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Archive for the ‘Historic Preservation’ Category

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At the 100-year anniversary of the birth of Mies Van Der Rohe in the mid-80s, there were tons of news stories, books, and conferences about the legacy of that great architect. But Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, head of the Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), said nothing would have been done for famed Modern landscape architect Dan Kiley on his 100th, unless he and his organization had stepped up to honor him. At the opening of a new photography exhibition on the work of Kiley at the Boston Architectural College (BAC), Birnbaum said Kiley was only second to Frederick Law Olmsted in terms of the number of his landscapes that have been added to the national register of historic places.

In this exhibition, we see 27 of his 1,000 works of landscape architecture. The vast majority are in the U.S. but one remarkable landscape, L’Esplanade du Charles De Gaulle, leads up to La Defense in Paris. Newly-commissioned photographs were taken by some of the best landscape photographers, including Alan Ward, FASLA, who is also a partner at Sasaki Associates.

Birnbaum said it was important to document these landscapes so they don’t “die silent deaths.” He added that writing about Kiley is crucial to “making his legacy visible. It’s really a case of publish or perish.”

For Cornelia Oberlander, FASLA, the grand-dame of Canadian landscape architecture and a Kiley firm alumna, the Esplanade in Paris shows “how he brought the grandiose nature of structure into the landscape.” Pointing at a photo of the project, she said, “that’s Paris. It’s brilliant.”

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She said Kiley was inspired by 17th century French landscape designer Andre Le Notre, who laid out gardens with structural forms like grids and allees.  For her, Kiley’s legacy is taking that French structure and applying it to Modern landscapes everywhere. She said his genius was using a Modern approach to create a “classical feeling.”

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Oberlander’s favorite Kiley landscape is the Miller Garden in Columbus, Indiana, which is viewed as his residential masterpiece. She said “this shows a new way of thinking, a new way of living in the garden.”

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Gary Hilderbrand, FASLA, principal of Reed Hilderbrand, believes the best word to characterize Kiley is “itinerant,” given his constant travels across the U.S. creating so many works of landscape. He said Kiley was “deeply committed to landscape architecture.”

While he said cultures change — so most landscapes will not even last a hundred years — many of Kiley’s landscapes should live on, at least in some form. One he highlighted was the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, home to the famous arch by Saarinen. “The origins of that design need to remain in some form.”

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His favorite Kiley work is Fountain Place in Dallas, which he has to visit every time he goes to that city. “It’s otherworldy.”

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And how does he sum up Kiley’s legacy? “Kiley’s work transcends his era.” His landscapes go beyond Modernism. “There is an essential quality.”

Explore all the Kiley projects and photos online or buy a gallery guide.

Image credits: (1) Patterns / Roger Foley, (2-3) L’Esplanade du Charles de Gaulle / David Bacher, (4) Miller Garden / Millicent Harvey, (5) Jefferson National Expansion Memorial / David Johnson, (6) Fountain Place / Alan Ward.

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Restoring post-industrial, particularly post-military, landscapes means adding another layer of history to places that already have many. For a group of environmental philosophers at the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) in Madison, Wisconsin, those earlier layers of history each have an important meaning — and it’s important they aren’t lost as landscapes long-damaged by industrial or military use are restored.

Preserving Ruination at Orford Ness

According to professor Caitlin DeSilvey, a cultural geographer at the University of Exeter, Orford Ness, a shingle-ridge landscape in the UK, was a secret site for military research during World War II. In 1953, the UK’s National Trust took over the land and transformed it into a sort of preserve. She said military testing, including testing with atomic and chemical weapons, had a “severe effect on the native landscape.” Now, efforts are underway to improve the habitat while managing public access.

There are signs everywhere explaining the still-lurking dangers of unexploded ordinance. If you stay on the paths, the site is “safe but not comfortable.” The remaining buildings are especially uncomfortable. She said there was a “deliberate decision to let the relics of military structures decay.”  A test pit for chemical weapons is now a lagoon filled with rainwater. Moss covers all the surfaces. Yellowhorn poppies appear inside the buildings. But even then, these structures still offer a “palpable sense of secrecy and threat.”

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Beyond these structures, the weedy ruderal ecosystem is starting to appear among the disturbed shingle (rocky rubble) landscape. DeSilvey said Orford Ness’ revival as a landscape is the “naturalization of a violent period of history.” In this instance, nature softens its history.

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DeSilvey also said “there’s beauty in decay.” Orford Ness provides a window into that process and change. Indeed, the site’s fascination may be its “troubling resonance and incoherence.” There are no “pure zones,” only messiness, as the shingles approach, spilling through the door of buildings.

Unfortunately, the question remains whether the National Trust will let the decay stay. If the site is moved into another category of historical value, the site may end up being “cleaned-up.” For now, there are just guided tours through the relics. Artists’ installations have also been added to the landscape. Luckily “they are making a virtue of decay.” (see more images).

Applying Nietzsche’s Three Histories to Landscape Preservation

“What role should history play in restoration?,” asked professor Jozef Keulartz, Wageningen University. This is actually a tricky question, given history can be different based on your point of view. Citing Friedrich Nietzsche, the great writer and philosopher, he said “there are no facts, only interpretations.” Nietzsche thought there were three forms of history: antiquarian, monumental, and critical. Ideally, these three forms of history will balance and correct each other.

Antiquarian history is about the “preservation and admiration of the past.” While positive from a historic preservation point of view, the danger, said Keulartz, is “everything old becomes over-estimated; everything new is thrown out.” This approach can “mummify life” and preserve the “on-going tyranny of the past.” Too often, Keulartz said, England takes an antiquarian approach with their historic sites. As an example, he pointed to the Geevor Tin Mine, which has been kept in its original state. Visitors can take tours and experience the life of a miner.

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In contrast, monumental history is opposed to mummification; it’s a “counterpoint to being stuck in the past.” Monumental history is all about “inspiring contemporary man, finding teachers from the past and using them as role models to encourage future progress.” The danger there is “history can become a fiction, a grab-bag.” Keulartz said the Dutch were less conservative than the English about their historic preservation projects and use a “pragmatic style.” In one example, the Western Gas Factory, the Dutch restored a Neo-Renaissance-style building but renovated for creative uses, including exhibitions, fashion shows, and festivals. “Monumental history is about conserving through development, the creation of new spatial values.” In this model, places get a second life. “It’s a practical use of the past, but in danger of being shallow.”

