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Next Generation Infrastructure / Island Press

Between crumbling bridges, rising sea levels, growing garbage piles, and the ravages of drought and storms, we’ve grown used to bad news when it comes to infrastructure in the United States. Old systems are failing, new challenges arising, and solutions are elusive or perplexing. Into this maelstrom enters Hillary Brown, architect, infrastructure consultant and professor at the Spitzer School of Architecture. Her new book Next Generation Infrastructure: Principles for Post-Industrial Public Works, is an inspiring argument for infrastructure that behaves like nature.

Armed with simple prescriptions, Brown argues that the next generation of infrastructure cannot resemble the hard, single-function and carbon-intensive structures of yore. Rather, we need “more diversified, distributed, and interconnected infrastructural assets that simulate the behavior of natural systems.” She walks us through the principles of a new ecological infrastructure piece by piece, with abundant case studies that show that ingenious, multi-purpose, carbon-neutral, resilient systems are not a pipe dream. She pays careful attention to how they were implemented, reinforcing the argument that these case studies are models that can be applied beyond their exceptional contexts.

On a world tour of next generation infrastructure, Brown stops to describe ingenious feats of co-location, “decarbonizing” infrastructure (that is, infrastructure which emits low or no carbon), and soft-path water systems. Highlights include a Malaysian automobile tunnel that retains stormwater, a French waste recovery center that powers public buses, and a Northern California wastewater treatment wetland that also provides walking trails and wildlife habitat.

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Aerial view, Arcata Wastewater Treatment Plant and Wildlife Sanctuary, Arcata, California / Terrence McNally

Other chapters emphasize resilient infrastructures in the light of the paradoxical abundance and scarcity of water facing areas around the globe. The clever, even artful, solutions to what seem like insurmountable solutions make for an inspiring read, even if the black and white illustrations and (unfortunately not very clear) flow charts breaking down complex loops and systems are not in the same spirit.

Particularly notable in an era of tight budgets and low expectations is Brown’s attention to the social aspects of infrastructure planning and design. An important part of her problem-solving focuses on combining amenity with utility, and close attention to siting and design. This is not only important to make sure that particular groups do not unfairly bear the brunt of everyone’s waste, water, and energy systems needs. People living near such projects can benefit from the community assets, not to mention new jobs, that new infrastructure can provide.

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View from the “Ecorium,” Naka Waste-to-Energy Plant, Hiroshima, Japan / Kenta Mabuchi

In this regard, but not only in this one, Brown argues that design is key. The design implications of co-location and systems thinking are huge, as are the opportunities for landscape architects, architects, and planners. Integrative thinking, cross-disciplinary design, and spatial imagination are essential for developing the next generation of ecological infrastructure. A leading role for designers is another piece of good news in an area often lacking for it.

Read the book.

This guest post is by Mariana Mogilevich, PhD, assistant professor, metropolitan studies program, New York University.

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The Protective Shallows. Rebuilt by Design proposal by Scape/Landscape Architecture with Parsons Brinckerhoff, Dr. Philip Orton / Stevens Institute of Technology, Ocean & Coastal Consultants, SeArc Ecological Consulting, LOT-EK, MTWTF, The Harbor School and Paul Greenberg.

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.

Designing Outdoor Spaces to Fit Specific Patient PopulationsHealthcare Design Magazine, 4/1/14
“Patients using the garden could include a person awaiting minor surgery; someone recovering from a hip replacement who is urged to walk and seeks smooth pathways with frequent places to stop and rest; a person who has received outpatient chemotherapy and needs to recuperate—in the shade—before driving home; or a sick child being wheeled through a garden as respite from frightening medical procedures.”

Landscape Architects Edwina von Gal, Mikyoung Kim and Kate Orff Share their Favorite ThingsThe Wall Street Journal, 4/3/14
“Three trailblazing landscape designers are unearthing ways to improve the boundaries where man meets nature, using everything from oyster beds to interactive color walls to ensure that new developments harmoniously exist alongside their natural environments.”

10 Design Ideas to Prepare Us for the Next SandyNew York, 4/3/14
“‘If we put back what was there before, that’s a failure from the start,’ says Henk Ovink, a lean, bald, hyperintense water-management expert who organized Rebuild by Design while on loan from the Dutch government. The future will not be dry.”

Rebuild by Design Redesigns Sandy-Battered ShoreArchitectural Record, 4/7/14
“Protective sand islands in long narrow threads would run along the Atlantic seacoast from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to Cape May, New Jersey, in one of the most ambitious proposals unveiled last week by Rebuild by Design. The program is a high-speed, invited competition sponsored by a presidential task force, guided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and supported by the Rockefeller Foundation and others.

