Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mississippi Modelling

An article that came up amidst discussions on the Landscape Urbanism Reader revisits the question of scale brought by up Linda Pollak in her essay 'Constructed Ground'.   On Design Observer, Kristi Dykema Cheramie investigates the wonderful history of the massive model built to simulate river conditions in her essay The Scale of Nature: Modeling the Mississippi River.

:: images via Design Observer

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

RBC: Notes on the Third Ecology | Kwinter

Notes on the Third Ecology | Sanford Kwinter

Kwinter used the dichotomy of city/nature, rooting in our historic perceptions that evolved in the Industrial era.  As mentioned, this concept is characterized by a time "...when immense upheavals in social, economic, and political life transformed the very landscape around us and our relationship to it irreversibly and in depth.” (94)

In essence, the evolution of cities had previously existed in tandem with available natural resources, which limited their size and scope. Technological improvements in transportation and the accumulation of wealth shifted us from local dependence on surrounding nature.  This has continued in our technologically advanced modern society, as Kwinter explains:

“Three billion of earth’s citizens today live in cities, and virtually all of the exponential growth in population anticipated over the next fifty years will be urban. A significant number of those who do not live in physical urban environments increasingly live in psychic ones...” (98)
This concept of modernization leads us to the desire to 'clean up' areas that don't fit a specific conceptual idea of use or style.  This originally persisted in slum clearance which replaced the squalid with placelessness, trading one dysfunctional environment for another.  We continue this idea of 'modernization' in many cities today, as Kwinter points to, such as Beijing’s Hutongs or the focus of the remainder of the essay: Dharavi slum quarter in Mumbai, where he mentions that “Current ameliorative development in cities targets the archaic physical structures and the archaic social lifeforms that adhere to them.” –  (99)

The concept of 'modernization' and 'fixing' problems in this case is based on a different set of cultural expectations that those held by the people of slums like Dharavi  which are driven by the "...intensity of its local commerce, the vastness and ubiquity of its social markets, which are virtually coextensive with its metropolitan fabrics.” (99)  This includes economies that exist on the detritus of modernity, such as the secondary economy of recycling of materials.

:: Dharavi slum - image via Indian Adventures

These economies have existed (persisted) for centuries, "part of an ancient ecological and urban web." (100) which allows these areas to function.  It is suprising to hear that Dharavi creates it own sort of socio-ecological structure that is self-supporting but also supports the larger metropolis of Mumbai in which it is located.  Again Kwinter explains:
“Though it may be the world’s largest slum, it has 100 percent employment. But Dharavi is also a city in itself, and its streets and alleys know no distinction between work and social space or even domestic or residential functions… Although sanitation, water, and sewerage represent acutely serious problems in Dharavi, it nonetheless represents the veritable lungs, liver, and kidneys of greater Mumbai, as it cleans, reprocesses, removes, and transforms materials – and adds value – that are endemic to the economic and material functioning of greater Mumbai and beyond.” (101)
While rife with issues of poverty and social inequality, this 'community' has an identity, "a place of visible and palpable civic pride…” (102) and function that will be permanently destroy by processes to 'fix' and 'modernize' it, through clearance and rebuilding.

 :: Dharavi slum - image via Black Tansa

Kwinter elaborates on this point of the double-edged sword of slum clearance::
“Although such urban transformations are always done in the name of remediation and modernization and presented as a way to transfer prosperity to ever greater numbers of inhabitants, it is clear that the effects in this case will not only be cultural and political but will have profound ecological impacts, both existentially and in terms of the efficient means – currently at risk of being lost – by which raw materials have traditionally cycled over and over through the system.” (102)
Instead of clearance per se, but a true accounting of the human ecology and perhaps the ability to learn from and expand our worldview by studying these cities and their ad hoc principles of slum urbanism.  Kwinter quotes Thomas Friedman in this context, mentioning that “We may well learn over the next years that cities, even megacities, actually represent dramatically efficient ecological solutions, but this fact alone does not make them sustainable, especially if the forces of social invention remain trapped in tyrannies that only ecological thinking on an ecumenical scale can free us from.” (103)

