Friday, May 28, 2010

Portland Photographic Record - Places

A completely different scale from the concentrated landmarks - and perhaps the antidote to the over-documented - comes from the great Portland Grid Project a photographic essay of the city using a loose framework of grid points in which photographers are unleashed to document the 'other' places in the community. The plan, photographers are directed to a confined zone using a AAA City map: "...that was cut into it's individual grid sections and randomly picked each month."

What you get isn't the key points - but a Portland you may know, but rarely notice. Photos include the photographer, grid point, and date taken.

:: JIM CARMIN -M13 11/96 - image via Portland Grid Project

:: ANN KENDELLEN -F6 2/03 - image via Portland Grid Project

:: CHRISTOPHER RAUSCHENBERG -G4 4/00 - image via Portland Grid Project

Some background of this long-standing effort: "
The photographers of the Portland Grid Project spent nine years (1996-2005) systematically documenting this city we live in. Now, with some new faces and perspectives, we continue looking at our ever-changing city in Round Two. We are using a map of Portland divided into grid squares a mile and a half on a side. Each month all of us photograph the same randomly picked square, using a variety of films and formats. At the end of the month, we meet to look at everyone's photos. We estimate that as of this date we have created a complex, detailed urban portrait, consisting of about 20,000 images of Portland, its land forms, architecture, people, residential neighborhoods, industrial sites, waterways, parks, and sometimes just a shadow or the look of fallen leaves on a newly mowed lawn."

I often return to the site to check out the latest - and now that the project has entered Round 2 it becomes an ever growing archive of the true heart and diversity of the city - at least as seen through the lens.

:: GEORGE KELLY - L12 4/08 - image via Portland Grid Project

:: NANCY BUTLER - G9 6/08 - image via Portland Grid Project

:: SHAWN RECORDS - K13 1/05 - image via Portland Grid Project

Portland Photographic Record - Landmarks

The ubiquitous nature of digital data offers unique opportunities to display data about places that tells us a much richer story about ourselves than the actual city. Case in point, spotted via A Daily Dose of Architecture - are these 'Geotaggers' World Atlas' maps generated from geographically tagged data of uploaded photos to popular image sharing websites.

Portland in whole is seen below.

:: image via Flickr - Eric Fischer

Created by Eric Fischer, the maps offer a literal snapshot of snapshots - cataloging the concentration of photographic points of interest in the urban zones. "The maps are ordered by the number of pictures taken in the central cluster of each one. This is a little unfair to aggressively polycentric cities like Tokyo and Los Angeles, which probably get lower placement than they really deserve because there are gaps where no one took any pictures. The central cluster of each map is not necessarily in the center of each image, because the image bounds are chosen to include as many geotagged locations as possible near the central cluster. All the maps are to the same scale, chosen to be just large enough for the central New York cluster to fit. The photo locations come from the public Flickr and Picasa search APIs."

While it would be obvious that the concentrations would show up at a macro-scale, it's fascinating to see some of the more localized effects (and the maps have a large-scale option that allows a clearer picture of data in specific areas). The downtown is a fascinating scribble of data worthy of framing.

:: image via Flickr - Eric Fischer

Some obvious non-centralized photographic landmarks emerge - like the views from highpoints such as the volcanic Mt. Tabor:

:: image via Flickr - Eric Fischer

And the photogenic St. Johns Bridge from Cathedral Park.

:: image via Flickr - Eric Fischer

More interesting are how the photographic lines start to create a map of the density of the city - streaming down major commercial and mixed-use corridors aligning with the land-use patterns - in this case, commercial corridors along East Burnside and to the South.

:: image via Flickr - Eric Fischer

The atlas contains 100 maps of various cities worldwide - find your favorite here.

:: image via Flickr - Eric Fischer

These maps always remind me of a passage from Don Delillo's fabulous novel 'White Noise' regarding a visit to the 'Most Photographed Barn in America', a parable on our relationship with our cultural icons. A passage to sum up:

""Being here is a kind of spiritual surrender. We see only what the others see. The thousands who were here in the past, those who will come in the future. We've agreed to be part of a collective perception. It literally colors our vision. A religious experience in a way, like all tourism."