Dan Kiley’s LandscapesThe Washington Post, 4/11/14
“From his longtime home studio in Vermont, Dan Kiley could see low-slung mountains, rippling Lake Champlain and trees grouped thickly and randomly. But when the influential landscape architect went to work, he emulated not such natural vistas but the geometric layouts of both baroque and modernist France.”

Vision 42 Design Competition Asks Designers to Re-Imagine 42nd Street without CarsThe Architect’s Newspaper, 4/15/14
“The Institute for Rational Urban Mobility is hosting the just-announced Vision42 Design Competition calling on architects, designers, and transportation gurus to re-imagine one of the most iconic (and congested) streets in New York City—42nd Street.”

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

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Ecovative natural Styrofoam / Greener Package

The Buckminster Fuller Institute is looking for solutions to the world’s toughest problems. They just released the call for entries for their 2014 Fuller Challenge, “socially-responsible design’s highest award.” Landscape architects, architects, planners, artists, entrepreneurs, and students from everywhere are invited to go for the $100,000 prize for most outstanding strategy.

Buckminster Fuller, who died in 1983, was way ahead of his time. While he is famous for his geodesic dome, which took form in Disney’s “Spaceship Earth” Epcot Center and other buildings, as well as his innovative maps, Fuller’s deeper impact may be on our thinking. He was one of the first modern Western thinkers to connect architecture to ecology and the environment.

According to the institute that bears his name, Fuller called for a “design revolution to make the world work for 100 percent of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone.”

This worthy goal is now being pursued through the Fuller challenge, which seeks to identify global change-makers. Winners haven’t just taken on a building or landscape but a whole broken system.

Last year, an amazing group of materials innovators at Ecovative took home the prize for their game-changing Styrofoam made of mycelium and agricultural waste. The year before, the Living Building Challenge won for showing the world how a green building could become a self-sustaining system.

Submit your concept by April 11, 2014.

Another competition is a bit of good news for Ukraine, which faces challenges on so many fronts at the moment. A new ideas competition from the Can-action 2014 festival will award 5,000 EU for the best user-generated public space concept. Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei is one of the judges. Submit ideas by April 17.

 

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Mark Simmons sets fires. He uses prescribed fires as a technique for land management to improve the ecological health of a system. These fires are carefully plotted and designed to self-extinguish. They are employed to control brush, which could feed wildfires, and selectively remove invasive species and restore native ones. Simmons is the director of the ecosystem design group at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas. His team engages in scientific research, sustainable design, and environmental consulting.

American Indians on the plains also set fires. They used controlled burning to both attract and drive game, get rid of ticks, and harvest lizards and insects. Simmons says this practice demonstrates that they had a mutually influential relationship with nature. They melded the landscape and in turn were melded by it.

Americans today are found in different landscapes. We primarily occupy landscapes like suburban strip mall parking lots, which Simmons believes are dysfunctional and polluting. If these landscapes are melding us, then they may be adversely affecting our health and behavior. He believes that providing more green spaces could control epidemics like childhood obesity and ADHD.

In order to combat environmental and social hazards, Simmons wants to bring nature back into the built environment using ecological design. He envisions an “eco-metropolis” in which we keep, fix, and build using “nature’s technologies.” Simmons believes these approaches can inform techniques for land management and restoration, as well as the research and design of greenroofs and walls, rain gardens, sustainable lawns, and ecological roadsides.

Our current situation is about maintaing an “industrial, not ecological, system on life support,” Turf grass covers 40 million acres of land in the U.S., with 20 million acres just residential lawns. This landscape requires 580 million gallons of gasoline and up to 60 percent of urban fresh water to maintain. Desert communities have begun banning lawns out of necessity. Simmons finds gravel lots and other available alternatives lacking in both functionality and aesthetic quality. He is promoting alternatives that are sustainable, useful, and desirable.

Simmons grew up mowing his family’s lawn in England with a push mower. His dad no longer needs to mow because the lawn is now a multi-species landscape that has evolved into a stable ecological system that maintains itself. Inspired by this discovery, Simmons and his team created a biodiverse lawn made up of five native species that only has to be mowed two to three times a year and does not require pesticides or herbicides. There are eight acres planted at the George W. Bush Presidential Library. Simmons calls this “ecology 101 applied to landscape architecture.”

Landscapes like Simmons’s lawn that deploy nature’s technologies can perform critical functions like carbon sequestration, low level ozone absorption, and stormwater management.

Grasslands in fact provide the most efficient means of carbon sequestration. They absorb less carbon dioxide than boreal forests, but because they have evolved with fire and grazing, they store 95 percent of it below ground as insurance. In contrast, trees store carbon dioxide above ground in their trunks, branches, and leaves and release it back into the atmosphere when they die. In grasslands, when the roots die, the carbon melds with the physical and chemical structure of the soil and can be held there for hundreds of thousands of years.

