Archive for the ‘Sustainable Materials’ Category

Italian designer Marco Stefanelli is breathing new life into old pieces of wood and stone for his Brecce collection of sustainable indoor and outdoor lighting. Cast-off sawmill byproducts, left-over firewood, or broken concrete building parts are embedded with resin and long-lasting LEDs so they glow from within.

On his blog, Stefanelli writes about the idea of material reuse, or hand-made cradle to cradle manufacturing: “The idea that generates my new work is transforming a generally one-shot productive process (just think of wood and stone) into a serial one.”

Stefanelli emphasizes that he’s looking for materials seemingly on their last legs, turning what everyone views as waste products into something useful and beautiful: “In order to realize Brecce’s project I wanted to take inspiration from natural objects that in some ways have reached their final step in the life cycle. They are sawmill’s outlets, pieces of urban architecture, logs carried by the river, firewood…”

For his pieces, the “formwork” is made of wood or stone but divided into multiple segments. Resin is the middle layer that keeps the work together.

Stefanelli wrote: “I’ve tried to give these pieces a second chance, tempting the light to come out from the material and amplify the sensory experience.”

See more images at This is Colossal.

Image credits: Marco Stefanelli

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With the success of the High Line park in New York City, it seems almost every city now wants one. Toronto has long been batting around ideas for its Gardiner expressway, while Los Angeles is trying to dream up the money for new parks to cap old freeways. Philadelphia is moving forward with reusing parts of its old rail infrastructure at the Reading Viaduct, while Chicago has already created plans for its own High Line: the Bloomingdale Trail. Now, London wants to get in on the game, with the launch of a new international design competition to create some ideas for a British High Line.

Sponsored by the The Landscape Institute, Garden Museum, and the Mayor of London, A High Line for London: Green Infrastructure ideas competition for a new London landscape is clearly inspired by NYC’s recent success story, which they argue “transcended the commonly-accepted role of urban parks to become one of the world’s most popular landmark.”

Still, they say they don’t want to copy the High Line exactly: “The judges are looking for proposals which similarly engage communities with green infrastructure. Green infrastructure is the network of open and green spaces, including features like green roofs, designed and managed to provide benefits such as flood management, urban cooling, green transport links and ecological connectivity – an approach which can have a huge and exciting impact on the way in which we live in the capital.”

Judges include High Line founders Joshua David and Robert Hammond; landscape architects Kim Wilkie and Johanna Gibbons; Matthew Pencharz, Environment Advisor to the Mayor of London; and Dr Penelope Curtis, Director of Tate Britain.

The winning team will get £2,500 and the runner-up £500 as prize money. The finalists will also be displayed in the Garden Museum.

Submit your ideas by September 14, 2012.

Also, read more about the “real” High Line effect in a recent op-ed in The Huffington Post by The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) president, Charles Birnbaum, FASLA. Birnbaum says that instead of trying to copy the High Line in an effort to spur economic development and boost tourism, cities should understand that a unique set of circumstances led to the High Line in Chelsea. “In fact, the ‘High Line effect’ should be viewed more broadly as a holistic approach to urban design that suggests how to transform existing urban landscapes to meet contemporary needs. The High Line was almost magically reawakened by a team of landscape architects, architects, horticulturalists, engineers and others, led by James Corner Field Operations. What really happened there is, first and foremost, a triumph of historic preservation and design.”

Image credit: High Line. 2010 ASLA Professional General Design Award / copyright Iwan Baan.

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Singapore is heavily dependent on Malaysia for its water supply but is now creating new sustainable parks designed to reduce its reliance, said Herbert Dreiseitl, International ASLA, Atelier Dreiseitl, at the Greater & Greener: Reimagining Parks for 21st Century Cities, a conference in New York City. As an example, his amazing new 62-acre Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park recreates nature, transforming a 2.7-kilometer concrete-channel lined river into a 3-kilometer natural meandering system. At the same time, the new system slows down and stores some of the rainfall that hits the city-state. The park is a model for how cities can transform outmoded, broken systems into natural systems.

