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SkyCycle

London’s proposed SkyCycle, from starchitect Lord Norman Foster / Foster + Partners

This year, two designs – one proposed and one built – for elevated cycletracks, which create bicycle highways above street level, have gained considerable media attention. They highlight questions at the heart of urban design: Should cities blend or separate transportation options? How can cities best mitigate the hazards created when cars, bikes, mass transit, and pedestrians mix? How can cities create low-cost transportation networks in increasingly dense urban cores?

In January, Exterior Architects and Foster + Partners unveiled their design proposal for the London SkyCycle, a 220 km (136 mile) network of elevated cycletracks following existing rail services with over 200 entry points (see image above). The design team claims that each route will be able to “accommodate 12,000 cyclists per hour and will improve journey times by up to 29 minutes.”

This vision even extends beyond London and even its suburbs: “The dream is that you could wake up in Paris and cycle to the Gare du Nord,” says Sam Martin of Exterior Architecture, quoted in an article in The Guardian. “Then get the train to Stratford, and cycle straight into central London in minutes, without worrying about trucks and buses.”

The plan was proposed during a particularly tense time for cycling in London after a spate of traffic accidents in November 2013 resulted in six cyclists killed over a two-week period. But while the project is reportedly backed by the Network Rail and Transport for London, it’s had plenty of criticism.

Notable critics include Mayor Boris Johnson, according to cycling blog Road.cc, and Copenhagen-based urban design expert Mikael Colville-Anderson on his blog Copenhagenize. On the London radio call-in show “Ask Boris,” Mayor Johnson called the plan “fantastically expensive. I don’t actually think as a cyclist it is what the city needs, what we need is more safety measures, we need better roads, we need better protection for cyclists of all kinds, we need better investment in our streets and that’s what we’re doing.”

Colville-Anderson, less diplomatically, calls the plan “Classic Magpie Architecture. Attempting to attract people to big shiny things that dazzle, but that have little functional value in the development of a city. Ideas like these are city killers. Removing great numbers of citizens who could be cycling down city streets past shops and cafés on their way to work or school and placing them on a shelf, far away from everything else. All this in a city that is so far behind in reestablishing cycling as transport that it’s embarrassing. With most of the population already whining about bicycles on streets, sticking them up in the air, out of the way, is hardly going to help returning bicycles to the urban fabric of the city.”

With the costs for just the first 6.5 km trial stretch estimated at a whopping £220 million (approx. $365 million) and the Mayor’s criticism slowing momentum, SkyCycle’s future is unclear.

Actually completed earlier this summer, though, is Copenhagen’s Cykelslangen, or Cycle Snake, which has received widespread critical acclaim. Designed by architects at Dissing and Weitling, the 235-meter (770-feet) long cycletrack curves and winds gracefully over the harbor and one-story above a busy waterfront shopping area.

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Cycle Snake, Illustrated / Dissing and Weitling

Thirteen-feet wide with two lanes, the elevated bike route connects Bryggebroen pedestrian-bike bridge to parts of the city beyond busy waterfront area Kalvebod Brygge, at a cost of just $5.74 million.

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Cycle Snake over the harbor / Ursula Bach for Dissing+Weitling Architecture

Rather than a glitzy panacea to solve a city’s transportation woes on an outdated urban renewal scale, Cycle Snake targeted a specific problem area: a tricky staircase with heavy pedestrian traffic that didn’t mix well with cyclists trying to pass through.

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Cycle Snake entry ramp / Ursula Bach for Dissing+Weitling Architecture

“There was a missing link that forced bicycle users to use the stairs or make a huge detour around a shopping center,” says Colville-Anderson in a FastCo.Exist article. “This solution provided a fast A-to-B from a bridge to a bicycle bridge on the harbor, while freeing up the harbor front for meandering pedestrians.”

The ride offers a nice bit of downhill coasting in a very flat city, and cyclists can enjoy views of the harbor without worrying about crashing into pedestrians. Copenhagen also plans on building six new bike-pedestrian bridges over the harbor.

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Cycle Snake lanes / Ursula Bach for Dissing+Weitling Architecture

As cities continue to increase in density, we’ll continue to run into practical, logistical challenges, writes Sam Jacobs in Dezeen. “How can the variety of road users – pedestrians, bikes, cars, trucks – co-exist in a safe and civilized way? But it’s also a philosophical and political issue: who is the city for?”

