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barangaroo

Barangaroo Final Plan. From top (Headland Park, Barangaroo Central, and Barangaroo South / PWP Landscape Architecture

After nearly ten years of planning and development, Barangaroo, a 22-hectare port on the Sydney waterfront, is coming together as a rich, $6 billion, mixed-use development that will fill in missing gaps in the city’s waterfront promenade and offer a stunning, one-of-a-kind park with an embedded Aboriginal cultural center. As Peter Walker, FASLA, PWP Landscape Architecture, described at the ASLA 2014 Annual Meeting in Denver, “it’s the most amazing project I’ve ever worked on.”

Walker explained how the original port had been “engineered to death.” Flat, covered in asphalt, and completely separated from the surrounding residential areas by a 60-foot cliff, the port had long severed parts of the city from the waterfront. PWP fleshed out a new landscape plan that dramatically improves connectivity to the water, while designing a new park that recalls the landscape early settlers would have seen.

Throughout Barangaroo, there will be a 50/50 split between buildings and parks. Headland Park, in the north, will be entirely green public space, while Barangaroo South will be entirely developed, with a new casino and a set of 40-story towers offering a mix of residential, commercial, and retail space.

In the middle, Barangaroo Central has an even mix of private development and parks. As Douglas Voight, SOM, explained, Barangaroo Central will feature a new set of “Sydney steps” that mimic Spanish steps, taking people down from the upper level at the top of the cliffs to the water. “There, we will introduce a civic element, a cultural space.” Views from Observatory Hill, one of the city’s best vantage points, will be protected, and the old building there will be made more accessible, so as to enable views “from water to stars.”

According to Brian ten Brinke, with the Barangaroo Delivery Authority (BDA), the goal of the Headland Park portion of the project was to replace the rectilinear edges of the port with the meandering, nature-carved shoreline of the 1700s. Examining maps from the early 1800s, they found a coastline they could recreate, which, amazingly, they did.

As PWP designed Headland Park, they also “established a design vocabulary for the whole precinct’s waterfront walk,” said Jay Swaintek, ASLA, PWP. From Headland Park all the way to Barangaroo South, “we engaged with the casino and building owners to ensure the foreshore worked for the public and read as public domain.”

Dave Walker, ASLA, also with PWP, then delved into the challenges of creating a naturalistic landscape where there was once flat asphalt. (This brief video enclosed of the construction process is really worth a watch):

First, they created a 60-foot cliff with the yellow sandstone found throughout Sydney, in order to recreate an edge that connects with the surrounding communities. “We married it up to the existing cliff face.”

All that height created an opportunity to build down within the cliff and create a new memorial and cultural center for Australia’s first inhabitants, the Aborigines. Walker said this was critical as for hundreds of years, “there was an apartheid-like situation” between the Aborigines and whites. Sunshine will trickle down into the building from gaps in the surface.

Park visitors will wind their way through a reconstituted bush landscape filled with Eucalyptus trees. Dave Walker said while these bush landscapes look quite dense from the outside, within, they offer a scrim with many views looking out. Parallel to a 2-meter-wide path through the bush and down the slope, there will be separate bicycle and pedestrian pathways that wind through.

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Headland Park bush path / PWP Landscape Architecture

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Headland Park waterfront promenade / PWP Landscape Architecture

Wrapping the shoreline are 10,000 rectangular, hand-carved sandstone blocks that recall patterns in remnant coastal landscapes. Organized into geometrical shapes, “these striated forms have a natural precedent,” said Dave Walker. Each GPS-tagged stone was individually set to create intricate patterns that connect with the nature. “In high tide and low tide, the transitional patterns change.”

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Headland Park waterfront / PWP Landscape Architecture

With hundreds of trees being planted now, Headland Park is expected to open early next year. More and more of Barangaroo will also come online in the following few years. BDA is already expecting more than 12 million people a year to visit.

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Wilmington Waterfront Park, Los Angeles / AEC Cafe

True sustainability is a three-legged stool, said Dr. Robert Bullard, one of the fathers of the environmental justice movement, at the ASLA 2014 Annual Meeting in Denver. It rests on environmental sustainability, economic sustainability, and equity. However, equity, Bullard believes, is still too often left out. This is a problem because “a community can’t be sustainable if it’s not equitable.”

It has been 30 years since the environmental justice movement in the U.S. was born out protests to stop a toxic landfill from being created in an African American community in Warren County, North Carolina. While there have been significant gains — “every state now has its own environmental justice movement” — there are still far too many inequities to address.

Bullard argued that place still matters a lot, and not in a good way. Where you live largely determines your health and well-being. “Zipcode is the most important predictor of someone’s health.”

Residents of wealthier and often whiter communities still lead longer, healthier lives. Bullard believes this is because these communities typically have  more trees. Bullard believes that “trees and inequality are linked. Parks and green space matter.”

But, unfortunately, “not all parks and green spaces are created equal.” Bullard pointed to a small park in a historic African American community in Norfolk, Virginia, settled in between two oil refineries. “If you stand there for 15 minutes, you will get a headache.”

