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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

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Fractals / Mikyoung Kim Design

“This is the image that sits above my computer screen. It’s a fractal form, which explains how we work. Within fractals, there are similar forms but at different scales. The molecular scale and broad scale work together as a whole. Fractals are a system. You can’t draw an outline of a fractal and fill it in, or create a bottom-up modular system and put one together. Fractals are about the overarching structure,” said Mikyoung Kim, FASLA, head of her namesake landscape architecture firm, in a lecture at the National Building Museum.

Fractals relate to her creative process. Just as at the broad scale — or the aerial view — you can see human behavior patterns, at the molecular scale, she is thinking of “one person, and their multi-sensory experience within that place.” However, having said all of that, Kim also believes that landscape architects “can’t predict how a public space will be used and allow for flexibility.”

Kim described a few projects that show her attention to both the broad and human scales, and how they fit together into a system:

ChonGae Canal Source Point Park: Sunken Stone Garden

She won an international design competition to create the ChonGae Canal Source Point Park, with its Sunken Stone Garden in Seoul, South Korea. For Kim, it was a great experience working there, as she is a Korean American born in Hartford, Connecticut. She discovered that Seoul has 22 million people, which is about half the population of South Korea as a whole. It’s 8 times denser than NYC, with 16,000 people per square mile.

The 7-mile-long ChonGae Canal was once a river that collected water from surrounding mountains. The river was one of the reasons Seoul became the capital of Korea in the late 1300s. Over the decades, it became a conduit for wastewater and raw sewage. “By the early 1960s, it had become a symbol of poverty, and so dangerous that you couldn’t even touch the water.” It was eventually covered over with an elevated highway, dividing the city.

The Seoul government took down the highway and decided to open up the river again. They brought day light back to the corridor and improved the water quality to class 2 level, which was really difficult. The new river corridor park had to handle monsoons and 100-year storms. “But, really, it was about bringing back national pride.”

Kim worked with the international team restoring the river, but focused on one piece: a stone garden at the source point. With this project, Kim realized landscape architecture can have significant political impact. This landscape has caused the city to rethink its relationship with the water, and changed perceptions about what’s possible with public space.

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ASLA 2009 Professional Awards General Design Award. ChonGae Canal Source Point Park: Sunken Stone Garden / Taeoh Kim

Also, the landscape itself is politically charged. In the era of the optimistic “Sunshine Policy” just a few years ago, when South Korean leaders thought reunification with North Korea was imminent, the ChonGae Canal Source Point Park was to be the site of the reunification ceremony.

There are ceremonial aspects of the landscape: Kim set 9 stones to represent the 9 provinces of Korea as a whole. The stones represent the “collective effort of this urban park, adding a layer of cultural significance.” Beyond the cultural aspect, Kim says the park, which has been visited by 20 million people since its opening, has led to $600 million in private sector development along the river corridor.

Through the Sunken Stone Garden, Kim came to the conclusion that the “most successful projects are ones where we don’t have to hire a photographer. If we can find lots of photos through Pinterest, Facebook, Flickr, we’ve been successful. Successful public spaces are canvases with a design language and character, but can embrace different kind of activity and discovery.”

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ChonGae Canal Source Point Park: Sunken Stone Garden / Mikyoung Kim Design

Farrar Pond Residence

Kim said she does very little residential work, but she created a 3-acre landscape in Lincoln, Massachusetts, which links to Walden Pond. The clients had but one requirement: no lawn, but an outdoor space were the kids and dogs can run. They ended up deciding there would be no imperious surfaces on the property.

“The big star of show is this CorTen fence structure that contains the dogs. Our client was really two German Shephards.” The fence is designed to just keep these particular dogs in. Kim’s team measured the dogs from shoulder to shoulder to determine what the width of the fence openings should be. A dachshund that visited was able to slip right through. The fence was welded on site, so it fits the regraded landscape “like a glove.”

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ASLA 2007 Professional Residential Design Honor Award. Farrar Pond Residence / Mikyoung Kim Design

On the ground are lilac bluestone pavers and granite stepping stones. As her client said, “it looks like the void of fences have fallen out to create this pattern.”

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ASLA 2007 Professional Residential Design Honor Award. Farrar Pond Residence / Mikyoung Kim Design

140 West Plaza: Exhale

“We like smaller cities where we can make an even bigger impact.” In Chapel Hill, North Carolina, a “charming, historic university town, ” Kim worked with local developers to create a master plan for a new downtown park. Kim and her team concurrently looked at circulation, including bicycle infrastructure, plazas, and stormwater. They found that the mixed use developments were creating lots of surface stormwater run-off.

