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Archive for the ‘Public Spaces’ Category

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Janet Echelman / Todd Erikson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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She Changes, Porto, Portugal / Enrique Diaz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pulse, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania / OLIN

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

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

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

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1.26, Amsterdam, The Netherlands / Janus Vanden Eijnden

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

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

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Every Beating Second, San Francisco Airport / Brute Damonte

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

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

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

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

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Black History Museum / Jared Green

Richmond, Virginia, is home to one of the most important historically African American communities: Jackson Ward. Just like similar communities in Washington, D.C., Boston, and Chicago, Jackson Ward is close to a resurgent downtown. As a result, the forces of change are bearing down on the ward, with an influx of newcomers. As Mary Lauderdale, the long-time manager at the Black History Museum in Jackson Ward told me, “older folks are leaving and young students and professionals are moving in. Gentrification is going on.” In a tour, which was part of The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF)’s What’s Out There weekend, dual efforts to preserve history and accommodate change were made apparent.

First of all, the Black History Museum itself is changing with the times. Lauderdale said the Museum was once the “best house on the block,” but that’s no longer the case, as young people move in and invest in the old fixer-uppers nearby. The museum is soon moving into the historic Virginia Volunteers Battalion Armory, which was a home to African American soldiers in World War II and has been long-time important community meeting place. The new museum space will offer far more exhibition space, providing more opportunities for cultural tourism. It’s right next to the Ebeneezer Baptist Church, which is an active parish. The church was designed by Charles Russell, one of the first African American architects in the 1880s.

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Ebeneezer Baptist Church / Jared Green

Jackson Ward formed out of the deeply poisonous Jim Crow laws, which came into force after the Civil War and institutionalized “separate but equal” facilities for whites and African Americans, but, in effect, created a highly unequal society, especially in the south. In Jackson Ward, freed African American slaves took the initiative and created a separate world unto themselves. As Doug Kellner, Valentine Richmond History Center, explained, when slavery was abolished, many freed slaves fled plantations either to the north or came into the city to work at machine factories. Given Richmond was the second largest slave market after New Orleans, there were many slaves in the area around the city.

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Machine plant in Jackson Ward / Jared Green

As the Black History Museum shows, Jackson Ward soon became the birthplace of “black capitalism,” home to the “black Wall Street of America.” Given white bankers wouldn’t lend money to African Americans, they needed to create their own sources of finance. W.W. Browne House, named for its owner, became the first chartered African American bank. African American community leader Maggie L. Walker, whose home has been turned into a museum run by the National Park Service, also became the first woman to start a bank.

When segregation ended, said Kellner, many of the wealthier African Americans moved out of the neighborhood. Then, in the 1950s, Interstate 95 plowed through a section of the neighborhood, taking down more than 700 homes, which Kellner said had long been vacant. This further sped up the deterioration of the ward, but towards the end of the 20th century, reinvestment began in earnest. Today, the neighborhood has a real mix of interesting residential building styles.

Before freed slaves moved to this area, it was home to German and other European immigrants. Some of these unique early homes have been restored by the Walker Row Partnership, a commercial development company dedicated to reviving architecture from the past. Kellner said he knows the owners and they are passionate about preserving the history of the ward. The restoration work was made viable when the district was declared a historic district in the 1970s. With that designation, all sorts of tax breaks are available to restore old buildings.

Jackson Ward honors its cultural heritage as well. The famed Hippodrome, where Billie Holiday, Dizzie Gillespie, Sarah Vaughn, Cab Calloway, and countless other legends played, is still standing after a fire gutted it. It’s not a sort of cabaret theater, with a restaurant next door.

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The Hippodrome / Jared Green

Near the theater is a great example of the murals that have popped up all over the district.

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Mural / Jared Green

Also nearby is a statue of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, a ground-breaking entertainer who paired off in dances with Shirley Temple when whites and blacks didn’t dance together on screen. The urban legend goes that he paid for the first stop light in Jackson Ward at one corner near a school. Before the traffic light, a number of children were hit by cars.

