St. Louis Citygarden, a 2.9-acre Sculpture Park, Fosters Social Interaction Downtown

At the heart of St. Louis, Citygarden, a new 2.9-acre sculpture park designed by Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects and studio|durham architects, is revitalizing a formerly run-down part of downtown St. Louis through landscape and public sculpture. The park, a mix of urban park, urban garden, and sculpture garden, was designed to foster interaction. It seems to have succeeded: Citygarden has drawn thousands since its opening in July 2009, bringing economic benefits to the city as well.

According to Metropolis magazine, the now rich, multi-faceted park features a range of modern and contemporary master sculptors: Tom Claassen, Niki de Saint Phalle, Jim Dine, Keith Haring, Férnand Leger, Aristide Maillol, Julian Opie, Martin Puryear, Tony Smith, Jack Youngerman, and others. The public art is a key draw and helps spur social interaction. Paul Wagman, a spokesman for the Gateway Foundation, the local foundation that drafted the initial master plan and co-funded the development of the park, said: “You see little kids, elderly people, arty people, frumpy people. People look happy. They’re interacting with each other, often in spontaneous ways.”

The design process was collaborative. “NBWLA worked with the Missouri Botanical Garden on plant selection and with the Gateway Foundation on the subtle art of sculpture siting. At one point, a large model of the park was built, and the team moved sculpture replicas around like chess pieces, assessing each location based on the artwork, the landscape around it, and how it fit into the sequence of forms.”  To further facilitate deeper interaction with the sculptures, ArchNewsNow, in a June 2009 review of the park, noted that there are no “Do-Not-Touch” signs.

ArchNewsNow said that St. Louis’s natural features, “its great rivers,” inspired the landscape plan designed by Virginia-based Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects. “The garden is divided into three tiers, or bands, running east and west. The northern ‘upland’ band corresponds to the high ground near a river – the bluff. The middle band denotes low ground – the floodplain. The southern band represents a cultivated river terrace.” Metropolis added that the designers “took advantage of the terrain by increasing the elevation in some spots to ten feet,” creating additional vantage points for visitors to view the art and cityscape.

The park financing was also innovative. The Gateway Foundation, created by the late Aaron and Teresa Fischer, and now directed by their son, Peter, formed a cooperative agreement with the city. The foundation would do the planning and direct the design and development of the urban park, while the city would provide the land. In total, the project cost some $25-30 million.

The city’s Deputy Mayor of Development, Barbara Geisman, told ArchNewsNow that the Gateway Foundation played a key role in making Citygarden happen. “The Gateway Foundation’s willingness to invest so heavily in Citygarden, coupled with its funding of a now-completed master plan for the entire St. Louis Mall, have stirred ‘optimism that the Mall can be a beautiful space and an economic generator.'”

Read the Metropolis and ArchNewsNow articles and see photos.

Image credit: Steve Hall/Hedrich Blessing, Metropolis Magazine

Modernist Landscapes Photo Exhibition at the Andy Warhol Museum

The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, is now featuring an exhibition of photos of 12 modernist landscapes. According to the museum, the George Eastman House, in conjunction with The Cultural Landscape foundation, the organizers of the exhibition, examine 12 “important modernist landscapes” through the lens of ten photographers. The project is as much about “photography as it’s about landscape.” 

Landscape projects in the exhibitition include: Lake Elizabeth (Allegheny Commons, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), Boston City Hall Plaza (Boston, Massachusetts), Estates Drive Reservoir (Oakland, California), Heritage Plaza (Heritage Park, Fort Worth,Texas), Kaiser Roof Garden (Kaiser Center, Oakland,California), Manhattan Square Park (Rochester, New York), Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks (Kent, Washington.), Miller Garden (Columbus, Indiana), El (Hato Rey, Puerto Rico), Pacific Science Center Courtyard (Seattle, Washington), Parkmerced (San Francisco, California), and Peavey Plaza (Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, Minnesota).

The photograhers represented in the exhibition are Sam Sweezy, Debra Bloomfield, Lupita Murillo Tinnen, Heather F. Wetzel, Rick McKee Hock, Christopher Rauschenberg, Tyagan Miller, Marisol Diaz, and Tom Fox.

Go to the Warhol Museum web site, or check out the online exhibition from the Cultural Landscape Foundation.

Also, the Cultural Landscape Foundation has just issued a call for nominations for its well-known “Landslide” program. Nominations are due March 31, 2010. 

“Since its inception in 2003, the Landslide initiative has spotlighted more than 150 significant at-risk parks, gardens, horticultural features, and working landscapes. This year’s theme will again do so by calling attention to the places that embody our shared landscape heritage.”

