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Janet Echelman / Todd Erikson

Janet Echelman builds living, breathing sculpture environments that respond to the forces of nature — wind, water and light — and become inviting focal points for civic life. She is recipient of the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her TED talk, “Taking Imagination Seriously,” has been translated into 34 languages and is estimated to have been viewed by more than a million people.

What is your role as a public artist today? Are you here to enliven dead places, create a new sense of place, or just get us to feel something new?

I am engaged in enlivening dead or invisible places. I’m drawn to places that somehow do not yet click, because it’s a challenge — enigmatic and interesting. The hardest thing is to go make art in a place that’s already good.

Creating a new sense of place is a very interesting problem for me in my practice of public art. I often think of it more as creating a sense of place, because many of these places felt anonymous before. I’m often part of a larger effort that involves a landscape architect, architect, and urbanist.

Feeling something new: Yes, I am interested in that because it’s about feeling alive in the moment to encounter, experience, absorb, just see the world in a different way. My work is dynamically changing in different weather and at different times of year, which is actually very in-tune with landscape architects’ sensibility. I admire landscape works that have plants that flower or drop their leaves at different seasons, the sense of sculpting something that has seasonal change.

What kind of spaces best enable us to interact with your voluminous, floating artworks? When you’re installing a piece in an existing park or plaza, how do you see a spot and say to yourself: Yes, that’ll work?

I’ve created sculpture in a forest, in fields, and on a beach. These are very satisfying environments, but there is no more compelling site than the middle of a city where people are. These works are about the experience of how it feels to be underneath them. The reason I make them is because I want to be under something like this.

I don’t know if my work is a landscape, but they’re a scape of sorts. They’re an environment that you go inside of, and they’re often integrally linked with a landscape beneath them. Maybe they’re a skyscape?

When I am brought in to work with a team, it’s a question of understanding what the options are, walking through the site, thinking about the patterns of pedestrian movement, and where there might be a place of contemplation. Where is a place where people can lie down and look up?

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She Changes, Porto, Portugal / Enrique Diaz

Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks, your recent piece for the 30th anniversary TED conference in Vancouver, was imbued with technology that enabled the public to interact. What was your motivation for this interactivity? Does this mean we can only reach people through their smartphones now?

Each project I take on has to have some edge where I’m experimenting or pushing limits. In this project, I wanted to give the public a way to interact with color and lighting. It was a collaboration with a digital artist Aaron Koblin, who leads Google’s data art labs.

This piece is about social gathering in cities. Its form is derived by 2,000 years of urban history and the city of Rome, when the Colosseum was built. The Colosseum once had a textile work suspended by ropes called a velarium. We don’t know exactly what it looked like, but this was my challenge to create a velarium for today. I was thinking about why people gathered in Rome 2,000 years ago to watch violent spectacles and why we gather today.

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Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks, Vancouver, British Columbia / Ema Peter

Aaron and I spoke how often technology connects us to all sorts of people but never the person standing next to us. In the context of the sculpture, it would not only connect you to your friends list but the person physically next to you. We were using technology as a tool to bring people together; it was both a physical space and a virtual space at the same time.

It’s not the phone that distances us. I don’t feel that the smart phone has to control us in terms of how we relate. We can use it in a way that brings us together in a real landscape in real time in a real conversation.

You partnered with landscape architecture firm OLIN on Pulse, an exciting project coming to the new plaza in front of City Hall in Philadelphia. Can you talk about the collaborative design process with them and the other designers, engineers on the team? What did you learn from them and what did they learn from you?

The project in Philadelphia with OLIN is a completely different experience for me, because it’s not about looking up. It’s in front of the beloved historic Philadelphia City Hall. It was more about working together with the landscape architecture to engage people and add playfulness. It’s meant to engage above ground with what’s going on underground.

It was an intimate collaboration. We’d have the site model with trace paper. I would draw a line, and Sue Weiler, FASLA, a partner with OLIN, might pick up the pencil and complete the line. OLIN was open and willing to invite me into the landscape, to join in what became a completely integrated work of art and landscape. With landscape architects, the projects tend to become really collaborative. Neither side is really too attached to their ideas. That’s not always the case when collaborating in the design world. Sometimes, there’s an uncomfortable butting of heads.