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Bill “Bojangles” Robinson statue / Jared Green

But the local musical culture seems to be under threat as well. Lauderdale said a historic African American Pentecostal Church played brass music with their masses for decades. Young residents moving in didn’t like the noise and complained so the music has stopped. “This is part of our culture. How can we create a culture that works for everyone?”, Lauderdale wondered.

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Libby Hill Park and views / all photos by Jared Green

Virginia is forever connected to England, as the state was founded by colonialists first sent over by King James I in early 1600s. And Richmond, the capital of Virginia, is forever connected with England’s Richmond upon Thames. Nearly 150 years after the colony was formed, a planter named William Byrd II stood in what is now Libby Hill Park astounded by the similarities in the view of the expanse and the view from Richmond upon Thames he had seen in his youth. As a result, he named the new town he founded Richmond, and, in honor of the king, the river became the James River. Today, we can enjoy the same view, said Leighton Powell, head of Scenic Virginia, in a tour organized by The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TLCF) as part of their What’s Out There weekend, because of the dedication of her organization and others, who must continuously guard it from encroachment by developers. Libby Hill Park, which was created in 1851, is on the list of Scenic Virginia’s “endangered view sheds.”

In 2012, Scenic Virginia was helped by the Virginia Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects, who completed a full “cultural analysis of the view” as part of ASLA’s year of public service. As one can see, this gorgeous old park is worthy of in depth study.

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The Virginia Chapter also designed a new mapping software that enables everyone to visualize the potential visual impacts of development. This kind of effort is critical given Scenic Virginia has had to wage an extended fight to keep a 15-story luxury condominium tower, which would have been out of synch with the existing scale of Shocktoe Bottom, from being put up right at the base of Libby Hill Park. The supporters of the tower believe it would have worked well with the bus rapid transit (BRT) route expected to come in on Main Street. Denser housing plus public transportation could have spurred more sustainable transit-oriented development.

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While some may disagree, Powell argued that the building would not have been consistent with the 2007 approved master plan for downtown. The plans for the luxury condo were approved by the planning commission, an important advisory group, but eventually stalled in the city council when a number of members abstained from lending their support. Powell said the condo project has been withdrawn but not permanently killed off because Scenic Virginia has not yet been able to buy the parcel of land where the building would stand. “We need them to name a fair price.”

Instead of being used for another building, Powell thinks the vacant parcel could be turned into a park, filled with soccer fields. She sees this as a place for games because the city’s new riverfront plan may lead to the launch of a new brewery and restaurant along the James River. “I can see people going to play a game and then having a beer, all along the riverfront.”

Richmond’s plan to dramatically improve pedestrian and bicycle access to the James River, which was created with landscape architecture firm Hargreaves Associates, will also lead to further improvements in the view. Soon, the large silos containing cement, which mar the pastoral nature of the view, will be pulled down. Powell laughed, “we are thinking about a raffle for who will get to pull the lever to destroy them.”

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The rest of Libby Hill Park, which is managed by the city’s parks department, is in good shape, except for the intrusion of highly-invasive kudzu plants on one slope.

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Powell hopes goats, which apparently love to eat kudzu, will soon be unleashed on this area to deal with the problem.

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The Alleys of The Fan / all photos by Jared Green

From Monroe Park, The Fan, a spatially-unique neighborhood, literally spreads out, with the spines of the unfolding fan taking the form of long avenues that stretch through Victorian-era residences, parks, and alleys. Through a tour organized through The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF)’s What’s Out There weekend in Richmond, Virginia, Beth Marschak, a guide with the Valentine Richmond History Center, gave us a close-up look at the alley, an often-overlooked yet vital piece of infrastructure, and how neighborhood groups are coming together to green these spaces, turning them into a rugged form of linear parks.

