the Manhattan Airport FAQ, “Whenever possible, vestigial architectural elements of the Park space be retained or reworked into the context of the new design.”

:: images via curbed

Funny! Really f@ckin' funny... I do like the graphics though.

New Light on No Man's Land

Joyce van den Berg, a Dutch landscape architect, has some interesting plans to memorialize the thin strip of land that divided East and West Germany. From Spiegel Online: "The "death strip" or No Man's Land was the ground between the two Germanys. In the inner city the border consisted of an actual concrete wall, the one most commonly recognized as the Berlin Wall, but around the outer edges of the city the border was marked mainly by fences, watch towers and an empty strip of "No Man's Land." There are around 155 kilometers (96 miles) of the former border strip measuring between 20 meters and 2.5 kilometers in diameter."

:: image via Speigel Online

More: "Van den Berg, who carefully researched exactly where the former border used to be, also has some ideas for the man-made remnants at the former border. At one stage there were 302 watch towers on the border; today only five still exist. Van den Berg would like to see the five remaining towers, and any others that can be resurrected, turned into small, secret gardens. Unusual plants could be nurtured inside, protected from the wind and elements and onlookers wouldn't even realize the watch towers were there until they came closer, she says."

:: image via Speigel Online

The idea of restoration is essential to the scheme: "Her plan would see the barren strips of sand moved at regular intervals in order to encourage new plant life to take root as well as the ongoing formation of the "mega-dunes" that are already evolving naturally in the German woods."

Equally compelling are the graphics depicting some of this process landscape of revitalizing the sandy substrate.

:: images via Speigel Online

More: "Van den Berg also has a cunning scheme to mark the hidden escape tunnels that once led from east to west. These are considered some of the meaningful remnants of the former border area because if the tunnels, constructed at great risk to the tunnellers, were discovered it would often mean a shift in the border on the East German side, sometimes even the demolition of entire buildings or blocks. To mark where the tunnels were, van den Berg suggest beams of light be shone from the West toward the East, commemorating both the tunnels and all those who tried to use them."

:: images via Speigel Online

Radical Cartography

A very cool site that was reintroduced to me recently is Radical Cartography, one of the most interesting collections of maps out there (with the exception of maybe the wonderfully oddball collection over at Strange Maps). I had lost touch with the site, after this cool post on Agriculture maps of the US from back in 2008 - and now this won't happen again since they now have a blog that alerts readers to new content on the site.

It's not a secret that I heart maps, and anyone that offers a quote from Baudrillard for their explanatory page is tops in my book. Also check out the fully packed resources page for some great links. It's worth a perusal... here's a few teasers that I thought I'd share:

Bill Rankin, in collaboration with The Center for Urban Pedagogy, Labor Notes, The Longshore Workers’ Coalition, and Thumb Design, 2008

:: image via Radical Cartography

from Artur Fürst, Das Weltreich der Technik (volume II), 1924.

:: image via Radical Cartography


Bill Rankin, 2008

:: image via Radical Cartography

This is but a taste... and hours of enjoyment. Thanks Kelly R. for jogging my memory on this one!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Reinterpreting a Classic

Via Treehugger: "In 1982 Agnes Denes created one of the first examples of ecological art--she planted a wheatfield on an abandoned piece of land in downtown New York. Now, 27 years later, her work is being reinterpreted and updated, only this time in the east end of London. A derelict site has been planted with wheat uprooted from Lancashire and driven to Dalston for replanting. In addition, a solar windmill has been built to power two public ovens to make bread."

"Wheatfield - A Confrontation"
Agnes Denes - 1982 (more via

:: image via Treehugger

"The Dalston Mill"
EXYZT - 2009 (part of the Radical Nature exhibition at the Barbican)

:: image via Treehugger

Soundtrack for Spaces?

A brief lull in posting due to a visit from family, and a kick-ass barbecue last weekend - which culminated in the inaugural usage of the new backyard fire pit. As an aside... this past Friday, we took a short half-day trip to a popular hiking spot in the Columbia River Gorge, with the route passing through the Historic Columbia River Highway. This scenic and windy route is a must-see both for the route itself, and for the multiple trailheads to waterfall hikes throughout the gorge.

So yes, soundtrack... as my passengers dozed on the slow road, I cued up the I-Pod with the fabulous Seattle band Fleet Foxes, which btw is fabulous driving music. As the road twisted, turned, slowed and sped up, and moved from light to dappled sun to dark - the music stayed sycopated perfectly... with lyrical and musical ebb and flow that seemed choreographed by some unseen hand.

:: image via Travel Oregon

:: image via Wild Nature Images

A video of the Fleet Foxes (if'n you don't know them) is below... and check out their tunes on their MySpace page.

