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Archive for the ‘Green Infrastructure’ Category

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Combined sewer overflow point, Anacostia, D.C. / Chesapeake Bay.net

While the Potomac and the Anacostia Rivers gave birth to the District of Columbia, they have suffered years of contamination from raw sewage, which spill into the rivers when the aging combined sewer and stormwater infrastructure overflows. To address this issue, in 2010 the District initiated the DC Clean Rivers Project (DCCR) and began constructing massive underground tunnels that will convey contaminated runoff into the Blue Plains wastewater treatment facility. While a deep-bore tunneling machine affectionately named Lady Bird digs its way 100 feet each day at great expense, D.C. is now finally able to move forward with a more cost-effective green infrastructure plan, like New York City and Philadelphia. A new agreement with the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Justice (DOJ) finalized in May allows DC Water, the city’s water utility, to remove one of the proposed tunnels and instead invest in turning hundreds of acres of impervious surfaces into green, absorbent ones. However, it appears not everyone will benefit equally from the new green infrastructure plan.

Under the new consent decree with the EPA and DOJ, DC Water eliminated the previously-planned underground tunnel for Rock Creek and will instead build green infrastructure that covers 365 acres. Phases of this work will start soon and the whole plan will be complete by 2030.

DC Clean Rivers Project Plan in 2010 / DC Water

DC Clean Rivers Project Plan in 2010 / DC Water

New Clean Rivers Project Plan in 2015 / DC Water

New Clean Rivers Project Plan in 2015 / DC Water

The neighborhoods of Columbia Heights, Takoma, Petworth, and others surrounding the Rock Creek watershed will get rain gardens, bioswales, porous pavement, and green roofs designed to capture and clean runoff, replacing the originally-planned tunnel. Near Georgetown, there will still be a tunnel but gravity, rather than an energy-intensive pumping station, will passively transfer water to the wastewater treatment plant, explains CityLab. That stretch will also get some new green infrastructure.

However, as some local activists who attended a recent briefing at the National Building Museum made clear, there are deep concerns about whether the new green infrastructure approach will benefit the Anacostia River communities any time soon. Over the years, the Anacostia, which is considered one of the most polluted waterways in the nation, has borne the bulk of environmental abuse. This is why DC Water made creating a new tunnel to address the Anaocostia River’s problems the highest priority. However, the community won’t see the benefits until at least 2022 when the new tunnel finally opens. Then, it’s expected to remove about 98 percent of the river’s pollution, making it potentially clean enough to swim in.

Meanwhile, along the Anacostia’s 8 miles, combined sewer overflows continue to occur in 17 different places, reports CityLab. So, according to these activists, the new plan has raised some environmental justice issues: it’s about who reaps the many benefits of green infrastructure first, and who gains the most long-term.

This desire for green infrastructure isn’t simply about cleaner rivers. Green infrastructure creates additional green space for the neighborhoods, reduces the heat-island effect, and improves air quality while creating jobs and increasing property values. The discrepancy in property values and income levels between the neighborhoods that will receive these benefits sooner and those that will receive a mostly-grey infrastructure fix is clear.

Despite the fears that green infrastructure can lead to gentrification, many argue that access to green infrastructure empowers communities and further marginalizes those without it. Even with the slow progress of the Anacostia tunnel, green infrastructure projects should be started sooner along the Anacostia. There are so many opportunities.

For example, along Buzzard’s Point in Southwest D.C., there are opportunities to create a new waterfront promenade that can also capture runoff with natural systems. Vacant houses in the area could also be turned into stormwater cisterns or redeveloped as parks. But, as of now, the only real plans are to create a new D.C. United soccer stadium there, which will only increase impervious surfaces, unless green infrastructure is better integrated into the design. With new incentives, green streets and roofs could spread throughout these neighborhoods, too.

A green roof that was installed over an existing drinking water reservoir located at Fort Reno as part of the Clean Rivers Project / American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists

A green roof that was installed over an existing drinking water reservoir located at Fort Reno as part of the Clean Rivers Project / American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists

The new 11th Street Bridge Park will help restore the Anacostia River ecosystems, but this project is still many years away. The new South Capitol street corridor project will bring some green infrastructure to the Anacostia area as well, but perhaps not enough. DC Water, which has been pushing for its new green infrastructure approach for years, has limited resources to fulfill its mission, and the tunnel and green infrastructure plan are great expenses. It certainly wants to bring more green infrastructure to the District, but, hopefully, these green infrastructure opportunities can be widespread so everyone benefits equally.

