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Archive for April, 2014

dallas museum of art

Dallas Museum of Art by Dan Kiley / Alan Ward, TCLF

In a lecture at the National Building Museum on the legacy of Modern landscape architect Dan Kiley, Gary Hilderbrand, FASLA, one of the founders of landscape architecture firm Reed Hilderbrand, said of Kiley, “we share a love of order, a disdain of ornament, a love of common things — the field, the hedgerow, the tree canopy. Like him, I want to return these all to glory.” Introduced by Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, head of The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), who connected Hilderbrand to the rich Modern traditions of Kiley, the focus of a new exhibition organized by TCLF at NBM, Hilderbrand talked about both Kiley’s projects and his own, illuminating some parellels between their work in interesting ways.

For Hilderbrand, Kiley was part of the movement that steered landscape architecture away from its traditional focus on the garden. Kiley, and his fellow students Garrett Eckbo and James Rose, displaced the garden, suggesting that teaching gardens to graduate students was “disagreeably aristocratic and irrelevant.” They all felt a “greater urgency for public landscapes, the infrastructure for urbanization.” Whether their aim was explicit or not, “they caused the garden to vanish for a long time.” (Except, as Hilderbrand noted later, perhaps Kiley never fully vanquished the garden, returning to it with many small gardens and his famous Miller Garden, which created a “singular sense of modern living.”)

A Modernist, Kiley wanted to distill landscapes into their core elements, removing any excess. “He loved ordinary things like the field and the forest canopy, and he made them extraordinary.” As an example, Hilderbrand showed Kiley’s Dallas Museum of Art, with its stark rows of trees (see image above). “For Kiley, it was totally natural to plant trees in rows; it wasn’t contrived. How can that be? It’s because it’s natural for humans to plant trees in rows, like orchards, so the trees can be more easily grown, watered, pruned, and harvested. Planting in a grid is then the most natural thing.”

Kiley used Modern techniques to create a paired-down yet also heightened sense of nature. Another site, Fountain Place in Dallas is “like being in a cypress forest; it smells and feels like a forest. It’s truly remarkable.”

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Fountain Place, Dallas / Alan Ward, TCLF

The influence of Kiley can be seen in Reed Hilderbrand’s own thoughtful, minimalist projects, with their focus on the essential. Hilderbrand gave the crowd of more than 200 a tour of four sites:

The Central Park Wharf in Boston is about taking infrastructure and creating an “inhabitable landscape, a work of living architecture.” For Reed Hilderbrand, the challenge was, “how do we make the surface of this park feel alive?”

To create that feeling that the Wharf park is alive, they had to build “below ground-infrastructure.” Hilderbrand used an apt metaphor here: “You can’t create a great meal without a great staff in the kitchen.” A structure was put in place to hold up the ground and seating areas. A medium of soil, with drains that form a trellis-like system, maintain precise amounts of moisture for the 25 oak trees planted. “Sensors let us know if the trees are getting enough water.”

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ASLA 2011 Professional General Design Honor Award. Central Wharf Park / Reed Hilderbrand

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This complex system made simple really worked: the trees, which were planted large, experienced a phenomenal 10 feet of growth since they were put in the ground.

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ASLA 2011 Professional General Design Honor Award. Central Wharf Park / Reed Hilderbrand

Central Park Wharf is now “instantly recognizable for its cover canopy, with lights wired through the trees.”

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ASLA 2011 Professional General Design Honor Award. Central Wharf Park / Charles Mayer Photography

A second project, restoring the landscape around Philip Johnson’s Beck House in Texas, and then re-connecting it to the home, was challenging because the “landscape was highly degraded, a jungle, really.” But then, Reed Hilderbrand can see the “opportunity in anything.” The Beck House is a grand building in the vein of Johnson’s Lincoln Center. What was difficult was finding a way to make this fantastic home part of its surrounding landscape.

Hilderbrand said they ended up being critical of Johnson’s approach to the landscape, which was to cut it off and make it a source of panoramic views only. Their team brought trees into Johnson’s blank arcade, reduced the height of retaining walls, and built a flight of low, grassy stairs to pull the entrance outside of the building. The overall effect is to better root the building in its surrounding landscape, making it feel more like a piece of the place than disengaged from its environment.

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ASLA 2011 Professional Residential Design Honor Award. Beyond Pictorial: Revising Philip Johnson’s Monumental Beck House / Alan Ward

They then restored the creek and bridge, editing out invasive plants and trees, and set a series of long white planks that brought a further sense of order to the estate’s grounds.

