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Appslarge

ASLA recently surveyed practicing landscape architects, students, and university faculty from around the world to better under understand what smartphone apps landscapes architects are using to conceptualize, design, and construct projects. We recently reported the results from the survey, which received more than 150 responses, in the first two parts of this three part series. See ppart one: Smartphone Apps for Landscape Architects: Useful Tools for Site Analysis and Design and part two: Smartphone Apps for Landscape Architects: Useful Tools for Construction and Presentation.

In addition to asking respondents which smartphone apps they used, we also asked which apps they wished were available. As can be expected, we got a range of responses. Some wishes were practical and offer real opportunities for entrepreneurial app developers, while others were perhaps fantastical, given the technology isn’t there yet and won’t be for a while. Here are some of the most desired kinds of apps that don’t yet exist:

Trees and Plants

Landscape architects are hurting for better plant apps; these are the most wished-for apps by far. While some respondents said they used apps like Dirr’s Tree and Shrub Finder or Leafsnap, others mused about how much easier their lives would be if they could simply “take a photo of a tree and the app could identify it,” or if there was “an app that could size a tree from a photo.” Several respondents expressed a need for plant apps that focused on “right plant, right place,” and include sun and shade analysis of sites to help guide planting design. Still others simply want a more comprehensive identification app that shows the “form of a plant, rather than just its flower or leaf.”

One thing is for certain: many landscape architects are looking for an app that will quickly identify a plant in any region in the world, and tell them where to put it. That’s not a small order, but we’ll see what the future holds.

Topography and Grading

The next most-desired category of apps relate to topography and grading. “I would be interested in an app that visualizes and makes available GIS data for soil type, site history, zoning, flood levels, etc., in a navigable interface. This would be used less for data manipulation and more for overviews on site visits,” one respondent said.

Other respondents were especially interested in an app that could use GPS data to give topography and elevation data for a given landscape or build a topographical map based on the existing grade of a user’s location. Ideally, this app would also be able to export info to AutoCAD, RhinoTerrain, and GoogleEarth.

Materials

“I would like an app that would allow you to create material palette collages that combine site furniture, planting, and paving and other materials for your project and be able to export the layers to Photoshop,” one respondent said. Some sort of collage app that would allow users to put together different images into a single palette and export for presentation was one of the more popular responses.

Perhaps an app like PhotoGrid (free; ios / android) that allows users to design layouts and create photo collages would fill this gap. But a similar app specifically geared toward landscape architects with a variety of material and plant stock images (with an option for users to upload their own photos) would likely be more widely used.

Photo Grid App Screenshot / KS Mobile, Inc. on the iTunes App Store

Photo Grid App Screenshot / KS Mobile, Inc. on the iTunes App Store

Construction Standards

Several respondents were looking for a smartphone app that would provide them with American Disability Act (ADA) and construction standards on their mobile devices. One respondent pointed to the book Time-Saver Standards for Landscape Architecture by Charles Harris, FASLA, and Nicholas Dines, FASLA, and said a “similar app version would be very helpful.” While many respondents said they typically find this information through search engines, others would prefer to have a reference guide on the go.

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Time-Saver Standards for Landscape Architecture by Charles W. Harris and Nicholas T. Dines / Amazon

One respondent suggested LandCalc (free; android), an app that can calculate and convert soil, mulch and stone volumes, as well as calculate slope and the amount of plant material needed for a given space. While this may be helpful for some landscape architects, an app that goes a little bit further as a mobile reference for construction standards would help.

LACalc Screenshot / Bristle Software Inc. on the Google Play Store

LACalc Screenshot / Bristle Software Inc. on the Google Play Store

What’s an App?

Lastly, a small but significant number of respondents are reluctant to jump on the smartphone bandwagon. “Apparently people are using apps,” one respondent wrote in. Several others reported that they don’t yet have a smartphone.

While owning a smartphone is by no means necessary for practicing landscape architecture, our survey indicates that the wide range of smartphone apps available for landscape architects is already changing the way they design and build.

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Appslarge

In order to better understand what smartphone apps landscape architects use to conceptualize, design, and construct projects, ASLA recently surveyed practicing landscape architects, students, and university faculty from around the world and received more than 150 responses. In part two of this three part series, we continue to summarize the results of the survey, focusing on useful apps for constructing landscapes and presenting design ideas to colleagues and clients.

