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SCAPE / Landscape Architecture, founded by Kate Orff, ASLA, has just received $100,000 from the Buckminster Fuller Institute (BFI) for their “comprehensive climate change adaptation and community development project” called Living Breakwaters. This innovative project in Tottenville, at the southern tip of Staten Island, New York, will be first large-scale experiment with “oyster-tecture.” It has already been slated to receive $60 million in financing from the U.S. government, as it also won HUD’s Rebuild by Design competition. With the added support from BFI, Living Breakwaters is now considered one of the most promising systems-based designs for coastal resilience.

The BFI uses its annual challenge to highlight game-changing systems-based designs, that is approaches that can truly upset current modes of operating and lead to paradigm shifts. Last year’s winner, Ecovative, came up with a novel approach to packaging, inventing a new biodegradable form of Styrofoam made of mycelium and agricultural waste. According to BFI, Living Breakwaters takes a system-based approach as it combines “ecologically-engineered” oyster-tecture with education around coastal resilience, and a focus on the “restoration of livelihoods traditional to the community of Tottenville in Staten Island,” while also spurring regulatory changes.

Bill Browning of Terrapin Bright Green, a 2014 senior adviser and jury member, said what’s exciting about SCAPE’s project is that it’s about partnering with natural systems instead of fighting them. Furthermore, the project deals with seemingly separate ecological and social systems together as one. “It is on the one hand an engineering and infrastructure-related intervention, but it also has a unique biological function as well. The project team understand that you cannot keep back coastal flooding due to climate change, but you can ameliorate the force and impact of 100 and 500 year storm surges through ecological interventions while simultaneously catalyzing dialog to nurture future stewards of the built environment.”

The project will deploy “innovative, layered ecologically-engineered breakwaters;” strengthen biodiversity and coastal habitats through “reef streets”; nurture and resuscitate fisheries and historic livelihoods; and engage the community through new partnerships and educational programs meant to address the social side of sustainability.

Orff describes the concept in more detail: “Rather than cutting communities off from the water with a levee or wall, our approach embraces the water and its economic and recreational opportunities, using shallow water landscapes to stabilize the shore and rebuild diverse habitats. Sitting at the mouth of the New York Bight, Staten Island is particularly vulnerable to wave action and erosion. Our pilot project in Tottenville utilizes a layered system of breakwaters, constructed of ecologically engineered concrete, to attenuate wave action, create habitat for juvenile fish, and provide calm waters for recreation on the landward side. We have designed ‘reef street’ micro-pockets of habitat complexity to host finfish, shellfish, and lobsters, and hydrodynamically modeled the breakwater system at a macro scale to understand how and where they can most effectively protect communities. Structures called Water Hubs are located at critical points along the shore to serve as places of gathering for classes, orientation, kayak & equipment.”

And she articulates the potential systems impact of her thinking: “Our initial project aims to protect the South Shore of Staten Island but the concept, through site-specific study, could be replicable along much of the U.S. coastline.”

A new system may come at not a moment too soon. So much of our coastal ecosystems are under threat, with sea level rise, temperature changes, and the rise of nitrogen levels. Orff says our critical estuaries and bays could be at risk of “disappearing within decades, if not years.” Let’s all hope this experiment works — and can truly be replicated at reasonable cost.

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All James River Park images / Jared Green

Richmond, Virginia, and Portland, Oregon, may not seem to have much in common, except they both have rivers that cut through their cities. In the case of Portland, it’s the Willamette River, and in Richmond, it’s the James River. Portland has invested in a wonderful loop along its waterfront parks and bridges, which connects the east and west sides of the Willamette in a seamless experience for bicyclists and pedestrians. And, soon, Richmond will have a similarly transformational circuit along its 600-acre James River Park, created as part of its smart riverfront plan, which is destined to boost revitalization efforts in this newly resurgent city.

The city’s planning department has partnered with landscape architecture firm Hargreaves Associates, which is leading a team of designers and engineers, to make the vision of a more connected Richmond a reality. The first priority in the multi-year plan is the Brown’s Island Dam Walk, which will convert old dam infrastructure into a new pedestrian and bicycle bridge across the river, connecting the city’s downtown to Manchester right through some glorious urban wilds. It’s smart reuse of a charismatic piece of old infrastructure. And the impetus for getting new circuit done fast, in this most southern of cities? The UCI World Championship bike race, which will set off bikers in a 10 mile course throughout the city in 2015.

