Next Generation Technologies Are Responsive and Result from Inter-Disciplinary Teams

In a session at the National Building Museum, Susan Szenasy, Editor-in-Chief, Metropolis magazine, argued that next generation building and material technologies integrate the natural and built environments, are responsive to nature, and often regenerative. These technologies are the result of inter-disciplinary teams collaborating across disciplines. Sustainability goals are often the driving impetus.

Since 2004, Metropolis has sponsored the Next Generation Design Competition, which seeks to identify the next generation technologies that can revolutionize the designed environment. Szenasy emphasized that many Metropolis Next Generation winners and runners-up have gone on to prototype their ideas, receive government funding, and move their ideas into commercial production.

Some new technologies that have come out of the design competition include:

Active Solar Facades: A system created by Materialab offers “active solar facades,” which are “better than passive photovoltaics” and include “integrated solar-concentrated modules.” The modules capture heat that is usually wasted in photovoltaic panels. Moving and tracking the sun, “acting like flowers,” the modules also dynamically concentrate solar energy for high-efficiency. According to Metropolis, these solar modules are indeed next-generation, offering significant improvements over current photovoltaics being mass-produced. “With record efficiency, the modules are expected to convert 30 percent of the sun’s light to electricity and absorb 50 percent of its energy in the form of heat. Unlike commercially available flat-plate photovoltaic systems that sustainably oriented architects have relied on since the 1970s—which perform in the range of 12 to 15 percent operating efficiency and dissipate heat as waste energy—Materialab’s system could supply as much as 50 percent of the energy for a building’s operational needs, bringing us that much closer to a true solar revolution.” The Department of Energy (DOE) has been financing the latest rounds of prototypes, and the Center for Excellence in Environmental and Energy Systems in Syracuse, New York, is testing the performance of the modules.

Recycled Materials for Buildings: Single Speed Design used highway infrastructure materials from Boston’s Big Dig excavation to create a new home. The house incorporated some 600,000 pounds of recycled materials, which would have otherwise been landfilled or incincerated, including highway panels and bridge piers salvaged from the Big Dig site. The designers saw an opportunity and turned the house into a model for creating buildings out of waste materials. “Why not use existing infrastructure materials? The government has to pay to store materials because there’s no place to put them.”  

Lunar-Responsive Streetlights: Szenasy said Civil Twilight was making contemporary an “ancient idea,” which is to use and incorporate moonlight into the built environment. Up to the early 1800’s, many large cities factored in moonlight for evening lighting. Only since major power grids, which have enormous amounts of excess energy that must be burned at night, were created have cities been lit at night by an array of streetlights. To bring back the “poetry of the night sky” in cities, the lunar-responsive lights would use dimmable LEDs and photo-sensor cells that can pick up available moonlight, and therefore adjust their light output.  More than 1,000 cities have joined in a “Dark Sky Initiative,” which aims to eliminate light pollution in cities, so Szenasy believes there is a market for this technology. Additionally, the lunar-responsive lights are 16W, while current streetlights are 150W. A shift would also reduce energy usage. The team now has a scalable prototype and is seeking angel investors.

Piezo-Electric Floors:  POWERLeap seeks to capture the energy used by people walking, jumping, and running to power facilities. While “there are often humorous stories on these types of technologies on CNN,” Szenasy says they are important pieces in the greater alternative energy puzzle. “These are pieces of energy knowledge.” The technology could be incorporated in highways, sidewalks, stairs, escalators, bicycle lanes to power everything from street lighting to traffic systems. Szenasy noted that there are now discos and gyms powered by piezo-electric systems. Additional existing technologies include piezo-electric running shoes.

Combined Power Pylon / Wind Turbine Infrastructure: Wind-it won the 2009 Next Generation design competition for its proposal to incorporate wind turbines into existing power pylon infrastructure. Given the pylon infrastructure is largely in place, this would help reduce the need for creating supplemental wind power transmission lines, and reduce cost for wind power infrastructure.  The new combined pylon-turbine system could both produce and transmit wind-generated energy at once. The French designers who created the idea saw different sizes: XLarge, Large, and Small systems, which could be used in different settings. XLarge systems would be incorporated into large-scale power systems across the U.S.. Small systems, which look like egg beaters, could be used in urban areas. Szenasy said studies have shown the Great Lakes region would be an excellent place to implement the design because there is a built-in pylon infrastructure and lots of wind. She agreed that in other areas of the U.S. the combination of existing power infrastructure and wind isn’t as easily found. The U.S. and EU are both investing billions in renewable energy, and this should be part of the mix.

