Feeds:
Posts
Comments
Christine Ten Eyck, FASLA / Ten Eyck Landscape Architecture Inc

Christine Ten Eyck, FASLA / George Brainard

Christine Ten Eyck, FASLA, is founder and principal of Ten Eyck Landscape Architects, Inc. Her firm of 12 has won numerous national ASLA awards. Interview conducted at the ASLA 2015 Annual Meeting in Chicago.

Texas seems to be just coming out of a severe four-year drought. What has the drought taught Texas about water management?

The drought has taught Texas they don’t have enough water for all the people and for growing agriculture. Texas wants to attract more people and industry. But if you attract more people, you’ve got to have water. Texas’s solution is to fund more infrastructure projects that bring water to the people — the Texas Rainy Day Fund, which has $2 billion for water management projects. They will give low interest rate loans to towns or cities to bring water or improve their water supply.

By the way, I don’t think we’re over the drought, even though El Nino has definitely hit.

As you just mentioned, Texas has passed this fund with $2 billion for water management. Is it enough? As a landscape architect, what does it mean for you?

No, I don’t think it’s enough.

I’ve always thought water is precious. In our projects, we make people aware of the path of water. We feel this is important anywhere, but especially in the arid Southwest where people long for a connection with water. Our projects have been a source of inspiration, not only for residential homeowners but also cities and college campuses. That’s the role we play. We can make communities aware that water is a precious resource and that they need to take care of water, not waste it on lawns. Our projects have to be beautiful and sustainable.

I usually work on sites that have immediate concerns with either no water or in a year like this with flooding water rushing off existing transportation systems into these last little shreds of remaining nature, and so we try to improve these systems, just one project at a time.

Significant amounts of groundwater have been used during the drought. Landscape architects are coming up with ways to recharge groundwater, even in urban areas. What will work in Texas? How can groundwater recharge be made more visible or even beautiful?

In Texas, if you own a property, you own the water rights to anything underneath your property. The rivers and streams are owned by the state of Texas. You have to get special permits to use that water. But, basically, in Texas you can still drill a well. There’s not a ton of regulation.

On my own street in Austin, I know of five homeowners who have dug wells. They’ll put signs out in their front yard that, “we’re watering with well water, so we’re okay. We can use as much water as much as we want.” This is just bizarre to me. We’ve still got lots of people with great big lawns. Now that we’re getting all this rain they think it’s perfectly okay to keep them. It’s just going to be a long, hard process.

In all of our projects, we try to slow water down and let it percolate down. I do this even in my own yard and garden. The whole front yard, which is good-sized, is designed to be a sponge to take it down. The more of these sponge gardens that get published, the more projects people see, it will help.

Sponge residential garden / Ten Eyck Landscape Architects, Inc.

Sponge residential garden / Paul Hester

We’re also trying to get people to appreciate the beauty of drought and appreciate brown. It’s a gorgeous color. Golden colors. We just appreciate that there are seasons when things look a little haggard, just like me. It’s just like part of life. We need to come up with a new kind of beauty that people can have — a resilient, tough landscape that has a harsh beauty unique to its region.

Beautiful drought landscape / Ten Eyck Landscape Architects, Inc.

Beautiful drought landscape / Terry Moore

In a number of communities in Texas with severe water challenges, it came down to providing water for endangered species or humans. Where do you see the balance?

What can I say? People are having too many children. I hate to sound so rude, but there’s too many people. We’ve got to be satisfied with one or two. Of course I’m the oldest of five, so I love a big family, don’t get me wrong. It’s just there are just so many people, and they use too many resources.

Balance between the wildlife and the humans? Seems like the government is going to probably pick humans. There needs to be a balance, but I couldn’t begin to tell you how we’re going to figure that out.

In your own projects, you’re now even harvesting condensation from air conditioning systems. With your new project at the University of Texas at Austin Belo Center for New Media, you designed a fascinating system. Could you tell me how that works?

In Texas, we have humidity and also have tons of air conditioning. The air conditioning coils create this condensation, a byproduct of a building that typically goes into the sewer. Because of my experience in Arizona, I’ve learned to appreciate every drop of water and look for every little way to honor that memory of water in the landscape.

