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Archive for March, 2012


A new international design competition will award 15 thousand euros to the best sustainable residential landscapes anywhere in the world. The idea is to highlight projects that create a “contemporary dialogue between architecture, ecology and landscape” and serve as “places of inspiration and creation, as habitats that tell stories.”

Submissions, which have to have been created for private residential use sometime over the past 10 years, will be judged in terms of their “artistic and conceptual quality, ecological use of plants and materials, and organization of outdoor space.” The competition organizers emphasize that they are interested in spaces that offer a variety of uses. 

The organizers ask landscape architects, architects, artists, gardeners, garden owners from all countries to participate. Previous winners include Andrea Cochran, FASLA, in the U.S., Jonathan Bell/BBUK Studio Landscape Architects in the U.K., Landscape-Niwatan in Japan, and Cécile Daladier + Nicolas Soulier in France.

An international jury will decide which talented residential designers gets the 15 thousand euros in prizes. Submit your entries by June 4.

In other news, Kathryn Gustafson, ASLA, just became the third landscape architect since 1955 to receive the Arnold W. Brunner Architectural Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, which bestows $5,000 on any architect (or landscape architect) who has made great contributions to the art of designing the built environment. Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA, and Dan Kiley are the only two other landscape architects to have won this prestigious annual prize.

Image credit: 2007 ASLA Professional Residential Design Honor Award. Private Residence, San Francisco, California, Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture, San Francisco, California

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In Washington, D.C., the 1,600-foot long 11 street bridge over Anacostia River is being pulled down and redesigned because it’s structurally unsound. Part of the redesigned bridge will include a new “local bridge” with bicycle lanes and 16-feet wide sidewalks, offering stops to look out over the river. While this new local bridge alone is a great improvement, D.C. planners are thinking out whether to rebuild an additional span and spend tens of millions to design a new recreation park. The new park would bring physical form to Mayor Vincent Gray’s vision of bridging the racial and cultural divisions in the city and connecting the communities on either side of the river.

The new park won’t be like the High Line. It’s not found in a dense urban neighborhood but in the middle of a river, said Harriet Tregoning, Director of Planning, Washington, D.C. at a public hearing on the idea. Still, the early park concepts definitely seem inspired by the High Line and other parks that have reused transportation infrastructure to become exciting public spaces. Tregoning seems to love the “surprises” created at every turn of the High Line, a park that is “intensely used,” and hopes D.C.’s bridge-park could offer similarly vivid experiences. Other bridge-park projects that may also be inspiring D.C.: Walkway over the Hudson in Poughkeepsie is the longest elevated walkway in the world at 1.28 miles long, while Promenade Plantee provides a beautiful respite from Paris. In Nashville, there’s the Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge, while Tennessee has Walnut Bridge and Little Rock, Arkansas, has the Junction Bridge.

On the possible park, Tregoning said “think of it as a linear house with lots of rooms,” with each room offering a different type of public space to a certain type of visitor. D.C. offered a bunch of early concepts. One vision, our favorite, is of a space filled with “active recreation” opportunities, with a climbing wall, ropes course, pole vaulting, skate park, or zip lines. Given the bridge is some 1,600 feet long, 5-6 more of these active zones could be included. Amid the outdoor adventure games, there could be stores like REI or Patagonia. Other visions for the park include an ecological park with an environmental education center, a public arts space with rotating sculptures, or a public event and exhibition space, or a combination of these.

These spaces could be made even more exciting (and accessible) if the new streetcar in the works ran through. Cafes could take shape on the bridge, or D.C.’s incredibly popular Truckeroo could even find a home base there. Who wouldn’t want a lobster roll while looking out over the city?

Residents and organizations at the public hearing also weighed in. Some of the comments: Maximize the views. Make sure the bridge has lots of vegetation and shade, which is critical to ensuring the elevated park doesn’t become a “heat sink” in D.C.’s blazing summers. Add trees to block out noise from the Interstate, which will be just a few lanes over. Add telescopes for star watching. Ask students to create the art that’s projected onto the infrastructure. Community participation and involving teens in the design was deemed crucial. 

Still, the downfall of the project could be the lack of access. Residents and workers from the Navy Yards development, which are expected to grow by 30,000 over the next few years, along with those from Poplar Point and Historic Anacostia, which are also expected to grow by a few thousand, will need to be able to easily access the bridge-park if it’s going to succeed. One big sticking point is the naval base, which limits access through its boardwalk to a short window during the day. This means if the gates are closed, residents would need to go all the way around the base to find an entrance. On the other side of the Anacostia, residents will need to wade through what looks like a scary set of transportation infrastructure to find a loop that will take them up to the park. There really needs to be safe, ADA-accessible, interesting paths leading up to the park on either side, in addition to elevators at either end of the structure.