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ASLA 2011 Professional Residential Design Honor Award. Beyond Pictorial: Revising Philip Johnson’s Monumental Beck House / Reed Hilderbrand

Hilderbrand then took us to Marshcourt, a historic manor by Sir Edwin Luytens in England, where his firm is reintegrating the surrounding chalk landscape back into the place. The buildings’ walls are made of chalk and flint. The nearby chalk quarry proved to be an inspiration for what Reed Hilderbrand did: create the sense that once is driving through a “cut of chalk,” then going through a “door,” upon which you open up into the copse. “The contractors thought we were out of our minds compacting chalk into steep slopes.” But the effect is worth it: the meadows planted on top of the slopes are beautiful.

Lastly, Old Quarry, a project on the Long Island Sound in southern Connecticut, tells the story of finding order in an old stone quarry. Paths are like jetties. Footpaths were created across paths of rocks. Reed Hilderbrand used a simple, coastal plant palette. Hilderbrand said this project took four years, and was like being a “kid in a sandbox.” Stone masons actually spent two years on site, forming the stone into patterns. “This was definitely a luxury.”

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ASLA 2012 Professional Residential Design Honor Award. Reordering Old Quarry / Charles Mayer Photography

According to Hilderbrand, all these examples prove that “a landscape architect never begins from scratch. We always begin with a story, maybe centuries of stories.” And those stories may not necessarily need to be understood by those seeing them. “Whether the experience is rational or emotional, we don’t have to understand everything behind a landscape.”

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all photos by Hannah Barefoot

“Trees appear to be too complicated if we don’t have the key. I will give you the key to trees,” Francis Hallé

Renowned botanists, Francis Hallé and Peter Del Tredici, came to the University of Virginia (UVA) to teach landscape architecture students about the architecture of trees. Hallé is a professor emeritus at the University of Montpellier II, where he studies tropical rainforests. UVA landscape architecture chair Teresa Gali-Izard, International ASLA, introduced him as a botanist, biologist, artist, and poet. Del Tredici is a botanist and research scientist at Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum and professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. His research includes wild urban plants and plant morphology.

As the first workshop on Saturday afternoon began, Hallé defined plant architecture through 22 known models of tree growth and morphology. We learned how certain logic plays out in the growth of a tree. The diagrammatic quality of his drawings demonstrated growth habits and the potential for reiteration, which refers to a tree’s response to damage with the redirection of nutrients. Hallé developed concepts of reiteration and tree adaptability, explaining how these capabilities formed out of tree evolution.

Hallé insists the key to understanding trees lies in the difference between unitarian and modular models. Unitarian trees have ancient methods of reproduction – they are consistent and symmetrical throughout their entire life. When a unitarian tree is pruned, the plant lacks the means to reproduce from the cut. Modular trees work in a more complex way – as the tree grows the branches create a dendritic pattern. When a modular tree is pruned, the tree responds through reiteration. A modular tree is adaptable because it can reproduce more modules of the original tree form throughout the canopy.

Full of ideas on how to draw, plant, understand trees, students and faculty set out in the rain to draw and study trees on the grounds of UVA. We looked at specific instances of reiteration in action: tree collars, water sprouts, fluid tree growth dynamics, and grafting.

The following morning we walked to the side of Carter’s Mountain along the Monticello Trail. We lingered with certain plants: eastern white pine, devil’s walking stick, tulip poplar, eastern redbud, and an oak. We encountered visible reiteration in the forest surrounding Monticello.

“Wood is plastic,” Francis Hallé; “Trees have fluid dynamics,” Peter Del Tredici

Peter Del Tredici then discussed biological functions in architectural models of trees. Discussion of meristems (the tissue in plants enabling regenerative growth) and the fluid dynamics of trees informed Del Tredici’s examples of tree adaptability. Images of trees growing through chain link fences, massive tropical tree buttresses, or trees converting dead internal cambium into soil for new growth all demonstrated the ability of trees to change and succeed within taxing environments.

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Our final group workshop gathered into a large informal critique of the work UVA landscape architecture students completed as part of courses on planted form and function. The work included axonometric drawings of plant communities in Virginia, specific and general examinations of plant architecture, and some experiments in representing representation types of planted forms (hedge, alleé, windbreak). While we discussed methods of drawing plant architecture with Hallé and Del Tredici, other questions at the intersection of botany, design, and preservation arose.

As landscape architects and students, we know tree maintenance is a critical part of design. Though Hallé insists cutting a limb of a tree is “like cutting the leg of your dog,” we pondered the reasons for pruning a tree. Gali-Izard and UVA professor Julie Bargmann wondered about the role of the landscape architect’s role in pruning: “I love trees. I want to touch them,” and “Why can’t I be the lightning strike?”

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We talked about the cultural implications of cutting a tree, as well as pollarding, hedging, or training trees. Though no ethical conclusion emerged from the conversation, Hallé said it well, “to prune a tree you must have a very strong reason.”

