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New Center for Landscape Architecture / Gensler

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) has embarked on a $4 million plan to renovate its headquarters building and create a Center for Landscape Architecture. ASLA aims to raise $1 million in private donations for the Center this year.

The Society purchased its 12,000-square-foot building, which is located at 636 Eye Street, NW, in 1997 for $2.4 million, just as D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood was being revitalized. After 17 years of occupancy, any building would be in need of renovation. But ASLA leaders saw the opportunity to do much more.

Mark A. Focht, FASLA, immediate past president of the ASLA, in presenting the renovation plan to the Society’s Board of Trustees for approval in late November 2014, said: “This is an opportunity to create a facility to reflect the image and ethic of our profession—a world-class Center for Landscape Architecture that will inspire and engage our staff, our membership, allied professionals, public officials and the general public.”

The ASLA Board of Trustees approved the $4 million plan with nearly unanimous support. “ASLA paid off the original mortgage last summer, so the Society is in an excellent financial position to take out a $3 million mortgage and raise the balance of what we need through fundraising and product donations,” said Nancy C. Somerville, Hon. ASLA, executive vice president/CEO of the Society.

Focht made a personal pledge to contribute $15,000 to the project and challenged the other Board members to join him in launching the fundraising efforts.

James Burnett, FASLA, founder of award-winning landscape architecture firm The Office of James Burnett, donated $25,000 to the project and volunteered to chair a fundraising task force to raise the remaining funds needed. “Since the Board approved the project on November 20, we’ve received more than $340,000 in payments and pledges—that’s over 34 percent of our goal,” said Burnett. “We’ll also seek in-kind product donations lighting, furniture, green walls, kitchen appliances, surfacing and other items. We’re committed to creating a space for ASLA’s national headquarters that reflects the complexity and vitality of our profession, and the more successful our fundraising is, the more successful the project will be.”

Global architecture firm Gensler was selected through a request for proposal process to lead the design team, which includes landscape architecture firm Oehme, van Sweden, to ensure the profession’s values will be well-represented. The building will be designed to LEED Platinum and WELL™ building standards. Gensler has developed a number of exciting design concepts to modify the building:

The façade will be slightly altered at the ground level to provide more of a street presence (see image above).

The street level will be reconfigured to become the public face of the Center for Landscape Architecture and will feature flexible meeting/event space, exhibit space, a catering kitchen and restrooms to provide for increased industry and public engagement.

The current closed, double staircase will be opened up to create a three-story, day-lighted atrium, engaging the floors vertically and providing an opportunity to display elements of landscape architecture.

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Office space will be reconfigured and furnished to meet current staff needs and provide for future growth. Staff will also have access to a wellness room, focus rooms, small conference rooms, and upgraded kitchen, break, administrative, and restrooms.

Conceptual drawings are available on the Center for Landscape Architecture website, along with a list of donors, naming rights opportunities, and information on how to donate to the project.

Currently, construction is planned to begin in fall of 2015.

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NYC Complete Street / Complete Street Prince

As more communities invest in green, complete streets to create environments that are both safer and more accessible for pedestrians and bicyclists, there are growing problems for those who must move goods, said Peter Plumeau, Resource Systems Group, at the Transforming Transportation conference in Washington, D.C. Complete streets by their definition must accommodate all users, but they aren’t doing as good of a job in accommodating trucks and delivery vehicles, which are critical to goods movement, argues Plumeau. For example, curb extensions, which have many benefits, are a great way to block access for a truck. And more people-friendly roundabouts, which feature tighter streets, are becoming a nightmare to get around. Plumeau said the answer is more creative thinking about how to move goods.

Some communities are creating exemptions for some streets. In Seattle, which now has a comprehensive complete street program, “there is flexibility in industrial areas where there are lots of goods being moved in and out.” Others are making it easier on those haulers: Ontario, Canada, has a “guide for local truck routes.”

Some cities are using flexible street design to accommodate goods-carrying vehicles. In some of Boston’s busy complete streets, there are “curb space allocations” just for trucks.

And still others are coming up with novel policy approaches for access: In Philadelphia, trucks can idle in traffic to make deliveries if they have the right windshield ID, effectively allowing sanctioned parking in no-parking zones. New York City is also looking into a similar approach but combined with overnight delivery, taking advantage of less-congested time frames. And in some neighborhoods in Germany, there are secure kiosks trucks deliver to, places where people must walk to in order to pick up parcels.