Tourists? Urban bike commuters? Professionals coming in from the suburbs? All of the above? No easy answers, but these designs certainly raise plenty of questions.

Yoshi Silverstein is the ASLA 2014 communications intern. He is a Masters in Landscape Architecture candidate at the University of Maryland. He focuses on landscape experience and outdoor learning environments.

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Riverbed / Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark is considered a milestone of modern Danish design, noted for its synthesis of art, architecture, and landscape. Now, a new exhibition from artist Olafur Eliasson seeks to blur these boundaries even further with Riverbed, an exhibition that transforms “the entire South Wing into a rocky landscape.”

Riverbed is what it sounds like: a rocky riverbed, complete with stones, soil, and a narrow waterway meandering through the middle, laid down inside the museum walls.

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Riverbed / Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

Described as “stress-test of Louisiana’s physical capacity,” the installation also directly refers to the site’s history. In 1982, the museum added the south wing on a slope, which had once been home to a sculpture garden. “Like many of the exhibitions presented throughout his creative career,” writes Designboom, “Eliasson’s Riverbed is site-specific, engaging with the cultural institution’s unique identity, thematically linking the artworks and gallery as a place.”

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Riverbed / Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

Design blog The Fox is Black describes Riverbed as “a surreal and beautiful sight. Visitors are encouraged to walk on the rocky surfaces, and spaces are entered through semi-submerged gallery doorways. I think it looks terrific and I can only imagine how wonderful it must be to hear the trickle of water running through the small galleries of the Museum.”

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Riverbed / Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

Beyond the sensory pleasure, the exhibition questions the meaning and experience of the museum itself, writes Arch Daily. “Both grand and humble, the installation overturns expectations of the role of museum-goer and dances between definitions of observer and participant . . . Avoiding traditional expectations of behavior and thought associated with museums, Eliasson strips away superficial information through the emptiness of the landscape. There is nothing on the walls, and there is no expected way to act within or experience the space, allowing for freedom of reflection, thought, sensory experience, and sense of self.”

The exhibition opens August 20 and runs through April 2015, alongside Model Room, a collaboration with Eliasson and Icelandic artist Einar Thorsteinn, and three video screenings in the main hall.

Yoshi Silverstein is the ASLA 2014 communications intern. He is a Masters in Landscape Architecture candidate at the University of Maryland. He focuses on landscape experience and outdoor learning environments.

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Site of Future Lucas Museum of Narrative Art / The Architect’s Newspaper

An Award-Winning Landscape Embraces Bay Views – Houzz, August 2014
“Landscape architect Scott Lewis repeats the sentiments of many architects and designers talking about their projects when he says that his favorite part of this project was witnessing its transformation. ‘I know what it looked like before,’ he says.”

Placemaking Done Right: Three Successful Approaches Planetizen, 8/19/14
“It is often hard to quantify what makes a place memorable, successful or special, but to paraphrase an old adage, ‘You know it when you see it.'”

Hollywood’s Freeway Cap Park Begins Environmental Review ProcessThe Architect’s Newspaper, 8/25/14
“The city of Los Angeles is now preparing an environmental impact report for the project. The park, located about four miles northwest of Downtown LA and about 500 feet north of the 101′s Hollywood Boulevard overpass, would be built on an engineered deck over the freeway.”

Landscape Architecture Makes Nashville a Better Place to Live  The Tenneseean, 8/26/14
“Developers that value landscape architecture are developers that value Nashville’s residents and communities.”

Can a Park Jumpstart a Neighborhood? The Boston Globe, 8/26/14
“The Lawn on D, a new temporary park at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, sits in what might seem like a bizarre spot to build a new outdoor space. It runs along a weird stretch of no-man’s-land on D Street in South Boston.”

Return of the JediThe Architect’s Newspaper, 8/28/14
“Pursued by both San Francisco and Los Angeles, George Lucas ultimately chose Chicago for his Museum of Narrative Art, an archive for the Hollywood icon’s extensive collection of movie memorabilia and modern art.”

NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide, 2nd Edition / Island Press

NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide, 2nd Edition / Island Press

In the year 2000, the District of Columbia had three miles of bike lanes. Today, the district has roughly 80 miles of bike infrastructure, including the first lanes in historically underserved Ward 8. Many other U.S. cities have made similar investments. Bicycling Magazine’s top 50 bike friendly cities includes some unsurprising places at the top – Minneapolis, Portland, Boulder, Seattle – but also shows how cities such as Cleveland, Miami, and Baltimore have made important strides in the last several years to improve their bike systems. Several of these cities are members of the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), which has put out its best-selling Urban Bikeway Design Guide, first released in 2011, now with an updated second edition this year.

NACTO’s updated second edition is part of their “sustained commitment to making city streets safer for everyone using them.” Reformatted in an attractive hardcover with improved structure, it features photos, diagrams, and 3-D renderings of wide-ranging best practices in design for bike infrastructure. Also new is a chapter on bicycle boulevard planning and design. I particularly liked the handsome, debossed linen of the new hardcover, with its simple design and retro 1970s vibe.

Inside the cover, readers will find descriptions, information, and design guidance on various types of “treatments” — bike lanes, cycle tracks, intersections, signaling, signage and marking, and bicycle boulevards. Each treatment offers three levels of guidance:

  • Required: elements for which there is a strong consensus that the treatment cannot be implemented without.
  • Recommended: elements for which there is a strong consensus of added value.
  • Optional: elements that vary across cities and may add value depending on the situation.

Photographs show examples from cities around the country. The diagrams and renderings highlight important design recommendations for those looking to implement these solutions.

While the standard bike lane many likely think of is included, the design guide offers many alternatives that make biking safer and more efficient for pedestrians and drivers as well as bikers.

Two alternatives to the typical bike lane, which is defined here as a painted strip running parallel and adjacent to moving vehicle lanes, include:

The buffered bike lane, separated from cars by a few extra feet marked with painted strips.

Buffered bike lane / NACTO

Buffered bike lane (Seattle) / NACTO.

Or the cycle track, a lane nonadjacent to moving cars, which might be protected by parked cars, raised in elevation, or even moved alongside the pedestrian path on the sidewalk.

Protected cycle track (Chicago) / NACTO

Protected cycle track (Chicago) / NACTO

Raised cycle track (Cambridge) / NACTO

Raised cycle track (Cambridge) / NACTO

Over half of the guide is dedicated to design solutions for intersections, an area with high potential for conflict. Included in the guide’s recommendations for intersections are:

Combined bike turning lanes that help bikers and drivers navigate the mixing zone created when bikes approach an intersection and cars need to make a right turn.

Intersection approach / NACTO

Intersection approach / NACTO

Combined turning lane / NACTO

Combined turning lane / NACTO

Bike boxes – designated areas at the head of a traffic lane that provides bicyclists with a safe and visible way to get ahead of stopped traffic at a red light.

Bike box (Portland) / NACTO

Bike box (Portland) / NACTO

Signal phasing for traffic lights, which help to clarify when bicyclists should enter an intersection, and restrict vehicle movements.

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Hybrid beacon signal phasing (Portland) / NACTO

As mentioned, the reissue includes a new section on bike boulevards. These are multi-vehicular streets with low traffic and low speeds designed to prioritize bicycle travel. Creating these boulevards begins at the city planning level, analyzing which streets are appropriate and designing networks of boulevards to maximize accessibility. Signs and pavement marking designate the boulevards. Vehicular traffic is slowed through traffic calming measures such as raised crosswalks and intersections, speed humps, and “pinch points” where the street is narrowed through curb extensions or medians. Many of these measures can also easily include green infrastructure, part of the “green” and “complete” streets design standards.

Landscape architects, planners, and city officials should find this guide invaluable. Anyone who advocates for increasing bicycle infrastructure in our cities will find many useful tools for implementing best practice infrastructure. Notes and references listed in the back of the guide also offer a good starting point for those looking to get up to date with the literature on biking infrastructure. Many of the recommendations can be found on the NACTO website.

But if you’re someone like me who just likes to geek out on well-made diagrams and renderings, the new and improved Urban Bikeway Design Guide will gladly find a nice home on your bookshelf or coffee table.