Singapore has to import so much water because all its hard surfaces funnel water straight into the ocean. In the tropical heat, much is also lost to evaporation. “They can’t keep their water they have.” To address these problems, the city-state has created a new strategic master plan to reduce reliance on Malaysia and capture more of its own water for reuse. The new plan, which includes water guidelines Dreiseitl created for the Singaporean government, focuses on “collecting, slowing down, and storing rainwater.”

A central catchement — the Kallang River — is part of the larger system providing drinking water to the city-state. In the past, the river was actually set within a concrete channel in many key places so in heavy monsoons it would flood and then evaporate.

Dreiseitl convinced the government to let the river escape its concrete channel and meander through the park, turning an “old-fashioned park and canal” into green infrastructure system that teaches the community about how nature actually works. The new system is actually a lot safer — the previous concrete channel actually killed many residents who were playing soccer down there when flash flooding struck.

In Dreiseitl’s cutting-edge approach, the “blue and green are integrated.” To achieve this, he has to convince the city departments that handled water and parks to abandon their siloed approaches and better communicate with each other. “Now, territories, finances, and maintenance overlap.”

To make this seismic change happen, Dreiseitl said he had to get the Singaporean government to trust his new approach, so he actually used his own design fee to create a test site. Exploring 12 different “bioengineering techniques,” Dreiseitl commissioned a set of in-depth hydraulic and materials studies. He was floored by how “crazy” the plants grow in Singapore so he had to adjust his models based on plant growth. He figured out what kinds of soil conditions would ensure slope stability in those temperatures. Lastly, he invested heavily in training the construction workers. “We couldn’t just show them pretty drawings of the new systems because they had no experience with these systems. We had to train them.”

With the approval of the government in place, Dreiseitl moved towards creating a new stream while the river was still flowing. In a feat of sequenced engineering, Dreiseitl managed to re-engineer soils, add bio-engineered plant systems along with trees, break up the existing concrete channel and reuse the rubble to stabilize the entire system — all while the river was still running. No artificial fertilizers were added. All materials on site were reused. In fact, some of the excess rubble was used to create a new hill, a look-out point over the park.

Importantly, the new system actually works. Dreiseitl said the new river “can hold lots of capacity and cuts in half the peak floods.” The new, cleansing biotope digest pollutants and creates oxygen in millions of gallons of river water each day. Some of the cleansed river water is diverted and reused in the watery playscapes. Before the water touches people, it’s further cleansed by a UV radiation filter. “It’s not only a purification system, but also a beautiful garden.”

The German landscape architect said for the project to work Singaporean officials just needed to be “learn how to behave with risk.” They had wanted to put a fence around the meandering river to keep people out of the flood plain, but Dreiseitl threatened to quit over that, arguing that it would not only ruin the design but break the human connection to the natural system. Instead, Dreiseitl’s team worked with the government to create an “amazing” early warning system, with towers that flash lights and use loudspeakers to make announcements in 6 languages so people can still sit down there but get early warnings when the river is going to overflow.

He thinks this kind of experience with nature in Singapore, the “most artificial of cities,” is critical. In Singapore, everyone “lives in of air-conditioning. They use underground subways and go to underground shopping centers” to escape the heat. As a result, much of the population is cut-off from nature. He said kids are particularly blown away by the wildlife in Bishan. Since the park was redesigned, biodiversity is up 30 percent. There are now 59 species of birds, including sea eagles, and 23 kinds of dragonflies.

To add proof to a recent U.S. National Park Service report that being near a wildlife preserve raises property values, Dreiseitl said the nearby apartments are up 48 percent in value since the park opened. To laughter, he added, “I should have bought a place before it opened.”

Dreiseitl believes that to implement such a game-changing system landscape architects need to have a “strong, logical argument.” Designers “must convince with a narrative.” There has to be inter-disciplinary planning with engineers and architects to capture all the benefits. He also said climate change can be a “engine” for convincing clients to move forward with new models like these. “In the past, cities thought water was a problem to get rid of, but with climate change we need to focus on water security and reuse all water.”