Plumeau’s point is “economic vitality is also key to sustainability.” And furthermore, it’s often not the truckers fault if they are stuck trying to navigate a complete street: “the goods movement is now driven by demand. These truckers are not acting on their own schedule.”

He called for “getting rid of parking regulations in cities, which undermines affordability to begin with.” He believes expensive, highly regulated parking is one reason “jobs are heading to the suburbs because these places have cheap parking.”

However, the other side of this argument — as one audience member noted — is that “more parking just creates more sprawl.” If parking is ample in a community, it can prevent more transit-oriented development.

The debate about truck access and parking will no doubt continue as more communities remake their streets.

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Traffic circle in Mexico City / Dezeen

“The science is clear. Climate change is already costly and shaping development,” said Rachel Kyte, the World Bank’s chief climate representative, at the Transforming Transportation conference in Washington, D.C. “The problem is this poor trade-off has been set-up: we can either have growth, progress, prosperity, or we can halt all our dreams to reduce carbon emissions. It’s not a vote getter.” Kyte believes sustainable development needs to be sold differently. With a smarter, more sustainable approach, “we can live differently, that’s exciting. We can live in cities with clean air, that’s exciting. We can create new jobs in a greener economy, and that’s exciting. It doesn’t have to be zero-sum; we can all benefit.”

“Transportation currently accounts for 15 percent of global carbon emissions. If we do nothing, it could account for 50 percent in 20 years.” Kyte said this kind of tired, hectoring narrative no longer works. “We need to step back and revolutionize cities and make them exciting.” What excites you about cities and transportation?

A group of panelists were tasked with answering this question:

For Kevin Austin, with C40, a group of leading mayors fighting for climate-friendly development, what’s exciting is out of the C40’s list of the top things cities can do to reduce climate change, 14 relate to transportation and urban development. “These things include more compact, transit-oriented development; reclaiming brownfields; congestion charging; electric vehicles; and non-motorized transportation.” Austin said what also excites him is more global cities are actually committing to achieving measurable targets. “When cities commit, they achieve three times more.”

Robin Chase, founder of Zipcar, said “technology is what’s exciting as it enables us to share assets in a transformational way. The old idea of one household and one car is going out. Using technology, we can achieve 100 percent shared vehicles. We can even achieve shared trips on shared vehicles.” Chase pointed to the rise of Zipcar as well as Uber and Lyft as an example of how a new system can come out of “many small parts.” Today, she said most car-owners spend 18 percent of their income on their vehicle, but end up using it only 5 percent of the time, a huge waste. Car sharing, Chase believes, can also work in non-compact cities. “We could use just 10 percent of the cars on the road today to satisfy needs.”

And Vincent Kobensen, PTV Group, thinks it’s the ability of new technology to “spread out existing infrastructure.” Given so few cities have the money to build brand-new infrastructure or even significantly upgrade it, technology can be deployed to “optimize multi-modal systems.” Already, 2-4 percent of global GDP is wasted due to congestion. In the future, congestion could disappear as more people take advantage of car sharing. It could be: “I don’t own a car, but I want to use one.”

According to Holger Dalkmann, head of EMBARQ at the World Resources Institute, Mexico City’s recent gains are a cause for excitement, as is its new mayor, Miguel Angel Mancera, a “champion of sustainable urban transportation.” The city has just created a new mobility law, which aims to give each of its 17 million inhabitants the right to people-friendly transit, with complete streets, safe sidewalks and bus stops, and an easy, consolidated payment system for all public transportation. There are also ambitious new greenhouse gas reduction targets (40 percent).

Alain Flausch, International Association of Public Transportation, pointed to the growing global commitment to reach his organization’s target of doubling public transportation worldwide. “We have 110 networks that have made 350 commitments.” Flausch added that “public transportation needs to lead the pack in the climate fight. We need new fuels, vehicles, and systems.”

And for Patrick Oliva at the Michelin Group, setting urban transportation emission expectations low is what’s exciting. London’s low-emission zone, made possible with a congestion charging scheme, was launched in 2003 and has resulted in positive action on traffic and car-related emissions.

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Bus rapid transit, Jiangsu Province, China / Scania Group

The answer is a resounding yes, said Felipe Calderón, former president of Mexico and chair of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, who spoke at the Transforming Transportation conference in Washington, D.C. The economy and the climate are intrinsically connected and so are their problems. Today, those problems are low growth and climate change. But, in the future, higher, more productive growth could be linked with more stable climatic and ecological systems.