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The Tree Church by

The Tree Church designed by Barry Cox / Barry Cox

While some aspire for grand pools or tranquil gardens in their backyards, New Zealand resident, Barry Cox, had other ideas for a 3-acre space in his own yard. Yearning for an old stone church like those he had admired on his travels through Europe, Cox united his passions for religion and tree relocation to create a 100-seat chapel at his Ohaupo, New Zealand home made almost entirely from mature trees. According to the New Zealand Gardener, as a child, Cox wanted to be the Pope, but instead, settled for the position of head altar boy in his hometown church. His interest in Christianity, coupled with his encyclopedic knowledge of trees, came full circle in the creation of Tree Church.

Cox, who owns the mature tree rescue and relocation business, Treelocations, spent only four years “growing” the church. By re-homing semi-mature trees, he accelerated the maturity of the structure, giving it the appearance of a project 20 years in the making.

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Barry Cox with one of his dogs, Scruff / New Zealand Gardener by Sally Tagg

Cox carefully selected from a wide variety of trees for the chapel. He writes on his website that he used live cut-leaf alder trees for the roof canopy and copper sheen for the walls, as well as camellia black tie, Norway maple, and pyramidal white cedar. These species were specifically chosen for their flexibility and their ability to be trained around the iron frame of the chapel. Some of these trees have stone-colored trunks, while others have sparse foliage, ensuring that the church can always be illuminated by sunlight.

Inside the church, rows of wooden benches form a pathway to an altar that holds special significance for Cox. The altar come from his family’s church in Shannon, New Zealand and is made of marble from Lake Como, Italy, where his ancestors are from. The copper-sheen walls of the church’s interior have thick, stone-colored foliage that must be trimmed every six weeks to maintain their lush quality.

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The inside of the church / New Zealand Gardener by Sally Tagg

Across from the church, Cox designed a labyrinth walk based on the walls of the ancient city of Jericho, created in 460 BC. He also constructed a large canopy from military cargo parachute to be used for after-event gatherings. Preparing for these events at the church is demanding for Cox, who told New Zealand Gardener it generally takes “five hours to mow the lawns and at least three hours of final primping to get the gardens and Tree Church to the standard to be happy for an event.”

Aerial view of the church and labyrinth / Barry Cox

Aerial view of the church and labyrinth / Barry Cox

While Tree Church was originally “designed to show how an instant garden can be created” using a tree spade, since its opening to the public in January 2015, the church is now not only “a welcomed retreat from society” for Cox, but for others as well. After urging from his friends and relatives, he decided to open the church to the public twice a week and it’s now a popular spot for photo shoots, events, and, of course, weddings. While it’s currently closed for the winter, it will open again October 2015.

Watch a video about the project

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floating pool

Floating Pool Lady, NYC / Inhabitat

Before the industrial boom that transformed waterfront cities into dirty manufacturing hubs in the 19th and 20th centuries, urbanites would take a dip in the rivers, harbors, lakes, and oceans that are a part of many cities to cool off in hotter months, enjoying a break from the steamy weather. But as these water bodies that served as conduits for cities became increasingly polluted, only the bravest or perhaps poorest swimmers would dare go in. Today, as smart cities reclaim their riverfronts as places for recreation and invest heavily in improving water quality, they are getting closer to turning their aquatic resources back into the natural swimming pools they once were.

Some cities still aren’t there with water quality, so they use floating pools in barges, which keep the river and pool water separate. In South Bronx, New York City, Baretto Point Park, which was transformed from a toxic brownfield into a park, became home to the Floating Pool Lady, a floating barge-pool in the East River, in 2008.

And in Berlin, a wooden footbridge filled with hammocks leads swimmers out to the 30-meter-long barge-pool Arena Badeschiff. There is a small cafe and bar where Berliners can hang out after playing volleyball.

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Arena Badeschiff / Berlin Circus

A more ambitious new wave of offshore pools aims to use river water for these offshore pools, but filtering out pollutants first. In NYC, + Pool seeks to create a 200-feet wide by 200-feet long pool in a plus-sign shape; its walls will filter out pollutants using a system of membranes set right into the East River. The plus-sign shape will enable greater flexibility: the pool can be separated into four different segments for separate audiences, combined into an Olympic-length swimming pool, or opened up into a big free-for-all space. Earlier last year, they began testing a pilot membrane in the river to evaluate its performance against different conditions over 6 months.

