Jeffrey Sachs on Sustainable Urbanization

Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, and author of numerous bestsellers, recently gave a lecture on sustainable urbanization in the 21st century at Columbia University’s School of Architecture, Preservation and Planning.

Sachs defines sustainable development as the “science of global change in human physical systems,” and views the field as an “emerging intellectual discipline.”

Sachs talks about how best to integrate earth and environmental sciences and urban design through sustainable urbanization, and bring “global change to the local level” through more sustainable urban planning and land use. Sachs sees the local level as the responsibility of architects, and urban planners.  

Watch the Video lecture

Americans Spent USD 4.7 Trillion on Their Homes over Past Decade

According to The Wall Street Journal, Americans poured USD 4.7 trillion into their homes over the past decade, yet few new design ideas came out of this massive investment.

The Wall Street Journal asked 15 architecture experts to list five of the most “influential and inspiring” houses created during the housing boom of the last ten years. The panel, which included leading architects, and the chief curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York, selected the following:

1. Maison A Bordeaux, Office of Metropolitan Architecture, Bordeaux, France, 1998
2. VilLa NM, UNStudio, Kenoza Lake, N.Y., 2007
3. Tyler House, Rick Joy Architects, Tubac, Arizona, 2000
4. Visiting Artists House, Jim Jennings Architecture, Geyserville, California, 2003
5. Picture Window House, Shigeru Ban Architects, Shizuoka, Japan, 2002 (photo provided above) 

The past ten years were viewed as producing just a few positive design trends. “They made some homes smaller, with movable exterior walls to encourage residents to spend more time outdoors. Glass walls allowed occupants to feel they were floating on treetops. More homes incorporated recycled materials, wind and geothermal energy, and architects used new digital technology.”

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View the slide show of the five projects New Talk on Redwood Trees

redwood posted a new video with Richard Preston, author of The New York Times Bestseller “The Wild Trees.” Preston discusses the  “most enormous living beings on the planet,” the giant redwood trees of the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

According to Preston, some trees may be 2,500 years old, and some can grow up to 380 feet tall. Preston says going up into the redwood trees was like ” scuba diving, except you’re going upwards.”

Preston’s video lecture outlines redwood and forest ecology, and the value of redwood trees to the greater Pacific Northwest ecosystem.

Watch the video lecture 

Beyond Organic: Design in the State of Nature

Archinect interviewed David Font, a landscape architect who created a exhibition and meeting space in the 6,000 square foot Collins Building at Design Miami, which was held in early December.  Furniture designs were highlighted within Font’s interior landscape, which included a mix of tropical plants.

Font discusses the design and installation process for the exhibit.

Watch the video interview with David Font 

Renzo Piano: “Ecology Can Be a Lovely Source of Inspiration”

Renzo Piano, winner of the 1998 Pritzker Prize, discussed ecology and architecture with Today Online.  On the Academy of Sciences building in San Francisco, Piano said “our duty is to translate the codes of this ecological language in a poetic way, to marry beauty with respect for the environment.” Furthermore, Piano argues that “the architect should feel responsible for the environment.”

The Academy of Sciences building features a 2.5 acre living green roof, solar panels that provide for 10 percent of the building’s energy, and skylights that automatically vent to release hot air.  The green roof was built according to Piano’s designs by the SWA Group, a leading landscape architecture firm, which brought additional design innovation to the project.

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Also, check out Metropolis Magazine’s three-part review of the Academy of Sciences building: Part 1 – The Building; Part 2 – The Green Roof; and Part 3 – The Engineering Or, read about the SWA Group’s contribution to the engineering of the green roof.

Landscape Institute (UK) Releases Draft Position on Green Infrastructure

The Landscape Institute released a draft position statement on “green infrastructure, and the value of connected, multifunctional landscapes.”

The Landscape Institute writes: “green infrastructure approaches to land use planning must be afforded the same priority as conventional infrastructural components; a priority that it rightly deserves given its critical role in a wide range of challenges including economic competitiveness, climate change adaptation and mitigation, social cohesion, human health and wellbeing and reconnecting society with the natural environment. ”

The position statement introduces the concept of green infrastructure, green infrastructure assets, functions, and benefits, and connects these to the roles landscape architects can play in providing green infrastructure services, including planning, design, implementation, management and R&D.