Their input really changed what I designed in the end, because I was initially thinking about being vertical and engaging with the parkway, which is on the diagonal. The more I learned from the OLIN team, the more I saw it was as about people moving through this plaza. I became engaged with the ground plane in a way I never before. The project required me to delve into the history. The site housed the original waterworks of the city, the former railroad station of the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Broad Street Station, where trains ran on steam. So I developed a completely new material to engage with this history, working with mist or fog as a sculpture material and colored light, to bring the sense of the trains.

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Pulse, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania / OLIN

Having your pieces in so many different types of landscapes, you must have some sense of what landscape architecture works and doesn’t work. Is there an ideal relationship between landscape architecture and public art or is it all relative?

The only way I know if a landscape is working is my subjective experience. How do I feel when I walk through a space? In a former phase of my life, I worked as a psychotherapist. In the training, they talked about self as instrument. How you feel is your greatest tool in understanding what’s going on around you. That training has helped me as an artist working in the public realm collaborating with landscape designers. So it is subjective, but it is in fact my only tool, so that’s how I judge a space.

I can’t say what is the ideal relationship between public art and landscape, but I am intrigued where they are in conversation with one another. Many of my works are in the sky and they talk to the landscape. I lived in Bali and there they say, “The sky is my father, and the Earth is my mother.” It’s a romance between the ground plane and the sky.

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1.26, Amsterdam, The Netherlands / Janus Vanden Eijnden

If you have to deal with the legacy of bad planning or landscape architecture, how can you fix it?

It’s interesting what I am asked to fix. At the San Francisco Airport, they asked me to create a zone of re-composure for people after they clear security. In cities and even on campuses, I’m asked to create a “heart.” This is a challenging but worthy goal. I can never reach my ambitions, but I’m willing to be aspirational.

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Every Beating Second, San Francisco Airport / Brute Damonte

I am frequently part of a team that includes landscape architects who are addressing a fix to some previous plan, often the result of urban renewal. We’re in a moment when we are finding many of the designers in the 60s and 70s may not have succeeded in creating what we all want.

For example, Boston had an elevated highway going through the middle of it. With the “Big Dig,” they were able to remove that. The highway was a mistake of an earlier era where the automobile was given a precedence over the pedestrian. With my new project coming in, I’m part of the process of bringing this place back to the people.

Your hit TED talk, which has been viewed more than a million times, is all about the rediscovery of wonder. What advice do you have for designers trying to keep in touch with that feeling, given all the challenges involved in designing and building something these days?

I try to keep a sense of wonder in my own life and practice. I try to hold a space of time to experiment, as a kind of research. In the business world, successful companies have R&D labs, but we artists and designers rarely have that benefit. We must reserve a space for discovery and wonder.

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Metro’s Union Station / Metro via The Los Angeles Times.

Homeless Welcome in San Jose’s Latest St. James Park Reboot San Jose Mercury News (CA), 9/24/14
“Designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, St. James Park hosted the best and worst of San Jose history in the 19th and 20th centuries.”

An Alliance of Dance and DesignThe New York Times, 9/25/14
“In 1966, the landscape architect Lawrence Halprin and the dance pioneer Anna Halprin invited 40 young people to Northern California to participate in a roving summer workshop.”

Metro’s Union Station Master Plan a Significant Shift Los Angeles Times, 9/26/14
“With landscape architect Mia Lehrer, the architects have proposed a new civic plaza—what they call a ‘forecourt’—at the foot of the building, filling the area between the building and Alameda Street and replacing a surface parking lot.”

Inside North America’s First Islamic Art MuseumAl Jazeera, 9/26/14
“Rows of serviceberry trees lead visitors into a garden quartered by water channels, five reflecting pools, long walkways, and pebbled paths—the work of Lebanese-Serbian landscape architect Vladimir Djurovic.”

Gender Studies: These Five Anonymous Women Helped Build New York City Curbed National, 9/29/14
“As NYC’s Chief of Tree Plantings, a position she nabbed in 1936, landscape architect Clara Coffey brought greenery to the Hutchinson River Parkway and swapped out the fences and hedges of the Park Avenue Malls with flowerbeds and kwanzan cherry trees.

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By the Silent Line (cropped) / Pierre Folk

Since 2011, photographer Pierre Folk has traversed Paris’ Petite Ceinture, or Little Belt Railway, which has been abandoned since the 1930s. Apparently, discussions have been ongoing since last year about the line’s future. Ideas include tearing up pieces of the 20-mile (32-kilometer) railway so as to free up room for new development or preserving the railway and turning into a pedestrian and bicycle-friendly linear park. Parts of the line have been reused for contemporary railway infrastructure, but much of it remains outside the civic realm, except for a small piece opened to the public.

