Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Reading Owens Lake

One of my favorite chapters of the great Infrastructural City (read my review here) is the chapter by Barry Lehrman entitled 'Reconstructing the Void: Owens Lake' which delves into the 'accidental preservation' of the Owens Lake basin due to the depletion of water resources as they were diverted to Los Angeles. As part of the mammoth 'reading circle' on the book, Lehrman has posted some great stuff on the genesis and background of the essay.

:: image via InfraScape Design

It's a delight to hear Lehrman read the chapter, so definitely link to the 30-minute audio file and grab the headphones, as it's an interesting take in the author's own words.
I'm sure there will be more interesting tidbits from the gaggle of smart bloggers rummaging about in the book and finding heady, insightful, and multi-syllabic ways to intelligently parse the text - but the words from the author's mouth (literally) are a fascinating 'read' into this chapter worth checking out.

:: image via InfraScape Design

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Beauty of Dirt!

I caught a screening of the documentary Dirt! The Movie last week on Oregon Public Broadcasting as part of their Earth Day series. Worth checking out for a number of reasons - those with some background will be inspired by some of their eco-heroes like Wes Jackson, Majora Carter and Alice Waters. Others will be introduced to the likes of Paul Stamets, Vandana Shiva, and Wangari Maathai to name a few of the many featured in the film. Overall, the film reinforces the idea of our soil (sorry, still have a hard time calling it dirt) as a living matrix that supports life on our planet.

"Dirt feeds us and gives us shelter. Dirt holds and cleans our water. Dirt heals us and makes us beautiful. Dirt regulates the earth's climate. Dirt is the ultimate natural resource for all life on earth. Yet most humans ignore, abuse, and destroy our most precious living natural resource.Consider the results of such behavior: mass starvation, drought, floods, and global warming, and wars. If we continue on our current path, Dirt might find another use for humans, as compost for future life forms. It doesn't have to be that way. Another world, in which we treat dirt with the respect it deserves, is possible and we'll show you how.

The film offers a vision of a sustainable relationship between Humans and Dirt through profiles of the global visionaries who are determined to repair the damage we've done before it's too late. There are many ways we can preserve the living skin of the earth for future generations. If you care about your food, water, the air you breathe, your health and happiness..."

Aside from the annoying animations, lack of depth in some areas, and an inconsistent narrative thread, the film is enjoyable and worthwhile in connecting to a number of resources for further exploration. View the trailer for the film here:

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hollywood un-der-lined

An interesting proposal from a team comprised of Bart de Lege, Jan Bloemen, Frederique Hermans, Joep verheijen, Steven van Esser organized as Save the Sign. A brief description of the project is found below, with an eye towards merging of cultural heritage - the Hollywood Sign- and a valuable project area by tucking the installation below the iconic landmark.

"Why not do an exercise in which we make the holy Hollywood Sign more accessible to the big public, without changing the image. Why not do an exercise where a mild architectural addition honors the symbolic value without changing the wording? Why not do an exercise that safeguards the existence of the wording, but still generates an economical and touristic added value for the region.
The term 'Hollywood' grasps the mental landscape and the realm of the film industry."

Why not literally draw an outline underneath the Hollywood Sign that does justice to this historical spot and symbol. Why not create a program that provides for various activities on a specific theme: a location for the Oscar Ceremony in a polyvalent theater, a hotel, a film museum, a scenographic park with a panoramic view at the city (for reference: Park Guell by Gaudi in Barcelona), a trendy bar & restaurant, a conference room, a casino, etc...

The design - that emphasizes the word Hollywood - not only contributes to the region as a whole, but at the same time provides added value to the American film industry. We take that in the most literal sense: the design underlines the word 'Hollywood'. In this strip, mostly embedded in the mountain, all kinds of functions can be integrated.

The space that emerges on top of this strip will serve as a public area like a square or park. ‘The place to be’ - in between, around and in front of the ‘holy’ letters. At this square, stairs, patio's and gardens stretch out which create a link between all functions and provide them with sunlight and air. The strip is designed in such a way that the existing letters will remain visible from all viewpoints in their original form and presence.
The proposed design will generate a financial return on investment and simultaneously rescues the symbolic heart and soul of Hollywood."

An Experimental Landscape Architecture

Coverage of some of Alan Berger's work with P-REX on the Pontine Marshes has appeared on mammoth, the most refreshingly non-architectural of architecture blogs, borrowing a note from BLDGBLOG and Pruned in their fascination with the large-scale landscape infrastructural interventions that don't seem to make the pages of all but a few 'landscape architecture' media outlets.