This guest post is by Hannah Barefoot, Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, University of Virginia

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American beech grove, Dumbarton Oaks Park / Jim Osen Photography

Unlike the 16 acres of formal gardens at Washington, D.C.’s Dumbarton Oaks, there are no remaining plans for Dumbarton Oaks Park, the wild garden that is its complement. Perhaps Beatrix Farrand, one of the most prominent landscape architects of the 20th century, laid out most of the design in response to the larger scale of the landscape and wilder conditions of the lower 27-acre parcel? But how does one know? And how does one restore and rehabilitate a landscape without the plan of the original designer?

One must read the traces that remain. As the cultural landscape report written by the National Park Service in 1999 describes, what remains at Dumbarton Oaks Park is rich enough to suggest the journey Farrand created.

There is a manipulated watercourse with 18 weirs, which harness the water flow through the park as well as create a rich sensory experience.

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Dumbarton Oaks Park / Jared Green

There is a path system that meanders the visitor though forest, stream, and meadow, creating a circuit of experience.

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Dumbarton Oaks Park path / Jared Green

There are the remains of stone-garden follies, which once provided shade and a moment to reflect on the land, the past, and the future.

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Dumbarton Oaks Park / Jared Green

In one circuit through the park, a visitor can experience all of these landscape moments. It’s a living work of art that provides a different journey for each visitor. Dumbarton Oaks Park is a living canvas upon which the light can change many times in one day.

Farrand designed landscapes and gardens with the deep understanding that they were not static but living, breathing, changing environments. She was capable of reading a site and creating a design that evolved from that understanding.

She was a self-taught master of proportion, texture, and horticultural form. At Princeton University, where she worked for 28 years, she mastered the simple elegance of a quadrangle with the use of vertical plant material, and panels of grass to keep the space open and defined by the edges of the buildings meeting the ground plane.

Dumbarton Oaks Park is a treasure because of this landscape architect’s vision. Farrand, though she was a founding member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), was overlooked for many of the public park commissions in the first part of the century because she was a woman. Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., Jens Jensen, and others were selected instead. But it is our great fortune that her only remaining wild garden now belongs to us all.

And so it is with great respect of Farrand’s mastery that we work to reveal the design of this urban wilderness garden. We work within a framework of design that exists, while balancing the current site conditions, such as soil erosion and compaction and invasive plants.

In our signature project area, the removals of invasive trees, shrubs, and vines has opened up the sweeping views a visitor now experiences once he or she walks through the entrance gates. Here we see the beech grove stone wall after we enter…

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American beech grove wall, before restoration / Ann Aldrich, Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy

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American beech grove wall, during restoration / Ann Aldrich, Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy

…and, then, through the American Beech Grove…

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American beech grove, before restoration / Ann Aldrich, Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy

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American beech grove, after restoration / Ann Aldrich, Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy

…and up to the Northern Woodland in the distance.

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Bridge hollow, before restoration / Ann Aldrich, Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy

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Bridge hollow, during restoration / Ann Aldrich, Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy

From bridge to bridge, one can now see the stream course running towards its wild neighbor, Rock Creek. The breathtaking scale of this silver-trunked grove of trees is made evident.

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Dumbarton Oaks Park Signature Project / Jim Osen Photography

Our efforts on a small scale are no less important. The recent replanting of a Black Gum tree in an existing tree pit notched into the Dumbarton Oaks wall will once again mark the entrance with its commanding trunk.

Farrand’s use of human-scale landscape markers to suggest a path, an intersection, or a view was highly attuned. They are still in evidence. From the human-scaled path — edged with stone and drifts of herbaceous planting or from under the cover of a wood arbor — Farrand developed views out to the larger landscapes beyond, such as the meadow and woods. Farrand carefully orchestrated the experience as one moved through the park.

To be successful in the restoration of this wild garden we must keep in the forefront of our minds the landscape scale and the human scale simultaneously. Farrand left us this legacy as a guide.

This guest post is by Liza Gilbert, ASLA, chair of the Signature Committee, Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy.

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Colombia’s decades of civil war displaced hundreds of thousands of people. Fleeing the countryside, they arrived in the cities like Medellin, only to discover a brutal world ruled by drug lords. Until drug kingpin Pablo Escobar was killed in 1993, the residents of Communa Trece, a community on a steep slope about a mile from the central valley of Medellin, faced incredible violence. In the early 90s, there were more than 6,000 murders per year. “Escobar corrupted Medellin. He turned kids into contract killers. Everyone wanted a motorcycle and a gun,” said Carlos Mesa, a guide with Las Buseticas, in a tour organized through the UN-Habitat’s World Urban Forum.