Access to the Little Belt — which is elevated, ground-level, or subterranean — is still forbidden, but that hasn’t kept Folk or others from getting a closer look. One tunnel of the old line even provides access to the city’s catacombs.

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According to Wikipedia, the railway was first conceived in the 1840s as a military transport system, a way to convey troops and material around the city. The railway was built in the space between an existing “tax wall” and a “larger and better-fortified ring of protection,” an outer wall. The French government couldn’t afford to complete the line on their own, so they asked the major rail companies for support in uniting all their lines in the capital. In a long-term lease with the government, these companies created the infrastructure, which evolved into railways for passenger and freight trains, and maintained it until the early 1930s, when other networks began to supersede these lines.

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As Folk captures, the Little Belt is being slowly reclaimed by nature, providing a home to opportunistic trees and plants. The railway is also a canvas for street artists.

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We hope that Folk’s photographs will lead to the preservation of this charming piece of infrastructure, much like Joel Sternfeld’s evocative photographs of a wild High Line helped convince New York City’s policymakers there was something worth saving.

Explore the layers and layers Folk finds and watch a video.

Also, check out these great abstract photographs of Parisian rooftops.

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Glenn Kaino’s Bridge / Jared Green

The Washington, D.C. Commission on Arts and Humanities just seriously upped their game with their latest city-wide temporary public art project called 5 x 5. Five curators brought 25 artists’ site-specific installations to all 8 wards. Each piece we toured highlights an aspect of the District’s changing identity in the face of rampant redevelopment and gentrification. Many pieces make a combative, political point, wading into some of the most troubling issues in the city, while others offered more nuanced stories, but still aim to strike a chord.

Underlying all of it was a genuine effort to bring compelling pieces to all D.C. residents. As Sarah Massey, who was doing outreach for the commission, explained, “this whole project is a dialogue between the monumental core of the city — where all the tourists go — and the actual district, where people live. Do people who live in Anacostia go to the monumental core? We don’t know. The commission wanted to bring art to where people live.”

We start at the Navy Yard, which has gone from being the site of abandoned armaments factories and strip clubs to one for high-end condos, restaurants, and a hipster-loving trapeze school in less than a decade. Many of the old naval buildings have been taken over by new restaurants, but one that has yet to be turned, a gorgeous empty shell of a building, is now the temporary home of Glenn Kaino’s magnificent Bridge (see image above). Kaino’s work overwhelms on first sight, appearing to be a hundred-foot-long dinosaur spine hanging from the ceiling. But it’s actually a bridge, made up of 200 unique slats. Each slat is a cast of athlete Tommie Smith’s arm, with a clenched fist at the end. Smith made his famous Black Power fist at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, where he won a gold medal. For this political act, Smith was expelled from the games.

Kaino writes that the use of extended arm and fist was long a political symbol before it was appropriated by Black Power activists, and its meaning has since evolved, given our ever-shifting understanding. The bridge is then meant to show this path of a “revised, formed, and remitted cultural narrative.” Smith seems to reflect that changing narrative himself. When I asked him what the Kaino’s piece said about black power in the District today, he replied, “Well, I didn’t actually make the Black Power sign. I was showing solidarity with all the world’s repressed people. It was a sign of freedom.”

As we move to Anacostia, we learn about a series of billboards that match African American male poets and visual artists to create site-specific billboards around the city called Ceremonies of Dark Men. As curator A.M. Weaver explains, “D.C. used to be the Chocolate City, but it isn’t anymore. We need a new way of looking at the black male figure. We want to re-assert this figure in a changing community, with all the hipsters coming in.” Weaver picked highly visible spots in every quadrant and augmented the billboards with apps that have video slideshows. She said each juxtaposition between image and text was carefully curated.

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Ceremonies of Dark Men / Jared Green

Heading towards the Southwest Waterfront Metro stop, we are confronted with a group of five pieces in what was empty grassy space next to a D.C. government office building. There, curator Lance Fung, who was behind the ambitious Artlantic project in Atlantic City, New Jersey, explained his Nonuments public arts exhibit. Fung said with the help of the “best neighborhood” and local partner, Washington Project for the Arts, “the community now has a temporary art park.” He made a point of saying “we didn’t phone in these works of art; they all came out of the soil of this place.”

