Saturday, February 27, 2010

Piggy-back Big-Box

An interesting hybrid assemblage of big box behemoths in Baltimore, shows a trend away from the sprawling power centers to a more . Via the Baltimore Sun, the development will place a Walmart atop a Lowes store in a piggy-back move: "The new location will be unusual for Walmart because it will be built on top of the Lowe's store - much of which will be below ground - and will be 93,000 square feet, about half the size of Walmart super centers... Walmart has been working to burnish its image - most recently with its environmentally friendly initiatives. The planned Baltimore store is emblematic of those efforts. It will be the first to open in this area since executives launched a campaign to retool stores with new graphics and merchandise as well as eco-friendly construction and operating practices. The new store will have a vegetated "green roof" covering more than an acre."

:: images via Baltimore Sun

There are still some questions about such items as traffic and overall form - or maybe the impacts of local businesses - but in the comparison to the normal sprawling model of big-box stores, this seems to take a step in the right directon.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Cartographic Rectification

A recent post at the Fresh Kills Park Blog showed the beauty and function of the process of map rectification in GIS, where a map and image can be combined by matching ground control points in the mapping system to points in the image. As it may be well known, I'm constantly fascinated by historic maps as a tool for understanding and creating modern moves in cities, and recently I expressed a desire to do this with a series of Portland maps.

:: image via Fresh Kills Park Blog

These maps aren't 100% accurate, as they rely on consistent base points to align common map features, and often lack in accuracy - but do provide a great overview of layers of history. An indication of the product is shown on the FKP site - a rectified map of the landfill site (above): "A 1907 map of the Fresh Kills area helped us understand a little more clearly the extent of filling in creeks and wetlands, and also the sense of private ownership that this land did, in fact, enjoy prior to the start of landfill operations–the entire site was entirely carved up into privately owned parcels."

In this case, it isn't a particularly unattainable venture, thanks to the New York Public Library beta version of their map rectifying tool (aka Warper) online: "...that allows users to digitally align or “rectify” historical maps from the NYPL collection with today’s maps and aerial photos. You can browse previously rectified maps or sign-up for an account to align your own and add it to the browse-able archive"

Check out a short video of the tool:

These processes bring to mind of course the wonderful Mannahatta Project by Eric Sanderson, which used rectified historical maps to provide a . I just finished devouring the book, so look for a post soon.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Floating Manhattan

Via Ptak Science Books, a proposal to float Manhattan into the adjacent Hudson River and seemingly into the Atlantic. "Robert Grosvenor had a delectable and memorable idea for a project in 1975: testing the sea-worthiness of Manhattan island. Grosvenor (b. 1937) was a well-known kinetic sculptor in Manhattan by the time of his detaching-Manhattan idea... "

:: image via Ptak

The project is somewhat satirical, and shown in some of the graphic play to reinforce the specifics of the proposal. More from Ptak: "I do though like the simplicity of the presentation of the project, right down to the "Step 2" of preparation, which was the umbilical snipping of the bedrock of Manhattan and the attachment of the "flotation collar", which, I guess, would allow it to be moved around so long as flotation devices were attached. "

:: image via Ptak

The project comes from what sounds like a fascinating book Unbuilt America, by Alison Sky and Michelle Stone -shows plans of buildings and monuments, that were planned but never built, throughout the first two centuries of the history of the United States. Thanks to @SpaceSyntaxGirl for the heads up on this one!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bell Street Park - Seattle

A new project recently via the Daily Journal of Commerce unveiled by SvR Design Company in Seattle shows a pair of proposals for Bell Street Park: "The project will affect the area from First to Fifth avenues and create 17,000 square feet of park space. The city is converting one lane of traffic to public recreational space and reconfiguring parking to create a linear open space with landscaping, lighting and pedestrian amenities."

:: image via Seattle Parks

The team created a couple of different concepts, based on good streetscape principles and some of the cultural and natural history of the area of the city. A description of the concepts and some commentary from Nate Cormier, landscape architect at SvR is included in the article, along with a representative concept block of each plan:

The first 'Sluiced Surface Plan': "...was inspired by the earth moving that created Bell Street... it is meant to represent the changed landscape. The pathway through the park meanders down the street, moving from side to side. Cormier said it reflects the fact that cities are always changing, and that some landscapes are made while others are unmade. "

:: image via Daily Journal of Commerce

From a presentation on the design, some additional images to explain the concepts a bit further, exploring some of the significant 'flattening' that happened to topographic features through sluicing.

:: image via Seattle Parks

And finally a vignette sketch of the plan.

:: image via Seattle Parks

The second, called 'Measured Movement Plan': "...was inspired by the rhythms of the street and also reflects the area's history as Seattle's film row. In this design, the park would have a pathway straight down the street. “This one says, the people in a sense are the architects,” Cormier said. “It's more of a stage, more flexible, more taut compared to the other one that really sets up those opportunities more explicitly.”

:: image via Daily Journal of Commerce

The more formal elements of this plan are derived from a more mechanical processes and industrial heritage, as well as referencing the areas history of film. The repetition and modulation of spaces using the filmic idea of frames, using lighting and the tracery of impressions of people as a conceptual framework for organizing the site.

:: image via Seattle Parks

A vignette sketch of this plan as well.

:: image via Seattle Parks

Thickened Waterfront from AALU

An email from Jorge Ayala from the AALU shows off some recent Landscape Urbanism work, in this case an academic workshop with a focus on designing a Contemporary Garden in Xi'an, China. I've included the full text from Jorge, and some of the images of the project that were sent.