Years after Escobar’s death, the city’s mayors began a program of reconciliation with the former drug lords, turning them into local civic leaders. The settlements themselves changed from illegal to legal, as the city brought in clean water and made properties legitimate with official deeds. To create a sense that those living on the slopes were also citizens of Medellin, the city financed training and education targeted at the poor. And, importantly, the city began making major investments in infrastructure and urban design, like an incredible 300-foot long escalator built right into the hill, which helped give the residents of Commua Trece the sense that their lives matter, too.

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Communa Trece really started to take shape in the 1970s and 80s, said Mesa. The area is highly geologically-unstable, offering a high-risk of landslide. Homes were originally made of tin, wood, and cardboard; now, they are made of bricks. At first, the city government didn’t pay attention to this illegal settlement taking shape. “They had other priorities.”

But beginning with Mayor Sergio Fajardo in the early 00s, the city began to take notice, initiating a program of reconciliation with the gang leaders, as “many already had strong leadership skills,” said Mesa. As security improved, whole neighborhoods became legal. If a resident of a shanty wanted access to social services, they needed to have their residence surveyed to make sure it was safe, and, then, if so, it was officially formalized and legalized. In many cases, these homes were then brought into the electricity and water grid. Mesa said some houses were removed because they were found to be built on highly unstable lots.

To improve the quality of life in some of the steepest areas, EDU, the city’s urban development organization, initiated a range of projects, spending tens of millions, including $8 million on the new escalator for one of the steepest slopes. Working with Japanese engineers, the city of Medellin wanted to design a singular form of access for one of the most forgotten parts of the city.

Mesa said before the escalator started running, residents had to climb the equivalent of a 30-story building to get home; that’s nearly half an hour of stair climbing. Their commute into the city and back could take more than two and half hours in total. For the elderly or infirm, this was simply impossible. As a result, “some people hadn’t been downtown in 15 years.” With the escalator and connecting subway, the ride downtown now takes about 45 minutes, opening up lots of job opportunities.

The escalator is broken into six segments and takes residents up 300 feet in about 6 minutes. Given most of the neighborhoods’ 12,000 residents had never ridden an escalator, the city offered free training, busing people into shopping malls so they could try them out. Mesa said “some people were very worried about the escalators prior to testing them.”

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To construct the escalator, the city first had to build a road. A 800-meter-long cement trail now runs in a loop through the hills. It’s open only to pedestrian, bicyclists, and motorcyclists. Santiago Mesa Arango, a representative with EDU, said this was just the first phase. The loop will soon connect other neighborhoods, itself a major accomplishment considering it used to be fatal to cross some neighborhood lines. While gang violence and drugs are still a problem, they are much less so than in the 90s.

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Along the road, new shops have popped up to serve all the foot traffic. There are other great amenities for the community, too. A trash heap is now an excellent playground, with a satisfyingly-steep slide built into the slope.

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Above the slide is a playground and exercise area.

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Throughout these new public spaces are some wild public art, created by local artists.

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Today, 17 young people from the community work on the escalator, as engineers and a maintenance crew. One young man we met, George, who goes by G-al, is also a singer. He told us, “lots of tourists come here to see the transformation. There are many artists here who have so much talent. Now, we get to show them who we are.”

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Le radeau des cimes / Krapo arboricole

After a weekend spent drawing trees with the students and faculty of the landscape architecture department at the University of Virginia, French botanist Francis Hallé gave a talk on the ecology of tropical rainforests. He has studied tropical plant life in 45 countries for 55 years and was the first person to land on top of the rainforest canopy using a raft suspended from a dirigible.

Hallé said the tropical rainforest canopy is the most complicated place to study botany for two reasons: one, the rainforest is the most biologically-diverse ecosystem in the world; and two, the canopy — because of its lack of humidity and access to sunlight — is even more diverse than the tropical forest undergrowth.

Hallé often uses metaphors to describe the life of the rainforest. “Can you imagine a lovely building of ten floors inhabited by smart and interesting people? Why should we visit only the basement, the parking, the terminal of rubbish and plumbing, the garbage cans, with cockroaches and mice? So we have to find a way to go up. I regret that at the time of Darwin it was not possible to climb the canopy and get up there.”

Compared to the lightness of the canopy, with its scents and butterflies, the undergrowth is dark, musty, and humid. “You can hear the animals, but you cannot see them. Undergrowth animals are big, dark, slow, and extremely shy. There are big cockroaches, spiders, millipedes, toads, and snails, but they are very shy. They turn around the tree trunk to avoid being seen by you.”

In 1975, Hallé and his colleague, Dany Cleyet-Marrel, a pilot and expert ballooner, attempted to fly in a hot air balloon over the rainforest in French Guyana. The trade winds were too strong to collect specimens, as Hallé planned. They needed to build an airfield in order to land on the canopy, and they also needed more financial backing.