We made the whole Belo Center garden about the path of water. We were able to convince the Belo Center for New Media to harvest that the condensate along with the stormwater that hit the roof. The condensate and the stormwater go into these three cisterns for irrigation, but when those are full, a valve shuts, and the water then goes through our water fountain, a linear biofilter runnel, where we have native Juncus growing. It’s a great element in the plaza, but it also tells an interesting story about reusing the water that a building produces.

University of Texas at Austin Belo Center for New Media garden / Ten Eyck Landscape Architects, Inc.

University of Texas at Austin Belo Center for New Media garden / Bill Timmerman

Now, water departments will tell you, “we could have used that water to dissolve the solvents and things in our sewer system and all that.” So, again, is it really an end-all solution? No, it isn’t. It’s a way to use water that isn’t processed by the city and it calls attention to forgotten water.

As you’ve described, your projects make water flow visible in the landscape. For example, your landscape at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) campus has this series of vegetated arroyos or rivers. Why is making water visible so important?

Our project at UTEP, a campus that was defined by its architecture and abundance of asphalt, is set in a little mountain hillside in the Chihuahuan Desert. They had lost all connection with their fantastic place. The Chihuahuan Desert is a beautiful desert. It was more about really connecting the campus to their place, and creating a sense of pride of their unique spot in the world.

We looked at historic photos of the campus. When it was first built, there were many arroyos, but the campus evolved to become a car-centric campus, with acres of asphalt. We were lucky enough to peel all that off, reshape the land, and carve some of those arroyos back in, in order to slow that water down as it traverses through campus. When they do get rain, as little as they get, it comes in major, epic storms, so the new arroyos and acequias help to absorb and slow the water down.

UTEP campus / Ten Eyck Landscape Architects, Inc.

UTEP campus / Terry Moore

UTEP has the largest Hispanic student population of any university in the country. They’re just the greatest kids. It was just a blast to give them a heart to their campus, embraced by these arroyos and this central gathering space. The new landscape just celebrates them. It celebrates where they’re from, where their ancestors are from.

We used all the native andesite rock from regrading and native Chihuahuan plants to create these arroyos and, now, you can’t believe the birds and butterflies on this campus.

People’s first impression of El Paso is typically the uninspiring view of industry as they drive I-10. Except for the mountain views, it’s not flattering or reflective of this amazing city. We’re showing the beauty of this place and hopefully instilling pride. It’s had a great impact so far, so that’s exciting. And it’s all working.

Paris climate deal / The New Yorker

Paris climate deal / The New Yorker

After two weeks of intense negotiations at a UN summit in Paris, leaders of 195 countries reached an historic agreement to limit the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing the atmosphere to warm. The agreement creates a new bottom-up infrastructure for managing carbon emissions, with each country pledging emissions reductions targets and agreeing to regular, transparent reporting of their successes or failures in meeting them. The new framework will use global peer pressure: Countries that fail to meet their commitments will be named and shamed in a global setting. But while the new agreement calls for limiting the rise in global temperatures to no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), it’s not clear that this essentially voluntary approach to managing emissions will work. For this ambitious yet necessary goal to be achieved, global emissions must peak by 2030 and the world needs to be net-zero by 2050. The accumulated carbon in the atmosphere then needs be drawn down so it doesn’t continue to warm the planet far into the future.

The world’s temperatures have already increased 1 degree Celsius since the Industrial Revolution. The current commitments of the world’s governments from now through 2020 now only make up half of the further decrease in emissions needed to stave off scientists’ doomsday scenarios. But under the new framework, countries will only take stock every 5 years, revising their earlier pledges, and ratcheting up their emissions reductions targets. In reality, this means an almost-constant campaign to bring pressure on leading emitters to further reduce their emissions, explains Bill McKibben, a critic of the deal, in an op-ed in The New York Times. He argues that, “what this means is that we need to build the movement even bigger in the coming years, so that the Paris agreement turns into a floor and not a ceiling for action.”