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+ Pool / + Pool

And Studio Octopi proposes the same thing in the Thames River in London, with their Thames Baths, which will also form a swimming pool out of river water, filtering pollutants with a bio membrane. But they imagine a more natural setting than + Pool. “Imagine swimming in the river, surrounded by reeds that frame tantalizing views of the city around you. The Baths are not just for swimmers, but provide refuge and habitat for fish, birds, and a wide range of flora.”

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Thames Bath / Studio Octopi

Both + Pool and Studio Octopi are relying on grants and kickstarter campaigns to make their filtration-enabled pools, which will be managed by non-profit organizations, possible. + Pool has raised more than $250,000 but needs about $15 million.

While these floating pools are certainly great amenities, the most sustainable long-term solution will be to simply clean up these polluted bodies of water so urbanites can safely swim in them once again. This is what Copenhagen achieved in 2008. The city then took advantage of its newly-cleaned-up harbor with Harbor Baths, a set of designed pools that make their waterfront even more accessible. Locals get to it via pedestrian and bicycle paths that wind along the waterfront. And there’s even a heated bath in the complex for winter bathing.

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Harbor Bath / Kibisi

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Harbor Bath / Visit Copenhagen

A floating wooden deck created by Danish architecture firm BIG and JDS features a fantastic diving board, so locals can jump right into the safe harbor sea water.

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Harbor Bath / Hotels We Love

The pool is also free of charge to all Copenhageners. Now, this is the idea.

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The Landscape Architecture of Richard Haag: From Modern Space to Urban Ecological Design / University of Washington Press

The Landscape Architecture of Richard Haag: From Modern Space to Urban Ecological Design / University of Washington Press

If landscape architect Richard Haag had stopped with Gas Works Park and Bloedel Reserve in Seattle, Washington, “these two projects alone would have assured his place in American landscape architectural history,” Marc Treib asserts in the forward to the new book, The Landscape Architecture of Richard Haag: From Modern Space to Urban Ecological Design, by Thaïsa Way, ASLA, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Washington. Yet these two projects are but a fragment of the works that have earned him fame in the realm of urban ecological design. In the book, Way places Haag’s nearly five decade-long careers as a landscape architect, activist, and teacher in the context of the “changes in the practice of landscape architecture” in the U.S over the same time period, ultimately providing a lens through which landscape architects can study urban ecological design.

The book is organized both thematically and chronologically, starting with Haag’s humble upbringing in rural Kentucky. Haag’s family was closely tied to the land in their agrarian community of Jeffersontown, and the legacy of successful farmers and growers there “shaped Haag’s view of the world as he has described it: living and working with nature as a lover.” This mindset intersected with an increasing focus on the scientific understanding of ecological processes that was taking hold in profession just as Haag began learning about it. His curiosity about landscape architecture led him to academia. But despite his extensive education at the University of Illinois, the University of California at Berkeley, and Harvard’s Graduate School of Design — as well as his apprenticeships under Modernists Hideo Sasaki and Dan Kiley — Haag remained true to his roots. As Way states, he has been known to frequently quip that one should “never trust a landscape architect without mud on his shoes.”

Haag on a tractor / Washington University PRess

Haag on a tractor / University of Washington Press

Perhaps much of Haag’s success can be attributed to the many contrasts he created for himself in his professional life. Though he had a deep tie to his rural hometown, and always sought to return to it, he pursued his interests in Japanese design through a Fulbright scholarship. Way’s portrayal of Haag’s time in Japan is enough to convince any budding landscape architect to study in Kyoto. He then jumped on the bandwagon of California residential design in the early 1950s and finally headed to the Pacific Northwest where he made a name for himself.

He is portrayed throughout the book as a highly adaptable individual whose design style closely follows suit. Way notes that Haag’s teachings in the classroom at The University of Washington, where he founded the landscape architecture department, emphasized landscape architecture as not only a profession, but a life perspective. “In the 1960s, the practice of landscape architecture as a civic engagement that addressed growing concern for the environment and cultural practices offered one of the most exciting opportunities in any design field,” Way writes.

Richard Haag teaching "Poetic Response." Drawing by Laurie Olin for the College of Architecture and Urban Planning yearbook, 1960-61 / Washington University Press

Richard Haag teaching “Poetic Response.” Drawing by Laurie Olin for the College of Architecture and Urban Planning yearbook, 1960-61 / University of Washington Press

Though Way states it was not necessarily her intention to celebrate Haag’s work, it is difficult not to celebrate a landscape architect who has made such significant contributions to the field. Of the many projects highlighted in the book – entire chapters are dedicated to Gas Works Park and Bloedel Reserve – some of the Haag’s more fascinating and less recognized contributions are his dedication to the Pacific Northwestern landscape and his use of landform as art.

