Monday, August 24, 2009

EcoCity Hamburg

Hamburg, Germany's new planned EcoCity by TecArchitecture and Arup has received a lot of attention as of late... let's take a look:

:: image via WAN

Wind turbines... check. Green roofs and walls... check. Water and futuristic, semi-biomorphic building forms... check. Reuse of structures... check... Multiple green rating systems... check! Looks like an eco-city...

Ok, I'm being coy, because I think the idea is interesting and it's obviously a sales tool, but I always want to see the social side of the eco. Here's some of the info via WAN: "Comprising ten major structures, ECO CITY offers a variety of different spaces for different purposes, bringing both large-scale industry and creative start-ups together in one, cooperative, and ecofriendly business community. The spaces range from studios to large warehouse and production facilities."

:: image via WAN

So there is a glimmer of social equity with industry + startups... and all living in perfect (yet sort of sterile) harmony... any issues with this particular juxtaposition of old and new?

:: image via WAN

World Architecture News adds some details: "The majority of all visible roofs will be green roofs, serving to slow storm water runoff and significantly reducing the heat island effect of ECO CITY. Green areas will be elevated to the second story where there is more access to air and sunlight. In addition to roof gardens, more than half the site will be covered with vertical gardens, further minimizing the development’s carbon footprint and maximizing leisure space. These raised green beltways will create a microclimate of sorts, allowing workers and visitors ample outdoor recreation space."

As always - nice form... now for the follow through. Read and see more at ArchDaily, and Treehugger.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Reading List: Andrea Cochran: Landscapes

I've had the book 'Andrea Cochran: Landscapes' for a while now, since Princeton Architecture Press (2009) sent me a copy. I've paged through it numerous times, but figured I'd get around to reading it at some point, at least formally, before putting the review together. Well, for a review I have to admit that I didn't end up reading much of it, but rather poured through the pages, scanning, absorbing, and staring at small vignettes of material and spatial form. Much like her work, the book is something to savor and view, but not necessarily an overly intellectual pursuit. This isn't to demean the work at all, as I'm sure there's a weighty sum of theory and background that the work is built on. It's a complement. Like art, you can view it and feel it, rather than read about it and think on it. This book gives you plenty to feel - and really, that's the best part.

I definitely will preface this 'mash note' to say that I am a huge fan of Andrea Cochran's work - and thus this review will focus less on the work than on the presentation here. Between the black stained concrete of the Perry Residence and the wonderfully whimsical Children's Garden (shown below) as some of the first projects I had seen from Cochran, I was immediately struck with the intricate simplicity of materials and form, yet blown away by the power of such restraint.

The book doesn't disappoint, as it is image-rich - offering many views of some of the fine work of the firm. Projects include a quick synopsis, a graphic plan, and both long and detailed views, exploring not just the overall form, but the connections and interplay of corten steel and grass, stainless and succulants, black concrete and decomposed grey granite. For instance one of my favorite projects, the Hayes Valley Roof Garden - shows wonderful composition of form and materials - powerful in plan and in reality.

It's also fascinating to see a larger body of work, connecting the above 2002 project and the follow up Ward Residence, which re-purposes the sinuous forms of Hayes Valley into a similar set piece - including stone and larger trees that were not possible in the rooftop scenario.

There is an opening essay by author Mary Myers describing some of the philosophy of the firm. It's a good read - and mostly a great way of summarizing both the historical origins of modern landscape architecture and the influence of the larger construct of art theory. But this isn't necessarily the type of work that needs words, and it's good to see that there's many more images than long descriptions of project directives. The materials are authentic and the focus on the creation of space is overt. Words would just get in the way.

The imagery of the Brookvale Residence (above) shows a simplicity of plantings, using hedges of Equisetum to create spaces; a different mood is evoked at the Stone Edge Vineyard (below) with native oaks, sculptural bay and olive trees, massing of ornamental grasses and water, in this case the lap pool expanding into a distant vanishing point through a small opening in the trees, with the the contrastingly rusty facade of the observatory building to the right.