Still, many commentators argue the Paris agreement is critical because it sent the loudest and clearest signal yet to financial and energy companies that the shift to clean energy, like wind and solar power, must occur more rapidly. The countries that signed the Paris climate agreement are now all on record stating their support for the transition away from fossil fuels. But now the hard part comes with translating this positive sentiment into policy and regulatory changes that will shift the energy mix. Fossil fuels still overwhelmingly dominate worldwide. The New York Times reports that “fossil fuels, including coal, oil and gas, now make up about 80 percent of the world’s energy mix. The combined stock value of the world’s coal, oil and gas companies is about $5 trillion. By comparison, stocks related to renewable energy are valued at about $300 billion, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a research firm.” And to add, fossil fuels get about $550 billion in subsidies each year.

Former NASA scientist James Hansen, one of the first to raise the red flag about climate change, dismissed the agreement, and its potential impact on the energy sector. “It’s a fraud, really, a fake,” he told The Guardian. “There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.” Hansen argues that what’s needed in the near term is a global carbon tax to speed up the shift to a global clean energy economy.

Bill Gates, now the world’s leading philanthropist, instead argues that many more billions of investment in clean energy technology research is needed to orchestrate this shift. He believes that current technologies can’t solve our current energy problems, but more advanced technologies are needed. Gates, along with Richard Branson of Virgin and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, have created a new multi-billion-dollar fund for research into clean energy technologies; and the U.S. and other countries have announced they will increase clean energy research to $20 billion by 2020.

Other critics pointed to the lack of guaranteed financial support for the poorest countries in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, which will be hit hardest and need billions to adapt. There was a new requirement in the non-binding agreement that developed countries would deliver $100 billion in support to developing countries by 2020, but often these promises fail to materialize. And the agreement may do nothing to stop the potential rise of coal in India. If India chooses coal over solar and wind, it could be a deal breaker for the planet.

Temp_Flooding

Madrid + Natural / Arup via Arch Daily

Lowlife The Architect’s Newspaper, 12/2/15
“Even the worst gardener knows that a plant needs light to grow. And yet, in defiance of basic biology, a lush garden grows inside a windowless warehouse on the Lower East Side.”

Making and Taking: 2015’s Notable Developments in Landscape Architecture  – The Huffington Post, 12/3/15
“For broken, derelict, and underutilized urban space, 2015 was a good year. In North American cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Toronto and elsewhere, landscape architects contributed to the ‘urban renaissance’ through excellent design, thoughtful urban planning, and prescient environmental management.”

Buffalo Build – The Architect’s Newspaper, 12/7/15
“Amid Houston’s rapidly crowding skyline and population, landscape architecture firm SWA Group is carving out green space in Buffalo Bayou Park, a $58 million remediation overhaul of a 160-acre, 2.3-mile-long public park. Completed in October, the updated park west of downtown now features hiking and biking trails, a dog park, a visitor’s center, an outdoor concert space, gardens, picnic areas, play areas, and event spaces.”

A Seawall That Proves That Strong Infrastructure Can Be Pretty, TooCitylab, 12/9/15
“Seawalls are typically some of the most brutish and aesthetically gross pieces of water infrastructure around, but Metamorphous, by Paul Sangha Landscape Architecture, turns a seawall into a 200-foot-long piece of public art.”

Arup Releases Report Envisioning a Greener Madrid Arch Daily, 12/14/15
“Arup’s Foresight + Research + Innovation and Madrid sustainability, master planning, and landscape architecture teams have released Madrid + Natural, a series of guidelines to address climate change within the city.”

A Park to Sop Up Pollutants Before They Flow Into the Gowanus Canal The New York Times, 12/15/15
“At the foot of Second Street in Brooklyn, hard by the Gowanus Canal, is a tiny green space with a very big job.”

Parkroyal on Pickering, Singapore / WOHA website

Parkroyal on Pickering, Singapore / WOHA website

An increase in density doesn’t have to mean a decrease in the quality of life. Quality of life can be ensured with improved access to communal green space, which doesn’t have to be limited to parks on the ground. In a lecture at Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD), Wong Mun Summ and Richard Hassell, the founders of WOHA, an architecture firm based in Singapore, depicted enormous residential towers that are lush and verdant, with vines spilling over the edges of shared balcony gardens, and trees and shrubs covering the rooftops, creating a dense, leafy canopy. Vertical surfaces are swathed in healthy greenery. I marveled at their rendering skills before realizing that they were showing built projects.