So Kim created a brilliant solution called Exhale. Instead of storing the run-off in gardens, she convinced them to exhale the cleansed runoff through an artful misting system. “If there is no extraneous water from the site, there is no mist.” Kim choreographed the experience, creating a score of sorts, with light and mist, which grows and dies back. “It’s like the sculpture is breathing.”

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Exhale / Mikyoung Kim Design

At night, Exhale is a magnet, particularly in the hotter months when the mist is on, as it reduces temperatures by 10 degrees. “Kids are willing to get soaking wet. They run and around and engage it.”

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Exhale / Mikyoung Kim Design

The Crown Sky Garden: Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago

“I’ve always really been into healthcare. And now, healthcare is interested in us. Every facility wants a garden, which is much different from 20 years ago.” Still, at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, Kim felt pressure to deliver. “We were taking 8,000 square feet out of a vertical hospital to build a garden instead of a new MRI center. How does that equal out?” While she said her husband, who is a doctor, would take issue with the statement that “gardens heal people,” gardens do “transform our bodies in ways that can’t hurt. Within 3-5 minutes, it has been proven that gardens normalize blood pressure, heart activity, muscle tension, and brain electrical activity.”

In this healing garden on the 11th floor, there were enormous constraints. Given so many young patients there have weak immune systems or just had surgery, they couldn’t be exposed to organic materials like soil or plants. There have been cases of people catching Legionnaire’s Disease from fountains, so water features were out, too.

Kim and her colleagues finally convinced the hospital to allow bamboo in raised planters that patients wouldn’t be able to access. The soil that holds them is 98 percent inorganic. “Basically, the only thing that will grow in soil like that are weeds, and bamboo is a lovely weed.” The hospital staff have committed to putting a tarp on the bamboo and spraying them three times a year to keep them clean.

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ASLA 2013 Professional General Design Honor Award. The Crown Sky Garden: Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago / George Heinrich Photography

To get around the fact that no open water could be allowed, Kim created water features that bubble up through marble. And a fallen tree, which Frederick Law Olmsted planted in a park in Chicago more than 100 years ago, was reclaimed and turned into wonderfully tactile benches and interactive art pieces. Sealed together with resin and lit from within, the tree sculptures also feature kids’ hand prints, which when touched, activate sounds of water.

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ASLA 2013 Professional General Design Honor Award. The Crown Sky Garden: Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago / Mikyoung Kim Design

Learn more about Mikyoung Kim’s new projects, like 888 Boylston in Boston, at her web site.

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Designed for the Future / Princeton Architectural Press

“What gives you hope that a sustainable future is possible?” In Designed for the Future: 80 Practical Ideas for a Sustainable World, Jared Green — the same Green who edits this blog, and, full disclosure, was my boss when I was a communications intern at ASLA — offers 80 thought-provoking and frequently inspiring answers to this question from landscape architects, urban planners, architects, journalists, artists, and environmental leaders in the U.S. and beyond. The book’s tone is highly conversational and reflects the voices of the book’s contributors. Each passage is the result of an interview with Green, who serves largely as curator for this reading experience.

To those in the field, the names are like a who’s who of respected leaders in these professions. But while professionals will certainly enjoy it, this book is aimed squarely at the public, as it’s as scrubbed-free of design jargon as possible and offered in bite-size pieces easy to pick up for a few minutes at a time or read entirely through on a weekend afternoon.

It’s largely successful in this aspect, capturing the essence of the ideas at the core of each real world example without losing the reader in technical terms and excess detail. However, in a few cases, the description is so sparse as to leave uncertain exactly what the project is about.

Some of the projects feature new technologies applied in innovative ways. Lighting designer Leni Schwendinger, now with Arup, is inspired by Illuminate, a three-year research program in six European countries showing the way to the future of light-emitting diode (LED) lighting in public spaces. The study examined not only at energy savings and carbon reductions, but also the quality of light in terms of brightness, color temperature, and color rendition (whether the object illuminated looks true to life). It’s the artificial nature of these latter qualities that tend to sway many designers away from LEDs, despite their energy savings, but this study shows they are being improved, and LEDs may soon be able to use “intelligent controls to create malleable lighting” in our parks, plazas, and museums.

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Luminance Map, Belfast / Guilio Antonutto

Jonsara Ruth, a professor at The New School / Parsons, discusses Mushroom Board from the firm Ecovative, a product that uses mycelium, the “roots” of mushrooms, to literally grow an organic Styrofoam replacement. Styrofoam is an incredibly polluting material, but Mushroom Board, a cutting-edge use of bioengineered materials that can be grown to almost any shape and size, is completely biodegradable. Imagine appliances coming packed in Mushroom Board or homes insulated with mushroom in the walls instead of spray-in foam.