Read an interview with Dreiseitl on designing with water.

Image credits: Atelier Dreiseitl

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After two years of internal debate among 17 different federal agencies and the D.C. government, the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) released its long-awaited plans for a new Southwest Eco-District designed to undo the worst damage of the massive “urban renewal” projects inflicted on L’Enfant neighborhood over the past decades. Designed to transform the spooky, almost pedestrian-free area just south of the Mall into a highly sustainable, people-friendly cultural and business destination, the Eco-district plan means to take on many challenges at once. As Elizabeth Miller, ASLA, the intrepid landscape architect who is guiding the project, explained, this 110-acre, 15-square block project is meant to showcase “high performance buildings and landscapes” while creating space for 19,000 new federal workers and solving some of the worst pedestrian access problems.

At the beginning of the hearing today, NCPC Chairman L. Preston Bryant, Jr said the project can go a long way to “breathing new life into the city.” While the whole Eco-District may take 20 or 30 years to design and implement, “we have a once in a generation opportunity to make this happen.” He added that NCPC and its many federal partners are eager to move forward because there are some synergies that make the timing right: The Department of Energy (DOE) building is “coming to a lifecycle decision,” meaning that it’s ready to be torn down because it’s now highly inefficient in terms of energy and water use; the Southwest waterfront plans are moving forward, with $2 billion in private sector investment set; and the D.C. government-led Maryland Avenue redevelopment project is on its way.

Miller outlined a vision for an Eco-District that provokes the imagination, at least among sustainable designers. She said the new District will “capture, manage, and reuse water, energy, and waste” and work beyond a single building, leveraging clusters of buildings to create a new system. At the same time, the plan will take aim at the incredible lack of public access — the barriers, the highways, and grade changes — that keep people away, except for the federal workers that have to go there for work.

Diane Sullivan, sustainability planner for NCPC, said a sustainable mixed-use community will arise out of a set of new “guidelines, objectives” that will frame neighborhood development efforts and the creation of new environmental systems.

On developing the neighborhood, Sullivan said that a user survey of D.C. residents found that the lack of amenities was the overwhelming reason why people didn’t want to move down there or even hang out there. So the goal is create a new tree-lined 10th street (or L’Enfant Place) that can connect the Mall to the new Southwest waterfront development while also making that connection itself an exciting cultural destination, lined with 1.2 million square feet in new space for up to 5 new museums, along with farmers’ markets and other draws.

Better pedestrian access is also key to making all this work. In the new plans, Miller said Virginia and Maryland Avenues will re-appear, carving new paths through new buildings as park-like avenues for promenading. Sullivan said the new local street designs cutting up the mega-blocks are still being worked out. She asked, “which streets should be monumental? Which should be local?”

To better get those pedestrians — all those federal workers — to the area, a “better inter-modal system” will be put in place, with a revamped, solar roofed-L’Enfant station, offering both commuter rail and Metro. To ease pressure off Union Station, more commuter rail may be directed there somehow.

The saving grace of the scary L’Enfant Place now is the fountain in Dan Kiley’s Modern-era Benjamin Banneker park, with its dramatic overlook across the Washington Channel. Unfortunately, the rest of Kiley’s park was not well realized. With spaghetti loops of highways cutting through, it’s a matter of taking your life in your own hands to go from the park to the waterfront. In the new plans, Kiley’s park will be completely redone but the area will still serve as a monument to African American surveyor Banneker. The new, more sustainable park will more easily connect to the waterfront while providing a new visual identity for the “eco” part of the district.

Now, on the systems that will make the district more eco: First, many of the old federal buildings will go, getting a revamp so they meet the goals of Obama’s Executive Order 13514, which calls for federal agencies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, water and energy use. The ones that stay, like the famed Brutalist HUD building, will be updated to be more efficient.