Bullard has spent the past 30 plus years mapping social vulnerabilities across the country. He has identified “disaster hot spots,” areas of the country where are multiple overlapping high-risk factors. Perhaps not surprisingly, most of the many layers of high risk are in areas where there are higher levels of minorities: the south, southwest, and, especially, southeast of our country.

“There is still a Southern legacy of inequality. So it’s not a coincidence that the South is also the most environmentally degraded region of the nation.” Slide after unrelenting slide proved the worst health and environmental levels in the country are in the southeast, which makes the area least resilient to disasters.

Today, African Americans are still the most vulnerable group as well. “African Americans are 79 percent more likely to live where industrial pollution poses the greatest health danger.” In fact, in 2007, 56 percent of African Americans lived within 2 miles of a hazardous facility, and 69 percent live within 2 miles of two or more facilities. As a result, asthma rates for African Americans are 35 percent higher than for whites. “African Americans are 13 percent of the population but 26 percent of all asthma cases.”

For Bullard, this is a huge waste of resources. He estimated some $56 billion is spent per year dealing with asthma. “Imagine what we could spend $56 billion on?”

Bullard concluded that “addressing equity is a prerequisite to achieving sustainable and livable communities.” The gaps in health, parks and green space, and income are all inter-related.

“We need more landscape architects and planners, along with a few sociologists, in the room working on these issues.”

Dredge Design

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Jamaica Bay / Drudge Design Collaborative

To dredge simply means to scoop up sediment, often underwater, and move it to another location. While this process is often associated with moving contaminated soils to a place where they can be safely capped, today, dredging is also increasingly about harnessing natural processes to create new landforms and ecological systems. New “dredge landscapes,” designed systems, offer opportunities for ecological restoration, said Brett Milligan, ASLA, Dredge Research Collaborative, at the ASLA 2014 Annual Meeting in Denver.

Sediment is dynamic and dramatically differs from place to place. Studying the natural flow of sediment in rivers and deltas, we can begin to understand how the movement of sediment can be “choreographed” to achieve ecological goals. However, given sediment flow happens within complex ecosystems impacted by human activities, like the deepening of channels for large ships, using dredge to create new landscapes is a highly complicated process.

As an example, Milligan pointed to efforts to dredge sediment into new landforms that can support wetlands in Jamaica Bay in New York. At current rates, “the wetlands will totally disappear in 10 years. Water regimes have changed due to stormwater runoff and deeper shipping channels.” While efforts are underway to rebuild the low-lying islands that can support wetlands in the bay, he asked how dredge can be used to restore a natural environment “where everything has changed?”

According to Hugh Roberts, Arcadis, we must “design with nature” when dredging, and a changing nature at that. Coastal land loss plus sea level rise means using dredged sediment to create wetland habitat is incredibly complex, hence the need for his job, numeric modeling lead. Wetlands require multiple flushings of water per day and they only exist at sea level, so there are “narrower number of places where they can survive. It’s a fine balance.”

In the Mississippi River delta, Roberts has been working on the White Delta diversion project, which aims to create the most efficient interventions for spreading out sediment in the widest possible fan from the river into the delta. Flow paths are dredged to enable the reconstitution of sediment far into the delta plains. All of this is part of an effort to undo the built system of containing the river, which looks like “a plumbing diagram,” in favor of letting the river flow and deposit sediment where it’s most needed, ecologically.

Roberts also pointed to the innovative Sand Engine project in the Netherlands as a great example of how dredging can work with nature. The Dutch have created a “changing land form that distributes sand along the Dutch coast.” They have placed large “nourishment mounds.” Nature then “spreads out the sand where it needs to.”

This process is the opposite of the conventional approach of pumping sand directly onto eroding beaches, an approach often called botoxing beaches. Like botox, this pumping approach only works for so long before the beach needs to be re-sanded.

The Sand Engine, Roberts says, is about “increasing resilience through nature.” Models, like the ones he creates, can help nature optimize its efforts. Today, one can see the Sand Engine has actually resulted in “natural dune formations” and the return of endangered plant species.

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Dutch Sand Engine / Topos Magazine

Milligan said up to 45 gigatons of earth is dredged per year, about 30 tons per person in the U.S. According to engineer and dredger Chris Dols, Great Lakes Dredge and Dock, there are a number of different dredging technologies. There’s the cutter suction dredge, which turns mud underwater into a slurry then moved through massive hydraulic pumps. Then there’s hopper dredging, which involves using a mobile dredging vessels that vacuums up material then stores it within the boat only to be sprayed or pumped to other locations. Both can be used to support restoring ecosystems.

Sean Burkholder, ASLA, a landscape architecture professor at University at Buffalo, wants landscape architects to see dredging as a real design opportunity. Today, in the Great Lakes region, only 25 percent of sediment is reused; the rest is dumped on land or sent out to sea. Instead of treating contaminated sediment as merely waste that needs to be moved and capped, contaminants can be separated out, leaving material to create new dredge landscapes. “We can use this material more creatively in our own work.”