Marschak said that after the Civil War, “there was nothing here.” Monroe Park, the city’s first public park, was the far edge of the city. Beginning in the 1880s, the strangely-shaped district began to take shape as it was divided into subdivisions given over to developers. Together, these distinct neighborhoods formed a “sort of streetcar neighborhood.” The homes closer to Monroe Park were richer, with carved wood instead of cheaper iron decorative arts, and taller, at three stories instead of two. While Richmond was already highly segregated, the restrictive Jim Crow laws enacted in the 1870s, further institutionalized the division of the races, making The Fan entirely white.

Alleys are multi-purpose public infrastructure. They were established to provide air space between homes in case of fire, as well as access for fire trucks. Deliveries were made through alleys. When The Fan fell into decline in the 1950s through the 1970s, some neighbors banded together to enclose and wall off their alleys, to increase security. Still, the vast majority remain open.

In contrast to the sidewalks of The Fan, which are made of bricks organized into a unique herringbone pattern, the alleys feature solid granite pavers organized into a running bond pattern, except for a strip in the middle.

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Terry Clements, FASLA, a professor of landscape architecture at Virginia Tech, told me that the difference in paving patterns can be explained by cost and use. Herringbone-patterned brick sidewalks, which are found nearly everywhere in The Fan, hold up better to cross traffic as they lock together and resist sliding. The paths of the alleys were designed to be able to handle heavier loads, like fire trucks, so the running bond is laid perpendicular to the direction of traffic, making it more resistant to being pushed forward by heavy wheels. The middle of the alley subtly dips and has a vertical strip of pavers to help convey storm water out of the alleys.

As Marschak descibed, local neighborhood associations or residents have shaped the look and feel of many alleys, adding their own green spaces. In one, we see wall planters and even a sort of mini curbside parklet, just created one day by some residents.

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However, this alley was really just the appetizer for a splendid one covered in gravel and planted with a soft palette of plants by a neighbor, who decided to extend his own private garden into the public space. Over the decades, he and his neighbors have created an alley arcadia.

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Given paved, impermeable surfaces like streets and parking lots can easily cover 30-40 percent of cities, urban policymakers and designers are increasingly redesigning the alley, in large part because of stormwater management issues. Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boston are all experimenting with applying permeable pavement to their ubiquitous back roads. While this material provides great environmental benefits, it really just look like pavement. The approach taken by the neighborhood groups in The Fan not only offer environmental benefits but also create beautiful public spaces and help build communities. These approaches should also be in the mix when cities consider how best to green their alleys.

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Klyde Warren Park / Thomas McConnel

Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, Texas, won the Urban Land Institute’s 2014 Open Space Award, which recognizes “public spaces that have socially and economically enriched and revitalized their communities.” Completed in 2012 by landscape architecture firm The Office of James Burnett (OJB), the 5-acre park is a green roof, decking over the sunken Woodall Rogers Freeway. As the highway was submerged, a new living, breathing space was made possible. The park now connects the city’s downtown cultural district with the mixed-use neighborhoods to the north, helping car-centric Dallas become a healthier, more walkable place.

According to OJB, the park brings it all. There is a “flexible, pedestrian-oriented design, offering a mix of active and passive spaces.” Spaces are either grand or intimate. In the grand category, there is a sweeping pedestrian promenade with botanical garden and great lawn, with fountain and performance pavilion. Smaller spaces include a children’s park, reading room, games area, and dog park.

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Klyde Warren Park / Gary Zvonkovic

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Klyde Warren Park / Dillon Diers

These spaces enable all kinds of activities, ranging from “yoga classes and lectures to outdoor concerts and film screenings.” James Burnett, FASLA, said: “Great cities have great parks, and Klyde Warren Park has quickly become the new heart of downtown Dallas.”

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Klyde Warren Park / LianeRochelle Photography

The park also incorporates sustainable design elements. The landscape itself has a “continuous canopy of Pond Cypress,” and much of the design is characterized by the “use of native tree and plant species,” which are all kept alive through the Texan summer through a water reclamation and purification system. There is a high-efficiency lighting system throughout, featuring solar-powered light poles. The buildings, which have been certified LEED Gold, use geothermal energy for temperature control.