Yoshi Silverstein is the ASLA 2014 communications intern. He is a Masters in Landscape Architecture candidate at the University of Maryland. He focuses on landscape experience and outdoor learning environments.

resilience

ASLA 2013 Professional Design Award of Excellence. Lafitte Greenway + Revitalization Corridor | Linking New Orleans Neighborhoods, New Orleans / Design Workshop

The Rockefeller Foundation has announced the 100 Resilient Cities Challenge, a $100 million effort to improve urban resilience. Their goal is to help cities build resilience to all sorts of social, economic, and physical challenges. Winning cities will receive funding to hire a Chief Resilience Officer, assistance in creating a comprehensive resilience strategy, and access to a “platform of innovative private and public sector tools.” The foundations says each city will not receive $1 million, but instead, get valuable resources to push forward their own well-defined resilience efforts.

Each city is only allowed one entry into the challenge. Cities will be evaluated against their commitment to “lead the resilience movement.” The city will have to show there is a broad base of support for their resilience program, and they already have multi-sector partnerships in place. They will need to identify areas where they are most vulnerable. And they will need to include the “voice of the city’s poor” in their efforts.

The foundation articulates the reasoning behind their effort: “We can’t predict the next disruption or catastrophe. But we can control how we respond to these challenges. We can adapt to the shocks and stresses of our world and transform them into opportunities for growth.”

Rockefeller Foundation judges will look at whether there is a real commitment, a “willingness for building and scaling the overall resilience of a city and using adaptable strategies.” They are looking for support from the leadership of the city. Judges will be looking for “ability to adapt,” including “flexibility to test new techniques, processes, services, or systems that expand the city’s ability to respond and emerge stronger when experiencing acute shocks (such as earthquakes and floods) and chronic stresses (such as violence and crime, pollution, pronounced inequality, serious energy shortages, lack of economic diversity, and inadequate housing).” Lastly, cities must demonstrate readiness to move with a comprehensive resilience plan and have a set of feasible activities ready to go.

We hope the Rockefeller Foundation will increase its support for the use of green infrastructure at all scales to enhance resilience.

And while these efforts are necessary, we’d like to see a greater discussion of how resilience connects with long-term sustainability, which is still the central goal. Resilience is merely a facet of sustainability. A singular focus on resilience seems to imply there is little chance for sustainability and we must gird ourselves for inevitable changes.

Cities must submit their applications by September 10, 2014.

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Perez Art Museum Miami / all photos by Robin Hill

The built and natural environments merged to form something new and amazing in Miami: The Perez Art Museum. One of the most fascinating recent uses of integrated design, the museum features a hanging garden and a complementary, tropical landscape filled with native plants and irrigated by the building itself. Designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron and landscape designers at ArquitectonicaGEO, the museum is a prime example of multidisciplinary team-driven sustainable design.

Exploring the museum from the ground up shows us how the project just builds one sustainable layer upon the next. As ArquitectonicaGEO explains, given the museum is close to the Biscayne Bay, it first had to be elevated to meet flood and storm surge requirements.

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The designers ended up putting the garage underneath, which opened up opportunities for smart, multi-purpose design. The arrangement enabled the creation of a “design that integrates parking and planting beds with irrigation system water storage, storm water infiltration, temporary storm surge storage, and aquifer recharge. The innovative porous-floored parking garage, along with rain gardens, has been designed to capture rain water and funnel it into the ground water system, thus reducing local flooding and storm water runoff into Biscayne Bay.” This approach apparently saved the client money, too.

Examining the surrounding landscape, one discovers the varied yet native-rich landscape is also a journey of discovery, enabling visitors to explore new realms of both the plant and art worlds. ArquitectonicaGEO tells us: “A naturalistic planting style dominates throughout the ground level and Level 1 planters, progressing from South Florida natives mimicking endemic habitats outside the building, to a mix of plant types adjacent to the building, and finally a more constructed pan-tropical and exotic palette within the garage and Level 1 planters. The landscape sequence begins on Museum Drive along the new Science Museum and Art Museums, continues in the underground parking garage with a surprising display of plant material in an unexpected location, and continues above ground with the spectacle of the hanging vegetation, and the discoveries within the sculpture garden.”