Read the first part of the survey results: Smartphone Apps for Landscape Architects: Useful Tools for Site Analysis and Design

What Apps Do You Use When Constructing a Project?

Nearly 50 percent of respondents use a smartphone app during the construction process for all or most projects, while 40 percent of respondents said they never or rarely use an app for this phase of a landscape project. 67 percent said they discovered the app on their own, while 18 percent said their firm encouraged them to use it. 7 percent were encourage to use it by a construction or engineering firm and others were informed about these apps through web searches.

The most popular apps for construction identified by respondents:

Screenshot of the AutoCAD 360 app / Autodesk Inc. on the iTunes App Store

Screenshot of the AutoCAD 360 app / Autodesk Inc. on the iTunes App Store

1. AutoCAD 360 (free; ios / android): AutoCAD 360 is a drawing and drafting app that allows you to view, edit, and share AutoCAD drawings. You can upload and open 2D and 3D DWG drawings from email and view all aspects of the file during the construction process. You can also draw and edit shapes, as well as move, rotate, and scale objects just as you would in the desktop version of AutoCAD.

2. Newforma Plans (free ios): Newformas Plans is an app that eliminates the need to carry paper plans around a jobsite. This app allows you to upload current project plans to the NewForma desktop platform and access them automatically through your iPad. You can then view, markup, and email documents while in the field.

Some other interesting apps respondents suggested:

PlanGrid (free; ios / android): PlanGrid is a construction app that allows users to upload PDF drawings to plangrid.com and then sync to their smartphones and tablets. Users can then markup and annotate drawings from the field, as well as take progress photos and pin them to the construction documents. Any markups and annotations made in the app can be shared with everyone who has access to the documents.

Bluebeam Revu ($9.99 ios): Bluebeam Revu is another app that lets you access and markup PDFs on the go. The app allows you to add comments, images, symbols, and multimedia as markups that can be saved as custom markups for future reuse. In addition to these markup features, the app has a feature that allows you to verify length, area, perimeter, and other measurements in a blueprint. Using a cloud-based platform, Revu also allows you to collaborate with colleagues in real time on the same document.

Theodolite ($3.99 ios): Theodolite is a viewfinding app that uses your smartphone’s camera, compass, and GPS to create geo-tagged photos, screenshots, and movies with one app. Not only can you stamp geographical data and notes directly onto photos and movies for later reference but you can also view your location on a map and share your position with your team through a “team tracking” feature.

What Apps Do You Use When Presenting a Project?

Some 52 percent of respondents said they use a smartphone app for presenting all or most projects, while 28 percent of respondents said they never or rarely do. 66 percent said they discovered the app on their own, while 22 percent said their firm encouraged them to use it.

The most popular apps for presentation identified by respondents:

Screenshot of the Dropbox app / Dropbox on the Apple iTunes Store

Screenshot of the Dropbox app / Dropbox on the Apple iTunes Store

1. Dropbox (free; ios / android): The Dropbox app allows you to store your photos, documents, videos, and other files to the cloud or send large files that might not send via email directly to others. With this app, you can create and edit Microsoft Office documents from your smartphone or tablet, or even back up photos and videos to the cloud automatically.

2. Keynote ($9.99 ios): Keynote allows users to create presentations with animated charts and transitions on their iPod or iPad. Presentations can be built from 30 Apple-designed themes and slide layouts, animations, fonts, and style options to make presentations more dynamic.

3. Adobe Acrobat Reader (free; ios): Adobe Acrobat Reader is the smartphone version of the popular desktop application, with many of the same features. The app allows you to quickly open PDF documents from email or the web and make comments on PDFs using sticky notes and drawing tools. You can also quickly fill out forms by typing text into fillable field or e-sign documents with your finger.

4. Microsoft PowerPoint (free; ios / android): The Microsoft PowerPoint app has the familiar look and feel of the desktop version of PowerPoint and allows you to create, view, and edit presentations from your smartphone or tablet. When you edit a presentation on an app, the content and formatting remain the same across all of your devices and you can work with other simultaneously on the same presentation from different platforms.