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The old dam once powered Richmond’s economy, explained Nathan Burrell, the superintendent of the James River Park, in a tour organized by The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) as part of their What’s Out There weekend in Richmond. Energy from the river supported flour mills along the riverfront. “Richmond was known to have the best flour” in part because of how well ground it was. As the dam fell into disrepair and was further damaged by Hurricanes Agnes and Camille, we just see the bones of it today.

While the storms caused hundreds of millions in damage across Richmond, there may have been one benefit, said Burrell. These storms cleared out decades of accumulated industrial sludge that had sunk to the bottom as well as raw effluent that had been captured by the river. Nature, in combination with a 30 million gallon sewage containment tank built to deal with the city’s combined sewage overflows, had, in effect, restored the river to a healthier state. While there are still the occasional combined sewage overflows with heavy rains, the river is in much better shape than it was decades ago.

The day we visited, kayakers were enjoying the park’s rapids.

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Burrell said he even takes his family down to the park’s beaches so they can go snorkel and see the migrating fish, including giant sturgeons, return.

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The islands that dot the river are home to migratory birds. “We have spotted 35 different species of birds, including Blue Herons.” Burrell said older residents of the area still think of the river as a filthy place, but perceptions in the region have dramatically changed in the past few years. Now, just 40 percent of the 700,000 visitors who have come to the park since summer began are from the city.

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Efforts to clean up the river and further restore the ecosystem have gotten a boost from Richmond’s stormwater management tax. And the riverfront plan will further promote the use of green infrastructure, including wetlands, to deal with runoff from the city and improve water quality. As Burrell explained, the goal is to show the James River Park’s value as a “habitat, not just pseudo-wilderness.”

Indeed, as one moves across the novel pedestrian bridge hanging from an expressway and lands on Belle Isle, it’s easy to forget you are in a city. The 64-acre island feels increasingly isolated from the city as you move further in and also feels like a true nature park, an effect only enhanced by the appealing industrial ruins.

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David Johannas, an architect and planner on Richmond’s planning commission, told me that much of the riverfront plan came out of earlier hard work on the downtown master plan. “I feel that the downtown master plan was the real turning point in our perceptions of our city. Hundreds of residents were very active in the process, which began in 2007. The study area reached to the east just past the Shockoe Bottom neighborhood to the city docks, north to interstate 95, west to include Virginia Commonwealth University, and across the river to the Manchester district. Reaching across the James River to Manchester became a defining element of the plan, as it made the James River and its natural parkland Richmond’s Central Park.”

The dam bridge really is just the first piece of an ambitious plan to further integrate the city and nature and put the James River Park at the heart of that connection. Learn more at Richmond’s planning department.

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Teresa Galí-Izard / Leena Cho

Urban design competitions are opportunities to assert the value of landscape architecture while still creating a dialogue with other design professions. At a recent review of Barcelona’s Placa des les Glories Catalanes design competition, Teresa Galí-Izard, International ASLA, chair of the landscape architecture department at the University of Virginia (UVA) and partner at Arquitectura Agronomia, explained why it’s important for landscape architects to take advantage of these competitions.

Galí-Izard believes landscape architects have an identity “crisis” and an urgent need to distinguish themselves from architects and planners. To make this point, she discussed the issue of landscape representation in photo-renderings and other promotional images in competition proposals. Too often, she noted, trees appear simply tacked onto sites, with no consideration for the conditions needed for them to fulfill their potential. This is a sign of a lack of involvement by landscape architects.

Landscape architects have a nuanced understanding of plants’ needs, as well as a deep awareness of the ground as a dynamic system. The profession has a unique ability to incorporate ecological and hydrological systems as major design elements. This knowledge is essential to the sustainability of a designed landscape. In urban design competitions, landscape architects then need to get involved and shape how a proposal is presented to clients and the public.

She also emphasized the need for landscape architects to be involved in designing briefs—that is, framing the problems—for the competitions in which they participate. Engagement at this early stage gives landscape architects greater influence in guiding the scope of large-scale urban projects.

The competition she reviewed is an effort by the Barcelona city government to revitalize a central plaza—the junction of three main avenues—and enhance its role as a ecological and cultural hub in the city. While she did submit a competition entry (“Tres Cartes”), Galí-Izard focused less on her particular proposal and more about the educational aspects of all the proposals.

The exhibit itself was provocatively presented: 10 design proposals were arranged around the gallery without attribution and visitors were asked to assess the work based on visual representation. After attendees had critiqued the proposals, Galí-Izard revealed the names of designers and background information on the entries.

Galí-Izard was frankly critical of her own proposal, explaining ways to improve and enliven the design and expressing regret for not having challenged the brief more extensively: “I feel so bad for not breaking the rules!”