Sullivan said the goal is to have “zero-net energy district as measured in carbon.” Pretty near impossible unless fully renewable power is the rule for the new Eco-District. Sullivan said solar PVs and solar thermal systems (for hot water) will be added to the roofs of the new buildings wherever possible, while ground-source heat will also be tapped. A central facility run by GSA, which runs on natural gas, will still be used (but that won’t get them to zero emissions).

Heading down towards the water, the freeway that cuts off the connection between Benjamin Banneker park and the waterfront will be capped with a new layer covered in solar panels.

For water, the goal is to reduce potable water use throughout the Eco-District by 70 percent and manage all stormwater where it falls. All building greywater will be reused while blackwater will go to the new anaerobic plant. Rainwater will be caught by acres of green roofs (including edible ones), green streets, trees, and planters. What isn’t caught will be funneled into cisterns underneath 10th street and used later. Green infrastructure is then clearly a central part of the strategy. Permeable areas overall are to grow to 35 percent, while the tree canopy is to reach 40 percent (a solid target). (Right now, the barren area has just 8 percent tree cover). While we didn’t hear anything substantive about creating a wildlife-friendly landscape designed to attract diverse species, we hope that’s in the works.

There are more ambitious goals for waste reductions: Some 75 percent of construction materials for the new buildings will be reused, and 80 percent of everyday waste will be diverted from the landfill. A composting program will be put in place, too.

So, how will this all actually work? Sullivan sees some government buildings first getting a light rehabilitation and then others will undergo a full rehabilitation. Three federal buildings will be “re-purposed” as major infill development begins. Then, big redevelopment will start over the freeway. At the same time, critical projects like a new Banneker park and a new 10th street landscape will begin next year.

What’s this all going to cost? Miller and Sullivan said an economic feasibility study only provided some high-level numbers, but they did say the federal government would make back its multibillion dollar investment over 20 years through reduced energy, water, and waste fees; increased revenues from private sector developers; and improved local tax gains.

While we hope this project is a sure thing, new governance structures and partnership and financing agreements will need to be worked out among all the partners, including the private sector developers who are key to making this all happen. Let’s hope this is not a protracted process. As the Eco-District gets moving, it can become an innovative showcase for how to revamp government hubs across the U.S.

Learn more about the bold plans. D.C. residents can attend a public hearing on the proposals on July 19. The comment period will be open for three months. Comments will be incorporated into a final plan ready to go by early 2013. By the end of next year, NCPC hopes to have design competitions launched for a new Banneker park and 10th street, its two priority public projects.

Image credit: ZGF Architects, courtesy of NCPC

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Bustler writes that Ferpect, a French design collective, recently won the top prize at the French street furniture design biennale for their work Dune, which is being exhibited at La Défense square in Paris until the end of the year. Ferfect is a group of architects, engineers, and thinkers.

Ferfect says their Dune system is a piece of “micro-architecture” that can be moved around depending on the climate. The front side of the 20-degree acacia-wood slopes allows for sunbathing and people watching while the rear frame of pine slats provides shelter from the wind or sun. 

The team has also built in tables, shelves, and benches, allowing for users to “check a document out of the wind” or “have lunch with colleagues.”

Ferfect thinks their “interchangeable and easily transportable modules” could be assembled into larger islands. Like a real dune, the system could be highly changeable, evolving with the elements, moving from place to place in a park. We could these popping up in the many empty, underutilized plazas in downtowns across the globe.

See more images.

Also, check out another fascinating piece of street furniture: a 2,000-foot-long undulating art installation you can actually sit on. UK-based architecture firm Studio Weave, who created the unique public amenity for the town of Littlehampton in West Sussex, writes about its benches’ journey through the town: “The structure sinuously travels along the promenade, meandering around lampposts, bending behind bins, and ducking down into the ground to allow access between the beach and the Green.”

