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Klyde Warren Park / Thomas McConnel

Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, Texas, won the Urban Land Institute’s 2014 Open Space Award, which recognizes “public spaces that have socially and economically enriched and revitalized their communities.” Completed in 2012 by landscape architecture firm The Office of James Burnett (OJB), the 5-acre park is a green roof, decking over the sunken Woodall Rogers Freeway. As the highway was submerged, a new living, breathing space was made possible. The park now connects the city’s downtown cultural district with the mixed-use neighborhoods to the north, helping car-centric Dallas become a healthier, more walkable place.

According to OJB, the park brings it all. There is a “flexible, pedestrian-oriented design, offering a mix of active and passive spaces.” Spaces are either grand or intimate. In the grand category, there is a sweeping pedestrian promenade with botanical garden and great lawn, with fountain and performance pavilion. Smaller spaces include a children’s park, reading room, games area, and dog park.

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Klyde Warren Park / Gary Zvonkovic

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Klyde Warren Park / Dillon Diers

These spaces enable all kinds of activities, ranging from “yoga classes and lectures to outdoor concerts and film screenings.” James Burnett, FASLA, said: “Great cities have great parks, and Klyde Warren Park has quickly become the new heart of downtown Dallas.”

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Klyde Warren Park / LianeRochelle Photography

The park also incorporates sustainable design elements. The landscape itself has a “continuous canopy of Pond Cypress,” and much of the design is characterized by the “use of native tree and plant species,” which are all kept alive through the Texan summer through a water reclamation and purification system. There is a high-efficiency lighting system throughout, featuring solar-powered light poles. The buildings, which have been certified LEED Gold, use geothermal energy for temperature control.

M. Leanne Lachman, Chair of the ULI Global Awards for Excellence Jury, said: “Klyde Warren is not only successful in fixing an urban fracture that isolated development and challenged the existing potential for the area; it also demonstrates that a long-term vision and commitment are critical to foster a sense of place and community, with lasting positive rippling effects.”

See more images.

Mellon Square: Discovering a Modern Masterpiece  / Princeton Architectural Press

Mellon Square: Discovering a Modern Masterpiece / Princeton Architectural Press

Recently restored to much ado through a six-year process, Mellon Square in Pittsburgh was the first Modernist space in the nation built over a subterranean parking garage. Considered a precursor to today’s green roof movement, Mellon Square is a showcase for urban revitalization through historic preservation, with a contemporary sensibility and the latest technologies. In the foreword of Susan Rademacher’s Mellon Square: Discovering a Modern Masterpiece, series editor Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, head of The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) says the result of the restoration is “a renewed, enhanced, and revitalized Mellon Square that carefully balances the highest historic preservation standards with clearly articulated performance benchmarks and sustainability standards.”

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Henri Marcus Moran, “View of Mellon Square – Looking North,” ca. 1955, Gouache on board / Princeton Architectural Press

As Rademacher, parks curator at Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, tells the history of the civic space itself, she reflects Pittsburgh’s ups and downs throughout much of the twentieth century – from booming steel town to post-WWII slump, when it was nicknamed the “Smoky City” due to its heavy blankets of regular smog. Mellon Square was a key player ushering in Pittsburgh’s first renaissance, drawing innovation, entrepreneurs, and civic life to the downtown “Golden Triangle.” But the square also succumbed to the decline characterizing Pittsburgh through the 1960s to 90s. As Rademacher tells it, Mellon Square is a proxy for the status and reputation of the entire city of Pittsburgh.

Mayor David Lawrence with R.K. Mellon, in Life magazine, May 1956 / Margaret Bourke-White, Princeton Architectural Press

Mayor David Lawrence with R.K. Mellon, in Life magazine, May 1956 / Margaret Bourke-White, Princeton Architectural Press

Also woven into the narrative are personal histories of key players such as project architects James Mitchell and Dahlen Ritchey, and landscape architects John Simonds and Philip Simonds. Students and practitioners of landscape architecture will recognize the former Simonds as author of seminal text Landscape Architecture, still widely used as a foundational textbook for landscape architecture courses. We learn about his life and entry into the profession in the 1930s, and find fascinating glimpses of a highly tenuous time for the field. In a 1999 letter, Simonds recounts asking Walter Gropius, his mentor at the Harvard, about the future role for landscape architecture in contemporary society. Gropius “looked at [him] long and thoughtfully without speaking. It was quite possibly one of the most eloquent statements ever never stated.” Simonds would go on to graduate as part of the “infamous 1939 ‘class of rebels,’” we learn from Landscape Architecture co-author Barry W. Starke, FASLA. In these records, the mythos of the profession is alive and well.

Iconic copper fountains elegently lit and choreographed early in Mellon Square's history / Princeton Architectural Press

Iconic copper fountains elegantly lit and choreographed early in Mellon Square’s history / Princeton Architectural Press

At the heart of the book, of course, is the history of Mellon Square itself. Readers looking for historical details will not be disappointed. Design notes, sketches, photographs, and planting details are generously interspersed throughout the text. Just about every planting choice considered, implemented, and replaced is included, with nuggets, such as the “early use of the new thornless form of the honey locust tree,” now common and well-known to practitioners. And we learn that early design concepts discussed including “live animal displays within the pool, such as flamingos, penguins, and sea lions, which were favored for their comical movements and expressions.”