:: Dharavi recycling economies - image via Life

Thus the imposed order of what constitutes the appropriate ecological city is in need of re-evalution.  Kwinter evokes Guattari’s ‘existential ecologies’ a “concept intended to compromise everything that is required for the creative and dynamic inhabitation and utilization of the contemporary environment.” (104) as a frame for reconciling this condition, and folding the social and natural together into a coherent, non-dichotomous idea of city & nature. As explained:
"...the cultural and social dimensions of our environment as rooted in the natural - are poorly theorized and understood, and at any rate insufficiently acknowledged.  Yet they are the key components of our ecology, without which none of the other parts could fit." (104)

The importance of studying these areas is evident, as “we are still unable to imagine most of the changes required of us, nor even to imagine the scale of required change as possible… it does pose an unprecedented challenge to the design community to serve as an organizing center for the variety of disciplines and systems of knowledge whose integration is a precondition for connecting them to clear political and imaginative and, most important, formal ends.” (105)  The precedents of Dharavi and restraint in creating order out of their inherent chaos is a challenge to our mindset as planners and designers, but the new complexities of our contemporary urban condition demand a level of acceptance and understanding never before realized.

(from Ecological Urbanism, Mostafavi & Doherty, eds. 2010, p.94-105)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

RBC: Urban Earth: Mumbai

Urban Earth: Mumbai  |  Raven-Elison & Askins

Urban Earth, with studies in Mumbai, Mexico City, and London:  Their approach: “walking across some of Earth’s biggest urban areas, to explore their spatial realities for the people who live there and challenge dominant media discourses regarding the places in which most of us now live.  The idea is to walk a transect across an urban area, taking a photograph every ten steps.” (84) 

The concept reminds me of Christopher Girot's essay 'Vision in Motion' in the Landscape Urbanism Reader (Waldheim, 2006), on the role of new representational techniques and the ability to document the interstitial, non-destination spaces, echoing Conan, the 'black holes' in the urban fabric that   “...have become the dominant feature of peripheries and urbanized countries… need to consider these long non-entities as probably equally significant as the most celebrated vistas…” (Waldheim 2006, p.100)

Each frame becomes a story which is fascinating on it's own although nothing you would typically document in the day to day.  Here's a random image of London from their Flickr stream...

And the transect is also interesting as an experience, alluding to Girot's new representational techniques, as seen in this great video of the stitched together for Mexico City:

(from Ecological Urbanism, Mostafavi & Doherty, eds. 2010, p.84-93)

RBC: Mumbai on My Mind | Bhabha

Mumbai on My Mind: Some Thoughts on Sustainability   |  Homi Bhabha

:: Mumbai Slum - image via Lost & Found

“It is always too early, or too late, to talk of the ‘cities of the future.’ (78)

Bhabha uses this essay to frame the idea of sustainability and innovation, mentioning that “Any claim to newness, any proposal that we are ‘at the turning point’ of history, urbanity, or ecology, is at once a historical commitment and a tendentious and transitional proposition.” (78)

When we shift this new 'newness' towards the ecological, and the shift from old ideas of succession and stability - those that now naively “take courage from texts that seem to stress the crucial importance of ‘momentary equilibrium’ in ecological thinking…"  and evolving to the 'eco-logic in Guattari’s The Three Ecologies, which is "...defined as a ‘process, which I here oppose to system or to structure, [and which] strives to capture existence in the very act of its constitution, definition, and deterritorialisation.” (79)

To discuss process, we much include more than the spatial.  And while the overall issue of sustainability is inherently spatial, Bhabha expands this notion to focus instead on the ideas of temporality and the role that it plays in the agency of the ecologist.
“The most prosaic, dictionary definition of sustainability suggests that it is a city designed or landscaped in such a way as to ensure that continued conservation of natural resources and the surrounding built environment while providing the cultural, social, and economic base needed to support its inhabitants.  It seems natural that the normative ‘measures’ of the discourses of ecology or sustainability are spatial.  However, in that innocent-sounding phrase ‘to ensure the continued conservation,’ we move from territoriality or ‘ground’ – landscape, city, forest, industrial park – to an ecological temporality – the continued conservation  - that supports or ‘houses’ the agency and ethical activity of the ecologist.” (79)
Thus spatial components never existing in a vacuum, but are managed by the ideas of agency/activism in this context is:  “to intervene in the urban existence in the present tense: in the very act of its constitution, its being fixed-into-being.” (80)  