The most interesting aspect of this project isn't necessarily the function of big-infrastructure or the ability to use plants to purify polluted waters. It's the re-framing of these projects from engineering-scale solutions to designed ecological solutions - which rarely seems to happen in typical practice. From MIT News: "The conventional way of tackling the problem would be to build a series of large water-treatment plants in the area, which covers about 300 square miles. But Alan Berger...has another idea. Because some plants absorb pollutants as water flows by them, carefully designed wetlands can clean up the countryside while preserving its natural feel and providing public park space."

This isn't new thinking, as there are plenty of innovative ideas using natural systems approaches for water purification from wastes and pollution at a variety of scales. The beauty is the shift from a engineering-led solution - i.e. thinking about this as an engineered product and using natural systems as machines, with landscape as container - to one of a design ecology solution - i.e. using landscape fields and incorporating natural elements and systems by adapting them to the inherent machinic function of nature with the inclusion of civil engineering expertise. They can inherently be design problems in need of a scientific and engineering back-up - which is a much more fruitful interdisciplinary strategy.

Make it a science or engineering solution - and rationalism will trump all.
While we do use natural engineering and have been for years, rarely do we take a landscape architectural approach to these projects by infusing cultural and form-making aspects intertwined with physical composition.

Landscape architects often get pushed to the side when dealing with complex engineering challenges, due to the idea of technological rigor lacking in professional practice. To be honest, this is probably one of our professional failings - and one that will take time to mend as we gain in knowledge, but more importantly increase credibility as technically proficient professionals from our scientific and engineering peers.

While the recent push-back from designers to become more fluent in systems thinking and engineering has led to some interesting hybridization of projects, there is still significant silos in real practice regimes - and big infrastructure is still typically 'designed' by big engineering. So, do we need to become engineers to gain the professional foothold in these projects, or will projects like Berger's work lead to an expansion of the professional breadth of practice? I sure hope so - but it's going to take a professional movement, not a few projects and designers to achieve this. We need to forget the tired art v. science dilemma that has held us back and embrace both aspects equally - maybe spending a bit more time on the science to play a bit of catchup.

In the case of the Pontine project, which has been covered many places over the past few years, the idea of scientific experimentation is at the heart of this recent post showing small scale models to test design strategies. While mockups and small scale modeling of formal qualities is still relatively common - how much of that is science-based in a way that informs design solutions?

:: image via mammoth

This is an obvious gap in landscape architecture practice in need of some serious- one of the ways we as a profession can proactively approach to the problems of science fused with design. The need to reframe practice as more close to the definition (engaging in an activity again and again, for the purpose of improving or mastering it) versus the idea of merely doing work, is necessary. But we also need to engage different partners such as research institutions and universities - much in the same way theory needs to inform practice, science also needs to inform, and be informed by design.

In the case of the experiments for Pontine, some
explanation on the plans from Berger that take advantage of the university setting to incorporate ways of testing before installation. Via mammoth: "Berger’s solution is to have the water move through an S-shaped course that slows it down to a speed well under one mile per hour. The Italian engineers of the 1930s built perfectly straight canals, since they were simply concerned with transporting water efficiently. But forcing water to meander through winding channels in a wetlands gives more water molecules the best chance of being purified. ”Inefficiency is how environmental systems work,” says Berger."

As mammoth points out, the experiments based on the above design goals allow for preemptive discourse about the final product. This is a different tack for landscape architecture, which either operates on a notion of applied scientific theory (use science to inform design) or on post-occupancy testing (use science to - but rarely doing scientific experimentation of actual design solutions - even those with high levels of ecological rigor: "This is an experimental landscape architecture. Not experimental in the usual sense within architectural disciplines — where it is more or less a synonym for radically avant-garde (though this is by no means a condemnation of such architecture) — but experimental in the scientific sense, rigorously testing the performance of various forms, to design a landscape which incrementally advances away from its predecessors. If we’re going to move beyond talking about designing post-natural ecologies towards actively constructing them, then developing modes of practice that incorporate experimentation will be essential. (Next: peer-reviewed landscape architecture.)"

I'd posit there is more of this going on than we know of, perhaps in the design/science firms that are blending landscape architects with ecologists and other scientists. But rarely if ever is the scientific inquiry part of the design process - and I love the idea of peer-reviewed project work where folks can interject into the success or failure of project components. Perhaps this is the new dimension of landscape architecture criticism.