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In Nietzsche’s critical history, man has the strength to “shatter the past” and “erase histories.” It’s not about “examining the past but destroying it” in order to create a new future. This kind of whole-sale condemnation of the past can be dangerous because “we can destroy the past but can’t escape from it.” Keulartz cautioned, “we can hope for a more decent future but this may be a false hope.” Germany, which is “anything but proud of its past,” often takes a critical historical approach to many of its historic sites.

For Keulartz, one site achieves Neitzsche’s difficult balance of history: Landscape Park Duisborg Nord, which was created by landscape architect Peter Latz. There, lots of plants and trees are mixed within the post-industrial factory landscape. While nature has appeared spontaneously, the reoccupation of the site by nature was stimulated in other areas. Nature was designed, with gardens placed throughout. Duisborg took an old pit and made it the biggest indoor diving pool in the EU. A wall was re-purposed as a climbing course. “Duisborg is about reusing and remembering.”

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Learning How to Read the Landscape

For professor Martin Drenthen, Radboud University, determining the restoration goals for a historic landscape is a loaded process filled with lots of value judgements. Historic landscapes have obviously undergone significant changes over the years, reflecting “conflicting interpretations of the landscape.” As such, with any restoration project, the “meaning of the landscape may not be immediately apparent.”

There have been a ton of books published around the theme of “reading the landscape.” These books argue that “landscapes are essentially texts,” in which layers of meaning must be mined and read. “Places embody people’s histories and cultural identities. Their context explains who we are.” Landscapes are literally “infested with meanings.” For example, he said the idyllic Dutch landscape reflects the “virtues Dutch have cultivated and represent Dutch culture. They reflect the dialogue between man and nature.”

Restoring the ecological function of a site, “rewilding” it, is another “deepening of the history of a site.” It can be “sense of place 2.0.” Underneath all of those human layers, “wilderness always reigns so re-wilding really has a moral message, too. It’s about recognizing the value of history and successive layers but that deeper layers have special importance.” Layered landscapes are like a palimpsest.

But Drenthen added that “each new interpretation of a landscape needs to be open,” too, to allow for future layers of meaning to be added. As an example, he pointed to the work of artist Michael van Bahel, who “doesn’t destroy history” with his new art works, but exposed hidden layers. In one piece, he created a viewing portal for understanding a historical war site. Here, “art is the lens.”

Restoring One of America’s Largest Superfund Sites

Back in the U.S., post-industrial sites are also being restored, raising the same sorts of issues. In Butte, Montana, efforts are underway to restore the area around the 1-mile-wide by 1.5-mile-long Berkeley Pit, one of the largest SuperFund sites in the U.S, into its natural state. According to Michigan Tech professor Frederic Quivik, the former copper mine dump site, which was owned by Anaconda Copper, has “extremely toxic water, some 1,000-feet deep.” But beyond the pit, tailings from the mining actually traveled along the Clark Fork River all the way to Missoula. Quivik said while copper mining is certainly destructive, “everyone is complicit. Everyone loves copper. Automobiles and airplanes depend on copper.”

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Not only did the copper pollute Butte and other communities along the Clark Fork River, it also impacted the air and land. Quivik said in the mid-1950s, smoke pollution from the smelting process poured “arsenic, sulfur, and iron” waste materials into the atmosphere. Livestock in range of the smokestacks “were sickly or dying.” The Anaconda Copper was sued by farmers and the U.S. government. One result of their successful suit was Anaconda had to create a 585-feet stack. Tailings along the river had to be excavated and deposited elsewhere. Amazingly, today, trout are living in the creeks along the river.

Anaconda Copper created man-made ponds to manage the tailings, with artificial waterways to move the copper sulfate. These ponds actually have to be managed in perpetuity, as they remain one of the most contaminated areas. But, interestingly, around these ponds, a new golf course was put in, designed by Jack Nicklaus. Other areas have been restored as wildlife habitat. New educational signage also help visitors interpret the site. The positive changes in the Clark Fork River communities are worth exploring (read a great article on the environmental remediation effort in High Country News).

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From Military Sites to Wildlife Preserves

Many former military sites in America are being swiped clean and restored to earlier versions of themselves, natural areas. According to professor David Havlick, University of Colorado, there are nearly two dozens former Department of Defense sites across the U.S. that are now wildlife preserves, some 1.2 million acres.

Havlick called these places “unique hybrid landscapes” because they are “ecologically valuable but highly contaminated.” These sites are layered with multiple meanings: They reflect national sacrifice (they are often called “sacrifice zones”) but also the resiliency of nature. The restoration process itself also generates meaning, as a “previously restricted space now comes back into view.” As these sites are restored, they also show the possibility of “military stewardship,” and the military taking environmental responsibility.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is leading the restoration at many of these former military sites. Havlick said they take a “wildlife-first policy.” At the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, FWS is restoring the short grass prairie at a former chemical weapons facility that is heavily contaminated. The old bunkers are presented as amenities. Havlick said people are really drawn to these. At the old Arsenal site, wetlands are now bringing in waterfowl.

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Thousands of acres of prairie grass are now munched on by imported bison.

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A visitor’s center tells the “narrative about individual and community sacrifice.”

Another Perspective on the Rocky Mountain Arsenal

For philosophy professor Marion Hourdequin, Colorado College, the question is “what is the role of history?” She argued that “most traditional ecological restoration projects aren’t up to preserving diverse values.” Historical fidelity means restoring a site to its pre-settlement conditions, prior to colonization by Europeans. This means trying to undo the legacy of human interventions in the site before then. But Hourdequin thinks this isn’t even possible. The new model for ecological restoration accepts this, offering a “dynamic view of ecology, contingency, and global warming. We are now dealing with altered and fragmented landscapes.”

Hourdequin thinks sites up for ecological restoration should instead be treated as “complex, layered landscapes that don’t ignore the past or only restore to pre-settlement conditions. We need a middle way that integrates humans and nature.” She believes this is because “human values are intertwined with places.”