These landscapes are also desirable. Simmons shares several examples of their success and growing popularity. Residents of a suburban tract in Austin, Texas liked the prairie that was planted along the perimeter so much that they requested it be continued through their yards. A homeowner who wanted a meadow constructed on his roof is so pleased with the result that he supports the idea of creating a preserve of the Texas blackland prairie ecosystem on roofs and along roadsides.

Simmons demonstrates that we can use nature differently. He encourages us to preserve nature but also feel liberated and empowered to use it more like we would engineering. “Nature’s technology is free and it’s waiting. All we have to do is bring nature home.”

This guest post is by Shannon Leahy, Master’s of Landscape Architecture graduate, University of Pennsylvania, and former ASLA summer intern.

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Pete V. Domenici U.S. Courthouse Sustainable Landscape Renovation, Albuquerque, New Mexico / Robert Reck

The Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES™) has certified new landscapes at a federal courthouse in New Mexico; an elementary school and campus plaza in Washington, D.C.; and an urban plaza in Washington state. The four projects certified by the nation’s most comprehensive rating system for sustainable landscapes are: Albuquerque’s Pete V. Domenici U.S. Courthouse, which received a two star certification; Brent Elementary School in Washington, D.C., which received one star; Square 80 Plaza at The George Washington University, also in D.C. with one star; and East Bay Public Plaza in Olympia, Washington, with one star.

SITES is a collaboration of the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center of The University of Texas at Austin, and the United States Botanic Garden. The program was created to fill a critical need for a comprehensive set of guidelines and a system for recognizing sustainable landscapes based on their planning, design, construction and intended maintenance. This voluntary national rating system and set of performance benchmarks can be applied to projects of all sizes and on sites with or without buildings.

“It is exciting to see a growing number of projects across the country that have applied an integrative design process to meet rigorous sustainability guidelines, while finding ways to address urgent environmental and social challenges,” said SITES Program Director Danielle Pieranunzi, who is based at the Wildflower Center. “We are thrilled to certify these four new projects that truly exemplify the breadth of approaches to sustainable site design and development.”

The newly certified projects applied the 2009 SITES Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks and met the requirements for pilot certification. There are now 30 landscape projects at universities, businesses and public spaces that have achieved this recognition. The SITES rating system was created by dozens of the country’s leading sustainability experts, scientists and design professionals.

The four newly certified projects each incorporate sustainable features that were evaluated using a rating system with certification levels of one to four stars. These landscape projects include the following sustainable features:

Pete V. Domenici United States Courthouse Sustainable Landscape Renovation, Two Stars, Rios Clementi Hale Studios, Albuquerque, N.M. (see image above). This federal courthouse is the first project constructed by the General Services Administration to achieve SITES certification. Originally constructed in 1998, the underused hardscape plazas, overwatered lawns and faulty water feature of the existing courthouse exemplified resource inefficiency, disconnection from its environment, and distance from the public. The landscape renovation reconceives the site as a cohesive park-like landscape rooted within the rich cultural, climatic and hydrological fabric of the Rio Grande Basin. Innovative strategies include the selective removal and re-use of excess concrete paving to create seat wall terraces that direct site stormwater into a series of native habitat rain gardens. The project creates a bold landscape and dignified setting for court operations while enhancing the efficiency and sustainable operations through improved water management, decreased energy use and increased urban habitat.

Brent Elementary Schoolyard Greening, One Star, Sustainable Life Designs, Washington, D.C. Located five blocks from the nation’s Capitol, this greyfield site with asphalt-dominated grounds was transformed into a sustainable landscape that educates students, parents, and neighborhood residents about green infrastructure. Improvements include the removal of 1,600 square feet of asphalt and the installation of pollinator gardens, stormwater management features, new play equipment, and 7,000 square feet of outdoor classrooms to enhance outdoor play and learning that were achieved through numerous volunteer hours. The stormwater management features include a rain garden, rain barrel, and bio-retention swale. A formerly trash-strewn space behind the school building is now an “urban canyon” that helps manage stormwater and provides native habitat.

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Brent Elementary Schoolyard Greening / Michael Lucy

Square 80 Plaza at The George Washington University, One Star, Studio 39 Landscape Architecture, Washington, D.C. The Square 80 Plaza project converted an existing parking lot into a park that creates pedestrian connections and open space at an urban university campus. The project retains 100 percent of its stormwater runoff on site through the use of biofiltration planters, permeable paving, hardscape diversion through use of small channels, and the collection of site water into a system of inter-connected cisterns. All plants used on the site are native and adapted species, and all water used for irrigation and the sculptural water feature is fed by the rainwater collected in the cistern, which uses no potable water.