3rd Coast Atlas

Having resided in Portland for over 13 years, I now consider myself solidly 'West Coast' and an adapted non-native (as opposed to invasive) resident of the Cascadia Megaregion. But 20+ years living literally near the middle and continued explorations of some midwestern cities has given me an appreciation for the third coast - a term I first heard in reference to another fascination, that of audio documentary. A recent announcement of a Call for Submissions for publication in the 3rd Coast Atlas described as: "A platform for research and design initiatives that explore the urbanization, landscape, infrastructure and ecology of the Great Lakes Basin and Great Lakes Megaregion."

:: image via 3rd Coast Atlas

Some information: "Third Coast Atlas is an unprecedented compendium of theoretical essays, maps, scholarly research and design provocations that facilitate a contemporary survey of the urbanization of the Great Lakes Basin, known as the Third Coast. This includes research, analysis and design from scholars and practitioners in the disciplines of architecture, urbanism, landscape, geography and ecology. The book, conceived as an atlas that positions the Great Lakes Basin as a synthetic regional territory with a population of 30 million people and investigates its landscapes as strategic events in the economic, infrastructural and ecological concerns and opportunities of the area."

:: image via 3rd Coast Atlas

The concept of a large internal coastline around the Great Lakes Megaregion/Basin is fascinating given the overall length of area relative to said east and west counterparts (although to be fair both of these coasts extend well into Canada as well, and into Mexico on the west, no?). Having spent time in northern Minnesota (we did a semi-utopian car-free City of Duluth plan as part of a combined arch/la studio in 1995), along with areas of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois it's interesting to think of somewhat disparate parts of this 'coast' tied together by geography and their reference to the lakes making them potentially navigable via boat - something worth of a trip by William Least-Heat Moon. Plus this may just be the excuse I need for another trip to Detroit.

:: image via 3rd Coast Atlas

The call is for scholarly papers, contemporary design projects, mapping/data/information/research, or photography & fill/video stills, making it likely to be a rich multi-media experience. The trio of editors includes Claire Lyster, Charles Waldheim, and Mason White (Thanks @masoncwhite for the heads up via Twitter on this one!

Thursday, May 27, 2010


An amazing if somewhat shocking graphic spotted on A Daily Dose of Architecture, "The above is from Jesse LeCavalier's essay "All Those Numbers" at Places: Design Observer. In it, the architect investigates "the design possibilities latent not only in Walmart’s building types but also in the organizational practices — especially its unparalleled expertise in logistics." LeCavalier's essay is recommended for clearly explaining how Walmart works, its number-centric approach that makes it so BIG but also so fiercely loathed by supporters of the local, especially in cities."

Two words: holy crap.

:: image via Archidose

This brings to mind a quote I read just last night from a fantastic book I'm currently engrossed in - 'Hungry City: How Food Shapes Our Lives' by Carolyn Steel - (review upcoming) - on page 95:

"Reading statistics about Wal-Mart is rather like reading about outer space: the numbers are so huge they don't really sink in. In 2000, The UN reckoned that the company's sales were bigger than the gross domestic product of three quarters of the world's economies. Six years later, those figures had all but doubled."

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Ecological Urbanism: Introduction Part 2

Continuing the investigations of the introduction to the book 'Ecological Urbanism' (read Part 1 here) - we pick up on the concepts of ecological urbanism in the explosion of interest in urban and local food production. Near and dear to my interests, the ability to transform such shrinking cities like Detroit, emulating the lessons and successes of places like Cuba who have created a new pattern of development based on necessity that is counter to the constant globalization we all deem necessary for progress.

:: Cuban Urban Agriculture - image via NEF

Mostafavi posits this could be a reaction to disasters such as Haiti, or the preceding national disaster in the Gulf: "One can also imagine that a city like New Orleans, devastated by Hurricane Katrina and and with little likelihood of major reconstruction any time soon, is ripe for such a project - for an urbanism that can address the vast areas of sparsely populated territory with productive and other forms of biologically diverse urban landscapes just as effectively as it can those areas still populated by a resilient community." (p.39)

Agriculture isn't typically considered in relation to ecology - aside from impacts, but again I think the definition in the book is for an 'ecological approach' versus the standard idea of ecology in pure environmental terms. Thus the idea for shrinking, or rapidly expanding urban areas to tackle the inputs and outputs of flows such as food and waste, using ecological metaphors, as a viable construct for an acti
on-oriented ecological urbanism. This idea draws on and modernizes the regional concepts of Patrick Geddes, Lewis Mumford, and Benton MacKaye, and later revolutionary ecological ideas of Ian McHarg (who makes a cameo in the end of the book). The key is using our collective interdisciplinary intelligence to fill in some of the gaps in these earlier theories and apply them to a variety of global social and geographical situations.