Other ideas:

Fab.REcology: Neri Oxman, a PhD student at M.I.T. (see earlier post on her work), is interested in breaking architecture down into molecular form. Current buildings waste a lot of materials by failing to efficiently allocate materials around “stress points.” Using computing technologies, Oxman would identify where material needed to be added or removed, and create whole building designs, which could be “printed,” and joined together. Szenasy thinks this could lead to the redevelopment of the building industry.  This web-based tool enables users to measure personal energy usage and consumption, which, Szenasy thinks, could make us more mindful of what we are consuming.
Suburban General Store: Suburban residents almost always get in their car to run small errands, racking up oil usage and C02 emissions. Adding small general stores in suburban communities would help create community, reduce car usage, oil consumption, and C02 emissions. Communities with central club or pool houses could convert these into stores, recycling centers, and coffee houses. “This is a strong, testable ideas.”

Air Flower: Energy-independent ventilation systems could open and close, moderating indoor temperatures. “The building would work like a flower, opening and closing as needed.”

Radiant FLRs: Heat is wasted in old apartment buildings because it doesn’t often reach where people are sitting or working. “Central heating becomes throw-away heat.” Radiant floor tiles could be installed in a modular fashion in areas where people spend a lot of time, thereby reducing wasteful heat expenditures.

Thermally-Active Surfaces: Buildings could become like the human body, radiating heat outwards. In this system, water-carrying heating tubes within buildings would radiate heat from walls and floors. Concrete would be the chosen building material for this system given its ability to distribute heat well.

When asked which governments are doing the best job of supporting next-generation technologies, and pushing them to market, Szenasy said China (with its massive investment in solar energy), France (which is run on atomic power), Germany, and the United Arab Emirates (which are very interested in new technologies and “have a lot of money.”) 

Next generation landscape architecture ideas, Szenasy said, would take aim at the noxious landscapes that require “chemical injections” to grow. Regenerative, sustainable landscape concepts would be of great interest to the judges in the 2010 competition. 

Learn more about Next Generation design competition, and submit ideas for the 2010 competition.  

Image credit: Metropolis / Elioth + Encore Heureux

Sustainable Sites Initiative Wins Green Business Award

The Sustainable Sites Initiative won Washington Business Journal’s Green Business Award for education / outreach. The Sustainable Sites Initiative will create the first rating guidelines and performance benchmarks for eco-friendly landscapes, offering guidance on sustainable best practices for all open spaces. The Initiative is led by a coalition of three organizations: the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and U.S. Botanic Garden. The final draft of the new standards will be released November 5 at an event at the U.S. Botanic Garden. A call for pilot projects will also be issued at the release event.  

The Initiative will work as a stand-alone rating system, and also be incorporated into the LEED® Green Building Rating System™ by 2011. By integrating into LEED, the Initiative can make “a deeper mark on architects, engineers, designers, curators, landscape contractors, maintenance workers, planners and even homeowners as they move soil for new parks, gardens, yards, easements and other open spaces in the most environmentally harmless way,” writes Washington Business Journal.

The new rating system will cover a range of landscape elements that can have a positive environmental impact. Sustainable landscapes can yield environmental, social, and economic benefits through C02 emission reductions, lower temperatures, waste reduction, and water conservation and efficiency. “There’s little limit on the elements these standards examine — sustainable nursery practices, preference for native plants, low-impact materials, permeable pavements, vegetation-based water treatment, lack of pesticides, healthy soils. Opting for eco-friendly incarnations of all of the above can remove millions of tons of carbon from the atmosphere, lower peak temperatures by several degrees in summer months, prevent millions of tons of yard waste from dirtying nearby waterways and stop billions of gallons of water from being wasted every day.”

A call for pilot projects opens November 5 and ends February 15, 2010. Any type of designed landscape is eligible to participate, ranging from academic and corporate campuses, parks and recreation areas, transportation corridors to single residences so long as the total size exceeds 2,000 square feet. Fees for participating in the pilot project process may run between $500 to $5,000 depending on project size. Approximately 75 to 150 projects will take part in testing the rating system.