To create that new model for development, Calderón and Nicholas Stern, a renowned climate expert from the UK, have assembled an impressive team, with many mayors, two Nobel Prize winners, business leaders, and hundreds of institutions and research partners around the world. The commission’s goal is to create an action plan for environmentally and economically-sustainable development, which can inform the creation of the new UN Sustainable Development Goals, now being hashed out, and move government and business leaders to make more effective investments for the future.

Calderón believes three systems need to shift over time: energy, land-use, and cities.

On energy, Calderón says we must “decouple economic growth from carbon emissions.” He said the “cost of renewable energy is dropping rapidly. Solar power is now 80 percent cheaper than it was 8 years ago.” He also pointed to successful energy efficiency programs in Mexico, where over 2 million old refrigerators were swapped out for more efficient models in just 3 years.

As for land-use, which accounts for 20-25 percent of global emissions, the challenges are severe. “We need to produce 70 percent more calories over the next 20 years, meeting an expanding population’s food needs on the same surface we have now. We need a new green revolution but one that protects the environment. We must also recover degraded ecosystems.”

The city, one of our most complex systems, also needs to change. “In the next 15 years, one billion people will come to cities.” To accommodate all those new urbanites, the world will need a “Washington, D.C. every month for 5 years.” Calderón called for “connected, compact, and coordinated cities.” The cost of sprawl is just too high: In the U.S., the loss productivity of sprawl is estimate to be around $724 billion a year, if we account for public and private born costs.

To hit home the high costs of inefficiency, Calderón compared Atlanta with Barcelona, two cities with around the same population, about 2.5 million. Atlanta covers 4,280 square kilometers and each person emits about 7.5 tons of carbon per year. Barcelona covers just 162 square kilometers and each of its residents only emits about 0.7 tons of carbon.

Given it’s so hard to change old cities, “we need to create new cities right,” which is why his commission recommends aiming efforts at “emerging cities in the developing world,” where all the future urban growth will be. And what’s key to creating these connected, compact, and coordinated cities of the future? Smart transportation systems.

There are many reasons to invest in better urban transportation. In Beijing alone, the cost of congestion and pollution equals 4 percent of that city’s GDP. Air pollution does untold damage on urbanites’ health, with millions of deaths worldwide from bad air. Sprawl also “promotes inequality.” Calderón said people without a car are paying for the privilege of those who have a car. Instead, cities could invest in bus rapid transit (BRT), which “promotes equality and inclusion” and is far cheaper than subway systems.

Calderón’s commission believes the only way to support positive change in these areas is to create “better growth.” The drivers of this will be improved natural resource efficiency, labor reforms, and infrastructure investment. Over the next 15 years, the world will spend $90 trillion on energy, land-use, and cities. “We can use that money to invest in a new model with low carbon emissions and better quality growth.”

In 2014, the Earth reached its hottest levels at least since 1880, when global temperatures were first recorded. According to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), much of the 1.24 F (0.68 C) temperature increase over the 30-year average was driven by warmer oceans, which were up 1 degree F over the average.

According to a new report, rising ocean temperatures and increased acidification due to the addition of carbon are already wrecking havoc on marine ecosystems. Malin L. Pinsky, a marine biologist at Rutgers University, told The New York Times: “If you cranked up the aquarium heater and dumped some acid in the water, your fish would not be very happy. In effect, that’s what we’re doing to the oceans.” Coral reefs, which are among the richest of all marine habitats, have already declined by 40 percent. Many fish are now migrating to cooler waters, creating shifts in intricate food chains.

Things are not much better on land. While temperatures didn’t reach the record-setting levels from a few years ago, they were still near peak levels, ranked at fourth-warmest since 1880. According to The Washington Post, “California, much of Europe, including the United Kingdom, and parts of Australia all experienced their warmest years.” All of the 14 hottest years on record for land and sea are from the past 15 years.

A number of scientists have explained how climate change will lead to more “climate weirding,” as more extreme events happen in more random places. The World Metereological Organization (WMO) keeps track of these extreme weather events. According to their review of 2014, as relayed by BBC News: “In September, parts of the Balkans received more than double the average monthly rainfall and parts of Turkey were hit by four times the average. The town of Guelmin in Morocco was swamped by more than a year’s rain in just four days. Western Japan saw the heaviest August rain since records began. Parts of the western US endured persistent drought, as did parts of China and Central and South America. Tropical storms, on the other hand, totaled 72, which is less than the average of 89 judged by 1981-2010 figures. The North Atlantic, western North Pacific, and northern Indian Ocean were among regions seeing slightly below-average cyclone activity.”