Thickened Waterfront
AA Landscape Urbanism Garden Design
Xi’an, China

The parcel has a distinct character but a series of strategies will be applied in order to integrate the Thickened Waterfront into the general design.

Along these lines, artificial topographies, rippled organizations of diverse water features and multiplicity of floating structures will be considered to turn the linear char
acter of the parcel into a multi layered spatial domain. The diagrammatic approach towards the work with the material structures of the mini piers, retaining structures and engineering techniques will help to define a rich spatial condition which will help to add layers of experience to the arrival through the park to the waterfront.


Spatial and three dimensional experiences: The arrival sequence into the Thickened Waterfront augments the sensations of the pedestrians or focalises the attention into strategically treated micro environments.

Several bands structure the proposal to create the different habitats and will be flexible to adjust to other proposals.


The work is based on an expanded idea of the edge, turning into a field of distributed spatial experience what otherwise is defined as a line or a rigid boundary of the water edge. The main idea would be to blur the contact of land-water seeking to encroach earth structures into the lagoon while bringing it inland in other areas.


The pedestrian should be able to read and perceive a wide va
riety of material and spatial qualities in a compressed setting.

A series of individual ponds will host a diverse catalogue of conditions of light reflection, water depth, colour, planting, fauna and potentially human interaction (bathing, pudding pool).

These mosaics of water features will provide the medium for further interactions and enriched version of the ecologies within the park, incorporating expanded ideas of performance, spatial experience and environmental qualities.

Thickened Waterfront
AA Landscape Urbanism Garden Design
Xi’an, China

Lead by:
AALU Tutors Eduardo Rico, Alfredo Ramirez
AALU Director Eva Castro

Design Team: Jorge Ayala, Hossein Kachabi

Monday, February 22, 2010

Take Back the Streets 2

A follow up to the story from Korea and the daylighted stream that was realized upon the removal of a highway, this ephemeral project from San Francisco (via Streetsblog SF) takes the same idea of remnant roadway and thinks of it in terms of gardening: "A few weeks ago in San Francisco, a number of urban farmers opened a gate in a chain-link fence at Laguna Street, between Oak and Fell Streets, and entered an overgrown lot that has been unused for nearly two decades. The farmers brought with them steaming piles of mulch, which they cast over the edge of the ramps formerly used by cars to enter and exit the elevated Central Freeway spur above Octavia Street, arranging the soil in rows for planting vegetables and filler crops."

:: image via Streetsblog SF

"The new Hayes Valley Farm (HVF) inverts the paradigm and reclaims the space for city dwellers, if only temporarily. "We call it 'freeway to food forest,'" explained Chris Burley, Project Director for HVF and former organizer of My Farm. Burley was joined by nearly fifty volunteers at a HVF work party Sunday. "We're trying to create a successful, sustainable urban farm in the heart of San Francisco."

:: images via Streetsblog SF

The model is definitely transferable to a range of locales (both figuratively and literally). The temporary nature of the site makes it prudent to keep the process efficient, but that doesn't mean the site cannot become productive for a short period of time, then transform to a different use (the city-owned parcel will be developed to provide market-rate and affordable housing). See a Google Earth image of the site showing the large un-utilized space:

The ephemeral nature doesn't mean the plants won't have a shortened lifespan, but may travel to a different locale after the project is complete. More from Streetsblog SF: "Because the project is temporary, Burley said they are not planning to rip up the existing asphalt, which would cost thousands of dollars. Rather, the farmers will plant up to 150 fruit trees in pots that can be moved to other gardens or planted in back yards. Burley also said that in honor of the old Highway 101, they will be planting 101 beneficial plants among the fruit trees to help with pest control."

Take Back the Streets 1

From Fast Company: "Most metropolis' are so busy building the future that they don't have time to re-think the past. Not so with Seoul, South Korea. In 2003, the city demolished a downtown freeway to restore an ancient stream that once flowed beneath the thoroughfare. More than 75% of the scrap material from the demolition was re-used to reconstruct and rehabilitate the stream banks and create a commercial corridor."

:: image via Fast Company

A couple of additional images from a great photo gallery via Inhabitat

:: images via Inhabitat

Finally, as a companion to the reconfiguration of Korean street to stream, a video 'Inspired Ethonomics' from Fast Company showing the relationship of streets and public space in urban areas.

Paper Cities

Another great video from Digital Urban shows a snippet of 'Metropolis' a time-lapse film by Rob Carter showing the evolution of Charlotte, NC: "Made entirely from images printed on paper, the animation literally represents this sped up urban planners dream, but suggests the frailty of that dream, however concrete it may feel on the ground today. Ultimately the video continues the city development into an imagined hubristic future, of more and more skyscrapers and sports arenas and into a bleak environmental future. It is an extreme representation of the already serious water shortages that face many expanding American cities today; but this is less a warning, as much as a statement of our paper thin significance no matter how many monuments of steel, glass and concrete we build."

Metropolis by Rob Carter - Last 3 minutes from Rob Carter on Vimeo.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Modelling Dynamic Processes

One of the interesting links I found on Bradley Cantrell's site showed a very cool project being developed by the UC Berkeley to simulate river dynamics, which have notoriously been difficult to replicate.

Via Science Daily: "
Christian Braudrick, William Dietrich and their colleagues are the first to build a scaled-down meandering stream in the lab that successfully meanders without straigtening out or turning into braided streams. The substrate is composed of sand to represent real-life gravel; white light-weight plastic for sand, and alfalfa sprouts for deep-rooting vegetation."