Fleet Foxes

One thing that this made me think of what the idea of purposeful insertion of music into the idea of the narrative of the city, such as GPS-enabled smart phones and portable music devices that play particular rhythms or artists based on location, time, and activity - or better yet, are connected to traffic speed and the myriad ebbs and flows of city life. Perhaps an antidote to the obvious disconnect from reality that technological devices seem to elicit.

Directed back to Landscape Architecture, there are precedents in the idea of Halprin's RSVP Cycles and the conceptual framework of producing 'scores' of spaces.

:: image via google images

It also got me thinking about other sountracks to places both urban, wilderness, linear or static... such as my propensity to listen to Band of Horses while biking home from work, or the strange and short lived jogging to Elliott Smith. Anyone have the specific soundtrack to your urban life?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Writing on the Wall

The ability to use public art as a form of expression is quite rare. Installations are often visual or have a tacit (or expressed) 'do not touch' policy - creating the idea of public without the opportunity for real interation. A few installations try to break this boundary - offering a platform for expression.

One that came via email is the Natureza em Risco, an installation at the Festival Internacional de Jardins de Ponte de Lima by Architect Lara Plácido and sculptor Sara Bento Botelho - who were kind enough to send me some pics of their work and a short quote: " we walk past it, will grow a "diary" of the garden, superimposing spontaneous and arbitrary records, productively artistic through the action of the wind on the rods with markers attached to their ends which will operate like a wind printer of the intervention of viewers ready to interact with them, thus creating a drawing of their journey...."

:: images via Lara Placido & Sara Bento Botelho

Last week, at the panel discussion here in Portland for 'The Mayors' Institute on City Design', NEA Director of Design (and former Mayor of Charlottesville, Virginia) Maurice Cox, mentioned the process of public involvement that created the Charlottesville Community Chalkboard set up as a public forum for expression. The chalkboard is erased once a week - and some of the great work is compiled at this site.

:: images via Preservation in Pink

Finally, no discussion would be complete (at least for me, with many family members as alumni) without a reference to the Free Expression Tunnel at North Carolina State University... "
Clubs, fraternities, sororities, and other organizations often paint the tunnel to promote events and amateur artists paint to express themselves and to promote freedom of speech. A retaining wall just outside the tunnel's south entrance is also open for free expression. The tunnel was open to free expression in the 1960s and was the university's response to illegal graffiti."

:: image via Wikipedia

All of these sites have (or probably will have) issues with inappropriate content being scrawled in public - which is part of the point and some of the challenge of free expression. The limits of what is 'free' is on debate and will cross the lines of common decency - making it a visible dialogue for everyone to see - and censorship is always an issue. Whereas some other 'art' can cross visible and clear lines of appropriateness and require removal by society - there's always the ephemeral nature of chalk or the soothing ability to paint over walls - as an option for these public spaces. It's up to the public how to use them.

Monday, July 20, 2009

DailyLand: Rapid Palace

Location: Gothenburg, Sweden
by Visiondivision

Okay, I'm a sucker for interesting landscape graphics... and these are pretty cool. Some definitely questions about the viability of this for security and safety... but pffft... how can you argue with the graphic magical realism of these images.

:: images via Arch Daily

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

New Blogs

It's been a while since I posted a list of new (or at least new to me) blogs that I've stumbled across in my travels. I'll add them to the sidebar soon. There are definitely a good amount of upstart Landscape Architecture and related blogs - which is good to see - and I'm hopeful that these will start to occupy some individual niches of content that can expand the electronic reach of the profession.

:: Landezine
:: People's Parking Lot(s)
:: hugeasscity
:: Critical Terrain
:: faslanyc
:: Fresh Kills Blog
:: Emergent Urbanism
:: textURA
:: endlessfield

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Do You Rule the Sewer?

I've been remiss in posting about the interesting WPA 2.0 competition and it's alluring tagline: "whoever rules the sewers rules the city" as I was debating about entering because it is just amazingly compelling in idea. So alas, due to summer and time constraints (I know, lame, but I'll explain later) I'm passing on the opportunity. A recent nudge from the folks at CityLAB reminded me that I hadn't ever posted about the competition itself. (They were also nice enough to pass along one of my posts that was referenced on their Facebook page)

:: image via WPA 2.0 Facebook Page

A summary statement from the organizers at CityLAB:

"With the Recovery Act on the minds of everyone concerned with the future of our cities, cityLAB, a UCLA urban design think tank, is providing a unique opportunity for designers worldwide to contribute infrastructure proposals that re-envision the new American metropolis. Beginning with a competition that encourages designers to "take back the streets," WPA 2.0 sets the stage for a new generation of Working Public Architecture.

The competition will be followed by a symposium at the National Building Museum in November 2009. In Washington, cityLAB will convene leading researchers, practitioners, and policy-makers to expand the enlivened discourse on urban infrastructure and promote implementable options that imagine our physical environment as more livable, more beautiful, and more sustainable."