With his interest and training in Japanese design, Haag was uniquely suited to practice in the Pacific Northwest where there was a Japanese character to both the architecture and landscape architecture. Haag has created hundreds of residential gardens in the Pacific Northwest from Seattle to Vancouver to Portland, Oregon. While these gardens are not only expressive of Pacific Northwestern regionalism, they are also reflective of Haag’s own design intentions. The result is an identity intrinsic to both the landscape and the designer. To say it another way: Haag was inspired by the Pacific Northwest, and the style we now consider pervasive there is undoubtedly Haag-inspired.

As fascinated as Haag was by the idea of public place as democratic space, the art of form-making with earth was of equal importance to him in its ability to shape spatial experience, ecological process, and convey infinite narratives. One of his most dramatic use of land forms before the great mound at Gas Works Park was at Jordan Park in Everett, Washington. Using five thousand cubic yards of sand from the recently dredged marina, Haag experimented with this remove-and-reuse process that he would later refine at Gas Works Park. Though the park was demolished in 2008 with the intention to develop the site for mixed residential use, its memory provides a replicable example of one of Haag’s most iconic design approaches: “One man’s waste is another man’s treasure.”

Richard Haag's Jordan Park in Everett, Washington / Washington University Press

Richard Haag’s Jordan Park in Everett, Washington / Washington University Press

Though his work is not entirely finished, his legacy is already well established. Even at 90, Haag still continues to practice in Seattle. His work continues to provide an alternative to a profession that often still struggles to move away from its perception as a “luxury-oriented practice of garden design.”

If anything, Haag’s thinking and experimentation related to remediation and reclamation will only become increasingly important to a post-industrial society, making this book, and a deeper consideration of his novel design thinking, a necessity for all landscape architects.

Read the book.

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30 Years of Emerging Voices / Princeton Architectural Press

30 Years of Emerging Voices / Princeton Architectural Press

The Emerging Voices Award was created in 1982 by the Architectural League of New York to showcase the work of early- to mid-career American architects, landscape architects, and urban designers. Each year, through an invited competition, a jury selects practitioners or firms with a “significant body of realized work that represents the best of its kind and has the potential to impact the future of architecture and landscape design.” 30 Years of Emerging Voices: Idea, Form, Resonance, a new book by the Architectural League of New York, documents and assesses the first three decades of the League’s Emerging Voices program, highlighting firms that have been recognized for their innovation, insight, and influence.

Organized chronologically by year of submission and interspersed with essays by leading design critics, this book is a true reference, valuable as a comprehensive snapshot of the past three decades of design. The Emerging Voices award is unique in that it recognizes professionals who are no longer students, but are not yet “fully mature practioners.” As Ashley Shafer, an associate professor of architecture at the Ohio State University, states in the book’s first essay, this career phase often gives way to work that is “idealistic, experimental, and formally clumsy on occasion.” While some of the work in the book may have been “dismissed as hypothetical, utopian, or even naïve,” it’s work we now look at with appreciation.

Take for example Steve Holl’s Bridge of Houses proposal for the then-abandoned High Line in Chelsea, Manhatttan, which was recognized among several of Holl’s other projects with the 1982 Emerging Voices Award. The firm’s proposal for the disused High Line was to construct many different houses over the rail. Each villa is, in itself, a slightly different looking bridge that provides pedestrian passage. While the ambitious project was merely conceptual, it served as a precedent for James Corner Field Operations’ High Line park, which was recognized with the award in 2001 and is also featured in the book. While seemingly unrelated projects, “a host of newly created buildings” engage the High Line as was intended by Holl almost two decades earlier.

Bridge of Houses, New York, NY, proposal, 1979 / Steve Holl Architects via Princeton Architectural Press

Bridge of Houses, New York, NY, proposal, 1979 / Steve Holl Architects via Princeton Architectural Press

The same phenomena is true of Reiser + Umemoto’s 1995 design for Yokohama’s International Port Terminal, which was recognized by the Architectural League of New York in 1996. The complex network structure for the building seemed fantastical and impossible to construct at the time of its conception. However, Jesse Reiser and Nanako Umemoto’s Taipei Pop Music Center, which is arguably just as structurally complex as their design for the International Port Terminal, is currently under construction. While many of their ideas were considered outside the realm of possibility in the mid-late 90’s, Reiser + Umemoto’s designs became not only feasible, but well-received, at the turn of the 21st century.