:: image via Science Daily

The new information gleaned from this research will allow researchers " investigate the role of various factors in determining the shape and migration rate of streams and how variables associated with climate change and land use might be expected to affect river form."

While the sophistication of digital modeling continues to amaze, I find it very interesting that certain physical processes need analog physical models in order to capture the myriad variables in accurate ways. As we strive for more ways to plan for unpredictable circumstances, we may find a resurgence of the physical model, along with our digital tools, as new/old ways of understanding complex dynamic processes.

More on Digital Media

A follow-up to the interactive interview on Digital Drawing for Landscape Architecture Bradley Cantrell sent me a couple of links to the work he and others are doing in the digitial realm down at Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture at Louisiana State University.

:: image via reactscape

The first is his own blog,, which primarily focusing on digital media and responsive environments in landscape architecture. From his bio, you get a feel for the topics that Cantrell is interested in:

"His own research and teaching focuses on using digital film and techniques to represent landscape form and phenomenology. This work in digital representation ranges from improving the workflow of digital media in the design process, to providing a methodology for deconstructing landscape through compositing and film editing techniques. Another of his research interests is creating interactive landscapes using devices which express site characteristics through ambient cues. A continuation of work started while he was at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, this research aims to strengthen designers’ analysis and understanding of landscape and the everyday use of space."
Some twitter links lead to thoughts on mechanization of farming and the modeling capacity of legos which set the stage for delving into an interesting mix of technology and the landscape worth exploring. A quick perusal of the rest of the site (if 'quick' is possible with all of the interesting tangents and links) yields a range of interesting work, notably the explorations of 'Ambient Space' (see concept model above), and and exploration of the abandoned Mississippi Basin Model, a large scale analog model for testing performance of strategies in the lower Mississippi detail region. As you see from the model images the systems aren't representational, but rather use materials that simulate functions to test the variety of scenarios.

:: MBM Model - image via reactscape

A more formalized site features a range of work conducted at LSU around design computing, as well as the research for a fascinating course 'Illustrating Ecologies' is compiled, along with other research and resources.

Without going into too much detail, I will offer the link and an invitation to explore for yourself, and will be posting some interesting finds from the site in the future. The potential explorations should provide some seeds related to new media forms and a reconfiguration of the means of representation in landscape architecture, which is far overdue. The combination of information gleaned from other sources, along with original research is fascinating.

Check out both sites, you won't be disappointed.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Retrofitting Suburbia

A nice long video from TEDx Atlanta featuring Ellen Dunham-Jones on Retrofitting Suburbia that "...takes you through retrofitted suburbia, transforming dead malls into buzzing downtown centers."

Certificate in Urban Green Infrastructure

My colleagues Brice Maryman and Nate Cormier, both landscape architects at SvR Design Company in Seattle, are teaching a pair of online courses this Spring and Summer with a focus on Urban Green Infrastructure. These two know the ins and outs of the topic, through their work locally and through the ever-expanding Green Infrastructure Wiki. Check out an overview of the course via an online presentation here.

Some additional info from the online site:

"Discover how strengthening a city's green infrastructure network increases community health and ecological resilience. Learn to recognize, quantify, and apply ecosystem services and amenities in an urban environment. Explore humanity's evolving relationship to nature as expressed in biophilia and emerging theories of landscape performance.

Develop integrated and elegant solutions to the complex infrastructural challenges facing growing cities and envision "high performance landscapes" that are multi-functional, yet culturally resonant. Experience the latest advances in urban landscape stewardship, and stay up-to-date with innovative, open source communication technologies, from wikis and social networking media to online collaboration and presentation tools"

The two courses include a Spring session entitled "Planning Urban Green Infrastructure Networks" which "...provides an overview of urban green infrastructure planning, drawing on the methods and techniques from strategic conservation planning, landscape architecture, urban planning and design, landscape ecology, and other related disciplines. You will learn how to organize a holistic planning process and work with the six green infrastructure systems in terms of their functions and services. Through case studies, lectures, and interactive exercises, you will learn to integrate systems into community-wide networks. The course will also cover innovative policy and funding strategies."

This is followed by a Summer class focusing in more detail "Designing High Performance Landscapes" where participants will "...explore the technical and aesthetic design considerations of high performance landscapes. You'll gain an appreciation of landscape aesthetics in an urbanizing world. Through case studies and carefully led design exercises you will learn to synthesize diverse programmatic functions into elegant solutions."

You can course overviews, instructor bios, and more on the site. The courses are developed in partnership with the UW College of Built Environments and the UW Department of Landscape Architecture

Metropolitan Field Guide

University of Oregon landscape architecture graduate and now Seattle resident Kelly Brenner has an interesting blog called 'The Metropolitan Field Guide' which focuses on design for urban wildlife habitat. As a self-professed generalist which tends to take me on ADHD-addled tours of pretty much everything, I'm a big fan of folks who aim to provide content based on specific elements of the urban landscape. This is a great addition with both practical and creative ideas around the theme.

:: image via Metropolitan Field Guide

Some recent posts include a riff on habitat and large green roofs, the interesting Cardiff animal wall (seen here on L+U), and the Biornis Aesthetope (seen here on L+U). Another interesting post includes some of the adaptation of urban fauna, similar to a post I remember doing a few months back showing a bird nesting in the housing of a street light. This photo of a nest made from scrap wire is indicative of the resilience of many species in using what is available to them.

:: image via Metropolitan Field Guide

Looks like she's just getting started, but if urban ecology and habitat is of interest - add this one to your feeds.