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Landscape architects also saved ten of the large West Indian Mahogany, Black Olive, and Tabebuia trees found on the site, transplanting them to new spots.

The building itself maximizes its exposure to natural air flow and the cooling power of plants. There are “extensive roof overhangs,” providing access to the landscape and elements.

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Much like the first Brutalist buildings in France, which paired concrete and nature, here, the pan-tropical vegetation is a counterpoint to the Modernism of Herzog & de Meuron’s building. Laurinda Spear, lead designer of ArquitectonicaGEO, told us: “Native plants have been chosen to display the raw materials of our landscape as a contrast to the geometric architecture of the building.”

The hanging vertical green gardens only enhance the effect of the green counterpoint. They were created by green wall designer Patrick Blanc and horticulturalists Michael Davenport from Fairchild Tropical Garden and Jeff Shimonski from Jungle Island.

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ArquitectonicaGEO explains the original design just featured the hanging gardens, but was eventually expanded to include the sustainable system for the horizontal landscape. The result is a far richer place.

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Bat Tower. Ants of the Prairie. East Otto, NY, 2010 / Ants of the Prairie

Woven branches. Green bamboo, curved while young to harden in place. Hives, nests, and domes. These are just some of the natural materials — and forms — featured in the book Natural Architecture Now by Italian landscape architect and writer Francesca Tatarella. A follow up to 2006’s Natural Architecture, Tatarella’s new book delves further into the architecture of nature, as constructed by humans.

The works highlighted in this highly-perusable book are a collection of mostly temporary artistic installations. They are “pavilions, observatories, and shelters . . . site-specific installations that bring visitors into deeper contact with nature so that they can experience its sights, sounds, and smells. As works of art, they rely on a new concept of beauty, prizing the disordered and the wild over more traditional formality.” Most works are in natural areas, but a few are in urban environments. Some respond to ecological needs, while others focus on providing for social needs. Many are a critique of the existing human relationship with nature, a call for an evolution in an unsustainable relationship.

Just a few examples:

Bat Tower, by Ants of the Prairie (see image above), and Sanctuary, by Yolanda Gutierrez, provide shelter for bats and birds, respectively. To consider the needs of the intended occupants, these designers deconstructed the natural habitats one might typically find in a place less impacted by human activities and then constructed installations to provide for these species’ needs, even when they are in close proximity to the built environment.

Sanctuary

Sanctuary. Yolanda Gutierrez. Cochimilco, Mexico, 1994 / Yolanda Gutierrez

Thicket and Creek Revetment Wall by Daniel McCormick blends the structural engineering of creekside stabilization practices with the aesthetic beauty and function of woven willow branches meant ultimately to be absorbed and reclaimed by nature.

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Creek Revetment Wall. Daniel McCormick. San Anselmo, CA, 2005 / Mary O’Brien

These types of projects raise the question: who is design for? Is it only for humans, or should it be for the other crawling, creeping, flying, and lumbering inhabitants of our world as well? The answer is obvious: we should be designing with all creatures’ needs in mind.

Human shelters such as Scuola Nueva Esperanza in Ecuador and Bamboo Structure Project in Iran use inexpensive materials like thatch, bamboo, and reclaimed wood combined to create low-cost structures meant for easy re-creation by non-professional builders.

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Scuola Nueva Esperanza. Al Borde Arquitectos. Manabí, Ecuador / Al Borde

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Bamboo Structure Project. Architecture for Humanity Tehran (RAI Studio). Iran / Rai Studio via Wikimedia Commons

Other installations featured a highly efficient use of woven plant material to create a range of structures, like nests, pavilions, and social gathering spaces. According to nest builder/weaver Porky Hefer, “nature builds to shape, because shape is cheap and material is expensive. By studying the shapes of nature’s strategies and how they are built, biomimicry can help you minimize the amount you spend on materials while maximizing the effectiveness of patterns and forms to achieve desired functions.”

"Nettleton Road Nest." Porky Hefer. Cape Town, South Africa. Made with kubu cane / Porky Hefer Design

“Nettleton Road Nest.” Porky Hefer. Cape Town, South Africa. Made with kubu cane / Porky Hefer Design

Less explored is the question of how these designs can be scaled up to address the needs of seven billion humans. Two of the few projects meant to accommodate any sort of residential-scale structure – I am so sorry. Goodbye (Escape Vehicle number 4) and How to Survive the Coming Bad Years from Heather and Ivan Morison have a haunted feel: “…a fantasy of post-apocalyptic survivalism, with all the misanthropy and horror that implies,” writes William Shaw.