Also, existing dredged landscapes can become environmental education opportunities. These landscapes are typically near cities. “We can create access and interpretation for legacy sites.”

For those interested in learning more about dredge landscapes, Milligan organizes DredgeFest every year.

3d printing

3D printer / Gigaom

Landscape architects can bypass contractors and participate directly in the fabrication and manufacturing of all sorts of objects like benches or even pavers, if they are confident enough to delve into 3D modeling and 3D printing, said Steven Bishop, ASLA, Stoss Landscape Urbanism, and John Pacyga, ASLA, Verdant Design, at the ASLA 2014 Annual Meeting in Denver. “This can really disrupt the product development process. We can now actually make products the way we want,” said Pacyga. With 3D printing, landscape architects can both enable new forms, leaving the old standardized ones in the past, and begin building.

Multiple technologies are found under the umbrella term “3D printing.” There is Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), also sometimes known as FFF, which involves turning wires of plastic into forms. This is the most common and popular 3D printer technology out there. Then, there’s stereolithography printers, which are slow at creating models but offer an incredible level of detail. With this technology, resin is turned into a solid form. “You start with a sort of pot of goo,” said Pacyga. There’s also selective laser sintering, which uses a laser to melt materials into a form, as well as CJP/3DP, which adds up thin paper or powder layers. Any excess is broken off to reveal the form.

FDM printers can be either desktop machines, which run from $500 to $4,000, or industrial size printers, which are found at 3D printing centers, now found in most major cities. A good desktop printer for a landscape architectural office could run $1,500 to $2,500. Pacyga cautioned that you really get what you pay for so it’s worthwhile to invest in a good one, which can be found in Make magazine’s annual consumer report released in the fall. Pacyga also noted the real expense of these tools is staff time spent “calibrating and maintaining them.” If you need to send a job to a 3D printing center, an average job can take 2 weeks to a month to do, so “plan ahead,” said Pacyga. The cost can range from $16 to $22 per cubic inch. Prices are calculated either according to volume or on a time and materials basis.

All these technologies, Bishop said, enable landscape architects to communicate with clients and stakeholders about their ideas in a more compelling way. “It’s one thing to fly through a 3D model and another to let them see what we want to make.” 3D printed models can also demonstrate the value of an iterative design process. For their Plaza at Harvard University, which includes innovative ergonomic, custom-designed benches, Stoss used 3D printed models to create one idea, then four, and then eight, followed by a range of iterations to show the “formal language” of their bench designs. The eventual models they created in Rhino were sent straight to the fabricator to prototype and then the manufacturer. “There was no construction documents and no middle man.”

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Plaza at Harvard University / Stoss Landscape Urbanism

For Erie Street Plaza in Milwaukee, Stoss created models of a novel paving pattern and delivered that straight to Wausau Pavers, who then created a steel mold for the 60,000 square feet of pavers they needed for the plaza. Using 3D printing for the paver design was important because the steel mold alone cost more than $100,000.

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Erie Street Plaza / Stoss Landscape Urbanism

Pacyga said Rhino or Sketchup works great for creating 3D models that can then be turned into models to be fed into a 3D printer. However, landscape architects will first need to ensure their 3D print model is “manifold and watertight before sending to the printer.” This means that if you, theoretically, put water inside your model, there would be no leaks. In practice, this mean “everything must have a depth.” Pacyga recommended using Cleanup3, Solid Inspector, or SUsolid.com, services that analyze your models to find any “dangling lines or holes.”

At Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD), Interboro Partners, an interdisciplinary and relatively young firm of three GSD alums Tobias Armborst, Daniel D’Oca, and Georgeen Theodore, said “architecture is for everyone.” As a way of introduction, Jerold Kayden, a former professor of theirs, affectionately characterized their practice with five key attributes: incredibly creative, versatile (employing many methods), academic (taking a critical approach), entrepreneurial, and famous.

Architecture clearly has a broad definition at the firm. With backgrounds in architecture, urban planning, and urban design, the firm’s three founders capitalize on whatever skills they have in order to achieve a common goal. Kayden jokingly suggests that the only missing professional title among the three is landscape architect. One of their most recent projects, Living with the Bay, one of the winners of HUD’s Rebuild by Design competition, would suggest otherwise though (see brief video above). Collaborating with a host of partners, including landscape architects at H+N+S, this complex project blurs the disciplinary boundaries between urban planning, architecture, engineering, and landscape architecture.

An interdisciplinary approach is one of the hallmarks of the firm. In fact, Armborst calls refers to this approach as their “means,” the way in which they, as designers, do their job of influencing outcomes in the built environment.

One of the first projects Interboro mentions is Improve your lot! in Detroit, an example of a research project based on the idea of doing “good detective work.” It takes curiosity and persistence to “suspend judgement for as long as possible in order to acquire a kind of located knowledge,” as D’Oca described it. Creating this “located knowledge” involved documenting the various needs and uses of private property in this shrinking city. It meant learning from the citizen’s “unplanned” transformations.

When the team discovered thousands of homeowners were expanding their property by acquiring adjacent lots, redrawing the city’s blocks, they termed the phenomenon “blotting”–that is, making a “blot” (a block of lots).

