Harvard Design Magazine‘s Fall/Winter 2009-2010 edition is all about landscape architecture and its relationship with sustainability (and pleasure). A number of articles focus on urban design, agriculture, and green infrastructure. Just a few full articles are available online, but this volume can also be purchased.
Michael Sorkin, Distinguished Professor of Architecture and Director of Graduate Program in Urban Design, CCNY, discusses the history of utopianism and its relationship to urban design in “Eutopia Now!”, and argues that “Green urbanism – eutopia – sees cities as habitats. Placing and maintaining ourselves in healthy environments is central to this task.”
Elizabeth K. Meyer, FASLA, Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Virginia, explores “Slow Landscapes: A New Erotics of Sustainability.” Meyer reviews Nick’s Heads Station, a New Zealand homestead and working sheep farm (and rehabilitated landscape), in the context of “beauty, pleasure, and sustainability.” She writes: “Can the pleasure and desire evoked through the experience of a designed landscape increase one’s concern for the environment?”
In “Design Against Nature,” Eelco Hooftman, Founding Partner of GROSS. MAX. Landscape Architecture, asks how do we turn to a “new landscape architecture? Landscape architecture as masterly, correct, and magnificent play of vegetation under light..Landscape not as moral crusade (nature protected) but, once again, an aesthetic experiment (nature perfected). Landscape architecture as the ultimate public realm of the senses.” In the end, Hooftman argues that “nature is no longer natural; to survive, nature will need to be artificially constructed, man-made, and mass-produced.”
Gilles Clement, a French horticulture engineer and landscape designer, discusses the “Natural History of Foresaken Places,” a project which proposes “an ecological strategy for the future which man can be considered an integral part of the global ecological exchanges.” Clement argues for a “third landscape” in which it’s important to “foster and achieve an equilibrium in which no one species has the upper hand.”
Kongjian Yu, International ASLA, President of Turenscape and Dean and Professor, Graduate School of Landscape Architecture, Peking University, outlines a “new landscape aesthetic” in “Beautiful Big Feet.” Yu, a leading Chinese landscape architect, says China must guard against useless decorative landscapes. “As China has become more urbanized and ‘civilized,’ this vernacular landscape has gradually been deprived of its productivity, its support to and of life, and its natural beauty. Like the peasant girls whose footbinding crippled them, it has gradually been adapted by the minority urban upper class and transformed into artificial decorative gardens. The aesthetic of uselessness, leisure, and adornment has taken over as part of a larger overwhelming urge to appear ‘modern’ and sophisticated.” Instead, Yu offers a range of projects in China that are examples of productive, sustainable (and beautiful) landscapes, including his famed Red Ribbon project.
Yu also calls for an end to monumental projects and the rise of new “ecological cities.” “Future cities will be “new garden cities,” emitting low or no net carbon, productive and conservation-minded. Rainwater will no longer be discharged from municipal pipes but will be retained in local ponds and supplement groundwater. Green spaces will be full of crops and fruit trees, instead of ornamental flowers and fruitless trees. Rice and broomcorn will ripen in the fields of communities and schools. In the harvest season, animals and humans
will take pleasure together. Architectural surfaces will support photosynthesis. The roofs will be fish-raising ponds, with the functions of heat preservation, energy saving, and food production. Cellars will be great mushroom factories.” Read the full article and also a recent interview with Kongjian Yu, which also touches on many of these issues.
Stefano Boeri, Professor of Urban Design, Politecnico di Milano, and Francisca Insulza, a Milan-based architect, write about their firm’s “Vertical Forest” design, a high-rise building encased in an “ecosystem of terraces.” They argue that it’s through “this symbiotic effect between the trees and plants and the hardware of the building that the most comfort and pleasure is produced.”
In “Green Pleasures,” Constance Classen, a Lecturer in Sociology at Concordia University in Montreal, asks what pleasures can be found in a sustainable city? “At first glance, ‘sustainability’ and ‘pleasure’ seem at odds. ‘Green’ practices are commonly thought to involve an almost puritanical restriction of pleasures: shivering in frosty interiors to save on energy consumption, forgoing exotic foods in favor of homegrown staples, or walking weary miles to work rather than riding in comfort in a car. Surely ‘green’ living describes an ascetic rather than aesthetic lifestyle. Beyond the satisfaction of feeling virtuous, what pleasures, what sensory enjoyments might living in a sustainable city offer?”
She concludes: “The aesthetic of sustainability is not about recovering preindustrial ways of life or making cities green machines for living. Rather, such an aesthetic calls for new ways of perceiving and interacting with the Earth and its inhabitants based on justice, compassion, and cooperation — the sharing of pleasure.”
Dorothee Imbert, Associate Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture, Harvard Graduate School of Design” offers a new design proposal for Harvard’s Allston campus — urban agriculture. “In addition to improving the faculty’s diet, farms on the Allston campus would support the green mission of Harvard University, expand teaching and research possibilities, and offer an opportunity to connect academic and residential communities. Agriculture as a tool for education is not unprecedented, as is demonstrated by the ‘Edible Schoolyard’ in Berkeley and Yale farm. But integrating agriculture into campus planning would be remarkable.”
Gary Hilderbrand, FASLA, Principal, Reed Hilderbrand and Adjunct Professor of Landscape Architecture at Harvard Graduate School of Design, says major U.S. cities in the future will be much shadier. “New York plans an increase of one million trees by 2020. Chicago projects an increase of 500,000, doubling Daley’s efforts by 1989. Boston plans to increase canopy coverage citywide from 28 percent to 35 percent.” Unfortunately, while planting “makes good politics,” urban trees have an average lifespan of only seven years. Hilderbrand asks: “Will we eventually need legislative protections for urban shade trees?”
Also, urban trees provides “performance value” in the form of ecological services, but what about qualifying their aesthetic value in cities?
In another piece on the value of urban trees, Henry Lawrence, Professor of Geography, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, explores the multiple benefits of urban green infrastructure in “City Trees for Sustainability and Delight.” Lawrence examines the history of urban trees and changing perceptions of their value, concluding that “[trees] have become active participants in the environmental sustainability of cities.” Starting in the 19th century, “trees and their spaces also played an important role in the social sustainability of cities by providing places for the reduction of social tensions.”
Michael Nairn, Lecturer of Urban Studies, University of Pennsylvania, and Domenic Vitiello, Assistant Professor of City and Regional Planning, University of Pennsylvania School of Design, write in “Lush Lots: Everyday Urban Agriculture” that local food production is critical to the future sustainability of cities. “As cities face the environmental, economic, and social challenges of the 21st century, including hunger, diabetes, and dependence on global industrial food systems based on fossil fuels, local food production will be more and more important for building food security. How do we achieve this? What do the hundreds of community gardens and farms we recently studied in Philadelphia tell us about the sustainability of urban agriculture and urban life?” Read the full article.
In “Local Food Is Not Always the Most Sustainable,” Bill Rankin, PhD candidate, Harvard University, Department of Architecture and History of Science, isn’t that big on a mass movement towards local food production. He argues “the best forms of strict localism, if expanded to become more than niche options, would inevitably involve drastic restrictions in food choice. As a universal solution, local food production is simply impossible.”
Image credit: The Red Ribbon, Kongjian Yu