There is the added complexity then to "calculate the ‘time’ of environmental intervention.  Not ‘time’ is not as abstract a quantity, as discussions of temporality sometimes suggest.  When time becomes the medium of agency or the vehicle of urban ecological interventions, then… temporality becomes intimately connected to governmental policy and bureaucratic decree – code, site, and practice.” (80)  This is time in a more premeditated temporality, again, not relying on 'nature' to continue on its linear road towards a stable equilibrium, but shaped by the agency of the various actors working for (or against) it.  It makes one think of this agency as substituting for 'disturbance' in modern ecological thinking as a generator of change.

The notions then of spatiality, coupled with temporality and agency, enable an ecological urbanism to transcend the static models and become process oriented in the model of its ecological origins.

(from Ecological Urbanism, Mostafavi & Doherty, eds. 2010, p.78-83)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

RBC: Zeekracht (OMA)

Zeekracht | OMA

A related follow-up to the essay by Koolhaas, this short essay explores Zeekracht, a master plan for the North Sea, driven by it's "high wind and consistent wind speeds and shallow waters..." making it "...arguably the world's most suitable area for large-scale wind farming."  The project master plan (below) outlines the strategy.  "Rather than a fixed spatial plan, proposes a system of catalytic elements, that, although intendted for the present, are optimized for long-term sustainability." (72)

From an ecological perspective the proposal looks to incorporate elements call 'Reefs' which are described as "simulated marine ecologies reinforcing the natural ecosystems (and eco-productivity) of the sea." (72)

The local implementation is "...designed to be sited, programmed, and phased to meet the evolving demands and plans of North Sea regional development," fulfilling the potential of the area as "...a major player in global energy production and trade through wind power alone." Aside from the energy potential, there is the idea thinking of this in tandem with ecological restoration, as "Farms developed along ecological zones and around existing decomissioned platforms create marine remediation areas, new recreational parks, and recreational sea routes." (72)

The project offers the example mentioned by Koolhaas as a "combination of politics and engineering" (71) that is essential to attain and ecological urbanism, attaining both productivity and remediation: 

images via OMA website
more from the official Zeekracht site

(from Ecological Urbanism, Mostafavi & Doherty, eds. 2010, p.72-77)

The Red Brick Chronicles - 'Advancement verus Apocalypse' by Rem Koolhaas

As I mentioned in the recent reckoning of the L+U blog, I wanted to focus on a number of recent texts that I've had the chance to delve into (by disconnecting myself from the nefarious teat of the RSS feeder)  Of significance is finally getting around to expanding on the initial readings of the book Ecological Urbanism (check out Intro by Mohsen Mostafavi, 'Why Ecological Urbanism?  Why Now?, in two parts here and here) which although gigantic, dense and brick-like, is also yielding some engaging content.

Thus in lieu of another option for a book with over 100+ essays and snippets from various authors, I'm going to chronologically post on each one on a mostly, time permitting, daily basis - in some cases just a fragment or two worthy of discussion - sometimes in more length.  Hope you enjoy.  Here's the first installment - follow by regular installments with the moniker RBC.


Advancement versus Apocalypse
|  Rem Koolhaas

In this essay, which I gather is a short-form version of a presentation, Koolhaas provides a hybrid chronology of modern progress, focusing on  “…the coexistence of modernity and endlessly improvised, spontaneous conditions that don’t consume much energy or material. For me, a hybrid condition is the condition of the day.” (56)   Through searching history in the framework of ecological urbanism, he finds some precedents in the early indigenous knowledge of people, noting that over 2000 years ago, the basic tents of ecology were known, expressed in the vernacular, utilitarian architecture where people would “…build to be economical, logical, and beautiful.” (57)  This concept and focus on the site and siting of cities was echoed in the Ten Books of Vitruvius, through the Renaissance, and to the Enlightenment, which."...had a phenomenal effect on reason, in terms of triggering the apparatus of modernity in a surprisingly short time.” (58)

Thus along with the science and technology of modernity can the apocalyptic baggage best expressed by Malthus in the late 18th Century, and continued in more modern times through authors like Paul Ehrlich in the 1970s (Population Bomb) and even into today's discussions of peak oil and environmental degredation, referenced by James Lovelock (The Revenge of Gaia).