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Blotting Map / Interboro Partners

Armborst recognizes that their “work as urban planners is then something like that of a ghost writer,” using their training to really tell this story of blotting. “Unplanned transformations are funny,” says Armborst, but they are also inspirational and useful in hinting at the city’s needs.

D’Oca explained Holding Pattern, a temporary public space at MoMA PS1 in Queens, New York. He describes how the design within the museum’s courtyard began in an untraditional way. They began, in fact, with the end. They thought about the possible afterlife of the materials they were using for their design at the beginning.

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Holding Pattern / Interboro Partners

Instead of asking the museum about its needs, they turned to the museum’s neighboring community. D’Oca points out that their “client” thus shifted from MoMA to 50 clients within Long Island City, which included schools, non-profits, and other organizations in need. They charted their needs and wants and came up with a plan to treat the courtyards as a sort of stockyard for these future neighborhood improvements. Each item in the exhibit was tagged with a card explaining where the item would end up. They created a public space design wholly shaped by the neighborhood beyond MoMA’s walls.

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Holding Pattern / Interboro Partners

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Holding Pattern / Interboro Partners

Here’s how Armborst describes it: their design approach was a bit like Iron Chef, where one chef gets a whole bunch of ingredients and must do something creative with them. On a more serious note, Theodore calls this one of their “small, catalytic projects” that positively impacted Long Island City.

Unplanned transformations. Small budgets, limited time. These begin to characterize Interboro’s creative toolbox. Architectural tools, however, are for Interboro something to be used with caution. The firm is well aware of the power of these tools to shape the built environment.

In fact, their forthcoming book The Arsenal of Inclusion and Exclusion aims to reveal, in an encyclopedic manner, the many ways in which the built environment is built with “weapons.” These weapons of exclusion, like a uncomfortable public bench or even a private golf course, shape our communities.

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Cover illustration by Lesser Gonzalez for Interboro’s forthcoming book The Arsenal of Inclusion and Exclusion / Interboro Partners

The encyclopedia is one of Interboro’s many strategies for making architecture for everyone. D’Oca says it best: “We think only architecture that pays close attention to what is happening out there engages in any meaningful way.” The simplicity of their thinking is profound: Interboro Partners seeks to understand what forces are acting on them in order to improve their ability to act as architects and planners.

This guest post is by Lara Mehling, Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, Harvard University Graduate School of Design

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Postcard from “Gotthard Landscape: The Unexpected View,” 2014 Architecture Biennale, Venice, showing a multi-layered perspective / Department of Architecture, ETH Zurich

We need to find a word that brings us back to common ground. In a lecture at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Christope Girot, professor and chair of landscape architecture in the architecture department at the ETH (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) in Zürich, Switzerland, suggests that “topology” may be the word, for it speaks to the logic and intelligence of a landscape. Girot acknowledges his unique way of viewing: “I believe in the landscape as a body.” He means this in a very literal sense, emphasizing landscape’s physical qualities.

One of the first slides Girot flashes before the audience shows topology’s etymological roots: Topos (place) and logos (reason). Topology, he claims, is about sensing and conceiving landscape. Rather abstractly, topology, then, can define a way in which constituent parts are interrelated or arranged. This approach can be applied to landscape architecture through multi-layered visualizations, and new, multi-scalar methods of design.

(Girot borrows the term topology from philosophy, but also reclaims its original meaning from its contemporary mathematical association. Girot makes reference to Hans Kollhoff, who retrieved the term “tectonics” from the realm of volcanoes and inserted it into the core of architecture).

In practice, his use of point cloud modelling for large-scale projects emphasizes landscape’s elevational information. This means designing on a “skin,” an abstracted land form developed by filtering raw data and draping a point cloud. The raw data to which he is referring is what his team collects by sending flying drones with laser scanners over a landscape. Girot uses an incredibly complex coordinate system to achieve a level of precision previously unknown to landscape architects. If his lecture could be summed up by a single statement it would be this: Landscape architects must become masters of simulating reality for this is the future.

A term that Girot employed even more than topology is precision. Point cloud modelling, he argues, is the optimal tool for achieving precision because it achieves a precision competitive with the instruments employed by structural engineers. It elevates the position of the landscape architect, granting a heightened level of control and broadening the landscape architect’s territory. Girot reminds us of a time when engineers, architects, and landscape architects each practiced within their respective scalar domains (1:1-1:1000 versus 1:10,000-50,000, etc.). In contrast to this, today, point cloud modelling enables landscape architects to reverse the order by teaching engineers something about sensitivity.

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Detail of a perspective generated from a point cloud model / Department of Architecture, ETH Zurich

What is astounding is how Girot has been able to apply this methodology, translating a seemingly infinite set of tiny informational dots into more than a pretty pointillist picture. (It is worth mentioning, however, that this does not preclude the possibility of an unlimited number of instant perspectives exported from zooming around in the point cloud model dimension.) While it is easy to gape at the seductive visualizations, such as the 20-meter projection of a fly-through made for Gotthard Landscape: The Unexpected View, the ETH’s contribution to the 2014 Architecture Biennale in Venice, Girot wants to make clear that this method is not just for show; it is a tool.