Field Ops is Hot (Still)

In addition to being named on the top 10 list in Fast Company's Most Innovative Architecture Companies (the only LA on the list) and the major success of the High Line, a couple of recent wins have pushed James Corner Field Operations fully from the realm of the theoretical provocateur, to competition all-star to full-fledged big name landscape architecture project powerhouse.

:: image via LA Times

The Fast Company article included the likes of DS+R, MVRDV, Kieran Timberlake, and Santiago Caltrava, and mentioned the firms most visible work to date: "James Corner's New York-based landscape architecture firm led the design team that transformed the High Line, an abandoned elevated railway track on Manhattan's west side, into a wildly successful public park. Up next: revitalizing Philadelphia's Race Street Pier."

:: Race Street Pier - 'The Slice' - image via Plan Philly

In addition, there has been copious press related to Field Operations' design proposals for Cleveland's Public Square. As mentioned on Design Under Sky: "James Corner, of Field Operations and High Line Park fame have worked directly with two nonprofit organizations, Parkworks and the Downtown Cleveland Alliance. Corner offers three radically different designs to the square. Deemed, The Frame, The Forest, and The Thread, the concepts address traffic and circulation matters to different extremes, while all providing elements of urban park goodiness."

:: images via Design Under Sky

Two recent additions to the portfolio, spotted via World Landscape Architect, announce some more high-profile commissions for Atlanta and Santa Monica. The first includes design for the 22-mile Atlanta Beltway, which, according to The Dirt, Field Operations and "...Perkins+Will have been selected as the lead designers of the Atlanta Beltline, a 22-mile green beltway of park networks, multi-use trails and light rail, which will also reuse and revitalize old rail tracks and restore local ecosystems. "

:: image via The Dirt

The last is annoucement from the LA Times that Field Operations "...has prevailed in a high-powered design competition for a 7-acre park in the heart of the Santa Monica Civic Center". An interesting addition is the makeup of some of the teams, which included some big name architecture firms. "Of the six competitors for the park job, Field Operations was the only one without an architecture firm attached. It beat out entrants including Frank Gehry and a team made up of landscape architect Peter Walker and architect Frederick Fisher."

The trend towards high-profile park design featuring architects may begin to change as some high-profile LA firms gain the credibility to go it alone. And to show that the firm isn't doing quite everything in the US, and are maybe a bit busy with the current workload - Field Operations was conspicuously absent from the list of finalists for the St. Louis Gateway Arch Design competition, leaving room for a number of other high-profile LAs as team leads or team members.

This who's who of designers in St. Louis should produce some interesting ideas and inevitably a great concept, but I really think competitions that don't rely on great ideas submitted in anonymity - such as this one with an open qualifications process that made it easy to pick the big names - limit opportunities for any new faces to appear. It's less a competition than a high-profile RFQ.

Isn't the competition a chance for the new rising stars to shine? Instead of reinforcing the current roster of stars that get visible and notable work worldwide, how about using the competition for tapping into potential. If big firms when - they do so on merit of ideas, not just reputation. Just look what that model did for Field Operations in the first place?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sprawl Repair Kit

I was not terribly impressed by the collective productivity of last years Reburbia competition. There were highlights, but one was left wondering what all the fuss was about - and if these short, open-ended festivities were worth the attention. One exception in terms of ideas is the Urban Sprawl Repair Kit (via Inhabitat) by Galina Tahchieva offers a toolbox for transformation of ubiquitous fast-food restaurants, strip developments and big boxes that dot the suburban landscape.

:: image via Inhabitat

The proposal "...offers a simple set of infill techniques that are every bit as practical as they are effective at eliminating suburban sprawl. Using renewable technologies and energy-efficient practices, strip centers and big-box stores can be converted into solar-powered recycling centers, restaurant parking lots become mixed-use commercial centers, and McMansions are transformed into multi-resident senior housing."

While some of the visions are less convincing (such as the gas station infill), many are brilliant in their simplicity, such as the big box strip store, which drops new building forms along the street frontage to create a more inviting storefront and a central plaza, which is a lot more appealing within and from outside than it's predecessor. It also incorporates a significant densification of suburbia by layering additional GSF into the existing footprint.

:: image via Inhabitat

Another worthy example is the fast food restaurant, which is often non-descript and surrounded by a sea of parking. The addition of a street frontage (that is double-loaded) around the perimeters provides the ability for the larger building to 'anchor' a more mixed use of buildings and provide a more desirable face to the adjacent street.

:: image via Inhabitat

While the idea of how to transform these spaces is worthy of attention, there are some more broad-based urbanist questions that need to be addressed. As a site scale, there are options, but do the larger land-use, zoning, transportation, economic, and (sub)urban forces provide the context for these to be viable solutions? As the automobile becomes less prominent, we will need these tools... the next stage is to envision the larger, and much more difficult prospect of putting into motion the underlying mechanisms to make these realistic opportunities.

New Blogs

It's been ages since I've posted about some of the recent blog additions. To maintain my sanity, I've decided that for each new blog I add to my personal RSS feed, I take another off (the total hovers around 120 or so, which is a lot of input). I keep all of them in the various sidebars, but focus on 'reading' the ones with consistent and relevant content. Some notable inclusions:

Digital Urban: A recent addition, the site features some amazing work utilizing a range of digital tools that literally had me staring at videos for a couple of hours. More to post on some of this work, but in synopsis, the blog is "...
written by Dr Andrew Hudson-Smith, aimed at examining the latest techniques to visualise the city scape via digital media it covers a lot of the work going on at the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, University College London."