Image credit: The Cultural Landscape Foundation, Landslide 2008. Mill Creek Canyon, Earthworks

Call for Papers: MillionTreesNYC Research Symposium on Green Infrastructure and Urban Ecology

According to MillionTreesNYC, the purpose of its 2010 research symposium, which will be held March 5-6 in New York City, is to showcase “research and projects that contribute to knowledge on urban landscapes, green infrastructure, and public health in cities and urban areas.” The organization is soliciting papers on research that is either completed or substantially in progress that addresses diverse science questions in the following areas:

  • Local Air Quality and Urban Heat Island
  • Water Quality, Storm Water Management
  • Economic Impacts and Quantifying Returns on Investment
  • Urban Environmental Education, Ecological Literacy, and Curriculum Development
  • Human Health and Well-Being
  • Civic and Municipal Stewardship
  • Green Jobs and Social Justice
  • Reforestation Dynamics and Forest Health
  • Biodiversity and Ecological Communities
  • Green Infrastructure and Planting Designs

This symposium is a follow-up to the spring 2009 workshop “Green Infrastructure, and Urban Ecology: Building a Research Agenda.” While the workshop emphasized developing a New York City research agenda, this symposium is intended to reflect the state of knowledge in the broader research communities in the fields of natural resource management, ecology, and the social sciences as applied to large scale, urban forestry campaigns in cities across the country and globally.

MillionTreesNYC is a citywide, public-private initiative with an ambitious goal: to plant and care for one million new trees across New York City’s five boroughs by 2017. MillionTreesNYC is one of many initiatives encompassed in PlaNYC 2030, New York City’s comprehensive long term sustainability plan which focuses on improving five key dimensions of the city’s environment – land, air, water, energy and transportation – as well as meet the challenge of global climate change. 

Submission Procedures for Abstracts

Authors of accepted abstracts will be invited to give a 15 minute oral presentation followed by a five minute question and answer period. These authors will also be invited to contribute papers for peer review and potential publication in a special issue of the online journal Cities and the Environment (CATE). CATE is a peer-reviewed, online journal with a focus on urban ecology research, education and management.

The deadline for submitting an abstract for consideration has been extended to January 8th, 2010. Submissions will be reviewed and decisions given to authors by January 25th, 2010. Contact with questions. The organization notes that you must be registered for the meeting to present a paper. 

Submitted abstracts must be less than 250 words, can describe results of completed urban ecology research or projects that are in progress, and should focus on one or more of the topics listed above.  The organizers are particularly interested in studies focused on New York City, other cities, or cross-city comparisons. 

Image credit: A Civic Vision and Action Plan for the Central Delaware River, Philadelphia, PA. Wallace Roberts & Todd, LLC, Philadelphia, PA

New Geoengineering Idea: Turning Deserts into Forests

Leonard Ornstein, a cell biologist at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, and Igor Aleinov and David Rind, two climate modellers at NASA, argue that foresting the Australian outback and Saharan Desert would “solve climate change.” While numerous geoengineering schemes have been proposed to mitigate the adverse effects of greenhouse gas (GHG) build-up, many of the more ambitious ideas, including ocean-based aerosol sprayers, space mirrors, C02 air scrubbers, or artificial C02-capturing “trees,” have been examined and labeled cost-prohibitive or dangerous (see earlier post). Others ideas will work, are much cheaper on a small-scale, but require significant investment and regulatory changes to scale up worldwide (see Steven Chu’s call for reflective cool roofs, and more on the idea of creating reflective crops). These researchers, however, argue that massive forestation in equatorial deserts  “provides the best, near-term route to complete control of greenhouse gas induced global warming,” and would be cost-effective in comparison with carbon capture and storage (CCS) plans now receiving massive investment (see earlier post). 

The scientists outlined their plan in a recent article in the Journal of Climatic Change. According to The Guardian (UK), the plan would involve planting “fields of fast growing trees such as eucalyptus would cover the deserts of the Sahara and Australian outback, watered by seawater treated by a string of coastal desalination plants and channelled through a vast irrigation network. The new blanket of tree cover would bring its own weather system and rainfall, while soaking up carbon dioxide from the world’s atmosphere. The team’s calculations suggest the forested deserts could draw down around 8bn tonnes of carbon a year, about the same as emitted from fossil fuels and deforestation today.”