At the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, there is a rich history that goes beyond the “weapons to wildlife narrative.” Before Europeans arrived, the place was used seasonally by native Americans. The area was eventually homesteaded by European settlers. Later, in the 1940s, it became a primary site for American chemical weapons production, including VX, Sarin, and Napalm. Then, it was leased to Shell for pesticide production. In the early 90s, efforts began to clean-up and restore the site. The story today is bald eagles, owls, bison, prairie dogs living in what looks like a natural site.

Hourdequin says it’s important not to forget these many important layers of history. While a wildlife refuge today, the place actually holds multiple meanings. Just look at the comments from visitors, who call it “quiet and sad” and “peaceful and redemptive.”

Image credits: (1) Orford Ness / Wikipedia, (2) Orford Ness / copyright Gareth Harmer, (3) Orford Ness / Tomoland, (4) Geevor Tin Mine / My Daily, (5) Western Gas Factory / Outerhop, (6) Landscape Park Duisborg Nord / Landezine, (7) Berkeley Pit / Wired magazine, (8) Clark Fork River restoration / High Country News, (9) Rocky Mountain Arsenal / David Mendosa, (10) Bison / The Denver Post

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Louisville, Kentucky, and Birmingham, Alabama, have ambitiously expanded upon their Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.-designed park systems in ways that both reinforce this great designer’s legacy and provide lessons for other communities. At the Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.: Inspirations for the 21st Century symposium held at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., Dan Jones, chairman and CEO, 21st Century Parks; Philip Morris, Hon. ASLA, former executive editor of Southern Living Magazine; and Eric Tamulonis, ASLA, principal, Wallace Roberts Todd (WRT), explained Olmsted Jr.’s continuing contribution to contemporary park systems and interconnected parkways. Working in the era of the “recreational reform park”, Olmsted Jr. helped to systematize a new approach to municipal park and recreation planning.

Building on his father’s 1893 system plan for Louisville, Olmsted Jr. provided a finer grain of public amenity by way of community and neighborhood parks, recreation grounds, and squares. Progressing to a more comprehensive, statistically-based approach to addressing municipal recreation needs, Olmsted Jr. also created a comprehensive system plan for Birmingham, addressing long-term regional growth and recreation needs by targeting a range of park opportunities well beyond the city. According to Tamulonis, Louisville had implemented Olmsted’s plan “almost in its entirety” and became known as the “city of parks,” whereas Birmingham, called the “River of Steel” for its industry, did not implement as much of its own plan.

Today, both cities are reinvesting in their downtowns. Louisville and Birmingham have “parks not necessarily in the center of the city, but on the periphery, which are in a sense generating their own climate, providing a new dimension.” There is now “green infrastructure in keeping with the Olmstedian tradition of using open space, in the public realm, to shape the future growth of communities.”

Jones described the Parklands of Floyds Fork, a public park system totaling nearly 4,000 acres across four parks in eastern and southern Louisville, a project WRT has been designing and creating for years.

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He outlined several principles central to Olmsted Jr. For instance, the urban world of the twenty-first century is “directly analogous” to the world faced by Olmsted in the twentieth century. Parks are “shaping city infrastructure, are equal to other infrastructure, and should be built in advance of growth.” Planning parks systematically is superior to individual park design.

Jones also noted that some critics view very high-quality design as the work of elites, but he disagreed strongly with this view, saying “both Olmsteds proved that great design matters.”

Morris outlined the development of Olmsted Jr.’s plan for Birmingham, and how the plan was republished in 2005 by the Birmingham Historical Society.

He described the city, with its 38 different municipalities, as “fragmented,” but noted that “regional connections can be created even without a central government.” For example, agreements were signed between municipalities, and many stakeholder meetings were held to develop a master plan for the Red Rock Ridge and Valley Trail System, a regional greenway and street-based trail system to connect communities across Jefferson County.

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According to Morris, the city was an example of “it’s never too late,” and that “these ideas can work even in adverse conditions.”

This guest post is by Karen Grajales, ASLA Public Relations Manager.

Image credits: (1) Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. / Newport Arboretum, (2) ASLA 2009 Professional Analysis and Planning Honor Award. Parklands of Floyds Fork / WRT, (3) ASLA 2012 Professional Analysis and Planning Honor Award. Red Mountain / Green Ribbon —  The Master Plan for Red Mountain Park / WRT. 

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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.

Private Investment in Green Roofs, Roadside Plantings and Parks, Oh My!Forbes, 9/22/13

“Stormwater runoff is one of the main causes of urban waterway pollution nationwide. This runoff collects everything from trash to pet waste to antifreeze and motor oil. Why should we care? These and other highly toxic pollutants eventually make their way to our rivers, lakes, beaches, and drinking water supplies.”

Designing Streets for People, Not Just CarsGOOD, 9/23/13

“In San Francisco, three pedestrians are hit by vehicles every day. Our streets should be designed to be safer than this, and we think in the process they can also become viable public spaces that enrich our urban experience. In this project for Walk San Francisco, inspired by a GOOD Design challenge from Center for Architecture and Design, we wanted to transform everyday infrastructure to achieve both of these goals.”

Hartford’s Constitution Plaza: Potential Still UnfoldingThe Courant, 9/25/13

“As we approach its 50th anniversary next year, Hartford’s Constitution Plaza is still controversial. It has been criticized over the years as desolate and lonely, a failure as a public space. But as landscape architecture, it is a remarkable example of work from the period, whose worth may be realized in its second half century.”

On Governors Island, 30 Acres of Open Space are Becoming a True ParkThe New York Times, 9/26/13

“The landscape architecture firm in charge of the parkland project, West 8, decided to break up the monotony of the flat island and maximize views of the harbor by changing its elevation. Even the hammock grove north of the Hills was raised to a maximum height of 16 feet.”

Basking at Mussel BeachThe Architect’s Newspaper, 9/27/13

“Construction recently wrapped up on housing for a new demographic at Manhattan’s East River Waterfront Esplanade: mussels. Working with SHoP Architects, HDR, and Arup, Ken Smith Landscape Architect designed a 50-foot intertidal Eco Park at Pier 35 that is part of a two-mile shoreline revitalization effort by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC).”