While minimalist, the work is definitely infused with a regional sensibility - co-opting distant view and existing vegetation, as well as showcasing the original sculptural approach to landscape - again from the Stone Edge Vineyard and the ancient olive and bays in a simple field of gravel.

The end of the book offers some detailed line drawings of the spaces, which are just a minimal as the landscapes themselves. These are divided into plantings and built elements - giving some idea of the component items of the spaces. For instance, the image below shows the specifics on the Portland Art Museum exterior courtyard - one of the fine examples of Cochran's work locally. As a designer, these are a nice touch to be able to see the specific materials, colors of Scofield pigmented concrete, and plantings.

The above image captures one aspect of the beauty of this book - and why it transcends the typical photogenic monograph by showing wonderful projects, beautifully photographed, and just enough supporting info to make it resource as well. While the intro is worthwhile, and the project profiles are short and sweet - there's some meat to the beauty... even if that may reinforce that you can create poetry with a few simple materials, artfully arranged. It showcases both beautiful planting design, but a different side of the profession of landscape architecture. Thoroughly modern, minimal - yet still somehow verdant and contextual. It's an inspiration to see - if not to read.

[all images included are from the book]

Urban Ag-gregations

Nothing is more hot this year than the idea of urban agriculture in it's many forms. Perhaps due to the economic downturn or maybe just a natural extension of our new found urban ecologic sensibility that includes urban agriculture at the highest levels - there is not shortage of the wonderful and the questionable in the realm of city-based food production.

:: image via The Infrastructurist

The interesting and inevitable direction of any trend is the spawning of products to aid in the adoption of gardening. Some notable ones include the idea of services - such as Seed to Plate (below), or the plethora of land sharing or backyard farming options.

:: image via Treehugger

There are also some tools for simple gardening that made me chuckle, such as the Roll out Vegetable Patch which is a "... corrugated cardboard mat ... sowed with four types of vegetable seeds and organic fertilizer all ready to be rolled out - all you need to do is add water and soil.

:: image via Inhabitat

And for the uber-lazy or totally clueless, why not just get a garden in a box sent via post from Rocket Gardens. Perhaps going to the store and picking up some seed packets is just too difficult for some. I jest (somewhat) - because any method of getting people to garden more - particularly kids, is a good thing. But how about teaching them about it in reality - not just reinforcing commodization of our food items by having them show up in a box.

:: image via Treehugger

This education and adoption leads to such interventions as window boxes which continue gaining ground in dense areas, a number of more refined (but somewhat elegantly simple) solutions pop up as well, such as Earth Boxes. (more here)

:: image via Inside Urban Green

Urban gleaning isn't a new idea, but seems to have re-emerged as a viable pursuit. As GOOD magazine puts it - food grows on trees, so we may want to take advantage of what's there in a more formal way. And in a new twist the idea of tapping urban trees for maple syrup - one I haven't seen before.

:: image via cbcnews

Finally, the idea of seed bombing is both subversive and getting more commercialized - and has also created a number of iterations - such as this great post on 'Johnny Apple Sandal' via BLDGBLOG. Also, check out the video by Guerilla Gardening guru Richard Reynolds for mixing up your own verdant morsels via the Guardian.

:: image via ecolocalizer

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Reading List: Learning from Las Vegas

:: Logorama by H5 - image via Designboom

:: (color plate from the book)

It is one of those books that everyone should read at some point, so I finally got around to sitting down and busting through the entirety of my copy of Learning from Las Vegas by Venturi, Scott-Brown and Izenour. Strangely enough, it was a disparate context in which this reading occurred, sitting in the backyard of my relatively pastoral house in Portland, drinking cold Miller High Life in a bottle, smoking cigarettes, and watching chickens run between by legs picking at the detritus on the ground around me. Pretty far from the bright lights of the Vegas strip - particularly the version of it that existing in the late sixties when the famous studio regarding to 'The Great Proletarian Cultural Locomotive."