Thinking through drawing, she quickly sketched revisions onto the presentation board, inserting buildings around the perimeter of the park, and proposed a mix of architecture and landscape for this central plaza.

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She showed a profound interest in her competitors’ proposals and their ideas and values. Her critical engagement with the other entries revealed an exemplary attitude toward the competition process: She understands the benefit of learning from peers and pushing her own practice and didn’t measure the merit of the experience solely in terms of winning.

For Galí-Izard, a good competition—like the Placa de les Glories Catalanes—should be grounded in real site constraints but still open to experimentation and creativity, a venue for extending the rigor and imagination of the university studio into the “real world” of contemporary practice.

This guest post by Julie Shapiro, Master of Landscape Architecture Candidate, University of Virginia

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Capital Bikeshare, Washington, D.C. / Bethesda Now

In just four years, bike share has gone from being the fantasy of a few enthusiasts to a practical and low-cost way for tens of thousands of people in cities, both large and small, across the U.S. to get around. While some cities have created their own bike share systems, many have partnered with Alta Bicycle Share, a company based out of Portland, Oregon. Alta runs bike share systems in New York City, Washington, D.C., Boston, Chicago, and Chattanooga, really inventing these systems as they go. Like many start-ups, Alta Bicycle Share has never turned a profit and has also gotten blasted in the press for hiccups in the roll-out of its services (see the ongoing complaints with CitiBike in NYC). But Alta Bicycle Share was recently acquired by outside investors, and Jay Walder, the former head of the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), will soon become the new CEO. According to Alta Bike Share founder Mia Birk, who spoke at Washington Ideas Forum, an event organized by The Atltantic and the Aspen Institute, this move is for the best, as “this new group can take us to the next level.” Birk said the acquisition signifies bike share is moving from niche into the mainstream, from being a start-up concept to a legitimate transportation option.

Birk, who is also the head of Alta Planning + Design, which plans and designs bicycle infrastructure, said bike share has been as transformational as any start-up in existence. “The numbers are phenomenal. To date, there have been an estimated 45 million miles traveled on bike share, ridden over 28 million trips.”

While major bike share systems like Washington, D.C. and NYC’s get all the press, Birk said there were actually 35 systems running in the U.S. Some smaller cities’ systems may just have a few hundred bikes. For example, Salt Lake City has GREENbike. Indianapolis has started its Indiana Pacer Bikeshare, and San Antonio, Texas, has also gotten on board.

Bicycling in general is up, even if safety remains a major concern. According to data from a recent Governor’s Highway Association study, bike use has increased 62 percent since 2000, but so have bike fatalities, with a 16 percent gain. Some 69 percent of those deaths have been in cities. Birk said “we’ve found that as bike use increases, there is also an increase in the raw number of crashes. However, the number of fatalities is very small, so even a few deaths can make the percentages go up.” Interestingly, some 80 percent of bicyclists killed are men, and 28 percent were shown to have been drinking. “People drinking on bikes are a real danger.”

On New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s goal of zero transportation-related deaths, Birk said this is a worthy but “probably more aspirational than realistic. Can we really expect everyone to behave? No. We don’t have sovereign control over humanity.”

To add, Birk said we must differentiate between bicyclist and bike share user deaths. “In bike share world, there have been no fatalities.”

So what’s coming up for bike share? First, Birk sees further integration with other established transportation systems. Cities will roll out “one passes,” which will enable transit users to easily shift between subways, buses, car share and bike share. “The San Francisco Bay area may be the first out of the gate.”

Second, notoriously car-centric cities like Dallas and Atlanta will become more bike-friendly, at least in parts. “These cities may not become bike meccas, but there may be pockets that change the culture.” In Dallas, Birk and her team are working on a new trail system; In Atlanta, the goal is to bring bike share to the Beltline project. Even Bentonville, Arkansas, home to Walmart, is creating a pocket of bike share, probably because it’s a cheap way to get around. “It’s not just in Portland anymore.”

Lastly, bike share and bicycling in general will become even safer. Today, only 1 percent of Americans commute by bike. “These are usually male, lycra-clad adrenaline junkies.” Another 6 percent of the population, said Birk, are “enthusiastic, confident bicyclists who bike on weekends with their kids but feel it’s too dangerous to bike to work in traffic. They are concerned about safety and parking. They want a low stress network of bikeways, and better separation between cars and bicycles, like you find in the European Union.”

To get that 6 percent commuting everyday, Birk argued that U.S. cities need “dedicated bike signals, which are used in every European transit system.” These signals are crucial to improving safety and reducing the number of irresponsible bicyclists who fail to obey traffic signals and bike up on the sidewalks. “This is really what happens when you have very little bicycle infrastructure. People behave how they want.” As one Dutch traffic engineer told her, “bicyclists are like water, they will flow into wherever they want to go.”

