Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Architect's Brother

Stunning work by artists Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison worth checking out (link via the always great Landezine).   Not a whole lot of descriptions around to place these - so just soak them in - more at the artists website.  Happy New Year!

:: images via Landezine

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tales from Portlandia

As it is always important to laugh at oneself  - the 6-part IFC Original short-based comedy series PORTLANDIA, created, written by and starring Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein will premiere January 21, 2011 at 10:30 PM ET/PT. Each episode's character-based shorts draw viewers into "Portlandia," the creators' dreamy and absurd rendering of Portland, Oregon.

Bloody brilliant... Can't wait for more.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

More Hidden Rivers

Always a fan of explorations of lost rivers, this one is takes the existing urban pattern and erases the former route of the Fleet River in London (via the Londonist)

"As most readers will know (and we’ve seen first hand), the river is now entirely underground and used as a sewer, but you can still pick out its course in the sloping streets of its former banks and, occasionally, a telltale street name. Reader Simon Dovar is one of many to be intrigued by this vanished river, and has put together a map of its route:  " I did a bit of research to trace the path of the lost River Fleet as it meanders under the streets of London. As you can see the map is completely hand drawn in pencil as well as the street indicators. The river is indicated by the rubbed out streets."  Nice touch – a vanished watercourse marked out in erased pencil lead."
:: image via  The Londonist

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Zappata Romana

The ease of online mapmaking leads to a democratization of the dissemination of all forms of information.  In the spirit of Greenmaps, Italian firm Urban Architecture Project presents Zappata Romana, a simple, icon-based mapping of community-run green spaces on underused and abandoned areas in Rome.

Visualizza “ZAPPATA ROMANA”: community-run green areas _by studioUAP in una mappa di dimensioni maggiori

Some additional information about the project:  "About 50 community-run green areas mapped: little urban gardens, play yards, edible gardens and areas for walking, resting, or simply talking. Citizens and associations acting together to reclaim the abandoned areas in Rome. More than 100 sites together with the 65 spontaneous gardens registered by the Rome municipality.  Urban farms too and other interesting experiences such as Partecipation Houses, “Punti Verdi Qualità” and green areas maintained by established associations." 

Imagine the growing potential, using shared geographical data from a global resource (in this case, the ubiquitous Google Map) - how the layering of information has grown, and will continue to do so, due to tools that are easy to manipulate with little technical expertise and little to no cost.  For a similar project, check out my Beta version of the PDX Greenmap - which aims to feature a range of sustainable sites and strategies around Portland (more info here).

Information=Power [thus]

City Concealed: Staten Island

I previously featured a video from the online video series "The City Concealed" produced by Thirteen, a project of New York station WNET.  The series offers glimpses into some of the terrain vague of the metropolis by: "...exploring the unseen corners of New York. Visit the places you don’t know exist, locations you can’t get into, or maybe don’t even want to. Each installment unearths New York’s rich history in the city’s hidden remains and overlooked spaces." 

The alerted me to a recent video on the Staten Island Greenbelt, which is 2,800 acres of passive natural area and more traditional parkland, a short distance from Manhattan.

A bit of context from a location map shows the full extent of this agglomerated green zone slicing through the center of the island.

A close up shows some of the detail of the connected areas and the juxtaposition of the active and passive elements.

The proximity to Fresh Kills Park is obviously not lost on the potential for expanded greenbelt potential, connecting the southwestern portions to the new park, extending to the western shore of the island.

A quick tour of the recent videos has some great finds, including this one exploring the abandoned Hincliffe Stadium in Paterson, New Jersey and how it is slowly being enveloped by vegetation, and efforts to save this historic resource.

The City Concealed video series explores historical locations around New York City that are either off-limits to the general public, or are otherwise difficult or impossible to see. The City Concealed, now in its third season, is part of THIRTEEN.ORG’s original online video offerings for New Yorkers.

Destinations of the nine upcoming episodes include New York's last Greek Synagogue in the LES; the decommissioned Ridgewood Reservoir; the abandoned Ft. Tilden in The Rockaways; the closed-off High Bridge, plus a few more.

THIRTEEN is owned by the New York public media company WNET.ORG.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Smart Growth

One of the recent awards from the EPA for the 2010 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement went to Portland Metro region for it's 2040 Growth Concept.