Something we really like to hear: The design team says the project was made entirely of reclaimed materials. “The Longest Bench is made from thousands of hardwood bars reclaimed from sources including old seaside groynes (including Littlehampton’s!) and rescued from landfill.”

Image credits: (1-5) Ferfect via Bustler, (6-7) Studio Weave

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A number of bold new works of contemporary landscape architecture in Europe show the power of pavers, those small, sometimes interlocking sets of paving materials. Creating a sense of depth and quality with simple geometric forms, these projects are subtly elegant. Here are a few offering unique textures that may draw you in:

In the new city center of Nieuwegein, Netherlands (see image above and below), Dutch firm, B+B Urbanism and Landscape Architecture, turned an outmoded shopping mall into a new “vibrant heart” for this relatively new city. The theme, a “blooming city”, is represented in the bold paver patterns, says the firm in Landezine. Natural stones are used in a mixture. “The pattern breaks free of both plan and architecture by means of an abstract representation of such natural elements as branches and flowers.”

Another form of city center, a new town hall square in Solingen, Germany, by German firm scape Landschaftsarchitekten, is an “urban living room” for the municipal workers in the surrounding building. Again, a bold geometric pattern is used to create a striking landscape. The design team writes in Landezine: “To build a coherent area, a pattern of black and white lines traces the whole public open space. Like a marquetry, a connecting concrete carpet integrates various functional elements and provides zones with different characters and uses.” The central square is defined by the pattern, as are the sides of the green spaces, which allow for movement. 

Four courtyards then serve as a “counterpart to this open, lively square.” The courtyards are arranged as “abstract gardens.” Notice how the black and white pavers transform into less hard-edged strips of gravel, with plants coming into the mix. In fact, wherever nature appears, the black and white pavers seem to disintegrate.


In Pas-De-Calais, France, the old textile mills along the banks of the Haute Deûle canal are being transformed into a new park. Designed by Atelier des paysages Bruel-Delmar, the project pays honor to the canals and irrigation ditches, but creates something new as well. Working class factories and dorms are now office buildings for high-tech workers. Public spaces and a new water garden filled with phytoremediating plants draw in residents from the community and techies taking a break. 

The design team wanted to create new public spaces without “depriving this quarter of the charm that resides in the proportions of the streets bordered with worker houses.” A new courtyard creates the sense of a hard linear park that respects the working class vibe, while pavers made out of concrete and industrial basalt create texture along paths. 

Image credits: (1-3) Blooming City Center / Renee Klein, Frederica Rijkenberg, (4-7) Town Square, Solingen, Germany / atelier 2, Gereon Hofschneider scape Landschaftsarchitekten, Rainer Sachse, (8-12) Haute Deule / Atelier de paysages Bruel-Delmar

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A new bin design in Portugal makes recycling fun and easy, two qualities not often associated with sorting your trash. These qualities may be needed though, at least in higher-trafficked areas, given most recycling bins are anything but user-friendly these days. Created by architectural and urban design firm AND-RÉ, the prototype set of bins are meant to give recycling a higher profile in the community, while will also encouraging more “democratic” use among many types of users.

The use of bold forms and colors is meant to seduce people into recycling their organic waste, glass, metals, paper, and cardboard. The designers assert: “The negative perception of the garbage bins was forgotten by changing the status of the object itself.” And people seem to be responding. Tourists were seen taking photos next to the bins. Children were even observed asking parents to put garbage in the right bins, turning sorting into a kind of game.

Made of composite fiber and high-resistance stainless steel, the bins limit unpleasant interactions with “dirty surfaces” and waste smells. While the set of bins have a similar look, inside, there are different sorting and storage mechanisms. “The system for organic waste and metal use a container (a drum with rotary counterweight axis) associated with the movement of the lid. Glass and paper systems use a fixed conduit, regardless of movement of the lid.” There’s also a pedal that frees the hands so more O.C.D. users can avoid touching the bins all together.

While the design is eye-catching, more sustainable recycled (and recyclable) materials should be incorporated if these get rolled out in more communities in Portugal or elsewhere.