Some other interesting apps respondents suggested:

uPad 3 ($5.99 ios): uPad turns your smartphone or tablet into a handwritten note-taking device. The app will only recognize a special touch pen, eliminating the chance that your hand or fingers will interfere with writing. uPad allows you to annotate PDF files and presentations quickly and easily and share annotated documents with any application that can read an image of PDF.

iAnnotate ($9.99 ios; free android): The iAnnotate app is a popular app for reading, marking up, and sharing PDFs, Word Documents, PowerPoint Documents, and image files. Users can choose from a variety of tools to annotate documents such as a pen, highlighter, typewriters, stamp, and many more. Users can also add, delete, and rearrange pages in documents, then compress annotations to prevent modification.

Read part 3 on the smartphone apps landscape architects wish were available.

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Appslarge
In order to better understand what smartphone apps landscape architects use to conceptualize, design, and construct projects, ASLA recently surveyed practicing landscape architects, students, and university faculty from around the world. In this three-part series, we summarize the results of the survey, which yielded more than 150 responses over two weeks. Our goal is to let landscape architects know about all the useful apps they might not be aware of, and how these tools can be incorporated into increasingly multimedia design processes.

Some 64 percent of survey respondents are registered landscape architects. And 78 percent are ASLA members, of which 15 percent are associate and student members and 8 percent are fellows.

The survey assessed smartphone app use during multiple phases areas of the design process: site analysis, conceptualization and design, design reference, plant identification and selection, construction, and presentation. Respondents were asked which app they use most during each of these phases, how frequently they use that app, and who recommended it to them.

What App Do You Use When Analyzing a Site? 

76 percent of respondents used a smartphone app to analyze a site for all or most projects, while 15 percent of respondents have never used an app when conducting site analysis. 75 percent said they discovered the app on their own, while 15 percent said their firm encouraged them to use it. Others were informed about these apps through their university or by co-workers.

The most popular site analysis apps identified by respondents:

Google Earth App / Google Inc. on the App Store by iTunes

Google Earth App / Google Inc. on the iTunes App Store

1. Google Earth (free; ios / android): By far, the most popular app used for site analysis. The newest version of the Google Earth app allows users to search for exact locations as well as turn on and off layers that include streets names, borders, and photography. Through the 3-D street view option, users can get a real sense of what places are like on the ground.

2. Camera (free; ios /android): Built into all smartphones, the camera app is extremely popular for documenting sites. The iPhone camera has 8 megapixels, exposure controls, and panorama options. It also can shoot HD, slo-mo, and time-lapse video. The android camera offers similar features.

3. GPS Essentials (free; android): The GPS essentials app allows users to navigate maps, trace tracks, and manage waypoints. For any given area, the app show navigation values such as latitude, longitude, altitude, and sun and moon data. Routes, tracks, and waypoints drawn in the app can be exported to Google Earth and Google Maps.

4. Sunseeker ($9.99 ios; $7.49 android): Sunseeker uses GPS and magnetometer data to show the sun’s path at a given location on both a flat compass view and as a realistic camera view. The app, which shows the sun’s location in hour intervals, its winter and summer solstice path, as well as rise and set times, can give users a feel for the change in solar angle throughout the year and how it will impact a site.

Some other interesting apps respondents suggested:

Clinometer ($1.99 ios; free android): Clinometer allows users to calculate the angle of a slope using a smartphone camera. The app can display the slope in degrees, percentage, or rise over run. It can also be used as a level for simple tasks like aligning a frame or a presentation board.

My Tracks (free; ios / android): My Tracks turns your phone into a GPS logger by recording your path, speed, distance, and elevation on a map while you walk, run, or bike outdoors. The GPS tracks are stored on your phone and can be exported to Google Maps, Google Earth, or as vector linework.

Planimeter ($7.99 ios; $3.99 android): Planimeter is another GPS tracking tool that measures land area and distance on a map, as well as perimeter, and GPS coordinates. Not only can you quickly measure lawns, lot sizes, buildings, and paving from a satellite map, you can also measure a specific area by walking or driving around it.

What App Do You Use When Conceptualizing and Designing a Project?

Some 44 percent of respondents used a smartphone app when conceptualizing and designing all or most projects, whereas 27 percent of respondents never use an app when working through this stage of a landscape project. Some 70 percent said they discovered the app on their own, while 14 percent said their firm encouraged them to use it.