 :: Amazon Burning - image via expertsure

Koolhaas mentions an earlier formative experience with the ecological in the late 1960s, mentioning instructors working with tropical architecture that instilled a “respect for the landscape” and the ability to “look at other cities to see how they work , and to look at seemingly nonarchitectural environments.” (60) and expressed in attempts at the time to combine design and science such as Ian McHarg's 'Design with Nature' referred to as “ of the most subtle manifestos on how culture and nature could coexist.” (62)

Koolhaas expands this with a quote from Frederick Steiner in‘The Ghost of Ian McHarg: 
“Almost 40 years ago, Ian McHarg proposed a bold theory and a set of ecologically related planning methods in Design with Nature (1969). While the proatical measures he proposed have been incorporated into subsequent design and planning practices, the theoretical implications have not yet been fully realized. Present-date forms of the model include the amalgam ‘landscape urbanism,’ with its focus on infrastructure an\d urban ecology, a hybrid discipline arguably indebted to McHarg while distinct in its avoidance of the more strenuous effects of his project.” (62)
In addition to McHarg the text mentions contemporary Buckminster Fuller's focus on the "...combination of nature and network...” expressed in this network diagram of global high voltage transmission networks (62) and also the work of the Club of Rome – Limits to Growth in 1972 (strangely enough a notable reason in Jonathan Franzen's recent book 'Freedom').

:: High Voltage Transmission Network diagram - image via GENI

The environmental intelligence of the 1970s was soon quashed by the market economy, as Koolhaas mentions, “...had a devastating effect on the knowledge that had accumulated at this point.” (65)  The current situation of economics gain over ecological approaches has continued since the 1970s.

Shifting gears a bit, the current focus on ecological urbanism is the role of technology, specifically indicative of the engineering/technology will save us paradigm epitomized by Freeman Dyson – quoted in the NY Times: “...proposed that whatever inflammations that climate was experiencing might be a good thing because carbon dioxide helps plants of all kinds to grow. Then he added the caveat that if CO2 levels soared too high, they could be soothed by the mass cultivation of specially bred ‘carbon-eating trees’…” (66)

In addition to noting these radical technological fixes, Koolhaas also bemoans the current trend of boutique green-was expressed in the application of greenery to buildings, mentioning that, "Embarrassingly, we have been equating responsibility with literal greening." (69), mentioning specifically the Ann Demeulemeester store in Seoul, the work of Ken Yeang and the recent Renzo Piano design for the California Academy of Sciences building as examples of this travesty of architecture.

 :: Ann Demeulemeester Store in Seoul - image via Style Frizz

 This confuses me, as while I am not as excited about the green application of vegetation, the inclusion of the specifically bioclimatic architecture of Yeang seems misplaced, as it seems an expression of ecological urbanism.  Instead, Koolhaas finds merit in building new eco-cities in the desert, mentioning Norman Foster’s Masdar zero-carbon city as "serious", and a step forward from the boutique natural interventions of Yeang and Piano, mentioning:  “...we need to step out of this amalgamation of good intentions and branding in a political direction and a direction of engineering.” (70)

:: Masdar City - image via Menainfra

While a somewhat interesting exploration, it is somewhat circuitous and peppered with Koolhaas' self-professed doubt in the overall project, mentioning in the intro "I did not assume that anyone in the academic world would ask a practicing architect in the twenty-first century, given the architecture that we collectively produce, to participate in a volume on ecological urbanism..." (56)  This perhaps colors the text somewhat away from individual buildings and more towards the massive, techno-centric solutions from Koolhaas/OMA - such as the large-scale wind energy project in the North Sea mentioned in the end of the essay.

It's obvious therein lies a distancing from the individual ecological building in the context of these bigger, more significant infrastructural interventions - which marks a distinction, notably with the architecture of Koolhaas being rigorously programmatic, urban-engaged, but typically non-ecological.  Maybe the realization that one building here or there isn't going to be the solution is valid and worthy of discussion?  Is ecological urbanism about large-scale ecocities or infrastructure, or the aggregation of interventions at a variety of scales - maybe even including buildings?