In an email to The New York Times, climate scientist Michael Mann at Pennsylvania State University, said the warming trends indicate the debate about climate change is over: “It is exceptionally unlikely that we would be witnessing a record year of warmth, during a record-warm decade, during a several decades-long period of warmth that appears to be unrivaled for more than a thousand years, were it not for the rising levels of planet-warming gases produced by the burning of fossil fuels.”

However, others still aren’t fully persuaded that rising temperatures caused by fossil fuels present a danger. John R. Christy, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville said 2014’s record-high temperatures are really still within the margin of error of global temperature measurements. “Since the end of the 20th century, the temperature hasn’t done much. It’s on this kind of warmish plateau.”

To note, this chart plotting temperature anomalies doesn’t look like it’s plateauing (see another larger chart).

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Mainstream climate scientists believe there is still time to cut emissions levels enough to avoid reaching dangerous levels of carbon in the atmosphere. The goal is to keep the global temperature increase below 3.6 F (2 C). The focus is now on the UN climate summit later this year in Paris where governments will need to create a binding international agreement.

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Chris Reed, ASLA / Stoss

Chris Reed, ASLA, is founding principal of Stoss, which won the National Design Award for landscape architecture in 2012. Reed is associate professor in practice of landscape architecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. His most recent book, co-edited with Nina-Marie Lister, Affiliate ASLA, is Projective Ecologies.

This interview was conducted at the 2014 ASLA Annual Meeting in Denver.

You recently started work on Trinity Riverfront, a nearly 500-acre development in Dallas that will create three new neighborhoods set within a landscape of wetlands and gardens along the river, connected by light rail. You say this project will make Trinity floodplain “the most exciting public space in Texas.” Given what we know about car-centric Dallas, that phrase is a bit shocking. What do you think this project says about Dallas and where it’s going?

Dallas is at this incredibly important turning point. It’s building right now on a very short legacy of rediscovering its downtown, the value of civic urban life and the arts, and the potential for landscape and open space to play a role. Over the last 10-20 years, philanthropic institutions, individuals, and the city government have created the arts district, with what are now very famous cultural attractions, museums, and theaters. All of these have been done by top-level landscape architects and architects from around the world, including Peter Walker, Lorenzo Piano, and others. In doing this, Dallas sent a signal to the world that they’re ready to play, right? Dallas now values urban life. They’re willing to put the money and the commitment behind it to make it happen.

Since then, we’ve seen large-scale initiatives on the Trinity River itself, as well as smaller-scale initiatives in downtown, turning vacant lots and other city-owned properties into new public spaces. The riverfront work I’m involved in is the next generation of this.

Dallas’ city government has found unique ways of doing creating projects: they team philanthropists with private developers, in concert with the city government, all coordinated by the urban design studio run by Brent Brown. The city has created an amazing coalition to help move really good projects forward. It’s all about rediscovering the center, the value of civic life, the value of being able to live and walk downtown to set a of cultural and open space resources.

The riverfront work we’re doing occupies this gap between downtown and the Trinity River, the future Trinity River Park. It’s a messy area. It’s got old stormwater “sumps,” they call them. It’s got rail infrastructure, highway clover leaves. Really, a jumble, a mess. We’re trying to use landscape to frame out some of that infrastructure, to take some of it simply out of play. Within this new context of vibrant forests, water gardens and infrastructure, these will be dense, livable mixed-use neighborhoods, places to live, work, play.

In some ways, Dallas has the opportunity to set a model for what is really the new normal for North American cities. If you think of San Francisco, New York, and Boston as being exceptions, places like Dallas, Atlanta, Houston, Phoenix, Denver, Toronto are 20th century metropolises. This work signals how we might tackle some of the problems faced in many other places.

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Trinity Riverfront / Stoss

You’ve also been deeply involved in the Detroit Future City Project, which aims to create a more hopeful, long-term vision for this shrinking formerly-bankrupt city that still has so much potential. What is the vision of the future articulated by this group? What can Detroit be like in 50 years?

Everybody talks about the problems associated with Detroit — the vacancy, the economic woes, the fact that it’s just gone through a bankruptcy. We wanted to see how we could turn some of the challenges into opportunities no other city has. Take vacant land, for instance. No other city have the quantity of land available within the city borders like Detroit has, right? That allows Detroit to do things that other cities absolutely cannot do. The city can treat stormwater on the surface through a set of blue and green infrastructure.

We were just a small part of a very large collaborative team that worked for five years on the project. Our work looked at ways to take liabilities and turn them into assets. Everybody knows Detroit has a very active urban agriculture movement. We want to build on that energy. But we’re also very careful to say, urban agriculture alone cannot save the city. There’s too much land available and some of the problems go far deeper than just food.