The most popular conceptualization and design apps identified by respondents:

iPad Screenshot of Paper by Fifty Three / FiftyThree, Inc. on the App Store by iTunes

iPad Screenshot of Paper by Fifty Three / FiftyThree, Inc. on the iTunes App Store

1. Paper by FiftyThree (free; ios): Paper is a digital notebook app that allows you to quickly sketch, write, draw, outline, and color on a clean interface that mimics real paper. It also includes tools that allow users to quickly create charts and diagrams for quick note-taking. Special pencils and styluses can be purchased to make drawing and note-taking easier on an iPad.

2.  Pinterest (free; ios / android): Pinterest is a visual bookmarking tool that allows users to find and save photos and ideas through their social networks. Users can upload, save, and share images and videos – known as Pins – from people in their social networks or they can save content found online to their Pinterest boards using the “Pin it” feature.

3. Houzz (free; ios / android): Houzz, called the “Wikipedia of interior and exterior design” by CNN, features a database of home design ideas that are extremely useful for residential designers. Users can browse photos by style and location and save them to a “virtual ideabook” for reference. Images can also be saved for offline viewing or shared with others through the app.

4. Sketchup Mobile Viewer ($9.99 ios ; $9.99 android): The Sketchup Mobile Viewer allows users to open and view their Sketchup models on their mobile devices. Sketchup models can be downloaded from 3D Warehouse, Dropbox, or email and can be viewed from a variety of angles and with any of Sketchup’s face styles.

Some other interesting apps respondents suggested:

Autodesk Sketchbook / Sketchbook Pro ($3.99 ios / $4.35 android): Autodesk Sketchbook is an intuitive drawing app that offers more than 100-plus preset brushes, pencils, pens, and brushes. It’s designed for people of all skill levels and allows users to create everything from small doodles to detailed digital artwork. Painting layers can be controlled with different blending modes, allowing users to create artwork as they would in Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, or in real life.

Morpholio Trace (free; ios): Morpholio Trace allows uses to quickly draw on top of imported images, drawings, and photos to comment on plans, progress images, or other drawings. Users can choose from a variety of trace papers such as yellow trace, vellum, or blueprint and use a variety of pens will different line types, colors, and sizes. Just as in real life, layers of digital trace can be added on top of each to build on ideas.

What App Do You Use for Design Reference (grading standards, color palettes, project photos, etc.)?

Some 47 percent of respondents said they used a smartphone app as a design reference tool for every or most projects, whereas 28 percent of respondents have never done so. 72 percent said they discovered the app on their own, while 15 percent said their firm encouraged them to use it. The majority of respondents said they used search engine apps, Houzz and Pinterest (as discussed above). Many landscape architects identified a need for better design reference apps.

The most popular design reference apps identified by respondents:

Adobe Color CC / Adobe on the iTunes App Store

Adobe Color CC / Adobe on the iTunes App Store

1. Adobe Color CC (free; ios / android): Adobe Color CC allows users to create color themes that can be transferred to Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop. The app allows users to use their screen as a viewfinder and will extract colors from camera views or photos. An interactive color wheel and color slides allow users to adjust individual colors or use pre-set selections based on color theory.

2. Palettes / Palettes Pro (free or $3.99; ios): Palettes is another color palette tool designers can use for creating color schemes. Users can grab color from a photograph, website, or select a color using a variety of color models. Compared to Adobe Color CC, Palettes offers more colors per palette (up to 25) as well as a feature that allows you to display a color full screen to compare against a real world item.

3. Synthesis Mobile (free; ios / android): Synthesis Mobile aggregates information about a user’s firm and allows him or her to stay connected with news, updates, and ideas across the company – essentially it’s a social network and employee directory for firms. Users can compose and comment on posts, as well as share photos and links firm-wide through the app. The app also keeps track of employees, projects, and future opportunities.

What App Do You Use for Identifying / Selecting Plants? 

32 percent of respondents used a smart phone app to select or identify plants for every or most projects, whereas 41 percent of respondents said they rarely or never used an app for this. 72 percent said they discovered the plant identification app on their own, while 9 percent said their firm encouraged them to use it. Many respondents said they primarily use search engines or books, or that they don’t need reference materials for plants. Some identified a need for more accurate, user-friendly plant identification apps.