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Square 80 at George Washington University / Studio 39

East Bay Public Plaza, One Star, Robert W. Droll Landscape Architect, Olympia, Washington. East Bay Public Plaza is a vibrant public urban space located in the Puget Sound region that showcases the benefits of reclaimed water and the efforts of the LOTT Alliance, an Olympia-based wastewater treatment company. The former brownfield includes new educational elements such as discovery markers, interactive stream features, a series of interpretive panels, and a ground plane timeline that playfully charts the past, present and future of reclaimed water to inspire and inform visitors.

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East Bay Public Plaza / Kelly Carson

Based on the experiences of many of the pilot projects, a refined set of guidelines and rating system, SITES v2, will incorporate additional recommendations from technical experts. This updated version of the 2009 SITES rating system will be published and available for distribution and use by the general public in 2014.

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In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, “the U.S. needs to work on its long-term resiliency planning,” said Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan, at The Atlantic’s Energy + Infrastructure forum in Washington, D.C. To give that effort a major boost, HUD launched the Hurricane Sandy Recovery Task Force, as well as the Rebuild by Design international design competition to find the “best architects, landscape architects, engineers” to create real-world models of climate-resilient design in Sandy-affected areas. HUD has some $2 billion to spend on the winning designs.

Rebuild by Design attracted 110 teams from 40 countries. After the initial set was reviewed, 10 teams were selected, offering nearly 45 projects. From there, 10 projects have been selected across the region impacted by Sandy to move to the final stage of the competition. The ten finalists can be explored in depth.

The teams who came up with the designs are all deeply multi-disciplinary. Each involves a major landscape architecture firm. Firms involved include Balmori Associates, Hargreaves Associates, H+N+S Landscape Architects, OLIN, SCAPE, Sasaki, Starr Whitehouse, and West 8.

HUD has made a point of creating a highly participatory review process. All the finalists had numerous sessions with community leaders, non-profits, and public to create their projects and then revise the final 10.

According to the Rebuild by Design web site, the next stage of the design competition will be “guided by the Municipal Art Society, Regional Plan Association and the Van Alen Institute. The teams will transform their chosen design opportunities to implementable and fundable design solutions. The partners will assist each team in setting up local coalitions that may comprised of government agencies, state and local officials, community stakeholders and experts where applicable. Those coalitions will work to engage the public as the teams refine their design solutions.”

Once workable projects are selected, HUD will finance the design and build out of a few projects, with additional financing from the private sector.

For Donovan, the results of the competition will help shape a new approach to resiliency planning and design in the era of climate change. [In addition to managing affordable housing, HUD handles long-term disaster recovery, while FEMA handles short-term emergency response.]

He said “this is real. We need to find out what we can do to protect our communities.”

He believes climate change can become a bipartisan issue, arguing that New Jersey governor Chris Christie is seriously looking at “how to build resiliency into our grids. There’s an enormous amount of cooperation and interest.”

Beyond Sandy, Donovan said much more work was needed to “update our national disaster recovery framework” and better coordinate national and local efforts. “Local government actually leads recovery.”

To further improve resiliency, Donovan called for looking to the Netherlands as well. He said “they have spent a lot of time on how to protect their communities.” Whether building a park or a sidewalk, resiliency there is embedded in every design.

Explore the 10 finalists and submit your comments.

Image credit:

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balsley
Thomas Balsley, FASLA, is the founder and principal of Thomas Balsley Associates, a firm he has run for 35 years. Balsley has taught and lectured at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, the University of Pennsylvania, the National Building Museum, and Seoul National University.

This interview was conducted at the ASLA 2013 Annual Meeting in Boston.

Last year, during Hurricane Sandy, Hunter’s Point South, your new park in Long Island City, Queens, was submerged under four feet of water as it was being constructed. Amazingly, the park survived this first test and drained as it was designed to. How did you and your design partners prepare for this? How is this a new model for dealing with climate change and improving resiliency?

The park has a purpose beyond resiliency, but we believe it’s a new model for 21st century urban parks in all respects. Sustainability underpinned the design approach right across the board, from the environmental and ecological to the social, economic, and cultural. Hunter’s Point South Park is a design collaboration between Thomas Balsley Associates and Weiss/Manfredi.

Part of our job when we work anywhere near the shores is to anticipate the effects of global warming, the storm surges. We had co-designed Gantry Plaza State Park and the whole Queens Park master plan prior to this park, so we had a chance to study that site and understand the East River. Gantry Plaza State Park was not affected to the extent others areas were hit by Sandy, but waters had breached the top of the bulkhead walls and the piers, so flooding was already on our minds.

At Hunter’s Point South, as we did at Gantry Plaza State Park, we started with the idea that these were at one time industrial sites; there was rail use in this case. Our approach was committed to conveying a message, a subliminal message of toughness and ruggedness, not preciousness. I don’t know what parallel to draw, but some projects we all love and admire are really precious to the point where they have a fragility to them. We purposely wanted this park from the very beginning to be muscular, to reflect its blue-collar, industrial history, and that of its upland community.