We’re not worried about the population. Seven-hundred-thousand people is a very large city already. We’re not worried if that goes up or down. For us, it was more how do we create the right economic opportunities? How do we create employment districts on the ground? How do we create the infrastructure that allow people to get from their home to their job? How do we create the training opportunities that take a largely unskilled labor force, and train it to be able to tackle 20th century and 21st century industries and opportunities? How do we begin to think about land use, neighborhoods, and landscape?

This is where the project, from the land-use perspective, becomes quite interesting. Landscape becomes a significant component of the urban form of the city. Over 50 years, large areas will be given over to innovative and productive landscape uses, whether that’s blue and green infrastructure, food production, energy production, research, art landscapes, successional landscapes. Landscape becomes a robust contributing factor to define what urban life in this city can be in the next 50 years. This is an opportunity other cities don’t have, because they simply don’t have that land available. Landscape is a great starting point and driver for bigger questions.

In Green Bay, Wisconsin, your firm completed CityDeck, a novel riverfront park that features a design filled with “folds,” as you call them. You say these folds create diverse seating types: benches, chaise lounges, angled decks. Your goal is to give people real choice about where to sit. Is this a new thing? Why is seating choice so important?

The folds extended to larger-scale infrastructure that moved out over the water and brought you up to an elevated perch or down to the water. All of this worked together as a system at different scales. At the larger scale, the folds offers different opportunities for how to engage with the river. It was designed to create a very lively civic space that people want to come back to, because they can begin to experience the river in different ways each time they return.

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Green Bay City Deck / Mike Roemer

At the level of an individual, the folds are designed to be as comfortable when you’re there alone or just with a friend, as when you’re with a big collective of people, attending events.

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Green Bay City Deck / Mike Roemer

Ideas about choice and flexibility are really derived from the idea that we all have different body types, so we all want to sit in different ways. Sometimes that’s just the shape of our body and sometimes it’s mood-based.

It’s important that a civic space give people these opportunities because otherwise people will create their own opportunities anyway, right? They will take a planter and find ways to inhabit it. They’ll take a bunch of rocks and figure out a way to lie down, lie against, put up a laptop.

There’s a great opportunity to start to design that into public space. Some of these ideas go back to the writings and observations of William Whyte, who was really looking at the behavior of people and thinking about how to translate that into making lively public spaces. We take that research seriously.

Some of our research began earlier with a playscape we did for a garden installation in Métis, where we wanted to fold rubber surfaces to allow people to play. We had encountered a certain level of resistance from public authorities, because they had never seen something like this. The installation at Métis in rubber gave us an opportunity to test it out and to document the various ways that people would kind of engage. Of course, kids are really good at it. They’ll make up games, you know? But adults started to get involved, too, and they’d roll up and down the hills and jump and dive.

For The Plaza at Harvard University, you also create lots of seating choice — with movable café tables and chairs but also with these great ergonomic benches that enable interchangeable seating positions. These were made possible with 3-D parametric modeling and fabrication. Why did you want to reinvent the bench? And have people taken to them?

Should we all be sitting on the same kind of bench all the time? The standardization process that marked the evolution of the 20th century made it cheap and easy to manufacture repetitive elements. What we got was the same bench repeated over and over again. Today, technology allow us to do something different.

We can script out forms that use a set of components or techniques, but the overall form can change. We’re taking advantage of a set of technologies that allow us to make different variations, in this case, benches that appeal towards people’s desire to find their own place and what’s comfortable for them. The benches are sculpted in such a way so that people can lean back, sit up, sit with somebody in their lap, lounge back, snuggle. Kids can jump and play on them. People are able to inhabit these benches in any number of ways.

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The Plaza at Harvard University / Charles Mayer

In any one of those benches, if a single rib becomes damaged, it can be replaced because it’s numbered. All we have to do is go back to the fabricator, and they can very easily reproduce using their C&C machines and fit it right back in.

The benches contribute to a public space people want to come back to over and over again. They’re wildly popular. In fact, we were getting phone calls the first day that university officials started to unwrap the benches. Students immediately started to sit on them, lie on them, do all the things that we had imagined. And it surprised the university administrators. They had a certain confidence in what they were telling us, but on the other hand, they weren’t sure if people would really do the things that we were imagining them to do. And they have. And so we’ve seen it on a daily basis and are documenting it. People really love them.

The benches have become iconographic, but they’re also quite inviting. In a space really designed to host a lot of different events, the benches, in combination with the movable tables and chairs, allow for the accommodation of the every day. People feel like they’re invited to take part in this space.