To lay the foundation for this art park, artist Peter Hutchinson threw a rope and plotted natural material along its path — in this case, 33 trees.

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Peter Hutchinson Thrown Rope / Sarah Massey

Four other works seem to orbit this central work. One is Migration, a set of otherworldly “nests” by artist Cameron Hockenson, who explains: “these nests are much like neighborhoods now on the move, embracing, adapting, or resisting forces of gentrification now sweeping the city.”

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Migration / Jared Green

There’s also Portrait Garden by Jennifer Wen Ma, a painter who magnified a picture of a local resident, chosen at random through a lottery, into a large-scale portrait through an unusual material: ink-stained plants. Ma wants to honor the “unsung heroes of daily life with plants that, like every life form, are under daily stress.”

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Portrait Garden / Jared Green

But here, Ma has added extreme stress, coating the plant’s leaves in ink, like they are rice paper in a Chinese brush painting. Ma explained that this was part of the meaning of her work. The plants, like people, will either succumb to or overcome their challenges. I expressed concern for the plants, but she said, “they prove to be amazingly resilient. The same plant can come back year after year. They will survive if they are watered.”

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Portrait Garden / Jared Green

And the most arresting piece was Peep by artist Jonathan Fung, which aims to use art to increase awareness of human trafficking, a dark undercurrent of humanity that also runs through the District. Fung told me that there are now more people enslaved at any point in human history, more than 30 million, and the district is a hub for this activity. In his piece, a shipping container, which is a common means of transporting trafficking victims, is painted bright pink, like something that would appeal to a child. This is because vulnerable foster children or young adults in this country — and around the world — are often the targets of trafficking, lured by people pretending to be their friends. Fung said the piece represents “stolen innocence, lost childhoods.”

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Peep / Jared Green

Inside Peep are rows of sewing machines and a recording playing their droning music. Fung said, “it’s about the commodification of people.” Being in there working on the piece, Fung said he also now understood why so many trafficked people don’t make it on their long journeys: The shipping containers are unbearably hot. (Learn more about human trafficking in Fung’s film, Hark, or this TED talk).

Many more pieces not covered here are on view until December. Learn more at 5 x 5.

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Olafur Eliasson’s Riverbed

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Riverbed / Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark is considered a milestone of modern Danish design, noted for its synthesis of art, architecture, and landscape. Now, a new exhibition from artist Olafur Eliasson seeks to blur these boundaries even further with Riverbed, an exhibition that transforms “the entire South Wing into a rocky landscape.”

Riverbed is what it sounds like: a rocky riverbed, complete with stones, soil, and a narrow waterway meandering through the middle, laid down inside the museum walls.

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Riverbed / Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

Described as “stress-test of Louisiana’s physical capacity,” the installation also directly refers to the site’s history. In 1982, the museum added the south wing on a slope, which had once been home to a sculpture garden. “Like many of the exhibitions presented throughout his creative career,” writes Designboom, “Eliasson’s Riverbed is site-specific, engaging with the cultural institution’s unique identity, thematically linking the artworks and gallery as a place.”

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Riverbed / Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

Design blog The Fox is Black describes Riverbed as “a surreal and beautiful sight. Visitors are encouraged to walk on the rocky surfaces, and spaces are entered through semi-submerged gallery doorways. I think it looks terrific and I can only imagine how wonderful it must be to hear the trickle of water running through the small galleries of the Museum.”

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Riverbed / Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

Beyond the sensory pleasure, the exhibition questions the meaning and experience of the museum itself, writes Arch Daily. “Both grand and humble, the installation overturns expectations of the role of museum-goer and dances between definitions of observer and participant . . . Avoiding traditional expectations of behavior and thought associated with museums, Eliasson strips away superficial information through the emptiness of the landscape. There is nothing on the walls, and there is no expected way to act within or experience the space, allowing for freedom of reflection, thought, sensory experience, and sense of self.”

The exhibition opens August 20 and runs through April 2015, alongside Model Room, a collaboration with Eliasson and Icelandic artist Einar Thorsteinn, and three video screenings in the main hall.

Yoshi Silverstein is the ASLA 2014 communications intern. He is a Masters in Landscape Architecture candidate at the University of Maryland. He focuses on landscape experience and outdoor learning environments.