Go to the Sustainable Sites Iniative to sign-up for e-mail notifications about the report release and pilot projects.

Also, check out the current set of 17 Sustainable Sites Initiative case studies. Case study projects were estimated to cost from $16,500 to $207 million, demonstrating the range of projects that can benefit from this rating system.

Image credit: Sustainable Sites Initiative / Conservation Design Forum

Kim Wilkie’s Orpheus Excavation

On the grounds of Boughton House in Northamptonshire, UK, Kim Wilkie Associates, a landscape architecture firm, created Orpheaus, a modern composition and excavation in “one of the great English houses with one of the country’s most powerful landscapes,” writes Building Design. The 7-meter deep composition create a visual narrative of the descent of Orpheus, “recalling the image, from the Cocteau movie, of Jean Marais stepping into the Underworld by dissolving a mirror with his fingertips.”

Building Design adds that the changing landscape of Boughton House reflects the evolving political fortunes of the Montagus. “The impression they leave on the visitor is of a complicated layering: periods of power and of diffidence, of neglect and immense activity, of great plans not completed, of enthusiastic focus, of disdain for fashion and, occasionally, of decline. To some extent this pattern reflects the political and social fortunes of the Montagus as they came and went over 300 years, but also the distractions presented by three other family houses, all in Scotland. It is at least possible that the odd duke never himself visited Boughton, and certain that many never thought of it as home.”

Kim Wilkie’s work is both hidden and monumental. “Orpheus may be at its best on one’s own: it is not then just an elegantly proportioned piece of furniture in a very big park, however good it is in this role. That anything so monumental should in fact need to be discovered, and best on foot, is disarming; and as the ground yawns on approach, there is the sharp, impossible recognition that the void of Orpheus has been literally expressed to form the half-pyramid beyond the canal. This is the key effect.”

Read the article

France Invests $2.2 Billion in Electric Vehicle Network

The Wall Street Journal
wrote that the French government plans to spend EUR 1.5 billion (about USD 2.2 billion) on developing a network of one-million electric vehicle (EV) battery-charging stations by 2015. France hopes the station network will provide a massive boost to clean energy and battery technology development. The network will roll out in stages — new apartment blocks with parking lots will be required include charging stations by 2012; office parking lots will need to include charging sockets by 2015.

According to Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo, the French government has pushed a group of public and private fleet operators to purchase 50,000 vehicles by 2015.  The Green Car Web site notes the government is hoping that La Poste, EPA, Air France, EDF Energy, France Telecom will pool resources and commit to buying up to 100,000 vehicles in the same time frame. To encourage the public to get on board, France is offering a “EUR 5,000 grant to buy vehicles with CO2 emissions less than or equal to 60g/km until 2012. Hybrids, LPG or natural gas vehicles with emissions less than or equal to 135g/km may also benefit from a EUR 2,000 bonus.” The rapid expansion of EV car usage is crucial to making the massive EV infrastructure investment worthwhile. 

Renault and PSA Peugeot-Citroen are all involved in the program, and may benefit as well. The Renault SA facility will build a new EUR 625 million-battery manufacturing factory, which will receive a EUR 125 million commitment from France’s strategic investment fund. The factory will supply some 100,000 batteries to French EV producers, including Peugeot-Citroen. The Wall Street Journal notes that Peugeot-Citroen will have four EVs on the market by 2010. Renault will also release four EVs by 2012.

Renault and Nissan together plan to invest a total of EUR 4 billion in EV technology.

Borloo argues that the EVs will generate “EUR 15 billion of business activity between now and 2030.” EVs will also reduce “France’s energy imports by 4 million tons of oil equivalent by 2020, while cutting carbon dioxide (C02) emissions by 17.5 million tons.”

Read the article and details on France’s 14 point EV plan.

Image credit: Inhabitat

U.S. City Parks Added 5,000 Acres Last Year

The Trust for Public Land released a report stating that the 77 largest city park systems in the U.S., which cover more than 1.3 million acres, added 5,000 acres of parkland over the past year. The Trust for Public Land offered a range of facts and figures: “Big-city park departments last year offered 56 million urban residents 10,419 park playgrounds, 1,290 swimming pools, 466 dog parks, and 386 public golf courses, while spending $5.7 billion on their park and recreation systems.”