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Mushroom Board by Ecovative / Jonsara Ruth

Many projects feature materials and infrastructures from the past that have been given new life to serve contemporary needs. Landscape architect Thomas Woltz, FASLA, Nelson Byrd Woltz, describes how Braddock, Pennsylvania, is in the process of transforming much of its abandoned and toxic industrial lands, re-envisioning them as a place for urban farming and healthy community initiatives.

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Braddock, Pennsylvania / Kristen Taylor, Creative Commons, Flickr

And Peter Harnik, Hon. ASLA, director, Center for City Park Excellence, Trust for Public Land, describes how Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis is a railway that has been converted into one of the most successful trails for cyclists and pedestrians. Built in a trench to not interfere with auto traffic, it’s a delight for its users who can go for long stretches without having to negotiate intersections and vehicle conflicts.

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Midtown Greenway, Minneapolis / Ed Kohler, Creative Commons, Flickr

One overarching theme is the need to further connect social, environmental, aesthetic, and economic benefits that have been considered for too long in isolation. For decades, we’ve known, in theory, that achieving quadruple-bottom line benefits is essential for sustainability. These existing projects show how multiple benefits can be achieved in the real world, and the positive impact they can have on communities and the environment.

Green offers a lovely quote in his introduction from science fiction writer William Gibson: “The future is already here, but it’s just not evenly distributed.” Environmental advocacy and action can so easily just focus on the negative or emphasize only the compromise and sacrifice necessary for “saving the planet.” The examples in Designed for the Future show that not only is our future not all doom and gloom, but there’s plenty to be excited about here and now. The future is here. Now let’s start spreading today’s successes around as widely as possible.

Read the book.

This guest post is by Yoshi Silverstein, Associate ASLA, founder and lead designer-educator at Mitsui Design.

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Volunteer Park, Seattle / Jared Green

“Seattle has been about human intervention in the natural landscape, setting heavy engineering in a bucolic setting,” said John Owen, partner with Makers architecture and urban design, during a tour organized by the American Planning Association (APA) for their conference in this northwest city. In the first of a series of posts about how Seattle layers nature and infrastructure, we’ll look at a few examples of this from Seattle’s history — from the early Olmstedian park system to the Hiram. M. Chittenden Locks, and, more recently, the Gas Works Park.

Owen said Seattle’s Olmsted Brothers-designed park system is one of the “most well-preserved in the world.” According to the Seattle parks and recreation department, the city commissioned the landscape architects the Olmsted Brothers, sons of Frederick Law Olmsted, to create a comprehensive plan to link green spaces, playgrounds, and vistas through a 20-mile green boulevard. The Olmsted brothers continued their work on the plan, designing and implementing pieces, through the 1930s.

We arrive at Volunteer Park, one of the jewels in the Olmsted system. There, Owen showed us how nature and infrastructure were first integrated to such great effect. The park’s meandering paths, towering trees, and lush gardens provide not only a frame for the views, but also the charismatic water management infrastructure — a water tower and high-pressure reservoir. As Lyle Bicknell, principal urban designer, Seattle department of planning and development, explained, “It was Olmstedian to make infrastructure beautiful.” The reservoir no longer serves its original purpose, but the water tower still does. Some have even floated the idea of turning the empty reservoir into a skatepark, which would be fantastic.

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Volunteer Park, Seattle / Barefoot Ted’s Adventures

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Volunteer Park Reservoir / Wikipedia

A later visit to the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks (known locally as the Ballard Locks) made clear that Seattle continued to invest in civic infrastructure. Construction began on this complex system for moving ships from Lake Washington and Lake Union to the Puget Sound in 1911, and the first ships passed through in 1916. To get to the locks, a visitor walks through 7 acres of gorgeous gardens designed by U.S. Corps of Engineers landscape architect Carl S. English Jr., who spent more than 40 years planting the gardens with more than 500 species and 1,500 varieties of plants from around the world.

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Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Gardens / Jared Green

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Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Gardens / Jared Green

The combination of gardens and heavy ship infrastructure is somehow seamless, and feels futuristic, despite the fact that it’s nearly 100 years old.

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Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Gardens and Hiram M. Chittenden Locks / Jared Green

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Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Gardens and Hiram M. Chittenden Locks / Jared Green

The lock keepers I spoke to exhibited great pride in the infrastructure, which runs 24 x 7, 365 days a year. Boats come in and out all day and night, as valves raise and lower water levels, keeping fresh and sea water separate. A legacy of the City Beautiful movement, the locks are a prime example of how nature and the built environment can complement each other in a timeless way.

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Hiram M. Chittenden Locks / Jared Green

Lastly, a visit to Gas Works Park capped the journey. The Seattle parks department explains how this site on Lake Union was cleared in the early 1900s to make way for a plant to process gas from coal, which then ran for nearly 50 years, spewing chemicals into the air and lake. When natural gas began to be imported in large amounts in the 1950s, the plant became obsolete, so the site was acquired to become a park by the city in the early 1960s.