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All photographs from the book Ciphers, cropped / Copyright Christoph Gielen

In his compelling new book Ciphers, Christoph Gielen shows us the amazing shapes of suburbs, which he captures while hanging out of a helicopter. Gielen’s goal is to use his aerial photography to show us how “off-kilter” our sprawled-out communities have become. He hopes to “trigger a re-evaluation of our built environment, to ask: what kind of development can be considered sustainable?”

The physical forms of these communities in Florida, Arizona, Texas, and California and overseas in Scotland, Germany, and China are otherworldly in themselves. The photographs titles are equally as abstract, mostly marked as Untitled or perhaps simply the development’s name, like Sterling Ridge or Eden Prairie, which are themselves ironic, given how divorced they are from their environment. The photographs of these places, taken together, truly are ciphers, in that they help us understand the underlying logic, the code that shaped these sprawled-out places.

The photographs show us that when a community is totally detached from its surroundings, all kinds of forms are possible. In his introduction, Geoff Manaugh, long-time editor of BLDGBLOG, says “the suburbs are, in a sense, intensely original settlement patterns tiled over the landscape in ways our species could never have anticipated. We are living amid geometry, post-terrestrial screens between ourselves and the planet we walk upon.”

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Gielen tells Manaugh that many of these communities, being so separated from their surrounding nature, are “absolutely self-contained.” Many of them are “not changing any more.” In particular, Manaugh describes the Sun Belt suburbs as “static, crystalline, and inorganic.” He adds, “Indeed, many of these streets frame retirement communities: places to move to once you’ve already been what you’ve set out to be. This isn’t sprawl, properly speaking. They are locations in their own right, spatial endpoints of certain journeys.”

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In another essay in the book, Susannah Sayler and Edward Morris, co-founders of The Canary Project, describe why these places are so bad for the environment. They point to arguments eloquently made by Kongjian Yu, FASLA, president of Turenscape. In an ASLA interview they quote from, Yu says: “We’ve misunderstood what it means to be developed. We need to develop a new system, a new vernacular to express the changing relationship between land and people…It should address the issue of survival, not pleasure making, or ornament. It should be for survival, because we are now, as human beings, at the edge of survival.”

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According to Sayler and Morris, Yu sees survival-based planning and development as fundamentally based in “ecological awareness and environmental ethics.” Yu begins all of his projects with an aerial analysis. He looks for the “ecological infrastructure that will guide urban development.” Yu defines ecological infrastructure as the “structural landscape network composed of critical landscape elements and spatial patterns.” In other words, Sayler and Morris write, “everything that was ignored in the developments that Gielen highlights in this book.”

Galina Tachieva, a partner at Duany, Plater-Zyberk and author of the Sprawl Repair Manual, says the photos illustrate how we are now stuck using a model that doesn’t work. “Such communities do not live up to the promise of an idyllic suburban alternative to the stress and hardship of dense city life — but have failed economically,  socially, and ecologically. Yet planning practice in the United States continues to promote and subsidize this type of settlement pattern through codes and policies that would make building traditional cities and towns illegal today. These trends are perpetuated despite what we know about more efficient use of land, energy, and water.”

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Tachieva argues, “the time has come to switch from auto-dependent and single-use monocultures to complete, human-scale communities.” Our only option, she says, is to “repair the worst excesses of sprawl — to find ways to restructure and redefine as much of it as possible into livable and robust neighborhoods.” This can happen by introducing new transit options, reconfiguring suburban blocks into denser ones, transforming dead malls into new town centers, and converting vacant sprawled-out communities back into open spaces and farmland. Sprawled-out places can devolve or shrink back.

Following the lead of developers and elected officials, the urban planning and design professions really enabled these kinds of developments to happen. Solving suburban sprawl — really, fixing the mess we created — will then require a long-term, collective effort. And, for some, these places may not even be seen as a problem. As a recent article from The Washington Post explains, liberals see dense urban environments as the answer, while conservatives are fine with their McMansions set within the endless sprawl.

Explore the book.

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River Tables

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River Collection / Greg Klassen

Greg Klassen creates furniture out of “edge pieces” of wood, writes This Is Colossal. He finds them from “construction sites, or from dying trees that have begun to rot.” Looking closely at some of these left-over trees, he sees opportunities to create something unique. He writes: “No two trees are the same, just as no two pieces that I make from them are.”

His useable, fluvial art is an homage to the Pacific Northwest, with its rich environment. “I find inspiration in the trees, the rivers, and the fields. I’m inspired by the beautiful world just outside my door.”

Each piece of wood is paired with another, to create the outline of a river or lake. In some, a piece of hand-cut glass representing water brings the shores together in one table.