Summ and Hassell named their lecture “Garden City, Mega City,” suggesting these two notions don’t have to be opposed. The Garden City movement was a city planning effort that began in the late 19th century as a response to the congestion and social alienation of industrial cities with small, self-contained communities, each with a healthy amount of shared open and agricultural space. But while the movement has many merits, density was not one of them.

Fast-forward a century to the exponential growth of mega cities, which are cities with populations over 10 million. There were only 2 in 1965, but there are now 35, and, in 2050, there will be 50. In these mega cities, higher density is inevitable. While the Garden City movement is widely considered passé now that we now the enormous costs of sprawl, WOHA is shrewdly mining it for concepts that can work in our megalopolises.

Already, WOHA integrates greenery into their architecture using something they call “topographic architecture.” We’ve all seen buildings that have vegetation applied as an afterthought, like candles stuck into a birthday cake. Not surprisingly, it’s difficult to keep the plants happy. WOHA’s strategy is to allow the form of the building to be shaped by the needs of the vegetation that will grow in or on it, increasing the chance of growing healthy plants and all the things that they bring. When there were complaints from the residents of the 24th floor of one of the towers that their children were being stung by bees in the sky garden, the architects couldn’t say they were entirely unhappy – they had successfully created a small but functioning ecosystem in the sky.

Newton Suites, Singapore / WOHA

Newton Suites, Singapore / WOHA

WOHA also sees their work as prototypes for the mega cities of the future. Each project is designed to work on a local level, but also as part of a larger, replicable system. They want to see an “inverted skyline” – a dense amalgamation of buildings that would all reach to the same height. This platform in the sky could provide a continuous surface, an alternate ground plane that could be used as an armature for agriculture or solar panels. Hassell said “more than cross programming, we want to create this mix of architecture and infrastructure, or architecture and agriculture, or even architecture and forestry, to try and see how we can put together things that are normally seen as separate.”

The majority of WOHA’s projects are located in the tropical regions of Asia, where plants are fast-growing, highly adaptable, and don’t have to survive a cold winter. One question is: can their model could be applied in other climates? The delightful photos of towers dripping with jungle vegetation are impossible in a climate where most trees have no leaves for half the year, but perhaps that isn’t important. The real strength of WOHA’s work lies in their commitment to make dense living as socially and ecologically viable as possible.

This guest post is by Chella Strong, Student ASLA, master’s of landscape architecture candidate, Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

Sherbourne Commons /

Sherbourne Commons / ASLA 2013 General Design Honor Award. Sherbourne Common / Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg

A newly expanded and now mobile-friendly version of ASLA’s Designing Our Future: Sustainable Landscapes online exhibition highlights real-world examples of sustainable landscape design and its positive effects on the environment and quality of life. These spaces use natural systems to provide ecosystem services, transform untapped assets into vital community spaces, and create new economic opportunities — they ultimately provide significant environmental, social, and economic value.

Ten new case studies that range from a coastal ecological restoration project to a volunteer-run urban farm illustrate just what sustainable landscapes are and how they provide important benefits on a variety of scales. In the process, the case studies, written in clear, understandable language, also introduce users to what exactly landscape architects do.

The new case studies were carefully selected to show a diversity of landscape types and scales and reflect geographical diversity. There are now a total of 40 case studies.

New case studies include:

Burbank Water & Power Eco-campus, Burbank, California, a sustainable landscape for employees and visitors in the midst of a working power plant.

Drs. Julian and Raye Richardson Apartments, San Francisco, California, a safe and welcoming apartment complex, with beautiful design elements, for the chronically homeless.

Lafayette Greens, Detroit, Michigan, a volunteer-run urban farm in downtown Detroit where 800 pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables are grown every year.

Living Breakwaters, New York, New York, an innovative coastal ecological restoration project that won $60 million in the Rebuild by Design competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Pete V. Domenici U.S. Courthouse Sustainable Landscape Renovation, Albuquerque, New Mexico, an underused plaza that has become a model of sustainable landscape design in the desert.

Quarry Garden, Shanghai, China, a derelict, polluted quarry that was transformed into a garden visited by more than 3 million people in its first year.

Sherbourne Common, Toronto, Cananda, a multi-functional park and wastewater treatment plant that includes an underground Ultraviolet (UV) water purification system.