Hallé consulted his friend and colleague, an architect from the Versailles School of Architecture, Gilles Ebersolt, to design a canopy raft. Finally in 1989, after the funding was acquired, and the equipment built, Hallé landed for the first time on the tropical canopy. The suspended raft and the materials were light enough that the crowns of three trees could support the entire weight. The 600-square-meter raft can hold 600 kilograms, approximately six scientists and their gear. He has brought entomologists, zoologists, and local botanists. In 1989, Hallé visited French Guyana, and, subsequently, Cameroon, Madagascar, Panama, Vanuatu, and Laos, where he hopes to return in 2015.

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Le radeau des cimes / Forêts Tropicales Humides Le Film

“You cannot image how beautiful the night is up there. You have a clear sky, the Milky Way, insects creating light. You have the music of the fauna: the frogs inhabiting the branches, the birds of the night, and monkeys. You have the perfume of flowers. I try not to sleep when I am on top of the canopy.”

After witnessing the deforestation of tropical rain forests his whole life, Hallé seeks to bring attention to the beauty and life of the rainforest canopy. Last year, he completed his first film with filmmaker Luc Jacquet, Il Etait une Forêt, to celebrate the rainforest as it exists today and to help people understand the value of tropical rainforests.

He concluded his lecture with another analogy: the tropical canopy is a large table set for an elegant and delicious dinner. There is exquisite food, abundant flowers, and fine wines. The moment the guests are ready to sit down, an idiot arrives with a chainsaw and says, “Wow, your table has wooden legs. I am interested in the wood.” Without a glance, he takes his chainsaw and he cuts the four legs. The dinner – the canopy – is destroyed and everything is lost.

This guest post is by Lucy Mcfadden, a Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate at the University of Virginia.

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Queens Plaza / Margie Ruddick

Design responses to New York City’s tangled infrastructure, both instant and painstaking, were the subject of a conversation between “design patron” Janette Sadik-Kahn and landscape designer Margie Ruddick, ASLA. Sadik-Kahn is best known for her recently completed tenure as commissioner of New York City’s department of transportation (DOT) under Mayor Bloomberg. Ruddick, as designer of a complex re-imagining of New York’s Queens Plaza, has been one of the beneficiaries of that design-conscious administration’s patronage. Both speakers, winners of 2013 National Design Awards from the event’s sponsor, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, turned a retrospective eye on their recent work in urban infrastructure. The last eight or so years, both speakers claimed, marks a sea change in New York City’s infrastructure and design culture, as design innovations marked a turn from privileging cars and drivers to supporting the comfort and mobility of pedestrians and cyclists.

Ruddick focused on the painstaking work of transforming the complex site of Queens Plaza from gateway and transit hub “morass” into a green refuge in a span of ten years (see image above). Ruddick argued that what was radical in 2006 has become mainstream today: the idea that urban infrastructure can operate aesthetically and ecologically is accepted in a way that was unthinkable when the project began.

Sadik-Kahn reviewed a series of pilot programs for city streets that were rapidly implemented and subsequently institutionalized under her tenure. Where previously streets encouraged speeding, visual clutter, and cycling accidents, these interventions have struck a new balance. Sadik-Kahn spoke of the city’s “new vocabulary” of designs for bike lanes, pedestrian plazas, benches, and green infrastructure. After years of “suspended animation,” the DOT showed that it was possible to change the DNA of city streets.

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Before and After: St Nicholas Ave & Amsterdam Ave / NYC DOT

Looming large over the discussion was the role of patronage and leadership in guiding better design for cities. Now that Bloomberg is gone, what might happen in New York? And who can spearhead similar changes in other cities?

For Ruddick, Queens Plaza, a complex and multi-agency project, was an object lesson in the importance of having a design process and the need to maintain a strong design vision, integrate performance, and avoid design by committee. But the story of her failure to implement a water filtration system across three jurisdictions without talking to the right people demonstrated that politics trumps design. The designer must have a firm hand, but they can’t make the project whole without the “fiat of the person at the top.”

Sadik-Kahn, one of those people at the top, emphasized the necessity of acting quickly, harnessing innovation. And as for the future of sustainable cities, it lies in selling mayors on the value of design as an economic development strategy and hoping for a “global competition of who can be greener.” Citing cities that have followed New York’s example — including Los Angeles, Portland, Oregon and Mexico City — Sadik-Kahn’s new role is to export New York’s “new vocabulary,” as codified in the Urban Street Design Guide, worldwide.

This guest post is by Mariana Mogilevich, PhD, assistant professor, metropolitan studies program, New York University.