It's pretty awesome that the competition site itself is the Infrastructure Matrix, which includes a number of typologies including a language of points, lines, landscapes, and ecologies. For instance, the idea of 'Stormwater' is broken into the following elements:

detention basins
retention basins
rain gauges

stormwater sewers
crib structures

spreading fields
river management

beach storm hazard mitigation
wetland storm hazard mitigation
climate control

This breakdown had me curious, and quickly led to a a reference to Stan Allen (one of the star-studded jurors) and his book "Points+Lines: Diagrams and Projects for the City" I saw this recently and it reminded me to mention a new blog by Nico Wright called MicroGeography, where he references the book as an investigative strategy for the competition. I haven't read it, but this post alone made me want to pick it up sooner than later.

:: image via MicroGeography

Although I'm sitting this one out, I'll be watching closely to see what comes out of the first round - and follow up with the second phase as well. Good luck!

Bat Yam 2010

I posted here about the 2008 Bat-Yam international biennale of landscape urbanism, and was pleased to get an email annoucing the upcoming 2010 version focusing on Urban Action. The Bat-Yam Biennale functions as a laboratory through which attitudes in and towards urban space are examined. A variety of sites throughout the historic city of Bat-Yam are on the table for ideas... a chance to participate in the ephemeral.

The 2010 version, Urban Action, will focus "...on the tension between the temporary and the permanent, between the planned and the experienced. The Biennale examines the occasionally tense relationships between the city’s attempt to create order through long-term plans, and the everyday chaos that is the product of that process. Our goal is to encourage spaces and situations that function from within the state of a given temporality, drawing energy from this very flexibility.... The Biennale will examine whether it's possible to encourage urban situations that use temporality and change as their raw materials. The Biennale asks whether the state of temporality can become a statutory classification. Urban actions will strive to change patterns and attitudes, promoting partnership of the residents with the city. The Biennale also redefines relationships between residents, planners, stakeholders and the municipality."

There is an open call for entries on the site... and if the last version is any indication, the project interventions will be innovative and inspirational. Check it out here.

Paradigm Shift?

I was frankly a bit thrilled by this little news nugget on Designboom announcing that uber-firm West 8 had replaced Frank Gehry for the the Miami Lincoln Park project. "The 2.5 acre park will serve as an entrance to the gehry designed new world symphony scheduled to open in january 2011. it will also provide an outdoor venue for concerts and expansive green space. "

:: simcoe wavedeck (toronto) - image via Designboom

The article mentions fee and other issues, but who knows the real story. Sign of the times...? Well maybe it just makes sense for a landscape architecture firm design the park. But I still had to laugh on the inside a bit.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Two if by Land, None if by Sea

Just last month, a strange site appeared in Portland, docked at Waterfront Park. The area, chain-linked off from anyone getting too close, gave a vision of a spectacle equal parts Rose Festival Fleet Week and kitschy episode of the The Love Boat, spawned from gigantism of the engineering prowess and the ego that could only yield something as warped in size and concept as 'The World'.

:: Portland, Meet the World - image via Google Images

This thought stuck in my head - why? While life at sea on the move, from port to port, may at least give one a feeling that there is a different destination looming, adventure around the corner, or least a feeling that if you're on a boat, your life can't be standing still - life on the static 'floating island' must come from those willing to stay put. This is the concept of 'Seasteading' is just that - homesteading on the sea. This is not a houseboat... think more like an oil derrick with buildings on top.

:: Club Stead - image via Wikipedia (copyright TSI, used by CCR)

The main group behind this concept is The Seasteading Institute - and the winners of the "...first Seasteading Architectural Design Contest ...invited participants to design the floating city of their dreams. " ...were recently unveiled, via a post on Bustler. I filed this under Veg.itecture due to the inclusion of images of rooftop greenery - but thought better even though I guess if the entire 'field' on which the design is placed is a giant (patent pending?) floating platform, then it's all on structure. Here's some of the notable entries - but read more at Bustler.

The Swimming City by András Gyõrfi won top prize - and really seemed ok, but not necessarily conjuring up visions of innovative sea life - more like a new urbanist development in a bustling suburb of florida. Even the greenery seems pastoral - like someone's front yard.

:: images via Bustler
On the flip side, there were definitely those with the aquatic theme in full speed, sporting fins and other such ichthymorphic features that I thought would dominate the competition, such as the Winner of the Prize for Aesthetic Design: SESU Seastead by Marko Järvela

:: image via Bustler

A lot just look like some new modern buildings (albeit sometimes with an icing of the Veg.itectural) photoshopped onto a square surrounded by water. The water in this could be the surrounding street in the urban block - as removed from an seasteading context as these are.