John Simonds' earliest known concept sketch / Princeton Architectural Press

John Simonds’ earliest known concept sketch / Princeton Architectural Press

Planting detail with circular platforms for sea lions are featured in an early concept sketch / Princeton Architectural Press

Planting detail with circular platforms for sea lions are featured in an early concept sketch / Princeton Architectural Press

Also noted is Simonds’ “elaborate and precise statement of design intent,” in which that the square must simultaneously act as a platform, structure, island, space, focal center, civic monument, gathering place, and oasis. “Simonds and his collaborators created a powerfully original landscape architecture and urban design solution . . . [placing] nature in high relief against the building-lined streets of downtown.”

Those hoping to gain insight for approaching a historic restoration in other cities will also find much to learn from. Mellon Square, which also features essays by Patricia O’Donnell, FASLA, Heritage Landscapes, lead landscape architect on the restoration effort, and Richard Bell, FASLA, champions the efforts of all involved. Rademacher is careful to give credit to all involved parties, from the first glimmers of an idea through the recent full restoration. As important as reconstructing the historic details of the copper fountains and rustic terrazzo paving was the building and maintaining of partnerships across disciplines. Though Mellon Square underwent a partial restoration in the 1980s, funding issues – along with design modifications largely reversed to better align with the original design – led to a lack of proper maintenance. Key to the future success of the square will be an ongoing $4 million maintenance fund devoted to perpetual stewardship of Mellon Square.

Editorial cartoon, Cy Hungerford, 1955 / Princeton Architectural Press

Editorial cartoon, Cy Hungerford, 1955 / Princeton Architectural Press

One of few Modernist landscapes fully preserved and restored, proponents hope Mellon Square will be not an anomaly but a model for other locations. Up next: how about designation as a National Historic Landmark?, suggests Birnbaum.

Read the book.

Yoshi Silverstein, Associate ASLA, is founder and lead designer-educator at Mitsui Design, focusing on landscape experience and connection to place. He was the ASLA summer 2014 communications intern.

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Larry Weaner in Meadow 1 at Dumbarton Oaks Park / Jared Green

“We are at the volatile beginning period when all the plants are fighting it out. We have to help the newly planted grasses dominate,” said Larry Weaner, Larry Weaner Landscape Associates, at the kick-off of the restoration of the 9-acre meadow at Dumbarton Oaks Park in Washington, D.C. The first two meadows in a five-meadow necklace have already been seeded with warm season grasses, embedded in a protective layer of grasses that will later die back. In a carefully-sequenced succession, the new warm season grasses will slowly take over, restoring the original vision of landscape architect Beatrix Farrand, who designed the park in the 1920s and 30s, and creating rich wildlife habitat in the process.

Liza Gilbert, ASLA, one of the leaders of the restoration process at Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy and the latest landscape designer to be appointed to the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts, said Farrand meant the 27-acre landscape to be a “wild garden” distinct from the formal gardens of Dumbarton Oaks just up the hill. “There is a progression of spaces, with narrow paths leading to grand vistas. She was a master of creating spatial experiences, moving from dark to light.” The land had been used as a farm for decades; Farrand “created a paradise out of land that had been worked.”

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Meadow 1 at Dumbarton Oaks Park / Jared Green

Farrand believed “topography must dictate design. She was a master at reading curves, the sculptural quality of the land, and using plants to highlight those features.” As such, Farrand saw five meadows, divided into rooms by loose hedgerows, interconnected into a necklace. “That’s why we are inexplicably drawn to the next one and the next.” Meadow 5, the final one, is “a broad expanse where I always feel a little lost,” which is perhaps what she wanted us to feel. Weaner echoed these thoughts, adding that “Farrand was sensitive to letting the land express itself.” Like Farrand, “we must follow the place’s natural inclinations,” even with restoring the meadow. “It’s not about what I envision here.”

Since the 1950s, the park has been left to its own devices. The result was the total takeover of the historic design by invasive non-native plants, including Japanese stiltgrass, porcelain berry, wineberry, and others, until the Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy started up in earnest a few years ago. Over literally thousands of hours of volunteer labor, the mighty team at the conservancy has turned the tide, enabling Farrand’s design to reappear in many key places. The next phase is recreating the five meadows, all of which had all been overrun except for one.

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Existing native meadow after mowing / Jared Green

Meadows are incredibly complex ecosystems and designing them is as much art as science. In a lecture hosted by the George Washington University landscape design program, Weaner said warm season grasses, which are native, are more desirable than cool season grasses, which were imported from Europe, because they sustain the local ecosystem. Cool season grasses mat when they grow, whereas warm season grasses allow for little pockets of life to more easily live amid individual plants. Warm season grasses are natural homes for solitary, non-hive bees and other insects that birds eat. As Doug Tallamy, one of the world’s foremost wildlife ecologists has explained, birds are “insect specific.” Native birds want to eat native bugs, which feed on native plants. If meadows disappear, so do the insects and then the birds. Restoring the native meadows at Dumbarton Oaks Park is then vital to creating the “little rest stops birds need” on their journeys.