So cities need to get moving on building out more bicycle infrastructure — to meet growing demand and improve safety, but equally as importantly, to reduce the growing backlash against “bullying” bicyclists. In D.C., tensions have risen to such an extent between drivers and bicyclists that we can read statements like these in The Washington Post op-eds: “It’s a $500 fine for a motorist to hit a bicyclist in the District, but some behaviors are so egregious that some drivers might think it’s worth paying the fine.”

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Morel, Jean-Marie. La Théorie des Jardins (Paris 1776). Bibliothèque Nationale de France

Joseph Disponzio, ASLA, wants us landscape architects to know where we came from. His lecture at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, which honored Frederick Law Olmsted, shed new light on the origins of landscape architecture as well as the debate surrounding the field, which has lasted almost as long. Disponzio, preservation landscape architect for the New York City department of parks and recreation and director of the landscape design program at Columbia University, said what we recognize today as “landscape,” the modeling of land, really began with the garden. The transition from garden to landscape has everything to do with a shift in the understanding of nature in the 18th century.

Disponzio pulls up a slide with three interlocking circles: God, Nature, and Man. He points to the circle at the top of the triad that reads “Nature.” This, Disponzio tells us, is the “metaphysical lynchpin” that became autonomous in the Enlightenment. He identifies this as the moment the wall of Eden fell and a new space was created and, with that, a new way of modeling the land. Lockean empiricism replaced Cartesian rationalism. Nature got a sudden promotion. Leading up to the 18th century, nature had acted as the base of all philosophical inquiry. And then, rather suddenly, it became the subject of investigation in its own right. And its secular study led, of course, to the natural sciences, with substantial consequences for the practice of landscape design.

Throughout the lecture, special credit is given to the work of Jean-Marie Morel (1728 – 1810) for effectively replacing the art of gardening with the science of gardening, bringing it one step closer to the profession of landscape architecture as we know it today. Frederick Law Olmsted may be known to us as the first to call himself a professional landscape architect, but he borrowed the term from the hyphenated title architecte-paysagiste within Morel’s theoretical texts. Disponzio also points out the English term “landscape” is a new invention, but in 18th century France there was no clear distinction between paysage and jardin, neither scalar nor qualitative.

Morel published his text, La Théorie des Jardins, in 1776 alongside numerous essays and poems written by his French, English, and German colleagues. Together, the essays and treatises of Claude Henri Watelet, Henri Duchesne, Jean-Marie Morel and René de Girardin paved the way for a new landscape design tradition that would eventually become popularized as landscape architecture.

The rejection of the Cartesian understanding of nature in favor of a new Lockean tradition did not come without a few sacrifices. Pre-18th century designs, which were rife with formal devices and meanings, no longer suited the intellectual trends that emphasized the secularization of experience. These regular geometries, as it turns out, were also ill-suited for anything other than flat surfaces.

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The orthogonal geometry of pre 18th century gardens. André Le Nôtre, Vaux-le-Vicomte, 1661 / Wikipedia

An attitude of nature for nature’s sake then banished the projection of orthogonal geometry onto flat surfaces, à la le Nôtre. For the first time, an appreciation for natural topography emerged. Disponzio argued this “new, organic outlook on the world” yielded a new garden tradition, for in fact few knew what this new landscape should look like. While natural landforms proved problematic for orthogonal geometry, innovative responses to this dilemma eventually led to new ground within the field. Disponzio connects all of this with new research into the natural sciences: “It cannot be a coincidence, then, that the development of a new gardening tradition coincided with a new period of inquiry into nature.”

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The new genre of landscape design. Henry Hoare II, Stourhead, 1725 / Andrew Turner. The Landscape Garden Guide

A new design tradition grew out of this boldly new, scientific understanding of land form. While landscape, from the study of painting, had been understood to be convex, flat, and concave, now landscapes had geological and ecological complexity. Disponzio said, “in their most secular act, they took a look beyond the traditional garden wall and at a view rich in pleasure, utility, industry, and ruin.” In practice, that meant taking up a body of knowledge and technique in related fields, such as geography, geology, and engineering. Landscape built up a vocabulary of its own. Natural forms devoid of icons and associations promoted the idea that the landscape should speak for itself.

Land then came to be modeled with an entirely new agenda. Rather than impose rationalism onto the land mathematically, the landscape was to be read scientifically. The natural style synthesized all its elements into a cohesive whole,  reflecting the underlying curiosity about how a landscape is composed, formed, and structured. The focus shifted from visual order to an internal order, which may have been perceived as chaotic but was organized according to the laws of nature. Here, Disponzio discusses the rise of interdependent systems as an integral part of the practice of landscape architecture. We recognize familiar territory.