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Vote for Us: ASLA’s web site, Designing Our Future: Sustainable Landscapes, has been nominated for a Webby, the most prestigious award for all things online. We need your help to win the People’s Voice Award. ASLA is currently in 2nd place.

The web site is an online exhibition highlighting real-life examples of sustainable landscape design and its positive effects on the environment and quality of life. These spaces use natural systems to clean the air and water, restore habitats, create healthy communities, and ultimately provide significant economic, social, and environmental value.

A total of 30 case studies illustrate just what sustainable landscapes are and how they provide important benefits on a variety of scales. In the process, the case studies, written in clear, understandable language, also introduce users to what exactly landscape architects do.

The Web site also features 10 animations created by Daniel Tal, ASLA, using SketchUp, which have been watched more than 150,000 times so far. The most recent animation, Designing Neighborhoods for People and Wildlife, explains how to transform your property into a real wildlife habitat. Learn how native plants and designed structures provide what nature needs:

Animations also include companion guides — sustainability education resources that enable users to explore sustainable design concepts in greater depth.

This project was made possible through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

Vote for ASLA before April 24th.

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Thames barrier, London / The Greenwich Phantom

“Urban resilience can be defined as the capacity of the system of cities to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what acute shocks occur,” said Judith Rodin, president of The Rockefeller Foundation at the World Urban Forum in Medellin, Colombia. “There have always been shocks throughout history, but, today, they are different — with globalization, climate change, and the immense scale and pace of shocks.” Rodin said shocks are occurring in cities based in increasingly fragile ecosystems, which puts people at unprecedented risk.

On Medellin, which is increasingly viewed as a model of a sustainable city, Rodin said the city’s ability to innovate and incorporate new ideas about its infrastructure shows that it’s becoming a more resilient city. “Medellin was trapped in a cycle of violence and mass incarceration, but it had the capacity to think differently.” Medellin’s city leadership worked on connecting its poor, isolated communities through new transit, libraries, and parks, bringing them into the mainstream. She said this was critical because the poor and vulnerable are the ones who are always most impacted.

Perhaps Rodin’s central point was that “we can’t always predict or prevent catastrophes, but we can control the physical and spiritual damage. It’s not just about how a city operates on its best days, but whether it can operate on its worst.”

So how can cities become more resilient? They have to make “an up-front investment.” While those up-front investments in resilience can be expensive, they can create jobs and improve social cohesion. Improving resilience is not just a task for the public sector either. “Businesses have self interest in becoming involved, too.” Rodin pointed to a World Bank study that argued 25 percent of all businesses that fail after a major disruption don’t reopen.

New technology may also provide hope. “Look at the advances in 3D-printing, which enable us to print parts when distribution systems break down, or on-site manufacturing of emergency shelters.”

To bolster the ability of cities to adapt to changing circumstances, the Rockefeller Foundation announced it will dedicate $100 million to its new 100 Resilient Cities program. By increasing the focus on resilience among 100 world cities, the foundation hopes to create a market for resilient products and services, so more companies have an incentive to serve this market. Cities can use the foundation’s funds to find chief resilient officers, who will be charged with creating a city-wide resilience strategy.

Other global experts also weighed in on the move towards urban resilience. Katherine Vines, C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, which includes 40 of the 50 largest cities in the world, said mega-cities face a “huge job adapting to climate change, shocks, and chronic stresses.” A recent report by the group found that 82 percent of C40 cites are already dedicating staff and funds to urban resilience, including early warning systems and emergency preparedness, and green infrastructure systems, like green roofs and permeable pavements, in order to cool cities and deal with flooding.

As an example, she point to Rio de Janeiro, where Mayor Eduardo Paes is implementing a robust resilience strategy, with an emergency response center, long-term climate risk assessment, and actual construction work to improve slope support and drainage. And there’s also a real human component to the efforts: “Part of the emergency warning system will involve training local nurses.” Vines also mentioned an innovative new “rains app” from the city of Sao Paulo, which enables local residents to see their risk of summertime flooding in real time.

And then Stefan Denig, Siemens Sustainable City program, offered some scary data. Due to flooding in the 1950s, London spent $8 billion on its huge Thames barrier. Over the next few decades, London only had use the gates twice. However, in the past decade, the city had use the gates 40 times. It’s expected the city will soon need to use the gates up to 30 times per year.

While heavy infrastructure like London’s Thames barrier are critical, unfortunately, not all cities can afford the expense. Denig said Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam would need a 170-kilometer-long dam to really protect itself but “no one has the money for that,” so they have to use other approaches.

Resilience will then cost money, which is difficult given cities face so many competing demands for limited funds. What costs is creating redundant systems. For example, London’s subway, the tube, has its own power generation system in case the city’s system fails. “This is high cost and used rarely.”