The most popular plant selection and identification apps identified by respondents:

Dirr's Tree and Shrub Finder / Timber Press, Inc. on the iTunes App Store

Dirr’s Tree and Shrub Finder / Timber Press, Inc. on the iTunes App Store

1. Dirr’s Tree and Shrub Finder ($14.99, ios): Dirr’s Tree and Shrub finder is a searchable plant database that allows users to search for plants by 72 criteria including hardiness zones, water and light requirements, growth characteristics, and flowers, among many others. The app covers 1,670 species and 7,800 cultivates with more than 7,600 plant images, as well as 1,120 botanical illustrations. Plants in the app can be sorted by common and scientific name.

2. Leaf Snap (free; ios): Leaf Snap was developed by researchers from Columbia University, the University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution. The app uses visual recognition software to help identify trees species in the Northeastern United States and Canada from photographs of their leaves. It contains many high resolution images of trees, leaves, flowers, and bark to help with identification.

3. PlantAPP for PlantANT (free; ios / android): PlantAPP is an app associated with PlantANT – a website that provides a free wholesale plant and nursery directory that users can search by price, distance, size etc. With the app, users can search plant vendors and listings from their phone, while plant suppliers can upload pictures of their inventory through the app.

Some other interesting apps respondents suggested:

Virginia Tech Tree ID (free; android): Virginia Tech Tree Identification contains fact sheets for 969 woody plants from North America, including a detailed description, a range map, and thousands of images. The app can use a smartphone’s GPS signal or users can enter and address of zip code and the app will tell them what trees will survive in that location. The app can also identify a plant by asking the users a series of simple questions.

PRO Landscape Contractor (free; ios / android): PRO Landscape Contractor is made for landscape professionals. It allows users to select and create visual designs for a house or building by dragging and dropping more than 11,000 stock images of plants and hard-scape elements onto uploaded pictures. Users can search the image library for plants by common or botanical name and clone existing landscape elements into the new design.

Check out part two: smartphone apps for landscape architects: useful tools for construction and presentation.

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Painting with Light

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From the series Decoding Scape (cropped) / Lee Jeong Lok

Contemporary artists around the world are painting with light, using photographic techniques to add layers of light art on top of real-world scenes. These layers, which take many forms, add depth, evoke awe, and are stunningly creative. These images also illustrate the changing relationship between real and digital realms, nature and technology, and the photographer and their studio tools.

Korean artist Lee Jeong Lok overlays glowing Korean characters, symbols, and stylized natural forms like butterflies and trees on the natural vistas he has photographed.

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From the series Nabi (cropped) / Lee Jeong Lok

In Designboom, he writes: “I have been painting something that exists despite its invisible nature; places that correspond to the visible world, places beyond our sensual cognition, profoundly mysterious places that nevertheless cannot be separated from our world of cognition.”

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From the series Nabi (cropped) / Lee Jeong Lok

Lok adds: “painting with light is the body, mind, and the soul harmoniously following the rhythm; it is an act of delivering positive energy felt by the body, rather than creating something from nothing.”

French artist Julien Breton, otherwise known as “Kaalam” is also inspired by light, translating his own movements with flashlights into gorgeous depictions of Arabic calligraphy.

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Dead’s place. Abstract calligraphy. New York, USA, 2012. Calligraphy by Julien Breton aka Kaalam (cropped) / David Gallard

The characters seemingly appear out of thin air, although in a few photographs Kaalam doesn’t completely photoshop himself out, so you see the man behind the light, the precise moves that result in the alphabetic additions.

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Billy and the Kid (cropped) / Morocco

As This Is Colossal writes, Kaalam is attracted to architectural backdrops as well as dark rooftops and streets. The contrast between the tightly-scripted visions of light and the organic urban scenes adds to the allure of these art works.

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La lumière – The light. Arabic calligraphy. Jodpur, India, 2012. Calligraphy by Julien Breton aka Kaalam (cropped) / David Gallard.

And then there’s Italian photographer Paolo Pettigiani, whose augmented layer is an infrared filter, which completely remakes the Italian countryside into a candy-colored (or perhaps toxic) fantasy world. Designboom brings together a collection of these photographs.

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Italian countryside infrared photograph (cropped) / Paolo Pettigiani

Like Lok, he is also showing us an unseen world, given humans can’t see infrared light.

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Italian countryside infrared photograph (cropped) / Paolo Pettigiani

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Italian countryside infrared photograph (cropped) / Paolo Pettigiani

Beaches, woodlands, and marshes become unfamiliar, their forms seem renewed.