His animations present a new way of perceiving landscape, allowing viewers to experience an x-ray-like vision of the alps that situates the tunnel beneath a massive load, a measurable “void” beneath the modeled surface. The tunnel itself will alter the way in which visitors make their way “through the alps” by promising a 1-hour 40-minute journey without a single alpine view. In this case the model becomes a tool for communication rather than a tool for design.

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Postcard from “Gotthard Landscape: The Unexpected View,” 2014 Architecture Biennale, Venice / Department of Architecture, ETH Zurich

While point cloud technology introduces new design methods to the field, it by no means guarantees the quality of a design. This technology can only bring us one step closer to a desired level of precision. For example, point cloud modelling is a tool that measures, with surprising accuracy, the extent of flood events on existing topography. For the ongoing project with the Future Cities Laboratory in Jakarta, Indonesia, Girot and his team use point cloud modelling to give definition to a landscape that lacks topographical data.

Girot generated a model of the polluted Ciliwung River to achieve the information required for a systems approach to dealing with a region where informal settlements established within the narrowing riverbed suffer from frequent flooding. With a virtual topography, or a “skin” of the river district, the lab succeeds in developing what Girot calls “the new Nolli plan,” an “urban bas relief” that reveals useful information for an urban strategy.

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Detail from a bird’s eye view rendering made by the Future Cities Laboratory for the Ciliwung River project / Department of Architecture, ETH Zurich

Girot introduces to us a new design approach: communication through simulation. Here, precise data-based 3D modeling precedes the design of a landscape.

This guest post is by Lara Mehling, Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, Harvard University Graduate School of Design

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Denver Mountain Parks / Barrett Doherty – TCLF

In advance of the 2014 ASLA Annual Meeting in Denver, The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) has unveiled What’s Out There Denver, the first in a new series of free web-based, city-focused guides. TCLF’s guide covers more than 150 years of landscape design history and city shaping in Denver. Guide users can explore nearly 70 sites and sort by 17 landscape types, as well as delve into histories of the local designers who created these places.

TCLF President and Founder Charles A. Birnbaum, FASLA, said: “The Denver parks and open space network is an unrivaled local design interpretation that leverages the unique geography of the surrounding Rocky Mountain range and expansive American Prairie grasslands. The goal of this guide is to make this legacy visible and easily accessible through laptops, iPhones, tablets, and other devices.”

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Denver Mountain Parks / Barrett Doherty – TCLF

The series is an expansion of TCLF’s free, profusely-illustrated What’s Out There online database of the nation’s shared landscape legacy, which currently features more than 1,700 sites, 900 designer profiles, and 10,000 images. This is the first phase in the series and will be upgraded over time to allow users to build individual itineraries, create links between cities based on designers, the types and styles of landscapes, and other features. The web site will continue to grow as additional sites are added to the What’s Out There database. The guide also features What’s Nearby, a GPS-enabled function that locates all sites in the database within a 25-mile radius of any given location.

The guide is made possible by project partners ASLA; the Colorado ASLA Chapter; the College of Architecture and Planning at the University of Colorado, Denver; and support from Design Workshop.

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New South Mall campus plan / BIG

The new master plan for the Smithsonian’s South Mall campus, which runs from the Hirshhorn Museum all the way to the Freer Museum, is a shocker. It obliterates the existing landscape, filled with intimate nooks that invite exploration, in favor of “improved connectivity” and open plazas that extend the grand expanse of the Mall in between the buildings. While the current set-up is perhaps rightfully criticized for being difficult to navigate and uninviting in parts, with so many walls separating museum from museum, the new plan by Danish architecture and urban design firm BIG and San Francisco-based landscape architecture firm Surface Design, as well as many other collaborators, may leave visitors feeling exposed. Given full design and implementation of the $2 billion plan is expected to take more than 20 years and won’t even start for the next 5-7 years, we can expect elements of this plan will certainly change. The Smithsonian just began its public comment phase of the process.

For the past two years, the Smithsonian has invested $2.5 million in developing these plans, seemingly under the radar. Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, said the impetus for the new plan came from all the negative public feedback about the experience at the South Mall campus. The subterranean Ripley Education Center, for example, is nearly impossible to find, as is the entrance to the Sackler Gallery. Underground, good luck getting from the Freer to the Sackler or the Ripley Center; the passages are incredibly confusing. These museums, set deep within the Mall, are dark. At night, the whole campus is devoid of light. Visitors can’t walk directly from the Hirshhorn to the Freer, but must zig and zag. As a result, Clough believed the Smithsonian needed to totally “reimagine the experience and transition the Smithsonian into the future.”

This new master plan is then meant to be a road map to guide how to get there, added Smithsonian Undersecretary Albert Horvath. “It’s fluid and provides opportunities and options for us.”