(from Ecological Urbanism, Mostafavi & Doherty, eds. 2010, p.56-71)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Kunstler on Landscape Urbanism

James Howard Kunstler joins the LU/NU 'debate' with a completely Kunstlerian commentary with some rhertorical tidbids like LU displaying "a complete lack of interest in the basic components of urban design"... "incorporates lots of high tech 'magic' infrastructure for directing water flows and requires massive, costly, complex site interventions" and is "...against density and vehemently pro-automobile'" and much much more.  This is going toward the realm of satire in it's silliness... enjoy!  (via CNU - quoting Orion Magazine, date unknown)

"The mandarin headquarters of Modernist ideology, Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, having gone to war with the New Urbanist movement, is now pushing a dubious new practice they call “Landscape Urbanism.” Don’t be fooled again. Under the fashionable “green” rubric, it’s another version of “nature” as the default remedy for cities, a rejection of genuine urban form. Landscape Urbanism affects to be concerned with site planning, but it displays a complete lack of interest in the basic components of urban design: street and block systems.  Instead, it incorporates lots of high tech “magic” infrastructure for directing water flows and requires massive, costly, complex site interventions that amount to little more than art stunts. Landscape Urbanism is explicitly against density and vehemently pro-automobile. In effect, it’s just super high-tech suburbia. It’s designed mainly to generate big fees for site-planning firms while it does nothing to prepare this society for a post-oil economy. Naturally, it comes with heaps of opaque theory, designed to mystify and impress the non-elect.

Harvard has been battling the New Urbanists for two decades on the grounds that traditional urban design is insufficiently avant-garde, intellectually unadventurous, backward-looking, lacking in sex appeal, un-ironic, square. But the USA doesn’t need more architectural fashion statements or art stunts. It needs places to live that are worth caring about and compatible with the capital and material resources that we can expect to retain going forward, which are liable to fewer and scarcer than what we’ve gotten used to. The USA doesn’t need any more mendacious ideologies meant to confound the public about the operation of cities and the things in them so that star-architects can appear to be wizards.

The USA does need a body of principle and skill that will allow us to assemble places with a future, and the New Urbanists have retrieved this information from the dumpster of history – where it was carelessly tossed by two generations in thrall to the phantom of limitless expansion. They recognize the resource limits we are now up against and the threats posed by climate change. They’re keenly aware of the need to re-integrate local food production into the landscape in an appropriate relationship with the places where people live. They’re the only group of design professionals on the scene right now who are capable of delivering a vision of the future that is consistent with the reality of the future."

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Materials Library: Rust

A revisit of an old feature on L+U, investigations of materials for inspirational purposes.  For starters, one of my favorites, the rusted metal of Cor-ten, weathering steel, or whatever you'd like to call it, a durable and wonderful addition to exterior projects in it's ability to blend with natural materials (landscaping, wood, stone) and more urban materials of concrete and glass.  The following shows a display of a few projects displaying the wonders of rust. A simple installation for this exterior stair also shows the malleability of creating forms with metal for this Tourist route Atlanterhavsvegen by 3 RW Arkitekter.

 :: image via Vulgare

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Reading the Landscape: A Reference Manifesto

As mentioned previously we are fully engaged in a group reading of the Landscape Urbanism Reader, edited by Charles Waldheim, and as promised, are providing some brief synopses of what transpired in the previous weeks dialogue are regular intervals.  Our first week was a soft launch, allowing folks to introduce themselves to the group, and then to comment on the Introduction by Waldheim, "A Reference Manifesto".

For starters, I wanted to give a brief overview of our group members - so you have a feel for the who and what of this diverse array of contributors.  It's exciting to see the diversity (geographical, disciplinary, age, background, gender, and more) of the group as well as to have folks relatively new to LU theory and those with some experience.  A rough breakdown of two key metrics gives a snapshot of the group dynamics and global community made possible through our digital opportunities:

Landscape Architecture/Design, Architecture, Real Estate Development, Planning, Civil Engineering, Graphic Design, Marketing, Sustainability Consulting, History and includes focus from Academia (both students and professors) and from a range of firms, universities, and experiences.