Taipei Pop Music Center Competition images / Reiser + Umemoto via E-architect

Taipei Pop Music Center Competition images / Reiser + Umemoto via E-architect

While the majority of the book is devoted to architects, several landscape architects are also featured, including Susannah Drake, FASLA, Dlandstudio; Chris Reed, FASLA, Stoss Landscape Urbanism; Elana Brescia, ASLA, and Kate Orff, ASLA, SCAPE; Gary Hilderbrand, FASLA, and Douglas Reed, FASLA, Reed Hilderbrand; Ken Smith, FASLA, Workshop: Ken Smith Landscape Architect; and Julie Bargmann, ASLA, D.I.R.T. Studio.

Bargmann was one of the first, if not the first, landscape architect to be recognized with the award when she won in 2000. While she has since gone on to design many recognizable projects, such as MASS MoCa in North Adams, Massachusetts, and the Urban Outfitters Headquarters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 2000, she was best known for her work at the Ford River Rouge Plant in Dearborn, Michigan. This regenerative project transformed an industrial icon into a model of twenty-first century sustainability through the use of ambitious ecological systems, creating “a new model of environmentally integrated manufacturing.” Bargmann is a true example of the kind of practitioner the award seeks to recognize — someone who has been a novel thinker from the beginning of her career and has made this innovation a career-long pursuit.

Ford River Rouge / D.I.R.T Studio

Ford River Rouge / D.I.R.T Studio

The most recent landscape architect featured in the book is Susannah Drake, Dlandstudio, who was recognized with the award in 2013. Applauded for her unique voice in projects like BQ Green and Gowanus Canal Sponge Park, both in Brooklyn, New York, Drake has quickly proven that interdisciplinary design is the way of the future. Each of Dlandstudio’s projects emphasizes the integration of ecology, infrastructure, and design at the urban network scale — using the United States’ largest city as a primary testing ground for new ideas in a way few firms have dared to try.

BQ Green: Reviving South Williamsburg / Dlandstudio

BQ Green: Reviving South Williamsburg / Dlandstudio

Focused on firms and individuals who have tested limits and pressed the design profession forward, rather than those who are solely focused on making names for themselves, 30 Years of Emerging Voices is a unique book in its genre, prioritizing innovation over recognition and setting the stage for design breakthroughs to come.

Read the book.

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The Atlantic / Toby Melville, Reuters

The Atlantic / Toby Melville, Reuters

Green Spaces Make Kids Smarter ­– The Atlantic, 6/16/15
“Spending time in nature is correlated with better mental health, attention, and mood in both children and adults. A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests green spaces can boost cognitive outcomes in children.”

How the City Handled the Flooded RiverwalkChicago Magazine, 6/16/15
“The designers in charge of the Riverwalk’s recreational transformation are privy to Chicago’s penchant for flash floods. Landscape architect Gina Ford said last October that the city’s unpredictable weather played a significant role in her team’s design.”

New Queens Quay a Redesign for Everyone The Toronto Star, 6/21/15
“Perhaps for the first time, the city has built a thoroughfare for everyone. That means pedestrians, cyclists, skate boarders, roller bladers, babies in strollers, transit passengers, wheelchair users and, yes, drivers.”

Experience on the Water The Architect’s Newspaper, 6/23/15
“Crowned by an inverted pyramid structure, the Pier of St. Petersburg, Florida, leads visitors on a long and narrow journey to the end and back. However, as it stands now, it stops short of providing much value outside of that.”

A New Playground in the Bronx Soaks Up the City’s Problematic Storm WaterThe New York Times, 6/24/15
“The $1 million playground renovation was undertaken by the Trust for Public Land, a national conservation group, and the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, as part of a partnership to turn 40 asphalt-covered play spaces across the city into weapons against water pollution.”

Review: In ‘A Little Chaos,’ a Guileless Kate Winslet Offsets a Lavish Versailles – The New York Times, 6/25/15
“Into this jungle of obscene privilege arrives Sabine De Barra (Kate Winslet), a sturdy, guileless everyday woman chosen by the king’s chief landscape architect, André Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts), to design the Rockwork Grove, an outdoor arena-like ballroom of tiered steps through which water gushes as an unseen orchestra plays behind the shrubbery.”