Can we seriously undertake ecosystem design, even that which is based on existing science, without a methodology of experimentation to prove-out these new design solutions. Much of what we are designing and installing simply just doesn't work. We need to be better informed before and during design processes, and do a better job of incorporating scientific testing afterwords if we truly want to become leaders, and not reactive followers to engineers and ecologists, to the scientific dimensions of our profession.

Coverage of the project in more detail is found at MIT News, along with a link to a video of the installation:

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Clinton Condominiums

Not specifically 'landscape' focused, but a wonderful juxtaposition of materials is found on the Clinton Condominiums at SE by Holst Architecture. I think it's a great example of mid-density infill within the context of a commercial street corridor. All photos (c) copyright Jason King, 2010

This is one of my favorite buildings in Portland, with a delicate composition of cor-ten steel, ipe wood siding, and baby blue elements transposed on different sides of the building facade. When I h
ad a chance to snap a few shots of last week while on a site visit in SE Portland a thought I'd post them here.

The wider view towards the Northeast gives the balance of the cor-ten and translucent panels work will together in tandem. Both materials seems to change nature in different lighting conditions, showing their true form in the dull gray of the day these photos were taken.

The opposite facade takes a difference character, with vertical slats of ipe wood siding giving a much warmer facade towards the adjacent residential areas. The dynamic of the cor-ten is one thing (as you see from the different hues on each side of the building). Arranged with two equally appropriate yet different materials of wood and translucent panels gives the building an added dimension of interest - even compared to many other buildings by Holst, which seem often to stick to a very minimal 2-material palette.

The ipe is taken down to street level to provide softening of facades. I particularly like the use of a range of different color types to generate a bit more interest, particularly in areas where there is a lot of wood such as these service doors.

The building of course is defined by the extensive use of cor-ten steel, which is installed in panels with stainless steel hardware, which provide some additional metering of the facade due to the dramatic contrast of the rust v. shiny interplay.

The definition of cor-ten as 'weathering steel' is evident as a living skin that is always changing in subtle ways over time and seasonally as the material displays evidence of time and process in simple ways.

An interesting feature of buildings making use of cor-ten is the process of imprinting ground plane surfaces over time due to rust staining - in this case the surrounding sidewalks. I'm not against this as a way of subtly connecting site to building - even more important in zero lot-line development where landscaping is virtually non-existent. The image below shows a reflection of the rusted canopy above in perfect shape on the concrete below.

The opposite side of the building is the automobile access area, which is less successful in creating the subtle connection, and begins to look more like a mistake than a happy coincidence of merging materials.

The attention to the interrelationship of building materials is simple and brilliant and makes the building a gem. The connection to the site needs to have that same level of attention and purpose, being able to turn what I'm sure was a known quantity of inevitable concrete staining into something wonderful, instead of detracting from the pedestrian experience - how most people interact and view this building.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day Humor

As a staunch advocate of Earth Day Every Day - the actual date of the big historic 40th anniversary is somewhat unimportant. Much like volunteers rushing to soup kitchens on Thanksgiving - then leaving them abandoned the remainder of the year - the day (or week) offers myriad opportunities for getting out to do service projects, which is great, but isn't just a one-off activity.

:: image via Treehugger

Alas Earth Day is a reminder of how we should live all the time, so as special as the day is, the actual spirit should live on much longer. Treehugger linked to a great site SomeeCards - that offers up a wonderful slice of tongue-in-cheek references to this fine Earth Day worthy of a chuckle or two.

:: image via Treehugger

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Park: Dallas

Following up on the post about freeway capping, a reader alerted me to The Park, a Dallas, Texas based project aimed at reclaiming spaces atop the existing freeway corridor: "Five acres of shared, public green space will deck over the existing Woodall Rodgers Freeway, bringing new traditions, shared experiences and FUN to the center of Dallas."

:: image via The Park

The project was designed by the Office of James Burnett, and a number of pastoral images reinforce the idea of a central gathering space for the City of Dallas: "The Park will serve as a central gathering space for Dallas and its visitors to enjoy in the heart of the city. The 5.2-acre deck park will create an urban green space over the existing Woodall Rodgers Freeway between Pearl and St. Paul streets in downtown Dallas. Plans include a performance pavilion, restaurant, walking trails, a dog park, a children’s discovery garden and playground, water features, an area for games and much more."

:: image via The Park

The sketch imagery is somewhat abstract, not necessarily giving specifics of the design but a more generic version of active spaces (see kites!)

:: image via The Park

While the plans show off some of the descriptive plans and contexts, one of the most odd images, which to me seems straight out of a scene from 1986 version of of Burden's 'Entourage' series is the cafe seating, which is just kind of strange. One wonders what story this is telling?