Shanghai, China; Portland, Oregon; Memphis, Tennessee; Seattle, Washington; Washington, D.C.; Nashville, Tennessee; Boston, Massachusetts;  Guelph, Ontario, Canada; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Seoul, Korea; Charlottesville, Virginia; Austin, Texas; Somerville, Massachusetts; Los Angeles, California; Salida, California; London, UK; Manchester, UK; Rougemont, Switzerland;

This is sort of a preliminary overview and snapshot of what's in the book - so it typically left the group with more questions than answers.  There was some good dialogue that referenced the distinction between those new to Landscape Urbanism and those with some background - as well as a few surprises from people that had initially read the book but were now revisiting it after some time.  The frontispiece included an image from Andrea Branzi - particularly his

The intro also includes the controversial and provocative excerpt from the text - outlining the 'discinplinary realignment' that places landscape in a more prominent position in terms of conceptualizing and production of urban space.

As a relatively open-ended intro, there were many perspectives - including some of those mentioned within the text such as global capital, de-industrialization and changes in the modes of economic production, increased importance of public infrastructure, decreased density & decentralization (surburbanization), cities as themed environments for tourism, commodification and homogeneity of form, waste & toxic landscapes, social pathologies, and prevalence of the automobile/paved surfaces, and the integration of ecological processes.

While Waldheim specifically frames these issues within the predominant themes of North American cities, many question the overall potential scope of LU - particularly in being able to address rapidly growing cities, density, and whether it is specifically oriented towards looking at suburbs instead of the city per se.  It echoes trends from a number of critics that the theory ignores specific existing conditions of growing cities and the rapidly changing nature of cities - folding into that concept the distinction of what is considered 'urban' today as densities, edge cities, and other non-central city agglomerations change our perceptions of the city.  There was also thinking about the different nature of deindustrialization between the ideas of Rust-Belt shrinking cities versus changes in the nature of production (a shift to the service economy) in cities that are still growing but changing in less physical and more social/economic ways.

Others mentioned questions related to the ideas of horizontality, the role of the car within, how is landscape defined within this context, the role of ecology, positions on capitalism, origins in postmodernism, and the role of nature (and our historical/cultural perspectives of it)...bringing in ideas from Leo Marx to William Cronon - as well as the role of Olmstedian designed pastoral scenery from the 19th Century.   Marx was brought up in terms of the concept of the triad of primitive, progressive, and pastoral views - specifically relating to the American viewpoint of its relationship with land derived from the frontier ethic and movement westward - which is a truly American phenomenon that has taken root in other locales that didn't experience the same relationship. This was mentioned as a source for some of the confusion related to LU theory - as it does focus on the progressive in that it acknowledges the technological and economic reality that influences our modern world (infrastructure, cars, decentralization).  The resulting view then is that by default, acknowledgment is akin to support.

Much attention was given to the concept of the 'horizontal field' as merely a "uni-directional urbanism" or in a broader viewpoint of a "multi-directional" schema capturing fluctuations of people, capital, communication.  Others   One reference connected this to Peter Walker's minimalist themes of flatness, seriality, and gesture - which provides a connection to postmodernism at least from the design perspectives of the 1980s. Even taking in the context of a field of operations, the horizontal field seems to be ambiguous, leading to questions of scale, how does agriculture fit in, is it relevant to the city or just the suburb, and ambivalence towards sprawl.  Others took a different reading of horizontality, seeing the references as "not to me so much a call to build cities this way but rather, an acknowledgment that they exist in this form." or that the views of horizontality are not limited to terrestrial or territorial expansion, but encompasses the surfaces at a variety of scales of rooftops and other urban spaces.  It is also important to mention that many point to the fact that Waldheim, although the originator of the term, does not speak for the movement as a whole - and others may have a more expansive viewpoint.

The idea of a new prominence for landscape architecture, a theme admired by many of the LAs in the group was also mentioned - whether as a "shot across the bow of the other design professions" or a true path to interdisciplinary methods with landscape architects as the synthesizing leaders of these teams.  Building on this idea is a broader viewpoint of landscape as a more holistic conceptual framework (not specifically applying to a discipline) that including the broad range of landscape elements, as well as the urban landscape that includes people and buildings as parts.  This distinction beyond 'greenery' to a broader view of landscape is vital - as there is a good amount of ambiguity in the word landscape that seems to stir up the already muddied theoretical waters - which definitely need to be addressed in LU as well as ecological urbanism and environmentalism in general.