Once you’ve intervened in a landscape and you are trying to turn it into a native meadow, you have to work with existing natural processes. Weaner described a meadow as a “system with early and late stage players.” Succession, which is “the changing nature of plants in a place,” is happening at all times. “If we bulldoze a place, we’ll first see small herbaceous grasses, then pioneer shrubs and trees, and then more mature trees.” Trees will eventually push out most of the ground cover, unless they are stopped. But Weaner explained that a sort of micro-succession also occurs within the meadow stage of succession as well. Given some grasses are annual, others are biannual and still others are perennial, “in a one year time period, the dominant species will completely change.”

In a warm season native meadow, perennial plants dominate. “The problem is they establish themselves slowly. They put their energy into root growth as a long-term investment. Perennials are conservative whereas annuals crash and burn. It’s a relay over time.” Given some perennials take up to 7-10 years to flower, and therefore only then create seeds that can restore the ground’s seed bank, “the first 1-3 years are volatile.” Cool season grasses found in meadows 1 and 2 will continue to co-exist alongside new warm season perennials planted in July — Purple Top, Beaked Panicgrass, Side Oats Gamma, and Little Blue Stem — giving the perennials time to get situated and eventually dominate. The idea is the warm season grasses, if supported with mowing each spring, will eventually take over, as the cool season grasses will not be given the opportunity to grow and will eventually die.

Weaner said the conservancy team will need to keep a close watch over the nascent native meadows as any disturbance can easily “push a meadow back to its early stage of succession. Succession can also go backwards.” Invasive plants are a constant threat; they are a “permanent disturbance.” But if invasive can no longer produce new seeds and add to the seed bank, they can be held at bay indefinitely.

Dumbarton Oaks Park, working with nature’s processes, is like a perennial itself, making a long-term investment in the future. More meadows in the necklace will soon be planted with warm season grasses and shepharded. The results of their labors won’t be seen for many years, but the seeds have been planted.

Public Produce: Cultivating Our Parks, Plazas, and Streets for Healthier Cities / Island Press

Public Produce: Cultivating Our Parks, Plazas, and Streets for Healthier Cities / Island Press

We are increasingly concerned about the provenance of our food. Movements supporting local food production, urban agriculture, and more socially-equitable food systems have gained increasing traction over the last decade. Meanwhile, our industrial food systems are increasingly vulnerable due to over-centralized facilities and ownership, reliance on fossil fuels for production and transportation, and crop monocultures, which are made only more vulnerable by climate change.

Urban agriculture is frequently cited as a response to these challenges. Cities, though, still face question of where to grow food, how to maintain farms, create access, and educate citizens about agricultural production. In Public Produce: Cultivating Parks, Plazas, and Streets for Healthier Cities, urban designer and author Darrin Nordahl proposes local governments bolster local ecosystems of public food production.

Alice Waters praised the original 2009 edition as showing “how growing food on public land can transform our civic landscape.” Marion Nestle said the book gave “all the reasons why growing food in cities would be good for alleviating poverty, for building communities, and for public policy.”

A newly revised and expanded edition does these things and fills in key details by offering numerous examples of people, organizations, communities, and governments implementing all sorts of models of food production on public lands as well as partnerships between local governments and community organizations.

The first few chapters will be highly useful for those looking for a succinct and easily-readable introduction to the arguments behind local and urban food production: food (in)security, over-reliance on fossil fuels, social equity, and resilience to climate change, to name a few. But those already well versed in the works of Michael Pollan and other sustainable agriculture advocates can skim through.

Nordahl hits his stride in the third chapter as he goes beyond the general tenets of urban agriculture and makes his case for a triad between public space, public officials, and public policy. Growing vegetables in public spaces sends a powerful message. Nordahl defines public spaces as places freely accessible to the public, “whether they are truly public or merely perceived to be . . . In essence, any space where the public can enter throughout the day without being charged and admission fee . . . and is suitable for growing food, is worthy of inclusion in a network of public produce.”

Social justice advocates will appreciate the chapter on gleaning as a public produce model, and Nordahl gives many examples of places that have developed strong access networks. Fallen Fruit in Los Angeles, for example, develops freely accessible maps showing where fruit can be publicly gleaned. He also offers an interesting take on gleaning as economic opportunity – foraging for fruit rather than, say, recyclables, and trading in one’s daily harvest for money or other essentials.