Your landscapes have a unique look. They’re angular, planar, folded, and often feature zigzag shapes. These shapes have a contemporary feel, a technological vibe. We sense these shapes are only made possible through the latest modeling technologies. Is your intent for us to see the technology, process, and the end-result in the design? What attracts you to this aesthetic? Where did it come from?

We want to take advantage of all the best technologies available and use them to craft landscapes. But it’s not just about form-making, it’s about how these shapes can perform from a social and ecological standpoint. While we’re generating strong forms, they are influenced by how things need to work to create rich environments.

Design should reflect the cultural ambitions and technologies available to us at that moment. This means the tools we use change, the applications we use change, and the shapes that emerge from those tools and applications also change. They signal a particular time, place, and cultural ambition.

With landscape, somethings are age-old: how trees grow, how seeds move, how water filters through a landscape. For me, it’s about taking these new technologies in the forms and shapes they afford and allowing them to set up conditions where water, seeds, and plants, and even the movement of people begin to change. The tools set up interrelationships where it’s never just about the form but about what the form affords from a social, ecological, and economic point of view.

Eerie Street Plaza is a great small riverfront park, a stop-off spot along a three-mile pedestrian and bicycle route in Milwaukee. It’s a designed landscape that’s also integrated with the ecological functions of the river. How does this project represent the new thinking on ecological systems outlined in your book with Nina-Marie Lister, Projective Ecologies?

I think two things are at work. One is how we used underutilized resources available. In this case, stormwater, even river water, was redirected so we didn’t have to install a new set of water systems to first drain all the water that’s there away, and then second, introduce a new set of water outlets and run water to the site. We’re much more interested in being resourceful and redirecting something already at work.

The second piece is an inherent flexibility and adaptability built into the project, which goes back to the design competition proposal that really appealed to the jury. The site was surrounded by not a whole lot of anything. The question was: what kind of public space should this be? There wasn’t really a local constituency to engage.

So we developed a system through interspersed paving and planting that could actually be reconfigurable over time. It could change the combinations of hard and soft surfaces that were in the plaza, depending on future uses, desires, and activities. Some of the plants we embedded into the space could begin to inaugurate vegetal change. The plaza was set up with zones: low and wet, high and dry. Different plant materials occupied different parts of the site. As the site changes over time, there is this kind of inherent adaptability that’s designed into the project that’s really quite unique to a public space.

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Eerie Street Plaza / John December

These elements hint at the Projective Ecologies project, which looks at the opportunities involved in using complex, adaptive ecological systems and applying them to the design of public space.

Can you get specific about the rise of more creative approaches to ecological research and design, as you and Nina-Marie outline in Projective Ecologies? What ideas are you most excited about?

The book project is an opportunity to take stock of ecology and its relationship to design, as it has evolved over the last 20 years. But, also importantly, we want to look at how to reformulate the relationship between ecology and design moving forward.

Ecology has become such a part of commonplace term that we think it’s important to step back, think critically about the terms we’re using, and then use that critical reflection to think about other pathways that might emerge. Visualization tools are one pathway. New tools and technologies are another. The technologies are often borrowed from other disciplines, like engineering or hydrology. We can take the modeling tools engineers use in a very analytical way and inject into them not just an understanding of how things work, but what we want them to do, right? We can begin to think creatively about manipulating water flow that could create new types of public spaces. Functions could perform ecologically, but create entirely new experiences within the city.

The work Bradley Cantrell has been doing is really important. I’ve been experimenting in design studios at the Harvard Graduate School of Design where we use the program real flow aqua to model a set of water flows and then start to translate those into gardens and public spaces simply designed for the experience of those water phenomenon in an abstract way. They don’t necessarily have to simply perform in a functional way. They can perform in an experiential way. Bradley Cantrell’s work looks at multiple systems simultaneously and how the realms of design, ecology, and engineering can be modeled and mapped together. So, on the one hand, this becomes a common tool for people to work through some  problems. But importantly, it also becomes a creative tool for designers to begin to think in different ways.

Whether we are talking about new visualization methodologies, new tools and technologies, design labs and collaborative situations, or anthropology and social relations, these are all just different starting points for broader investigation that can inform design in the coming decades.

We’re trying to find ways to push what is possible in contemporary practice. For landscape architecture to be relevant as a discipline, it needs to do more than just check the sustainability boxes. It needs to set out a broader set of cultural, social, and environmental ambitions that allow the discipline to evolve with an evolving world. Design can enable us to address some of the bigger challenges acted out on the world stage. It’s an incredibly ripe opportunity for landscape architects to be leaders. But to take leadership, we need to be more expansive and creative about the way we think and practice.