While the costs of planting a forest in the Sahara would be high (around $1.9 trillion per year), Ornstein argues the plan is cost effective when you consider the cost of CCS and compare the amount of C02 emissions sequestered.  In comments to The Guardian (UK), he said: “when that’s compared to figures like estimates of $800bn per year for CCS, our plan looks like a loser. But CCS can address only about 20% of the problem at the $800bn price. Mine addresses the whole thing. And CCS would involve a network of dangerous high-pressure pipelines coursing through the most developed neighbourhoods of our civilisations, compared to relatively benign water aqueducts in what are presently virtually uninhabited deserts.”

According to The Guardian (UK),  Saudi Arabia, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, and other northern African countries, along with central Australia, would all be suitable sites. Forestation must occur in sub-tropical areas where there is little chance of darker forested landscapes soaking up more sunlight and therefore warming the earth’s surface. “Planting trees to combat rising carbon dioxide levels is controversial on a large scale, because most places where it has been suggested, such as Canada and Siberia, are in the northern hemisphere where the resulting change in surface colour, from predominantly light snow and rock to predominantly dark trees, could soak up more sunlight and cancel out the cooling benefit.” The plan would also yield economic and social benefits through new green jobs. Sustainable wood industries could take hold.

Some critics argue the Sahara is already a functioning ecosystem, which locals rely on, and planting forests would destroy it. Ornstein responded: “We must bite the bullet, global warming will not go away by itself … solar, geothermal and wind power can make modest contributions. All of these are part of the fix. But the quicker a forest can be grown, the more time will be available to choose among and to implement such adjustments, and perhaps to develop more attractive substitutes. If sacrifices are required to stem global warming, the almost non-existent ecosystems of the central Sahara and the [Australian] outback seem like reasonable candidates compared to the alternatives.”

Read the article 

In other news, the Prince of Wales announced a new fund to prevent additional deforestation in tropical developing countries like Brazil, Malaysia and Indonesia. The Guardian (UK) writes that a global emergency fund has been set up to “drastically reduce the destruction of tropical rainforests over the next five years.” Some 35 governments of the Informal Working Group (IWG) agreed to the plan.

“The IWG hopes to achieve a 25 percent reduction in annual deforestation rates by 2015. The felling of forests causes almost a fifth of global carbon emissions.”

The U.S. government has pledged $275 million towards rainforest protection. The plan is expected to cost between £13.5bn and £22bn over the next five years. Read the report

Lastly, check out UNEP’s BillionTree campaign, an ambitious global reforestation program, which aims to plant seven billion new trees worldwide in 2009. Companies, organizations or individuals can pledge and register their new trees through the program.

Green Walls Growing Popular

The New York Times
reports that some building manufacturing firms are moving into the nascent but growing green wall market. In the case of Barthelmes Manufacturing company, the firm is producing vertical metal panels that can be filled with soil and seeds. Green walls have some of the same benefits of green roofs. “Like green roofs, walls include a thick layer of vegetation on the outside of buildings to provide insulation and reduce heating and electricity costs.” In fact, Time Magazine listed green walls as one of the top 50 inventions of 2009, and cited Patrick Blanc’s 8-story green wall on London’s Athenaeum Hotel as an example (see ASLA’s guide to green infrastructure for more on the benefits of green walls).

Green walls can also be used to produce food in dense urban areas. Using less space, edible walls can “produce fruit, vegetables and herbs.”  According to The New York Times, urban farming advocates see edible green wall systems as a way to “lower food costs, increase nutritional quality and cut fuel consumption and carbon emissions by using fewer delivery trucks.”

Larry Lehning, chief executive at Barthelmes, told The New York Times his sales of green products have doubled in the past year, and now account for 15 percent of the company’s revenue. “The traditional metal fabrication industry is shrinking, and green is an emerging area.”

A number of firms are also developing self-contained vertical greenhouses, which often feature hydroponic systems, for producing food (see earlier post on Valcent Products).  In the developing world, vertical farm sheds featuring hydroponic systems can help create healthier, more high-quality seedlings or animal fodder in rural areas (see earlier post). Other inventors are exploring combined edible wall, solar and aquaculture systems.

Dickson Despommier, a professor at Columbia University, has been a leading proponent of vertical farming systems. Read an interview with Despommier. Also, note that Time Magazine listed vertical farming as one of its top 50 inventions of 2009 as well.

Read the article and view a slideshow of edible walls.

Image credit: Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times

WPA 2.0: Working Public Architecture Competition Jury on Next Generation Urban Infrastructure

This is part two in a series of posts on the WPA 2.0: Working Public Architecture competition.
Part one highlights the keynote speech by Ron Sims, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which framed the overall competition, and explains the six finalists’ ideas. WPA 2.o was organized by UCLA’s cityLAB and held at the National Building Museum earlier this week.