As Tregoning said, there are, in fact, many design challenges with the bridge-park so once the “set of programs,” which will be decided by local residents, is in place, a design competition will be launched, with the hope of drawing national design talent. If financing can be worked out (the city is looking to foundations for help), this would be the perfect challenge for a landscape architect. Expect to hear more about the competition here in the coming months.

Add your thoughts. Should the bridge be rebuilt and turned into a recreation park? Or should all these great ideas just be implemented somewhere else?

Image credit: D.C. Planning Office

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Brooklyn College recently played host to the mid-atlantic chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration, providing space for a conference entitled “Restoration on the Edge.” The dialogue, which focused on the fragility, opportunity, and resiliency in changing ecosystems, was mostly centered around those of New York City. As restoration ecologists, biologists, landscape architects, and environmental engineers filled the seats to capacity, it was clear that the issues discussed affected a wide body of disciplines. And although Brooklyn College is home to wild parrots, an ecological wonder, it was the array of speakers who we came to see.

Tim Chambers, currently the Deputy Director of the Greenbelt Native Plant Center (GNPC) in Staten Island, spoke of ecological restoration in the context of urban agriculture and native seed production. The GNPC, which focuses much of its work on the collection and storage of native seeds in the tri-state region, believes in “land management.” Their mission is “small scale eco-regional seed production.” In their partnership with the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, GNPC takes care not to disturb local ecologies. Restoration requires understanding existing natural systems and which systems are susceptible to degradation. Even in seed extraction one must respect nature and be really careful. Chambers assured the audience that “certain methods are deployed to randomize collection processes,” an imperative when “borrowing from nature.”

Erin English, a professional engineer with Natural Systems International, a subsidiary of Biohabitats, Inc., spoke of “living infrastructure.” English’s work focuses on the design of ecological wastewater, stormwater, and greywater management systems. In her opening comments she wondered whether stormwater can “inspire dance.” The answer was yes. She showed images of students interpretive-dancing upon the successful and sustainable stormwater/greywater system at Sidwell Middle School in D.C. Sidwell, a project led by landscape architects Andropogon Associates, shows how “the entire landscape is a living water cycle.” (see a case study)

The project also demonstrates a key aspect of English’s message that “decentralized wastewater treatment needs to be a closed-loop system.” The water cycle, as we imagine it diagrammatically, is a closed-loop system. But what happens when that system interacts with a “pollution bomb” such as farmland and agriculture? She believes that through design solutions, sometimes very “simple solutions” can prove to be very powerful and may inspire us to do more than dance.

In a lecture entitled, “The Theory and Practice of Seagrass Restoration: Lessons Learned over the Last 20 Years in New York,” habitat restoration specialist, Chris Pickerell discussed eelgrass (Zostera marina), a seagrass. According to Pickerell, “seagrass losses have been widespread and dramatic worldwide.” In areas where “sediment and water quality has dramatically changed,” such as New York Harbor, we have seen a major “paradigm shift.”


As far as ecological restoration is concerned, Pickerell acknowledged there has been a decent response. However, studies have indicated that a “large-scale loss of habitat has led to alternative stable states where natural re-establishment of native species may not be possible unless some minimum size or density thresholds are met.” Pickerell’s talk focused on lessons learned through restorative efforts and offered suggestions for creating more successful future ecological restoration efforts. Over those 20 years restoration ecologists have gained valuable experience relating to a number of factors, “ranging from site selection and planting method to timing that affect restoration success.”

The closing lecture was giving by Queens native soil scientist, Sally Brown. On ecological restoration, a science-based approach to the re-creation of past ecosystems, soil seem to be the perfect subject on which to end the day. Soil, whose “ecosystem services have enormous value,” has not seen the top layer of New York City’s surface in a long time. Brown spoke of the importance of soil as “a wonderful medium.” Soil, the eight-hundred pound gorilla in the room, was well-understood by the informed audience as a dwindling yet critical resource.

That is why it is so vital for landscape architects, engineers, and ecologists to “understand basic soil information.” Breaking down soil components, Brown clarified the organic material and elements needed to build up soil fertility. “Building soil is an artform,” she added. Basically, when it boils down to soil manufacturing, the “carbon-nitrogen ration of a compost is the most important factor.” A soil scientist from Queens talking about manufacturing urban soils? I want to hear more.

Although the data on our degraded environments seems catastrophic, the solutions offered by some of our regions’ most talented and dedicated restoration ecologists were inspiring. Understanding the dire state of our current ecosystems, I took away from the SER conference a renewed sense of duty as a steward of our environments and hope the message will spread.

This guest post is by Tyler Silvestro, a master’s degree candidate at the City College of New York (CUNY), and writer for The Architect’s Newspaper.  

