Feeds:
Posts
Comments
Morel_theories-des-jardins_web

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.

vaux

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.”

stourhead_garden_961_jpg_original_andrewTurner_web

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.”

echelman_blog

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?

she-changes-blog

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.

unnumbered-blog

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.

olin-blog

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.

ams-blog

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.

airport

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.

higher

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.

jacksonward2

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.

jacksonward7

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.

jacksonward3

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.

jacksonward9

The Hippodrome / Jared Green

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

jacksonward6

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.

jacksonward4

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.

greenempire

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.”

libby9

Libby Hill Park and views / all photos by Jared Green

Virginia is forever connected to England, as the commonwealth was founded by colonialists first sent over by King James I in early 1600s. And Richmond, the capital of Virginia, is forever connected with England’s Richmond upon Thames. Nearly 150 years after the colony was formed, a planter named William Byrd II stood in what is now Libby Hill Park astounded by the similarities in the view of the river below with the view from Richmond upon Thames he had seen in his youth. As a result, he named the new town he founded Richmond, and, in honor of the king, the river became the James River. Today, we can enjoy the same view, said Leighton Powell, head of Scenic Virginia, in a tour organized by The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TLCF) as part of their What’s Out There weekend, because of the dedication of her organization and others, who must continuously guard it from encroachment by developers. The View That Named Richmond is a Scenic Virginia “endangered viewshed,” as well as a Preservation Virginia “endangered historic site.”

In 2012, Scenic Virginia was helped by the Virginia Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects, who completed a full “cultural analysis of the view” as part of ASLA’s year of public service. As one can see, this gorgeous old park, which opened in 1851, is worthy of in depth study.

libby2
libby4
libby3
libby6
The Virginia Chapter, working with the University of Virginia, created a new mapping software that enables one to visualize the potential visual impact of development. This kind of effort is critical given Scenic Virginia recently had to wage a fight to keep a 15-story luxury condominium tower, which would have been out of synch with the existing scale of Shocktoe Bottom, from being put up right at the base of Libby Hill Park. The supporters of the tower said it would have worked well with the bus rapid transit (BRT) route expected to come in on Main Street. Denser housing plus public transportation could have spurred more sustainable transit-oriented development.

libby5
While some may disagree, Powell and others argued that the building would have conflicted with the downtown master plan, which was approved in 2009. The plans for the luxury condo were approved by the planning commission, an important advisory group, but eventually stalled in the city council when three council members said they couldn’t support the project. Powell said the condo project has been withdrawn by the developer but could come back in the future. The group, by the way, supports a five-story development as recommended in the Downtown Master Plan.

The primary continued threat to the view remains a high-rise development project on the sole privately-owned riverfront parcel east of downtown. Powell said: “While both the downtown master plan and riverfront plan (approved in 2012) note that the preferred use of the parcel is parkland, the city has not yet acquired it. Scenic Virginia and others want the City to work with the owner, which happens to be the development arm of the Unification Church, to negotiate for its purchase.” Powell argued that “the parcel sits in a floodplain and floodway, so there are limitations to what can be built there. A park would work very well. We want to help raise the money to buy the parcel. The developer needs to name a fair price.”

With the recent announcement that Stone Brewing will take over the vacant Intermediate Terminal building for use as a beer garden and restaurant, Powell says “the idea makes more sense than ever.” Along with providing valuable riverfront access, a new park could include playing fields for soccer and other sports. “I can envision people going to playing a game match and then having a beer, all along the riverfront.”

Richmond’s plan to dramatically improve pedestrian and bicycle access to the James River, which was created with landscape architecture firm Hargreaves Associates, will also lead to further improvements in the view. Soon, the large Lehigh Cement company silos, which mar the pastoral nature of the view, will be pulled down. Powell laughed, “we are thinking about a raffle for who will get to pull the lever to destroy them.”

libby10
The rest of Libby Hill Park, which is managed by the city’s parks department, is in good shape, except for the intrusion of highly-invasive kudzu plants on one slope.

libby7
Powell hopes goats, which apparently love to eat kudzu, will soon be unleashed on this area to deal with the problem. According to Powell, the Richmond parks department have already used goats earlier this year to clear the land for a new urban orchard in Chimborazo Park.

alley2

The Alleys of The Fan / all photos by Jared Green

From Monroe Park, The Fan, a spatially-unique neighborhood, literally spreads out, with the spines of the unfolding fan taking the form of long avenues that stretch through Victorian-era residences, parks, and alleys. Through a tour organized through The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF)’s What’s Out There weekend in Richmond, Virginia, Beth Marschak, a guide with the Valentine Richmond History Center, gave us a close-up look at the alley, an often-overlooked yet vital piece of infrastructure, and how neighborhood groups are coming together to green these spaces, turning them into a rugged form of linear parks.