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With these rugged materials and detailing, we were way ahead of the game in terms of resilience. Because the river is actually a tidal body with strong currents of saltwater, we avoided catchment areas that might catch surges and hold them. Long-term exposure to the saltwater can be pretty harmful, so the park had to drain itself, with water eventually finding its way back out over to the river as the waters receded.

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Obviously, the employment of native plant material was important, too. We had a very tight budget, so there was no chance of using automatic irrigation, even with recycled water. It just wasn’t going to happen, so we focused on low-water use native plants that have proven themselves along the shorelines of local saline rivers. The park’s plant palette was purposely selected to be resilient, low maintenance, and provide visual integrity.

Hunter’s Point South is really just one of a hundred parks and plazas in New York City you have designed over your decades-long career. The one that really leapt out at me, among many, was Gantry Plaza State Park. Why was that so successful?

I referred to this park earlier when we were talking about Hunter’s Point South because that’s the next park component along the east shore of the Queens side, the Long Island City side, but it was done 20 years earlier. Gantry Plaza State Park was important to us as individual designers, but it was also, in our minds, really important for the future waterfront development of New York.

It’s hard for people to imagine now, but 30 years ago, NYC was probably one of the most conservative places to practice the art of landscape architecture in the country. During that same period you couldn’t have found a notable building being built in New York City either. The city had horrible fiscal and safety troubles, which made it very conservative and fearful. There just wasn’t courage or the will on the private or the public side to go out and take chances. There wasn’t a contemporary landscape precedent to be able to point to that would have said, “See? We can do this.”

Well, something happened 30 years ago, not with public money, but over at Battery Park City. It was a new model of urban planning. The developers were ingenious in securing public approvals. Battery Park introduced the notion that you can build parks first and then develop the parcels. To get this approach approved, the designers strategically harked back to New York at the turn of the century. The character of a park promised New Yorkers wouldn’t be controversial. Everyone said, “Oh, that’s great. We like that period.” It was that kind of climate. [30 years ago there was some of us saying, “I promise. I’ll make it look just like Central Park if you just let me out of this room because it’s one o’clock in the morning.”] So the Battery Park City Authority had private money behind it in the form of bonds. They had a very good tactic for getting a design approved. When it was built, Battery Park was pointed to as the great urban waterfront success and the “latest and the greatest” of waterfront park design.

But there is also a problem that comes with those successes: the next client asks you to do one just like it. When our team of Thomas Balsley Associates and Weintraub di Domenico was commissioned to design the Queens West Parks, the approved park plan was promising another Battery Park City across the river in Long Island City.

After its approval, a new client was brought in who decided, maybe from past experience from working with us, that they wanted something different. She said, “we’re going to do something innovative. We’re going to show New York how to take the next step.” So we had a client that encouraged us to do just that and we rushed through that door of opportunity. As The New York Times architecture critic wrote of the park at the time, “the curse has been broken.”

At Gantry Plaza State Park, we were doing things there that were unheard of in New York. Number one: don’t fill, use and celebrate the diverse shoreline. Number two: don’t erase history, celebrate history and culture. Number three: make it a blue collar place, not a corporate downtown place. Make it look like it doesn’t have money, like it’s a real park for real people.

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Gantry Plaza State Park demonstrated that we can celebrate history, heritage, culture, and, at the same time, express the future with contemporary design. That’s why that park is so special to us. It became the new paradigm for 21st century waterfront parks, the park everyone pointed to in New York and said, “Let’s make all the rest of our waterfronts like this.” I can take you around the shoreline now and you will see that Gantry Plaza State Park ideas have found their way in other places. And it really launched a whole new era in landscape architecture in New York.

Many of those hundred urban parks and plazas you’ve designed are small privately-owned public spaces (POPS). You have often said these places are unloved. Why?

POPS used to be called bonus plazas. Plazas have been stigmatized as the receptors of all of society’s misfits and ills, so it’s no surprise that our profession hasn’t embraced them. NYC POPS were considered “dirty”, because you were doing work for developers, not the public sector. Until recently, NYC landscape architects treated them like they are lepers. They didn’t want anything to do with them. As a result, some 95 percent of POPS in New York City are designed by architects. Taken together, there are 84 acres of POPS in Manhattan alone.

These are a great untapped opportunity for landscape architects to touch millions of lives, yet, for the most part, these chance have been squandered by the local professionals. I’m proud to have done more than anyone and get a great deal of satisfaction as I pass by and do my Holly Whyte analysis.

Heritage Field at Yankee Stadium is another fantastic community asset you’ve designed. The park takes the history and makes something contemporary, but on top of that, the park is so many different things at once. It’s a place for locals to play ball, a park, a playground, a conduit from the subway station, the stadium. So how did you get all those things to fit within one design?