:: Geddes' Valley Section - image via Goodspeed Update

Mostafavi gives an example of the resistance in African urban areas to top-down policies, requiring more integrated and 'participatory' methods that work in a range of cultural contexts. "Ecological urbanism must provide the necessary and emancipatory infrastructures for an alternative form of urbanism, on that brings together the benefits of both bottom-up and top-down approaches to urban planning." (p.40)

The question, I guess, is how? It seems that flexibility is the key, with a radical change in fixed rules in cities to a more adaptable set of criteria to guide development (again hearkening back to LU theory) particularly when Western designers are operating in vastly different cultural circumstances (I'd throw in McDonough working in China as one example). Bateson's 'tightrope walker' is a great one, with the idea of technique bolstered by repetition as an apt metaphor for 'practice'.

:: Olympic Architecture in China - image via Chinese Architecture

And practice is at the heart of any concept, including Ecological Urbanism, to make it less of a theoretical construct and more of a guide for action that is called for early in this chapter. Two examples worthy of exploration: First the theory of Landscape Urbanism is a vibrant terrain for
r changing the nature of static, fixed design which has been difficult to realize in built work - making in difficult if not impossible to provide a viable proof-of-concept. Conversely, New Urbanism contains a vibrant set of theories and rules, which have been broadly adapted, with most criticism leveled at the application, which often seems disconnected from what seem like good base principles. Appropriate theory and viable practice will be the touchstone for Ecological Urbanism to prove out (which I'm hoping is illuminated in the remaining essays of the text).

An example is the concept of developing Paris as a sustainable city, at the
urging of French President Sarkozy. Instead of the traditional approach of planning, policy, then project - this concept flipped the tables by looking for projects. As Mostafavi concludes: "The early emphasis on projects rather than policies is a recognition of the value of projective possibilities for the physical development of the region. This type of speculative design is a necessary precondition for making radical policies that are embedded in imaginative and anticipatory forms of spatial practice." (p.47)

:: Visions of Paris by Roland Castro - image via France 24

While it is unclear how this project in Paris will play out, the idea of the "...articulation of the interface, the liminal space, between the urban and the political," (p.48) is at the heart of the idea of ecological urbanism within the context of this essay. Similar to the LU Theory, versus the ideas of the City Beautiful or New Urbanism mentioned previously, "...this approach does not rely on the image, nor on social homogeneity and nostalgia, as its primary sources of inspiration, but rather recognizes the importance of the urban as the necessary site of conflictual relations." (p.48)

The idea of conflict is important as a referent to ecology, as it doesn't describe a constructed, false ideology of community but one that is developed based on root instincts and flows of materials. This is embedded in an approach that includes 'social and spatial democracy' (p.50) that would be a result of this new approach. This is even more critical as we confront global economic uncertainty and continual emergence of man-caused 'natural disasters' which will influence larger numbers of people world-wide." Mostafavi concludes:

"In this context, it is now up to use to develop the aesthetic means -- the projects -- that proposal alternative, inspiring, and ductile sensibilities for our ethico-political interactions with the environment. These projects will also provide the stage for the messiness, the unpredictability, and the instability of the urban, and in turn, for more just as well as more pleasurable futures. This is both the challenge and the promise of ecological urbanism." (p.50)

So obviously one cannot make an assessment of the book based on the initial chapter, but I'm heartened by the approach implicit that frames the content, not as an 'answer' as much as a line of critical inquiry that builds on and frames previous explorations of landscape urbanism, ecological design, sustainable planning, and green design in a more interdisciplinary and flexible manner. Thus my take away was this isn't necessarily to see a brave new theory (which was the case when initially reading about landscape urbanism). Rather this seems another name for an interdisciplinary consolidation (perhaps a necessary one) of multiple theories already happening in multivalent pathways.