Seattle landscape architect Richard Haag, FASLA, turned this into a game-changing park in the early 70s, using a then-cutting-edge approach of phytoremediation to leach out some of the toxic chemicals in the soil and restore the landscape. Further work in the 1980s mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) involved removing and capping soils, and stripping the groundwater under the site of benzene using a process called “air sparging.”

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Gas Works Park / Jared Green

Haag made the visitor’s approach to the industrial infrastructure a fascinating exploration, with a winding entry way that parallels a series of concrete gates. The path invites you to circle the old Gas Works, taking it in from all angles.

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Gas Works Park / Jared Green

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Gas Works Park / Jared Green

As you get closer to the intricate and intriguing central relic, you realize it’s fenced off to prevent people from climbing on it and perhaps further covering it in graffiti. Within the fences, nature has once again taken root.

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Gas Works Park / Jared Green

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Gas Works Park / Jared Green

You can then walk to the top of Kite Hill, a giant mound of earth that Haag constructed behind the park with rubble and also topped with a sundial. Kite Hill is currently being covered with an additional layer of soil and grass to prevent re-contamination by environmental remediation work being done along the Lake Union waterfront.

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Gas Works Park / Jared Green

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Gas Works Park / Jared Green

The path leads to picnic tables along the waterfront, and a “play barn,” where the old refinery infrastructure has been turned into a mecca for kids. This area was somewhat down on its heels, as it’s clearly been well-visited and loved for decades but needs some maintenance.

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Gas Works Park / Jared Green

Gas Works Park opened in 1975 and soon thereafter it was award ASLA’s professional design of excellence award. As the awards jury noted, Haag’s Gas Works Park is “a remarkably original and attractive example of how to reclaim a seemingly hopeless and obsolete industrial installation. Instead of being destroyed or disguised, it has been transformed into a lighthearted environment. A project of historical significance for the community.”

And in The New York Times, Paul Goldberger wrote, “The park represents a complete reversal from a period when industrial monuments were regarded, even by preservationists, as ugly intrusions on the landscape, to a time when such structures as the gas works are recognized for their potential ability to enhance the urban experience.” Indeed, in 2013, the park was finally added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Seattle has found novel ways to re-balance the relationship between built and natural infrastructure. And with projects like the Seattle Art Museum Olympic Sculpture Park, it continues to lead the way towards a more sustainable relationship between the two.

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Simulation of obstacle configuration and Gilbert Delta formation / Eduardo Rico, Arup-Relational Urbanism, AA/ UCL

Now, perhaps more than ever, we understand our world is shaped by complex, interactive, dynamic systems. Increased climate volatility has shown us why we need to understand these complex systems when we design landscapes. While landscape architects have been fast to embrace ecological systems thinking, they have been slower to see how systems thinking can transform our ways of imagining, visualizing, and then intervening in the environment.

There have been significant advances in the tools we use to understand and represent the multitude of biological and physical factors that shape our environment, particularly in the areas of computational modeling and simulation. These advances were the focus of the recent Simulating Natures symposium, organized by Karen M’Closkey, ASLA, associate professor of landscape architecture at the University of Pennsylvania and PEG Office of Landscape + Architecture, and Keith VanDerSys, also with PEG, and hosted by the landscape architecture department at the University of Pennsylvania.

While computers and suites of software programs have become integrated into classrooms, studios, and offices, they have largely been used to computerize manual drawing and modeling processes, despite their ability to move beyond the purely representational and into the realms of projection and speculation. As James Corner, ASLA, founder of Field Operations, stated in his keynote lecture at the symposium, “Because of the facility afforded by technology and software, it’s relatively easy to produce novel forms. Design has become easy if you only think it’s about form-making and aesthetic responses. It’s not so easy to start to think about how to make the world better. How do we think about tools that allow us to improve conditions rather than to just invent new forms?”

To date, we have embraced a simplistic view of ecology that trends toward modeling efficiencies, operating under the assumption that there is a singular universal truth, so we gear modeling efforts toward definitive answers. Presentations from the symposium challenged this notion: Each session demonstrated a different approach to the act of modeling and simulation, offering suggestions as to the roles new models might play and how they could be used to engage dynamic systems that evolve and change. These roles included the model as a choreographer of feedback loops; the model as a provocateur and tool for thinking; and the model as a translator of information.

