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Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

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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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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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DIY Tree Art

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The Chandelier Tree / This Is Colossal

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The Chandelier Tree / This Is Colossal

For ages, trees have been a favorite subject of landscape painters. Their material has long provided substance for sculptors and crafters. Now, some contemporary artists are rediscovering the artistic effects that can be achieved with the humble tree. And, showing clear appreciation, these artists aren’t damaging the trees.

This Is Colossal tells us that Adam Tenebaum, a Los Angeles-based artist, was recently bequeathed a number of large chandeliers by a lighting-loving ancestor. Unfortunately, they were too large for his house, so he decided to create The Chandelier Tree, a one-of-a-kind installation in Silver Lake.

Here’s a documentary about the piece:

In Potsdam, Germany, street artists Daniel Siering and Mario Shu transformed an average-joe tree along a road into a startling illusion.

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Daniel Siering and Mario Shu / Street Art Utopia

They wrapped the tree in plastic sheeting and then spray-painted the background landscape on to it.

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Daniel Siering and Mario Shu / Street Art Utopia

The result looks like something from a magician’s act.

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Daniel Siering and Mario Shu / Street Art Utopia

Lastly, artist Brittany Powell created these ephemeral moss sculptures on tree trunks found on a steep trail in California.

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Brittany Powell / Low Commitment Projects

They are part of her series of “low-commitment projects,” which provide her and her friend a chance to create creative “schemes without a huge outlay of time, energy, or money.”

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Brittany Powell / Low Commitment Projects

Powell said these experiments are the “materialization of mental sketches.”

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Brittany Powell / Low Commitment Projects

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Bronx Queens Expressway / DLand Studio via Architect Magazine

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.

Sea ChangeArchitect Magazine, 3/17/14
“Susannah Drake’s unconventional path out of architecture school inspired her to establish this niche. A licensed architect and a licensed landscape architect, she graduated with master’s degrees in both disciplines from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.”

Brooklyn Bridge CrossroadsThe Architect’s Newspaper, 3/19/14
“After five years of study, meetings, and schematic designs, however, accessing the Brooklyn Bridge will soon be improved under a plan to revamp the Brooklyn Bridge Gateway Area streetscape, encompassing Tillary Street between Cadman Plaza West and Prince Street and several blocks of Adams Street, with widened sidewalks, improved bike lanes, and increased landscaping.”

Born AgainThe Architect’s Newspaper, 3/24/14
“In 2001, an electrical fire ravaged St. Louis’ National Memorial Church of God in Christ, destroying all of the historic structure except for its perimeter walls. Rebuilding the interior from scratch was not possible. Instead, as part of a broader plan to revitalize the Grand Center neighborhood, a local nonprofit hired New York–based Gluckman Mayner Architects with Michael Van Valkenburgh to help local architects John C. Guenther and Powers Bowersox resurrect the ruins.”

How to Fix New York City’s ParksThe New Yorker, 3/28/14
“Park equity is a relative newcomer to the roster of issues that New York City leaders must have a position on. The issue gained relevance last year, after State Senator Daniel L. Squadron introduced legislation, still before the state senate, that would take twenty per cent from the budgets of the ‘well-financed conservancies’ and redistribute it to poorer parks, matching these ‘contributing parks’ to ‘member parks.’ De Blasio endorsed the bill then but stopped short of reiterating his support on Friday, instead referring to the idea as creative.”

Predicting Future Biodiversity under Climate ChangeThe Guardian, 3/28/14
“They developed a model to predict future biodiversity as a result of changes to the underlying productivity of foundational tree species with global climate change. Their study drew upon many intersecting fields of study including community ecology, biogeography, and genetics. With these tools, they asked how climate change will alter the productivity of foundational species.”

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

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Party Aadvark / all photos © Inge Hondebrink

Burger’s Zoo, the largest zoo in Holland, near the city of Arnhem, wanted to make a splash with the celebration of their 100th year. The zoo wanted to create a present for the people of Arnhem, a contribution in the form of art, said artist Florentijn Hofman at Bloomberg Businessweek‘s recent design conference.

Walking around the zoo, Hofman came upon the aadvark, a “really nice creature, with a long tail, big ears, and almost human claws.” This unique animal, “one of the last remaining dinosaurs in Africa,” can “dig a huge hole in about 2 minutes.” But they rarely do. They sleep about 23 hours a day.

So Hofman imagined what an aadvark would look like after a big party, after perhaps having too much wine. This aadvark still has his party hat on, but “he’s lying down on his back and enjoying a rest.”

