Thursday, April 26, 2012

Happy Birthday - Frederick Law Olmsted Sr.

In honor of Frederick Law Olmsted Sr's birthday today, April 26 (1822, so let's call it a round 190!), I would remind folks to go out and read more about the man in the great 2011 biography 'Genius of Place' by Justin Martin  (Da Capo Press, 2011). Genius of Place traces Olmsted from his beginnings in 1822 up until his death in 1903.  While most well known as the creator of Central Park and in some circles as the father of landscape architecture, it's telling that much of Olmsted's life was spent in pursuits aside from park-making and design - in areas of farming, public health, journalism and the literary arts.  Martin does a solid job of showing the quirks and uncommon path that Olmsted took through his varied life - captured in the subtitle "Abolitionist, Conservationist, and Designer of Central Park".

Also worthy of reading is the 2000 biography by Rybczynski  'A Clearing in the Distance' and Erik Larson's more fantastical page-turner on the 1893 Worlds Columbian Exposion in Chicago in 'The Devil in the White City'.  Olmsted, as the father of the profession is featured in any manner of great landscape history books (i read a good portion of the entire 7? Volume 'Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted' in college) - but for the less nerdy and bibliophilic there's plenty of summary material and locations to delve into.

While we often question is pastoral scenic aesthetic sensibilities (he was a man of his time), there is much to learn in his tireless work ethic, social sensibility, and focus on ecological as well as public health -- providing models for issues that we still grapple with today.  We should also emulate his shrewdness in navigating messy politics to further his agenda and get things done, which is something we could use a lot more of these days in our somewhat timid, politically safe professional bunkers.

Celebrate the man and the profession, first by spelling the name correctly, and justly honoring his contribution to our profession, our cities, and our imagination.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Going viral: Blurred Borders

I'm pleased to announce that Landscape+Urbanism will be featured along with some great company as part of the Voices Going Viral Exhibition and event developed by AIANY.   More information below.

The AIANY Global Dialogues committee has dedicated 2012 to “uncovered connections” with the intention to investigate issues that are similarly impacting multiple regions, cultures and individuals. Going Viral: Blurred Borders explores the impact that social media, technology and device culture are having on our design process, and ultimately the way we practice. How do we shape a global conversation? How are we changing the relationships between academia and the profession? What is the impact of hyper information sharing and critique? Throughout the evening, the topics of communication, research, collaboration, and data distribution will be addressed and debated.

Bjarke Ingels of BIG, Toru Hasegawa of Morpholio and Columbia University Cloud Lab, Carlo Aiello of eVolo, and David Basulto with David Assael of ArchDaily will come together for a lecture and panel discussion moderated by Ned Cramer, editor-in-chief of Architect. In addition, selected game changing blogs and websites will be exhibited as Voices Going Viral on the evening of the event. Please join us at the NY Center for Architecture on May 21st at 6:00 pm and online for further information and to RSVP.

The exhibit will feature a ton of great design blogs, so good company to share - and thanks to the curators for the inclusion, and of course thanks to all of you for reading.  Check out the full list in alphabetical order:

Apartment Therapy created by Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan and Janel Laban
ArchDaily created by David Basulto and David Assael 
Archidose created by John Hill
Archinect created by Paul Petrunia 
Architect’s Newspaper created by William Menking 
ArchitectureMNP created by Ryan McClain, co-founded by Kiye Apreala
Architizer created by Matthias Hollwich, Marc Kushner, and Benjamin Prosky
Archive of Affinities created by Andrew Kovacs
BLDGBLOG created by Geoff Manaugh
Blurr created by Ahmed Elhusseiny 
But Does It Float created by Folkert Gorter, Atley Kasky, & Will Schofield
Cooking Architecture created by Claire Shafer and Juan Jofre
The Cool Hunter created by Bill Tikos
Core 77 created by Eric Ludlum, Stuart Constantine, & Allan Chochinov
Culture Now created by Abby Suckle, Ann Marie Baranowski, Susan Chin, Diana Pardue, and Nina Rappaport
Curbed created by Lockhart Steele
Death by Architecture created by Mario Cipresso 
DesignBoom created by Birgit Lohmann & Massimo Mini
Design Sponge created by Grace Bonney
DesignReform created by CASE Dezeen created by Marcus Fairs
e-Oculus created by the AIA New York Chapter 
eVolo created by Carlo Aiello
Inhabitat blog created by Jill Fehrenbacher
Landscape + Urbanism created by Jason King 
Mammoth created by Stephen Becker and Rob Holmes
Morpholio created by Mark Collins, Toru Hasegawa, & Anna Kenoff
Places Journal online created by Nancy Levinson, Harrison Fraker, William Drenttel, Jessica Helfand and Michael Bierut
Post Post created by David Jaubert
Project created by Alfie Koetter, Daniel Markiewicz, Jonah Rowen, & Emmett Zeifman

Credits: Global Dialogue Chairs: Bruce E. Fisher AIA and Jeffrey A. Kenoff AIA Event Co-Chairs: Elie Gamburg, Diane Chehab Design and Curatorial Team: James Kehl, Rebecca Pasternack, Ciara Seymour, Sarah E. Smith, Andy Vann 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Got History?