Investing in Volunteer ParkThe Seattle Times, 9/27/13

“Volunteer Park has often been called Seattle’s Central Park. Founded in 1887, it’s 30 years younger than New York’s legendary park. And at 48 acres it’s a fraction of the size. Both parks are distinguished by the classic elegance of their design by the Olmsted Brothers landscaping firm, and both are the beating green hearts of the cities surrounding them.”

Plaza to the PeopleThe Architect’s Newspaper, 9/18/13

“The Foley Square side of the 1968 Jacob K. Javits Federal Office Building on Lower Broadway is one of the most beautifully detailed and thoroughly usable new public spaces in New York. Designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh, the plaza features Connecticut pink marble that alternates with Vermont ‘Danby’ stone, establishing what the landscape architect called ‘an abstract naturalism.’”

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

Image credit: Manhattan’s East River Esplanade / Peter Mauss, ESTO

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After more than ten years of work, the restored and revitalized Rijksmuseum, the Netherland’s national museum, reopened in April. Spanish architecture firm Cruz y Ortiz brought the 19th-century building into the 21-st century with a new entrance and Asian pavilion, restored galleries, and thousands of energy-efficient LED lights. While this $375 million-Euro effort rightly got a lot of attention in the architecture press, the thoughtful update to the 14,500-square-meter outdoor gallery by Dutch landscape architecture firm Copijn Tuin- en Landschapsarchitecten didn’t.

A new outdoor exhibition of sculptures by Henry Moore may help remedy that because the sculptures show that the updated landscape is just as sumptuous as the restored building.

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Just as the architects modernized but honored the original building, Copijn seems to have done the same with architect Peter Cuypers’ original plans for the gardens from 1901. Copijn tells us that they did a contemporary refresh of Cuypers’ old Dutch garden style, with ponds, lawns, original classical sculptures, and “fragments of ancient buildings,” along with seasonal modern plantings.

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While they honored much of Cuypers’ plans, they updated the outer rim of the garden to the point where that part no longer resembles the original from 1884. Now, a “protective bank of trees and peripheral planting will give the gardens an intimate and secluded atmosphere.” The central lawns have also been elevated to provide a landscaped plinth for the sculptures.

Scattered through the modernized gardens are relics from Holland’s past. There are historic structures, a history tour of the built environment in the Netherlands, with old city gates, iron fences, and garden benches. There are classical 18th-century garden sculptures, 19th-century bronzes and busts of Roman emperors.

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Another interesting Modern artifact was added: architect Aldo van Eyck’s post-war playground equipment from Amsterdam Nieuw-West. In the 1950s, Amsterdam commissioned 700 models of these aluminum play sets for inner-city kids.

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The museum and landscape architects found space for a 19th-century greenhouse where heirloom vegetables will be grown. It was set-up so as not to disturb the “monumental” Wingnut trees. A water maze was also created based on a design by Danish sculptor and installation artist Jeppe Hein.

The exhibition of twelve Henry Moore sculptures will be on view in the garden until the end of September.

Image credits: (1) Rijksmuseum Atrium. Photo credit: Pedro Pegenaute. Image courtesy of Rijksmuseum, (2-8) Rijksmuseum outdoor gallery / Image credits: Copijn Tuin- en Landschapsarchitecten

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Throughout history, cultures around the world have created the concept of the evil forest, a dark, scary place where bad things happen. In Europe, these were places where witches or wolves (or even werewolves) attacked the lone passer-by. In Igbo areas of Nigeria, the Ajofia, or bad bush, still exists in some communities, although they are rapidly disappearing with development. Their potency to scare the population into line has also faded with younger generations. In these places, the traditional culture that created them has transformed in the face of modernization and a growing consumer culture. In a session at Dumbarton Oaks’ conference on cultural landscapes in Sub Saharan Africa, Ikem Stanley Okoye, University of Delaware, explained why Nigerians should start thinking about preserving some of these unique cultural landscapes.

Okoye said in contrast to what European colonialists in Africa believed, Africans did produce landscapes that were visual representations of complex concepts. Europeans believed that Africans were “not invested in their landscape,” and really had no indigenous landscape art or architecture to speak of. “Africa was contrasted with the West, which was viewed as having thought-out philosophy, landscapes, and architecture. Africa art was never seen representing landscapes.” This belief was convenient because it enabled colonialists to then occupy and ransack local resources for their own use.

Indeed, those powerful landscapes that Europeans were clueless about are still shaping the culture in Nigeria. In Okija, a Igbo traditional village in the Anambra state of southern Nigeria, priests were arrested in an Ajofia in 2004 after 30 plus corpses were discovered at the site. Amid fears of human sacrifices, the police rushed in and destroyed the forest shrines. The entire “visually spectacular raid whipped up a media frenzy.” There was “intense anxiety” about another “traditional eruption,” which, ironically enough, said Okoye, was how Western missionaries used to respond to aspects of traditional culture.

The Nigerian media and much of the public basically rushed to judgement, said Okoye. The criticism was, “why can’t they use their forests like other communities use theirs?” He thinks the priests involved “probably did nothing illegal, or beyond their own traditional Igbo norms.” It’s unlikely that missing persons were killed and buried there; more likely there were burials according to Igbo traditions over many decades. But what really shocked Nigeria was the hidden list investigators found, which showed how many of Nigeria’s rich and powerful were somehow involved. “There were scores of names, from governors to chiefs of police.” There were very public firings of officials found on the lists, and the president eventually had to intervene to protect some careers. Okoye then wondered whether the Ajofia, which was viewed as powerful because of its “impenetrable secrecy,” actually had any efficacy to keep people in line anymore, particularly given the harsh media condemnation. Almost ten years later, the Nigerian press is still interested in the story.

These days, the evil forests are actually diminishing. “The fiercesome wilderness now has limits.” Every village in southern Nigeria Igbo areas has a market and, close by, an evil forest. Towns are in effect divided into places that reflect good and bad, so some places have to represent negative powers and therefore become evil themselves. Okoye said these forests became dumping grounds for all of society’s ills. Suicides, who are anathema in Igbo culture, used to be simply dumped there to rot, unburied. Twins, who are bad luck, used to be left there. “This is place were they dump cultural garbage. This is a negative space.”