More than a hundred years after the first degree program within the field was established in this country at Harvard in 1900, the curriculum still reflects the methodology laid out in Morel’s 1776 Théorie des Jardins. Disponzio cites James Corner Field Operations and Hargreaves Associates as examples of contemporary practices that emphasize process-driven design. He also mentions the theory of landscape urbanism, the systems-driven approach to design, which is deeply embedded within the curriculum at the Graduate School of Design today. Even the recent research agendas of Jane Hutton and Anita Berrizbeitia, ASLA, come to the fore as instances in which iconic, designed landscapes such as those of Frederick Law Olmsted and Charles Elliot, are investigated through the lenses of geology and geography.

Since the gardens at Vaux-le-Vicomte, which were built in the mid-17th century, we have been steadily broadening the scope of the profession by borrowing from neighboring disciplines and adopting new technologies in an effort to become true specialists of modeling the land. We are familiar with cartography, ecology, and urban design, along with ArcGIS, Google earth, software for digital drawing, 3D modeling, and even parametric design. The question as we move forward is: how often do we look back?

Although Disponzio ended his talk without asking the audience this question explicitly, he urged us to take one more look at that decisive moment in history that led to the complete abandonment of the Le Nôtre style. What fascinates Disponzio is this sharp turn elicited no regrets. It seems everyone accepted the challenge to the status quo, as though landscape architecture as it’s practiced today was inevitable. In the end, we landscape architects are left with a silent request to look at ourselves, today, with a new understanding of our origins. And with this long view behind us, one cannot help but also steal a shy glance into the future of the profession.

This guest post is by Lara Mehling, Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, Harvard University Graduate School of Design

SteelStacks Art and Culutral Campus, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania / Urban Land Institue, Paul Warchol

SteelStacks Art and Cultural Campus, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania / Urban Land Institute, Paul Warchol

New Singapore Public Realm Project for Grant AssociatesHorticulture Week, 10/21/14
Grant Associates, an England based landscape architecture firm, has revealed its design for a new public realm project in Capitol Singapore. The project comprises three conservation buildings and features themed residential roof gardens and terraces.”

WRT’s Design for SteelStacks Awarded ULI Global Award for ExcellenceReuters, 10/23/14
Wallace Robert & Todd announced the Urban Land Institute has awarded the SteelStacks Arts and Cultural Campus its Global Awards for Excellence. Steelstacks is located on the former Bethlehem Steel plant, which closed in 1997.”

L.A. a Fertile Ground for Garden ApartmentsLos Angeles Times, 10/24/14
Landscape architects designed Los Angeles’ garden apartments to take advantage of the California landscape. To spotlight garden apartments, the L.A. conservancy is hosting daylong tours of three notable examples as some try to replace the apartments with higher-profit alternatives.”

This Clever Train Station Doubles as a Part of the LandscapeWired, 10/27/14
“The city of Vinge, Denmark will transform from a grassy field with a train station to a full-fledged town by 2033. The centerpiece of the small town’s urban plan is the train station that will subtly blur the line between built and natural environments.”

Thirty-three foot Slide and Tree House Coming to New Buffalo Bayou Nature Park Houston Chronicle, 10/28/14
The Buffalo Bayou Partnership unveiled plans for a 28,000-square-foot children’s nature park that includes a 33-foot slide and tri-level tree house overlooking the bayou. The park aims to open in time for summer 2015.”

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Janet Echelman / Todd Erikson

Janet Echelman builds living, breathing sculpture environments that respond to the forces of nature — wind, water and light — and become inviting focal points for civic life. She is recipient of the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her TED talk, “Taking Imagination Seriously,” has been translated into 34 languages and is estimated to have been viewed by more than a million people.

What is your role as a public artist today? Are you here to enliven dead places, create a new sense of place, or just get us to feel something new?

I am engaged in enlivening dead or invisible places. I’m drawn to places that somehow do not yet click, because it’s a challenge — enigmatic and interesting. The hardest thing is to go make art in a place that’s already good.

Creating a new sense of place is a very interesting problem for me in my practice of public art. I often think of it more as creating a sense of place, because many of these places felt anonymous before. I’m often part of a larger effort that involves a landscape architect, architect, and urbanist.

Feeling something new: Yes, I am interested in that because it’s about feeling alive in the moment to encounter, experience, absorb, just see the world in a different way. My work is dynamically changing in different weather and at different times of year, which is actually very in-tune with landscape architects’ sensibility. I admire landscape works that have plants that flower or drop their leaves at different seasons, the sense of sculpting something that has seasonal change.