Publically accessible fruit trees in Sherman Oaks neighborhood, Los Angeles / Fallen Fruit

Publically accessible fruit trees in Sherman Oaks neighborhood, Los Angeles / Fallen Fruit

Nordahl’s strongest arguments come in chapter five, in which he addresses the perennial maintenance question: “who is going to take care of it?” Indeed, this was one of my first questions – and many others may well wonder how well-received the idea will be of rotting fruit all over public spaces, which are expensive to clean up and unappealing to the aesthetic eye. But Nordahl reminds the reader that “the fantastic aesthetics of our most prized landscape plants makes it easy for us to forget that they produce an abundance of leaf litter, drip with sticky nectar, and drop unpalatable fruit by the bunches.” Planting edibles prioritizes the value of food production, while often offering an aesthetic value as well.

“There is no doubt that food-producing plants can be messy and need some upkeep,” Nordahl admits. “But the pervasive assumption that edibles require considerably more management than ornamental plants, or are not as pretty, is bogus. . . [that said], sound design principles are not thrown out the window simply because the plant palette uses fruit-bearing trees instead of sterile cultivars. As in any landscape design, the architect needs to take into account how many people will use or pass by the space; what types of activities will take place in the space; the microclimate, solar access, and water availability of the space; and a host of other variables.”

Again, Nordahl gives several examples where communities developed multi-beneficial models for maintenance, harvesting, and clean-up of edible plants. Communities who balance an appropriate “carrying capacity,” where the availability of edibles does not exceed the demand for them, help ensure that fruit is harvested and eaten, rather than left to drop and rot on the ground.

Landscape architects and designers will appreciate the examples where aesthetic and place-making qualities were woven into designs for food production. The Curtis “50-Cent” Jackson Community Garden in Queens, NY, designed by Walter Hood, ASLA, for example, integrates huge, eye-catching rainwater-collection sculptures amid the edibles planted in French-style parterres. And designers for Disneyland’s “Tomorrowland” area planted edible fruit trees, herbs, and leafy greens in lieu of solely ornamental plantings, perhaps to suggest what urban design of the future will look like.

Sculptural rainwater collection towers amidst planting beds at the Curtis "50-Cent" Jackson Community Gardens in Queens, NY / New York Restoration Project

Sculptural rainwater collection towers amidst planting beds at the Curtis “50-Cent” Jackson Community Gardens in Queens, NY / New York Restoration Project

Citrus trees in "Tomorrowland," Disneyland / FlashBulb

Citrus trees in “Tomorrowland,” Disneyland / FlashBulb

But this book is not a design manual or a how-to guide for would-be urban farmers. A good number of photos intersperse with the text, but readers will not find design schematics, planting calendars, or detailed plant lists for every climate. Examples are woven into the narrative, not broken out as researched case studies. Nordahl lays out an alluring vision, however, and his arguments are persuasive. Peas at City Hall, persimmons along public avenues, and pawpaws in city parks? Maybe not such a crazy idea after all.

Read the book.

Yoshi Silverstein, Associate ASLA, is founder and lead designer-educator at Mitsui Design, focusing on landscape experience and connection to place. He was the ASLA summer 2014 communications intern.

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11th Street Bridge Park / All images by OLIN and OMA

Landscape architecture firm OLIN and architecture firm OMA were announced as the winners of a national design competition to create a 900-foot-long bridge park spanning the Anacostia River in Washington, D.C. According to 11th Street Bridge Park executive director Scott Kratz, the jury unanimously selected this team, and the majority of online public votes came in for their inventive, X-marks-the-spot design. Fundraising for the park, which is expected to cost more than $25 million, begins in earnest; the D.C. government has also committed $14.5 million for the project. Some 800,000 to 1,200,000 people are expected to visit the park each year, bringing in $75-200 million in an anticipated return on investment each year, said Kratz.

Jason Long, a partner with OMA, said the bridge’s X design will be iconic. It brings the Navy Yard’s “entertainment and retail” and Anacostia’s “arts and culture” together in a literal crossing. Also, the hardscape of the Navy Yard will mix with the “pastoral side” of the Anacostia. The X design creates an upper and lower deck so more layers can be added. Long said the upper deck will provide needed shade in D.C.’s blistering summers.

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Hallie Boyce, ASLA, a partner at OLIN, told us: “This is an incredible opportunity to contribute to the fabric of the city and bring everyone together to strengthen the ecological health of the river and the overall health of the surrounding communities.” Indeed, the bridge is the central opportunity to focus all of our attention on the continuously-sorry state of the Anacostia River, which is among the most polluted in the country. As Kratz told us, the park will get more people to engage with the river and do something about the environmental problems. “If you go to our gorgeous bridge park and see a blue heron, but then also see a trash bag, you’ll know which doesn’t belong.” The park will be home to a permanent environmental education system designed to educate locals and spur more aggressive clean-up action.

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Boyce explained their thoughtful plans for helping restore the ecosystems to health. New parks on either side of the bridge park will “enrich through plantings” the Piedmont and coastal plain ecosystems, which meet in D.C. Plantings are designed to be habitat for wildlife first and foremost, but the plants will also offer a “rich, varied experience” for visitors as well. She said, “the city celebrates cherry blossoms each spring;” at the bridge park, “they will celebrate fall foilage.”