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Medellin Metro station / Jared Green

“The turning point in our city’s history was the killing of Pablo Escobar,” said Alexander Velez, our guide during a tour of Medellin, organized by UN-Habitat during the World Urban Forum. Escobar, the most notorious drug dealer of the century, was estimated to be worth some $25 billion by the time he was killed by Colombian police forces in 1993. At his height, he controlled some 80 percent of the world’s cocaine market. According to Velez, his impact on Medellin was deeply poisonous. The gangs he controlled ruled the slums surrounding the valley of Medellin without mercy. It was dangerous to even cross neighborhood lines. Thousands of innocent people were murdered each year.

The other turning point, said Velez, was the creation of Medellin’s extensive Metro system, the first leg of which was launched in 1996. After Escobar died, the gangs were co-opted, and security began to improve, the people of Medellin discovered they could travel safely to other parts of the city. Soon, the city’s total transformation began to take root. And it only continues.

We drive along the Medellin River, a thin, polluted channel lined in concrete and surrounded by train lines and highways that cuts through the heart of the city. Velez explains that a new park will soon be built around the river. “We will bring back nature and undo the pollution. There will be pedestrian walkways, bicycle lanes. The highways will be buried.” Velez said there was an international design competition for the restoration and redevelopment project, which Latitud Taller de Ciudad y Arquitectura, a local firm, just won. The first segment will cost $300 million. Eventually, the park will extend 44 kilometers, said Velez.

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Parque Botánico Río Medellín by Latitud Taller de Ciudad y Arquitectura. Winner of the Design Competition for Medellín River Park.

The restoration of the Medellin River is just another example of how the city’s leadership is focused on improving social equity, stitching the poor and rich parts of the cities together.

This transformation is even seen in El Poblado, the wealthiest part of the city. Velez explained that this was the first place the Spanish colonialists settled in 1616. “They didn’t find gold but did find water so they stayed.” Over the centuries, the area evolved into a place where the very rich kept their country homes. In the early 20th century, there were extensive estates. One example of this is the Castle, the estate of José Tobón Uribe, who died just after he built the place in the 1930s. The castle was modeled after a Gothic castle in Loire, France. Later in the 1940s, textile magnate Diego Echavarría Misas bought the castle and then turned it into a museum.

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The Castle Museum / Jared Green

Even the richest area is now more accessible, said Velez. While the very wealthy still live in the area, along with the Mayor of Medellin and other celebrities, El Poblado is also now the neighborhood of the upper middle class. The main square, El Poblado square, where the Spanish first landed, has become a spot for locals to take a break. Gorgeous old trees provide a welcome canopy.

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El Poblado Square / Jared Green

And winding through the district is a stream that has been restored, forming the backbone of a new linear park, which opened in 2003.

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Linear park in El Poblado / Jared Green

Surprising cafes and bars appear at the edges of the park, providing another respite in a city filled with greenery.

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Small cafe space near the linear park in El Poblado / Jared Green

Heading towards the city center, Velez explains the city’s “partial plans,” an ambitious urban revitalization program aimed at improving the quality of life for residents and business owners. He said this plan will eventually result in 100,000 new, “non-subsidized” apartments. “The partial plans will bring life to areas that are industrialized. Before, they were places for the homeless and illegal drugs. Now, there will be residential apartment complexes, hotels, and hospitals.”

We could see the metamorphosis in one industrial area, with the opening of the Museum of Modern Art in an abandoned, 1930s-era steel mill. A $12 million addition is coming in behind the existing building.

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Museum of Modern Art, Medellin / Jared Green

And, again, Medellin surprises with its parks. Colombian endorphin-addicts could be seen tossing medicine balls in Parque líneal Ciudad del Río, the funky, urban park covered in street art, adjacent to the museum.

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Parque líneal Ciudad del Río / Wiki Colombia

As we gaze at the new museum, we stand right in the middle of Medellin’s budding system of bicycle infrastructure. While the lanes still seem a bit disconnected, the better ones are up on the sidewalks, away from the parked cars and traffic. Velez said “the network is not yet integrated, but the city is working on it.”

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Bicycle Lane in Medellin / Jared Green

These lanes also serve the new bicycle share system, which Velez said the city has been running for the past three years. If residents show an ID and credit card, they can use the bikes for free. Velez said there are 800 free bikes, and the system will soon scale up to nearly 1,100.

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Bike share system in Medellin / Jared Green

All of those must be put to use on Sundays, when much of the city’s streets no longer become accessible to cars, opening up into a bonanza for two-wheelers.

Throughout the city, one is struck by the small design details, too. Velez took us to Plaza Botero, which features the largest collection of local Medellin artist Fernando Botero’s outdoor sculptures.