Within the big cities, there are 20,705 parks. Cities that provide large amounts of parkland per 1,000 residents include Jacksonville, Albuquerque, El Paso, Virginia Beach, and Kansas City, Mo. Denser cities that offer residents the most green space include St. Paul, Minneapolis, Washington, D.C., and Seattle. Anchorage, Alaska offers the most parkland within its city limits. The report cites the “gargantuan Chugach State Park” that resides with Anchorage. Several cities provide considerable parkland as a percent of the city’s area. These include New York City, San Francisco, Boston, San Diego, Raleigh, and Austin.

The Trust for Public Land also tracks how much is spent on city parks per year.  “The best-funded major city park and recreation departments were in San Francisco ($300 per resident), Chandler, Ariz. ($279), Washington, D.C. ($277), Seattle ($259), and Minneapolis ($214). The least-funded departments were in Buffalo ($12 per resident), Stockton ($23), El Paso ($31), Toledo ($38), and Memphis ($39).”

Peter Harnik, director of the Trust’s Center for City Park Excellence said: “We’ve seen reports about cuts around the country, but we cannot confirm this until next year’s survey data. Keeping park budgets strong keeps these prized spaces nurtured when residents have less money to travel, and a great park system needs the constant attention of the city and the constant vigilance of its park users and advocates.” This is particularly true given recent news on the massive California state government cuts to the parks budget (see earlier post).  

Read the full report and see city fact sheets.

Also, check out another study from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Rocky Mountain Climate Organization (RIMO) outlining 25 U.S. parks that are “most threatened” by climate change. TreeHugger writes: “When you think climate change and national parks, you’re probably envisioning an area with trees dying off and maybe loss of some native grasses. But what about the National Parks that are coastal or even islands, like Ellis Island, that will be submerged or at least unviewable as they are underwater?”

Image credit: Teardrop Park, New York, NY, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc., New York, NY, client: The Hugh L. Carey Battery Park City Authority

Green Roofs Sequester C02

and Science Daily wrote on a new article in the journal Environmental Science & Technology that argues green roofs covering an urban area containing one million people would capture more than 55,000 tons of C02. The amount of C02 sequestered would be “similar to removing more than 10,000 mid-sized SUV or trucks off the road a year.” According to Science Daily, Kristin Getter and her colleagues at Michigan State University based their research on measurements of carbon levels in plant and soil samples collected from 13 green roofs in Michigan and Maryland over a two-year period. 

Getter and her colleagues noted the 13 green roofs examined were composed primarily of Sedum species, with substrate depths ranged from 2.5 to 12.7 cm. “On average, these roofs stored 162 g C·m−2 in aboveground biomass.” To test the effects of different species of plants and substrate, the researchers created a substrate-only plot, as well as plots with different species of Sedum (S. acre, S. album, S. kamtshaticum, or S. spurium). “Species and substrate depth represent typical extensive green roofs in the United States.”

According to the researchers, results varied from species to species. “Results at the end of the second year showed that aboveground plant material storage varied by species, ranging from 64 g C·m−2 (S. acre) to 239 g C·m−2 (S. album), with an average of 168 g C·m−2. Belowground biomass ranged from 37 g C·m−2 (S. acre) to 185 g C·m−2 (S. kamtschaticum) and averaged 107 g C·m−2. Substrate carbon content averaged 913 g C·m−2, with no species effect, which represents a sequestration rate of 100 g C·m−2 over the 2 years of this study. The entire extensive green roof system sequestered 375 g C·m−2 in above- and belowground biomass and substrate organic matter.”

Studies from the EPA and other sources have long noted that green roofs can provide a range of benefits, including reduced energy usage for building heating and cooling (and therefore reduced energy costs), as well as cleaner, cooler air, which can reduce the urban heat island effect in cities. Green roofs also play an important role in stormwater retention, which can alleviate pressure on stormwater management systems. While Steven Chu, U.S. Energy Secretary, has pushed cool or white roofs, which are more reflective and absorb less heat, recent research on the ability of green roofs to sequester may mean that combinations of cool and green roofs may be ideal (see earlier post on reflective roofs).

Read the article and research study

Also, check out an article from Inhabitat outlining how architects and landscape architects are integrating green roofs into the built environment and creating new models of green infrastructure. In discussing a new project in Brooklyn that features a combined ecological green roof and golf course on top of a massive water filtration plant, TreeHugger quoted Ken Smith, ASLA: “The distinction here is it’s not just a green roof, but a performative green roof that needs to provide all these functions. I think we’re pushing both the design of the green roof and the design of the golf course in new directions.”