Edible Geography: Nicola Twilley explores a fascinating breadth of topics around concepts of food, maps, and much in between. Part of the growing BLDGBLOG empire, you get a feeling that dinnertable conversations are never dull after spending the days mining the ephemera of the world that never graces the pages of mainstream media.

Civil Eats: Taking a more literally approach to food, Civil Eats is one of my go to blogs for ideas on food and urban agriculture
, looking to promote "...critical thought about sustainable agriculture and food systems as part of building economically and socially just communities." It's a great compliment to City Farmer News and some of the food writing from The Grist.

mammoth: A tag-team effort from Stephen Becker and Rob Holmes the blog mines similar terrain to the peripheral investigators that make for great blog content.
Their manifesto gives a good indication of the diverse margins of writing and interest: "Our interests include extinct megafauna, the production of urban space through the manipulation of infrastructure, landscape processes, and tactical architectural interventions aimed at forestalling the arrival of our inevitably dystopian future and/or ushering in a new era of global harmony."

Next American City: The multi-author blog companion to the quarterly magazine, the site offers great thinking on contemporary urban issues, reminiscent of the great Design Observer site. From the NAC site: "We observe, document and conceive realistic solutions about how to improve cities—how to ensure that future generations’ lives are improved, and not made more dangerous or unnecessarily complicated by the decisions we make"

Urban Tick: Another product of the
Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis in London, the blogs takes a specific process-oriented look at urban cycles: "With this blog the research on cycles and rhythms will be embedded in the most recent developments in technology, covering a range of areas with a focus on space-time related technologies."

Infrascape Design: Authored by Barry Lehrman, a landscape architect and educator from Minnesota, the blog focuses on a range of material, centered around " infrastructure, sustainable cities, and high-performance buildings around the world"

faslanyc: Simply put, intelligent, critical (often irreverent) but always spot on discourse on landscape architecture; or exactly what we need. From the blog header: "Take a nice book about landscape architecture. drop it in a puddle in a gutter on a street in New York City. leave it outside to dry and forget about it for a year. that wrinkled, yellowed edge, the way it crumbles when you touch it- that is FASLANYC."

Urban Cartography:
Infographics galore! Some great, some terrible, all interesting. See notes below on quantity and tumblrs,

Free Association Design (FAD): written by my friend and colleague from Portland, Brett Milligan explores the landscape with a focus reminiscent of BLDGBLOG and Pruned and the afforementioned mammoth - investigating many of the margins of landscape and architectural practice that place the profession firmly in the world of large-scale works, infrastructure, and urbanism, and less in the garden.

Plan and Section
: Written by a MLA student from University of Texas at Austin, the theme is squarely in the terrain of representation in landscape architecture: "The aesthetics of representation are heavily explored on this site as well as the social pull graphics can have in illustrating that landscapes are socially necessary and economically viable"

I'm also amazed and overwhelmed by many the various tumblr-type sites... amazed by some of the great images and snippets of projects - overwhelmed by the sheer output and redundancy between them. Something about the type of site interface seems to lends itself to 20-30+ 'posts' in a day, which tends to make me want to just delete the works rather than sift through them for interesting links, or just unsubscribe for sanity-sake. That said, a few notables that focus on the landscape architecture are People and Place, makdreams, urban greenery, if you don't mind a daily bombardment of great images.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Food City

Via ArchDaily, this study by MVRDV, The Why Factory and Stroom Den Haag looks at urban farming in the relationship to global food supplies. As David Basulto adds: "...urban farming goes more in the direction of the last phrase of the video: “could it (urban farming) help bringing some agriculture into the cities to bring us closer to our food again?”.

:: via ArchDaily - Animation by Wieland Gouwens

Another video applied to Manhattan.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Drawing the Land

A unique opportunity to tap into one of the most creative minds in modern landscape architecture representation, Brad Cantrell, via an online webinar/interview on Land8Lounge conducted by Drew Maifield of The LANDWIRE.

Cantrell is author of Digital Drawing for Landscape Architecture (Published by Wiley, 2010) which promises to be the most complete resource of landscape related techniques captured to date. A must read for anyone looking to get the most out of the digital tools in representing design solutions.
As Maifield mentions: "...imagine being able to listen in and hang with the expert who wrote the book on this pivotal topic! "

The event is happening February 18th, 2010 at 8pm CST, so be sure to sign up today, and also check out more of Brad's work via his portfolio on Land8.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Bing Mapping

Since I was first introduced to Bing Maps, I've been quite intrigued by the Sim-Cityish axonometric views of the world that offers expanded possibilities for urban analyses. The architect of the system, Blaise Aguera y Arcas, shows off the features. (Via cityofsound)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

On Landscape Criticism 3

The final essay 'On Criticism 6: On Bias in Criticism' comes from Stephen Rustow and completes what has been a really fun, if quick, review of the status and possibilities of landscape criticism inspired by Urban Omnibus. The concept of criticism is laid out as a 'revealing' to the larger public what the intentions and for lack of a better word, 'meaning' of a design is: "It is the first job of the critic to list and elucidate for a larger, non-professional public what those questions are; then to ask how, and how well, the project responds to those questions. Finally, the critic must ask what value those questions have in a larger context and whether they are the right questions to be asking at this moment in time."

This personal viewpoint opens up the idea of bias, as the critic is inserting themselves into the argument and taking a stance about some specific contexual or stylistic piece of the work. The goal is not to diminish the importance, but as stated, the critic must have a 'stance' that is well-founded and appropriate. While I'm not convinced that the audience (of the critic, not the work) is actually the 'non-professional public' which is somewhat of a dichotomy. While the users of the work are specifically that public, it is debatable whether the critic is writing to this particular audience - and if it even matters. Either way, perhaps it is the critic that informs the larger discussion within 'architecture' which can engage both the public (users) and the designer (author) in meaningful ways - perhaps just to connect the two is dialogue.