M. Leanne Lachman, Chair of the ULI Global Awards for Excellence Jury, said: “Klyde Warren is not only successful in fixing an urban fracture that isolated development and challenged the existing potential for the area; it also demonstrates that a long-term vision and commitment are critical to foster a sense of place and community, with lasting positive rippling effects.”

See more images.

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Mellon Square: Discovering a Modern Masterpiece  / Princeton Architectural Press

Mellon Square: Discovering a Modern Masterpiece / Princeton Architectural Press

Recently restored to much ado through a six-year process, Mellon Square in Pittsburgh was the first Modernist space in the nation built over a subterranean parking garage. Considered a precursor to today’s green roof movement, Mellon Square is a showcase for urban revitalization through historic preservation, with a contemporary sensibility and the latest technologies. In the foreword of Susan Rademacher’s Mellon Square: Discovering a Modern Masterpiece, series editor Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, head of The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) says the result of the restoration is “a renewed, enhanced, and revitalized Mellon Square that carefully balances the highest historic preservation standards with clearly articulated performance benchmarks and sustainability standards.”

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Henri Marcus Moran, “View of Mellon Square – Looking North,” ca. 1955, Gouache on board / Princeton Architectural Press

As Rademacher, parks curator at Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, tells the history of the civic space itself, she reflects Pittsburgh’s ups and downs throughout much of the twentieth century – from booming steel town to post-WWII slump, when it was nicknamed the “Smoky City” due to its heavy blankets of regular smog. Mellon Square was a key player ushering in Pittsburgh’s first renaissance, drawing innovation, entrepreneurs, and civic life to the downtown “Golden Triangle.” But the square also succumbed to the decline characterizing Pittsburgh through the 1960s to 90s. As Rademacher tells it, Mellon Square is a proxy for the status and reputation of the entire city of Pittsburgh.

Mayor David Lawrence with R.K. Mellon, in Life magazine, May 1956 / Margaret Bourke-White, Princeton Architectural Press

Mayor David Lawrence with R.K. Mellon, in Life magazine, May 1956 / Margaret Bourke-White, Princeton Architectural Press

Also woven into the narrative are personal histories of key players such as project architects James Mitchell and Dahlen Ritchey, and landscape architects John Simonds and Philip Simonds. Students and practitioners of landscape architecture will recognize the former Simonds as author of seminal text Landscape Architecture, still widely used as a foundational textbook for landscape architecture courses. We learn about his life and entry into the profession in the 1930s, and find fascinating glimpses of a highly tenuous time for the field. In a 1999 letter, Simonds recounts asking Walter Gropius, his mentor at the Harvard, about the future role for landscape architecture in contemporary society. Gropius “looked at [him] long and thoughtfully without speaking. It was quite possibly one of the most eloquent statements ever never stated.” Simonds would go on to graduate as part of the “infamous 1939 ‘class of rebels,’” we learn from Landscape Architecture co-author Barry W. Starke, FASLA. In these records, the mythos of the profession is alive and well.

Iconic copper fountains elegently lit and choreographed early in Mellon Square's history / Princeton Architectural Press

Iconic copper fountains elegantly lit and choreographed early in Mellon Square’s history / Princeton Architectural Press

At the heart of the book, of course, is the history of Mellon Square itself. Readers looking for historical details will not be disappointed. Design notes, sketches, photographs, and planting details are generously interspersed throughout the text. Just about every planting choice considered, implemented, and replaced is included, with nuggets, such as the “early use of the new thornless form of the honey locust tree,” now common and well-known to practitioners. And we learn that early design concepts discussed including “live animal displays within the pool, such as flamingos, penguins, and sea lions, which were favored for their comical movements and expressions.”