A Landscape Architect’s Bridge to New Ideas – The Wall Street Journal, 6/30/15
“As president of the international landscape architecture firm EDSA, Doug Smith has worked in destinations as exotic as Egypt and as local as his home state of Florida.”

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Mia Lehrer, FASLA, advocates for Silverlake Reservoir / Mia Lehrer Associates

We work in a small, but timely profession. Our potential to impact the neighborhoods, communities, and cities where we work is huge. Though landscape architecture professionals make up just a small fraction of the design field, ours is the work that is the first to be seen. Ours is the work that brings function and beauty to parks, plazas, campuses, institutions, and transportation corridors. Ours is a profession that blends the power of design with ecological principals and environmental justice. And because we are few and far between, we have to advocate for what we know.

The responsibility is on us to make our voices heard, not for our own betterment, but for the sake of our communities.

Public awareness is growing around a range of big issues, from humanity’s need for nature to improve our health, to watersheds, drought, and climate change. And yet, those in our profession most able to speak intelligently on these issues, to guide our communities towards thoughtful solutions, remain silent too often.

Those who fill the void may be knowledgeable in some respects, but often they simply have a good sound bite. The media won’t know to ask a landscape architect for a solution, suggestion, or comment if they don’t know what landscape architects can do. And most of them don’t.

We need to educate our media, politicians, and the public on the issues we care most about. In addition to keeping each other informed about lessons learned from the field, landscape architects need to write letters to the editor, speak at city council meetings and land-use committee meetings, and join non-profit boards and advisory groups. We need to present ideas to civic groups, garden clubs, and parent groups. And we’re not talking about advocating for the profession: we’re talking about advocating for our quality of life.

We urge you to:

  • Advocate for regionally and micro climate-appropriate design that minimizes resource use while maximizing benefits;
  • Speak out to conserve existing habitat and create new parks, wildlife habitats, and greenway corridors;
  • Call for nature playgrounds and natural systems in our schools, parks, and institutions to increase human access to nature and its physical, mental, and educational benefits;
  • Ask for more flexible policies to support rainwater capture, graywater reuse, and recycled water use and reduce unnecessary use of potable water;
  • Fight to ban plastic materials, such as bags, bottles, furnishings, and grass, to stop the incessant addition of toxins into our oceans and food chain;
  • Advocate for more transit and pedestrian and bicycle options and mixing land uses to cut our need for automobiles;
  • Specify local, non-toxic, reclaimed, and reclaimable natural materials;
  • Educate the public about the need to design with plants that provide food for pollinators and people.

Our firm is widely known in Los Angeles, and beyond, for being vocal. We go to public meetings about water conservation, school sites, citizen science, agriculture, forests, and the Los Angeles River. We go to lectures about climate change, drought, food deserts, park poverty, water quality, and environmental justice. We listen, form opinions, speak and write. We get our voices heard.

We might annoy you. And that’s okay. Because we believe we can make a difference in where we live and how we live to make a better future for all of us. And we hope you do, too.

This guest op-ed is by Mia Lehrer + Associates, an internationally-known, award-winning firm made up of landscape architects, urban designers, environmental planners, and a team of multidisciplinary designers based in Los Angeles. Read their recent op-ed in The Los Angeles Times.

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The ravines of Toronto / The Toronto Region and Conservation Authority

The Cultural Landscape Foundation’s (TCLF) Leading with Landscape symposium offered a deep examination of the landscape of Toronto, which was described as a complex ecological system. The presence of Toronto mayor John Tory at the conference showed the importance local policymakers place on the landscape architecture community in shaping the future of this city, the fourth largest in North America. Mayor Tory spoke of balancing growth with social and environmental responsibilities, and the integral role landscape architects play in creating a sustainable city.

The first of TCLF’s Modernism symposiums in Chicago sought to define contemporary landscape architecture by looking at its historical context. The second conference at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City championed landscape architectural practices that challenge rigid Modernist idioms through systems-based approaches, which cities increasingly need to deal with today’s complex environmental and social challenges. And the third installment, Leading with Landscape, called for responsive urban design based in a “landscape first” approach.

The day-long conference focused the conversation on how cities — with Toronto serving as the host city and model — are created and sustained through landscape. The term landscape here refers to interconnected natural systems (geologic, hydrologic, botanical and zoological); the many interventions and manipulations of land by humans — from indigenous people to contemporary landscape architects, planners, and engineers; and the resulting street grid and consequent structures.