Models as Choreographers of Feedback Loops

The first session focused on the capability of hydrodynamic models to chart and understand the relationships among various invisible processes, enabling us to register change over time. Hydrodynamic models can choreograph feedback loops through an interplay of physical modeling, sensing, analysis, and digital modeling. The work of panelists in this session nests different physical and temporal scales, simulating the impacts that interventions have on larger systems. For example, Heidi Nepf at MIT has a laboratory that models the small-scale physics of aquatic vegetation to simulate larger patch dynamics. Philip Orton, with Stevens Institute of Technology and who often collaborates with SCAPE / Landscape Architecture, focused on modeling the effects of breakwaters and benthic interventions on storm surge in Staten Island and Jamaica Bay.

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Delaware River hydrodynamic simulation using Aquaveo SMS/ SRH-2D, PEG office of landscape + architecture

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Physical laboratory simulation of sea grasses / Heidi Nepf

Together, the models from the first session challenged our assumptions of what is permanent. Bradley Cantrell, ASLA, Harvard University Graduate School of Design, linked many of the session’s presentations through his advocacy for a shift from modeling for efficiency to modeling for resistance. Efficiency assumes a predetermined end goal while resistance leads toward adaptation, evolution, and new novel landscapes, which is critical to designing for resiliency. Working toward adaptability represents a paradigm shift that calls into question our idea of the fixed state.

Models as Tools for Thinking

Philosopher Michael Weisberg then offered the idea that the model can serve as a tool for thinking — an experimental mechanism for exploring new ideologies. The session examined agent- or rule-based modeling techniques that simulate the dynamic interaction of multiple entities, which can be used to simulate adaptive, living systems. Through a process of bottom-up, rather than top-down modeling, the interrelationships of individual agents can be used to explore the relationship between scenario and outcome. These models show potential for how we might engage complex socio-ecological systems, which is imperative as we enter the Anthropocene Era.

For artist and NYU professor Natalie Jeremijenko, agent-based modeling has led to an “organism-centric design” approach. Understanding intelligent responses to stimuli from non-human organisms could offer a more compelling way of understanding complex interrelationships than two dimensional quantification in graphs and charts.

Panelists discussed our tendency to model that which we know and can predict, which is problematic in that it leaves significant territory unexplored. The concept of “solution pluralism,” presented by Stephen Kimbrough, calls for an open-ended decision-making process that culls the number of possible outcomes in order to limit discussion to that which is determined to be reasonable, while leaving the final selection of a decision open.

Models as Translators of Information

Finally, we heard examples of how models might serve as translators, communicating environmental patterns that underlie the visible environment. Panelists presented new ways of translating information for delivery and consumption, linking the real and the abstract, which are driven by new methods of sensing and data collection.

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Slime mold network optimization as a simulation of urban growth through emergent collective behavior / ecoLogicStudio

Michael Allen’s work on monitoring microscopic activity in soil represented a departure from the traditional method of core sampling. Through the real-time monitoring of soil coupled with sensing water and nutrient concentrations, we can now understand the dynamism of production and mortality below grade.

The MIT Sensable City Lab’s Underworld project, presented by Newsha Ghaeli, aims to use sewage as a platform for monitoring public health, tracking disease, antibiotic resistance, and chemical compounds in real time. Combined with demographic and spatial data at the surface, the project has the potential to map our environment in a revealing way.

Unpredictable issues require unprecedented tools — but they, in turn, may yield unpredictable results. As M’Closkey stated, “Variability and change are built into the thinking behind simulations. The uncertainty inherent in many simulations reflects the uncertainty inherent to the systems they characterize.”

Watch videos of the entire symposium.

This guest post is by Colin Patrick Curley, Student ASLA, master’s of architecture and master’s of landscape architecture candidate, University of Pennsylvania.

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A drone’s view of Raleigh, North Carolina / Jordan Petersen

“The conscious remolding of the large-scale physical environmental imageability is a new one. We can now make completely new landscapes in a brief time…Designers are already at grips with the question of how to form the total scene so that it is easy for the human observer to identify its parts and to structure the whole.” – Kevin Lynch, Image of the City, 1959.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently released long-awaited guidelines for commercial Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) or drones. Despite many skeptics’ earlier expectations of stringent laws that would essentially ground the drone industry in the United States, these proposed regulations, which include height restrictions and licensing requirements, are pragmatic and will undoubtedly lead to growth and innovation. The announcement has unleashed a wave of predictions about the future of the technology, which has already proven valuable in agriculture, environmental conservation, retail, 3-D surveying, search-and-rescue, and law enforcement. It’s clear drones will soon become ubiquitous. As critical as drones will become to contemporary life, there has been little discussion about their potential to impact on landscape architecture and urban planning.