Image credits: (1) Sidwell Friends School, Washington, D.C. / Andropogon Associates, (2) Eelgrass / Washington DNR

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After a full day dedicated to defining infrastructure and how we understand it, the Landscape Infrastructure conference at Harvard Graduate School of Design closed with an afternoon mega-panel examining landscape, infrastructure, and ecological systems. Eight speakers from the world of landscape architecture and engineering discussed their work. Introducing the panel, Chris Reed, ASLA, StoSS Landscape Urbanism asked how a shift in our understanding of ecology from static to dynamic systems has changed how designers work. Perhaps because so many concepts and techniques are new, many participants emphasized research, outlining new avenues to be explored in practice.

Water was the focus of many panelists’ work. Wendi Goldsmith, CEO of The Bioengineering Group, described how in New Orleans, the interdisciplinary group has attempted to “infiltrate” the Army Corps of Engineers, with the goal of making them “agents of sustainability.” The Army Corps’ shift in approach from storm protection to flood risk reduction emphasizes a combination of hard infrastructure, “soft solutions” (integrating landscape management), and community engagement. Goldsmith emphasized the value of multi-functionality in infrastructure investments, an approach also highlighted by Kevin Shanley, FASLA, and Ying-Yu Hung, ASLA, of SWA.

In equally flood-prone Houston, SWA has promoted multi-purpose programming. “We don’t have the money to do projects that are single-purpose infrastructure,” Shanley said, and described SWA’s work planning watersheds as infrastructure, with new parks that do triple-duty as stormwater collectors, recreation space, and wildlife habitats. Also, SWA’s Los Angeles office has been conducting exploratory research and external advocacy through a new research initiative with the University of Southern California.

Other speakers focused on the conflicts between urban development and the management of water. Arnavutkoy, a sector of Istanbul, poses fascinating and pressing challenges. Rapid and under-regulated development in the area is threatening its sensitive reservoirs, just as population growth is creating pressure for more water supply. Eduardo Rico and Enriqueta Llabres of Relational Urbanism emphasized how crucial political organization is to development in the area. 


Arguing that “more people can be better,” Dirk Sijmons of TU Delft and H+N+S Landscape Architects presented a proposal to bypass the dilemma between preservation and growth. New zoning around water basins and clearly defined uses can make borders legible and land more productive, protecting the water supply and providing space for recreation, “precision farming,” and new dwellings.

There were also different perspectives on infrastructure and ecology, emphasizing unusual points of view. Christophe Girot of the ETH wowed the audience with the results of his Landscape Visualization and Modeling Lab’s application of engineering equipment to model the landscape and transportation infrastructure of the Swiss Alps. Point cloud technology, a military tool, provides an astonishing 3-D electronic model of a region, “a beautiful image you can translate to pure topographical information.” The applications are as dizzying as the aesthetics. 


As opposed to the multi-point perspectives of this astonishing map/model, Peter Del Tredici sketched a plant’s eye view of infrastructure. Del Tredici, Senior Research Scientist at the Arnold Arboretum, discussed how plants interact with urban infrastructure. Road edges, highway salt, and acid precipitation are “huge selective forces that determine which plants grow where.” These emergent ecosystems are the realities that landscape architects must learn to work with. 

In fact, they are the “new normal,” Nina-Marie Lister, Affiliate ASLA, Associate Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at Ryerson University, concluded, suggesting that flexibility, adaptation, and resilience are the keywords that drive landscape infrastructure today. Rather than seeking a lost, static, “natural” state, functional ecosystems–familiar or not–are the goal.

This guest post is by Mariana Mogilevich, Ph.D. Candidate, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Image credits: (1) 2009 ASLA Professional General Design Award of Excellence. Buffalo Bayou. SWA Group / Tom Fox, Rhett Rentrop,  (2) Arnavutkoy Drainage, relationalurbanism.com, (3) Gotthard Project. ETH

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Promising to cover infrastructure “from the personal to the planetary,” a panel on infrastructure mapping and information (part of a day-long conference on Landscape Infrastructure at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design) traversed very different scales. Presenters explored the relationship between landscape, infrastructure, and ecology, and the means we have at our disposal to understand these and communicate with each other about them.

Liz Barry, Director of Urban Environment at the Public Laboratory for Open Technology & Science (PLOTS), described their work to create “citizen cartographies,” technology for bottom-up activism in small communities that allow people to generate their own data. Barry presented a compelling example of their work: an open source toolkit for balloon mapping, which allows citizens to create their own satellite landscape images. During the cleanup of the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, this toolkit allowed activists to find out for themselves whether oil booms were working and where oil was gathering, and work together with local fishermen who had extensive knowledge of these sensitive landscapes. The material gathered could subsequently be used for restoration and litigation.

Kate Ascher, Milstein Professor of Urban Development at Columbia University, also emphasized the impact of infrastructure at a local scale. Her book The Works: Anatomy of a City explains graphically the workings of the major infrastructural systems of New York City. The project, she explained, was born out of the infrastructural failures in the wake of the World Trade Center bombings. To understand why infrastructure would fail, people need to know how it works. The Works makes visible the city’s invisible systems to deal with water, power, garbage (see an example of traffic calming infrastructure below).