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Plaza Botero / Jared Green

While the sculptures are stunning, the comfortable, human-scale streetscape competes for your attention, as well as the urban furniture that can be found throughout the downtown. This is a city designed for all — with places to stroll and sit. It’s the careful attention to these details that make Medellin feel so welcoming.

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Plaza Botero Pedestrian Mall / Jared Green

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Street chairs / Jared Green

The tour then headed to the northern end of the city, which has been hit hardest by poverty and violence, and, therefore, has seen the greatest transformation. Our first stop is the Ruta N complex, the center of Medellin’s efforts to lure innovative companies to participate in the city’s rebirth. Velez said it’s an innovation center that includes a lab and offices for the local Hewlett Packard center. The building features an innovative green wall system and reuses all water.

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Ruta N / Jared Green

Tropical gardens surrounding the building collect rainwater and cool the plaza and building.

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Ruta N garden / Jared Green

Next to Ruta N are a set of new parks that demonstrate the core of the city’s transition into a more equal place, at least in terms of access to beautiful public spaces. As Velez has explained, since the early 00s, the city, along with the foundation of the Empresas Publicas de Medellin (EPM), the all-encompassing public utility, have financed a wonderful program of “library-parks,” which combine places for learning, exploration, and play, with well-maintained green, public spaces. There are nine library-parks in “deprived areas.” One of these is the Park of Wishes, which was designed in 2003 by architect Felipe Uribe de Bedout, who also created the now-famous Barefoot Park, and features the city’s biggest music school. Facing the school is the city’s planetarium, which has a giant projector screen for outdoor films on one of its walls. The park offers fun “echo chambers” in the shape of moons.

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Wish Park / Jared Green

Right along side the Park of Wishes is Park Explora, which has the largest aquarium in Colombia in its extensive grounds. In the spirit of equality, “high income people pay to visit the aquarium, while low-income people just need to show their electricity bill to get in for free.”

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Park Explora / Jared Green

“Together, these two parks offer the poorest access to music, astronomy, and nature — education, which is what they need,” said Velez. “All these new amenities will help the city continue to grow in a sustainable way.”

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scape

The Protective Shallows. Rebuilt by Design proposal by Scape/Landscape Architecture with Parsons Brinckerhoff, Dr. Philip Orton / Stevens Institute of Technology, Ocean & Coastal Consultants, SeArc Ecological Consulting, LOT-EK, MTWTF, The Harbor School and Paul Greenberg.

For more LA in the News, check out LAND, ASLA’s newsletter. If you see others you’d like included, please email us at info@asla.org.

Designing Outdoor Spaces to Fit Specific Patient PopulationsHealthcare Design Magazine, 4/1/14
“Patients using the garden could include a person awaiting minor surgery; someone recovering from a hip replacement who is urged to walk and seeks smooth pathways with frequent places to stop and rest; a person who has received outpatient chemotherapy and needs to recuperate—in the shade—before driving home; or a sick child being wheeled through a garden as respite from frightening medical procedures.”

Landscape Architects Edwina von Gal, Mikyoung Kim and Kate Orff Share their Favorite ThingsThe Wall Street Journal, 4/3/14
“Three trailblazing landscape designers are unearthing ways to improve the boundaries where man meets nature, using everything from oyster beds to interactive color walls to ensure that new developments harmoniously exist alongside their natural environments.”

10 Design Ideas to Prepare Us for the Next SandyNew York, 4/3/14
“‘If we put back what was there before, that’s a failure from the start,’ says Henk Ovink, a lean, bald, hyperintense water-management expert who organized Rebuild by Design while on loan from the Dutch government. The future will not be dry.”

Rebuild by Design Redesigns Sandy-Battered ShoreArchitectural Record, 4/7/14
“Protective sand islands in long narrow threads would run along the Atlantic seacoast from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to Cape May, New Jersey, in one of the most ambitious proposals unveiled last week by Rebuild by Design. The program is a high-speed, invited competition sponsored by a presidential task force, guided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and supported by the Rockefeller Foundation and others.

Dan Kiley’s LandscapesThe Washington Post, 4/11/14
“From his longtime home studio in Vermont, Dan Kiley could see low-slung mountains, rippling Lake Champlain and trees grouped thickly and randomly. But when the influential landscape architect went to work, he emulated not such natural vistas but the geometric layouts of both baroque and modernist France.”

Vision 42 Design Competition Asks Designers to Re-Imagine 42nd Street without CarsThe Architect’s Newspaper, 4/15/14
“The Institute for Rational Urban Mobility is hosting the just-announced Vision42 Design Competition calling on architects, designers, and transportation gurus to re-imagine one of the most iconic (and congested) streets in New York City—42nd Street.”

These articles were compiled by Phil Stamper-Halpin, ASLA Public Relations and Communications Coordinator.

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