Policies, Programs, and Regulations: 2040 Growth Concept, Portland metro, Oregon
EPA says: Metro, the elected regional government of the Portland, Oregon, area, is making sure that future population growth can be accommodated through its “Making the Greatest Place” effort. Building on the 2040 Growth Concept, this effort helps protect current and future residents’ quality of life by providing access to transportation choices, investing in compact communities, and preserving farms and forests.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Digital Canopy (Expanded)

It's intriguing that Google Earth 6 has started populating the virtual 'planet' with 3-Dimensional trees, which together with buildings and terrain offer the opportunity for some reasonable representation of exterior sites.  Right now, only a few cities have been added in selected cities and natural areas:

"I think we can all agree that our planet without trees would be a pretty desolate place. Besides the ever-important task of providing us with the oxygen we breathe, trees are an integral part of the landscape around us. In Google Earth, while we and our users have been busy populating the globe with many thousands of 3D building models, trees have been rather hard to come by. All that is changing with Google Earth 6, which includes beautifully detailed, 3D models for dozens of species of trees, from the Japanese Maple to the East African Cordia to my personal favorite, the cacao tree. While we’ve just gotten started planting trees in Google Earth, we already have more than 80 million trees in places such as Athens, Berlin, Chicago, New York City, San Francisco and Tokyo. Through our Google Earth Outreach program, we’ve also been working with organizations including the Green Belt Movement in Africa, the Amazon Conservation Team in Brazil and CONABIO in Mexico to model our planet’s threatened forests."
A short video from Google, particularly regarding their concept for showing specific species of trees to promote understanding and great conservation.

The problem, of course, is the rendering of trees, which is so often problematic in digital formats as to be more distracting than useful.  The trees are somewhat abstracted, due to the need to provide simple shapes lower memory usage.  (UPDATE: the images previously shown were from the old version of Google Earth - so I have no provided a comparison with these and a city that has the new Google Earth 6 Trees  - thanks to Damian @ World Landscape Architect for the heads up on this).  All images are exports from the Pro version.

Digital Trees (A Comparison)
A contextual overview is somewhat interesting, for instance, Central Park in New York City (which does not have the new trees yet) looks surprisingly robust with the old trees.

Central Park

The new trees - in this case from San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, show a more homogenous and subtle patterning of the canopy, a bit more realistic in the inability to see separate trees, and the lack of repetition.

Golden Gate Park

The distant views at eye level are interesting to provide context for the adjacent buildings, something missing in the sterility of the 3D google earth buildings.  From a flattened view, the Central Park trees do provide a foreground to the adjacent urban edges.

Central Park

Standing in a similar field looking outward, there seems to be a bit more depth in the new 3D trees, and the rendering of individual tree components is more noticeable (maybe it's just the lighter trunks?).  There's obviously less density surrounding Golden Gate park, but the foreground/background relationship of the distant hillside is pretty effective (now when is the Weather on Google Earth going to be perceptible on the ground-level view, which might make the sky look a bit more real).

Golden Gate Park

The whole thing falls apart for the old trees, similar to many other attempted representations of vegetation, at a close-up scale. You can see the X-shaped geometry of the trees (a common way of providing lo-res 3D vegetation) start to give up their individual facets and look a bit strange.

Central Park

While the new 3D trees are an improvement, as you can see a better approximation of the trunk and canopy as well as a distinction between varieties of species.  As anyone that's worked in Sketchup knows, the search for good approximations of trees is a difficult task to find good representations of trees to match diversity of real vegetation.  I think some Google Earth to actual photo matching shots would be interesting to show the differences and see how close these have come to true representation.

Golden Gate Park

An interesting first attempt (check out all of the cities with trees here), but one that still needs a lot of work.  Talking with folks that do a lot of 3D rendering, landscape is always a difficult aspect for a couple of reasons.  The overall complexity of a tree, for instance, is immense - even when compared to a building (which is typically more uniform in shape and is covered with 'flat' materials.  

The Problems of Rendering Trees.
Thinking of a tree as a complex system - there's a infinite branching system of components - trunk, branch, stem, leaf, bud, flower - radiating in 3 dimensions in an ordered, yet flexible paths.  A beautifully rendered tree is a masterpiece, but one that takes a lot of time and memory to accomplish and is a mere snapshot in time of one species, of a certain age, and at a certain time of year.

:: image via Peter Guthrie

Even with the perfect specimen, there are many other factors at work - which in essence requires each one to be slightly different, as well as the ability to capture form at different ages.  Take into account a changing canopy over the 4 seasons - often representing with spring leaf out, coloration, summer full foliage, fall color and leaf drop, and winter branching - and that adds another complex variable to the equation.  A bit simpler for evergreen species, but just think of the number of species of trees that exist in any particular city.  Thus attempts to simplify often create trees which are somewhat cartoony approximations of the real thing.  It boggles the mind - just think what it does to the CPU.

:: Revit Trees - image via YellowBryk

Finally, trees are but one aspect of the landscape - and unless you are living in a park from the picturesque era, most are juxtaposed with a layered structure from overstory, understory, shrubs, and groundcover - especially when viewed from a close-in site scale.  There are programs available that will allow for this complexity - but how many project budgets do you think have this built in, or how many firms have the technological capabilities and personnel to do this type of work. This dilemma becomes evident in the eventual jump from the 3D to more 2D forms of rendering (predominately Photoshop) which allows a snapshot to take on a much richer palette, with less time and expertise - to more accurately render vegetation.  These are relegated to a one-shot image, and lose the potential for fly-throughs and other 3D tools for representation.  The search, alas, continues - for the perfect set of tools.