:: image via The Park

There's also a virtual fly-through of the space, which shows a bit more the experience of the place... while more graphically more sterile, are actually a much better description of the spatial design qualities of the space. Either way you parse the graphics, another viable example of freeway capping to discuss. Check it out.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Garden to Go

An interesting proposal from Marie Hermansson entitled Garden to Go takes the concept of small-scale vertical farming and vending as a method of providing fresh food in cities: "G.T.G. is a self-contained mini hydroponic greenhouse the size of a vending machine; in fact that’s exactly what G.T.G. is—a very green vending machine. The purpose behind the project is partly to provide fresh produce on-site as well as provide education about a healthy diet. G.T.G. would showcase how to grow and provide great food in places where there is poor soil or no soil. On the accompanying web site community members would have an active role in deciding what their G.T.G. system would grow.

:: image via Marie Hermansson

More: "There would be various vegetable and fruit varieties available depending on the needs of that particular community. Due to problems with obesity and limited access to local produce G.T.G. could be a vital tool for non-profit organizations and government organizations in promoting and enabling a healthier society."

:: image via Marie Hermansson

PICA Coop Design Competition

Based on the work from last year to create the Chicken Cube - I was recently asked to serve on a design competition jury put on by SERA Architects to design the perfect chicken coop. The competition was aimed at benefitting the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art (PICA) for their upcoming TADA 2010 Annual Gala by creating an auction item. SERA donated the design time and $500 for materials and Bremik Construction agreed to donate the construction of the coop at the home of the winner of the auction.

The brief was relatively simple - consisting of either a fixed coop or a tractor (movable coop) that had the capacity to house 3 hens. The remainder of the competition was open-ended, with obviously a subtext of a marketable coop design that offered architectural aesthetics and fit within the construction budget ($500 for materials). The winning coop design 'Hen Hedge' by Gary Gola and Jeanie Lai is shown here in a refined format after being chosen as the preferred concept.

Winning Design: Hen Hedge (by Gary Gola + Jeanie Lai)
The modern box offers elegant housing for the chickens, along with a style that blends into the discerning homeowner's exterior decor. The green roof and green wall provide shading along with blending into the landscape, and the design featured the option of either tractor or fixed coop, depending on the needs of the owners. As a blend of inventive and stylistic design, this concept was the best encapsulation of concept that would meet the needs of the auction - to generate interest, and bids, for the item. In short, it was the one people would want to take home.

The coop design went through a bit of refinement after being chosen as the winner, to allow for easier constructability... seen in the images below - which will be the auction item, along with a kit of feeders, watering trough, and yes, even three little pullets to move in immediately.

The full roster of entrants ran the gamut of design concepts from the practical to the architectural - giving a range of options and ideas for housing urban flocks. A short description of the three additional entries is found below:

The Chicken Tractor (Ray Chirgwin)
An elegantly simple tractor using reclaimed materials, this small scale coop design allows for easy movement around the yard. My favorite detail was the use of small galvanized trash receptacles for nest boxes.

Lil' Deuce (Nathan Burton)
The most fully architectural of all the entries, this concept bordered more on folly than coop functionality, making for a beautiful object in the landscape. While beautiful, we felt this would have a specific stylistic appeal but require some work for functionality as a coop.

Chicken Coop de PICA Auction (Andrew Stohner)
A very real coop design, this is something you that many folks would die for in their backyards - fit, functional, and complete, with attention to many of the details of construction and function.

Thanks to Eric Phillips from SERA for the invite to the coop preliminary meetings and jury - as well as my fellow jurors Logan Cravens and Audrey Craig from SERA. For those dying for any of these designs, definitely attend TADA 2010 Annual Gala and bid high and bid often - for the design and support the regional arts community in the process.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Transparent Cells

Arch Daily offers some great imagery from a project by Aristide Antonas, along with collaborators Katerina Koutsogianni & Yannikos Vassiloulis called 'Transparent Cells' which shows a proposal for proposal for a the Architecture School at Delft featuring pixelated spatial arrangements that can be reconfigured as necessary to accomodate new programs. The Hundertwasser-esque vegetal compartments are an interesting addition to a project that seems quite technology driven.

:: image via Arch Daily

A bit of explanation via Arch Daily: "The “buildings” that are supporting the computer cells are formed with the use of new glass technology and they include parts planted with specific light trees sometimes hanging in suspended pots. These living towers offer an immediate populated view, an emblematic image and in the same time an elevation for an architecture school of today....The new common space of such an institution for architecture is configured as a necessarily fragmented school, as a space where everybody uses his small personal “computer cell” in order to contribute in a community."