That’s the classic 10-client pound program for the 5-pound bag, isn’t it? Of course, we had to find a way. The politics behind that project were extraordinary. Most people don’t realize that Yankee Stadium was in a New York City park. And the Yankees are basically saying, “we’re going to take part of the park next door to build a new stadium.” You could tell that’s got a little bit of a problem flying, especially with locals. The team of Thomas Balsley Associates and Stantec had to come up with a strategy that downplayed the existing stadium and history and transformed it into a community park with a landscape narrative.

Our goal was to get all these programs into the space, but at the same time make it look like it was ball fields that had been carved out of parkland. We wanted the edges to be lush native grasses and the plantings and to manage and filter stormwater. That’s unlike most active recreation areas you’ll find, especially in a tight, urban setting in which you’ll normally see a fence, and maybe a hedge. We kept insisting that within the park there was enough space for those in the Bronx to feel like that this was the parkland they had once been promised. It’s a very big part of the character and the feeling you get as you walk through the spaces or to the new stadium.

One of your older projects that I was very interested in was your work on the Columbia University campus. Can you tell me about what you achieved with that planning project, which involved trying to get the newer parts of the campus to look more like the historic center? What has happened since then? How has it evolved there?

Getting the newer parts to be part of the original was certainly one of the goals, but the bigger challenge was that the McKim, Mead, and White-designed campus never had a landscape master plan. It had an architectural master plan, but it never had a landscape master plan. In our historical research we even found some records of when the president of Columbia University was reluctant to buy into the McKim, Mead, and White urban campus vision, because it wasn’t a leafy Princeton-like campus. Your client may say, “Yes, that’s what we want, an urban campus.” But, once they saw renderings of just buildings and barren landscape, then they started to get a little worried.

They asked to bring in Olmsted to comment. He never did any work on the campus but he cited an example of going in the forest and encountering a pine stand, just pure pine and pine needle, and maybe the wind whistling. I’ll never forget this observation because it inspired another piece of work I did called the Pine Forest at 101. And it’s almost a religious experience to be in that place. It’s almost Zen-like. It’s not asking you to look around for visual stimulation. So he had a little bit of an influence, in getting that campus master plan approved.

But it became very clear over the years that it had a certain sterility to it, at least to the mainstream. Campuses suffer because they get $100 million donations to build a new building but not new landscapes. They needed a campus landscape master plan, a vision for a landscape donor.

The goal of the project was to adapt the historic campus landscape, movement systems, social systems, to 21st-century culture of campus life. Then we wrote a very strict set of design guidelines. Your building, your $100 million donation, will have to follow these. We’re also going to take a little bit of money for the overall campus landscape. As the university expands or improves on the Morningside campus, they’ll have uniformity and integrity.

Going overseas where you’ve also done a lot of work, I was struck by your projects in Japan. Two really exciting ones for me were the World Trade Center in Osaka and the Kasumigaseki Plaza in Tokyo. These plazas boldly emphasize color and form, but you also describe these places as responding to the tall buildings and kind of countering them. Can you talk about how you humanized those spaces around these huge buildings?

We’re all faced with that when we’re working in an urban setting, especially with high-rise projects. Humanizing space is part of what we all do. We’re very much social-space designers, not just space designers. These parks are in an urban setting and require a delicate balance between their urbanity, their urban context, and the individual.

There must be a hierarchy of space that helps strike this balance. There has to be a large space to reflect that urban scale and yet be flexible enough to accommodate different uses that we haven’t yet anticipated, concerts, festivals, etc., yet be accessible for daily enjoyment.

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Movement systems and program frame the larger space, creating a network of other spaces that vary in scale and character — from me and my co-workers having a conference, to just you sitting in a corner reading your book. All these smaller spaces must have good sight lines to the street, which is a lesson from New York. These are but a few approaches we’ve applied throughout the U.S., and now abroad in our urban place-making.

Image credits: (1) Thomas Balsley / Thomas Balsley Associates, (2-3) Hunter’s Point South / © Albert Večerka/Esto, (4) Gantry Plaza State Park / Betsy Pinover Schiff, (5) World Trade Center, Osaka / Thomas Balsley Associates  

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worldman
Buckminster Fuller was way ahead of his time. While he is famous for his geodesic dome, which took form in Disney’s “Spaceship Earth” Epcot Center and other buildings, as well as his innovative maps, Fuller’s deeper impact may be on our thinking. He was one of the first modern Western thinkers to connect architecture to ecology and the environment. In a fascinating new book edited by Daniel Lopez-Perez called R. Buckminster Fuller: World Man, Alejandro Zaerao-Polo writes that he was one of the first to describe “the modern world as an ecosystem to be reconciled with nature.” Back in the mid-60s, way before the sustainable design movement took root, he was talking about “energy, fossil fuels, food, and pollution.” He was one of the first systems-thinkers, serving as one of the intellectual godfathers of today’s integrated approach to sustainable design.