Marschak said that after the Civil War, “there was nothing here.” Monroe Park, the city’s first public park, was the far edge of the city. Beginning in the 1880s, the strangely-shaped district began to take shape as it was divided into subdivisions given over to developers. Together, these distinct neighborhoods formed a “sort of streetcar neighborhood.” The homes closer to Monroe Park were richer, with carved wood instead of cheaper iron decorative arts, and taller, at three stories instead of two. While Richmond was already highly segregated, the restrictive Jim Crow laws enacted in the 1870s, further institutionalized the division of the races, making The Fan entirely white.

Alleys are multi-purpose public infrastructure. They were established to provide air space between homes in case of fire, as well as access for fire trucks. Deliveries were made through alleys. When The Fan fell into decline in the 1950s through the 1970s, some neighbors banded together to enclose and wall off their alleys, to increase security. Still, the vast majority remain open.

In contrast to the sidewalks of The Fan, which are made of bricks organized into a unique herringbone pattern, the alleys feature solid granite pavers organized into a running bond pattern, except for a strip in the middle.

alley1
Terry Clements, FASLA, a professor of landscape architecture at Virginia Tech, told me that the difference in paving patterns can be explained by cost and use. Herringbone-patterned brick sidewalks, which are found nearly everywhere in The Fan, hold up better to cross traffic as they lock together and resist sliding. The paths of the alleys were designed to be able to handle heavier loads, like fire trucks, so the running bond is laid perpendicular to the direction of traffic, making it more resistant to being pushed forward by heavy wheels. The middle of the alley subtly dips and has a vertical strip of pavers to help convey storm water out of the alleys.

As Marschak descibed, local neighborhood associations or residents have shaped the look and feel of many alleys, adding their own green spaces. In one, we see wall planters and even a sort of mini curbside parklet, just created one day by some residents.

alley3
alley5
However, this alley was really just the appetizer for a splendid one covered in gravel and planted with a soft palette of plants by a neighbor, who decided to extend his own private garden into the public space. Over the decades, he and his neighbors have created an alley arcadia.

alley7
alley8
Given paved, impermeable surfaces like streets and parking lots can easily cover 30-40 percent of cities, urban policymakers and designers are increasingly redesigning the alley, in large part because of stormwater management issues. Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boston are all experimenting with applying permeable pavement to their ubiquitous back roads. While this material provides great environmental benefits, it really just look like pavement. The approach taken by the neighborhood groups in The Fan not only offer environmental benefits but also create beautiful public spaces and help build communities. These approaches should also be in the mix when cities consider how best to green their alleys.

houston1

Klyde Warren Park / Thomas McConnel

Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, Texas, won the Urban Land Institute’s 2014 Open Space Award, which recognizes “public spaces that have socially and economically enriched and revitalized their communities.” Completed in 2012 by landscape architecture firm The Office of James Burnett (OJB), the 5-acre park is a green roof, decking over the sunken Woodall Rogers Freeway. As the highway was submerged, a new living, breathing space was made possible. The park now connects the city’s downtown cultural district with the mixed-use neighborhoods to the north, helping car-centric Dallas become a healthier, more walkable place.

According to OJB, the park brings it all. There is a “flexible, pedestrian-oriented design, offering a mix of active and passive spaces.” Spaces are either grand or intimate. In the grand category, there is a sweeping pedestrian promenade with botanical garden and great lawn, with fountain and performance pavilion. Smaller spaces include a children’s park, reading room, games area, and dog park.

houston2

Klyde Warren Park / Gary Zvonkovic

houston3

Klyde Warren Park / Dillon Diers

These spaces enable all kinds of activities, ranging from “yoga classes and lectures to outdoor concerts and film screenings.” James Burnett, FASLA, said: “Great cities have great parks, and Klyde Warren Park has quickly become the new heart of downtown Dallas.”

houston4

Klyde Warren Park / LianeRochelle Photography

The park also incorporates sustainable design elements. The landscape itself has a “continuous canopy of Pond Cypress,” and much of the design is characterized by the “use of native tree and plant species,” which are all kept alive through the Texan summer through a water reclamation and purification system. There is a high-efficiency lighting system throughout, featuring solar-powered light poles. The buildings, which have been certified LEED Gold, use geothermal energy for temperature control.

M. Leanne Lachman, Chair of the ULI Global Awards for Excellence Jury, said: “Klyde Warren is not only successful in fixing an urban fracture that isolated development and challenged the existing potential for the area; it also demonstrates that a long-term vision and commitment are critical to foster a sense of place and community, with lasting positive rippling effects.”

See more images.

Mellon Square: Discovering a Modern Masterpiece  / Princeton Architectural Press

Mellon Square: Discovering a Modern Masterpiece / Princeton Architectural Press

Recently restored to much ado through a six-year process, Mellon Square in Pittsburgh was the first Modernist space in the nation built over a subterranean parking garage. Considered a precursor to today’s green roof movement, Mellon Square is a showcase for urban revitalization through historic preservation, with a contemporary sensibility and the latest technologies. In the foreword of Susan Rademacher’s Mellon Square: Discovering a Modern Masterpiece, series editor Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, head of The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) says the result of the restoration is “a renewed, enhanced, and revitalized Mellon Square that carefully balances the highest historic preservation standards with clearly articulated performance benchmarks and sustainability standards.”