Many offered ideas for ways of placing LU within larger theoretical frameworks such as New Urbanism, the work of Kevin Lynch (Image of the City), Aldo Leopold (A Sand County Almanac), Ian McHarg (Design with Nature), to a sprawling commentary (which I cannot begin to paraphrase in a meaningful way) covering foundations in philosophy from Aristotle & Plato, Copernicus & Aquinas, and Wittgenstein & Merleau-Ponty - attempting to place the concept and utility of themes in search of a Good Maxim in which to direct us. 

Many were and are intrigued by concepts within LU that attract many to the dialogue, such as process & systems thinking, catalyzation and staging, ecological thinking, focus on infrastructure, as well as interdisciplinary synthesis.  An overall theme however, which is the point of the reading and will provide some clarification, is that there are still a lot of questions and frustration about specifically what LU is proposing.  People mentioned: "...beyond simply describing urban processes as one-dimensional fields, LU theory would be better served by formulating a working framework for also analyzing the character of those phenomena." or "ways that these concepts can be applied for more useful ends that promote urban density and vibrancy rather than fetishizing their demise" or simply a desire to find "the positive side" of LU.

There was a strong desire for specific viewpoints on things like specific urban issues, a search perhaps for a working methodology of landscape urbanism. While some of these answers may be found in the text - there will also, like this chapter, result in more questions than answers... but then again, isn't that the point of urbanism?

Obviously this is a vast paraphrased oversimplification of many of the multivalent discussions at play  (even for a chapter so utterly lacking in real content) - so apologies for misrepresenting or missing any key points - so participants feel free to shoot an email or comment to clarify or expand on any of these points.

Next Steps...
We're currently wrapping up week 2, where we discussed Terra Fluxus (Corner) and Landscape as Urbanism (Waldheim) - so an update on both of these will be coming soon by members of the group.  Stay tuned for more.

Ecologies of Gold

Brilliant study of the meshing of urbanization and gold mining in Johannesburg, South Africa by Dorothy Tang and Andrew Watkins (on Design Observer).  As mentioned in the article and accompanying photo essay;  " In particular, the 80-kilometer mining belt between the two cities is riddled by deep-shaft mines, where companies built an extensive network of underground tunnels and moved large amounts of earth to the surface. These operations have weakened geological strata, disrupted natural drainage patterns and altered ecological habitat. The original semi-arid grasslands ecology is now converted to an urban forest, and sediment from mining waste has blocked natural waterways, unexpectedly creating wetlands with rich bird habitat."

 :: images via Design Observer
While mining and urban areas is not necessarily a different scenario (the many sand and gravel pits around cities have a similar pattern) - the cyanide-extraction method of gold mines makes them especially toxic neighbors - especially when coupled with adjacent areas of poverty.  The overall urban pattern that emerges pairs the informal settlements with gold mining particularly on the fringes of the urban area.

  :: image via Design Observer
 Some of the diagrams show the processes of mining on a macro and site specific scale - which is helpful for understanding the complexities of the process.

  :: images via Design Observer
 In addition to analysis, there is thought of opportunities and solutions that take advantage of these new ecologies that have emerged - as Tang & Watkins propose: "While Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni face grave environmental challenges, including contaminated soils, acid mine drainage, undermined land and scarce water resources, it is also important to recognize the possibilities found in the existing regional infrastructure of pipelines and the large quantities of land being released for use. Currently operating gold mining companies recognize the environmental challenges they face and are actively pursuing more sustainable mining practices. Informal settlements are finding productive political strategies and are maintaining a positive entrepreneurial nature. The scarce water resources of the Witwatersrand are a critical entry point for landscape interventions, especially in relation to the provision of sanitation and the remediation of acid mine drainage. Can gold mining and informal settlements, two seemingly disparate players in the region, provide solutions for the future development of the “Ridge of White Waters”?