The idea of criticism of that which is 'bad' is an interesting dilemma. While the focus should no solely be on good or bad, there is the need to celebrate both sides - one as exemplars the other as learning moments. Each of these must come with appropriate context as gushing praise without foundation is equally as detrimental as derogatory remarks that are based on nothing tangible. Again this goes back to the question of audience - what is bad to one group may be good to another. Designers may be able to see the constructive criticism, whereas a less educated reader will just blindly say 'That's bad design'. Are they given the tools to make this interpretation for themselves, or is it just given to them from one viewpoint?

As case in point, I recently attended a meeting of green roof professionals where the idea of discussing project 'failures' was met with uncomfortable silence to downright anger. The crux was that anything negative was going to diminish our ability to grow the profession by making us look bad. My thought was that a dialogue about lessons learned removes the danger of making similar mistakes over and over, but also to learn how to get better, more efficient, and more technically solid. While it is hard to hear or discuss dissenting views, if any group is suited to this it is the design professions, which has education and practice based on criticism as a way to learn (a process which never stops for an entire lifetime). You learn to listen, accept that which is valid, interpret that which is directive, and dismiss that which is irrelevant (or perhaps hyperbolic).

Returning to bias, Rustow ends with the thought that contemporary criticism lacks the necessary distance to evaluate context in a meaningful way. Historical referents are great for providing necessary lessons from the past (thus the teaching of history in design schools) but critique of current work, within our messy and unexamined context, is still vital. Locally, we discuss often the work of Halprin in the sequence of connected parks in the south auditorium district - both in the context of today as well as the previous context in which they were built in the early 1970s. Viewpoints vary, opinions fly, and we all think of how landscapes change and culture changes and sometimes the relevancy of longevity of our work will be judged long after we die, as well as the moment if goes into the ground (or maybe earlier).

The connection is between all modes of discussion that span from today towards the past (which the late Howard Zinn shows us is subjective for sure) - all of which incorporates bias in good measure to be successful. Rustow ends:

"Criticism of course is but the first draft of history, not the thing itself. It is journalistic in the original Latin/Francophone sense of the word — ‘of today.’ Its historical aspirations, such as they are, can only be to serve as the raw material of some future, more dispassionate, analysis. But in exchange criticism can — must — make full claim to passion, to the convictions, enthusiasms and biases that animate discussion today, now, in full understanding that once our passions are spent they too will become the subject of more broadly contextual and quieter historical methods. Deprived of any pretense to history, criticism has nothing left but bias: without bias criticism is worthless."

On Landscape Criticism 2

Following up on the previous review of editorials from Urban Omnibus in the post 'On Landscape Criticism', I wanted to continue with the next three essays. The continuation of thinking delves into some more specifics.

In 'On Criticism 4', William Bostick warns of the perils of the broad focus in terms of minimizing the impact of criticality: "When we write about architecture, yes, we should write about it in context. Big, city-shaping forces are at work here, but those can be cumbersome ideas, and trying to talk about them pushes us into metaphor territory or worse, theory."
I think this is a double-edged sword, and perhaps to shy away from it minimizes the overall potential of architectural and landscape criticism. This may be part of the difficulty in establishing a viable strategic stance for landscape, as it isn't neat and tidy but is big and cumbersome... the hermetically sealed and controlled box is easy to assess, the untidy landscape urbanism is not.

The fact that the 'danger' is to, gasp! move into theory is pretty funny - as I can think of no more welcome addition to discourse than some good theory. To explain, I don't think we need more intellectual posturing or overly wrought scientific methodologies applied to landscape, and there is still the need for critique of objects. It's more but theory as a hybrid of the analytical and the philosophical - neither completely empirical (which is impossible and irrelevant) nor wholly detached from the reality (which is somewhat useless aside from thought exercise). This is perhaps why the majority of what passes for landscape critique is formless, as we have yet to determine a model that seems to work.

As Bostick continues, he finds the interest in some of the personalities versus the work, which aligns with much of the journalistic bent we find in much writing. We love celebrities (the TMZ reference from faslanyc is an apt metaphor) in all things - even over the actuality of originality of the work. There are many reasons why firms tend to have the names of their founders prominant, not just as a reference to that person's talent, but as a defined way of 'branding' a product. Look at landscape architecture firms - at least the more prominent... mostly name firms, with a strongly branded personality that can both inspire the work and provide a interview-friendly mouthpiece for the media. You know the names - van Valkenburgh, Schwartz, Walker, Hargreaves, Sasaki, etc.. Even recently I noticed that 'Field Operations' has tied the name James Corner directly to the firm splash page... as Corner the 'personality/brand' has a lot more media potential than Field Ops the 'firm'. It's an interesting concept, and important, because when you talk about a firm like 'Diller Scofidio + Renfro' you do so as both a collective and as individual people (well, maybe not Renfro), but still marketing genius.

I've talked at length before about the celebritization of many facets of new design beyond the firm (i.e. Fritz Haeg, Dickson Despommier, Cameron Sinclair, Emily Piloton, or the pinnacle - Brad Pitt who made Make it Right a household name). This isn't to diminish the work (which is good, great, and more), but really to point the lens at what matters: the actual work created by these folks and its relevance, or a way of personify the work and literally put a face to it. It may be impossible, but is it possible to talk about the work, it's context, and it's people in equal measure? Furthermore, is it possible to detach, in our culturally dense worlds, any piece of work, particularly in criticism, from the myriad forces that shape it (including the media itself?).