The Steel Yard, Providence, Rhode Island, an abandoned steel manufacturing facility that has become a beloved community arts space.

Sunnylands Center and Gardens, Rancho Mirage, California, an extension to the Annenberg Estate that captures every drop of stormwater, with some collected in underground cisterns for later use.

Woodland Discovery Playground, Memphis, Tennessee, an immersion in nature play for children that features surfaces made of recycled athletic shoes.

The Web site also 30 other case studies; 10 animations created by Daniel Tal, ASLA, using Google Sketchup; and companion sustainability education resources that enable users to explore sustainable design concepts in greater depth.

Designing Our Future: Sustainable Landscapes was originally made possible with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

How Green Was My Valley / Screen Shadows Group

How Green Was My Valley / Screen Shadows Group

Hollywood studio backlots in southern California have been used to build whole worlds for the big screen for decades. While technologies have changed over time, the principles set designers use to create movie magic seems to be largely the same. Chip Sullivan, ASLA, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of California at Berkeley, author, and self-professed wanna-be film director, revealed how they do it and what landscape architects can learn from their approach at the ASLA 2015 Annual Meeting in Chicago. Why learn from Hollywood? Because they are “creating the landscapes we all want to be in.”

Classic Hollywood set designs have created:

An Illusion of Depth

Movie set designers have long used visual tricks to create an “illusion of depth.” In the beginning of the 20th century, George Melies, one of the first “screen magicians,” would create matte background paintings on glass. And in the following decades, background paintings were continued to be used to create fake scenery. The first 10 feet was reserved for actors and objects, whereas the rest was just painting. The way you can tell, said Sullivan, is that the camera angle would shift every 2 seconds. This is because at “3 seconds, we can detect a fake.” Still, these elaborate set paintings received the “same amount of effort as Renaissance paintings.”

For popular mid-century films set on the South Seas, designers even transformed a Southern Californian backlot into an oceanic scene. To achieve this effect, they would dam a creek and use huge mirrors to create an infinite landscape.

Set designers also created “hammerhead streetscapes” that looked full-scale but weren’t. “The bottom floors were 20 percent shorter and the top floors 30 percent shorter.” And in How Green Was My Valley, designers actually built smaller buildings in the background, using smaller people, too (see image above). Depth was created this way to save money.

A Multiplicity of Views

Designers devised a “multiplicity of views” in amazingly small sets, adding to the depth and richness. For the 1937 film Dead End, a “socially-realist film set in the slums of an urban waterfront,”a miniature city was created through the smart layering of space. While the movie was supposed to show the dangers of slum life, Sullivan said it only clear “how much fun it was to be a dead-end kid.”

Dead End / Toronto Film Society

Dead End / Toronto Film Society

The designers of the classic science-fiction noir Blade Runner also used layering to create a sense of a complete dystopian world set 500 years in the future. “The claustrophobic effect of tightness was created by layering modern elements over the past.”

A Sense of Mystery 

Movie sets’ urban and small town streetscapes almost never have right angles. Instead, dynamic angles are employed to create a “sense of mystery, a pinwheel effect.” View of town squares are a bit off center, which is a “human way to know scale.”

Dynamic angles also mean that film makers can create dramatic moments of “hide and reveal.” When there are dynamic angles, you see places in film that you can’t go, which spurs interest. Sullivan said great Japanese garden designers are masters of creating this effect.

A Sense of Drama

Portals create drama. “An arch dramatizes transition from one space to another.”

Moving from prospects to refuge also creates drama. As humans, we are innately attracted to vistas that give us a broad view but we also seek places safe from predators. Sullivan pointed to the “edge of the forest” as not only an important design element but a place of drama. “Back to Shakespeare, the truth was always revealed in the forest.”

A Feeling of Community

“We have a deep-seated need for community.” This need is met in film through the use of small-town public squares. Sullivan pointed to the role of the town square in Back to the Future. It’s central — “it pulls the whole film together.” Sullivan argued this town square is “archetypal and reflective of how we want to live.”