Image credit: Inhabitat / Grimshaw Partners

Interview with Herbert Dreiseitl on Designing with Water

Herbert Dreiseitl, International ASLA, Principal of Atelier Dreiseitl, discusses his firm’s unique combination of art and sustainable water management practice. Dreiseitl explains how designers can use innovative, small-scale sustainable water management projects to inform broader policy and regulatory approaches. These demonstration projects are needed, the leading waterscape designer argues, for creating a larger paradigm shift in the way cities use and manage scarce water resources.

Atelier Dreiseitl works at a variety of scales. At the very large scale, the firm is developing Singapore’s entire central watershed master plan. “The project is really about thinking about the entire island, a huge city, and its vision of the future. It’s about making the city more independent and less reliant on other countries for their water resources. At the moment they need a lot of water from abroad, coming in via pipeline from Malaysia, which is actually typical for any major city. From a broad perspective, what is needed for the future is more harmony, partnerships, intelligent and better use of the resources. With a holistic approach, the large amounts of tropical rain that currently flows out to sea can be taken and used in a different manner.” 

Creating a new approach to the management of water resources in Singapore involved gaining the support of the private and non-profit sectors, as well as citizens. “This is not only a technical solution. It’s involved with the politic and people. The government has been very supportive of this and they created the ‘ABC Water Guidelines’ to get people, and public and private sectors on board together with their thinking. The letters ‘ABC’ is an acronym: ‘A’ for Active; ‘B’ for Beautiful; and ‘C’ for Clean.”

On a smaller scale, Atelier Dreiseitl has revitalized communities by creating interactive, human-centric waterscapes. In Hannoversch Münden, Germany, Dreiseitl designed a small project on a historic site. “There is a city square in a town that is more than a thousand-years-old. When we started, it was a bus station, where people were going in and out. Now it’s a totally pedestrian walkway area. Now, there is a water feature, which is interactive. The water feature is a piece of art. We capture the sounds of the city using microphones and this sound is then transformed into vibrations on plates under the water. These plates create different ripples and textures in the water. To express this vibrancy, we use lights to reflect these hot spots of movement.  Light is directed at the water and its patterns are then reflected onto different building facades. Suddenly, the backside of the town hall has enormous and interesting light textures. These reflections are influenced by the people’s movement if they step into the water feature, and they can they leave their own ‘trace’ here. It shows the flexibility and creativity and dynamics of water, which can be interactive.”

These smaller projects are important — they are showcases and provide examples of how sustainable water management practices and water-efficiency technologies work in reality.  Innovative, small-scale sustainable water management practices can influence policy and regulatory approaches on a broader scale, argues Dreiseitl. “Small-scale projects are good for creating a sense of hope. They are good learning experiences that plant the seed for something bigger. As innovations, it’s important to learn out of failing. On a broader scale, it’s very important that we discover ways to recycle water, and treat water so it can be renewed. Again, as an example, I mention Singapore, a city that is at the forefront of new water technology. However, they are smart enough to know it’s not only about technology. It’s also about aesthetics. The emotions must come in. People need to have a feeling, an understanding of what happens. That’s where we can come in to make cities more beautiful. I am not just being altruistic. Function and form and aesthetics really need to get together, and can  complement each other, or even encourage progress.”

In a recent discussion on the Sustainable Sites Initiative, Jose Alminana of Andropogon said current water infrastructure is unnatural. “Drains are unnatural,” and water infrastructure should be further decentralized so it’s more like a natural system. Alminana added that transmission lines for waste water cost five to six times more than wetland systems, and produce C02 emissions on top of it. When asked how urban water infrastructure needs to be re-thought, Dreiseitl argued: “Cities and urban areas have to change their systems into waterscapes. Waterscapes are living systems that provide a living, cleansing process like nature. The value of what a river gives a wetlands through cleaning the water is enormous! If we take the intelligence of nature and bring it back to cities through very smart technology back to the cities, we can re-create this. The water body in a city is like an organism. It has different ways of interacting. Water has to be decentralized, brought to the surface, and integrated into what we actually see. What we see is what we take care of.”