John Simonds' earliest known concept sketch / Princeton Architectural Press

John Simonds’ earliest known concept sketch / Princeton Architectural Press

Planting detail with circular platforms for sea lions are featured in an early concept sketch / Princeton Architectural Press

Planting detail with circular platforms for sea lions are featured in an early concept sketch / Princeton Architectural Press

Also noted is Simonds’ “elaborate and precise statement of design intent,” in which that the square must simultaneously act as a platform, structure, island, space, focal center, civic monument, gathering place, and oasis. “Simonds and his collaborators created a powerfully original landscape architecture and urban design solution . . . [placing] nature in high relief against the building-lined streets of downtown.”

Those hoping to gain insight for approaching a historic restoration in other cities will also find much to learn from. Mellon Square, which also features essays by Patricia O’Donnell, FASLA, Heritage Landscapes, lead landscape architect on the restoration effort, and Richard Bell, FASLA, champions the efforts of all involved. Rademacher is careful to give credit to all involved parties, from the first glimmers of an idea through the recent full restoration. As important as reconstructing the historic details of the copper fountains and rustic terrazzo paving was the building and maintaining of partnerships across disciplines. Though Mellon Square underwent a partial restoration in the 1980s, funding issues – along with design modifications largely reversed to better align with the original design – led to a lack of proper maintenance. Key to the future success of the square will be an ongoing $4 million maintenance fund devoted to perpetual stewardship of Mellon Square.

Editorial cartoon, Cy Hungerford, 1955 / Princeton Architectural Press

Editorial cartoon, Cy Hungerford, 1955 / Princeton Architectural Press

One of few Modernist landscapes fully preserved and restored, proponents hope Mellon Square will be not an anomaly but a model for other locations. Up next: how about designation as a National Historic Landmark?, suggests Birnbaum.

Read the book.

Yoshi Silverstein, Associate ASLA, is founder and lead designer-educator at Mitsui Design, focusing on landscape experience and connection to place. He was the ASLA summer 2014 communications intern.

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Larry Weaner in Meadow 1 at Dumbarton Oaks Park / Jared Green

“We are at the volatile beginning period when all the plants are fighting it out. We have to help the newly planted grasses dominate,” said Larry Weaner, Larry Weaner Landscape Associates, at the kick-off of the restoration of the 9-acre meadow at Dumbarton Oaks Park in Washington, D.C. The first two meadows in a five-meadow necklace have already been seeded with warm season grasses, embedded in a protective layer of grasses that will later die back. In a carefully-sequenced succession, the new warm season grasses will slowly take over, restoring the original vision of landscape architect Beatrix Farrand, who designed the park in the 1920s and 30s, and creating rich wildlife habitat in the process.

Liza Gilbert, ASLA, one of the leaders of the restoration process at Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy and the latest landscape designer to be appointed to the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts, said Farrand meant the 27-acre landscape to be a “wild garden” distinct from the formal gardens of Dumbarton Oaks just up the hill. “There is a progression of spaces, with narrow paths leading to grand vistas. She was a master of creating spatial experiences, moving from dark to light.” The land had been used as a farm for decades; Farrand “created a paradise out of land that had been worked.”

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Meadow 1 at Dumbarton Oaks Park / Jared Green

Farrand believed “topography must dictate design. She was a master at reading curves, the sculptural quality of the land, and using plants to highlight those features.” As such, Farrand saw five meadows, divided into rooms by loose hedgerows, interconnected into a necklace. “That’s why we are inexplicably drawn to the next one and the next.” Meadow 5, the final one, is “a broad expanse where I always feel a little lost,” which is perhaps what she wanted us to feel. Weaner echoed these thoughts, adding that “Farrand was sensitive to letting the land express itself.” Like Farrand, “we must follow the place’s natural inclinations,” even with restoring the meadow. “It’s not about what I envision here.”

Since the 1950s, the park has been left to its own devices. The result was the total takeover of the historic design by invasive non-native plants, including Japanese stiltgrass, porcelain berry, wineberry, and others, until the Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy started up in earnest a few years ago. Over literally thousands of hours of volunteer labor, the mighty team at the conservancy has turned the tide, enabling Farrand’s design to reappear in many key places. The next phase is recreating the five meadows, all of which had all been overrun except for one.