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User ratings for Park Row, New York, NY / Liz Camuti

User ratings for Park Row, New York, NY / Liz Camuti

Most smartphone map apps give you several direct routes to get from Point A to Point B, but the quickest or most convenient path isn’t always the most enjoyable. Those interested in finding the most beautiful, walkable route to their destination can now try Walkonomics. The app, created by United Kingdom programmer Adam Davies, allows users to find more beautiful paths through seven cities across the globe using both open and crowd-sourced city data.

Walkability-related data and apps have existed for a number of years. Websites like Walk Score rate individual addresses based on a number between 0 and 100, telling you how walkable or car-dependent an area is. But according to CityLab, Walk Score has yet to incorporate “more fine-grained and diverse data about the quality of the pedestrian experience.”

Walkonomics attempts to provide just that. Not only does this free iOS and Android app allow people to check the pedestrian-friendliness of most streets in Central London, Paris, New York, San Francisco, Toronto, Buenos Aires, and Glasgow, but it also allows them to chose either the quickest or most beautiful routes between destinations in these cities.

The app provides star rankings for eight different categories of pedestrian-friendliness: road safety; easy to cross; pavement/sidewalk; hilliness; navigation; fear of crime; “smart & beautiful;” and “fun & relaxing.” These ratings are generated from open data including street widths, traffic levels, crime statistics, pedestrian accidents, and even how many trees are on each street. Visitors and  residents can provide additional ratings for each of these criteria as they walk down streets in their neighborhood, as well as geo-referenced photos.

As I tested the app, I found that certain elements are not as user-friendly as existing ones in Google Maps. For example, typing in the name of a location rather than a specific address, which typically works pretty accurately in other mapping apps, is a bit of a struggle with Walkonomics, which requires your location or a very specific address if you’re not navigating to a famous landmark.

Though I am not a native New Yorker, I also found it strange that the most beautiful route between two New York City locations took me around Central Park, while the fastest route took me almost directly through the park. Is a stroll down a tree-lined street truly more beautiful than a walk through a park? This raises the question: how does Walkonomics actually quantify the most beautiful route, when what makes something beautiful is subjective. Furthermore, it’s unclear how Walkonomics, which is intended for urban streets, incorporates parks. Perhaps, the app could benefit from more crowd-sourcing and input from people who really know these streets (Most streets in New York only have one user rating). Davies said he also has plans to provide more options, like the safest and cleanest routes, which are more easily quantified.

The most beautiful route from 186 W 80th Street to the Plaza Hotel as determined by the Walkonomics app  / Liz Camuti

The most beautiful route from 186 W 80th Street to the Plaza Hotel as determined by the Walkonomics app / Liz Camuti

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The fastest route from 186 W 80th Street to the Plaza Hotel as determined by the Walkonomics app / Liz Camuti

Despite the app’s shortcomings, Davies has certainly tapped into a real demand for walkable places. Also, studies have shown that walkable streets can boost retail sales by up to 80 percent. Research indicates walkable neighborhoods reduce obesity levels, carbon emissions, and crime, among other benefits. In fact, the benefits of walkable cities have become so widely known that many big businesses are choosing to move their headquarters back to more walkable locations.

If you live in one of the seven cities available on the app and have an extra five minutes in the morning, take Walkonomics for a spin. Not only could you end up feeling less stressed at the beginning of your workday, but you’ll have the opportunity to add to a growing data source designed to make cities a little bit more livable. And, hopefully, Walkonomics will in turn open up its own data, as it could be really useful to landscape architects, urban planners, and health researchers trying to figure out what makes one route more appealing than another.

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hypernatural

Hypernatural / Princeton Architectural Press

All living creatures employ technologies to gain evolutionary advantage. For example, bats have evolved the use of echolocation to find their way as well as things to eat. A tortoise has evolved a shell to protect itself. There are countless examples. These technologies are tools for survival. Humans are equally a part of nature and now harness new “hypernatural” tools to “amplify, extend, or exceed natural capabilities.” Novel approaches are resulting in advances in the most essential technologies: shelter, or, in its cultural form, architecture. These new hypernatural forms be the “very aim of evolution itself,” write University of Minnesota architecture professors Blaine Brownell and Marc Swackhamer, in Hypernatural: Architecture’s New Relationship with Nature, their brilliant new book.