(all images from the book)

I don't aim to summarize the book here as much as to reflect on the relevance of the text to our time. The opening essay 'A Significance for A&P Parking Lots, or Learning from Las Vegas' is what I consider the best part of the book - and should be widely read. A version of JB Jackson's modern anthropology through the lens of ego-driven architects, it's some hyperbolic prose that is worthy of the city in which it is directed.

What it does do is incent the architect or planner to look at the context and consider it in design, which was mostly a reaction to the predominant modern tendency of the time, that of the Modernism. As stated in the opening page: "Modern architects work through analogy, symbol, and image - although they have gone to lengths to disclaim almost all determinants of their forms except structural necessity and the program - and they derive insights, analogies, and stimulation from unexpected images." (p.3)

While this way of looking acknowledges this historicism and allows some guidance to interpreting the present. In the case of a reference to Nolli maps and the idea of using a graded figure ground to provide more detailed information about the sites nuances - for instance the powerful imagery of the Roman piazza and the more subtle blending of interior (private) and semi-exterior spaces (quasi-public). A modern take on this realizes the idea of the piazza as the open expanses of parking lot, and the casinos as quasi-public space that spills out and engages the street.

One aspect of the book that is fascinating is the interesting graphic representations that are both of a particular time - but somewhat timeless in their simple composition of ideas and context. It seems like there are a number of re-interpretations of this style and I think it's a pretty good reference point. This is particularly relevant to landscape architecture which (albeit often for good reasons) often uses color as a crutch, and seems stuck in a graphic vocabulary that hasn't changed much in twenty years - particularly in relation to site analysis.

One of these powerful images is the analysis of the strip in terms of the words that one sees when moving through the corridor... done old school - but something that could be rendered using new media methods such as flash animation to provide simple yet effective tools - maybe allowing a user to move along the roadway and showing the relative visual power of the various icons based on location and distance.

The books strength is its look at the cultural aspects of the city as generators of form and the context driven approach, and seems to wander in the final portions to include too much editorializing and WAY too much use of the work of Venturi to illustrate points. (Sorry fans of Venturi, but most of that work isn't merely ugly and ordinary in a poetic sense, but just plain bad). That's not to say they aren't a good counterpoint to the modern brutalism that it is juxtaposed against, but there could be some better work to use rather than the Guild House and the Columbus, Indiana Fire House No. 4.

The polarizing rhetoric of 'yes' vs. 'no' actually works well in Las Vegas, where the context and use is so out of whack with reality that what seems real is actually wrong and what seems overly wrought is actually perfect. The lexicon of ducks and decorated sheds have persisted and should be studies for reuse in our mindless strip development - because it at least offers some authenticity that is sorely lacking in the suburban strip development that many people exist throughout.

Additionally, on representation, the idea of a strong visual is often metered with a number of comparative lists (for instance the image below analyzing urban sprawl vs. megastructures and finding both lacking somewhat). These are really interesting studies - and would actually be a great tool for theory to provide a quick brainstorming that gives some interesting point/counter-points... each of which could be explored in detail (click on the image below to see it larger).

While the lists are dense with information, it's often the visuals that show these dichotomous relationships within Las Vegas the most - as in the mixing of derivative classicism with modern motile necessity.

While it was definitely worth a read (especially amidst the contextual opposite of the backyard farm) the first half of the book is much more worthwhile than the second - particularly when read today. The ideas of looking and learning from something that is more often than not dismissed as non-architecture or anti-urban is a necessity for anyone working in these fields. More urban than landscape (at least in a literal sense) the idea of signs, symbols, and communication within our urban realm makes for a lesson that this book still seems valid - and worth taking a look.