Read the draft position statement

Best Career 2009: Landscape Architect

According to U.S. News & World Report, landscape architects, one of 30 “best careers,'” must have “a talent for both the aesthetic and the functional, the art and the science — you’re creating an ecosystem that must thrive over time.” Furthermore, ecological restoration was listed as a “smart speciality” for landscape architects. “Governments and nonprofit groups are restoring increasing amounts of land to their primitive states. This trend will very likely accelerate in the new administration and Congress, and with environmentalism ever growing.”

U.S. News & World Report discusses typical landscape architect salaries, the role of landscape architecture in sustainability, and how working in China may be a smart move for landscape architects. To illustrate this point, U.S. News highlights an interview conducted by ASLA with Professor Jie Hu, International ASLA,  the architect who led the design team for the Beijing Olympic Park. In the interview, Jie Hu discussses the opportunities and challenges for U.S. architects who want to work in China.

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Plant Rights

In its Year of Ideas issue, The New York Times Magazine highlighted a new trend in environmental protection: rights for nature.

According to the magazine, Ecuador became the first country to extend constitutional rights to nature.  The constitution grants nature “the right to the maintenance and regeneration of its vital cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary processes.” The measure was approved by 70 percent of Ecuador’s voters.

The Pennsylvania-based environmental organization, Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, worked with Ecuadorian legislators to draft the new protections. Some observers are expecting to see lawsuits against oil and gas companies for infractions against these rights.

Apparently, Spain and Switzerland also have strengthened the rights of nature this year, with new protections for animals and plants. Swiss researchers must apply for approval before conducting research on any flora.

Some governments, which have previously sanctioned the use (and abuse) of natural resources, are moving toward the protection of biodiversity through legal channels.

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UNFCCC Conference Post-Mortem

The 11,000 participants and negotiators involved in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting have left in Poznan, Poland, without much progress towards a new agreement that can replace the Kyoto Protocol.

According to The Economist, the promising developments were limited to:

  • The launch of an USD 80 million Adaptation Fund, which channels funds from developed to developing countries, to support the development and implementation of climate change policies.
  • Forest conservation and management is now viewed as a legitimate strategy for limiting carbon emissions. There was discussion of creating financial incentives for the preservation of forests — money for keeping trees.
  • Mexico unilaterally agreed to halve its carbon emissions levels by 2050
  • Brazil said it would cut the rate of deforestation by 70% over the next decade. (Also, Peru said it would cut its deforestation rate to zero).
  • The European Union re-iterated its 20-20-20 pledge, despite calls  from new EU countries to scale back the targets, and concerns about the negative effect of these targets on economic growth in the Euro zone. (The EU 20-20-20 pledge includes: cutting overall emissions levels, with 1990 as the benchmark, by 20%; obtaining 20% of its energy from renewable energy sources, like wind, solar, waves and biomass; and making 20% efficiency savings through green buildings, and more efficient cars).

Few negotiators seemed confident that an agreement can be negotiated in time for the December 2009 deadline. But some are arguing that the initial deadline was too optimistic to begin with, and progress may speed up with the involvement of the Obama administration.

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New Plans for the 91-Acre Park at Base of St. Louis Arch

According to the San Franciso Chronicle, The U.S. National Park Service is reviewing plans to revitalize the 91-acre park that surrounds the St. Louis Arch. Parts of the park, which is called the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, include ponds and walkways that mirror the movement of the arch. However, there also are roads and highways that also run across the grounds, which help limit the connection between the park and city. Furthermore, the park doesn’t comply with the American With Disabilities Act, and there are few amenities. 

Former U.S. Senator John Danforth, who has pledged USD 50 million of funds from his family’s charity, the Danforth Foundation, to turn the park into a cultural attraction, has already spent USD 2 million studying the park’s problems. Danforth calls for an international design competition, which would include plans for a museum.

Opponents of the Danforth Foundation plans argue that the relationship between the park and arch is historically significant, and the work of landscape architect Dan Kiley shouldn’t be altered. The Cultural Landscape Foundation has weighed in, saying that “you start putting in buildings and it changes the geometry significantly.”

The Park Service argues that any development needs to respect the park’s National Historic Landmark status. The Park Service will announce four plans for the park in January.

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