One doesn't come out with a feeling that 'ecological urbanism' is the answer - much like many of the other 'urbanisms' out there have a focus but not a broad inclusivity. Perhaps it's the baggage of the term 'ecological' that confounds me (much as the baggage of the term 'landscape' shapes LU theory) - as it doesn't seem a coherent enough idea to direct us in any particular direction. It does seem to be able to envelope and shape practice, but again it seems with enough supporting information, it would be easy to look at a range of projects within a lens of Ecological Urbanism, and connect some of the dots.

In summary, I am excited to dig into the rest of the volume (although it is daunting) to explore what ideas are contained within. While this seems a first step on a path towards urbanism that is more inclusive and equitable, this isn't a roadmap. But it just may prove pivotal in changing the mindset of a broad spectrum of professionals and policy-makers, this is the dawn of a 'new ethic s and aesthetics of the urban.' Guess we shall see.


As I mentioned, I plan on tackling some of the other portions of the book in subsequent posts so look forward to subsequent posts loosely based on the sections of the book: Anticipate, Collaborate, Sense, Curate, Produce, Interact, Mobilize, Measure, Adapt, and Incubate... stay tuned.

There is the trend towards what I recently dubbed 'Fill in the Blank' Urbanism, which is spawned by a deep discussion of the nature and potential of Landscape Urbanism - and is a reaction to the myriad 'urbanisms' that seem to pop up - so look forward to other investigations along these lines in addition to the 'ecological' - particularly two books I'm currently reading on the 'integral' and the 'agricultural' versions of this trend.

Also in the past few weeks, I was further tempted by a series of posts from the past couple of weeks on Urban Tick with a range of contributed posts on the book by Duncan Smith, Luis Suarez, DPR-Barcelona, Annick Labecca, Martin John Callanan, Stanza, Kiril Stanilov. I resisted reading the bulk of these until I got around to the book review - but was not disappointed. Check out the range of posts under the label Ecological Urbanism to get a wide reaction to the books content.

Ecological Urbanism - Introduction Part 1

'Ecological Urbanism' (640 pages, Lars Müller Publishers; 1 edition (May 1, 2010) edited by Mohsen Mostafavi with Gareth Doherty) literally arrived with a thud last week, the 650 page brick like tome touching down on the front step of the house with much anticipation. Tempted as I was, a number of deadlines made me hold back a few days before cracking it open.

A bit of background... The previous 2009 conference at the GSD kicked off the overall dialogue in April of last year - I was really bummed not to be able to attend, but happy that they have access to proceedings of which are captured here in a number of informative podcasts a few months later which really captured the essence of the conference in the actual words. The book was eagerly awaited, and rumors of it's massive size and breadth were floating around prior to it's actual release. A preliminary snapshot from the back cover:

"While climate change, sustainable architecture, and green technologies have become increasingly topics, issues surrounding the sustainability of the city are much less developed. The premise of this book is that an ecological approach is urgently needed as an imaginative and practical method for addressing existing as well as new cities.

Ecological urbanism
considers the city with multiple instruments and with a worldview that is fluid in scale and disciplinary focus. Design provides the synthetic key to connect ecology with an urbanism that is not in contradiction with its environment. ... with the goal of providing a multilayered, diverse, and nuanced understanding of ecological urbanism and what it might be in the future. The promise is nothing short of a new ethics and aesthetics of the urban."
While book jackets are supposed to strive for hyperbole, 'a new ethics and aesthetics of the urban' is quite a goal, even for a book of this size. The book didn't however disappoint with a list of contributors too numerous to list in total - but spanning a range of disciplines from landscape architecture, architecture, urban design, planning, engineering, ecology, science, economics and social science to name a few. The marked mix of academic and non-academic voices was also evident and welcome - as this wasn't just another heady treatise from the ivory tower but a combination of application spanning theory and practice.

So in this introductory post on the book I wanted to focus on the early chapter by Mohsen Mostafavi to delve into the specifics that define Ecological Urbanism. I plan on tackling some of the other portions of the book in subsequent posts, but wanted to use this as a general review of the content and introductory material. Look forward to subsequent posts loosely based on the sections of the book: Anticipate, Collaborate, Sense, Curate, Produce, Interact, Mobilize, Measure, Adapt, and Incubate... stay tuned.