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There will be a series of waterfalls on the upper deck and then lower deck, two at each edge of the park. The lower deck waterfalls will recycle river water, aerating it, adding oxygen to the river, in the process. The upper deck waterfalls will serve as introduction to visitors entering on the pedestrian ramps, offering “a lovely gateway, with calming effect.” The design team also proposed using the waterfalls as canvases for moving videos about the history of the nearby communities. Here, again, OLIN and OMA meet both ecological and aesthetic goals through smart design.

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Boyce said the river’s health is expected to soon improve. A new set of stormwater tunnels will come online in a few years, eliminating sewage overflows from the city into the Anacostia. Efforts are underway to deal with the massive amounts of contaminated soils found in industrial sites upstream in Maryland. That state is also looking into a bag tax, which will help reduce the number of plastic bag detritus. Still, so much more needs to be done in Maryland, as it’s responsible for much of the poor condition of the river, if the river is to be safe for swimming by 2025, as Boyce said.

The team behind the bridge park rightfully kept the focus on keeping the park rich with activities year-round. While there is talk of a streetcar going over the bridge, when the park gets built it will still be a big schlep from Metro stations on either the Anacostia or Navy Yard sides. The Anacostia Metro stations are both more than a mile from the bridge. There will be ample access along the waterfront — especially for bicyclists — and the pedestrian pathways through the parks and up the ramps seem pleasant, but the park will really need to be a destination to draw the 800,000 – 1,200,000 people a year they expect.

So to make the park a destination, the design team has added a sunken amphitheater — recessed to hide the noise of the cars passing on other 11th street bridge, a cafe and urban agriculture garden, and a grand, central plaza that may make the walk worth it. The plaza, situated near the cafe, will also provide spaces for wedding and events. In the winter, it can turn into an ice rink. Again, creating must-attend events on these spaces, and buzz about the park, will be critical.

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Coming next is a feasibility study, including a structural analysis for the bridge foundation, as well as an environmental impact study, right-of-way analysis, and more conversations with the Coast Guard and Navy. At the press conference, some community activists expressed concerns about what the park would mean for neighboring property values — and whether it would advance gentrification, the displacement of existing communities. Kratz said their number-one concern was no displacement, and the bridge park team will be doing an audit of all the housing around the park before the project even gets constructed. “That way we’ll have real data to see what the impact of the bridge park is” and help the city government find a solution.

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Curly willow, myrtle, and palm fronds in the “Tension Release” sukkah, Sukkot at the Ranch 2014 / Yoshi Silverstein

“On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the harvest of your land, you shall observe a festival . . . you shall take the product of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook . . . You shall live in booths for seven days.” Leviticus 23:39-43

Ancient verses from the Jewish Bible and contemporary landscape design do not often overlap, but this year no fewer than five design competitions and exhibitions throughout the U.S. and Canada have asked designers to create modern interpretations of the “booths” referred to in Leviticus. Called a sukkah in Hebrew, the temporary dwellings have been built annually by Jews for the last two millennia to celebrate the holiday of Sukkot (plural for sukkah), a week-long Autumn harvest festival. The holiday is a unique, three-dimensional religious experience, where participants are asked to not only re-tell the stories of their Jewish ancestors, but actually re-live their experiences and make them meaningful for today.

The idea of a design competition for the sukkah, however, dates back just a few years to 2010, when the popular Sukkah City event built twelve radical new interpretations of the sukkah at Union Square in New York City.

“The sukkah is one of the very few times where the Jewish liturgy and tradition actually has an architectural expression. So it’s amazing nobody thought of this before,” says architectural critic and Sukkah City juror Paul Goldberger in the documentary film chronicling the process.

Interpreting what is meant by “booth” creates a natural design challenge. The Talmud, a compendium of Jewish law, lays out the parameters that make a sukkah “kosher” – up to code, so speak. The basic constraints are simple: it must be temporary, with at least two and a half walls, big enough to contain a table, and have a roof made from organic materials that provide more shade than sun, but allow one to see the stars. “Yet a deep dialogue of historical texts intricately refines and interprets these constraints,“ says Sukkah City. “The paradoxical effect of these constraints is to produce a building that is at once new and old, timely and timeless, mobile and stable, open and enclosed, homey and uncanny, comfortable and critical.”

Sukkah City People's Choice Winner "Fractured Bubble" / Wikimedia Commons

Sukkah City People’s Choice Winner “Fractured Bubble” / Wikimedia Commons

Many who grew up celebrating the holiday of Sukkot think of the sukkah as some version of a box framed by 2 x 4 wooden planks or PVC piping, walls built from plywood or stretched canvas, and a roof made from whatever branches or other plant materials could be sourced locally. Many Jewish homes and communities enjoy the opportunity to gather friends together to build and decorate the sukkah, often with the kind of fall-themed decorations found at the local craft shop: dried gourds, hanging paper ribbons and pendants, string-lights. The holiday has long engendered a warm, community-based ethic – and for those who sleep in the structure, it’s like backyard camping as a kid.