These small but complex machines will increasingly become a vital part of the landscape architect and planner’s toolkit; they will re-shape the “imageability” of our cities, enabling a higher level of legibility in visual communication. Much of this will be accomplished by the most familiar tool carried by civilian drones: the camera. Aerial imagery is, of course, nothing new. Innovative minds invented camera-equipped kites and balloons as far back as the late 1800s. Manned aircraft have used strategic aerial photography since the first World War, and satellites have been capturing views of Earth and beyond since the 1940s. However, the recent introduction of widespread UAV technology is important to landscape architects because it provides increased accessibility and versatility. While the technology was nearly unattainable a few years ago, anyone can now purchase a ready-to-fly, GPS-stabilized, camera-equipped drone for the price of a cheap TV, effectively leveling the playing field in aerial imagery. Furthermore, the dexterity of the aircraft allows for a nearly infinite number of angles, scales, and elevations, all in real time, often capturing video or still-imagery that has been previously elusive.

Tinkerers, DIYers, and hobbyists have already obtained stunning footage that displays the engaging power of the technology. Drones can be seen cruising above the tree canopy of Manhattan’s streets, surveying the urban tundra of snowy Chicago, and even unearthing the beauty of Chernobyl’s decay. The first New York City Drone Film Festival, sponsored by NBC, displayed a range of spectacular entries to a mass audience. The United Arab Emirates (UAE)-based Drones for Good competition recently featured many innovative uses for drones that may soon benefit the environmental and urban planning sectors.

UAV technology enables landscape architects and planners to examine the existing social and environmental conditions of sites. We can document accurate circulation through transit corridors and shifting urban and demographic patterns, as well as topographical and hydrologic changes and environmental degradation.

Perhaps the most powerful use of the technology will be as a tool for both city and community governments and design and planning firms to aid in the public participation process. Used in conjunction with more traditional forms of media for community engagement, UAV imagery can help bridge the gap between two-dimensional, temporally-devoid satellite imagery and the more prosaic ground-based conventional camera.

A simple 5-minute fly-over video of an urban neighborhood at multiple elevations (displayed through an analog or digital forum), may reveal both empirical and experiential observations – the diversity of housing types, the voids of underutilized open space, the buzz of traffic patterns, the flow of natural systems, the nodes of community activity, or the light cast over the neighborhood at sunset.

Conceptual overlays of proposed conditions or site analysis can then be integrated into the three-dimensional aerial video, adding a new level of spatial and temporal dynamics to the design process. Drones equipped with LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) scanners are producing three-dimensional representations of natural and built environments with amazing accuracy, while software such as Autodesk’s 123D Catch allows drone imagery to be stitched together to create a photo-realistic 3D model.

These techniques will make complex problems more understandable to the public and thus evoke more comprehensive feedback. This will, as Kevin Lynch stated more than a half-century ago, help “form the total scene, so that it’s easy for the human observer to identify its parts and structure the whole.”

Landscape architects and urban planners should applaud the new FAA regulations. They are a milestone in encouraging the innovation of a tool that will lead to a more democratic era of public participation in landscape and urban design.

This guest post is by Jordan M. Petersen, ASLA, designer, ColeJenest & Stone, and founder and CEO, Lift Aerial Marketing, LLC.

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COSMO / Andrés Jaque’s Office of Political Innovation

The ingenious winner of this year’s Young Architects Program (YAP) at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) PS1 in Queens, New York City, is COSMO, a mobile, transparent, and artful system for purifying wastewater. Designed by Andrés Jaque’s Office of Political Innovation, the machine makes visible the process of cleaning dirty water, exposing the value of this vital natural resource in the process.

Here’s a description of Jaque’s invention: “An assemblage of ecosystems, based on advanced environmental design, COSMO is engineered to filter and purify 3,000 gallons of water, eliminating suspended particles and nitrates, balancing the PH, and increasing the level of dissolved oxygen. It takes four days for the 3,000 gallons of water to become purified, then the cycle continues with the same body of water, becoming more purified with every cycle.” The system uses no electricity, just sunlight and gravity to accomplish all of this.

See a wild video that explains how the system works:

As architect Bjarke Ingels and others have long argued, sustainable design should not only be an improvement on the status quo but also be fun, not a drag. Taking that idea to the nth degree, Jacque believes the process of using natural engineering to clean water can actually be transfixing. Here, clean water is the life of the party. “The stretched-out plastic mesh at the core of the construction will glow automatically whenever its water has been purified. In the stone courtyard of MoMA PS1, the party will literally light up every time the environment is protected providing a dynamic backdrop for the Warm Up summer music series. It will gather people together in an environment as pleasant and climatically comfortable as a garden as visually textured as a mirrored disco ball.”

Once the partying and water purifying is over, COSMO will be dismantled, its parts redistributed, the plants used in its cleansing processes given to PS1’s neighbors.

Andrés Jaque sees his machine as a prototype for a new mobile system for cleaning water. His team will offer detailed instructions for how to create your own COSMO online.