His geodesic dome, which was featured at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), brought him fame, but he was perhaps more interested in using these large-scale illustrations to promote the “concepts or operative principles” behind these works, writes Lopez-Perez. In the late 1920s, Fuller wrote, “I made a bargain with myself that I’d discover the principles operative in the universe and turn them over to my fellow man.” Arguably, Lopez-Perez says, Fuller’s conception of these operating principles became more widely known than his inventions.

When invited to give a major lecture at Princeton University by Princeton School of Architecture dean Robert Geddes in the nascent field of environmental design in 1966, Fuller outlined his unique approach, which cut across disciplines. As Geddes describes, Fuller was “hard to classify … either [an] engineer or architect or inventor or geographer or mathematician or all of these.” Early on, Fuller was promoting the spaces in between disciplines, saying they were the places where true innovation happens.

fuller
For a “globe map,” a project with Princeton architectural students created in conjunction with his lecture, he demonstrated some of his discipline-breaking ideas about the universe and architecture. The model was described in the Princeton Alumni Weekly as a nothing less than “the characteristic structural principle of the universe.” It’s no accident that the “sphere is 400 feet in diameter. Mr. Fuller believes that the discontinuous compression principle is the characteristic structural principle of the universe. And with a 40-foot diameter, his sphere becomes a sort of scale model of the world, at 1:1,000,000.” He was using the globe map as a sort of experiment. While the globe map was useful for cartographers — it apparently was more accurate in its depiction of the planet than the conventional map at the time — it was meant for architects and other designers. His goal was to “provide a better comprehension of world geography to help architects plan their work in a larger perspective.”

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In his lecture, which is republished in full in World Man, we get insights into his thinking. He speaks in non-disciplinary terms, as he says designers must also act like entrepreneurs and inventors. He elevated the role of the inventor, saying, “If his invention works, it is a facility for man. It will very probably decrease the frustrations of man’s realization of his highest potential.”

He believes we must design — and create inventions — with a clear understanding of the systems in which we work. “The earth can be a system, because clearly there is that which is interior and that which is exterior to it. Some part of the universe has to be invested in the system to differentiate what is in or outside at a given moment. That is what I mean by a system.”

By more fully understanding the Earth system, humans can participate more “consciously” in its “evolutionary transformation and success.” Just as his globe map enabled visitors to both view it as an object — and then also stand within it and look out of it — people can place locate themselves in the broader system. If they do that, “I think all of humanity is about to be born into a new kind of relationship to the universe.” Fuller was articulating a concept we all now know: local actions have global effects.

He goes on to make the case for sustainability within the Earth system, calling for increased use of wind power, arguing that “the burning up of fossil fuels” is an error. He also foresaw the need for a way to capture and store wind power, which is what many wind power manufacturers are working on right now. He called for capturing power from tides. He saw the need for more energy-efficient fuels.

He put a lot of faith in the young — future generations — to do better than the ones before, finally arguing that “the best I can prophesy to myself is the young world is about to take the initiative as inventor-scientist, and in the employing of principles which are operative in universities immediately make available to them and will succeed in converting the resources available to us to such high order of effectiveness as to care of 100 percent of humanity.”

Read the book and explore the work of the Buckminster Fuller Institute, which promotes his ideas through their annual design competition.

Image credits: Princeton Architectural Press

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philippines
In the aftermath of the major hurricane that just hit the Philippines, a panel at the 2013 Greenbuild conference in Philadelphia focused on a theme of major importance for all sustainable design professions: resilience. A panel comprised of Mayor Bob Dixson, Greensburg, Kansas; Maj. Gen. Warren Edwards, USA (Ret.), Community and Regional Resilience Institute; and Jon Powers, White House Council on Environmental Quality, explored how to get more communities to prepare for disaster and recover more quickly.

“We were all homeless after a matter of minutes,” said Mayor Dixson, remembering the supercell tornado that demolished his town, Greensburg, Kansas, in 2007. In these instances, “the most true and resilient thing we have in life is our relationships with each other.” He prompted the crowd to think about their city or town. No matter how small, “you are never in the middle of nowhere; you are in the middle of everywhere.” Harnessing the power of a strong community is then an integral part of rebuilding a city wrecked with disaster.

At another session at the 2013 Greenbuild, Alex Wilson, Resilient Design Institute, highlighted a hands-on approach to resiliency. Wilson explained that in places recently affected by Hurricane Sandy, homeowners and business owners are implementing resiliency upgrades—on their own dime—to keep themselves, their tenants, and their businesses safe.

On this effort, Dixson argued that we shouldn’t wait for a disaster to deal with these safety issues. “Be an owner,” he said, “not a renter.”