Monday, August 17, 2009

New York Day/Night

Another interesting map, this time showing the difference in population from daytime to nightime - showing the major exodus that happens when the workday is finished. Via People and Place > The Pop-Up City > The Urbanophile " interesting graphic that gives insight in the huge differences between New York’s day and night population density (click here for a larger image). The designer has calculated both the number of people per block during daytime and nighttime. As you can see Manhattan has far more jobs than inhabitants, which suggests a huge daily stream of people, with an average commute of 34 minutes.”

:: image via The Pop-Up City

Detroit Vacancy

Another interesting visual on Detroit - this time from the The Detroit News - on the preponderance of vacancies in the CBD: "While there is no official ledger of empty buildings, The Detroit News identified 48 major structures with no outward signs of life in the Central Business District, which covers about 127 blocks. Others have one or two remaining tenants."

:: image via The Detroit News

Perhaps the plans for large-scale urban agriculture or vertical farming may have some traction closer in. Read the rest of the article here.

Park(ing) Day

One month to go... should be the best ever. We are joining the folks up in Seattle from People's Parking Lot(s) as they take over a parking lot and transform it into Central Park(ing) with festivities, designs, small businesses, renewable energy, a design charrette and more. We shall see how many goodies we can pack into a vehicle for a road trip...

:: image via Park(ing) Day Network

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Future Pastoral

Beautiful images via BLDGBLOG from some work by Nathan Freise that remind me of the wonderful techno-aesthetic urban imagery of LTL and Lebbeus Woods, with a bit of Andrew Wyeth thrown in for good measure. Amazing stuff.

:: image via BLDGBLOG

Some info: "Freise’s series of inkjet prints depict experimental architecture projects. His hybrid illustrations combine multiple forms of media – ink, graphite, photography and marker – with computer graphics. Freise’s representations of utopian worlds question our current conditions of suburban sprawl and urban master-planning."

:: images via BLDGBLOG

Thursday, August 13, 2009

LEED Sustainable Sites

I was fortunate enough recently to be chosen for the US Green Building Council's Technical Assistance Group for Sustainable Sites (SS TAG). This appointment will allow me to be directly involved in defining how sustainable site strategies are integrated in existing determinations and future iterations of various LEED rating systems. The following is an interview with Damian Holmes from World Landscape Architect, published a couple of days back, explaining a bit more about the appointment.. another 0:12 seconds of my fifteen minutes :)

FEATURE: Interview with Jason King

"Sustainable Sites is an initiative with a interdisciplinary effort by the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the United States Botanic Garden to create voluntary national guidelines and performance benchmarks for sustainable land design, construction and maintenance practices.

Jason King is a Senior Associate at Greenworks
and an enthusiastic landscape architect who shares his passionate views at his sites Landscape+Urbanism and veg.itecture. He has just been appointed to the Sustainable Sites Technical Advisory Group for the US Green Building Council (USGBC) so we thought it would be a good opportunity to interview Jason about Sustainable Sites and his role at Sustainable Sites Technical Advisory Group.

WLA: What will your role be with the Sustainable Site Technical Advisory Group?

Jason: As part of the Sustainable Sites Technical Advisory Group, our regular activities will include working within the group to evaluate existing and future policies related to Sustainable Sites for all version of LEED, and specifically provide input on issues such as interpretation and Credit Interpretation Rulings (CIRs) on a bi-weekly basis. Specifically, I am going to be the primary credit guardian for the SSc5.1, Reduced Site Disturbance: Protect and Restore Open Space, and to work as a sub-guardian for a number of other credits. The entire group collectively makes determinations – this is just the first point of contact on specific items, sharing the load a bit.

My goals are really to move the LEED system and its interpretation of sustainable sites in a significantly more realistic and robust application. Determining what open space is and what it means to site users, or what components make up habitat are big questions – and can’t be oversimplified into mere square footage coverage. The challenge is to find ways to move the concepts forward to more specific and increasingly rigorous goals, but do so in a what that is accessible and integrated into the system. We need to constantly raise the bar, but not lose the momentum by making things overly onerous.