Landscape architects explored aspects of Toronto’s history before delving into specific contemporary projects. Here, landscape architects explain the forces that have shaped the landscape of Toronto, the cultural and ecological context:

Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, founder of TCLF and organizer of the conference, presented a chronological overview of the cultural landscape of Toronto, with specific examples from Allan Gardens to the post-Modernism of Yorkville Park. Birnbaum made a passionate argument for growing Toronto from its historic fabric. He spoke of the importance of context and narrative in the creation of authentic, resilient places, which can then generate the cultural and financial investments needed for a vital urban environment.

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Yorkville park, Toronto / Landscape Voice

Landscape architect Janet Rosenberg, FASLA, founding principal, Janet Rosenberg & Studio, and Michael McClellan, principal at ERA Architects, introduced some motifs that recurred throughout the conference: the idea of a multi-verse Toronto with many socio-economic layers that exist side by side, like the suburban high-rises next to the waterfront reality; and the major role of the city’s ravines, which structure the city’s hydrology.

The ecological and cultural contexts that have shaped Toronto were further related by Nina-Marie Lister, Hon. ASLA, associate professor, school of urban + regional planning, Ryerson University. Lister showed the transformation of the city’s landscape by geologic, hydrologic and human forces, and how the expansion and the demand for economic productivity eroded critical ecological services. In 1954, Hurricane Hazel led to devastating flooding in the city, which began a movement towards a hybrid-design approach that engages development alongside a deeper consideration of natural systems.

Brendan Stewart, ASLA, landscape architect and urban designer, ERA Architects, used early city maps to show the lot plans – Toronto’s original organizing grid — and the many subsequent layers and sub-divisions that occurred over two hundred years, which all eschewed the complexities of the existing ecosystem.

Stewart also explained the role of landscape architects in the development of the city — André Parmentier’s geometries at Queen’s Park and the University Avenue landscape being enduring examples. Like Lister, Stewart noted the increased awareness of Toronto’s natural systems following Hurricane Hazel, and the subsequent shift in the goals of the parks and recreation department. Today, the department is not only focused on providing spaces for recreation for residents, but also designing a park system that can provide a hydrologic structure to protect the city.

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Queen’s Park, Toronto / Chuck Man Toronto Nostalgia Blog

Concluding the discussion of Toronto’s ecological and cultural context, Jane Wolff, associate professor, University of Toronto, presented a short history of coupled built and natural systems in Toronto, equal parts accident and intention. An example of this interplay is the bluff condition of the city that has “fed” the archipelago just off the shore of the city; the islands that formed are now an integral part of the cultural and ecologic fabric of Toronto. Another example, the Tommy Thompson Park – a spit created by the engineered redirection of the Don River – has become a flourishing ecosystem that now provides a stop for birds along their yearly migration.

Read part 2.

This guest post is by Tim Popa, Communications Director, Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architecture.

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The 606 / The Chicago Tribune

The 606 / The Chicago Tribune

Sunrise Makes Way for Massive Mixed-Use Metropica Curbed, 6/1/15
“Sunrise’s Metropica is one of the new goliaths of development projects coming to South Florida. Architect Chad Oppenheim, landscape architecture firm EDSA, interior design firm Yoo Studio, and architectural design firm CI Design are collaborating to build a city-within-a-suburb.”

Chicago’s New 606 Trail a Boon for Open Space, Neighborhoods It Links The Chicago Tribune, 6/2/15
“The 606, which takes its name from Chicago’s ZIP code prefix and whose centerpiece is a 2.7-mile recreational and cultural trail, is a bold and potentially brilliant reinvention of a dormant and derelict elevated freight line that blighted Northwest Side neighborhoods such as Bucktown and Logan Square.”

Frick Museum Abandons Contested Renovation Plan The New York Times, 6/3/15
“Facing a groundswell of opposition to a proposed renovation that would have eliminated a gated garden to make way for a six-story addition, the museum — long admired for its intimate scale — has decided to abandon those plans and start over from scratch.”

Parks for All? The Architect’s Newspaper, 6/8/15
“Chicago’s new linear park and bike corridor, The 606, opens in June. It is hotly anticipated for its potential to transform several West Side neighborhoods, but community groups have questioned who benefits from that transformation.”

Urban, Yet Green The Bangkok Post, 6/8/15
As of last month people are able to go to Siam Square for something new: growing rice and vegetables on the rooftop of shopping complex Siam Square One.”

Grand Rapids Debuts Serene Japanese Garden Featuring Sculpture, Tea The Japan Times, 6/12/15
“Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids is opening its $22 million Japanese garden after years of construction, offering a place for tranquility and contemplation that integrates contemporary sculpture with trees and plants.”