Edwards expanded the issues to the scale of a major city like San Francisco and Philadelphia, asking, “How do we induce our urban communities to take on that hard work of becoming prepared before the disaster happens?”

Edwards answered his own question, explaining how policy makers need to understand that resiliency not only increases security and safety, but is also good business. Putting dollar signs and hard facts behind the benefits of resilience is the only way to make sure these policy makers become “owners” of their towns.

Communities can only get so prepared on their own though. Designers also need to take the lead and become owners, too. Earlier this month, The Dirt posted Three Perspectives on Designing Resilient Cities, showing three takes on urban resilience that show how “urban design can act as an agent of change.”

Design must be accessible though. When asked about resilience versus sustainability, and whether the two go hand-in-hand, Warren said that once “you get down on the ground and you talk to the communities, they’re not interested in definitions.” They care about the big picture—“What will this mean for my town?”—and they want to receive tools that can help. The issue in many communities is access to information.

President Obama has asked governors, mayors, and tribal leaders to look at all of their resiliency resources to create a national toolkit to help advance resilience, according to Powers. This toolkit would be available to all communities. The goal will be to help communities invest in resilience and save lives.

While at Greenbuild, Mayor Dixson received the Mayor Richard Daley legacy award for global leadership in creating sustainable cities.

Watch the full video of this panel discussion:

This guest post is by Phil Stamper, ASLA PR and Communications Coordinator.

Image credit: Philippines / Erik De Castro/REUTERS

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Mazria
Seven years ago, architect Ed Mazria started Architecture 2030, which issued the bold 2030 Challenge, asking the global architecture and building community to become carbon neutral by 2030.

“By 2030,” Mazria explained at the 2013 Greenbuild in Philadelphia, “the world will build (and tear down and rebuild) about 900 billion square feet of buildings in cities worldwide.” For perspective, that’s about 3.5 times the amount of area currently taken up by buildings in the U.S.

If all of those buildings are re-built with better standards and benchmarks — if we “design out” carbon emissions — Mazria said green builders can essentially reverse the effects of climate change. To do that, it’s generally believed that we must peak by 2020. Carbon pollution cannot keep increasing past that point, or else catastrophic impacts will soon come.

Why Is “Getting to Carbon Neutral” So Important?

According to leading scientists, our atmosphere can only safely hold 350 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide. At the moment, the world is well over that amount. Burning fossil fuels has become an imminent problem, and if steps aren’t taken soon—in developed and developing countries—we will find ourselves on the path to a severe climate emergency that cannot be reversed.

The other issue is obvious at this point: the world is running out of conventional oil and gas. If the world stays on its current path, the oil and gas reserves will be drained in a matter of decades.

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Though the world’s emissions still climb, the United States can boast its lowest emissions since 1994. This is achieved thanks to many, new cleaner technologies. This brings developing countries to light. Countries that will see the biggest growth in the next 50 years such as India or China must put similar goals into place.

How Do Green Builders Get to Carbon Neutral?

“We need a shared vision to mitigate climate risk,” Mazria said. He called for all of the green building professions to stand together to eliminate greenhouse gases (GHG)s and other pollutants and greatly reduce fossil fuel energy consumption.

Landscape architects, planners, architects, and other related professions can get to carbon neutral quite easily if they introduce low-carbon processes from the beginning.

As much as 70-80 percent of emissions can be designed out of a space, and the rest can be counteracted with renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind and hydropower. To help these professions “design out” the emissions, Architecture 2030 presented their new web tool during the presentation: the 2030 Palette.

The 2030 Palette    

“The energy consumption patterns of the built environment are set during the early stages of the design project,” the video explains. “So, architects, planners and designers need the best information to guide their decisions at this stage, and that’s where the 2030 Palette comes in.”

Once you sign up for an account, you are taken to your homepage. Design strategies, called “swatches”, are immediately listed near the top of the page, arranged by contexts or locations. For example, Heat Island Mitigationis listed in the “city/town” area.

Another example, Solar Shading, gives explicit instructions on how far to extend overhangs to produce the best results at different latitudes. If your building falls between 44°L to 56°L, the overhang designed should extend to exactly one half the height of the opening.

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Swatches that might be of use to landscape architects include Parks, Urban Bikeways, New Growth Areas, Shared Streets, and many more.

More information and palettes are being added monthly. As the program takes flight, Mazria hopes this will become a one-stop-shop for all of the related design professions to join together to eliminate emissions and bring the built environment to carbon neutral by 2030.

This guest post is by Phil Stamper, ASLA PR and Communications Coordinator.

Image credit: (1) Ed Mazria / Recyecology, (2) Climate Change Statistics / Architecture 2030, (3) Solar Shading at Edward Gonzales Elementary School / 2030 Palette

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