:: image via Arch Daily

Friday, April 2, 2010

Perils of Urban Chickens

An amusing proposal from Vancouver BC, which recently allowed urban chickens for single- and multi-family owners after a long-standing ban. Via the Vancouver Sun: "Anticipating a wave of buyers’ remorse, city staff are recommending the city build a special shelter for hens they expect will be abandoned by owners having second thoughts." I assume this is a Aprils Fools joke, but comes with such a grain of truth that it made me laugh somewhat uncomfortably...

:: image via Cinema Kingston

Not to make light of what I'm sure will be a rash of feral chickens running amok in neighborhoods, the idea of spending money on a shelter for chickens is pretty silly. Versus dogs, cats, and other domestic animals, chickens are owned and bred for consumption (of eggs and meat) not as pets. While I do adore our chickens and their unique personalities (as much as our other animals), they quickly moved from fluffy adorable pets as chicks to full-fledged egg-producing inhabitants of our back yard farm.

:: image via PSFK

The farmer's distance from pet to plate was short walk in this case. Should there be an ethical dilemma in killing surplus chickens if they cannot be 'adopted' by other willing owners? The meat can be consumed, and in lieu of that, there's also the option of shipping these unwanted feathery friends to actual farms in the peri-urban areas, where th
ey can become productive orphaned members of society, or take turns rotating between urban farms for weeding and invasive species removal.

:: image via Greenline

People unwilling to kill (or have killed) their chickens after they have outlived their egg-laying years are missing the point of chicken ownership - that we must acknowledge and accept life and death as a part of urban farming, just like it has been with food production and consumption for centuries. Not to say I won't cringe when the time comes for the killing cone, but it's necessary, and an obligation that was tacitly accepted through ownership. Seems more humane than the lockup.

:: image via Wikipedia

If owners don't want them, there should obviously be a mechanism for transfer of ownership to avoid any issues (paid for by said owners) - but considering the rarity of this, it's a bit of hollow clucking to assume it's worth real shelter space. Given the eventual uses and options for chickens versus domesticated animals - the proposal for a formalized shelter is ridiculously amusing in April-fools like silliness. That said, it's in our interest to ensure these innocent creatures are kept off the streets, save they fall prey to the perils of the streets that rural transplants are ill-equipped to defend against.

:: image via Flickr - Mark Klotz

But alas, most loose birds will most likely fall to predation (which is pretty common even for those with a home), or get snapped up by someone in the neighborhood in an act of community - much like many a stray cat. It's also unlikely that few to any of these birds will be able to procreate (as is the issue with feral domesticated species) and with said predation, the disproportionately female-centric hen community and lack of opportunistic males to do the deed will render this problem quickly solved. Unless, that is, they assimilate...

:: image via Polish Hill Blogski

Plus, in the spirit of the season, roves of chickens running around town would make for one hell of a fun Easter Egg hunt.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Rooftop Habitats - Dusty Gedge

Urban ecologist Dusty Gedge came to Portland recently for a series of lectures discussing biodiversity for ecoroofs - a topic in need of exploration in our region. His inspiring work in London is an example of the impact that policy and design changes on habitat in urban areas.

:: image via Dusty Gedge

Via KGW: "Wednesday, Dusty Gedge, president of the European Federation of Green-roof Associations, took a tour of some of Portland’s green roof-tops. Gedge says Portland is internationally known for its traditional eco-roofs which help reduce annual storm runoff by about 70 percent. But he says, with a few modifications, the green roofs also provide a home to wildlife like insects and birds."

:: image via Green Roof Consultancy

The modifications he mentioned include developing from a flat monoculture of succulants to increase diversity of substrate, integrate topography, and provide more species diversity. I'd posit that many area rooftops already offer great habitat for insects and birds, and also improve the overall habitat for fish species by providing better water quality. That isn't to say that we shouldn't continue to expand the role of ecoroofs in habitat, as it is vital to moving forward with our knowledge of the potential for these installations in urban areas.

:: image via Green Roof Consultancy

This will require research on how to adapt these for a range of local species of concern, and how to maintain the level of performance with stormwater management and other benefits simultaneously. The other big issue will be education on the benefits balanced with the aesthetic implications of these roofs - as many factors are intertwined in the drivers for implementation of ecoroofs.

Check out some of the coverage from KGW for a tour of area rooftop projects.