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Existing native meadow after mowing / Jared Green

Meadows are incredibly complex ecosystems and designing them is as much art as science. In a lecture hosted by the George Washington University landscape design program, Weaner said warm season grasses, which are native, are more desirable than cool season grasses, which were imported from Europe, because they sustain the local ecosystem. Cool season grasses mat when they grow, whereas warm season grasses allow for little pockets of life to more easily live amid individual plants. Warm season grasses are natural homes for solitary, non-hive bees and other insects that birds eat. As Doug Tallamy, one of the world’s foremost wildlife ecologists has explained, birds are “insect specific.” Native birds want to eat native bugs, which feed on native plants. If meadows disappear, so do the insects and then the birds. Restoring the native meadows at Dumbarton Oaks Park is then vital to creating the “little rest stops birds need” on their journeys.

Once you’ve intervened in a landscape and you are trying to turn it into a native meadow, you have to work with existing natural processes. Weaner described a meadow as a “system with early and late stage players.” Succession, which is “the changing nature of plants in a place,” is happening at all times. “If we bulldoze a place, we’ll first see small herbaceous grasses, then pioneer shrubs and trees, and then more mature trees.” Trees will eventually push out most of the ground cover, unless they are stopped. But Weaner explained that a sort of micro-succession also occurs within the meadow stage of succession as well. Given some grasses are annual, others are biannual and still others are perennial, “in a one year time period, the dominant species will completely change.”

In a warm season native meadow, perennial plants dominate. “The problem is they establish themselves slowly. They put their energy into root growth as a long-term investment. Perennials are conservative whereas annuals crash and burn. It’s a relay over time.” Given some perennials take up to 7-10 years to flower, and therefore only then create seeds that can restore the ground’s seed bank, “the first 1-3 years are volatile.” Cool season grasses found in meadows 1 and 2 will continue to co-exist alongside new warm season perennials planted in July — Purple Top, Beaked Panicgrass, Side Oats Gamma, and Little Blue Stem — giving the perennials time to get situated and eventually dominate. The idea is the warm season grasses, if supported with mowing each spring, will eventually take over, as the cool season grasses will not be given the opportunity to grow and will eventually die.

Weaner said the conservancy team will need to keep a close watch over the nascent native meadows as any disturbance can easily “push a meadow back to its early stage of succession. Succession can also go backwards.” Invasive plants are a constant threat; they are a “permanent disturbance.” But if invasive can no longer produce new seeds and add to the seed bank, they can be held at bay indefinitely.

Dumbarton Oaks Park, working with nature’s processes, is like a perennial itself, making a long-term investment in the future. More meadows in the necklace will soon be planted with warm season grasses and shepharded. The results of their labors won’t be seen for many years, but the seeds have been planted.

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Public Produce: Cultivating Our Parks, Plazas, and Streets for Healthier Cities / Island Press

Public Produce: Cultivating Our Parks, Plazas, and Streets for Healthier Cities / Island Press

We are increasingly concerned about the provenance of our food. Movements supporting local food production, urban agriculture, and more socially-equitable food systems have gained increasing traction over the last decade. Meanwhile, our industrial food systems are increasingly vulnerable due to over-centralized facilities and ownership, reliance on fossil fuels for production and transportation, and crop monocultures, which are made only more vulnerable by climate change.

Urban agriculture is frequently cited as a response to these challenges. Cities, though, still face question of where to grow food, how to maintain farms, create access, and educate citizens about agricultural production. In Public Produce: Cultivating Parks, Plazas, and Streets for Healthier Cities, urban designer and author Darrin Nordahl proposes local governments bolster local ecosystems of public food production.

Alice Waters praised the original 2009 edition as showing “how growing food on public land can transform our civic landscape.” Marion Nestle said the book gave “all the reasons why growing food in cities would be good for alleviating poverty, for building communities, and for public policy.”