Dawn Wright and Erle Ellis looked at ways to understand and describe highly complex global systems where all kinds of actors, ecosystems, and industries come together. Wright, Chief Scientist at Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) is an expert on ocean landscapes. Critically tied to urban infrastructure, oceans are extremely developed and industrialized territories and yet remain largely unmapped and unknown. Without knowledge of the oceans, Wright asked, how do we mitigate impacts of climate change, clean up oil spills, sustain fisheries, and ensure safety and security of seas? Wright presented a new collaborative tool for the geodesign of oceans, SeaSketch, which integrates information across a number of sources and can provide a shared platform for scientists, social scientists, architects and planners to work together on complex problems like coastal management.

Erle Ellis, Head of the Laboratory for Anthropogenic Landscape Ecology at the University of Maryland in Baltimore put infrastructure in an even larger, planetary framework. Ellis presented a perspective on landscape in the Anthropocene Age (Age of Humans) that turns the very idea of infrastructure on its head. As Ellis put it, nature is a land-use that “lives on our infrastructure.”

In Ellis’s view of the global landscape, distinctions between human and natural land uses disappear—they are multifunctional mosaics, rather than separate spheres. To make sense of this degree of interconnectivity, Ellis said, “perhaps we need global landcape architects—working at a global scale.” At all scales, from the local to the global, more coordination is needed among the many design disciplines to deal with the complex landscapes we’ve made.

This guest post is by Mariana Mogilevich, Ph.D. Candidate, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Image credits: (1) Balloon and Kite Mapping / PLOTS, (2) The Works / Streetsblog, (3) Anthropogenic biomes, ecotope.org

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It is emblematic of the scope and ambition of the recent Landscape Infrastructure conference at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design that organizer Pierre Belanger, ASLA, stated at the outset that an encyclopedic array of scholars and practitioners would “explore the future of infrastructure itself, the glue of urbanization” for the following 36 hours. In fact, the extremely dense proceedings transpired over the course of only 24 hours, but provided material that can be mulled over for years, as well as acted on immediately.

Belanger, Associate Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, is passionate about bringing landscape architecture to bear on problems of infrastructure.  Civil engineers have traditionally had a monopoly on the field, and the bond between infrastructure, engineering, and technology has thus far appeared unbreakable. But combining insights from urbanism, geography, and ecology, Belanger argues, landscape architects can bring a new approach to infrastructure to address the realities of the 21st century. The idea of “landscape infrastructure” seeks to supplement an existing emphasis on technology and economy with greater attention to the more fluid ecological and human dimensions of infrastructure.

To reinforce the cultural and human aspects of infrastructure and its intimate relationship with landscape, the conference opened with a keynote speech not by a designer or an engineer but by a cultural historian. Rosalind Williams, Dibner Professor of the History of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), spoke on the question of “infrastructure as lived experience,” emphasizing that contrary to our conventional association of infrastructure with bridges and dams, “infrastructure isn’t always that visible.” Williams illustrated this with a historical tour of infrastructure’s invisible geographies through the lens of the life and works of 19th century writer Robert Louis Stevenson.

We know Stevenson as the author of Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. But Stevenson, educated as an engineer, became a writer and chronicler of the experience of infrastructure as it began to expand across the globe. Traveling roads, canals, and railroads from Scotland to San Francisco to Samoa, Stevenson gleaned early insights into the human and political dimensions of infrastructural technologies. 

Stevenson saw how Scottish Highlanders resisted the construction of lighthouses, which imperiled the livelihood they made from scavenging shipwrecks. He travelled with migrants who braved the journey from the United Kingdom to the American West and suffered the indignities of steamship passages and transcontinental railroads that made important physical connections for the transport of goods, but didn’t take human needs into account. Stevenson’s observations expose the nature of infrastructure’s effects on people.

Stevenson’s experiences, described at much greater length in Williams’ forthcoming book The Human Empire, point to several aspects of infrastructure, often critically overlooked, which designers would do well to take into account today. Williams emphasized first and foremost the question of lived experience, the civic and social dimensions of infrastructure, which designers can discover only by going out into the world, experiencing the landscape and the daily lives of those who inhabit it, much like the intrepid and empathetic Stevenson.

Williams raised a second crucial question of power and the organization of infrastructure, which has served geopolitical ends from nineteenth century colonialism to globalization today. Whom does infrastructure serve, and who makes the crucial decisions in its design and implementation? And perhaps most importantly, who will pay? 

For landscape architects wanting to get in on infrastructure, Williams provides the reminder that with the lack of public support for infrastructure in the United States, funding projects is a far greater challenge than organizing them.