Hawthorne & 50th (1936)
Aerial View of Portland (1936)
My fascination with history and place is no secret.  While i am intrigued with urban history in many forms, there's always a desire for a connection with the place you inhabit.  Typically this fascination comes via maps, which have been well documented, but the timeline of the past 150 years plus of Portland is worth a bit of investment.   For folks on the go, there's also an app that highlights historical site - prepared by the Architectural Heritage Center.  Also a new site, WhatWasThere, is a crowd-sourced version that allows folks to upload history photos of their places.

In addition, there are a number of other sources that augmented by a number of great resources that are provided by city and other historical society archives.  Each has some overlap but occupies a unique and often personal niche for the blogger and site owner - to scratch their particular history itch, and all make for some great information.

A veritable decoupage of historical imagery awaits at Portland History - a no-frills site that organizes images, postcards, and a few words - sorted into categories like streets, amusement parks,  A good shortcut is to go the site map, which gives some links to the categories - but just randomly moving around the site isn't a bad idea either.

Council Crest, the Dreamland of Portland, Oregon

Lost Oregon is a great example of an engaging history tour, albeit typically focused on architecture and riddled with some really bad theme ideas like this one.  The site is simple and delves into some more details about some of the areas, buildings, and locations - which augments what is somewhat visually based on other sites.

A spinoff of Lost Oregon writer is PDX: Then/Now which juxtaposes historic and current photos of buildings and places.  Some show destruction or evolution, and some, such as the Union Bank Building in Downtown, are eerily similar over 40 years later.

Vintage Portland is another site 'exploring portland's past', through "...photographs, postcards, illustrations, advertisements, etc. ... It’s not a history lesson, it’s not an architectural critique. It’s a forum for displaying photos of the city’s past, to show how we lived, what we’ve lost (for good or bad) through progress and just to enjoy some wonderful camera work."

I particularly appreciate the 'mystery' posts - which show a building, corner, streetscape - with a question to help find where the site is.  Sometimes it's to fill in a missing link to an archival photo, but other times it becomes more of a game.  The context over time is fascinating evolution - and really highlights the impermanence/permanence of the urban realm.  This shot of MLK @ Ainsworth from the north - replace Texaco with Starbucks (old fuel/new fuel?) and Gilmore with Popeyes (old grease/new grease?).

Cafe Unknown is a new one for me, but author Dan Haneckow pulls you in with compelling history (more text than other sites) along with some good images.  A recent post on Mark Twain in Portland is a good read, and some of the trivial pursuits are great - like Will- vs. Wall- for our fair river (which subsequently ended up 'Willamette') are nuggets of pure gold.  Haneckow is a true historical writer - with the requisite head shots of historical figures quoted... along with some really solid writing and research.  These walking tour images were pretty interesting finds - along with the story of a missing sculpture found.  This stuff is priceless - and firmly about our place.

Check all of these resources out - It is true - you will be sucked in for a few hours/days/weeks - and might come out forever changed.   I feel like a landscape or at least urbanism oriented history site wouldn't be a bad endeavor - if someone is inclined to collaborate - look me up.  But the caveat on these sites, and historical maps, photos, and primary materials - it's addictive.  Don't say i didn't warn you.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Essay in 'Atlantis' Magazine

I am happy to report that a recent essay was published in 'Atlantis' Magazine, which is published by Polis and collects writings that make "...the link between students, academics and professionals besides the Polis activities. This magazine is our medium to keep you as member up to date about everything going on in the urbanism & landscape architecture world.  The issue 22.4 discusses concepts around the 'Urban Landscape' and features contributions from a wide range of authors.

The essay "Land- 'scape' / Land- 'space':  Pedantic, Semantic or just Anagrammatic" is a tongue-in-cheek play on words that carries with it a more serious message.  The dialogue around landscape urbanism has been called pedantic, and the splitting of hairs could be dismissed, particularly by those uninformed and who disagree with the concepts, as mere semantics.  The anagrammatic is purely a place on words.  The content, revolving around an exploration of the terms 'landscape' and 'urbanism', and more specifically the parallels of the anagrammatic terms 'space' and 'scape' begin the discussion. 