Read the full interview

Image credit: Singapore Watershed Master Plan, Atelier Dreiseitl

Land Matters

We define disciplines and professions by the bodies of knowledge they advance. Academic disciplines and practice-based professions rise (and fall) based on the quality and the relevance of those bodies of knowledge. Magazines document state-of-the-art thinking while promoting endless future possibilities.

Bill Thompson, FASLA, devoted more than 20 years to Landscape Architecture, initially as a writer and managing editor, then as editor-in-chief for the past 10 years. In his leadership role, he acted as our gatekeeper, creating among many things this column, calling it “Land Matters”—two words that speak volumes about our values and aspirations.

Land indeed matters, a theme that Bill Thompson pursued not only in this column but throughout the magazine. In his column, Bill sought to stir the pot of discussion. He purposefully took on timely, often controversial topics with the goal of creating dialogue within the profession and beyond.

Bill guided the magazine in a consciously egalitarian direction. While the stars of the profession certainly received ample attention, Bill sought out under-recognized talent in less obvious places. He brought attention especially to projects located outside the Northeast and the West Coast. He consistently found interesting works in Canada. He observed that several fine European and Asian periodicals are devoted to landscape architecture but noted a gap in Latin America. As a result, Bill expanded coverage in Mexico and South America, connecting our practice across the Western Hemisphere.

As he discovered new designers and new places, Bill fostered contemporary voices in the magazine. He was constantly on the prowl for fresh writers. Among his many talents, Bill has been a wonderful mentor who has helped develop the voices of scores of young authors and photographers.

He remained curious and open-minded while possessing an encyclopedic knowledge of the profession. Bill greeted new ideas with enthusiasm and approached design fads with skepticism.

Like farming and teaching, editing a magazine is a cyclical endeavor—only the cycles revolve quicker. An editor needs to be able to produce monthly, while scheming three or four months into the future. Bill did this masterfully, while keeping his eye on the advancement of landscape architecture and the economic health of the magazine. Under Bill’s leadership, the magazine thrived financially, becoming a significant source of revenue (rather than a drain as it had been in the past) for ASLA. As resources increased, the magazine expanded in size, sometimes reaching as many as 200 pages.

Bill’s devotion to the magazine’s quality and to ASLA is deeply rooted in his background. He is a landscape architect, a Fellow of our Society, and earned his MLA at Georgia while also receiving degrees in English literature from Vanderbilt and Duke.

There is much of the New South that Bill embodies. A gentleman to the core, he is a thoughtful progressive. And, of course, he has the Southern attachment to the land. In the South, land matters.

Bill’s idealism shines through the pages of each issue of the magazine published over the past decade. While we will miss his leadership, we will always value what Bill Thompson has done to advance our body of knowledge, while expanding our view of the living landscapes that surround us.

Frederick R. Steiner, FASLA

Sidewalk Shed Design Competition Finalists Announced

The New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) and the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIANY) announced three finalists for the urbanSHED International Design Competition. The competition seeks to “create a new standard of sidewalk shed design that improves the pedestrian experience while maintaining or exceeding the required safety standards in New York City.” The competition is being sponsored by a range of organizations, including: DOB, AIANY, Alliance for Downtown New York, ABNY Foundation, Illuminating Engineering Society New York City Section (IESNYC) and New York Building Congress with additional support from the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT), the NYC Department of City Planning (DCP) and the Structural Engineers Association of New York (SEAoNY).

More than 160 entries by architects, engineers, designers and students from around the world were narrowed down to three finalists from the U.S.: “urbanCLOUD,” developed by Kevin Erickson, Brodie Bricker, Dan Campbell, Johann Riscahu and Mathew Strack of KNEStudio in New York, NY; “Urban Umbrella,” developed by Young Hwan Choi from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA; and “Tripod,” developed by Jonace Bascon, AIA, Derrick Choi, AIA and Lynn Hsu, RA, of XChange Architects in Brookline, MA.

According to AIANY, the designs were evaluated by the competition jury in terms of safety, sustainability, and constructability. The jury also examined the impact of the designs on the streetscape and pedestrian walking experience, their use of natural light, electrical lighting, and structural components. The finalists address issues in New York City’s dense urban environment in a variety of innovative ways, “from suspending the shed from the roof of the building to slanting the top of the shed away from the street to allow more light and space.” 