Mellon-gouache

Henri Marcus Moran, “View of Mellon Square – Looking North,” ca. 1955, Gouache on board / Princeton Architectural Press

As Rademacher, parks curator at Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, tells the history of the civic space itself, she reflects Pittsburgh’s ups and downs throughout much of the twentieth century – from booming steel town to post-WWII slump, when it was nicknamed the “Smoky City” due to its heavy blankets of regular smog. Mellon Square was a key player ushering in Pittsburgh’s first renaissance, drawing innovation, entrepreneurs, and civic life to the downtown “Golden Triangle.” But the square also succumbed to the decline characterizing Pittsburgh through the 1960s to 90s. As Rademacher tells it, Mellon Square is a proxy for the status and reputation of the entire city of Pittsburgh.

Mayor David Lawrence with R.K. Mellon, in Life magazine, May 1956 / Margaret Bourke-White, Princeton Architectural Press

Mayor David Lawrence with R.K. Mellon, in Life magazine, May 1956 / Margaret Bourke-White, Princeton Architectural Press

Also woven into the narrative are personal histories of key players such as project architects James Mitchell and Dahlen Ritchey, and landscape architects John Simonds and Philip Simonds. Students and practitioners of landscape architecture will recognize the former Simonds as author of seminal text Landscape Architecture, still widely used as a foundational textbook for landscape architecture courses. We learn about his life and entry into the profession in the 1930s, and find fascinating glimpses of a highly tenuous time for the field. In a 1999 letter, Simonds recounts asking Walter Gropius, his mentor at the Harvard, about the future role for landscape architecture in contemporary society. Gropius “looked at [him] long and thoughtfully without speaking. It was quite possibly one of the most eloquent statements ever never stated.” Simonds would go on to graduate as part of the “infamous 1939 ‘class of rebels,’” we learn from Landscape Architecture co-author Barry W. Starke, FASLA. In these records, the mythos of the profession is alive and well.

Iconic copper fountains elegently lit and choreographed early in Mellon Square's history / Princeton Architectural Press

Iconic copper fountains elegantly lit and choreographed early in Mellon Square’s history / Princeton Architectural Press

At the heart of the book, of course, is the history of Mellon Square itself. Readers looking for historical details will not be disappointed. Design notes, sketches, photographs, and planting details are generously interspersed throughout the text. Just about every planting choice considered, implemented, and replaced is included, with nuggets, such as the “early use of the new thornless form of the honey locust tree,” now common and well-known to practitioners. And we learn that early design concepts discussed including “live animal displays within the pool, such as flamingos, penguins, and sea lions, which were favored for their comical movements and expressions.”

John Simonds' earliest known concept sketch / Princeton Architectural Press

John Simonds’ earliest known concept sketch / Princeton Architectural Press

Planting detail with circular platforms for sea lions are featured in an early concept sketch / Princeton Architectural Press

Planting detail with circular platforms for sea lions are featured in an early concept sketch / Princeton Architectural Press

Also noted is Simonds’ “elaborate and precise statement of design intent,” in which that the square must simultaneously act as a platform, structure, island, space, focal center, civic monument, gathering place, and oasis. “Simonds and his collaborators created a powerfully original landscape architecture and urban design solution . . . [placing] nature in high relief against the building-lined streets of downtown.”

Those hoping to gain insight for approaching a historic restoration in other cities will also find much to learn from. Mellon Square, which also features essays by Patricia O’Donnell, FASLA, Heritage Landscapes, lead landscape architect on the restoration effort, and Richard Bell, FASLA, champions the efforts of all involved. Rademacher is careful to give credit to all involved parties, from the first glimmers of an idea through the recent full restoration. As important as reconstructing the historic details of the copper fountains and rustic terrazzo paving was the building and maintaining of partnerships across disciplines. Though Mellon Square underwent a partial restoration in the 1980s, funding issues – along with design modifications largely reversed to better align with the original design – led to a lack of proper maintenance. Key to the future success of the square will be an ongoing $4 million maintenance fund devoted to perpetual stewardship of Mellon Square.

Editorial cartoon, Cy Hungerford, 1955 / Princeton Architectural Press

Editorial cartoon, Cy Hungerford, 1955 / Princeton Architectural Press

One of few Modernist landscapes fully preserved and restored, proponents hope Mellon Square will be not an anomaly but a model for other locations. Up next: how about designation as a National Historic Landmark?, suggests Birnbaum.

Read the book.

Yoshi Silverstein, Associate ASLA, is founder and lead designer-educator at Mitsui Design, focusing on landscape experience and connection to place. He was the ASLA summer 2014 communications intern.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,133 other followers