Bjarke Ingels, the founder of BIG, explained the key facets of the plan for a site that may be the “most heavily regulated piece of real estate on Earth”:

The centerpiece of the redevelopment — and the first phase the Smithsonian will tackle — is updating the Castle and protecting it from earthquakes, like the one that heavily damaged it in 2011. The entire building will be set on rollers, a system of “base isolation,” to guard against future seismic anomalies. Given “we are digging anyway,” said Ingels, a new underground interactive exhibit is planned, which will outline all the resources the Smithsonian provides. The building’s interiors, which have been broken up into shops selling knick-knacks and offices, will be reunited in a grand hall, as it once was.

As visitors exit the Castle from the rear, heading toward the Enid A. Haupt garden, visitors will discover a contemporary landscape that peels up in the corners. Each corner will be home to a bright, glass-enclosed entrance that leads visitors either down into the Sackler Gallery or the African Art Museum. Ingels said: “These will be entrances to a much bigger experience. No more hidden pavilions.”

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Visitors will also be able to go up the top of the slopes or picnic on this green roof deck.

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Given the current Haupt garden isn’t under any historical protection, it could actually find new life in this form. One architect with BIG said the team would keep Jean Paul Carlhian’s Moongate Garden, which people love, “just putting it back even better.”

The Sackler Gallery and African Art Museum will also now be viewable from the revamped garden, providing a preview of the art below. “The skylights will give people a sneak peek into the museums, making them intuitively accessible.”

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The spaces themselves will be flooded with light, an improvement everyone can appreciate.

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One reason for all the walls separating these museums from each other is that there are three separate loading docks for the museums. BIG proposes consolidating them into one loading dock and creating a subterranean road that will enable artworks to be safely transported. Paralleling this route will be underground passages, all sky-lit, that allow visitors to travel directly between the Hirshhorn to the Freer, perhaps bypassing having to have your bag checked by security again. With one dock, the walls separating the museums can then be pulled down and direct, above-ground paths can also be created cutting through all the sites, too.

BIG then proposes further exposing the museums to the expanse of the Mall, first by removing the high walls around the Hishhorn Museum, and creating a new landscape design at near-Mall level with a pattern or circles that appear to be radiating off the building. One architect from BIG said they saw the original drawings for the site, and this new concept actually returns this space to the original design intent.

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According to Skip Graffam, ASLA, a partner at OLIN, who created a tour of the existing Hirshhorn landscape, “architect Gordon Bunschaft designed the austere and minimalist building and site, which was later refined by landscape architects Lester Collins and James Urban.” Many may appreciate the understated landscape, always a welcome respite from the Mall.

The sculpture garden, which is in sore need of maintenance, will instead be similarly gutted under this new plan, replaced with a design encased in glass.

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The museum’s central fountain will also be further sunk in.

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A new subterranean space, which will also provide access to a new cafe, will enable visitors to directly connect between the museum and sculpture garden. Now, visitors have to leave the Museum go up over the road, and then go back down into the sculpture garden.

Throughout, BIG proposes major improvements to building and landscape systems, gutting all the 50-year old systems and replacing them with the most energy and water-efficient models. The proposal promotes green infrastructure, energy efficiency, as well as localized renewable energy sources. Ingels said: “Energy use will be reduced by 39 percent and carbon emissions will go down 40 percent.” At the same time, the amount of space available for the museums will increase by 30 percent. “It’s a significant upgrade.”

The changes to the landscape, however, are perhaps mis-characterized as “subtle, surgical interventions.” This is a wholesale redesign of this part of the Mall, but Ingels says his team can “recreate the romantic, meandering nature of the space, so people can get lost in the plants,” while also dramatically improving connectivity. Also important will be creating connections with the ambitious new plans for L’Enfant Plaza and Southwest Eco-District, which is expected to bring in tens of thousands more federal workers, dramatically upping the density in the area.

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Horvath said the “landscape portion of the plan is least developed. The gardens are really integral to the design.”

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Christian Gabriel / Taylor Lednum, GSA

Christian Gabriel, ASLA, is the National Design Director for Landscape Architecture for the U.S. General Service Administration’s Office of Chief Architect in Washington, D.C. At the GSA he works to set design standards in the realm of public space, landscape, site security, and sustainability. He reviews and approves design proposals, serves on team selection panels, assists on special projects, and advocates for innovation. Prior to joining the GSA, he practiced as a senior design associate at Thomas Balsley Associates and Workshop: Ken Smith Landscape Architect.

Since you began as the National Design Director for Landscape Architecture at the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) two years ago, what has changed? Where is GSA now on landscape architecture?

In the last two years, GSA has established a landscape architecture presence that acknowledges the value of the field. When I arrived, landscape architecture issues and opportunities were addressed indirectly through other disciplines, sometimes falling through gaps between general design, architecture, art, or urban planning.

But GSA wanted to shift to a more holistic approach that acknowledged the value robust landscape architectural design can bring to our projects. We have been realizing that shift through the creation of policy guidance on landscape architecture; the selection of prominent landscape architects as national design peers; identification of project opportunities, including landscape exclusive projects and ecological services; and a new landscape architecture voice in capital project design review.