Image credit: AND-RÉ

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The Sustainable Sites Handbook: A Complete Guide to the Principles, Strategies, and Best Practices for Sustainable Landscapes by Meg Calkins, ASLA, elucidates strategic design approaches, measures for site performance, and provides an intelligent framework to discuss sustainability and understand technical issues. The handbook is extremely clear and well-structured, synthesizing a wealth of specific information into a useable form. The book embodies the very significant achievement of the Sustainable Sites initiative (SITES), in its broad-based collaborative approach to the subject.

The book begins by discussing the conceptual underpinnings of sustainable design and then moves through a comprehensive project development framework; from planning and site selection, through water, vegetation, soils and materials, to a discussion of human health and well-being and the issues of management and stewardship.

The broad disciplinary base of the SITES program, with its numerous expert contributors and reviewers, has allowed a surprisingly detailed and nuanced approach to the subject areas covered. The value of the book is as a guide to practitioners who are finding their way through the SITES system but also as a general reference to issues of sustainable site development more generally.

Perhaps even more than its professional use, I believe the book will be an invaluable resource for educators and students as a guide to sustainable design practice. Its comprehensiveness and synthetic approach to issues of site development and management provide a framework that can be broadly applied. The book brings together sound technical and procedural information placed within a well-reasoned intellectual context.

The book’s layout is clear and legible but the book design and production exhibit the limitations of quality in both materials and images so ubiquitous in contemporary textbooks. Given the density of the material, significantly more attention to a more dynamic graphic design and layout would have made a profound difference to the reader experience. The photographic images, which are vital in the elaboration of the text, suffer from being uniformly low contrast black and white images as a result of paper quality, and a more varied and lively design approach to typography, illustrations, and color would enhance both the ability to absorb the information and relay how much fun it is. Given the quality of the content and its broad market appeal, this would have been an opportunity for the publisher to invest in what should be a classic text and reference work, and one can only hope that will happen for subsequent editions.

Given the scope of this book, Meg Calkins has done a superb job in providing intellectual direction and expert content and guiding her excellent collaborators in the creation of what is destined to become a key reference work for the profession.

Read the book.

This guest review is by Elizabeth Mossop, FASLA, Professor, Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture, Louisiana State University

Image credit: Wiley & Sons

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There are many ecological technologies that can make a street green, but the key element is being “flexible, adaptable,” said Neil Weinstein, executive director of the Low Impact Development Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the use of green infrastructure in the built environment, at a session organized by the National Building Museum. Weinstein, who is a licensed engineer and landscape architect, was co-chair of an American Society of Civil Engineer (ASCE) conference on green streets, and, through the LID Center, has been a pioneer in green infrastructure, so his take is worth hearing.

Weinstein said there are lots of different technologies both landscape architects and engineers are using to make streets greener, including deeper street tree pits; compost-amended soils; permeable sidewalks, bikelanes, parking lots, and streets; and bioretention systems, including bioswales. These systems create not only “complete streets” that offer equal access for pedestrians, bicyclists, and cars, but are also ecological systems that manage stormwater.

More than a decade ago, Weinstein was involved in creating the first green street in Washington, D.C. on 8th street, which features a “permeable structured swale” along the sidewalk. Since then, the green street movement has grown, with some even looking at “green highways” that can offer conservation and ecosystem protections, include recycled or reused materials, and provide “watershed-driven” stormwater management. 

Perhaps one sign of the growing demand for green streets is that there are more 25 rating systems offering points or credits to enable these systems, said Weinstein. In fact, Envision, a new one created by the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI) in collaboration with the Zofnass program for sustainable infrastructure at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, was just released. Envision, which was largely designed by a consortium of engineering organizations and is primarily aimed at engineers, seeks to provide a “a holistic framework for evaluating and rating the community, environmental, and economic benefits of all types and sizes of infrastructure projects.” ISI says that the Envision can also be used by landscape architects and architects, planners, community groups, regulators, and policymakers for “roads and bridges, airports and waste treatment facilities, ports and refineries, high rise buildings and electricity grids.” 