For designers, however, the possibilities of new forms, materials, and construction methods within the set design constraints are a fascinating opportunity to translate religious ideas and values into physical form. For event organizers, the opportunity is to directly connect important social justice issues like homelessness to Jewish tradition and engage community members in new ways.

In Toronto, Sukkahville was started in 2011 by non-profit housing agency Kehilla Residential Programme to highlight its affordable housing initiatives. “Sukkahville helps create a conversation about affordable housing, raises public awareness through an interactive Sukkah exhibition and most importantly, it generates funds for its Rental Assistance Program that helps those who need a home,” says the design brief on the website.

Visitors climb inside a sukkah at Sukkahville 2013 / Sukkahville

Visitors climb inside a sukkah at Sukkahville 2013 / Sukkahville

While the basic constraints are tantalizing on their own, some organizers dug deeper to further frame design guidelines with Judaic connections. As this year is considered a year of shmita (sabbatical), the 2014 Sukkot at the Ranch competition is themed “Release, Renew, Reimagine.” Based on the traditional shmita year during which the Israelites were instructed to fallow their agricultural lands and release debts, the design brief asks: “How can a temporary structure explore these juxtapositions of harvest and release?” Here are the three finalists. (Full disclosure: the author is a finalist in this competition as well).

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“Three Petals” sukkah pays homage to nomadicism with its teepee inspired form / Sukkot at the Ranch

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“Untitled #8″ sukkah has seven sides, one of which is open / Sukkot at the Ranch

Central bamboo spire inside the "Tension Release" sukkah at Sukkot at the Ranch / Yoshi Silverstein

Central bamboo spire inside the “Tension Release” sukkah, Sukkot at the Ranch / Yoshi Silverstein

Other events, such as SukkahPDX at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education in Portland, and Sukkah City STL 2014: Between Absence and Presence in St. Louis, partner Jewish community organizations with museums and design schools. “What sets apart Sukkah City STL is that the competition focuses on emerging architecture and design students,” says Jacqueline Ulin Levey, St. Louis Hillel president, in a St. Louis Post Dispatch article.

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Visitors take a selfie in the “Disintegrating Boundaries” sukkah at Sukkah City STL / Joe Angeles, WUSTL Photos

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“Fleeting Moments” sukkah at SukkahPDX / Janet Eastman

These kinds of design competitions provide the opportunity to invite distinguished professionals to the jury. Kenneth Helphand, FASLA, a well-known landscape architecture professor at the University of Oregon, was a member of the jury for SukkahPDX. The Sukkot at the Ranch competition sponsored by the Leichtag Foundation in Encinitas, CA, features landscape architect Mia Lehrer, FASLA, as a judge this year.

The competitions and exhibitions gave finalists materials budgets ranging from $1,000 – $3,600, and most require the structures be built in a day. Many exhibitions are still open to the public for the remaining days of Sukkot.

Yoshi Silverstein, Associate ASLA, is founder and lead designer-educator at Mitsui Design, which strengthens Jewish connections to place. He was the ASLA summer 2014 communications intern.

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Downspout leads to a rain garden at Mary Myer’s house / Rob Cardillo. The New York Times

One Woman’s Pipe Dream The New York Times, 10/9/14
“Mary E. Myers, a landscape architect and associate professor at Temple University, had more than absorbing storm water in mind when she created a 200-square-foot rain garden beside her sloping lawn in this shady suburb north of downtown Philadelphia.”

London Mulls Plans for a £600m Floating Bike Path BBC News, 10/13/14
“In an inspired burst of think-outside-the-street strategy, a London consortium is floating an audacious plan to turn part of the River Thames into a nearly eight-mile-long, bikes-only pathway.”

Hermann Park Marks Centennial with Opening of GardensHouston Chronicle, 10/13/14
“Since its establishment in 1914, Hermann Park has served the Houston community as a place to relax, play, engage and learn. To celebrate the Park’s 100th year, the McGovern Centennial Gardens, a new park, will have its grand opening Saturday, Oct. 18.”

Creative Parks Cost Money, and They’re Worth it: HumeToronto Star, 10/13/14
“A city park can be innovative, imaginative, and carry cultural weight. In Toronto, we’re only starting to try.”

A Plan to Turn a Queens Railway Into a ParkThe New York Times, 10/14/14
“‘The advantage of leaving the site vacant for so long is that we’ve got some very large oaks, maple and walnut trees,’ said Susannah C. Drake, the principal of DlandStudio, a landscape architecture firm. ‘On the viaduct, some smaller things have sprouted up like wild roses, sumac and cedars.’”

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All photos courtesy of Line Ramstad

“Do no harm.” These are the words echoed again and again by Line Ramstad, the Norwegian-born designer who since 2009 has lived and worked in a refugee camp in a disputed zone near the border of Thailand and Burma. She sees her unique position as Norwegian woman living and working with the Karen migrants as a strength, explaining, “it is nice to travel in between, to be the bridge.” Ramstad spoke at the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture.