WLA: How important is LEED and Sustainable Sites to the future of landscape architecture?

Jason: I think it’s vitally important. Based on the success of LEED in the building-related industry, and how it’s really become a touchstone (for better or worse) for sustainability, our voices and roles in this process will be very important. One way is to be advocates for changes in LEED that reflect sustainability as we see it, beyond the simplification that often is the case in creation of green building systems. LEED isn’t going to go away, but rather evolve as we learn more and evolve from sustainable to regenerative design. The Sustainable Sites Initiative, developed by ASLA, is a good step in our future. It’s in the early stages, and not without issues that need to be resolved, but is much more of a true site-specific guideline that will really give us direction on defining sustainability in the landscape.

WLA: Most Landscape Architects are instinctly “green” and “sustainable”. How do you see the role of Sustainable Sites of built environment professionals?

Jason: It’s true that our education and experience makes landscape architects green or sustainable by nature. Many of the ideas we do as common practice are not considered specifically as ‘sustainable’ design to us, just what you do as a landscape architect. When compared to some other disciplines these ideas are much more innovative, or at least more contextual. Still, we have a great challenge in both quantifying these ideas into a system framework, and making sure we are vocal advocates for change, not allowing other disciplines to determine what role we play in design. The integration of landscape and buildings is fascinating – as landscape architecture, rather than just being ornament applied to the exterior, is becoming enmeshed in architectural form, building systems, and the environmental performance. The possibilities for integrated approaches are incredible.

As we get more prominence and a greater voice in project design processes, we will be able to more truly represent the profession and move forward an agenda that is both more sustainable, regionally adapted, and reflective of the common notion of what is a sustainable site.

We would like to congratulate Jason on his appointment and thank him for taking the time to answer a few questions."

By Damian Holmes – 12 August 2009

Monday, August 10, 2009

Urbanism for Expanding Cities

My friend and colleague Brett Milligan and I were fortunate enough to have an article published in 'Landscape Architecture China' a new journal that recently published its second issue covering Landscape Urbanism. Our article titled 'Urbanism for Expanding Cities: Designing the conjugal interface of contrasting systems' outlined the urban frameworks that were key to our work on the Integrating Habitats winning submittal 'Urban Ecotones'.

And let me tell you, it's pretty cool to see your words translated into Chinese.
(all images via Landscape Architecture China)

The full text:

'Urbanism for Expanding Cities: Designing the conjugal interface of contrasting systems' by Brett Milligan and Jason King (US)

Throughout the industrial era, natural systems and the materials they provided to cities were largely taken for granted. This relationship to the natural environment was due to many cultural factors, including the seemingly inexhaustible resources, humanity’s newly-discovered and unprecedented ability to harness energy and transform these materials, and a limited understanding of the fragility of our ecosystems.

Today we are fully aware of the impact many of our expanding cities are having on the natural systems they depend upon. As cities grow, they degrade or destroy self-sustaining ecosystems, such as forests, streams and rivers. At the same time, urbanization places continually heavier demands on these systems to maintain modern lifestyles for larger numbers of people worldwide. Many functions of urban environments are being steadily undermined due to the failing of the surrounding and global ecosystems they rely on. The United Nations International Millennial Ecosystem Report (2005) has scientifically documented worldwide ecosystem decline, and has popularized the idea of “ecosystem services”, which are defined as “the benefits people obtain from ecosystems.” The report states that “…the human species, while buffered against environmental changes by culture and technology, is fundamentally dependent on the flow of ecosystem services”. The concept of ecosystem services fundamentally alters our industrial-era relationship to the environment, and questions the very ideas of materiality and urban processes.