Continuing on, I waited with anticipation to read faslanyc's 'On Criticism 5' which focused on the landscape side a bit more (venturing into the small 'a' if you will). His tenets regarding the superficiality of the current state includes both the inherent insecurity of landscape architecture and the divide that exists in rhetoric and attitude between academia and practice.

The first, and most visible, is our insecurity, which is frankly obvious in the type of criticism that we tend to embrace... a . As mentioned, this is a product of the demise of modernism and the failure of post-modernism, leaving us lacking in a viable -ism to hand our hat on. Again referencing Koolhaas' essay 'Whatever happened to Urbanism?, he: "...gave voice to an unsettling feeling that had been haunting practitioners since it became apparent that modernist architecture was not the panacea it claimed and not as important as it supposed. Forced to confront superfluity in a single generation, the critical discourse within the profession took up defensive positions to weather the storm."

While I agree with the above assessment, I think it has more to do with an inherent lack of confidence in the validity of the argument, or at least in our ability to express it in appropriate ways. The closest analogy I can include (at the risk of getting political) is the ability of the 'right wing' to hone in with laser precision on the essence of the issue and create a collective viewpoint, versus the 'left wing' looking a nuance and subtleties (context you may say) and getting mired in the details, resulting in a watered down and incoherent message. It's an oversimplication, but people tend to understand a simple black-white argument and place themselves within that versus muddling through various shades of gray. Do we want to over-simplify things to the point of polarity? No. But we do need to specifically occupy critical terrain and build fortifications with continuing expanded thought to strengthen that position. Otherwise, we internally bicker or worse, flip-flop :)

The second is more insidious, as it addresses the severed split between the academic and the pracitioner - which results in a typically incomplete application. One side is mired in complexity of language as a way to distance itself, the other can't be bothered with 'theory', because we have important work to do. The blending of both thought and action is notably absent to the majority of the profession - much to the detriment of the whole. As faslanyc points out: "For this reason, the majority of practitioners have abdicated their responsibility to contribute to the contemporary discourse within the professions. It is currently dominated by writers and theoreticians with no foundation in praxis..."

"...As a result, the critical discourse has become a series of self-catalyzing memes and hyperbolic metaphors characterized by a forced focus on concept and cult of personality. Only projects deemed exemplary according to a conservative set of values (standards of beauty, economic viability, social popularity) are discussed and then largely in a laudatory tone. This is not healthy criticism."
Continuing on, we move to the concept of meaning in landscape architecture, which was captivating for me early in my career. The idea of instilling meaning into a design is fascinating for a fledgling landscape architecture professional - giving another facet to provide depth to design beyond 'style' or in modern obsession 'sustainability'. You can have both, right? Referencing Marc Trieb's essay on the subject from Landscape Journal 'Must Landscapes Mean?' (of which I have a dog-eared copy somewhere) it is easy to think there is possibility in a collection of narrative metaphors linked into a language. But will anyone understand, or better yet, will they care?

Finishing up, there is the overall idea of where to go - which goes back to our current situation of landscape architecture criticism - 'where do we start?' faslanyc includes four ideas to consider: "political process, cultural context, a focus on criticism through time, and polemics." I'll leave you to read them in the essay specifically, but a few thoughts spring to mind.

Regarding political process, this seems to be the beauty of some of the more interesting landscape urbanism thinkers - navigating the manifold players and barriers, spread over long periods of time, to achieve an appropriate and flexible solution (and perhaps more important, convincing these folks that the 'design' is never done.) Corner at Fresh Kills seems the best example of this in action, with a glacial timeline and myriad bureaucracy to navigate making the political as much a site factor as the site itself.

Culture has been addressed previously, but seems the antidote to one of the great flaws to the overly rational methods incorporated in the McHargian method - infusing the aspect of people and culture to inform the purely scientific. Data with a conscience perhaps? Additionally, landscape absolutely needs the element of temporality in design and criticism, both in terms of inherent flux in the system, but also to highlight the unfinished nature of the work and the role of maintenance personnel as actors work towards.

The final portion, polemics, is the key to our taking a fresh look at professional criticism - and needs to be included - with good argument and context in support. While all projects exist in a cultural frame, each has differing goals and objectives - so something as simplistic as 'cost' isn't a viable argument. While the High Line is mentioned, a more appropriate case for this is my ongoing criticism of the ASLA Headquarters Green Roof. The critique is not with design, technique, application, or intent - but that the goals of the project were to promote the concept of green roofs as a visible pilot project. While the former are well executed, the latter came to bear with a price tag that would make all but the most motivated of clients flee. In this regard, it is a failure and should be considered such. The purpose of course, isn't degradation, but an honest accounting of all of the goals and how well we met them. Every designer should be able to handle this.

As a profession, we gain nothing by constantly patting the same people (and by extension, ourselves) on the back for a job well done. Designers know that no project is perfect. Self-righteous celebration is not the job of criticism within the profession."
These four elements proposed by faslanyc are a great working method for current landscape criticism, as they expand the argument beyond mere style or sustainability to include other factors that must be included within all arguments. The inclusion of a range of voices from many different disciplines, working with an honesty and transparency, will do nothing but help us improve.

A final essay on Urban Omnibus is left to discuss, focusing on the idea of 'bias', of which this post is already too long to accomodate... stay tuned.