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In others, wood circles the glass in the center, forming a self-contained body of water.

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Klassen describes his process: “Ideas often develop in my sketchbook, but where they really take shape is in the form of models and mock-ups. Working with rough wood slabs requires a lot of different tools to bring the material to finished form. My work is created with a nice mix of traditional hand tools and modern machines.”

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His work says to all of us, reuse can be stunning: “I love the idea of taking a discarded tree and giving it new life. I think the natural world is beautiful.”

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Check out his River collection online.

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BIG Maze / National Building Museum

“Mazes are usually two-dimensional. I wanted to create a three-dimensional one,” said the always non-conventional Danish architect Bjarke Ingels at the launch of his new BIG Maze at the National Building Museum (NBM) in Washington, D.C. For those who are big fans of getting lost in tight, enclosed spaces, this experience will be a true joy. For those who aren’t, gird yourself for an anxiety-riddled time, relieved only by the sight of the laughing security guard at the exit.

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BIG Maze / National Building Museum

Ingels told us the 18-feet-high exterior walls create the sense that “you are entering a crack in a canyon,” a place out of the American Southwest. As you try to navigate the 60-feet square monochromatic box, the wall height slowly falls, revealing the center, which is in the “valley.” He spoke of this sequence with children in mind. “When kids find the center, they are rewarded with a complete overview of the whole maze.”

In one of his poetic moments, Ingels also said the maze puts into physical form one of the famous quotes by Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” As such, the path going in was purposefully designed to be difficult. Once you find the center, getting out is much simpler.

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View from the center / National Building Museum

While its existentialism is clearly bona fide, Ingels confided, “we didn’t know whether this would be fun or not.” BIG’s approach is a departure from the typical maze, which is as puzzling to get out of as it is to get into. (And, new fun fact: mazes are defined as mental puzzles, while labyrinths are meant to be contemplative, meditative spaces that force the “body into a state where we can achieve spiritual peace,” writes NBM).

When I asked Ingels whether his purpose was to induce anxiety in the visitors and this was part of his “fun,” he just smiled and said, “We don’t write the script. We create the set.”

Now a blow-by-blow account of the adventure of the maze (well, some highlights) of yours truly and new ASLA summer intern, Yoshi Silverstein:

As you enter, the smell of the maple plywood is welcoming, and the pathways, which are ADA-accessible, aren’t as tight as one would fear. The first path resulted in a dead end, and so did the second and third. You slowly realize that the maze is forcing you the long way around, creating a circle around the center.

As you breath a sigh of relief when the path to the center finally comes into view, you realize others are having a good time. Some demented visitors were smiling, and the few kids we saw were running through, laughing and loving it.

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Visitors enjoying the maze / National Building Museum

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Small mazer / National Building Museum

I was one who made a bee-line to the center as fast as possible, then took time to explore a little before getting lost once again. During one tense moment, I was saved by a colleague I hadn’t seen in a while, and we proceeded to chat for at least 20 minutes…in the maze. A part of me thought, can’t we talk somewhere else?

A few questions that came to me: will it work when it’s packed with people? Will you then follow your own path or others? It was relatively empty when I went through.

Yoshi clearly had a different experience:

We were trying to reach the center of this maze. Preferably, for Jared, as quickly as possible. I was keen to explore every turn and dead end – perhaps for the same reason, as a child, I liked to read through every possible outcome in Choose Your Own Adventure novels. But Jared is my boss, and he wanted to solve the puzzle, with haste. So I followed him. As we hit our first dead end, the game was on.

Jared and I decided to attempt to find the return path to the entrance. We took a wrong turn and ended up at a dead end in another quadrant. Jared was surprised. I refrained from mentioning that I knew we were going the wrong way. I think my spatial orientation skills are a bit better than his.

Jared became involved chatting with a colleague, so I took the opportunity to explore on my own. Finally, my chance to walk every path! From the middle we had seen a route leading to the farthest corner away from the middle. “Would hate to get stuck there,” he said. So obviously I set an intention to find it.

When I reached the far corner, it yielded a different sense of discovery. It felt more personal, secluded, secret. Looking up I could see the ceiling of the atrium high above me, and parts of the balconies surrounding. I felt like I was in a hidden nook within a huge space. For me, it was the maze’s most contemplative spot, the only place where I felt like I wanted to stay still rather than keep moving and exploring. My breathing deepened. I noticed how the pattern of the grain on the plywood was reminiscent of contour lines on a topographical map, and thought of the connection between exploring this three-dimensional maze and the geographical orienteering of two-dimensional maps.