A newly revised and expanded edition does these things and fills in key details by offering numerous examples of people, organizations, communities, and governments implementing all sorts of models of food production on public lands as well as partnerships between local governments and community organizations.

The first few chapters will be highly useful for those looking for a succinct and easily-readable introduction to the arguments behind local and urban food production: food (in)security, over-reliance on fossil fuels, social equity, and resilience to climate change, to name a few. But those already well versed in the works of Michael Pollan and other sustainable agriculture advocates can skim through.

Nordahl hits his stride in the third chapter as he goes beyond the general tenets of urban agriculture and makes his case for a triad between public space, public officials, and public policy. Growing vegetables in public spaces sends a powerful message. Nordahl defines public spaces as places freely accessible to the public, “whether they are truly public or merely perceived to be . . . In essence, any space where the public can enter throughout the day without being charged and admission fee . . . and is suitable for growing food, is worthy of inclusion in a network of public produce.”

Social justice advocates will appreciate the chapter on gleaning as a public produce model, and Nordahl gives many examples of places that have developed strong access networks. Fallen Fruit in Los Angeles, for example, develops freely accessible maps showing where fruit can be publicly gleaned. He also offers an interesting take on gleaning as economic opportunity – foraging for fruit rather than, say, recyclables, and trading in one’s daily harvest for money or other essentials.

Publically accessible fruit trees in Sherman Oaks neighborhood, Los Angeles / Fallen Fruit

Publically accessible fruit trees in Sherman Oaks neighborhood, Los Angeles / Fallen Fruit

Nordahl’s strongest arguments come in chapter five, in which he addresses the perennial maintenance question: “who is going to take care of it?” Indeed, this was one of my first questions – and many others may well wonder how well-received the idea will be of rotting fruit all over public spaces, which are expensive to clean up and unappealing to the aesthetic eye. But Nordahl reminds the reader that “the fantastic aesthetics of our most prized landscape plants makes it easy for us to forget that they produce an abundance of leaf litter, drip with sticky nectar, and drop unpalatable fruit by the bunches.” Planting edibles prioritizes the value of food production, while often offering an aesthetic value as well.

“There is no doubt that food-producing plants can be messy and need some upkeep,” Nordahl admits. “But the pervasive assumption that edibles require considerably more management than ornamental plants, or are not as pretty, is bogus. . . [that said], sound design principles are not thrown out the window simply because the plant palette uses fruit-bearing trees instead of sterile cultivars. As in any landscape design, the architect needs to take into account how many people will use or pass by the space; what types of activities will take place in the space; the microclimate, solar access, and water availability of the space; and a host of other variables.”

Again, Nordahl gives several examples where communities developed multi-beneficial models for maintenance, harvesting, and clean-up of edible plants. Communities who balance an appropriate “carrying capacity,” where the availability of edibles does not exceed the demand for them, help ensure that fruit is harvested and eaten, rather than left to drop and rot on the ground.

Landscape architects and designers will appreciate the examples where aesthetic and place-making qualities were woven into designs for food production. The Curtis “50-Cent” Jackson Community Garden in Queens, NY, designed by Walter Hood, ASLA, for example, integrates huge, eye-catching rainwater-collection sculptures amid the edibles planted in French-style parterres. And designers for Disneyland’s “Tomorrowland” area planted edible fruit trees, herbs, and leafy greens in lieu of solely ornamental plantings, perhaps to suggest what urban design of the future will look like.

Sculptural rainwater collection towers amidst planting beds at the Curtis "50-Cent" Jackson Community Gardens in Queens, NY / New York Restoration Project

Sculptural rainwater collection towers amidst planting beds at the Curtis “50-Cent” Jackson Community Gardens in Queens, NY / New York Restoration Project

Citrus trees in "Tomorrowland," Disneyland / FlashBulb

Citrus trees in “Tomorrowland,” Disneyland / FlashBulb

But this book is not a design manual or a how-to guide for would-be urban farmers. A good number of photos intersperse with the text, but readers will not find design schematics, planting calendars, or detailed plant lists for every climate. Examples are woven into the narrative, not broken out as researched case studies. Nordahl lays out an alluring vision, however, and his arguments are persuasive. Peas at City Hall, persimmons along public avenues, and pawpaws in city parks? Maybe not such a crazy idea after all.