Using definitions from JB Jackson's essay 'The Word Itself', the parallels between space and scape are delineated, as Jackson's cultural reading of landscape as "...a composition of man-made or man-modified spaces to serve as infrastructure or background for our collective existence.” (Jackson, Discovering the Vernacular Landscape, 1984)  This expands our idea of landscape beyond scenery and greenery to encompass a more broad understanding of 'context'. 

Urbanism is also investigated, starting with Wirth's 1938 essay 'Urbanism as a Way of Life' and tracing the divergence of urbanism as 'study' to that of action.  I claim we need to differentiate between the study of urban areas and the design and planning activities. This will allow us to operate in a shared space for dialogue:
"Thus study equates to urbanism (of which there can be many types of study), and practice equates to disciplinary modes and interdisciplinary contexts, such as urban design, architecture, landscape architecture and planning (of which there can be many types of solution). The distinction allows us to avoid binary argument because there are infinite types of study and methods of solving problems – each driven by the unique context. Dialogue and critique can still operate – but there will more transparency and it won’t be summed in an either/or proposition. The complexity of urban areas in our contemporary world is too immense for only one of two solutions"
The end along with a call for more clarity in writing about these terms, specifically the need for clear definitions when discussing terms.  We are too loose with terminology today, and the overall impact and reach of our discussion suffers from this. Whichever way you choose to interpret and intervene the urban conditions, there needs to be shared understanding of fundamental issues, because, as I mention: "In the end, no discussion or argument (binary or otherwise) is worth much if it happening around vague language..."

Comments and discussion, with clear definitions, always welcome.

Check out the entire magazine online here, or click to download a PDF of the article here.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Kerb 20 Seeking Submissions

Kerb is one of best journals out there for landscape architecture - and you can be part of their next issue around the topic 'speculative narrative'.  Here's the call for submissions:


Speculative narrative and the potential of imagination are important factors in creative production. It is considered that a multitude of small stories are the “quintessential form of imaginative invention” (source). 

Speculation through narrative offers an apparatus through which we may investigate the concept of ‘reality’. Immersed within our current understandings, speculation is influenced by our contemporary condition. In these fictional dispositions, the variables and constraints of ‘reality’ can be controlled, omitted completely or utilized as key motives for the foundations of new territories.

Speculative Narrative can be an exploration of idealistic scenarios, the fossilization of information, or the creation of fantastical realms.

This allows the model of design to move beyond problem solving, crisis management and project liberation from the constraints of our existence. The augmentation through speculative narrative, enables the reshaping of current processes, understandings and disciplines.

Speculative Narrative makes it possible to redefine ‘present’ and ‘future’. Kerb is an annual cross-disciplinary design publication produced by the RMIT University School of Architecture and Design in Melbourne, Australia.

Kerb is a progressive design journal focused on contemporary landscape architecture issues from an international and national perspective. Submit to: 4 May, 2012 and for more information regarding submission requirements please visit our website at or our Facebook page at

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Waterscape Urbanism

I was struck by a recent mis-use of the term landscape urbanism in this article from the Atlanta Journal Constitution on the need for climate change inspired floating homes.  Quoting  Thai landscape architect Danai Thaitakoo on the need for dealing with innundation.

"Climate change will require a radical shift within design practice from the solid-state view of landscape urbanism to the more dynamic, liquid-state view of waterscape urbanism," says Danai, who is involved in several projects based on this principle. "Instead of embodying permanence, solidity and longevity, liquid perception will emphasize change, adaptation."

While amphibious architecture is nothing new, and i agree that it will become more common in the future there are two points.  The first is minor - that of the mis-characterization of landscape urbanism as 'solid-state' and 'embodying permanence, solidity and longevity'.  If there's any flavor of urbanism that emphasizes change and adaptation, it's landscape urbanism - so i think there's a disconnect in that above paragraph.  Just saying.

Second, and more troubling, is the idea that we must react to climate change by building floating structures - rather than address the topic at hand.  It's similar in nature to dealing with semi-urban forest fires by designating fire-safety clearing zones of tinder and brush around houses, rather than looking at not building homes in these areas - or heaven forbid - letting them burn.  Or coming up with vertical farms due to our misguided agricultural subsidies and policies that make it impossible to grow a variety of food on terra firm.   

Its cause.  Not effect.  We spend way too much time on solutions to problems and calling it need-inspired innovation - rather than getting to the real root of the problems themselves.  May not be as press-worthy of sexy, but at least its real.