On Landscape Criticism

A great ongoing series of posts on Urban Omnibus delves into one of those topics that seems missing from the dialogue in landscape architecture -- that of real criticism regarding the profession. I don't mean the type of mindless carping that happens based on polarities of viewpoint or in response to the profession being declared 'dead'. For the most part, the concept of criticality seems absent from most thought processes, project work, review, engagement, discussion or interaction, save the occasional provocative essay or graduate theory class.

The editorials focus on the big 'A' that has typified design of building objects (i.e. Architecture) rather than more broadly encompassing little 'a' architecture that I feel discusses a wider range of design. As mentioned on the opening part of the discussion by Andrew Blum, 'On Criticism', the key question is scope in terms of that particular professional lens:
"Is architecture criticism still architecture criticism? Is it still – if it ever was – about merely architecture? Or do the forces that change the built environment come from a broader toolkit: from urban planning, certainly, but also from the more engineering-heavy realms of infrastructure, or more policy-heavy realms of politics?"

Big 'A' architecture criticism seems to be at a crossroads - wondering in this context: 'Where Next?'. This seems driven by a perceptible shift to a new expanded era of urbanism and infrastructure and a continued disengagement from starchitecture and its inherent lack of depth. This is where the interdiscplinary and less-building-centric 'small 'a' architecture (of which landscape architecture and urbanism exist) is uniquely suited for this scale and scope. Aside from just neo-infrastructural systems or new, better versions of sustainability, this shift offers the opportunity for landscape architecture to insert themselves fully into this arena and fully embrace a dynamic new era of professional relevance. The question is, do we still continue on our current path of tepid critical inquiry, or do we embrace the need for self-consciousness as a way not of marginalizing ourselves but as a method for expanding our reach and relevance.

The need for art is not to be downplayed, as it the poetic is just as important as the technical. The difference is that it isn't a binary position as we have seen it, over the past half century slipping into a new versions of the art v. nature debate that has sustained the majority of landscape architecture criticism of thinking. As mentioned in Diana Lind's followup 'On Criticism 2' the dichotomy was best expressed in the broad viewpoints of Herbert Muschamp and Jane Jacobs - both in New York but worlds apart in ideology: "Jane promoted common-sense principles and ideas. You shouldn’t put a highway through the middle of SoHo; a street with broken windows looks unsafe and thus will encourage crime. Herbert, on the other hand, championed risk-taking — in architecture, in writing, in life." Lind expands that point by reinforcing the tomy, particularly in discussion less of building per se (Muschamp; Big 'A') and the idea of context (Jacobs, small 'a'):

"Architecture criticism has become too much of a discussion of form and ability, and not enough about context. We wouldn’t dare call Jane Jacobs an “architecture critic” now — but she wrote about how buildings function in a society. What Jane and Herbert didn’t do was write about architects. They both used the built environment to comment on how it symbolized something more profound about society. As architecture criticism has been pushed further to the outskirts of regular arts coverage, we architecture critics can’t further isolate the discussion by writing solely about an architect’s talent or a particular building’s aesthetics. Maybe it will no longer be a matter of choice. How can we write about singularity in this time of populism and interconnectedness?"

This idea of context, populism, and interconnectedness is the foundation of the landscape idea, so the ability for us to address bigger issues that . While a beautiful project gives us hope and makes us sometimes forget our trouble, does it really do anything in this larger context worthy of our praise. Alec Appelbaum 'On Criticism 3' delves somewhat into the, discussing this lack of context in relation to larger factors like climate change: "You’d expect those of us who “see” urban design to highlight projects that foster dialogue and blunt climatic calamity.Yet too often we acclaim renderings that airbrush conflicts out of urban scenes – like Rem Koolhaas’ mischievous new midrise, or Steven Holl’s constellation-like Shenzen experiment. Who will flag insidious design choices... and challenge them?"

It's interesting that Koolhaas and Holl are pulled into this argument in this particular way. Not that they aren't still significant big 'A' style practitioners, but compared to a Liebskind or Gehry, they represent a more robust side of architecture that is less focused on the building that has expanded into the realm of the urban and contextual. It's also telling that many of the more vocal and articulate writers on the concepts of landscape urbanism seem to be architects (as opposed to planners or landscape architects) many riffing on some of the conceptual terrain laid out by Koolhaas. That isn't to say some voices are out there such as James Corner, Elizabeth Meyer, Richard Weller, and Kristina Hill (to name but a few) are expanding the number of landscape voices out in the media. These and others have laid out a foundation of thought that is slowly starting to find a voice and some application in actual project work. Is this getting addressed in the large discussions (i.e. media) of landscape architecture, beyond fawning over the High Line or parsing the latest graphics from a high-profile design competition? Even our main-stream criticism is relatively hollow, consisting of question of technique over larger questions of relevance.

The stars are aligned
an opportunity for the profession to step up and occupy some of this rich terrain. The transformation of the architectural scope beyond building, the focus on urbanism and infrastructure as more appropriate systems for building and growing, and the acknowledgment of the importance of context all lead towards a more expansive role of landscape architecture in the dialogue. While we as LAs seem to content to give more and more ground to others more willing and articulate to map this vision out, perhaps it is time to step up and make ourselves heard. Ten years from now we will look back at this as a critical turning point in the profession, and reflect on our ability to ... Could this be the marking of the end/beginning of an era?

Maybe this means the death of the profession in a traditional sense, but maybe that's not a bad idea?

More essays on Urban Omnibus to discuss, including a landscape-specific installment by faslanyc, so I'll split this into a couple of posts... stay tuned.