This guest post is by Mariana Mogilevich, Ph.D. Candidate, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Image credit: (1) Robert Louis Stevenson, Girolamo Nerli / Wikipedia, (2) The Amateur Emigrant, library.sc.edu

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Just off the release of the new design concepts for the third segment of the High Line, James Corner, ASLA, and his talented team at Field Operations, who have done more than their share to raise the profile of landscape architects, now have another big win under their belts: The Chicago Navy Pier. The organizers of the international design competition, which brought in more than 50 submissions, said James Corner Field Operations (JCFO) is a “leading edge landscape architecture and urban design practice,” and a firm that can make “the people’s pier a truly iconic and world-class destination” as it approaches its 100th anniversity in 2016. The project is a central part of the city’s broader Centennial Vision, which will involve developing new entertainment spaces and asking local museums to create new cultural spaces on the pier. 

Recently-elected Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel basically said Chicago is hoping for a new public space as successful as the High Line: “Public spaces do not only help define a city – they are the heart and soul of a city. We have a remarkable opportunity to make Navy Pier one of those unique public spaces. Having an internationally renowned design firm like James Corner Field Operations working with one of our city’s greatest icons demonstrates that Chicago has the energy and vision to continue to lead on the world stage.”

Governor Pat Quinn added that the Navy Pier is already a top draw but could be better: “More families visit Navy Pier every year than any other site in Illinois, and, for many, it is one of their first impressions of our state.” As a result, the Navy Pier needs to be great. “We have a responsibility to make Navy Pier a modern, appealing and sustainable attraction that takes advantage of one of our state’s most valuable natural resources – Lake Michigan.”

Corner’s team has lots of work to do for this $155 million project, but they don’t seem afraid of monster-sized spaces, given their on-going work on FreshKills Park in Staten Island. The multidisciplinary team led by Corner and Lisa Switkin (the lead landscape architect on the High Line), which also includes architects, engineers, artists, lighting designers, will re-design Gateway Park, the west entrance of the pier, Crystal Gardens, Pier Park, East End Park and the South Dock, in addition to the smaller public spaces along the pier’s length. All the streetscape will be revamped, featuring new water elements, public art by multimedia artist Leo Villareal, lighting by L’Observatoire International, along with vivid planting schemes by Patrick Blanc, who’s famous in some circles for his green walls.

Sarah Garvey, chair of Navy Pier Inc, the development group, said choosing Corner’s team over other competitors was hard but Field Operations distinguished themselves in a few ways. The board said JCFO offered “an interesting and appropriate balance between creativity and practicality; a thorough understanding of the complexity of Navy Pier; relevant experience with several successful high profile, large-scale and complex projects; and a strong sense of flexibility and collaboration.”

The early design proposals will certainly transform what is now a sometimes icky outdoor mall packed with tourists and mediocre restaurants into a rich and varied set of public spaces, all with different functions.


A grand entryway will serve as a “front-door porch,” a space for hosting festivals, events, and cultural programs. The centerpiece of an area filled with lawns and places to walk and bike is a fountain that can shape-shift, enabling water play or simply sitting still for market days.


JCFO and team seem to be forging connections between the pier and Lake Michigan wherever possible. A new set of Lake pavilions bring people down to the water where they can access boats.


The wildest part of this wild vision is a new “living sensorium” set in the Crystal Palace. JCFO proposes a “series of large-scale vegetal pods that hang from an elevated structure.” The pods will be able to move up out of the way for events. Another idea is to include a waterfall and lots of birds. Designed to be a “must-see” attraction in Chicago, the garden will provide “magical” sensory experiences for both adults and kids. You can already imagine the lines.


The Ferris Wheel and other rides will be renovated, updated with a fresher, more contemporary look, and will be set within lush vegetation.


At the end of the pier are spaces for interacting with nature, but in different ways. Way at the end, there’s a space for contemplation, providing an unadulterated view of Lake Michigan. In this concept, it almost looks like a clear platform visitors can walk out on.


At the south-west end, there’s a vast pool that leads up to the edge of the lake for swimming in the summer and ice-skating in the winter.



Lastly, JCFO says sustainability is also a key element running through the design proposals. Given the firm is among the first landscape architecture firms to have a SITES-certified project, this will most likely be the case, but one can only hope the designers redoing this iconic showcase will delve into all its complexities while keeping one eye on SITES benchmarks and guidelines.

While the final designs are bound to look different from these early visions given fundraising hasn’t even started yet, you can explore the design concepts more in depth in this hefty power point presentation (15 MB) or watch Corner’s video presentation below:

Image credits: Pierscape / JCFO

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Harvard University Graduate School of Design’s landscape architecture department has organized a two-day symposium that seeks to change the lens through which we look at infrastructure and cities. Instead of viewing infrastructure as simply the domain of civil engineers and transportation planners and something that needs to be centrally planned and administered, the focus will shift to the role many design disciplines can play and the power of ecological systems to address the many challenges facing cities, including climate change, carbon and nitrogen pollution, and migrating populations.

