What if landscape architects took the next step and, instead of designing with nature, designed nature itself? That is the question posed in a recent article in both The New York Times and its sibling International Herald Tribune. It explores MIT landscape architect Alan Berger’s proposal to basically invent a natural system to purify heavily polluted waters running into the Mediterranean Sea in Italy. While such projects usually focus on restoration, he says, areas such as this site between Rome and Naples are beyond such thinking, calling for far more dramatic measures. And he has the attention of the Italian government.
Landscape architects with successful, far-flung practices shape places mostly at arm’s length. They fly in to client communities or project sites, do good work, and fly back to their offices to prepare the working drawings. At arm’s length, they change many places for the better. But when such a landscape architect decides to sink down deep roots in one spot on the planet, how does he or she shape that special place?
This fall, the Master of Design Studies program at Harvard University Graduate School of Design introduced a new concentration area entitled “Sustainable Design,” which more closely integrates the various design professions in the cause of identifying design solutions to environmental challenges.
Coordinated by Associate Professor of Architectural Technology Christoph Reinhart, the program will enable students to research holistic solutions for today’s environmental challenges. Particular areas of specialization are: lighting and daylighting design, building performance simulation, green building performance metrics, green roofs, automated controls, occupant behavior and satisfaction, acoustics, as well as lifecycle and embodied energy studies. Reaching beyond the building scale, sustainability studies pursue a broad range of topics that may include the impact of urban and landscape design on local climactic conditions, the investigation and design of water management techniques, traffic and infrastructure studies, strategies for brown fields and other disturbed sites, and questions of landscape ecology.
The state of science funding, focus and, sometimes, foolishness in Washington, D.C., prompted a small group of concerned citizens to help move the topic of science higher on the political agenda. Spurred on by these concerned few, more than 38,000 scientists, engineers, and other concerned Americans eventually signed on to the effort, including ASLA, nearly every major American science organization, dozens of Nobel laureates, elected officials and business leaders, and the presidents of more than 100 major American universities. See who here. Among other things, these signers submitted more than 3,400 questions they wanted the candidates for president to answer about science and the future of America.
In the July 21 issue of The New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert takes on the lawn. “A NASA-funded study, which used satellite data collected by the Department of Defense,” she writes in “Turf War,” “determined that, including golf courses, lawns in the United States cover nearly 50,000 square miles—an area roughly the size of New York State. The same study concluded that most of this New York State-size lawn was growing in places where turfgrass should never have been planted. In order to keep all the lawns in the country well irrigated, the author of the study calculated, it would take an astonishing 200 gallons of water per person, per day.” She then proceeds to list the logical alternatives, from meadow to wildflowers to food. Well, nature is in the eyes of the beholder, it seems. In a letter in the September 1 issue, reader Michael Jorrin of Ridgefield, Conn., calls the suggestions “unrealistic. Don’t mow and let it revert to meadow? That’s not what happens. Our lawns are not planted with native grasses; what you’ll get is a hideous tangled, tick-infested mess that you won’t want to step into, and certainly won’t let your kids or dogs play in.” And Samuel J. McNaughton of Syracuse, N.Y., takes the position, “If we were to let our lawns grow up, we provide attractive habitats for snakes, spiders, rodents, deer (the latter two spread Lyme disease), deer flies, mosquitoes, and other undesirable organisms.” Seems there is still an appetite out there to put nature in its place.