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The far corner / National Building Museum

I returned to the center, where I appreciated seeing the geometry of the pathways. Before leaving, I checked that there were no other secret corners I had missed. And then I exited the Big Maze.

The maze is open until September 1. Tickets are $16 for adults and $13 for kids, and cheaper if you are a member of NBM.

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Technicolor trampolines / Bradley White (Bounce Below)

Adventurous and non-claustrophobic explorer-types have typically relied on climbing equipment and headlamps to venture into caves below the earth’s surface. The Bounce Below Arena at Zip World Titan in Wales is now offering visitors an entirely different experience, fusing cave exploration with playground fun via giant mesh trampoline nets connected by walkways and slides running as long as 60 feet.

The three trampolines are suspended in historic Llechwedd Slate Caverns, a Victorian-era slate mine twice the size of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Originally mined in the 18 and 19th centuries, the caverns were later used to hide precious art works from the Germans during World War II, writes Inhabitat. According to The Daily Mail, workers cleared out some 500 tons of rubble to prepare the attraction. And to add to “the already awesome experience,” said Bounce Below, the trampolines are lit by a kaleidoscopic LED light display.

Users bouncing / Bradley White (Bounce Below)

Users bouncing / Bradley White (Bounce Below)

Anyone willing to be a canary to mine the brand new underground experience can visit anytime – the arena is open as of July 4, 2014 and the cave stays a cool 46 degrees even in wintertime. Activities run in one-hour long sessions, and visitors are supplied with cotton overalls and a safety helmet before riding to the cavern via the old mining train. Yep, just like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (though ostensibly without the saber-wielding bad guys). Sidekick Shorty not provided so bring your little buddies age seven or older along with you for bounce-around techni-colored fun.

A 60-foot slide leads to the exit / Bradley White (Bounce Below)

A 60-foot slide leads to the exit / Bradley White (Bounce Below)

Visitors to Zip World Titan can also soar above ground along over 8-kilometers worth of zip line cables through the historic mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog.

Zip-Liners / Zip World

Zip-Liners / Zip World

Yoshi Silverstein is the ASLA 2014 communications intern. He is a Masters in Landscape Architecture candidate at the University of Maryland. He focuses on landscape experience and outdoor learning environments.

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sound

The Pool of ‘Bamboo Counterpoint’ / Hugh Livingston

“I listen to a place, record its sounds and then look for the empty spaces. I put the music in the gaps,” said Hugh Livingston, a sound artist, explaining his new sonic landscape commissioned by Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C. His approach fits with the “niche hypothesis,” which posits that all species in a biological environment seek out their own frequency to communicate in so they don’t compete with each other. Like other living things, Livingston said, “I don’t compete with nature. I complement.”

For his new installation, which is called The Pool of ‘Bamboo Counterpoint,’ Livingston miked the landscape, capturing sounds night after night to use in his sound piece. He discovered “sirens are going all night; air traffic is continuous.” He also recorded parts of Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks Concerto on an old Steinway at the museum. There are notes from a bamboo flute, given Lover’s Lane Pool, the site of the installation, is shielded by bamboo.

The sound is piped through 12 black speakers set on acrylic tubes in the pool, which has been dyed black. Livingston said the tubes refer to “organ pipes.”

The speakers are controlled by an “engine,” an algorithm running through some 600-800 variables. The algorithm separates the sound into 12 independent channels or fragments, creating “swirls and eddies” of sound when they come together for the listener. “The fragments are echoed, like they are spinning in another directios. It creates the feeling of three dimensional space. It’s like two pianists improvising off of each other.”

The engine creates patterns but they don’t repeat. “Some segments are contemplative, with simple drops of water, while others are dense and active.” The overall effect is like a “chorus milling about backstage at an Italian opera house. Something is about to happen but it’s not quite clear what it is.”

Livingston said the sounds from the installation also interact with the landscape, with humidity, light, and wind.

Still, he believes his works are “no substitute for nature. This is just like a sculpture to be experienced in the landscape.” If anything, Livingston says, his goal is to get us to listen more closely, so “we hear other things elsewhere in the garden.”

Listen to The Pool of ‘Bamboo Counterpoint.’

Also, check out Livingston’s homage to the birds of Russian River:

And his Russian River opera:

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