University Goes Geothermal

Ball State University (which has top-ranked landscape architecture programs) has announced its developing what will be the largest geothermal energy system in the U.S. The university’s Board of Trustees approved the replacement of the university power plant’s four existing coal-fired stoker boilers, which fuel central heating and cooling systems, with geothermal fields and energy centers that will provide service to more than 40 campus buildings.

President Jo Ann M. Gora said: “We face some critical challenges. Volatile availability and costs for fuel sources, a retracting economy and the likelihood of stricter air quality standards are just the start. Once implemented, the reduction of energy costs will be a significant benefit for future budgets.” Phase 1, which will shut down two coal-fired plants, is expected to cost $36 million. Taking the current boilers off-line will result in expected savings of $2 million per year. The university said it will actively pursue federal stimulus grants for the project.

According to the university, Sen. Richard Lugar’s office provided assistance and university officials consulted with experts from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in conceptualizing the geothermal proposal. Technical feasibility studies concluded that heat pump chillers and geothermal storage would be technologically sound, and offer tremendous energy savings. 

According to a December 2008 report from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, 600,000 geothermal heat pumps have been installed in the United States.  In 2006, the Department of Energy reported that 64,000 geothermal heat pumps were shipped —  53 percent of the units going to residential and 47 percent to commercial applications.

Read the press release

Go the U.S. Department of Energy’s brief on geothermal energy

Learning Landscape Project in Uganda

Project H (product design initiatives for humanity, habitats, health, and happiness) has completed its pilot ‘learning landscape’ project, an elementary playground that uses interactive games to illustrate basic math concepts. The playground is built in a sandbox using reclaimed tires. According to INHABITAT, “The grid system facilitates games that teach addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, along with spatial and logical reasoning.”

The first project is at the Kutamba AIDS Orphan School in Uganda. 
The learning landscape project at Kutamba is the first of many Project H hopes to build in Africa, with at least five more in the pipeline. The Kutamba AIDS Orphan School buildings were built through support by Architecture for Humanity

Read the article
See Architecture for Humanity’s book – Design Like You Give a Damn: Architectural Responses to Humanitarian Crises

Gehry Software Spin-off

According to the New York Times, Digital Project, a software developed by Frank Gehry to produce the titanium panels of the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum, is creating an additional source of funds for Gehry during the economic downturn. In 2002, Digital Project was spun-off as a separate subsidiary – Gehry Technologies, which now also offers consulting services for real estate developers and architectural firms. 

Gehry told the New York Times he based his three-dimensional on the software aerospace companies use. “If they can build airplanes paperless, I think buildings can be built paperless.” Digital Project models in three dimensions each shape outlined by an architect, and then lets engineers and architects adjust changes to the building’s ductwork, and other infrastructure. To avoid the leaks that appeared in Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Ray and Maria Stata building (for which he was sued by the university in 2007), Gehry said the software now models buildings’ basement sprinklers.

Gehry Technologies views itself as a consulting firm. Mr. Shelden, the chief technologist for Gehry Technologies said in an interview: “We are in discussion with some clients about a shared-savings model.” Using this model, Gehry Technologies would be paid a percentage of the client’s savings in potential constructions overruns.

Read the article

Using Brownfields for Renewable Energy in Industrial Michigan

The Land Policy Institute has published a report on the potential use of brownfields as sites for renewable energy in Michigan. The report explains that Michigan has 44,000 acres of brownfield sites which could be used to generate renewable energy.  

According to the study, wind and solar power installations at unused brownfields could yield energy for 1.8 million households, almost 50 percent of Michigan homes, as well as help the state reach its mandated clean energy goals.  According to Green Biz, Michigan adopted a Renewable Portfolio Standard last year.

Read the study
Also, add your thoughts on how brownfields could be rehabilitated and still used for renewable energy.

Sustainable Companies Do Better in the Economic Downturn

According to a new study by the consultancy A.T. Kearney — Green Winners: The Performance of Sustainability-focused Companies in the Financial Crisis, companies with a ‘true committment to sustainability’ often outperform their peers in financial markets. “The most sustainability- focused companies may well emerge from the current crisis stronger than ever,” said the study’s authors.

Furthermore, in a discussion with Green Biz, the authors said: “Our findings suggest investors may reward ‘true’ sustainability focused companies” that focus on “long-term health rather than short-term gains, strong corporate governance, sound risk management practices (and) a history of investing in green innovations.”

Read the study
See a larger view of the chart above

Edible Rooftop Garden in L.A.

INHABITAT wrote about a prototype urban rooftop garden in Los Angeles designed by Alexis Rochas, a professor at Sci-Arc. The garden sits on top of a residential building.

According to INHABITAT, some of the roof’s benefits to the building include increased filtering of pollutants, thermal roof insulation, and reduced storm water runoff. Additionally, food will be grown on the roof, consumed, and, at the end of the cycle, returned in the form of compost. 