Ivan Morison describes their vision of the conjoined domes of I am so sorry. Goodbye as being “inhabited by a guardian whose task is to keep the stove lit, water boiled, and visitors supplied with hibiscus tea . . . I felt witness to something I didn’t fully understand, but felt that we had been given the task to pass on this cryptic message.”

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“I am so sorry. Goodbye” / Matthew Benjamin Coleman

Perhaps the message of these installations is if we humans do not learn to better use the forms, materials, and processes of nature in our built environment, we will face systemic failure.

But all of natural architecture eventually returns to the earth, too. Tatarella writes: “Sooner or later, the branches and leaves that form their outer shells will rot and be absorbed back into the landscape, just as stones will fall from foundations and, over the ages, be worn away until they are just pebbles.”

Our built environment is destined to one day wear away into dust, but, hopefully, our most renewable designs will remain.

"Winnipeg Skating Shelters." Patkau Architects. Manitoba, Canida, 2010-11 / Patkau Architects

“Winnipeg Skating Shelters.” Patkau Architects. Manitoba, Canida, 2010-11 / Patkau Architects

Yoshi Silverstein is the ASLA 2014 communications intern. He is a Masters in Landscape Architecture candidate at the University of Maryland. He focuses on landscape experience and outdoor learning environments.

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Mia Lehrer / Metropolis

Mia Lehrer & the L.A. River – Metropolis, August 2014
“Defining large swaths of the city, it is perhaps the best lens through which to understand how Lehrer works … Her version of landscape architecture is more like alchemy, addressing landscape in a deeper, social sense.”

Will Toronto’s Ambitious Push to Grow its Urban Canopy Pay Off? – The Globe and Mail, 8/8/14
“The urban forest is an important part of the city’s identity, and city hall has made a formal commitment to increasing the number of trees – citing their environmental benefits as well as their positive impact on the city’s streetscapes.”

Do Evolving Neighborhoods Mean Dissolving Communities? Planetizen, 8/11/14
“As societal mores have loosened up and people become more willing to live next door to those who are different from them, these neighborhoods have come to seem less exotic and more desirable. In a certain way, places like Capitol Hill have become victims of their own success.”

New Queens Public Plaza Shows Public Space Doesn’t Take All That Much – The Architect’s Newspaper, 8/13/14
“Frankly, there’s not all that much to it – save for a new sidewalk, some planters, and a handful of bright bistro tables and chairs. But here’s what Bliss Plaza does have: People. And that’s the key.”

Geograph’s Quixotic Effort To Get Photos Of Every Square Kilometer Of Great Britain And Ireland FiveThirtyEight, 8/15/14
“Smartphone and digital-camera owners are collectively carrying out a worldwide data-collection task: photographing every nook and cranny of the world.”

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Shoreline green infrastructure at the new Water Institute Campus in Baton Rouge / Voorsanger Architects

At a lecture on resilient waterfront design at the Center for Architecture in New York, two projects now in the works show how public spaces can still be created on shorelines, even in the era of the monster storm: the Water Institute Headquarters, Research, and Interpretive Center proposal in Baton Rouge, Louisiana by SuperMass Studio; and the Rockaways Boardwalk Reconstruction Plan in Queens, New York, from CH2M HILL, with the RBA Group and WXY. Both use green buffers to protect the shoreline and add biodiversity, but are designed to ensure easy public access.

Baton Rouge has had their share of storm events, but new shoreline green infrastructure could help mitigate the impacts of future ones. Taewook Cha, ASLA, founding principal of SuperMass Studio, presented their landscape plan for the Water Institute. Built on the old city dock, the main campus building will be parallel to the main circulation corridor between the dock and city center. This orientation creates a physical and symbolic connection to the Mississippi River.

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The Water Institute’s Headquarters is oriented parallel to the main thoroughfare to maintain public connection to the waterfront / Voorsanger Architects

Along the opposite side of the throughway, SuperMass will recreate six distinct coastal-riparian ecosystems: coastal wetland, floodplain forest, wet meadow, shallow marsh, upper prairie, and backwater marsh.