It’s also only a place priests can go. “They can enter and leave unharmed.” Once in the forest, they harvest plants, roots, and herbs to make traditional medicines that help ward off evil. “For everyone else, this is a fearful place, a place to be avoided.” And to this day, the cinema of Nigeria, which is often called “Nollywood,” often features horrifying forests with witches.

Funnily enough, Okoye said when the European colonialists arrived, the Ajofia were the first land the Igbo gave them, so to this day, you often find churches within Ajofia or next door, simply because they carved a road through what was previously a larger evil forest. The early Christians simply didn’t care that the land was deemed tainted.

Within the active Ajofia, which Okoye courageously examined on foot, there are “evil people art objects” and even landscape architecture. Claustrophobia-inducing paths cut through dense vegetation provide access points for priests who gather medicines. There are pots and vessels, which are often left at shrines at the edge of these places. An arrangement of twigs and organic materials spookily hanging from a string is actually a microcosm of the larger evil forest. “It is a landscape within a landscape. The landscape is also seen as an object.”

Okoye said, unfortunately, these fascinating places are getting taken over by development. “There is no constituency for these forests anymore,” except perhaps among old Igbo who still believe in their power. Interestingly, with the eradication of these places, crime has also risen in the villages that used to have them. Okoye thinks that’s because the power of the Ajofia to keep the community in check is waning. “There’s no present reminder of what will happen to you if you are bad.”

Okoye called for saving these places because they are “great archeological resources.” More and more archeologists are actually investigating garbage dumps and the negative spaces of society because those places tell them a lot about society – what those people valued or threw away. There is a rich history there: Many Ajofia appeared where “trans-atlantic slavery was particularly intense.”

Image credit: (1) Evil Forest Shrine / Linda Ikeji’s blog

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Who manages a cultural landscape that has global importance? Does the United Nations have final say or the local community? It turns out a complex web of interests shape these evolving cultural landscapes, particularly if people still live there and they aren’t just outdoor museums. In a fascinating session at Dumbarton Oaks’ latest conference on cultural landscapes in Sub Saharan Africa, Charlotte Joy, an anthropologist at University of London, delved into Mali’s convoluted history with UNESCO World Heritage program and one local community’s efforts to preserve a cultural landscape people still call home.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was formed with the rest of the UN System in the mid-1940s. Its philosophy, said Joy, was always to “foster inter-cultural dialogue through education.” The idea behind the organization was to “construct peace in the minds of men,” not just through disarmament and economic development. The thinking was if cultures could better understand each other, they would go to war with each other less.

In 1972, after years of debate about what constitutes significant cultural value and the best ways to preserve the sites that embody it, UNESCO’s member states signed the World Heritage Convention and, six years later, formed the first World Heritage List. Today, the list, which includes some 962 sites, is seen as a critical tool for spreading knowledge about cultures. The current list includes some 745 cultural sites and 188 natural ones. Some 157 are combined cultural and natural sites. According to Joy, Africa has just 86 sites, mostly in the natural category. Just to note: Cultural landscapes are a special sub-set of world heritage sites. Within this group, there are “clearly defined, organically evolved, and associative” cultural landscapes.

Mali, a country in the north west corner of Sub-Saharan Africa, is home to four sites, two of which – Timbuktu and the Tomb of Askia – are critically threatened. In March of last year, a coup was started by an army officer, who was unhappy with the government response to a Tuareg rebellion. Soon after, the coup leaders attacked government sites in Bamako. Then, fighting with the Tuareg, who had partnered with an Al Qaeda affiliate, dramatically escalated. At one point, the Tuareg actually took control of Timbuktu, but they were soon repelled by French military forces, who have intervened in the conflict. Joy made a point of saying that Tuareg rebellions are nothing new in Mali, and have been happening at least since 1916. “There have been a large number of rebellions. Tuaregs are fighting for recognition, land, and self-definition.”

Mali’s economy has been devastated by both the conflict and the international community’s effective isolation of the new Malian leadership. Tourists aren’t coming to visit Mali’s amazing cultural sites because governments are listing the sites as unsafe. This is in part because many don’t have any formal communications with the new government.

Culture has always been big economic driver there. Joy said the cultural ministry even created a detailed “cultural map” of the country, with each region’s distinct art, music, and earth works. But all that amazing cultural heritage isn’t just for tourists: While there are many world music festivals that attract European tourists, local roots program radio stations and TV documentaries attract a wide domestic audience. Way before UNESCO created its list, “Mali was secure in its rich cultural heritage. This has always been a cultural landscape.”

In the relatively safe city of Djenne, south of Timbuktu, there is the UNESCO site Old Town. UNESCO put Djenne on the list because it’s an “authentic cityscape,” its “architectural whole is viewed as iconic.” Joy said “UNESCO loves Djenne because its African, monumental, and architectural.”

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But she said the bounded lines of UNESCO’s definition of the Old Town don’t tell the true story of cultural heritage in Djenne. “For locals, it’s always been about Djenne and its surrounding landscape.” Gardens around the old town are used for growing food, while cattle herders move their animals and farmers grow rice. “Djenne can then be conceptualized as a formal cultural landscape,” not just as a set of old buildings.

Djenne has always had political value to Mali’s leaders. The founders of Mali pointed to it as “evidence of the democratic roots of Mali.” Interestingly, it began as a non-Islamic civilization, even though there are many Muslims who live there now. Its cultural value has shifted over time, at least for the locals who live there. Archeological sites within the old town are now off limits to the locals who have lived there for generations.

Age-old building techniques and materials have also changed, for the worst. Square bricks were introduced by the French, changing the traditional building construction techniques. “Before, masons in Djenne used round, cylindrical bricks.” Joy said the masons think the new bricks are inferior to the old.