Courthouse Square, used in Back to the Future / Thestudiotour.com

Courthouse Square, used in Back to the Future / Thestudiotour.com

Other films use a “mosaic of facades to create a rich, connected urban fabric.” Copying New York City, film designers mix facades to create a rich visual feast. “They create a lively urban fabric that’s full of people and exciting scenarios.” An example of this is the always-fascinating, urban interior courtyard Hitchcock created for Rear Window. Great movies “recreate the spaces where we want to be. That’s why we go see the movies.”

Rear Window set / Hitchcock Zone

Rear Window set / Hitchcock Zone

A Whole Universe 

Powerful films are “world building; they create a sense of logic.” As an example, the wizard world of Harry Potter movies — and, now, in full reality at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort in Florida — illustrate many of the principles Sullivan defined.

Sullivan said Harry Potter World, a realization of a movie landscape, “puts drama everywhere, creates illusion and hide-and-seek moments, and features a mosaic of facades that have larger foregrounds.”

Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Florida / World for Travel

Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Florida / World for Travel

In the end, both great films and landscapes have a “strong story line.” To be successful, “films and landscapes need a strong narrative.”

ASLA

ASLA

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) has released its call for presentations for the 2016 Annual Meeting and EXPO, which will take place October 21-24, 2016, in New Orleans. More than 6,000 landscape architects and allied professionals are expected to attend.

The meeting will feature a diverse spectrum of industry experts speaking on a wide range of subjects, from sustainable design and best practices to new materials and technologies.

More than 130 education sessions and field sessions will be presented during the meeting, providing attendees with the opportunity to earn up to 21 professional development hours under the Landscape Architecture Continuing Education System™ (LA CES™).

Many of the sessions will also qualify for continuing education credit with the Green Building Certification Institute (toward LEED AP credential maintenance), the American Institute of Architects, the American Institute of Certified Planners, and other allied professional organizations and state registration boards.

Education session speakers selected from this process will receive a full complimentary registration to the ASLA 2016 Annual Meeting and may also be eligible for reimbursement for one night’s hotel stay at an official ASLA hotel (an estimated $750 value). Landscape architecture professionals wishing to present at the New Orleans meeting need to be active members of ASLA. Allied professionals are encouraged to both submit presentations and speak but are not required to be members of the Society.

The deadline for education session proposals is January 28, 2016. Submit your session proposal now.

Shoemaker Green / Andropogon Associates

Shoemaker Green / Andropogon Associates

“We are designing ever more complex systems, and it’s complicated to see if they are performing as they should. You can’t just look at a rain garden and say, ‘yes, it’s working,'” said Eric Kramer, ASLA, a principal with Reed Hilderbrand, at the ASLA 2015 Annual Meeting in Chicago. “With living systems, you have to check in over time.” So how can landscape architects check in with their projects to see if they are actually working? The answer may be to use commissioning, a process in which performance standards are established and then measured and verified over time. In the era where landscape architects may be expected to measure every ecosystem service, this approach increasingly makes sense as a way to capture value.

Christian Gabriel, ASLA, design director for landscape architecture, General Services Administration (GSA), said commissioning is different from post-occupancy reviews. Commissioning is about setting performance standards from the beginning of a project and then designing, implementing, and monitoring the project according to those standards. While commissioning agents do cost extra — typically 0.5 – 1.5 percent of the total project budget — Gabriel says their help can save 8 – 20 percent in annual operating costs.

Bringing in a commissioning agent as part of the design team early on can help the design and construction team “refine the design intent, validate system performance, document decision-making, and properly train operations staff.” Commissioning during the planning process helps to “marry performance with design. We can achieve net zero carbon and water with real intent now.” And post-construction, commissioning agents then work with landscape architects to measure and verify that a landscape is actually hitting its performance goals — “and if not, they show them how to correct issues.”

For Gabriel, commissioning early on in the process also means an enhanced role for the landscape architect in the overall site design process. Because landscapes are now expected to actually perform, “landscape become a primary system; site design is no longer overlaid, but intrinsic to performance.”

But is all of this extra hassle really worth it? “Why does landscape performance matter?,” asked Thomas Amoroso, ASLA, a principal with Andropogon Associates. For him, landscapes in urban areas are increasingly valuable because “they now have responsibility to perform against a multitude of factors.” Those multi-million-dollar sustainable parks being created are complicated living systems, with many demands placed on them. “And they are competing for limited space and limited dollars,” so landscape architects need to be able to show that they actually perform. “We need to prove that they’re doing what we say they’re doing.”