What kind of spaces best enable us to interact with your voluminous, floating artworks? When you’re installing a piece in an existing park or plaza, how do you see a spot and say to yourself: Yes, that’ll work?

I’ve created sculpture in a forest, in fields, and on a beach. These are very satisfying environments, but there is no more compelling site than the middle of a city where people are. These works are about the experience of how it feels to be underneath them. The reason I make them is because I want to be under something like this.

I don’t know if my work is a landscape, but they’re a scape of sorts. They’re an environment that you go inside of, and they’re often integrally linked with a landscape beneath them. Maybe they’re a skyscape?

When I am brought in to work with a team, it’s a question of understanding what the options are, walking through the site, thinking about the patterns of pedestrian movement, and where there might be a place of contemplation. Where is a place where people can lie down and look up?

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She Changes, Porto, Portugal / Enrique Diaz

Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks, your recent piece for the 30th anniversary TED conference in Vancouver, was imbued with technology that enabled the public to interact. What was your motivation for this interactivity? Does this mean we can only reach people through their smartphones now?

Each project I take on has to have some edge where I’m experimenting or pushing limits. In this project, I wanted to give the public a way to interact with color and lighting. It was a collaboration with a digital artist Aaron Koblin, who leads Google’s data art labs.

This piece is about social gathering in cities. Its form is derived by 2,000 years of urban history and the city of Rome, when the Colosseum was built. The Colosseum once had a textile work suspended by ropes called a velarium. We don’t know exactly what it looked like, but this was my challenge to create a velarium for today. I was thinking about why people gathered in Rome 2,000 years ago to watch violent spectacles and why we gather today.

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Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks, Vancouver, British Columbia / Ema Peter

Aaron and I spoke how often technology connects us to all sorts of people but never the person standing next to us. In the context of the sculpture, it would not only connect you to your friends list but the person physically next to you. We were using technology as a tool to bring people together; it was both a physical space and a virtual space at the same time.

It’s not the phone that distances us. I don’t feel that the smart phone has to control us in terms of how we relate. We can use it in a way that brings us together in a real landscape in real time in a real conversation.

You partnered with landscape architecture firm OLIN on Pulse, an exciting project coming to the new plaza in front of City Hall in Philadelphia. Can you talk about the collaborative design process with them and the other designers, engineers on the team? What did you learn from them and what did they learn from you?

The project in Philadelphia with OLIN is a completely different experience for me, because it’s not about looking up. It’s in front of the beloved historic Philadelphia City Hall. It was more about working together with the landscape architecture to engage people and add playfulness. It’s meant to engage above ground with what’s going on underground.

It was an intimate collaboration. We’d have the site model with trace paper. I would draw a line, and Sue Weiler, FASLA, a partner with OLIN, might pick up the pencil and complete the line. OLIN was open and willing to invite me into the landscape, to join in what became a completely integrated work of art and landscape. With landscape architects, the projects tend to become really collaborative. Neither side is really too attached to their ideas. That’s not always the case when collaborating in the design world. Sometimes, there’s an uncomfortable butting of heads.

Their input really changed what I designed in the end, because I was initially thinking about being vertical and engaging with the parkway, which is on the diagonal. The more I learned from the OLIN team, the more I saw it was as about people moving through this plaza. I became engaged with the ground plane in a way I never before. The project required me to delve into the history. The site housed the original waterworks of the city, the former railroad station of the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Broad Street Station, where trains ran on steam. So I developed a completely new material to engage with this history, working with mist or fog as a sculpture material and colored light, to bring the sense of the trains.

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Pulse, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania / OLIN

Having your pieces in so many different types of landscapes, you must have some sense of what landscape architecture works and doesn’t work. Is there an ideal relationship between landscape architecture and public art or is it all relative?

The only way I know if a landscape is working is my subjective experience. How do I feel when I walk through a space? In a former phase of my life, I worked as a psychotherapist. In the training, they talked about self as instrument. How you feel is your greatest tool in understanding what’s going on around you. That training has helped me as an artist working in the public realm collaborating with landscape designers. So it is subjective, but it is in fact my only tool, so that’s how I judge a space.

I can’t say what is the ideal relationship between public art and landscape, but I am intrigued where they are in conversation with one another. Many of my works are in the sky and they talk to the landscape. I lived in Bali and there they say, “The sky is my father, and the Earth is my mother.” It’s a romance between the ground plane and the sky.