Although, they add that “evolution is a complex, messy process.” Hypernatural architecture, with all its technological advancements, is then subject to the same evolutionary development processes facing all new tools: these technologies will duke it out with others in a long-term struggle to see which is the most resource-efficient and cost-effective, which give individuals and communities the most advantages, and perhaps which benefit humanity the most. Furthermore, climate change, the loss of biodiversity, and reduced freshwater resources, among other environmental challenges, create a new set of conditions that will further shape the evolution of these human tools. New environmental conditions will evolve technologies, just as they will evolve new environments. But the whole goal of designing with nature — instead of wrecking havoc on nature in pursuit of profit — is to create a relationship between the environment and our tools that is more sustainable.

Perhaps the primary value of Hypernatural is that it organizes all the projects that relate to “nature-focused movements,” like geo-design, bio-engineering, and bio-mimicry, creating a clearer understanding of how architects, interior designers, artists, and others are “designing with biology.” They delve into all the ways projects incorporate biology, explaining the difference between behavioral, genetic, and epigenetic (environmental) projects. And they organize the array of new projects — some of which are truly mind-boggling — into broad groups that follow the founding domains of life: the geosphere, atmosphere, and hydrosphere. There are also examples that relate to the microbial, botanical, and zoological biospheres, as well as a final chapter on the “noosphere,” the domain of purely human thought, which Brownell and Swackhamer argue is also a legitimate “natural sphere.” (Another plus of this book is will serve as a useful refresher of all that introductory biology that has been forgotten; there are also tons of interesting factoids about the earth and its natural systems).

Here are just a few examples from the book:

In the geosphere section, which focuses on how humans can better harness the rock cycle, which works like the water cycle but just on a much slower scale, we learn about Radiolaria, created by Shiro Studio in 2009. This project learns from the “slow system of deposition found in the geological process of sedimentary rock formation,” but speeds it up with the use of 3-D printing technology. Radiolaria is actually the “first successful use of architectural-scale printing with natural rock dust.” A 953-cubic-foot “freestanding pavilion” was constructed out of sandstone and inorganic binder. “It effectively transforms marble dust, sand, or rock particles into a solid mineral with micro-crystalline characteristics that are chemically neutral and easily recyclable.”

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Radiolaria / Shiro Studio

For an example of a project that highlights the atmosphere, Brownell and Swackhamer show us Windswept, a project by artist Charles Sowers, which was created for the Randall Museum in San Francisco in 2012. Windswept features a field of “vertical wind instruments to map not just the general wind direction but the intricate movements of air across a building facade.” The pieces makes visible the invisible movement of a natural force. Some museum visitors described it as reminiscent of a “field of undulating wheat or a rippling school of fish.”

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Windswept / Bruce Damonte

The hydrosphere section has many intriguing projects, but one that particularly leaped out was Bubble Building by DUS Architects, which was created in the Netherlands in 2012. In a pavilion in Rotterdam, the architects composed 16 hexagonal, shallow pools filled with a thin layer of soap and water. “By lifting metal rings that circumscribe these hexagons, membranes of glassy, rainbow-colored film stretch to form temporary pavilion walls.” While architect Frei Otto and others have long been inspired by bubbles, this project actually uses them to build something, albeit temporary. It disappears when unoccupied.

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Bubble Building / DUS Architects

In the microbial section, we come across a wondrous yet also disturbing project called Radiant Soil created by Canadian architect and professor Phillip Beesley in 2013. Radiant Soil is a “suspended, responsive ceiling system that behaves like biology.” The piece responds in real-time to the “movement and proximity of people by lighting itself along LED-lined arteries, moving its biochemical fronds to generate air currents and releasing unique odors into the air through scent-emitting glands.” Brownell and Swackhamer say it has “profound implications for a new dialogue between humans and their built environment.”

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Radiant Soil / Philip Beesley Architect Inc.

While the focus is on buildings in Hypernatural, there are enough great ideas to interest any designer focused on the future of design and biology. If there are any criticisms, it’s some of the botanical examples fail to impress: it seems natural botanical forms are still far more interesting than hypernatural ones. And too many of the projects are one-off artistic or architectural experiments that don’t seem particularly scalable or accessible, unless they have been explained to you. But, then again, didn’t so many innovations we take advantage of and so many aesthetic movements we appreciate today start out the same way, misunderstood in some lab or studio? Fast forward a hundred years into the future and it will be fascinating to see what small glimpses of the future displayed here will be mainstream.

Read the book.

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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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