The mud used to cover the buildings, which has its own special chemistry, has changed over the years. Before, corn husks were worked into the mud to strengthen it. Now, those corn husks have to actually be imported at great expense from other parts of Africa. The river from which the mud came from used to be rich in fish. Dead fish bones added necessary elements to the mud. With the loss of fish stock, “they now make poorer clay.”

Before, all able-bodied men and kids came out to help apply a fresh coat of mud to the mosque and other buildings in an annual rite. But with increased regulation, created by UNESCO, locals weren’t allowed to do it for a period of time because layers of recent mud forms were deemed to be out of compliance with the original forms. UNESCO asked the old town’s elders and masons to remove mud to go back to original design. “For five years, locals couldn’t apply the mud.” The community is back at work applying mud to the facades once again this year, or at least when the town elders decide it has reached the right consistency.

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Joy said “there has to be a balance between regulating a place and actually living in it.” In effect, outside regulation can really interfere with locals’ ability to preserve their own cultural heritage, severing them from their cultural landscapes. She wondered how a cultural landscape that people live in can be trapped in time, particularly a time hundreds of years in the past. “People can’t live the same way indefinitely.” Also, can Djenne really ever be made to stay the same, “given the aquifers have changed, acid rain has affected the buildings, rice husks are now imported?”

She believes international organizations have an “ethical imperative to understand how people relate to a landscape” and adjust based on how that relationship changes over time. Joy also believes UNESCO missed the boat in terms of defining the cultural boundaries of the city. “The heritage is really found in the edge, in the periphery. What’s important is the symbolic relationship between the old town and the surrounding landscape.”

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Other presentations explored the challenges of cultural landscape heritage management in Sub-Saharan Africa. Innocent Pikirayi, University of Pretoria, South Africa, described UNESCO World Heritage Site Great Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe as a “power-scape,” a contested political terrain. “There have been so many meanings projected on to this place.” Today, it’s officially a “sacred, protected site.” But in reality this means the local community who could actually support its upkeep has been barred from using the site as a spiritual landscape.

Early settlers, from 900 – 1450 AD, brought the population of the Great Zimbabwe area to around 18-20,000, which made it “comparable in size to pre-industrial London.” Beginning in the 1550s, the civilization that created the site began to decline, as it lost out to other civilizations in the gold trade. For hundreds of years, the site was “largely silent, abandoned,” until it was “discovered” by Europeans. With Cecil Rhodes and the rise of European settlers in Rhodesia (the European name for what is now Zimbabwe), the site’s history was “appropriated and falsified.” Then, with the rise of African nationalism “there was a purge of European scientific archeology,” in favor of making Great Zimbabwe a “national symbol.” Long-time dictator Robert Mugabe has “manipulated the past for political gain.”

The end result, said Pikirayi, is this vital place has actually lost its “sacredness” because the “spirit of the place is now inaccessible to the local community.” Some locals believe the gods are upset by this, which is why there are now “bush fires and other natural disasters.”

Maano Ramutsindela, University of Cape Town, South Africa, then discussed “how regions translate into cultural landscapes.” He described how regions, which share geographic, political, economic, and cultural characteristics, make up Sub-Saharan Africa. In Mali, for example, these “cultural regions actually define the landscape.” Cultural regions also mingle with natural habitats, creating interesting “human-environmental relationships,” such as migratory routes. Today, he is looking at Peace Parks, those inter-border zones that transect political boundaries. The idea is to create regional national parks that aren’t separated by borders, given animals don’t know whether they are in Mozambique, Tanzania, or South Africa. Conservation then creates new layers in these regional cultural landscapes.

Image credits: (1) Djenne market / Wikipedia, (2) Mosque in Djenne / Bensozia, (3) Applying mud to mosque in Djenne / Key Africa, (4) Djenne fisherman / Flickr.

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zimbabwe
Sub-Saharan Africa‘s deeply rich and diverse cultural landscapes will finally get their due at Dumbarton Oaks in May. In an upcoming symposium, scholars from around the world will spend two days on the “oldest inhabited landscape” on Earth, a part of the world that offers a “staggering range of geographies, cultures, histories, and patterns of settlement.” According to the landscape and garden studies program at Dumbarton Oaks, the symposium will focus on “what we know – or think we know – about pre-colonial landscapes; how they were read and misread in the colonial era; and how they are being reinterpreted in the present for various purposes, including conservation, economic development, education, and the creation of national identity.”

Many lifetimes could be spent trying to understand the cultural landscapes among these 49 countries that together have a population of more than 800 million. For landscape designers and historians, the range of interests can be matched with the diversity of sites: “World Heritage sites such as the Great Zimbabwe, or Djenne or Timbuktu in Mali; massive earthworks and palace grounds in Benin; anthropogenic forests and forest shrines; contested wildlife parks and ecological reserves; village compounds and seemingly chaotic contemporary urban settlements; and official and unofficial memorials to the struggle against colonialism.” To be added, hopefully, is some kind of discussion on urban cultural landscapes, the parks and plazas that create a sense of place in Africa’s growing cities, and the challenges of preserving historic landscapes in an era of rapid urbanization and population growth.

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Just a few of the speakers include Suzanne Preston Blier, Professor of Fine Arts and of African and African American Studies, Harvard University; Lazare Eloundou, an architect and urban planner with UNESCO World Heritage Center; Jeremy Foster, an architect, landscape architect, and cultural geographer at Cornell University; Ikem Okoye, Associate Professor of Art History, University of Delaware; Innocent Pikirayi, University of Pretoria, among others. See a full list of speakers and what they will talk about. (Also, check out a fascinating past talk by Blier on cosmology and pathways in Yoruban landscapes).

Register now for the symposium on May 10-11 for $60 ($40 for students).

Separately, a new resource worth highlighting is Landscape Architecture for Humanity, a brand-new blog started by Ryan Aldrich, a landscape architect in New Zealand. Already posted are a number of interesting opportunities for landscape architects to give their time and expertise in places like post-Hurricane Sandy, New York, and Papua New Guinea. There are interviews and videos with designers aiming for “positive social impact.”