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1.26, Amsterdam, The Netherlands / Janus Vanden Eijnden

If you have to deal with the legacy of bad planning or landscape architecture, how can you fix it?

It’s interesting what I am asked to fix. At the San Francisco Airport, they asked me to create a zone of re-composure for people after they clear security. In cities and even on campuses, I’m asked to create a “heart.” This is a challenging but worthy goal. I can never reach my ambitions, but I’m willing to be aspirational.

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Every Beating Second, San Francisco Airport / Brute Damonte

I am frequently part of a team that includes landscape architects who are addressing a fix to some previous plan, often the result of urban renewal. We’re in a moment when we are finding many of the designers in the 60s and 70s may not have succeeded in creating what we all want.

For example, Boston had an elevated highway going through the middle of it. With the “Big Dig,” they were able to remove that. The highway was a mistake of an earlier era where the automobile was given a precedence over the pedestrian. With my new project coming in, I’m part of the process of bringing this place back to the people.

Your hit TED talk, which has been viewed more than a million times, is all about the rediscovery of wonder. What advice do you have for designers trying to keep in touch with that feeling, given all the challenges involved in designing and building something these days?

I try to keep a sense of wonder in my own life and practice. I try to hold a space of time to experiment, as a kind of research. In the business world, successful companies have R&D labs, but we artists and designers rarely have that benefit. We must reserve a space for discovery and wonder.

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ASLA 2014 General Design Honor Award. Low Maintenance Eco-Campus: Vanke Research Center Shenzhen, China. Z + T Studio, Landscape Architecture/ Z + T Studio

In New Orleans, GreenBuild participants filled an auditorium to hear world-famous author and alternative medicine guru Deepak Chopra speak. He shared his road map for “higher health” and discussed practical ways to experience higher consciousness, transformation, and healing.

Chopra serves on the advisory board of Delos, a real estate development and research company that has developed the WELL Building Standard®, the first protocol of its kind to focus on human wellness in the built environment.

“I want you to have a sense of wonder over the mystery of your own being,” Chopra told the audience. He posed two of the “most important unsolved scientific questions,” namely: what the universe is made of? and what is the biological basis of consciousness?

These questions are important because “suffering happens when we don’t know the true nature of reality.” The universe is mostly “nothing, with only five percent made up of atoms.” It’s a “mysterious force holding your body together.”

The universe is also “consciousness and its contents,” and therefore, according to Chopra, “you are the localization of the entire universe.”

“This leads us to a very fundamental idea—you are the immediate environment, the room you’re in, the air you breathe,” added Chopra.

He cited the WELL Building Standard® as a means to connect people within the built environment and optimize their well being. He also described hospitals as “the next frontier in building standards” because creating “the right environment can improve the poor quality air, bad food, and anxiety” often found in healthcare environments.

Chopra ended his talk by leading a relaxing meditation. Once the audience opened their eyes, they gave him a standing ovation.

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Black History Museum / Jared Green

Richmond, Virginia, is home to one of the most important historically African American communities: Jackson Ward. Just like similar communities in Washington, D.C., Boston, and Chicago, Jackson Ward is close to a resurgent downtown. As a result, the forces of change are bearing down on the area, with an influx of newcomers. As Mary Lauderdale, the long-time manager at the Black History Museum in Jackson Ward told me, “older folks are leaving and young students and professionals are moving in. Gentrification is going on.” In a tour, which was part of The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF)’s What’s Out There weekend, dual efforts to preserve history and accommodate change were made apparent.

First of all, the Black History Museum itself is changing with the times. Lauderdale said the Museum was once the “best house on the block,” but that’s no longer the case, as young people move in and invest in the old fixer-uppers nearby. The museum is soon moving into the historic Virginia Volunteers Battalion Armory, which was a home to African American soldiers in World War II and has been long-time important community meeting place. The new museum space will offer far more exhibition space, providing more opportunities for cultural tourism. It’s right next to the Ebeneezer Baptist Church, which is an active parish. The church was designed by Charles Russell, one of the first African American architects in the 1880s.

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Ebeneezer Baptist Church / Jared Green

Jackson Ward formed out of the deeply poisonous Jim Crow laws, which came into force after the Civil War and institutionalized “separate but equal” facilities for whites and African Americans, but, in effect, created a highly unequal society, especially in the south. In Jackson Ward, freed African American slaves took the initiative and created a separate world unto themselves. As Doug Kellner, Valentine Richmond History Center, explained, when slavery was abolished, many freed slaves fled plantations either to the north or came into the city to work at machine factories. Given Richmond was the second largest slave market after New Orleans, there were many slaves in the area around the city.