GSA has long-excelled at the art of sustainable building development, and now we’re beginning to bring the same attention to site design.

During the past two years GSA’s new construction budget was slashed. In 2010 the budget was $800 million, but two years later that budget was down to just around $50 million. For this year though, Congress has allocated more than $500 million for some new facilities, such as the San Ysidro Point of Entry in California and an FBI complex in San Juan, Puerto Rico. What is your role in these high-profile projects? How will they showcase design excellence in landscape architecture?

It’s easy to hang on the overall numbers because, like any federal agency, our budget ebbs and flows. Even when our overall capital construction budget goes down, our portfolio remains considerable since it takes quite a while to develop the large projects and programs in our pipeline. And we have a huge maintenance program to boot. Even those maintenance projects can be quite large and have the ability to catalyze change. For example, the Javits Federal Plaza project in New York City, designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, is an eloquent example of a major, well-designed work of landscape architecture that began as a waterproofing project identified and completed through our repair and alterations program.

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Jacob Javits Federal Building Plaza, New York City / Alex Maclean / Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates

In terms of the role of landscape architecture in major projects moving forward, it will be like the role I established during leaner times: seek to be a clear-headed voice at the table, but also bring forward the value of landscape architecture in a variety of performance areas — whether it’s through ecological services or public space design.

The public realm in many of our projects is vitally important. For example, the San Ysidro point of entry is one of the busiest land ports in the world. It sees 30,000 to 50,000 pedestrians every day, and 60,000 to 80,000 vehicles a day. Public spaces there see volumes you rarely find anywhere outside of Times Square.

Another part of your job is educating GSA’s 12,000 plus employees who manage nearly 9,000 buildings about the value of landscape architecture. That seems like a herculean task. What is your strategy for improving awareness? What landscape architecture issues do you think are most misunderstood there?

First, you have to get to the right people. There are people at the beginning of projects who provide significant direction, like chief architect Les Shepherd who shape the look, the feel, the design team. Another critical step is working closely with our regional design and construction teams and project champions, the folks that push the projects along, ensuring that they’re meeting all of the intended objectives and aspirations of the project. Then, when the project is turn-key and facility management takes the reins on behalf of one of our client agencies, it’s critical to touch base and clarify the “care and feeding” of the projects to ensure the longevity of our landscapes and public spaces.

More broadly, we’re focused on the education of all of our staff. We’re providing continuing educational units for our professional staff on a near monthly basis. Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center and other outside institutions and practitioners provide education on landscape architecture topics. We’re also entering into the “landscape analytics” portion of our work where we’re looking at some relatively sophisticated and complex landscapes that have a lot of embedded green infrastructure and are beginning to verify the performance of those projects. Many of our staff are incredibly knowledgeable about both design and construction and have demonstrated a real interest in understanding how complex landscape projects perform under field conditions.

During an ASLA-hosted webinar on how landscape architects can contract with GSA, you mentioned a short selection process that would allow local LA’s to pre-qualify for GSA projects. Can you offer any more details on this process? When you expect GSA to roll it out?

We are always exploring how to enhance our contracting mechanisms and have been looking at two elements related to that: One has been the renewal of our indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity teams. The other is the potential for a short-selection process, which is really a pre-qualification for landscape specific firms. The latter element is only in a discussion stage.

Sustainability is now a key goal for the landscapes GSA manages, but GSA must also prove the benefits of sustainable design practices like green infrastructure outweigh the costs, so it has undertaken a broad effort to collect data and make the case. What kind of data are you collecting? Are there any interesting findings so far?

We’re trying to bring forward the value of landscape architecture in measurable terms. Part of that is making clear the contributions of the landscape if we’re suggesting that public money be spent on creating more intense functional landscapes to treat stormwater, sequester carbon, and produce electricity. There needs to be a commissioning process, similar to how we would commission a furnace in a building, proving to us all that it’s functioning at a certain capacity. Often green infrastructure is assumed to be functioning at maximum capacity. We know in practice, however, that it’s actually very rare, because these are living systems not typically maintained at a perfect level or performing at a consistent level.

We’re planning to work with Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) on two projects we identified for our landscape analytic study, which explore these issues:

First is the new United States Coast Guard headquarters at the old Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital site in Washington, D.C. It is a massive structure, set against a hillside in an historic campus, which hosts the third largest green roof in the world. The combination of on-grade and on-structure elements working together to provide diverse ecological services and zones for the overall project is astounding. We’re planning to verify the performance of hydrologic networks and other sustainable features through a combination of on-site and secondary research, examining the construction, installation, and care.

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US Coast Guard Headquarters, Washington, D.C. / Taylor Lednum, GSA

Second is the Domenici Courthouse in Albuquerque designed by Rios Clementi Hale Studios. This is a SITES-certified project, on a much smaller scale, and in a totally different eco-region, demonstrating an entirely different approach to sustainable landscape. The two projects should prove complementary.