Why Ecological Urbanism? Why Now?
Mohsen Mostafavi

This introductory chapter addresses the question at hand that most people think of in relation to this or any other method of urbanism. What is it, and why is it the answer. Mostafavi adds the term 'why now?' which maybe is an indication of the evolutionary chain of the urban (picking up on threads of landscape urbanism and ecological design in a more meaningful and applied way perhaps?)

One aspect of the argument is the somewhat dubious claim that sustainable architecture lacks sophistication and requires a lifestyle change to accompany poor design. This may have been true in the fledgling sustainability of the 1970s and 80s, but the last 15 years, with apologies to Mr. Gehry's latest rant, has made significant contribution to better move design aware from pure art to a more balanced approach. That said, LEED and sustainability for all of it's good - has probably been detrimental to design as a pure form, but again - we're not creating disassociated works of art, but places for people that must exist within our ecological reality.

The second point, and the more important, is the question of scale. The scope of impacts of singular buildings limits the impact and a realization of urbanism and infrastructure becomes more vital links to true sustainability. As Mostafavi points out, "...there is a need to find alternative design approaches that will enable us to consider the large scale differently than we have done in the past." (p.13) Apart from a building, urbanism requires work within different and complex economic, political, social, and cultural frameworks. Additionally, true integration of ecological systems requires a necessary adjustment of scale (beyond the site) and strategies (interdisciplinary) to accommodate the larger contextual framework in which they operate.

:: Extreme Weather Events: Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, 2005 - image via The Canary Project

The integration of ecology requires one to define what they mean - in order to understand it's connection to the urban. Mostafavi points of the inherent difference between city and ecology - but also misses a key element in modern ecology by referring to as correctly, " emphasis on the interrelationship of organisms and the environment..." but using an antiquated notion of the concept by mentioning that this includes, "... an emphasis that invariably excludes human intervention." (p.17)

It is unlikely that any ecological science is still rooted in the purely non-human, as ecology seems to have embraced the need to look contextually at the impacts from humans as one of the organism within these complex relationships. While we may isolate interactions to more pure forms of biological focus, any applied ecology - in order to be considered relevant - has included humans as actors in the study for many years, such as called on by Paul Sears - and not just those subsets such as Human Ecology but discipline-wide to study and provide information to deal with human impacts on the ecosystems. In this case, perhaps ecology is even more of an appropriate vehicle, as it's changing ideology to include the human, and work within the environments humans occupy, make ecological urbanism much more viable of a strategy.

:: Alberta Oil Sands - image via Encyclopedia of Earth

This distinction of what we mean by ecology is important - particularly when used as a the foundation for a concept. Like other 'urbanisms' that get appended with a modifier, the definition of the modifier in this context important, as a word like ecology is fraught with misconceptions that could minimize the impact (like sustainable urbanism, or landscape urbanism for instance). You either make the concept impossible to define, or able to define anything.

The key to Mostafavi's definition is the idea of action and opportunity which I think is the root of the concept, as he mentions "...we need to view the fragility of the planet and its resources as an opportunity for speculative design innovations rather than a form of technical legitimation for promoting conventional solutions... Imagining an urbanism that is other than the status quo requires a new sensibility - one that has the capacity to incorporate and accommodate the inherent conflictual conditions between ecology and urbanism. This is the territory of ecological urbanism." (p.17)

:: Wheatfield - A Confrontation (Agnes Denes) - image via

Building on this idea of human ecology, the conversation drifts to 'ecosophy' including environment, social relations, and human subjectivity, with an "...emphasis on the role that humans play in relation to ecological practices." (p.22) No where is this more important to realize than in the design professions, making human significance, both the individual and the collective, a necessary component that should be at the heart of all design. Mostafavi concludes:
"Such a radical approach, if applied to the urban domain, would result in a form of ecological design practice that does not simply take account of the fragility of the ecosystem and the limits on resources but considers such conditions the essential basis for a new form of creative imagining." (p.22,26)
Rather than frame this concept as all new (thankfully) it does acknowledge a combination approach of old and new practices working in tandem, "...providing a set of sensibilities and practices that can enhance our approaches to urban development..." working towards "...a cross-disciplinary and collaborative approach toward urbanism developed through the lens of ecology." (p.26)

This brings to bear the idea of retrofitting, displayed by the Promenade Plantee in Paris, which was one of the major precedents to the modern incarnation of the High Line. Rather than de
molish and replace, the retention of this is both ecological and strategic... "Given the undulating topography of the city, the promenade affords an ever-changing sectional relationship to its surroundings. As a result, the park produces a different experiences of the city compared, for example, to that of a Parisian boulevard." (p.26,28) As an adjunct, the High Line could be even more ecological, taking the same approach but adding dimensions of more appropriate, non-ornamental vegetation that pulls from the opportunistic vegetation that colonized the derelict elevated line prior to redevelopment.