Ramstad studied anthropology and geography before eventually receiving a master of landscape architecture. After five years of traditional practice, Ramstad traveled with two other Norwegians to the border with the intention of using their design background to aid in development work, eventually designing and building an orphanage. When her partners returned to Norway, Ramstad stayed and founded her current design/build architecture practice, Gyaw Gyaw, with three Karen migrants.

Ramstad describes the current situation of the Karen migrants as one with few options. Possessing no official papers, the Karen have few job prospects and live largely in refugee camps. We learn about their history on Gyaw Gyaw’s website: “the Karen people are the second biggest ethnic group in Burma. Exactly how many are unknown. After World War II, Burma was granted independence from the British invasion that had lasted for 62 years. The Karen people had been loyal to the British and fought with the alliance during the war. Among other minorities, they were now promised their own state, and Kaw Thoo Lei (The Land without Evil) was founded, but the Karen people never got sovereignty of the area.”

Gyaw Gyaw, which means “slowly, step by step,” designs and builds with an ethic of sustainability. Their built work consists largely of dormitories, schools, wells and playgrounds, and frequently incorporates partnerships with local NGOs and design firms. Ramstad thinks their work creates opportunities to promote democracy and encourage self-governance, both within the organization in the camps at large. Karens learn how to design and construct buildings together and this knowledge will remain with their people.

While the organization does not accept volunteers, they do offer an annual workshop in which visitors are encouraged to participate. They only accept funds that allow them to do the work in a way that is consistent with their small-scale and specific mission; their annual budget is only $60,000.

Gyaw Gyaw builds using “traditional materials and techniques used in more innovative and sustainable ways.” Ramstad emphasizes the importance of function above all else. She speaks eloquently about the constraints of cost and material that allow the work to be driven largely by climate and environment. “It’s very liberating to not have such choice of materials.” The organization rarely works with maps or drawings, a rarity in today’s highly technical architectural world. But Gyaw Gyaw also pays attention to the details, as Ramstad takes pride in her colleague Phillipa’s innovation in crafting elegant bamboo screens. Gyaw Gyaw also carefully observes how people use these spaces: Ramstad and her colleagues live close to these buildings and as a result their design process extends to a post-occupancy analysis of the daily life of their work.

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When asked about her landscape background and her current architecture work, Ramstad readily admits her weakness in construction knowledge, for which she relies heavily on her Karen colleagues. She describes her strength in “cultural and landscape adaptation,” explaining that “to be an architect is to have an open approach to the physical space around us.”

Through events like UVA’s lecture and international design conferences, Ramstad has begun to articulate and share Gyaw Gyaw’s ethos. Ramstad co-authored In Search of a Process: Laufen Manifesto for a Humane Design Culture, which states: “We speak out to define an alternative position. We must produce spaces that counter exploitation, control and alienation, whether in urban or rural landscapes. With all our expertise, creativity and power, we need to contribute more dynamically and consequentially to the global quest for equality.”

Ramstad’s visit instigated a broader discussion within the classrooms and studios at UVA. Some students and professors raised questions about the relevance of her work, as it’s particular to a region in Southeast Asia. However, Gyaw Gyaw’s process resonated with many students who are interested in participatory design.

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As design students, we often conduct site research from afar, making our best attempt at understanding place through online research and limited site-visits. Ramstad’s work shows us another type of design model, one that relies on an intimate understanding of place, and the people who inhabit it, as essential drivers of the design process. Ramstad’s approach came across as both refreshingly personal and intentionally limited. For her, community engagement is paramount in the design process.

In every stage of this process, Ramstad and Gyaw Gyaw call for “small steps” and making absolutely sure that if one’s intention is to do good work, that one truly does “no harm.”
 
This guest post by Jenna Harris, Master of Landscape Architecture Candidate, University of Virginia

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Pioneer Courthouse Square / Kenneth Helphand, FASLA

Portland, Oregon, is more than a trendy place to visit—it has long been ahead of the curve on urban design and sustainability, thanks to smart leadership and a willingness to experiment and innovate. The Landscape Architect’s Guide to Portland, a project by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), explains Portland’s cutting-edge approach to sustainable urban design.

The guide provides both Portlanders and the millions of tourists who visit Portland annually a deeper understanding of why Portland is one of the most livable and sustainable cities in the world. The guide is also meant to educate city leaders, urban planners, and designers across the U.S. and around the globe.

According to Mark A. Focht, FASLA, president of ASLA and first deputy commissioner of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, Portland’s landscape architects have played a crucial role in making the city a better place to live. Their contributions trace back to the early 20th century, when the Olmsted Brothers laid out many of the critical urban plans and park system, and continue with today’s generation of landscape architects, who are creating waterfront parks, beloved urban plazas, and cutting-edge bicycle infrastructure.

“Portland’s designed landscapes are integral to its urban fabric,” says Focht. “Landscape architects have long played a major role in designing the city’s public realm, and the key spaces between buildings that serve as the connective tissue for communities. These spaces include parks, plazas, streets, and transportation infrastructure.”