Image credit: (1) The Great Zimbabwe / Wikipedia, (2) Timbuktu / Patheos

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farrand
“By exploring the history of designers, we find out who we are as designers,” said Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA, at a conference on Beatrix Farrand at Dumbarton Oaks, in Washington, D.C. For Van Valkenburgh, who is well-known for his ecological and contemporary campus, park, and residential projects, “standing in the shoes of Farrand and trying to figure out what decisions she would make in new circumstances is both a responsibility and a great pleasure.” He did just that in restoring and expanding upon Farrand’s original landscape architecture at Princeton University.

To understand Farrand’s work at Princeton, he dug into old photos, seeking out “anecdotal photographs of historical precedents.” He found that Farrand, a consulting designer at Princeton, organized the campus around ecology. Partnering with Ralph Adams Cram, the architect of Princeton University’s old stone campus, she created “passages through sequences of courtyard spaces.” Within the courtyards, she orchestrated a “close relationship between building and planting; there was a taut ground plane, no thickets.” Farrand said her goal was to “adapt one’s self to nature’s way.” She was a “lady intolerant of discords and “evoked effects that were subdued.”

Farrand took on a real “trial and error approach,” trying out plants and trees here and there. While “sexist” critics of her day would view this approach as “ding-batty,” Van Valkenburgh said her way was spot-on. She had a way of “going over things again and again.” Through trial and error, Farrand also perfected her “signature practice: training shrubs on building facades.”

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She emphasized seasonality. By testing things out, she also sought to understand what a landscape looked like in “autumn, winter, and spring.” She was “big on palettes.” An early trend-setter, she showed a distinct preference for native plants.

“She had a strong interest in the different maintenance capabilities of plants.” Farrand oversaw the creation of tree and plant nurseries on campus and “actively managed what was grown there.”  Van Valkenburgh said Farrand knew that “grounds people aren’t stupid. It really takes a gardener to raise a landscape.”

Working in Farrand’s shadow, Van Valkenburgh tried to figure out what she would do. Blair Walk, the central grand promenade through the campus, was in disrepair. His firm replaced the stone walkway and used “new old plantings,” an act of preservation, which also involved “restarting elements of the design.”

Because the university wanted to widen the walk in some places due to heavier foot traffic, Van Valkenburgh, in his sensitive historical approach, simply kept the original path width, but tacked on permeable pavements at the edges. “She would have gone for this because she was into stormwater management.”

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In another project, he pushed the woodlands into the campus. Because the campus had expanded to such a degree – “Farrand would have been shocked by its size” – his team wanted to recreate the original campus’ woodland feel, which had disappeared with its later expansion. “We re-asserted the presence of the woodland at the edge of the campus,” in effect recreating Farrand’s original relationship between campus and environment. (Apparently, some alums didn’t really get this).

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For another campus project, he created a subtle new bridge that weaves through nature. There, Van Valkenburgh said, his goal was to “preserve the beauty of the landscape.” Unveiling his design philosophy, he said landscape architects “have made a big mistake by trying to be modern. The beauty of a landscape is in its fragility. If you remove the fragility, you take out the beauty.” Farrand really understood this, and even went one step further, incorporating “irregularities into her designs as a complement to Cram’s buildings. There was a complementarity through contrast and distinction.”

Other speakers at Dumbarton Oaks spoke about Farrand’s legacy: Dennis Bracale, landscape architect and historian, discussed Farrand’s Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden, an oriental garden in Bar Harbor, Maine, that is a mix of Western, Chinese, and Japanese landscapes. She had worked closely with the Rockefellers — who amassed an amazing collection of East Asian art that would later became the founding collection at the Asia Society — creating a garden that traced paths through priceless stone sculptures. The landscape design was based in Chinese spatial relationships and a Japanese appreciation for using found, natural materials. Mrs. Rockefeller had wanted a “spiritual retreat,” which she got. Farrand studied gates and wall designs from Beijing’s Forbidden City and replicated these designs to a tee. The garden, and its surrounding natural landscape made accessible via paths — which Bracale said also mirrors East Asian landscape patterns – was meant to evoke the maxim, “God is in nature.” So we understand yet another side of Farrand’s versatile practice.

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Judith Tankard
, a landscape historian, then covered Farrand’s final years in Maine, where she created the Reef Point arboretum and amassed an amazing collection of plants and trees (and tens of thousands of books, which were later donated to U.C. Berkeley). At its prime, the arboretum had some 4,000 visitors a year, but Farrand complained that most visitors were tourists and not real lovers of plants. By the mid-1950s, Farrand realized the arboretum had no future, so she decided to “obliterate” this part of her life by destroying the buildings and landscape, as opposed to letting it fall apart through mismanagement. Forever the perfectionist, Farrand would destroy things that didn’t live up to her standards.

To learn more about Farrand and other women landscape architects in the early twentieth century, check out these books: Beatrix Farrand: Private Gardens, Public Landscapes by Judith Tankard; Unbounded Practice: Women and Landscape Architecture in the Early Twentieth Century by Thaisa Way, ASLA; and Women in Landscape Architecture: Essays on History and Practice by Louise Mozingo, ASLA, and Linda Jewell, FASLA.

Image credits: (1) Princeton campus / DLand Studio, (2) Farrand facade / Princeton University, (3) Blair Walk / Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, (4) Woodland expansion / Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, (5) Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden / Fine Art America

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barnes
After years of controversy and lawsuits, and then a judge’s ruling in 2004 that allowed the Barnes Foundation to move out of Merion, Pennsylvania, and into the heart of Philadelphia, the new home of one of the world’s finest museums finally opened on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway last May. The effect of the new building and landscape on Philadelphia is significant. The new 4.5-acre museum seems to raise the quality of the parkway and the city’s cultural offerings almost single-handedly. While the museum building by Todd Williams and Billie Tsien has rightfully received almost universal rave reviews, the landscape architecture got short rift in the major press (as always), perhaps with the exception of the The Philadelphia Inquirer‘s coverage. Their loss: the story about the new landscape architecture by Philadelphia-base landscape architecture firm OLIN is about as fascinating as the story about the new building.