The conference will seek to first unearth and make clear sense out of all those complex systems: “Often found underground, or beyond the periphery of cities, the presence of urban infrastructure remains largely invisible until the precise moment at which it fails or breaks down.”

The organizers argue that all of this collapsing infrastructure means things may not have been well thought-out to begin with: “Recent events – from the sudden collapse of highway bridges, the rise and fall of water levels, the growing hazards of coastal storms and coastal eutrophication, the accumulating effects of carbon emissions, the surge in foreign oil prices and spike in food prices, the drop in credit markets, to the increase in population mobility and dispersal – are instigating a critical review of the basic foundation upon which urban economies depend on.”

The symposium will challenge the “technocratic role of engineers, transportation planners and policy makers who have profoundly shaped the urban environment that we move through and live in today.” The idea is to explore the work of “contemporary urbanists – ecologists, geographers, historians, designers, conservationists and social groups – who are rethinking the predominance of centralized infrastructures.”

So, where will the panelist go in their theoretical explorations? They’ll explore “landscape infrastructure,” examining the “landscape of technological hardware and biophysical software” that can be used to create more flexible and resilient cities.

The conference, which is organized by Pierre Belanger, ASLA, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, is free and open to the public on March 23-24 at Harvard’s Piper Auditorium.

Image credit: Harvard GSD

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Debate on the nearly-final Eisenhower Memorial concepts and the process used to create them erupted today, culminating in a tense hearing on Capitol Hill. Many different views on the $115 million, 4-acre project were presented. Rep. Rob Bishop, Chairman, Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands, wondered whether the designs should move forward or there should be a pause to re-evaluate them. Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva thought the idea of Congress wading into the design of a national monument was “unusual,” and Congress wasn’t the place to “litigate the design” concepts created by a team led by architect Frank Gehry and including landscape architects at AECOM and other firms.

Susan Eisenhower, a granddaugther of the president who is representing the Eisenhower family, said an “open, transparent, democratic process” was needed for the Eisenhower memorial and wasn’t used the first time around. Echoing criticisms made by Richard Dreihaus, an “architectural traditionalist” in The Washington Post that almost all national monuments have gone through a public design process, Eisenhower took aim at the process that was used: a review of firm qualifications by the General Service Administration (GSA)’s Design Excellence program. She said the monument must now be redesigned through a public process, and the commission needs to fundamentally review how it engages with stakeholders.

The design has been bandied about for more than two years now. But, still, the “narrative is wrong” and the 65-feet tall metal scrims are viewed as almost fascist. Eisenhower said President Eisenhower’s contributions to the U.S. are “not central,” and there’s no mention of his role in leading the “largest war effort ever in human history.” Instead, there’s a “Horatio Alger character, a boy who grew up to be president.” The Eisenhower family seems to utterly detest the metal scrim, which will display images of trees, adding that these kinds of design elements are “usually found in the Communist world.” The fact that they are made of metal may send the signal that these represent the “Iron Curtain.” Even worse: the scrims remind some Holocaust survivors she’s heard from of Internment camp fences. On top of all of this, the scrims may be expensive to maintain. (However, Gehry and the commission deny this, arguing that while that material technology is relatively new, it shouldn’t have any issues).


The family, she added, wants “something simple that focuses on his achievements.” The “scope and scale are all wrong. Eisenhower would have wanted something smaller, less dramatic. It was well-known that he wasn’t into Modern art.” The heavy stone columns could be “missile silos.” The only way to fix these issues is “redesign the entire monument,” which she said had been done three times for the Franklin Delano Roosevelt monument before everyone settled on Lawrence Halprin’s almost universally admired work of landscape architecture. But, interestingly, The Architect’s Newspaper, reports that the Eisenhower family was for the design just a few years ago. Clearly something changed.  

D.C. government departments and non-profits then weighed in with details about the design and public review process, or lent support to the Eisenhowers. The National Park Service said the environmental impact assessment was done like it’s always done. The GSA defended its program, which has been very successful in connecting big-name architects and landscape architects to a range of federal projects, improving design quality across the board. Using a request for qualifications (RFQ) instead of calling for an open design competition, GSA culled a list of 44 entries down to 7 architecture and landscape architecture firms that then provided design concepts. Four concepts then moved to the commission for review. William Guerin, Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Construction Programs, GSA, said that throughout the process there was “lots of public review and comment.”

Brig. Gen. Carl Reddell, executive director of the Eisenhower memorial commission, who recently pulled back from presenting the near-final concepts to the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), a Federal group that needs to approve the final designs, added that the memorial visioning process has been going on for 11 years now, and there has been 23 review meetings, which have all been open to the public.