:: Promenade Plantee - image via AmericinParis

The work of rehabilitation in sides can span from building scale (such as the Caixa Forum Madrid seen below) to the more expansive post-industrial development of sites such as the fabulous Duisburg-Nord Landscape Park by Peter Latz. Mostafavi mentions "...the site acts as mnemonic device for the making of the new. The result is a type of relational approach between the terrain, the built, and the viewer's participatory experiences." (p. 28) Which sounds to me, a bit like an human ecological urban approach.

:: Caixa Forum Madrid - image via David Grajal

The methods of taking on these sites draw from a number of examples with have been predominately featured in landscape urbanism literature, such as competitions for Downsview Park and the OMA submittal for the Parc de la Villette competition (won by Tshcumi) - both of which feature the idea of 'programmed surfaces' as opposed to deterministic design. The Downsview submittals, along with the much more prominent Fresh Kills Park competition entries - venture more towards the ecological, but the OMA submission for la Villette proposal was one of the best examples of interdisciplinary alignment of architecture, landscape architecture and urbanism that led to a re-emergence of landscape and ecology in the conceptual framework of designers.

:: OMA - Parc de la Villette - image via a spatial choreography of motion

The blurring of interdiscplinary lines, at least for some of us in landscape architecture & urbanism is long-overdue, and I don't think it will mean the breakdown of discipline-specific knowledge, but rather a better outcome for these projects. Mostafavi mentions this, but concludes the necessity versus working in isolation: "While a collaborative mode of working among various areas of design expertise is mandatory in thinking about the contemporary and future city, the transdisciplinary approach of ecological urbanism gives designers a potentially more fertile means of addressing the challenges facing the urban environment." (p. 29) I'd take this a step further to include a much broader interdisciplinary grouping that includes not just traditional design and planning professionals, but representatives from ecological, cultural, and social sciences as core members of any team.

Shifting to scale, the idea of ecology, much like what has been posited in landscape urbanism, is that it is a much more appropriate mode of inquiry to multi-scalar investigations as opposed
to singular building architecture. Urbanism in it many forms seems to embrace this, and ecology, along with a range of human-centered studies, gives us the ability to understand and "...ultimately provide the most synthetic and valuable material for alternative multi-scalar design strategies." (p.30)

Mostafavi mentions the work of Andrea Branzi (Archizoom) and different modes of looking at urbanism, particularly one that is less based on planning determinism but on "...the fluidity of the city, its capacity to be diffuse and enzymatic in character." (p.30) This symbiotic urbanism looks at art, agriculture, and network culture, with a focus on "...its capacity to be reversible, evolving, and provisory." (p.30) which feeds into the idea of ecological indeterminacy in many concrete ways.

:: No Stop City (Archizoom) - image via Design History Lab

The strategic implementation of ecological urbanism is the action-oriented mode of practice - referenced in the text similarly to urban acupuncture, where: "...the interventions in and transformations of an area often have a significant impact beyond the percieved physical limits." While ecology is one frame work, there are myriad cultural and political systems that must be incorporated - and if not purely ecological in nature - can be organized and communicated in design through the use of ecological methods. "One of the major challenges of ecological urbanism is therefore to define the conditions of governance under which it could operate that would result in a more cohesive regional planning model." (p.30)

By taking on the specifics of urbanism (real, ugly, dirty urbanism) - requires a different idea of design. Affordable housing, use of vacant lots, code-rewriting, traffic, trash, obesity, funding, and all other issues that tend to be dismissed in Utopian ideals (or even our modern city planning proposals). We give this to municipal maintenance and operations to be dealt with, rather than thinking of these flows as systems to be accommodated during design and planning. Ecological urbanism ensures that the flows in and out of materials are addressed - and planned for in meaningful ways, building on the somewhat shallow sustainability policies that have emerged in many cities worldwide.