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WI-Section-1 Diverse coastal ecosystems on the Mississippi shoreline / SuperMass Studios

These constructed ecosystems will provide a range of services. They will protect the shoreline and structures, stabilize the banks, help restore the ridges, divert sediment, and enable the creation of new marshes and channels. These new systems will provide stormwater and flood management while creating new wildlife habitat.

At Rockaways beach in New York, the devastation of Hurricane Sandy is still fresh; the community won’t soon forget. The old wooden boardwalk there was torn apart by storm surges that turned the wooden planks into destructive projectiles that destroyed homes along the shoreline. In response, the New York City Parks and the Department of Design and Construction have rebuilt areas with concentrated amenities, and then filled in the stretches along the five-mile long shoreline. Future boardwalks will be made from concrete and recycled plastic lumber so they don’t splinter. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been dredging sand from the ocean floor to build massive sand berms between homes, boardwalk, and beaches to protect the community from the next Sandy.

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Boardwalk Devastation / Chang W. Lee via New York Times

The challenge, said Jackson Wandres, director of landscape architecture and planning at the RBA Group, was to create a new boardwalk that was not only structurally sound but also maintained the public space and beach access of the old boardwalk. To accomplish this, RBA Group proposed rebuilding the boardwalk along its original route, but raising it up between three and eight feet, as appropriate, to match the height of the Army Corps berms. In essence: “one giant earthwork with a giant public esplanade running along top of it – that’s the public open space we’re creating.”

Ecologically-appropriate vegetation will be planted both along the boardwalk and the berms themselves. In addition, concrete pavers, designed with a neat wave pattern that made the audience say “whoa!,” will allow bike access for the first time. Ramps will allow beach access over and down the berms. The project will be built over the next two years with federal funds, at a cost of somewhere between $200 and $260 million.

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Wave pattern in the concrete pavers / RBA Group

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Ramps from the boardwalk allow beach access / RBA Group

Should another storm surge hit Rockaways hard, much of the sand will again be wiped out. But the boardwalk is high enough above the surge line that sand will be swept out from under it. The concrete infrastructure should be left intact, avoiding the projectile damage caused during Sandy.

Yoshi Silverstein is the ASLA 2014 communications intern. He is a Masters in Landscape Architecture candidate at the University of Maryland. He focuses on landscape experience and outdoor learning environments.

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Browsing through the latest issue of Azure magazine, one can see socially conscious design is making its way even into the far reaches of Winnipeg, Canada. Folly Forest, a great, small project at the Stratchona School, which is in a low-income neighborhood, was put together with just $80,000 by local design firm Straub Thurmayr Landscape Architects and Urban Designers.

50-year old asphalt was broken apart so 100 trees could be planted within bright red and yellow-lined star-shaped spaces. Azure tells us: “To add rich texture and provide ground cover for the new plantings, they arranged bricks, logs, and stones inside the bases.”

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There are also “rusty cauldrons” and “silvery wooden beams,” found objects that add an industrial glamor.

The project has deservedly taken home a ton of Canadian design awards. Azure‘s jury gave it a merit award, and the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects (CSLA) awarded it a citation. CSLA said the project “demonstrates the immense potential of landscape architecture as a spatial and social transformer. It showcases how a simple measure can take ecological and aesthetic effects and turn them into the formative element of design.”

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The Prairie Design Awards also honored the project, writing that at just $20 per square foot, nature is allowed to “take root through an asymmetrically disposed composition of newly planted trees, benches, follies and earthen mounds. The program fosters playful engagement, through the eyes of a child, and provides any visitor, young or old, to engage with a truly delightful and special place.”

But beyond all the accolades from the design world, the teachers and kids at the school seem to get a lot of out their rugged new green space, too. Erin Hammond, a teacher at Stratchona School, told CBC News, the new space has been a boon for the kids. “It’s just been an amazing enticement to get kids outside.”

Teachers are using the green space to start new conversations about ecology. “Kids are going, ‘How come that tree has more leaves than this one?’ Well, that one has more sun than this one,” said Hammond.

See a video about the project.

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