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Domenici Courthouse, Albuquerque, New Mexico / Robert Reck

Carbon, water, and electricity are the three defining design issues of our day. We’re hoping to tackle two of them within the realm of landscape. We are not alone in our interest: Our colleagues at Andropogon Associates, lead designers of the United States Coast Guard Headquarters landscape, have started similar research on other non-federal facilities. We’ve also recently been in touch with Reed Hilderbrand, a firm also looking at something similar, essentially a commissioning process for their Clark Institute of Art project in western Massachusetts.

Your work must incorporate security. Is there a new approach from GSA for using the landscape to improve security? You were talking about these point-of-entry projects where security needs to be visible. You need to know you’re entering this secure environment, so there are symbols of security. But how do you balance creating a sense of security while also providing access and transparency?

There is the issue of preemptive security, the visual definition of security, so people understand a legible and secure envelope on a building or site as a deterrent. That is of great interest to our security-minded client agencies.

At this point, nearly all federal client agencies essentially self-identify the risk level of their own facility on a pre-defined scale. The Interagency Security Council develops all the standards and protocols, the hardening requirements of each level facility, if you will. So this issue is deceptively complex.

Regardless of the risk level however, the best path is integrated design. For example, the Los Angeles Courthouse, now in design and construction on a highly urban site, has a series of walls, planters, and bollards. It’s the idiosyncratic deployment of those things, not in a singular, monolithic monotony that make it less pointed. That site was designed by Mia Lehrer + Associates and peer reviewed by Jennifer Guthrie, ASLA.

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Los Angeles Courthouse / SOM and Mia Lehrer + Associates

By contrast, at the federal campus down in Puerto Rico, where we have more real estate, we can explore more use of tactical topography and water courses as security devices.

Lastly, with colony collapse disorder, honey bees and other crucial pollinators are dying off in great numbers. They are being affected to such an extent that President Obama has issued a memorandum to use buildings and landscapes managed by GSA and other federal agencies to help these important insects. What is GSA specifically doing to help honey bees and other pollinators? How are you going to measure progress?

Pollinators contribute more than $25 billion in value to the American economy every year. Some 60 percent of pollinator populations have been significantly reduced, or have disappeared completely, in the United States, over the past 60 years. Some estimate that 40 to 50 percent of our food would not be available without pollination. Now, we put an economic value on these creatures, but, clearly, they’re irreplaceable.

GSA provides an enormous educational opportunity because we are responsible for office space for 1.2 million federal workers every day. Through our facilities, we have the ability to touch people’s daily lives about this issue while also providing an ecological service.

We’re interested in providing both habitat and foraging opportunities for pollinators; it’s in the realm of what can do through design as an agency. GSA is not one of the big land agencies. We’re not the Department of Interior, Department of Agriculture, or the Forestry Service, but many of our facilities occupy an important part of the built environment. If you follow Richard Foreman’s theory of land mosaics, our facilities can be considered critical stepping stones for pollinators to move from one site to another. Our urban and ex-urban landscapes are fragmented and we can do our part to improve the conditions for pollinators.

For design and construction, we have a facility standard that guides our process — essentially setting the minimum of what we’re trying to achieve across the board for design performance. Now we have a baseline standard for plant diversity that attempts to provide foraging opportunities for pollinators throughout the year and can be applied across the nation for projects of varying size. There may be exceptions because we’re writing a standard for Phoenix, Arizona and Portland, Maine at the same time, but it gives us the opportunity to force an issue as critical as pollination up to the front in design considerations. We can ask our design teams to think critically about pollinators as it relates to a design and then allow a discussion to emerge.

GSA also worked closely with the White House Council on Environmental Quality, White House Office for Science and Technology Policy, Smithsonian Gardens, the U.S. Botanic Gardens, and other federal partners on writing the new addendum to federal landscape guidelines to support the health of honeybees and other pollinators.

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Starry Night Bike Path, The Netherlands / Daan Roosegaarde

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“The city of Minneapolis named three finalist teams to design the two-block park near the new Vikings stadium. The three finalists are Olin Studio, Philadelphia and Snow Kreilich Architects, Hargreaves Associates and Damon Farber Associates, and WORKSHOP Ken Smith and Perkins + Will.”

Frick’s Plan for Expansion Faces Fight Over Loss of Garden The New York Times, 11/9/2014
“The Frick Collection’s plan to build a six-story addition, which destroys a garden design by landscape architect Russell Page, has met resistance. More than 2,000 critics have signed a petition organized by a consortium of preservation groups in protest of the expansion.”

In Urban Farming, a Different Taste of L.A. The Los Angeles Times, 11/12/14
“Instances of urban farming in Los Angeles have become increasingly common. From the roof of 120-year-old private clubs to local high schools, urban farming is proving its worth with gardens yielding up to $150,000 in produce annually.”

Daan Roosegaarde Opens Solar Powered Van Gogh Bike Path in the NetherlandsDesignBoom, 11/13/14
“Running 600 meters along the Brabant, the Netherlands site where Vincent Van Gogh lived from 1883 to 1885, dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde has opened the ‘Van Gogh-Roosegaarde cycle path’, comprising thousands of solar powered stones arranged in swirling compositions likened to the painter’s renowned ‘starry night.'”

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