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Artful Rainwater Design / Island Press

As our climate becomes more unpredictable, finding better ways to manage stormwater is crucial to reducing floods. However, traditional stormwater management strategies can be unforgettable at best and unsightly at worst. In the new book, Artful Rainwater Design: Creative Ways to Manage Stormwater, Pennsylvania State University professors Stuart Echols, ASLA, and Eliza Pennypacker, ASLA, prove that this doesn’t always have to be the case — it’s possible to effectively manage runoff without sacrificing aesthetics.

In this well-organized how-to guide for designers, Echols and Pennypacker highlight the benefits of Artful Rainwater Design (ARD), a term coined by Echols in 2005 to describe rainwater collection systems that are not only functional, but also attractive and engaging. These systems are usually designed to handle small rain events and the initial — and dirtiest — events, rather than major flooding from large storms. Given these smaller rain events of up to 1-½ inches typically account for 60-90 percent of all precipitation, the authors advocate ARD as “the new normal of runoff management.”

Beginning with a history of traditional approaches, then transitioning to the landscape amenity and utility values provided by ARDs, and, finally, concluding with 20 case studies, the book makes a convincing argument for ARDs as a stormwater management strategy. Echols’ and Pennypacker’s most compelling assertion is that creative, attention-grabbing stormwater management techniques do more than simply add aesthetic value to a landscape — they also serve as a reminder that rainwater is a valuable resource that feeds plant life and replenishes terrestrial water sources. In this way, ARDs can be used to “advance the agenda of environmentally-responsible design by making systems not only visible and legible, but beautiful.”

While some sections of the book may appear redundant with existing stormwater management guides, the book is an inspiring catalog of successful ARDs. Echols and Pennypacker first consider existing ARD projects for their general landscape amenities — a difference from existing resources that typically consider stormwater strictly as a problem in need of solving. The authors list the amenities of many public ARDs, such as education, recreation, safety, public relations, and aesthetic richness, and they offer several examples.

Among the more innovative projects highlighted in this section is the new Queens Botanical Garden Visitor Center in Flushing, New York, by Atelier Dreiseitl with Conservation Design Forum and BKSK Architects, which provides opportunities for people “to splash, float objects, or just watch the water.”

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Queens Botanical Garden / Stuart Echols, courtesy of Island Press

But are these amenity-providing ARDs as effective at managing stormwater as traditional methods? When considered as a starting point for site design, Echols and Pennypacker argue that ARDs can actually accomplish much more than existing strategies. They can reduce pollutant loads in rainwater, restore or create habitat, and capture water for reuse, among other benefits.

Standout projects in this section include the Beckoning Cistern by artist Buster Simpson. This project refers to Michelangelo’s painting of God’s life-giving touch as it Adam’s outstretched finger — but in this case, roof runoff is the life source and is collected into a container.

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The Beckoning Cistern / Stuart Echols, courtesy of Island Press

Most landscape architects will likely agree with Echols and Pennypacker’s arguments in favor of ARDs. As Warren Byrd, FASLA, of Nelson Byrd Woltz, asks in the first chapter: “Why wouldn’t we use ARDs?” But the question remains: Why aren’t ARD systems more widely implemented?

Many designers see ARDs as too expensive, too difficult to get through the approval process, or, more often than not, not appropriate for their geographical area. While about half of the designs featured in the book are located in Seattle, Washington, and Portland, Oregon, the authors urge readers not to consider these examples as “’out there’ and irrelevant to their own contexts” — these cities were simply ahead of the curve. As Steve Law from the Portland Tribune writes, “across the nation more than 700 cities have combined sewer overflow problems, largely communities that developed a century or more ago, like much of Portland.”

Echols and Pennypacker also assuage fears over the time and energy that can go into maintaining ARDs, offering several solutions, such as using edging to differentiate between landscapes that demand weekly maintenance (mowed lawn) from those that demand monthly maintenance (rain gardens). This strategy was successfully employed at the Oregon Convention Center, one of the featured case studies, which was designed by landscape architecture firm Mayer/Reed.

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The Rain Garden at Oregon Convention Center / Stuart Echols, courtesy of Island Press

Echols and Pennypacker are honest about the many challenges ARDs pose at this point in the history of sustainable design. However, at a time when doing nothing to manage rainwater is simply not an option, their book instills hope that the days of drab detention ponds may soon be coming to an end, ushering in a new era of rain-celebrating landscapes.

Read the book.

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