With or without rating systems, there has been some recent success stories designing and implementing green streets. In the D.C. area, the Edmonston green street has gotten lots of attention. Financed in part by E.P.A. stormwater management grants, this project designed by the LID Center is increasingly being presented as an easily-replicable model. Weinstein said the project involved putting this community’s main street on a “road diet,” narrowing the space for cars in favor of new bioswales, permeable sidewalks, and bicycle lanes that “better tie into natural systems.” He said this project and others demonstrate how useful it is for local government to move from a “prescriptive” approach that dictates what needs to go where to a “performance-based” approach that asks what is needed to solve environmental issues.

Still, there’s more work to be done to make green streets mainstream. Within national standards organizations, there should be a move towards “concurrence (not consensus) about new approaches and materials.” Local demonstration projects “that ask the right questions” are still needed to show how national models can be applied to the unique conditions of local communities. Communities need to see and understand how these green street systems actually work.

Image credit: Edmonston Mayor Robert Kerns demonstrates permeable pavement / Greg Dohler. The Gazette

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Following the success of Easy Rider, an installation by land artist Patrick Dougherty, Dumbarton Oaks, which used to be a somewhat stuffy D.C. institution, seems to have really let loose with Cloud Terrace, a new temporary installation by landscape artists Cao | Perrot. In an effort to create “fresh, unexpected experiences” in Dumbarton Oaks’ gardens, Andy Cao and Xavier Perrot roped in a bunch of volunteers to create hand-meshed clouds that dangle some 10,000 Swarovski crystals (on loan), creating the effect of raining clouds. While some argue that messing with these gardens is like “adding a moustache to the Mona Lisa,” said John Beardsley, director of the landscape studies program, the new Dumbarton Oaks team is for “breathing new life into these landscapes,” which are “living works” no matter how historic.

In describing his firm’s work, Cao, who was born in Vietnam but raised in the U.S., says he’s into creating temporary places. However, the real theme seemed to be recreating the beauty and power of key moments in nature, like “Cherry blossoms blooming,” but using non-conventional materials to create these effects. At first glance, their installation can seem otherworldly.

Cao and Perrot discussed some of their earlier works. Lareau Garden, one of the duo’s earliest installations, includes thousands of glass pebbles, which seem to create a river through the site. The project took two years to create but looks like it just happened.

The Lullaby Garden project was created using rolled earthen forms, while carpets of biodegradable nylon material were sewn and laid on top, also creating a sense of rolling waves. This project, like others, has an ephemeral feel and uses organic and recycled materials designed to disintegrate, destroying the landscape art work in the process. Cao said: “the colors were designed to slowly fade and the forms will disappear over time.”

An eye-opening project, Mimosa, in the Luxembourg Garden’s Medici Foundation, used fresh mimosa flowers suspended on fishing lines to bring a bit of New Delhi to France.

An earlier cloud project, which is in the same family of projects as the Dumbarton Oaks installation, brings clouds to a backyard in Los Angeles, while the unbelievable Willow Tree is made up of 80,000 mother-of-pearl leaves crafted by a village in China.

This project, like so many others by this team, is clearly inspired by nature and creates similarly powerful effects, yet is somehow not natural. Perrot tried to explain: these projects are for a “specific time – they are about the moment. They are not just a landscape, but a total environment.”

The duo is not just stopping at the small, temporary scale but are delving into large-scale works of landscape architecture, too. One park in the works in China will be more than 600 acres and will promise a sequence of outdoor “rooms” with different experiences, all set using their “intuition” throughout. 

If in Washington, D.C., be sure to check out Cao | Perrot’s temporary installation before the crystals have to be returned or see their portfolio online.

Image credits: (1-3) Cloud Terrace  at Dumbarton Oaks;  image © Stephen Jerrome for  cao | perrot studio, (4-7) copyright Cao | Perrot

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