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Pedestrian and cyclist bridge connecting the San Francisco Bay waterfront and Palo Alto / Dezeen Magazine

Nomad Studio to Create Landscape Architecture Installation in CAM’s Courtyard  The Edwardsville Intelligencer1/8/15
“The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (CAM) is delighted to announce that landscape architecture firm Nomad Studio will transform the Museum’s courtyard into an artful and immersive green space during the summer of 2015.”

Six Ways City Landscapes Can Be More Flood Resilient – In Pictures The Guardian, 1/9/15
“A new exhibition argues that a ‘landscape first’ approach to urban development, via innovative water management, could make our cities more resilient to flooding. But what does this look like in practice?”

City of Minneapolis Recommends Hargreaves as Landscape Architect for Downtown East Park  The Star Tribune, 1/9/14
“Minneapolis city staff are recommending the City Council approve a $1.8-million contract with Hargreaves Associates to design the Downtown East park adjacent to the new Vikings stadium.”

5 Ideas: How the Obama Library Could Enhance Chicago’s Historic Parks The Chicago Tribune, 1/9/15
“The University of Chicago’s proposal to locate the Obama presidential library in or adjacent to Jackson or Washington parks on the South Side is an opportunity to improve and revitalize these historic parks and their surrounding communities and institutions.”

Will Part of Chicago’s Historic Washington Park Be Confiscated for the Obama Presidential Library? The Huffington Post, 1/12/15
“The bidding war for the Obama Presidential Library got very controversial with the University of Chicago’s (UofC) January 6, 2015 announcement of its unprecedented proposal to confiscate land they do not own – public parkland – should they win.”

Boston Children’s Should Keep Prouty Garden The Boston Globe, 1/12/15
“The Boston Children’s Hospital leadership announced plans for a multistory, $600 million new building to include a state-of-the-art neonatal intensive care unit and more private rooms. The plan calls for the new building to be built on the site of the Prouty Garden.”

Palo Alto Footbridge Will Span the 14 Lanes of San Francisco’s 101 Freeway Dezeen Magazine, 1/12/15
“A team led by 64North Architecture has won a competition to design a pedestrian and cyclist bridge connecting the San Francisco Bay waterfront and Palo Alto.”

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Ecological Tapestry of the World / ESRI and USGS

A new, free, web-based tool from the US Geological Survey (USGS) and ESRI allows us to gain a better understanding of the ecological character of any place in the world. As the team explains, the web site can be used by everyone — from local government officials and planners to landscape architects and conservationists — to visualize the world’s complex ecological patterns. This also means in the future the tool can be used to map the impacts of climate change and development on ecosystems over time.

According to Randy Vaughan, ESRI, an enormous amount of science (and data) went into creating the tool. “The globe was divided in cells at a base resolution of 250 meters.” Each cell was then assigned input layers of data that “drive ecological processes.”

When users search for any place in the world, they see a map, with four layers of information. There’s info on bio-climates, described with terms like “warm wet” or “hot dry”; landforms, with terms such as “flat plains” or “mountains”; rock type, with terms like “carbonate sedimentary rock” or “metamorphics”; and also land cover, the vegetation that results from these conditions, described with terms like “forest, farmland, or grassland.” For all data types, users can also further zoom in, all the way to the street level.

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The data has resulted in an amazing number of possible combinations: There is now a “global raster data layer with 47,650 unique combinations of the four input layers. The facets were then aggregated into 3,923 ecological land units (ELUs).” These ELUs themselves represent a new, data-based way of organizing the biosphere, based in “ecological and physio-graphic land surface features.”

Roger Sayre, senior scientist for Ecosystems, USGS, said the way the tool was set up also “advances an objective, repeatable big data approach to the synthesis and classification of ecologically important data.” This big data approach means “mapping can be updated as better or more current input layers become available.”

Indeed, the team is hoping for lots more new data, given there are “known and expected deficiencies in the current input layers. For example the release of the new SRTM 30 meter elevation terrain data provides an opportunity create a higher resolution landforms map.” They are looking into adding data about social and cultural factors. USGS and ESRI also hope that other scientists will use GIS to add their own layers and do their own analysis over time.

According to Fast Company, these first maps really are the beginning of an even more compelling analysis. Sayre said: “The map is a baseline for these ecosystems, so we’ll be able to assess them for climate change or other disturbances. We see the value of the dataset as a spatial accounting framework. In the future, we’ll be able to show them as a temporal sequence [of the world unfolding].”