INHABITAT says: “A prefabricated, suspended metal blanket and specialized recycled plywood frame outline a series of grow channels which are filled with an engineered growth medium (which is much lighter than natural soil). The undulating surface negotiates the space around existing HVAC and mechanical rooftop equipment, offering a 100% usable surface that is tiered for maximum solar exposure.”

The prototype garden is part of the Los Angeles Community Garden Council program. The prototype garden currently has fruit trees and vines, and herbs and vegetables that will be used by residents and a nearby restaurant.

Read the article

Pond Scum as Renewable Energy

Green algae, or pond scum, is viewed as a renewable energy with great potential. According to MIT Technology Review, strains of the the biomass can absorb carbon dioxide from power plants, and grow in brakish water, making algae enormously flexible. Algae can also yield far more biofuel per acre than corn. Farming algae in large, open-air ponds is one potential method for growth, but cold weather in winters result in significant drops in algae production.

To address the weather issue, researchers from the University of Nevada have demonstrated that raising the heat via water warmed by natural gas – an approach that simulates the use of geothermal vents, – can also improve algae yields. 

However, even if algae can be produced 365 days per year, the cost of algae oil still remains high in comparison with other fuels. Al Darzins, head of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL), which recently re-started its algae biofuel research program, said to MIT Technology Review: “The price range of algal oil that could currently be produced, from open ponds to closed bioreactors, may be $10 to $40 per gallon. And that’s even before you turn it into fuel.”

Read the article

‘Lifting up Systems’ in Longgang

According to Groundlab, a UK-based design collective that ‘explores the realm of landscape urbanism as a new mode of practice,’ its Deep Ground project won the design competition for Longgang Center, and the Longgang International Centre in Southeastern China. The project focuses on the rehabilitation of almost 12 square kilometers of Longgang’s urban area, which is near Shenzhen.

Groundlab says the project is deeply rooted in landscape urbanism, and uses spatial concepts, such as ‘thickened ground,’ a bottom-up approach to the territory, and deployment of ‘relational urban design models.’ In speaking with Architectural Record, Eva Castro, a Groundlab partner, said: “Instead of mapping [sites], which is a known hierarchical way of lifting up all the information contained within a territory,” Groundlab chooses to “lift up systems” of interest. 

In terms of focusing on ‘thickened ground’, Castro says: “We wanted to multiply a public level that would be accessible by everyone.” Groundlab wants to create more streetscape while limiting sprawl and avoiding hierarchy. According to Architectural Record, the multiple layers of a thickened ground increase the availability of commercial space, while providing for street-level parking.

Read the article

Roadmap for U.S.-China Cooperation on Climate Change

The Asia Society and the Pew Center on Global Climate Change recommend immediate action to create a new, groundbreaking collaboration with China to address climate change.  Their new report Common Challenge, Collaborative Response: A Roadmap for US-China Cooperation on Energy and Climate Change is the product of more than 50 expert contributors,  including Dr. Henry Kissinger, Dr. Steven Chu (now U.S. Energy Secretary), and Larry Brilliant, Director,, as well as leading experts from China.

According to the Eileen Claussen, President of the Pew Center for Climate Change, “closer cooperation with China should be a high priority in a U.S. climate strategy. Working together, the United States and China can advance key technologies and provide a stronger foundation for an effective global climate effort.” The report argues that scaling-up US-China cooperation on efforts to avert climate change will strengthen prospects for U.S. domestic legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and a new international treaty on climate change under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The report outlines a few priorities:

  • Development and deployment of technologies for the continued use of coal for production of electricity. “Continuing to rely heavily on coal, as both countries are likely to do, will necessitate large-scale investments in research, pilot projects, and deployment of new technologies to capture and sequester the resulting carbon emissions.” The report recommends, “an ultimate goal in both countries must be the commercialization and widespread deployment of carbon capture-and-storage technology. As a critical first step, experts recommend that 10 to 15 large-scale demonstration projects be developed in a variety of settings around the world over the next decade.”
  • Increased collaboration to enhance energy efficiency and to deploy renewable energy technologies. “The broader deployment of solar, wind, and other renewable sources, and expanded development of renewable energy technologies, would help both countries decarbonize their electricity systems and expand their low-carbon economies.” As an additional benefit, “the global position of both the United States and China as leading wind and solar power technology manufacturers means that scaling-up these technologies could also support major expansion of these domestic industries.”
  • Developing innovative finance mechanisms. “Both governments must commit greater public resources and do so in ways that effectively leverage private investment in a clean energy future.” This will require innovative finance mechanisms and developing new models for licensing low-carbon technologies that can make them broadly available while protecting commercial interests

Read the report in English or Mandarin

Guide to Improving Skills During the Economic Downturn

This resource guide offers links to some good resources geared towards landscape architects focused on business administration, marketing and communications, building new technology skills, and creating digital portfolios.

There are also links to landscape architecture-related jobs sites, directories, and grants.

Add your thoughts on how the guide could be improved. What areas are missing? E-mail us at

Read the full resource guide