PS1 has been using its summer installation series as a way to highlight how architecture can be designed to give back environmentally. Last year, Hy-Fi, the 2014 YAP winner, aimed to push the boundaries of bio-design, creating a 100 percent organically-grown and fully compostable structure. And in 2012, Wendy highlighted how architecture could be used to clean the air. Its spiky arms were covered in “nylon fabric treated with a groundbreaking titania nanoparticle spray to neutralize airborne pollutants.”

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Waste Music Festival / Title Magazine

According to Mariana Mogilevich and Curt Gambetta, Princeton University Mellon Initiative, “the production of waste and the production of space go hand in hand.” As landscape architects, architects, and urban designers remake our cities, waste is created too. Moving this waste shapes our urban landscape. Putting all this waste somewhere often means the creation of segregated urban wastelands.

As Mogilevich and Gambetta explain though, “despite waste’s centrality to the design and imagination of cities, it is today understood as a largely technical problem about the management of its disappearance.” On March 7 at Princeton University, they will assemble a diverse group to look the opportunities in spaces “designed as waste or wasted.”

Sessions will explore questions like: “What is a wasteland, and what role does design play in its definition and reclamation? What is the relationship between wasteland improvement and social and economic transformation?”

Speakers include landscape historians, architects, geographers, urban designers, anthropologists, and artists.

Along with the symposium, the team has put together a new exhibition called Tracing Waste, which looks at “artistic works that trace the movement of trash and sewage.” The exhibition runs from February 23 to March 13.

The symposium on March 7 is free and open to the public.

And here’s a symposium for landscape architects interested in cutting-edge modeling technologies: Simulating Natures at the University of Pennsylvania, March 19-20. The organizers ask: “how can we better engage the invisible biotic and abiotic interactions and flows that exist outside of human creation but can only be understood through our systems of representation?” Speakers include Bradley Cantrell, ASLA, Harvard University; James Corner, ASLA, Field Operations; and Alex Felson, ASLA, Yale University, among others.

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Ecological Tapestry of the World / ESRI and USGS

A new, free, web-based tool from the US Geological Survey (USGS) and ESRI allows us to gain a better understanding of the ecological character of any place in the world. As the team explains, the web site can be used by everyone — from local government officials and planners to landscape architects and conservationists — to visualize the world’s complex ecological patterns. This also means in the future the tool can be used to map the impacts of climate change and development on ecosystems over time.

According to Randy Vaughan, ESRI, an enormous amount of science (and data) went into creating the tool. “The globe was divided in cells at a base resolution of 250 meters.” Each cell was then assigned input layers of data that “drive ecological processes.”

When users search for any place in the world, they see a map, with four layers of information. There’s info on bio-climates, described with terms like “warm wet” or “hot dry”; landforms, with terms such as “flat plains” or “mountains”; rock type, with terms like “carbonate sedimentary rock” or “metamorphics”; and also land cover, the vegetation that results from these conditions, described with terms like “forest, farmland, or grassland.” For all data types, users can also further zoom in, all the way to the street level.

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The data has resulted in an amazing number of possible combinations: There is now a “global raster data layer with 47,650 unique combinations of the four input layers. The facets were then aggregated into 3,923 ecological land units (ELUs).” These ELUs themselves represent a new, data-based way of organizing the biosphere, based in “ecological and physio-graphic land surface features.”

Roger Sayre, senior scientist for Ecosystems, USGS, said the way the tool was set up also “advances an objective, repeatable big data approach to the synthesis and classification of ecologically important data.” This big data approach means “mapping can be updated as better or more current input layers become available.”

Indeed, the team is hoping for lots more new data, given there are “known and expected deficiencies in the current input layers. For example the release of the new SRTM 30 meter elevation terrain data provides an opportunity create a higher resolution landforms map.” They are looking into adding data about social and cultural factors. USGS and ESRI also hope that other scientists will use GIS to add their own layers and do their own analysis over time.

According to Fast Company, these first maps really are the beginning of an even more compelling analysis. Sayre said: “The map is a baseline for these ecosystems, so we’ll be able to assess them for climate change or other disturbances. We see the value of the dataset as a spatial accounting framework. In the future, we’ll be able to show them as a temporal sequence [of the world unfolding].”

Also, check out a map the team created of 10 of the world’s ecological hot spots, places with high levels of ecological diversity.

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What would have seemed like science fiction just a few years ago is now reality. Researchers at Burton Inc. in Japan have figured out how to create a 3D projection of text and images into the air. The projections are untethered, and also visible no matter how bright it is outside.

Burton Inc. says they were motivated to create this technology to enable floating signs that could be seen by all in an emergency.

Perhaps we can imagine this technology becoming a feature in parks and public spaces of the near future, even incorporated into next generation public art works.