Each finalist will receive $5,000 to further develop their design in Stage II of the competition. The grand prize winner will be announced in December and will receive a $10,000 award.  The Alliance for Downtown New York will facilitate the construction of a full-scale prototype of the top award project on a working site in Lower Manhattan as part of its RE: Construction art program. 

View all the finalists’ work

Image credit: urbanCLOUD, Kevin Erickson, Brodie Bricker, Dan Campbell, Johann Riscahu and Mathew Strack of KNEStudio in New York, NY

Majora Carter on Creating Green Community Infrastructure

Majora Carter, activist and founder of Sustainable South Bronx and the Majora Carter Group, gave a presentation at the National Building Museum calling for environmental justice for inner-city communities. Her plan includes smarter (and fairer) growth, community involvement in transportation planning (no more highways through communities), fairer distribution of waste and sewage processing facilities, and more parks, green roofs, and greenways. To make this happen, Carter calls for a boost to local green job training programs, which are crucial to creating and maintaining the community infrastructure needed for more sustainable inner-city communities. A key part of building healthy, more sustainable inner-city communities is training inner-city residents for green jobs, which “can’t be outsourced” and provide new skills and a way out of poverty or prison.

After organizing the development of the Hunts Point Riverside Park in the South Bronx, Carter won a USD 1.2 million transportation planning grant focused on mapping out a network of greenways (linear parks) using existing infrastructure. Under her plan, street underpaths and other existing networks would turn into bike paths and trails linking local communities to existing parks. To create the community infrastructure to support the new green infrastructure, Carter created the Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training program, which has a 85 percent placement rate. More than 10 percent have also gone on to college from the program.

“Robert Moses, a highway addict,” was held up as an example of a “dumb growth planner” by Carter. While the Bronx Expressway improves life for car users traveling from Westchester into work in Manhattan, the highway cut right through the South Bronx community. As a result, the South Bronx “lost more than 500,000” from its population. Additional “red lining” or “no loan zones” helped depress the area around the expressway, which, in turn, led to a community economic reversal, environmental degradation, and the infamous drug wars of the 1980’s. “Arson became profitable” and numerous buildings were gutted. “Playgrounds were also removed because of liability risks.” Carter argues that environmental degradation quickly followed after the economic downturn.

The South Bronx currently holds 40 percent of New York City’s waste facilities, 100 percent of the Bronx’s waste facilities, four electric power plants, and multiple sewage treatment centers. “Environmental justice means that communities can’t bear the brunt of all the environmental costs without receiving some of the benefits,” contends Carter. Interestingly, she thinks that if these waste and other undesirable facilities had been placed in richer areas they would have been more environmentally-sound from the get-go. These communities would have had little tolerance for the pollution and negative effects of the facilities on housing prices.

For inner-city communities that already have waste facilities, Carter thinks it’s important to turn the existing burden into an economic opportunity. She is looking at models for “eco-centers” in which waste can be sorted and recycled. “Most of the waste leaves the community to go to landfill or is incinerated.” The benefits, like the cost of housing the waste, should instead go to the community.

“Sustainability doesn’t only belong to treehuggers,” says Carter. To prove that people can profit from sustainability, Carter created a for-profit company focused on green roof system development. Green roofs cool and clean the air, cut building energy costs, and mitigate stormwater run-off, removing stress from overburdened water and sewage infrastructure. On the policy side, Carter worked to create green roof tax abatements in New York City, which, she says, helped to grow a local green roof installation industry. “To prove I am not crazy” about the value of green roofs, Carter pointed to a recent EPA study that argues that natural horticultural infrastructure in the form of green roofs is a more effective way, “dollar for dollar,” of dealing with stormwater than other systems.

Through the Majora Carter Group, her consulting firm, Carter is also working with a community in northern North Carolina to create a new approach to climate change adaptation that involves dealing with waste from agricultural run-off and “mega-hog farms” and creating an environmental economic development strategy. Carter is partnering with urban farmers in inner-city Detroit who seek to sell the produce they are growing in abandoned lots. With them, she is creating an investment fund and cooperative so these urban farmers can sell locally to the Detroit region. Lastly, Carter points to the need for a new smart grid that can work like the Internet, enabling inner-city producers of energy to contribute (and sell) their locally-produced wind or solar energy back to the grid.

Also, check out an interview with Majora Carter on the role designers can play in revitalizing communities.