 :: image via Design Observer
Read much more and see the entire slideshow here.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

LU Conference in the Central States

I just received this announcement of a conference sponsored by the ASLA Central States Chapter entitled "Landscape Urbanism: Economics of Healthy Communities" - (a remarkably odd title imho, but) including keynote speakers Andres Duany, John Crompton, and Brad McKee... topic session submittals are due tomorrow so late notice, but the conference itself is on May 5-6 in Des Moines.  More info, contact Matt Carlile at

Got Something to Say?

 Landscape Urbanism is looking for essays, thoughts, ideas + innovative aproaches to landscape urbanism. We are looking for unique approaches to defining, understanding, communicating, and practicing landscape urbanism. Clarity of writing and communication are imperative. If you had to explain landscape architecture or landscape urbanism to the public, how would you describe it? Why does it matter? Why do designers do what they do? Why is landscape urbanism increasingly relevant and important? How will you be involved in changing the paradigms of design?

Shorts | 500-750 words | Short, timely, evocative thoughts on the status of landscape urbanism, events happening around the world, and new projects or ideas.

Features | 1000-2500 words | Feature-length essays. In-depth philosophies, questions, and discussions. Submit your feature essay here. 

Coverage | 250 words | Cover feature news stories and articles around the web and in print relating to landscape urbanism. 

To apply for the position, submit (3) sample coverage articles, with links, your spin (no more than 250 words), and a resume. Send applications to All submissions will be notified within 2-3 weeks regarding their status and anticipated publication date. Deadline for Launch Issue: April 2, 2011.

Some LU Definitions

A great resource for those looking for clarification on some of the terminology around Landscape Urbanism on the New Urban News.  A number of key terms and concepts (as well as their originating authors) are included, including:

"Analog Ecologies: Projects that attempt to model, analogously, the responsive behaviors of living systems in nonliving constructions or processes."

"Emergent Landscape: The urban form emerges from the interaction of complex systems (ecological, political, social, economic, etc) that make up cities and human settlement; urban form is the product of a complex confluence of a potentially endless set of factors."

"Invisible Infrastructure: Invisible infrastructure generally refers to non-tangible infrastructure such as wireless communications. More broadly, the term can refer to all forms infrastructure, such as power transmission lines, that often go unnoticed. A general tendency in development has been to make infrastructure more invisible and remote, even as it becomes more individualized and less communal. Landscape urbanism argues that this invisible infrastructure escapes the attention of the masses and that there is a need to make it visible for the masses to appreciate it."

"Radical Horizontal Urbanism: A vast mat-like field where scattered pockets of density are knitted together by high-speed, high-volume roads. Coined by Pierre Belanger."

"Structured Ecologies: The strategy of working with or alongside the substance and processes of dynamic ecologies: plants, waters, wildlife, etc."
"Void Framework: The voids of figure-ground diagrams are protected from “contamination by the city.” Open spaces, or voids, in a cityscape are desirable."

Also included is a key concept of Landscape, Landschaft, and Landskip - which I think is a key determinant that many folks miss in thinking about landscape in a purely North American was as 'open space greenery' and derived from the scenic viewpoint of "Landskip" and not in more broadly European terms as a unit of habitation  "Landschaft" that includes a more culturally inclusive concept.

Good food for thought (or discussion), so check out the entire list here.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

American Dream Survival Guide

An interesting project by David (d.e.) Sellers, called 'American Dream Survival Guide' offers a series of podcasts with a goal to "...spread information and propagate solutions and cooperation to tackle the challenges that face the U.S. in the 21st century"   The project is produced by Explore Lab Radio from the faculty of Architecture, Urbanism and Building Technology at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and will cover a range of topics from water, food, shelter, energy, and more.  Check out more about the project on Facebook.

From the site:  "Episode 1 is now available as a free download podcast on iTunes (go to the site do get the link).  This episode looks at a brief history of the American Landscape and the American Dream.  Lars Lerup, former Dean of the college of Architecture at Rice University,  comments on the suburban landscape and introduces his new book “1 Million Acres and No Zoning”.  Peter Calthorpe, founding member of the Congress for New Urbanism and acclaimed urban planner and architect, explains how we got where we are today as well as where we are going and how his new book “Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change” addresses current issues."