As for their 3-acre Shoemaker Green project (see image above), found on the University of Pennsylvania campus in Philadelphia, Andropogon is monitoring this sustainable park to see if it performs as it should. Shoemaker Green is not only a park but also a sophisticated stormwater conveyance and capture system. Underground, there are 20,000-gallon cisterns. There are designed plant and soil systems. UPenn and Andropogon together co-wrote a grant to finance field analysis of the project over 5 years, using scientific instruments to measure performance in terms of water, soils, vegetation, and human activity.

Andropogon plans to share the data when they are done analyzing. Amoroso believes the firm and the wider design community will “benefit as much from the bad news as good.” But he also questioned whether their DIY approach to performance measurement was sustainable, given it’s a significant overhead cost. Hiring a commissioning firm that specializes in this kind of work could have benefits.

And then Kramer, with Reed Hilderbrand, walked us through their complicated landscape project, with tiered reflecting pools at the Clark Art Institute, a museum and research center in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Clark Art Institute brought in Aramark, a commissioning agent who applied their principles to every facet of the project — observe, test, and repeat — to help fix an issue with one of the pool purifiers, which kept clogging. Throughout a retro-commissioning process, Aramark helped create a testing strategy for each design intention. But Kramer said Aramark needed a bit of training, too, because it hadn’t come across some of the issues involved in measuring landscape performance (and this really may be the case with the majority of commissioning agents, who typically focus on buildings and engineered systems).

Clark Art Institute / Curbed

Clark Art Institute / Curbed

Kramer said landscape architects and clients should bring in commissioning agents in the beginning because “they have the broad view.” With them there, all of the various subcontractors “opened up.” Aramark helped them “create a worldview, a coherent narrative, so we didn’t fight about it but just fixed it. That was the real benefit for everyone.”

He also directed a point at Gabriel, arguing that “GSA needs to get behind landscape performance and commissioning standards, so the rest of the world can get behind them.” He argued that an “industry-wide discussion is needed, with clients and contractors involved in setting standards.” Given GSA’s renewed focus on landscape architecture, hopefully we’ll see some progress soon.

Oakencroft Farm / Nelson Byrd Wolz Landscape Architects

Oakencroft Farm / Nelson Byrd Wolz Landscape Architects

Designing agricultural landscapes that protect biodiversity has become a high priority for some landscape architects, scientists, and farmers. And designing the right collaborations can be just as important as designing for conservation itself. “There are some advances that can only occur through collaboration, which is why conservation requires design,” said Dr. James Gibbs, a conservation biologist and professor at SUNY’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry at the ASLA 2015 Annual Meeting and Expo in Chicago. Gibbs shared his experience with master farmer Zachary Wolf and Thomas Woltz, FASLA, Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, who worked together on Oakencroft Farm in Virginia and Overlook Farm in Pennsylvania.

Using “private land as their laboratory,” Gibbs, Wolf, and Woltz are collaborating to design a balance between agricultural production and ecological conservation on these farms. Each brings different expertise to the table, but their ultimate goal is to create landscapes that are not only productive and beautiful, but also biodiverse. The future of “biodiversity conservation lies in the intricacies of these working landscapes,” Gibbs said.

Achieving beauty is actually a central goal of the conservation projects. According to Gibbs, aesthetics is an essential ecosystem service. “We ask ourselves is this good for both biodiversity and aesthetics, or is there a trade-off? We think through the designs to answer this important question,” Gibbs said.

For landscape architect Woltz, combining forces to create landscapes that are both ecological and productive has shown him that “science and design belong together at every scale.” Before and after the ecological restoration projects on the farms, the team measures both ecological and agricultural production values. They then have a better understanding of the balance between the two goals. “We wanted to create a landscape that can be wild, productive, and expressive of this legacy of agricultural inheritance,” Wolf said.

The collaborators also treat these places with inherent respect and consider them cultural landscapes. These properties have cultural significance that requires re-interpretation “for the 20th century, but with a new set of values,” Woltz said.