In order to investigate the contemporary challenges presented by a globally expanding urbanism, it is essential to re-conceptualize the relationship between “natural” systems and systems that are considered “cultural” or “urban”. Rather than dividing, or opposing these systems, urban design should seek to explore how all of these complex systems operate and interact in order to identify opportunities for design interventions. An emphasis on systems and processes is also a central tenant of landscape urbanist thought and practice. Landscape urbanism interventions seek to find ways of creating connective synergies among cultural and natural systems. This design emphasis fosters a more inclusive notion of ecology that attempts to integrate all systems operating within the urban realm.

Urban Ecotones: Transitional Spaces for Commerce and Culture is the title of the winning entry for the Metro Integrating Habitats international design competition held in 2008. Urban Ecotones provides a comprehensive vision for how innovative processes of commercial development can regenerate, rather than destroy natural systems within the rapidly urbanizing city of Portland, Oregon. Specifically, Urban Ecotones provides an adaptive model for how an innovative building center can thrive economically, while simultaneously regenerating critical habitat corridors and other ecosystem services at both a site specific and regional scale. This regenerative capacity is achieved by transforming how material is circulated and processed within urban systems.

This design strategy restructures economic and ecological systems to provide a development model that supports movement away from fossil fuel dependency towards more localized, regenerative processes. Retail development serves as a metabolic machine for the transformation and redeployment of cultural and natural material flows that continuously circulate through the city. Discarded urban items such as unwanted yard debris and food wastes are brought on site and transformed into compost to assist with the regeneration of habitat areas and to create economic capital. Demolition and construction waste is sorted and re-circulated as new building material. Stormwater strategies utilize existing site topography and hydrology to collect and cleanse water with technologies that replicate wetland processes and habitats.

Similar to contemporary landscape urbanist strategies, Urban Ecotones attempts to bridge the gap between urban planning and site specific, spatial design by performing at a range of scales. Two regional concepts informed the final design solution. First, the regional planning agency efforts provided an established framework for sustainable growth and the generation of future scenarios, emphasizing trends of infill and transit-oriented development. Second, the local planning process for responding to peak oil, offered insight and opportunities into the dramatic change that will occur with transportation, commerce, and urban lifestyles due to widespread fossil fuel shortages that will likely occur within the next 30 years. The development model taps into Portland’s market for sustainable building practices and lifestyles, and fosters community by creating service-oriented building centers near regional and town centers to meet the urban challenges of alternative energy sourcing and regenerating natural systems.

The title Urban Ecotones references the attention placed on the thresholds at which commercial development meets natural systems. Rather than seeing these interactions as points of confrontation, they are reframed as environments of conjugation – a marrying of contrasting systems. The combination creates a synergy of both environments (cultural and natural) akin to an ecotone: the transitional area between two ecosystems containing more diversity and biotic activity than singular habitats. Rather than impinging upon natural systems on site for development, increased habitat buffers provide a shared zone of mutually-beneficial interaction to regenerate the expanding city.

More Information:

UN Millennium Assessment Report (2005)

Urban Ecotones – Integrating Habitats

Metro’s 2040 Growth Concept

Descending the Oil Peak: Navigating the Transition from Oil and Natural Gas

Modern Industry

Cool image via People and Place > Poster Cabaret: Modern Industry by Adam Hancher: "...print is based upon communication within modern industry, and the relevance of renewable energy sources"

:: image via Poster Cabaret

Sunday, August 9, 2009

DailyLand: Pier 57

This project has been around the blogs lately, and it's an interesting meshing of site and architecture - driven by the unique opportunity of creating space atop a pier in New York City. Via Bustler, the team includes LOT-EK, with developer Young Woo & Associates The project "...foresees a rooftop park crowning a small shopping center of local artisan stores built with recycled shipping containers."

:: images via Bustler

Luckily, World Landscape Architect came through and mentioned that West 8 is also on the team providing design of the public spaces... a fact overlooked by much of the press.

:: images via Bustler

More info at World Landscape Architect, Arch Daily, Inhabitat