Also, check out a map the team created of 10 of the world’s ecological hot spots, places with high levels of ecological diversity.

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Project Jewel at Changi Airport, Singapore / Safdie Architects

Singapore has long aspired to be a “city in a garden.” Since the early 1960s, the 300-square-mile city-state has been serious about preserving nature and also greening underused spaces. In 1970, President Lee Kuan Yew dictated that there were to be “no brownfields;” all empty space would be planted. Today there are 5.4 million people packed into the island, but nearly 10 percent of the country is covered in parks, many of them newly created. More than 300 neighborhood and regional parks along with four nature preserves are in the process of being connected through hundreds of kilometers of greenways. Now, Singapore’s Changi airport, the sixth busiest in the world, is getting the same treatment as the rest of the country — its being greened, in an exciting way that re-conceives the experience of the airport.

Safdie Architects and PWP Landscape Architecture are creating a spherical “air hub,” a 134,000-square-meter bio-dome, in the center of Changi so even brief visitors passing through Singapore will get a sense of this garden-city as they walk through the interior landscape.

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According to Safdie Architects, the glass dome will be home to gardens and walking trails, accessible via multiple levels.

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The centerpiece will be a “rain vortex,” a 40-meter-tall waterfall fed by recycled rainwater collected from the dome.

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This being Singapore, the land of shopping malls, some 4 million square feet of retail, hotel, restaurant and entertainment space will circle the exterior of the gardens.

The entire structure will be supported by a ring of tree-like columns at the outside edge of the gardens.

Safdie told DesignBoom: “This project redefines and reinvents what airports are all about. The new paradigm is to create a diverse and meaningful meeting place that serves as a gateway to the city and country, complementing commerce and services with attractions and gardens for passengers, airport employees, and the city at large.”

Work began at the end of 2014, and the dome is expected to open in 2018.

Learn more about Singapore’s ambitious green plan.

2015-awards

ASLA 2014 Landmark Award. Norman B. Leventhal Park at Post Office Square, Boston, Massachusetts. Halvorson Design Partnership / Ed Wonsek

The American Society of Landscape Architects has released its 2015 awards call for entries for the 2015 professional and student awards, the premier awards programs for the profession. For the first time, submissions will be handled online.

Award recipients will receive featured coverage in the October issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine and in many other design and construction industry and general-interest media. Award recipients, their clients and student advisors also will be honored at the awards presentation ceremony during the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in Chicago, Nov. 6–9, 2015. The award-winning projects will be featured in a video presentation at the ceremony and on the awards website following the event.

The prestige of the ASLA awards programs relies on the high-caliber juries that are convened each year to review submissions. Members of this year’s professional awards jury are:

  • Keith LeBlanc, FASLA, Keith LeBlanc Landscape Architecture Inc., Boston, Jury Chair
  • Thomas Balsley, FASLA, Thomas Balsley Associates, New York City
  • René Bihan, ASLA, SWA Group, San Francisco
  • Alan Brake, The Architect’s Newspaper LLC, New York City
  • Kathleen Dickhut, ASLA, Department of Housing and Economic Development, Chicago
  • Signe Nielsen, FASLA, Mathews Nielsen, New York City
  • Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, FASLA, Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, Vancouver, BC, Canada
  • Mark Robbins, American Academy in Rome, Rome, Italy
  • Richard Weller, ASLA, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

Members of the student awards jury are:

  • Kona Gray, ASLA, EDSA, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Jury Chair
  • Richard Bumstead, ASLA, University of Chicago, Chicago
  • Maurice Cox, Tulane University, New Orleans
  • Katya Crawford, Affiliate ASLA, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • Lisa Gimmy, ASLA, Lisa Gimmy Landscape Architecture, Los Angeles
  • David Hill, ASLA, D.I.R.T. Studio, Auburn, Alabama
  • Fernando Magallanes, ASLA, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina
  • Katherine Orff, ASLA, Scape / Landscape Architecture PLLC, New York City
  • Laura Solano, ASLA, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts

Both the ASLA professional and student awards feature five categories: general design; residential design; analysis and planning; communications; and research. The professional awards also include the Landmark Award, while the student awards include the student community service award and student collaboration categories.

Entry submissions and payment must be received by:

March 27, 2015 for ASLA professional awards
May 22, 2015 for ASLA student awards

In need of inspiration? View the ASLA 2014 professional and student award-winning projects.

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