Aerial Burton says, currently, most 3D displays “draw pseudo-3D images on 2D planes by using human binocular disparity.” However, this is less than ideal given “the limitation of the visual field, and the physiological displeasure due to the mis-identification of virtual images.”

According to Gizmodo, their technology uses a 1kHz infrared pulse, which is invisible to the eye. That pulse is fired into a mirror that “reflects and focuses the pulse onto specific points in the air. The area where the laser is focused becomes ionized, which then causes visible photons to be released, creating the bright white dots.”

Also worth checking out is a set of amazing photographs by Stephen Orlando, who tracks human movement with LED light sticks. The progression of the light sticks is isolated, capturing in a unique way how people move, here, through the water.

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1_30000 Dredge Anth + 2008 islands

Jamaica Bay / Drudge Design Collaborative

To dredge simply means to scoop up sediment, often underwater, and move it to another location. While this process is often associated with moving contaminated soils to a place where they can be safely capped, today, dredging is also increasingly about harnessing natural processes to create new landforms and ecological systems. New “dredge landscapes,” designed systems, offer opportunities for ecological restoration, said Brett Milligan, ASLA, Dredge Research Collaborative, at the ASLA 2014 Annual Meeting in Denver.

Sediment is dynamic and dramatically differs from place to place. Studying the natural flow of sediment in rivers and deltas, we can begin to understand how the movement of sediment can be “choreographed” to achieve ecological goals. However, given sediment flow happens within complex ecosystems impacted by human activities, like the deepening of channels for large ships, using dredge to create new landscapes is a highly complicated process.

As an example, Milligan pointed to efforts to dredge sediment into new landforms that can support wetlands in Jamaica Bay in New York. At current rates, “the wetlands will totally disappear in 10 years. Water regimes have changed due to stormwater runoff and deeper shipping channels.” While efforts are underway to rebuild the low-lying islands that can support wetlands in the bay, he asked how dredge can be used to restore a natural environment “where everything has changed?”

According to Hugh Roberts, Arcadis, we must “design with nature” when dredging, and a changing nature at that. Coastal land loss plus sea level rise means using dredged sediment to create wetland habitat is incredibly complex, hence the need for his job, numeric modeling lead. Wetlands require multiple flushings of water per day and they only exist at sea level, so there are “narrower number of places where they can survive. It’s a fine balance.”

In the Mississippi River delta, Roberts has been working on the White Delta diversion project, which aims to create the most efficient interventions for spreading out sediment in the widest possible fan from the river into the delta. Flow paths are dredged to enable the reconstitution of sediment far into the delta plains. All of this is part of an effort to undo the built system of containing the river, which looks like “a plumbing diagram,” in favor of letting the river flow and deposit sediment where it’s most needed, ecologically.

Roberts also pointed to the innovative Sand Engine project in the Netherlands as a great example of how dredging can work with nature. The Dutch have created a “changing land form that distributes sand along the Dutch coast.” They have placed large “nourishment mounds.” Nature then “spreads out the sand where it needs to.”

This process is the opposite of the conventional approach of pumping sand directly onto eroding beaches, an approach often called botoxing beaches. Like botox, this pumping approach only works for so long before the beach needs to be re-sanded.

The Sand Engine, Roberts says, is about “increasing resilience through nature.” Models, like the ones he creates, can help nature optimize its efforts. Today, one can see the Sand Engine has actually resulted in “natural dune formations” and the return of endangered plant species.

Zandmotor vlucht-30 10-01-2012 foto: Rijkswaterstaat/Joop van Houdt

Dutch Sand Engine / Topos Magazine

Milligan said up to 45 gigatons of earth is dredged per year, about 30 tons per person in the U.S. According to engineer and dredger Chris Dols, Great Lakes Dredge and Dock, there are a number of different dredging technologies. There’s the cutter suction dredge, which turns mud underwater into a slurry then moved through massive hydraulic pumps. Then there’s hopper dredging, which involves using a mobile dredging vessels that vacuums up material then stores it within the boat only to be sprayed or pumped to other locations. Both can be used to support restoring ecosystems.

Sean Burkholder, ASLA, a landscape architecture professor at University at Buffalo, wants landscape architects to see dredging as a real design opportunity. Today, in the Great Lakes region, only 25 percent of sediment is reused; the rest is dumped on land or sent out to sea. Instead of treating contaminated sediment as merely waste that needs to be moved and capped, contaminants can be separated out, leaving material to create new dredge landscapes. “We can use this material more creatively in our own work.”

Also, existing dredged landscapes can become environmental education opportunities. These landscapes are typically near cities. “We can create access and interpretation for legacy sites.”

For those interested in learning more about dredge landscapes, Milligan organizes DredgeFest every year.

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