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Machine plant in Jackson Ward / Jared Green

As the Black History Museum shows, Jackson Ward soon became the birthplace of “black capitalism,” home to the “black Wall Street of America.” Given white bankers wouldn’t lend money to African Americans, they needed to create their own sources of finance. W.W. Browne House, named for its owner, became the first chartered African American bank. African American community leader Maggie L. Walker, whose home has been turned into a museum run by the National Park Service, also became the first woman to start a bank.

When segregation ended, said Kellner, many of the wealthier African Americans moved out of the neighborhood. Then, in the 1950s, Interstate 95 plowed through a section of the neighborhood, taking down more than 700 homes, which Kellner said had long been vacant. This further sped up the deterioration of the ward, but towards the end of the 20th century, reinvestment began in earnest. Today, the neighborhood has a real mix of interesting residential building styles.

Before freed slaves moved to this area, it was home to German and other European immigrants. Some of these unique early homes have been restored by the Walker Row Partnership, a commercial development company dedicated to reviving architecture from the past. Kellner said he knows the owners and they are passionate about preserving the history of the ward. The restoration work was made viable when the district was declared a historic district in the 1970s. With that designation, all sorts of tax breaks are available to restore old buildings.

Jackson Ward honors its cultural heritage as well. The famed Hippodrome, where Billie Holiday, Dizzie Gillespie, Sarah Vaughn, Cab Calloway, and countless other legends played, is still standing after a fire gutted it. It’s now a sort of cabaret theater, with a restaurant next door.

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The Hippodrome / Jared Green

Near the theater is a great example of the murals that have popped up all over the district.

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Mural / Jared Green

Also nearby is a statue of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, a ground-breaking entertainer who paired off in dances with Shirley Temple when whites and blacks didn’t dance together on screen. The urban legend goes that he paid for the first stop light in Jackson Ward at one corner near a school. Before the traffic light, a number of children were hit by cars.

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Bill “Bojangles” Robinson statue / Jared Green

But the local musical culture seems to be under threat as well. Lauderdale said a historic African American Pentecostal Church played brass music with their masses for decades. Young residents moving in didn’t like the noise and complained so the music has stopped. “This is part of our culture. Can we create a culture that works for everyone?”, Lauderdale wondered.

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Empire State Building, Earth Day / Inga’s Angle blog

Achieving sustainability requires more than just enacting forward-thinking legislation—it also requires compliance with laws and regulations. This was the message of Gina Bocra, chief sustainability officer; Emily Hoffman, director of energy code compliance; and Holly Savoia, director of sustainability enforcement, all with the New York City government, as they spoke at this year’s GreenBuild conference in New Orleans.

The three work for New York City’s department of buildings’ sustainability unit, one of the largest of its kind in the country. Informally known as “NYC’s Green SWAT Team,” the panelists and their staff are charged with helping the city meet its goal of reducing greenhouse emissions by 30 percent by 2030. They have a tremendous task, as nearly three quarters of NYC’s greenhouse gas emissions comes from the building sector.

The city’s groundbreaking Greener, Greater Buildings Plan, which was enacted in December 2009, is actually composed of four laws that address benchmarking, energy codes, audits and retro-commissioning, and lighting and submetering. [To further explain, retro-commissioning is a whole-building systems-based approach to improving an existing building’s performance.] These laws have to be enforced to be effective. “We provide some incentives, but we also hold the stick,” said Bocra. “We focus on fines and violations, but the goal is compliance.”

According to Hoffman, in January 2014 the unit began inspecting all new and renovated buildings for energy efficiency. A sustainability plan examiner reviews the energy code, and an inspection team, which may include third party inspectors, ensures the building is meeting the code as it is being built. So far, inspectors have looked at 2,600 new building applications, 4,500 major alterations applications, and 60,000 minor alterations applications.

Hoffman said the inspectors often encounter a “mind boggling” number of documentation and administrative errors and other technical issues. For instance, the square footage of areas don’t add up, or the U-factors (showing how part of a building conducts heat) are thrown in without any supporting documentation. As a result, Crain’s New York reported that nine out of ten commercial and residential projects fail on their first try to get their applications approved.

According to Savoia, sustainability inspectors make objections after comprehensive review. Half of submissions were returned last year due to “minor” issues, including missing owner signatures and improperly filled out forms. However, the unit is having an incredibly positive effect: compliance with local laws governing annual benchmarking of energy use, energy audits, and retro-commissioning increased from 76 percent in 2011 to 84 percent in 2012.

Hoffman acknowledged that “the energy code is really complex. There are different paths to compliance for residential and commercial buildings. It’s really difficult to understand this stuff, and so we have to provide more education.”

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