A host of groups were opposed to the design and GSA-organized design process. Howard Segermark, National Civic Art Society, a group dedicated to promoting “classical and traditional art” and that sponsored its own public design competition for the site, said the “process has flown under the radar, with little public involvement.” He implied that close ties among some members of the commission and Frank Gehry led to that starchitect being selected. Segermark argued that simply weeding our potential competitors based on their qualifications meant cutting out any up-and-coming or undiscovered talent like Maya Lin, the architecture student who won the public Vietnam War memorial design competition. While the GSA has done good work elsewhere, “circumstances have conspired to create a real mess.”

The president of the National Monuments Foundation, Rodney Mims Cook, Jr., made a similar case, saying the design process should have been public, like it has been for all other presidential memorials. In this case, the “design excellence program exceeded its mandate.” Cook says the “opposition of the family must also be honored.” More criticisms came from Bruce Cole, Hudson Institute, who said the design is “incongruent.” “We need to go back to the drawing board and open a call to all designers.”

Whether you like the design or not, the controversy may raise questions about whether public design competitions with diverse juries are needed for national monuments. In this instance at least, the design process may have left a number of stakeholders feeling excluded and unheard, including a key constituency: the Eisenhower family. On the other side, some $16 million has already been spent over two years. Starting over again will mean throwing out all that design work. Plus, there are many who actually like the proposed design, including the members of the U.S. Fine Arts Commission, who voted unanimously in support of it.

A few Congressional representatives called for simply modifying Gehry’s design to ameliorate the concerns of the family. But Anne Eisenhower, another family member, said without the metal scrims, which she said Gehry doesn’t want to remove, the “design is gone,” meaning it would need to be totally redone. All this controversy makes us question whether a brilliant, young, up-and-coming landscape architect selected through a public design process could have succeeded in making everyone happy either.

Explore the concepts and add your thoughts about the designs and design process.

Image credit: Gehry Partners / Eisenhower Memorial Commission

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William D. Nordhaus, Sterling Professor of Economics at Yale University, wrote an interesting rebuttal to global warming skeptics in the recent issue of The New York Review of Books. Obviously peeved that his research has been misused by those who argue warming isn’t really happening, Nordhaus gives a blow by blow account of how the skeptics are wrong.

Nordhaus writes that the arguments of warming skeptics can be summed up by a January 2012 editorial in The Wall Street Journal written by a group of scientists called “No Need to Panic About Global Warming.” The article says “the globe is not warming, that dissident voices are being suppressed, and that delaying policies to slow climate change for fifty years will have no serious economic or environment consequences.” To counter this, Nordhaus argues that these scientists, some of which are at top universities, offer “incorrect or misleading answers.” He believes this is particularly dangerous given these public wranglings “muddy the waters” at a critical time. 

Here are excerpts from the lengthier argument Nordhaus makes to unravels their claims: 

He says the first claim is that the “planet is not warming,” and, in fact, there hasn’t really been any warming for the past 10 years.  

Take a look at the chart above. On this, Nordhaus writes: “It is easy to get lost in the tiniest details here. Most people will benefit from stepping back and looking at the record of actual temperature measurements. The figure below shows data from 1880 to 2011 on global mean temperature averaged from three different sources. We do not need any complicated statistical analysis to see that temperatures are rising, and furthermore that they are higher in the last decade than they were in earlier decades.” It’s perhaps the near-term variations that have thrown some scientists off. Within historical bands, there is “volatility,” much like the stock market. However, the overall trends still point up and up.

A second claim is that warming is smaller than the models have predicted, meaning that scientists are exagerating things. Nordbaus unravels the mystery of how climate models actually work:

“The standard approach is to perform an experiment in which (case 1) modelers put the changes in CO2 concentrations and other climate influences in a climate model and estimate the resulting temperature path, and then (case 2) modelers calculate what would happen in the counterfactual situation where the only changes were due to natural sources, for example, the sun and volcanoes, with no human-induced changes. They then compare the actual temperature increases of the model predictions for all sources (case 1) with the predictions for natural sources alone (case 2).”

He then says many models have been run showing that there’s no way nature alone could be responsible for the changes: “A good example is the analysis described in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Several modelers ran both cases 1 and 2 described above—one including human-induced changes and one with only natural sources. This experiment showed that the projections of climate models are consistent with recorded temperature trends over recent decades only if human impacts are included. The divergent trend is especially pronounced after 1980. By 2005, calculations using natural sources alone underpredict the actual temperature increases by about 0.7 degrees Centigrade, while the calculations including human sources track the actual temperature trend very closely.”

The third claim made by the skeptics splits hairs somewhat. Some skeptics argue that CO2 isn’t really a pollutant because it’s not toxic to humans and other life. In fact, many plants and some animals could even benefit from higher levels of CO2. Nordhaus says this may be interesting rhetorically, but under U.S. law CO2 fits the standard definition of a pollutant – a “negative externality.”