Read the book.

Yoshi Silverstein, Associate ASLA, is founder and lead designer-educator at Mitsui Design, focusing on landscape experience and connection to place. He was the ASLA summer 2014 communications intern.

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portland

Pioneer Courthouse Square / Kenneth Helphand, FASLA

Portland, Oregon, is more than a trendy place to visit—it has long been ahead of the curve on urban design and sustainability, thanks to smart leadership and a willingness to experiment and innovate. The Landscape Architect’s Guide to Portland, a project by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), explains Portland’s cutting-edge approach to sustainable urban design.

The guide provides both Portlanders and the millions of tourists who visit Portland annually a deeper understanding of why Portland is one of the most livable and sustainable cities in the world. The guide is also meant to educate city leaders, urban planners, and designers across the U.S. and around the globe.

According to Mark A. Focht, FASLA, president of ASLA and first deputy commissioner of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, Portland’s landscape architects have played a crucial role in making the city a better place to live. Their contributions trace back to the early 20th century, when the Olmsted Brothers laid out many of the critical urban plans and park system, and continue with today’s generation of landscape architects, who are creating waterfront parks, beloved urban plazas, and cutting-edge bicycle infrastructure.

“Portland’s designed landscapes are integral to its urban fabric,” says Focht. “Landscape architects have long played a major role in designing the city’s public realm, and the key spaces between buildings that serve as the connective tissue for communities. These spaces include parks, plazas, streets, and transportation infrastructure.”

Topical tours offer both printable bike maps and Google maps. The guide also includes tours by district. People will be able to view the guide on their smartphones, tablets or desktop computers.

The website was created by ASLA in partnership with its Oregon Chapter and 11 local landscape architects, who are designers of our public realm and leaders in sustainable design.

The guides are:

Brian Bainnson, ASLA, Quatrefoil Inc.
Bennett Burns, ASLA, independent landscape architect
Mike Faha, ASLA, GreenWorks, PC
Kenneth Helphand, FASLA, University of Oregon
Rachel Hill, ASLA, AECOM
Lloyd Lindley, FASLA, independent landscape architect
Carol Mayer-Reed, FASLA, Mayer/Reed Inc.
Jeff Schnabel, ASLA, Portland State University
Jean Senechal Biggs, ASLA, Portland Bureau of Transportation
Rebecca Wahlstrom, ASLA, Olson Engineering Inc.
Robin Wilcox, ASLA, Alta Planning + Design

The guide is organized by the facets of the sustainable city, with sections on:

  • The Built Environment – how building and landscape work together to enhance sustainability.
  • Food – how the city’s local food system works, from urban farms to “food cart pods.”
  • Energy – how Portland has among the highest renewable energy use in the U.S.
  • “Grand Parks” – how the original Olmstedian park system is still key to livability.
  • Health – how parks are designed for users with all kinds of disabilities, even Alzheimer’s.
  • “People Spaces” – how the city creates a sense of civic pride through its plazas.
  • Social Equity – how the city helps the homeless and addresses the impacts of gentrification.
  • Transportation – how Portland created one of the best-integrated, most people-friendly transportation systems.
  • Waste – how the city achieved one of the highest recycling rates in the country.
  • Water – how it led the country on green infrastructure.
  • Wildlife – how its park system also serves other species.

This is the third in a series of guides focused on sustainable American cities. The first, The Landscape Architect’s Guide to Washington, D.C., was launched in 2012, and The Landscape Architect’s Guide to Boston, was launched in 2013. They have been viewed more than 150,000 times to date.

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la

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

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

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

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

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

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

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