:: Naples Garbage Strike - image via Fire Earth

It is vital that we have examples of this working, such as those discussed in Banham's Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies, which takes on the city not in relation to what we should create, but rather celebrates the opportunistic methods (good and bad) that led to the creation of the metropolis. This includes understanding and expressing the flows in our cities as opportunities for cultural expression. As Mostafavi mentions the ideas of water features historic role in connecting city to water, but "... on the whole we underutilize the unexpected opportunities afforded by ecological practice as well as the location." (p.36) I'd posit that a variety of ecological designers have been doing just this for years, but as singular sites or installations, and rarely as large scale public works (although Dreiseitl, Wenk, and others may be precedents we can explore).

:: Growing Vine Street (Buster Simpson) - image via Happy Hotelier

This introductory review is continued in Part 2.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Ephemeral Urban Gardens: Installations

Examples of ephemeral productive agricultural landscapes give an indication of the possibilities of occupation of urban sites for education and growing food.


A recent installation called Landgrab City as part of the Shenzhen & Hong Kong bi-city Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture. Designers Joseph Grima, Jeffrey Johnson and José Esparza have created a farm in the middle of an urban square in Shenzhen, China. (via Inhabitat / Dezeen).

:: image via Dezeen

Not just an urban farm, the project is a metaphor for local agricultural production. "Conceived as an experimental investigation into the full extent of Shenzhen’s spatial footprint, the installation is comprised of two parts: an map of one of the city’s dense downtown area, home to approximately 4.5m people, and a plot of cultivated land divided into small lots."

:: image via Dezeen

More from Dezeen: "This land is a representation, at the same scale as the map, of the amount of territory necessary to provide the food consumed by the inhabitants of the portion of city sampled in the map, projected to 2027 (the year China is expected to overtake the US as the world’s leading economy)."

:: image via Dezeen

"Landgrab City is an attempt to visually represent the broader spatial identity of the 21st century metropolis; it proposes a new spatial definition of the city and thereby a more complex understanding of urbanism, one that no longer considers city limits as the boundary of its remit, but instead looks beyond – even across international borders – to the spatial, social, economic and political implications of the planet’s rapid urbanization."

:: image via Dezeen

The educational aspects are evident - even if the overall metaphor is less visible. The connection of people to knowledge of the foods they consume is necessary as we move from agriculturally focused living to the majority of people living in urban areas. This confrontation of the site right in a dense urban area gives a powerful statement as a visible connection of farm to city.

:: images via Dezeen

A second proposal, via VULGARE, is a "City Eco Lab together was l’Ilot d’Amaranthes,a five-year-long project in which St Etienne designer Emanuel Louisgrand, in partnership with Galerie Roger Tator, has created productive gardens on abandoned sites in different parts of Lyon."

:: image via VULGARE

The site specificity of each intervention allows us to apply concepts that fit the context and needs based on the surrounding areas and the site characteristics: "L’Ilot d’Amaranthes is a perfect model of the kind of activity that we need to see in every city and town. What shines out from the project is that each intervention is unique to that place and that time. This is a sustainable way of thinking: Understanding what makes each place unique, and then defining tools and infrastructures that can be adapted to it."

:: image via VULGARE

Ephemeral Urban Gardens: Temporality + Mobility

The last remnants of ephemera sitting around the archives is under the auspices of terrestrially based gardens within the foodsheds of our cities, and - and the need to address the issues of permanence (both the pros and cons). One option is to incorporate food production within our permanent landscaping by using the principles of permaculture to imbue these spaces with productive elements. While gardens in our cities that are permanent fixtures are a necessary element to complement density, parkland, and natural open spaces, there are hundreds of acres of available land and other spaces that can be utilized for growing food - to both take advantage of the temporary availability, and make urban agriculture visible to city dwellers.

:: image via Inhabitat

The use of brownfields brings up many issues (read about Portland's issues here) - but are for the most part compatible with . Check out this EPA report on brownfields and urban agriculture for some data on the subject. In addition, many recent proposals aim to and have the ability to provide temporary occupation of sites - requiring the mobility necessary to move sites on a yearly or short term basis without issues of displacement - maximizing the return on investment by being nimble - a very anti-slow food ideaology - but a necessary one to benefit our cities in productive ways.