The zoo wanted to put Hofman’s aadvark in a “triple A location,” but he nixed that idea, seeking a more intimate site. The city and the zoo came across a “former wasteland” in the city center, which landscape architecture firm Buro Harro had been working on restoring for some time. Everyone decided this was the ideal spot.

Hofman said a small-sized park was necessary to make the impact of the aadvark even greater. Buro Harro wrote in Landezine: “The combination of park and statue was perfect.” The aadvark, which is some 30 meters long and 12 meters wide now lies on his back in a “gently sloping, mini-scale natural park made of a soft bed.”

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Construction was tricky given the site’s small size. Hofman’s giant sculptures are usually created on-site with spray-on concrete. This time, the 130,000 kilogram sculpture had to be created elsewhere and then trucked in 150 pieces. See a making-of video:

As the aadvark took shape, Hofman said he informed people in the area what was coming. “It’s their space. We went around showing drawings and used social media. We created nice designs to get people in the mood to party.”

One hour before opening, Hofman said, there was a line of 30 kids waiting to get on the tail and then climb up on to the belly.

At its height, the aadvark is five-meters high. “If kid falls off, something terrible could happen.” He said in contrast to the litigious U.S., the risk was allowed in Holland. Hofman said “everyone liked this work so we tried it out.” The artist himself has kids who are 5-6 years old. He said he wouldn’t let them play on the aadvark, but “a lot of parents did. It’s their own responsibility, and that’s a good thing.”

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Why a party aadvark? Hofman said “my work is about creating joy, to connect and communicate. Places change when they put in a work of mine. People start laughing and get out of their cars.”

Another one of Hofman’s hilarious projects is his traveling gargantuan rubber duck. It has become a global phenomenon, appearing in Hong Kong, Osaka, and Pittsburgh last year.

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Rubber Duck by Florentijn Hofman / Sparkalicious Wit

See Hofman discuss the aadvark and rubber duck:

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L is for Landscape

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Landscape Alphabet by Charles Joseph Hullmandel/ all photos from British Museum.

Charles Joseph Hullmandel, who died in 1850, was one of the forefathers of British lithography. His name is on thousands of lithographic prints from the early 1800s. He was apparently well-known for creating a method for printing subtle shifts in tones and reproducing the effect of light washes. This enabled the print reproduction of Romantic landscape paintings.

Among Hullmandel’s thousands of prints is a fascinating series on the alphabet in landscape form. Each letter is a story. They are among the goodies found on the British Museum web site.

For the letter A, we see three figures around a fire at the edge of a pond (see image above). The outline of the letter is vegetated.

C is for a castle on a cliff, with waves crashing and clouds curling.

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The letter E is a “ruinous gate,” a broken arch magically hanging in the air. Two men point at the ruin.

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M returns us to natural splendor, with willows and spruce. Ducks linger under the trees.

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The letter Q shows us a stone bridge over a winding river, with hills covered in trees.

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W is another romantic ruin; this time a gate with trees growing away from it.

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Z is a pastoral scene of a cozy hut with smoking chimney set within a forest.

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Explore the full set.

 

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The one-of-a-kind Janet Echelman, who creates monumental net sculptures all over the world, just unfurled Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks, her largest piece yet for the 30th TED conference in Vancouver.

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Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks / All photos courtesy Studio Echelman

With data artist Aaron Koblin at Google’s Creative Labs, Echelman went interactive, enabling visitors to this nearly 750-wide floating cloud to paint beams of light across the face of the mesh using their smartphones. Amazingly, the pulsing lights on the sculpture are made possible by embedded technology. The giant sculpture essentially acts as a “single full-screen Google Chrome window over 10 million pixels in size,” writes the design team.

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The title of the sculpture, Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks, comes from a line in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Echelman said: “it’s about each one of us being one of those stars – those sparks – and being able to paint the skies.”

The sculpture has 145 miles of braided fiber, tied up in 860,000 hand and machine-made knots to form intricate patterns. The piece weighs nearly 3,500 pounds, which is still light enough that it can be tied to many buildings, given there are so many foundation lines.

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Digital elements are embedded within the mesh, which is made of Honeywell Spectra Fiber manufactured in Washington state. Echelman told Arch Daily, pound-for-pound, it’s “fifteen times stronger than steel but light enough to float.” Spectra Fiber is “ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene using a patented gel-spinning process.”

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As Echelman explained in her talk at the 2013 ASLA Annual Meeting, collaboration is key to her work. She was worked with fabricators, landscape architects, architects, engineers, lighting designers — and now technologists — to realize her vision. Check out an exciting project she is doing with OLIN at Philadelphia’s City Hall.

Unnumbered Sparks will be in Vancouver until March 22 and then it will begin traveling to other cities around the world.

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