Topical tours offer both printable bike maps and Google maps. The guide also includes tours by district. People will be able to view the guide on their smartphones, tablets or desktop computers.

The website was created by ASLA in partnership with its Oregon Chapter and 11 local landscape architects, who are designers of our public realm and leaders in sustainable design.

The guides are:

Brian Bainnson, ASLA, Quatrefoil Inc.
Bennett Burns, ASLA, independent landscape architect
Mike Faha, ASLA, GreenWorks, PC
Kenneth Helphand, FASLA, University of Oregon
Rachel Hill, ASLA, AECOM
Lloyd Lindley, FASLA, independent landscape architect
Carol Mayer-Reed, FASLA, Mayer/Reed Inc.
Jeff Schnabel, ASLA, Portland State University
Jean Senechal Biggs, ASLA, Portland Bureau of Transportation
Rebecca Wahlstrom, ASLA, Olson Engineering Inc.
Robin Wilcox, ASLA, Alta Planning + Design

The guide is organized by the facets of the sustainable city, with sections on:

  • The Built Environment – how building and landscape work together to enhance sustainability.
  • Food – how the city’s local food system works, from urban farms to “food cart pods.”
  • Energy – how Portland has among the highest renewable energy use in the U.S.
  • “Grand Parks” – how the original Olmstedian park system is still key to livability.
  • Health – how parks are designed for users with all kinds of disabilities, even Alzheimer’s.
  • “People Spaces” – how the city creates a sense of civic pride through its plazas.
  • Social Equity – how the city helps the homeless and addresses the impacts of gentrification.
  • Transportation – how Portland created one of the best-integrated, most people-friendly transportation systems.
  • Waste – how the city achieved one of the highest recycling rates in the country.
  • Water – how it led the country on green infrastructure.
  • Wildlife – how its park system also serves other species.

This is the third in a series of guides focused on sustainable American cities. The first, The Landscape Architect’s Guide to Washington, D.C., was launched in 2012, and The Landscape Architect’s Guide to Boston, was launched in 2013. They have been viewed more than 150,000 times to date.

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High Line Phase 3 / All photos by Allan Pollok-Morris

Getting to know the High Line in New York City over the last year, it has been lovely to discover the back story: the heroic efforts involved in saving the rail yard structure; the development of the park, with its effective design and the accomplishments of the construction; the involvement of the local community; and the raised aspirations of planners everywhere for what a small area of park might achieve in a big city. As someone from the UK, the use of the American word “yard” instead of “garden” never sits entirely comfortably, as it has a more industrial meaning, but we understand each other very clearly here in the High Line’s third phase in the Rail Yards.

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Any lover of naturalistic planting and contemporary hard landscaping can marvel at how literally millions of people are being funneled through an exquisite experience. However, leaving aside the overwhelming praise for the existing sections, the first reaction on seeing the new section is the makers, James Corner Field Operations and Diller, Scofidio + Renfro, have clearly taken on board the park’s more functional deficits and have expanded the park in new directions.

I’ll always remember landscape architect Charles Jencks’ words that the motivation for his Garden of Cosmic Speculation began by wanting somewhere for the family to swim, and that good design always begins with a function. The third section of the High Line capitalizes on its role as a latter-day addition in the life of the project by offering more practical functionality. In terms of usability, new features include tables, see saws, xylophones, a children’s play area, and a wheelchair/buggy-accessible area of track.

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For those wanting the authentic High Line experience, there are areas of the original rail tracks left to self-seed with wild plantings. A fence that acts as a stark barrier between the asphalt and area of nature is very noticeable, but I’m told it will come down eventually, although it leaves you with the suspicion there may be more development to come. This area is not lit at night and will be closed earlier than the rest. It builds on the experience of the place by providing more themed nostalgia for the abandoned aesthetic of the rail track prior to the redevelopment. Does this represent affectionate nostalgia, or a sense of loss?

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Being there for the opening, I got to hear the High Line experiences of people from all walks of life. There was something very special in talking to someone, now in their 60s, who has supported the project the whole way but used to come and play here as a kid. This was the story I heard most: tales of what it was like to sneak in and mess about when it was still a rail yard, what it looked like in its derelict state. The sense of discovery and adventure in these experiences was visceral. There was something people valued in having a space not laid out by planning convention, but a raw experience.

I met Mitchell J. Silver, the new commissioner for New York’s parks, a week earlier and discussed the further development of the open areas around the High Line. The rail yards that the new phase circles will all be covered and developed over a 5-10 year period. The city is planning a number of significant new high rises the length of the park, and another ground-level green corridor of wider parks will lead north from there.

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The success story for the city isn’t so much one of recreation, but the wider regeneration of the area and increase in property values to the point where the world’s best-known architects are now seeking permissions, which can only further exaggerate the High Line as an oasis in city life. This park has also created new opportunities for people with similar infrastructure around the world.

This guest post is by Allan Pollok-Morris, a landscape photographer. His most recent book is Close: Landscape Design and Land Art in Scotland.

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