:: Garden to Go - image via Designboom

The visible aspect of gardens can take on elements of public art, such as the Sharecropper Micro Farm project - and art installations in NYC cultivating heirloom vegetables at multiple, simple locations through the City.

:: image via Inhabitat

Small modular ideas abound such as the 10x10 project from MIT and Columbia University 'Urban Design Labs', a modest proposal via City Farmer "To help production, the group advocates widespread adoption of small-scale innovations such as “lawn to farm” conversions in urban and suburban areas, and the “10 x 10 project,” an effort to develop vegetable plots in schools and community centers. Lawns require more equipment, labor and fuel than industrial farming nationwide, yet produce no goods. But many vegetables, including lettuce, cucumbers and peppers, can be grown efficiently in small plots."

:: image via City Farmer

This simple planter based idea from Tokyo Green Space highlights the ability to grow food in simple containers and small spaces - in this case neighborhood rice - which are easy to multiple to scale production.

:: image via Tokyo Green Space

Small scale interventions also can include such expanded ideas as aquaponics, such as these personal solutions from Aquaponics USA. Beyond small (which is preferential for mobility), actual transportation and movement of planters is often problematic, as the building of soil along with community is an aspect of gardens we seem conflicted about - and often reduces our ability to occupy any spaces. We need to re-frame the temporal notions of occupation of spaces - and also what's allowed in cities.

:: image via Inhabitat

A couple of recent ideas come from both two North American cities. First, from San Diego, is The Farm Proper, a ", urban farm under development in the lot behind THE BAKERY, the Set & Drift and mi-workshop collaborative studio space in Barrio Logan. The Farm Proper is an experimental project created by a collaborative of artists, designers, and backyard growers to inspire urban cultivation and pocket farms. Using abandoned/defunct shopping carts as our medium, we have designed a scenario to take over a temporarily available industrial lot to provide the community with organically grown food."

:: image via City Farmer

Another is called the 'Mobile Food Collective' which is a student project from Archeworks:
"The students envision the Mobile Unit as the place where communities will come together and participate in their food heritage. At the Mobile Unit people can gather for discussions, to archive recipes, exchange seeds, share meals and participate in demonstrations on planting, growing and cooking their own food. A fleet of bikes with custom trailers accompanies the Mobile Unit. The bikes carry farming and gardening tools and transport the "mods," the nesting storage bins below the table, which house programming material. The accompanying bikes can also be used to deliver CSA boxes and are dispersed throughout a community to alert and direct residents to programming happening at the Mobile Unit."

:: image via Mr. Brown Thumb

This FEMA trailer offers a mobile brand (via Treehugger) - similar to the food cart/mobile restaurant phemomenon - also included with the Truck Farm in Brooklyn, and this mobile greenhouse. Another is "The Armadillo, a FEMA trailer that was transformed into a mobile, vertical community garden by MIT students and faculty."

:: image via Treehugger

Bagsacs are one example - shown recently on Designboom - offering mobility and temporary placement:

:: image via Designboom

A few variants include more temporary bags - such as these in Kenya to combat hunger issues and lack of farmland.

:: image via City Farmer

Or suitcase 'gardens' with built in portability, via Moco Loco.

:: image via Moco Loco

The temporality is an issue worth exploring, and the ideas of ephemeral spaces such as Pop-Up Parks or other Pavement to Parks initiatives and give some precedence that can be applied to urban agriculture: An example from the NY Times for an irregular-shaped parcel on loan for a finite time and used for an art-space. "Appropriately — given that the lot is on loan for about three years from developers who had hoped to build there by now — the project will be called LentSpace." There is not reason this couldn't be a model for agriculture instead of just ornamental plantings.

:: image via NY Times

From a farming perspective, this offers opportunities even without the investment of raised planters, such as Hayes Valley Farm in San Francisco, which is a vacant parcel that will be occupied for 2-5 years depending on the eventual development path of the site (i.e. a building).

:: image via Inhabitat

Mobility also includes mapping - which offers great promise for access to food - such as online resources for gleaning - such as the 'Find Fruit' app for I-phone.

:: image via People and Place

Finally, perhaps it bleeds into concepts of maintenance, as large swaths of rooftop greening could support herds of urban sheep that can be moved around periodically, and also be used for sustainable production of wool and eventually meat. The possibilities, as they say, may be endless.

:: image via Gardenvisit