“The US Clean Air Act defined an air pollutant as ‘any air pollution agent or combination of such agents, including any physical, chemical, biological, radioactive…substance or matter which is emitted into or otherwise enters the ambient air.’ In a 2007 decision on this question, the Supreme Court ruled clearly on the question: ‘Carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and hydrofluorocarbons are without a doubt ‘physical [and] chemical…substance[s] which [are] emitted into…the ambient air.’ …Greenhouse gases fit well within the Clean Air Act’s capacious definition of ‘air pollutant.’”

Plus, most agree that the few benefits for some species will be outweighed by the damages to many. Excess, man-made CO2 in the atmosphere is expected to lead to “sea-level rise, more intense hurricanes, losses of species and ecosystems, acidification of the oceans, as well as threats to the natural and cultural heritage of the planet.”

The fourth claim: scientists who are skeptical about climate change are living in fear for their “professional and personal livelihoods.” There isn’t any scientific freedom anymore; it’s like were living in the Soviet Union under Stalin. He says this is hogwash, largely because the most prominent scientists are found at MIT, Princeton, the University of Cambridge, and other leading universities, so they clearly haven’t been penalized.

“I can speak personally for the lively debate about climate change policy. There are controversies about many details of climate science and economics. While some claim that skeptics cannot get their papers published, working papers and the Internet are open to all. I believe the opposite of what the sixteen claim to be true: dissident voices and new theories are encouraged because they are critical to sharpening our analysis. The idea that climate science and economics are being suppressed by a modern Lysenkoism is pure fiction.”

Another claim: Climate scientists are benefitting too much from the hub-bub on the climate. He says all the scientists participating in the complex UN process do so on a voluntary basis, which may or may not help their careers given academic promotions – and tenure – are based on publications in scientific journals, not voluntary contributions.

“The skeptics’ account also misunderstands the incentives in academic research. IPCC authors are not paid. Scientists who serve on panels of the National Academy of Science do so without monetary compensation for their time and are subject to close scrutiny for conflicts of interest. Academic advancement occurs primarily from publication of original research and contributions to the advancement of knowledge, not from supporting ‘popular’ views. Indeed, academics have often been subject to harsh political attacks when their views clashed with current political or religious teachings.”

Furthermore, this may be a smoke screen by those who are actually financing research that creates dangerous doubt: “In fact, the argument about the venality of the academy is largely a diversion. The big money in climate change involves firms, industries, and individuals who worry that their economic interests will be harmed by policies to slow climate change.” 

Nordhaus adds that the economic stakes are high for many polluting industries: “Expenditures on all energy goods and services are close to $1,000 billion. Restrictions on CO2 emissions large enough to bend downward the temperature curve from its current trajectory to a maximum of 2 or 3 degrees Centigrade would have large economic effects on many businesses. Scientists, citizens, and our leaders will need to be extremely vigilant to prevent pollution of the scientific process by the merchants of doubt.”

Lastly, he seems annoyed by the misuse of his own research, which is characterized as supporting the argument that there’s no economic basis for climate change action.

“The authors summarize my results incorrectly. My research shows that there are indeed substantial net benefits from acting now rather than waiting fifty years. A look at Table 5-1 in my study A Question of Balance (2008) shows that the cost of waiting fifty years to begin reducing CO2 emissions is $2.3 trillion in 2005 prices. If we bring that number to today’s economy and prices, the loss from waiting is $4.1 trillion. Wars have been started over smaller sums.”

His analysis shows that waiting will only add expense to the shifts that need to occur. “Waiting is not only economically costly, but will also make the transition much more costly when it eventually takes place. Current economic studies also suggest that the most efficient policy is to raise the cost of CO2 emissions substantially, either through cap-and-trade or carbon taxes, to provide appropriate incentives for businesses and households to move to low-carbon activities.”

While he agrees that there are still major uncertainties, why delay on acting on global warming and roll the dice? “Policies implemented today serve as a hedge against unsuspected future dangers that suddenly emerge to threaten our economies or environment. So, if anything, the uncertainties would point to a more rather than less forceful policy—and one starting sooner rather than later—to slow climate change.”

Furthermore, don’t listen to the skeptics who argue that systematic changes to regulations will have catastrophic effects on the economy: “The claim that cap-and-trade legislation or carbon taxes would be ruinous or disastrous to our societies does not stand up to serious economic analysis. We need to approach the issues with a cool head and a warm heart. And with respect for sound logic and good science.”

Read Nordhaus’ full analysis in The New York Review of Books.

In related news, check out a worrying article in The New York Times explaining how U.S. forests aren’t holding up well in a warming climate (already), which is a major problem given trees are a key carbon sink that also help mitigate temperature rise.

Also, explore ASLA’s comprehensive resources on climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Image credit: Why the Global Warming Skeptics Are Wrong / NY Review of Books

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