:: images via Bustler

These could literally be floating anywhere - so not necessarily contextual. Then again, if you place something out in the sea, what is the context? The most contextual I think really captured 'oil derrick'... motif was Resort by László Szabó...

:: images via Bustler

Also, the most innovative idea I thought may go to: the Cultural center, Designer: Mark McQuilten, Robert Davidov and Ben Attrill... featuring a floating scene of contextual destruction with a 'Planet of the Apes' apocalyptic scene moored next to the current Statue of Liberty. Sort of a post-global warming Ellis-island welcome to the new world.

:: images via Bustler
A goodly portion of these are just plain awful - but enough interest to think: 1) of the technical problem solving to make these ideas work on a floating, seaworthly platform, 2) do these operated similar to small island nations with 95-100% imports of practically everything, aside from fish?, and 3) what would motivate someone to live on one of these - aside from the random assorted Bond villian? So curious.

Tackling Suburbia

The latest competition out there challenging entrants to envision visionary designs is Reburbia: A Suburban Design Competition that focuses on the suburbs as the venue for exploration. Sponsored by Inhabitat and Dwell, the premise is open and relatively simple:

"Show us how you would re-invent the suburbs! What would a McMansion become if it weren’t a single-family dwelling? How could a vacant big box store be retrofitted for agriculture? What sort of design solutions can you come up with to facilitate car-free mobility, ‘burb-grown food, and local, renewable energy generation? We want to see how you’d design future-proof spaces and systems using the suburban structures of the present, from small-scale retrofits to large-scale restoration—the wilder the better!"

The entry qualifications are relatively open-ended, and include 5 images and a brief statement - meaning there is going to be a wide variation of ideas and innovations - but a lot of it is going to hinge of zoomy graphics and provocative design. While not quite the star-studded jury for the WPA 2.0 competition (more on that soon), it's a great and lower-input way to generate a range of opportunities for a part of our development world that is dire need of it.

There's really no excuse not to at least have a quick brainstorm and submit. Deadline is August 1, 2009.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Interim Vacancy - Pt 2

A followup to the idea of interim use of vacant lands, the SF Chronicle surprised with expanded coverage of some ideas for these sites... and they are all pretty fun. King continues: "...a quartet of local designers see something else: a site that could become a sculpted realm of green folds spiked by artistic birdhouses - an evolving semi-natural terrain up to the moment when the 41-story tower slated for the site someday is ready to begin construction."

More on the article, but a glimpse or two of the visions by these groups. First, artist Ned Kahn - whose vertical work is amazing, gives a horizontal treatment - evoking Mono Lake. The "...Sebastapol artist... would turn an empty construction site at 535 Mission St., now covered by gravel, into what he calls "Memory of Water" -- a lakebed of sorts, created by shimmering metal discs. This is an aerial view from the roof of 560 Mission"

:: images via SF Gate

Another proposal from a great group (and instigators of Parking Day), REBAR, with 'The People's Public Workshop', which offers a suitable alternative and interactive use, in the form of "...a carnival midway with infrastructure as the theme. The pit would offer an array of ad hoc nooks where people could explore the nuts and bolts of city building. Explorers might encounter a workshop on pothole repairs, celebrations of public servants, participant games and artists-in-residence - all amid surplus piles of such urban arcana as backhoes and orange cones."

:: images via SF Gate

The final version, 'Vegetated States: Growth Between Booms' obvious has my heart with ample use of vegetation. Envisioned by a group including Sarah Kuehl and Adam Greenspan from PWP Landscape Architecture and Owen Kenner
ly and Sarina Bowen from Kennerly Architecture & Planning this multidisciplinary visage focuses on urban habitat. " A fence would still corral the long site - but with poles of varying heights topped by bird shelters tailored to local species. There'd still be a descent from Harrison Street - but steep forms churning up from the sidewalk would plunge deep into the site, native shrubs taking root. Jutting from the highest point: trussed sections of building cranes, clad in vines."

:: images via SF Gate

Interestingly enough, the comment stream seems to suggest that the property owners would never go for such a thing - as they would be sued when they wanted to actually get around to building on their site... it's a funny thing, isn't it. Leave it fenced and weedy and blighted - a-ok. Do something to improve it temporarily - lawsuit. I'd say it's a valid fear, but why don't we put the lawyers to use in the beginning of the process rather than use them as leverage towards the end - hammering out some agreed upon future use where everyone is happy and no-one is sued. These don't have to be long-term investments - but more along the lines of the ephemeral Pop-Up Park or temporary installations like PS 1 (which is really furry this year!)

We've become enamored with a fixed end use of any site and unable to see the potential forest amidst the potential buildings - happy to keep valuable land fallow, polluted land toxic, and open space fenced - until the price is right to put up another building.