Overlook Farm in Dalton, Pennsylvania / Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects

Overlook Farm in Dalton, Pennsylvania / Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects

Gibbs, Wolf, and Woltz credit the success of their efforts to their partnership. “Part of working together on these projects is admitting what you don’t know and building trust with different players,” Wolf said. “You can then step into the land with fresh eyes and assess the potential of these places.”

Smart growth in California data / Calthorpe Associates

Data on smart growth in California / Calthorpe Associates

“Climate change is the one thing that clearly unifies the planet — every city in the world has to cope with these issues,” said Peter Calthorpe, principal of Calthorpe Associates, in his keynote address at the Louisiana Smart Growth Summit. At the two-day conference in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, climate change was a hot issue for many of the speakers, who discussed strategies for combating it with smart growth policies, not just in Louisiana, but across the country.

Calthorpe identified several new avenues for promoting smart growth, which concentrates urban development in walkable downtowns and connects regions:

Use Data to Show Smart Growth Is Low Cost

We need to talk about smart growth in terms of its cost-saving benefits. Policymakers, planners, and the public all increasingly desire quantifiable data on environmentally-sound policies. It’s not enough to harp on the health or environmental benefits of walkable downtowns — if the cost-saving benefits are not highlighted, smart growth policies will not be implemented.

As Calthrope said, “smart growth is fiscally the most responsible thing to do if you get the data on the table. A lot of conservative Republicans who don’t believe in smart growth or climate change were at least on board for the least-cost scenario.”

One way to help policymakers and the public understand the cost-saving benefits of smart growth is by presenting them with the costs of various scenarios. “People will say we can’t afford $94 billion for high speed rail in California but the reality is, if we don’t build it and we still have those same trips taking place, we’d have to expand airports and highways to accommodate them and that would cost $180 billion dollars.”

lead_large

Plan for the California high-speed rail system when completed / UC Davis and Esri

Though it might seem “geek-ish” to make a hard sell for design based on so much data, according to Calthorpe, presenting policymakers and the public with cost-benefit scenarios can can help them clear their minds of the rhetoric that “we should do nothing because we can’t afford anything.”

Christopher Leinberger, president of LOCUS, made a similar point in his presentation about the importance of selling the least-cost scenario.

“Why would you ever invest your limited capital dollars into roads and sewers when, if you put them into walkable urban development, you can bring in 6-12 times the revenue for the same cost per mile,” he said. Not everyone cares about the environment. Not everyone acknowledges climate change. But presenting thoughtful, environmentally-sensitive projects through an economic lens can provide a backdoor for implementation.

Use Autonomous Vehicles to Better Connect Regions

While Calthorpe argued that technology is not a “silver bullet” for creating better cities, he acknowledged that new technologies may help us change some of the behaviors that have contributed to sprawl. Innovation will come out of a transportation revolution centered on autonomous public transportation.

Google-Autonomous-Car.png

Google’s prototype for a driver-less car / Google

While autonomous private vehicles companies like Google are prototyping have the potential to perpetuate the negative environmental impacts of regular vehicles — by encouraging sprawling development — there is a compelling case for autonomous public buses, Calthorpe said.

“If you take that same technology companies like Google are thinking about and apply it in place of large buses in dedicated right of ways, you’ll be able to create a transit system that is equitable and affordable without drivers,” he said. “Connecting communities at a regional scale is also crucial.”

Leinberger argued that new autonomous vehicle technologies, without a concurrent change in our lives or our cities, are not going to solve anything. But tailoring technology to inspire behavioral changes can provide a great tool for changing the underlying chemistry of broken systems.

Use Mixed-Income Developments to Build Resilience

Discussing the inevitable trade-offs involved in promoting smart growth, Calthorpe called gentrification “good news for the U.S,” because of the environmental and social benefits associated with its driving forces. For example, gentrification often occurs in mixed-use areas that are designed to be the most resilient to climate change.

“They call it gentrification, but I call it mixed income,” he said. “I believe many communities would love to have a broader mix of incomes, more services, better schools. Displacement is not nearly as draconian as it is portrayed to be.”

Policy makers, planners, and designers in every city are going to have decide the right balance of walkable mixed-use development given environmental and social constraints. Sometimes building walkable, healthy downtowns will lead to gentrification, but, as Calthorpe said, “there are trade-offs in everything.”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,316 other followers