The original home of the amazing art collection assembled by Dr. Albert Barnes, and obsessively arranged and rearranged by the doctor in his final years, was his summer estate, which was later turned into a museum and arboretum. While much has been made of how Barnes’ precise arrangements of art — which involve mixing French modern masters with Asian and African works — were exactly replicated in the new museum, and set against the same canvas background, in rooms with the same proportions, little was discussed about how the original grounds and arboretum guided the new landscape architecture that now provides a frame for the new museum and art. OLIN writes that “it’s impossible to replicate the expanse and full character of a suburban estate on a relatively small urban parcel of land in the heart of Philadelphia, yet the landscape design for the new Barnes Foundation has created a group of spaces of varying size and character that are planted in contrasting and complimentary manner to the institution’s location and to each other so as to offer rich sensory experiences that recall aspects of the historic Merion campus.”

Both architects and Laurie Olin, FASLA, saw this approach as the way to respect the site, while also creating a vital contemporary design for the new spot, which was once the site of a children’s jail. In a work session with Williams, Tsien, and Laurie Olin in Rome, a new plan was developed to offer a “modern geometric structure inside and out, a sequence of spaces moving first one way and then another, that flowed into and through each other, that were large and ample, even stretched, were alternated with smaller, more compressed spaces, then back to spaces that give release.” While creating a new sense of harmony and movement through the site, the team also wanted to make sure they paid “homage to the earlier work of Paul Philippe Cret and the Barnes’s without aping the style and habits of that earlier period.”

Trees found in the original arboretum were then used in the new landscape design. “The planting openly recalls that of Merion and any number of private gardens in the Delaware Valley. Here the trees are a Japanese Cryptomeria, Star Magnolia, and Korean Dogwood along with a number of broadleaf evergreen shrubs, such as Winterberry, English Laurel, Oak Leaf Hydrangea, Summersweet, Viburnum, Mountain Laurel — all found in the earlier Arboretum — along with Astilbe, Vinca, Fothergilla, Spirea, Sweetspire, and other ground covers and perennials.” Beyond finding ways to recall the actual landscape design of the original grounds in the new museum, OLIN also looked to the art for inspiration. “Planting selections were made to reflect some of the flora frequently seen in the Impressionist paintings of which Dr. Barnes was such a significant collector.”

Now, the way in. One of the nicest features of the new landscape architecture is the entryway, which feels like a small, contemporary piece of Europe just landed in Philly. As you walk off the parkway, you are greeted by a unique black granite fountain, sleek and contemporary, offset by benches.

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Past this fountain terrace, you move either towards a small pavilion, which provides a coat check and service entrance, or meander along a path over a river bedded with rocks to the actual doorway.

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The door itself is almost hidden, with the sign for the museum at hip level. Within this entry zone are small trees, with plinths as a backdrop hiding the parking lot beyond.

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At the front of the building (facing the parkway), one piece that didn’t seem to fit at first was the raised bed. While it helps break up the building so it doesn’t provide a monotonous facade to the parkway, it seemed jutting, out of place. Upon learning that it’s there to provide a view of greenery for visitors looking out the window and also serve as a visual break so that art gazers don’t just see cars, it did make sense though. As OLIN explains, “this plinth and its planting fulfills several roles. One is to provide a buffer between the multistory tall windows of the south-facing main gallery with its important collection of art and the busy pedestrian and vehicle circulation and events of the Parkway, so as to preserve a desirable calm atmosphere for those in the room with the, allowing them to concentrate on the art without distraction. The other motive is to supply as much green as possible outside the windows without constructing high barriers. Matisse is known to have remarked that the color palette he chose for his now famous Lunette murals of The Dance that were above the south facing windows of Cret’s original structure was in part a response to the green of the garden beyond in the sun.”

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Within, the materials are enticing, making the building feel like it can last hundreds of years and not look dated even then. Williams and Tsien incorporated African patterns in the furniture, referring to pieces of Barnes’ collection. Limestone walls seem to begged to be touched. There’s also reclaimed Ipe wood floors — from the old Coney Island boardwalks that were ripped up, no less. This is perhaps the only acceptable use of Ipe given what we now know about how wood is harvested from the Brazilian rainforests. (Designers: try the just-as-good domestic Black Locust). Outdoors, OLIN pays close attention to materials, as always, so the experience feels rich. “Paving in the site is composed either of cut granite or decomposed granite, a natural material that has been selected for its remarkable life cycle cost benefit – the longest that is known or achievable if well detailed and installed.”

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All of this was accomplished while also creating a highly sustainable LEED Platinum museum and landscape. The building roofs either have skylights to let in light, solar panels to create energy, or green roofs filled sedum to catch rainwater and insulate the buildings. Around the buildings is a landscape purposefully designed to capture stormwater. Any excess water is steered towards a cistern, which captures stormwater for later irrigation on the site. “Water is directed through planted areas and granular materials to aid in filtering and cleaning it.” And even within the building, there’s a new interior courtyard filled with trees and enclosed in glass. While not accessible to people, the green space provides a glimpse of nature, a brief respite from room after room of art. Even during a tour of the museum in January, the courtyard was bright, refreshing.

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There’s also a sheltered outdoor space next to the museum cafe, which is easy to imagine as a swanky event space on a summer night. The space is enlivened by a trio of trees set within a wooden bench and other plantings.

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Upon leaving, one of the memorable experiences is actually walking all the way around the building, and seeing how all the new grading, series of trees, and street designs come together for pedestrians. The connection to OLIN’s Rodin museum landscape is especially welcoming, as there seem to be multiple paths leading from the edge of the Barnes into Rodin if that museum’s gates are open.

Towards the south, Logan Circle has also been revitalized. The new Sister Cities park by Studio Bryan Hayes with its fun watery playground and a green roof-covered angular pavilion by Digsau bring a burst of contemporary design to the fairway. The new pavilion with its much-needed cafe is great right next to an old church.

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The revitalized fairway then is Philly at its best. The streetscape seems to have gotten as much attention as the new museum and its landscape. Next time you visit, walk from the new Sister Cities Park to the new Barnes Foundation, through it and then around it, and then have a coffee before heading to the Rodin Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Fairmount Park. You may find that you just end up doing this anyway. This what you’ve been asked to do — through the design.

Image credits: (1-8) barnes Foundation / OLIN, (9) Sister Cities Park Pavilion / Philly Visitor’s Center

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