Before deciding on the winning project, “Carbon T.A.P.// Tunnel Algae Park” by PORT architects, the jury discussed the concepts illustrated by the finalists, as well as the future of urban infrastructure design.

The WPA 2.0 jury included Elizabeth Diller, Principal, Diller, Scofidio + Renfro and Professor of Architecture, Princeton University;  Cecil Balmond, Deputy Chairman, Ove Arup and Partners and Paul Philippe Cret Practice Professor of Architecture, University of Pennsylvania; Walter Hood, ASLA, Principal, Hood Design Urban Landscape + Site Architecture and Professor, University of California, Berkeley; Thom Mayne, Founder and Director of Design, Morphosis and Professor, University of California, Los Angeles; Marilyn Jordan Taylor, Consulting Partner, Skidmore Owings & Merrill and Dean, PennDesign, University of Pennsylvania; and Stan Allen, Principal, Stan Allen Architects and Dean, School of Architecture, Princeton University.

Hard and Fixed vs. Soft and Flexible Infrastructure:

Stan Allen: Allen served as jury moderator, and kicked off the session by arguing that next generation infrastructure, if designed well, can dissolve the impasse between policy and design. “Infrastructure can be an instrument of policy in a design field.” Additionally, infrastructure “cuts through scales,” including regional, urban, local, and human scales, and therefore must be designed and implemented with these different scales in mind.

Given the large capital investments in infrastructure coming down the pike with U.S. recovery funds, Allen asked, should the infrastructure of the near future be harder or lighter? “Do we need to work opportunitistically (as seen in the Border Wall project), and steer existing infrastructure in new directions? Or do we need more fixed infrastructure?”

Thom Mayne: “Infrastructure in the future will be hybridized, soft, flexible.” The Border Wall project (see earlier post for more details) presented a way of thinking through problems, and demonstrated the role a designer can play in “interrogating a problem.” All infrastructure problems are “multi-variant problems.”

Elizabeth Diller:  “Information infrastructure is one of the key soft infrastructures that we all rely on.” Access to new data sparked all the finalists’ projects. All the projects depend on soft infrastructure.

“The first step” in a design project is data collection. Design professionals can visualize data and “bring something to life before the eyes of policy makers.” Designers can also use data to “break down scale to smaller and smaller bits.”

Cecil Balmond: “There is active and passive infrastructure.” Active infrastructure includes roads, highways, ports. Utilities are passive infrastructure; water infrastructure is passive. “Many finalists presented localized, highly intelligent water solutions.” However, Balmond thought there was a huge gap between the “big ideas” exemplified by the proposals and “real life implementation.”

Balmond argued for the use of toolkits that can help create change in small ways and can be scaled up on to the global level. As an example, he cited a project in an Indian urban slum. Many slums don’t know where to begin to connect existing sewage infrastructure. Furthermore, the muncipal areas didn’t have the funds to extend the infrastructure into these areas. A local activist created a micro-sewage system that recycled waste among ten households in a sustainable manner. The network soon spread across a major slum area.

Marilyn Jordan Taylor: Taylor thought the most interesting common element in the proposals was that you could see the infrastructure. “21st century infrastructure is visible.” This idea is almost a return to Roman times, when aqueducts were “beautiful.” Taylor argued that if you can’t see infrastructure, you can’t take care of it or make it aesthetically appealing. She also argued for research-based and data-driven design.

Walter Hood: “Data can help us look at where we are, where we should be and shouldn’t be.” Hood argued that there are some places humans shouldn’t be living for environmental reasons that they are living in now. In addition, maybe some infrastructure shouldn’t have been built. “Big (fixed) dams are heroic, and we often romanticize these big projects, but should we really be building these big heroic projects in the future?”

Thom Mayne: Successful infrastructure projects need both design and strategic thinking. These are separate ways of thinking. Strategic thinking requires tactical solutions.

Integrative thinking isn’t “part of U.S. culture.” Mayne cited the renewed popularity of Ayn Rand and think American are too used to thinking of themselves as a single unit. “The self is the only unit.” As a result, infrastructure, like highways, are single purpose, instead of integrative. The U.S. hasn’t benefited.

The Romance of Big Infrastructure Projects:

Stan Allen: “I love big dams. They are beautiful.” He asked how the jurors looked at the aesthetics of infrastructure without romanticizing big infrastructure.

Cecil Balmond: “Everyone wants to renew dead things. Somethings need to die.” Balmond said policy makers need to change the economic model that supports large-scale single use infrastructure. Without a change in the underlying economics, the projects will continue to be built.

Elizabeth Diller: “Infrastructure is kind of a desperate problem.” Developers, policy makers, infrastructural specialists often only make energy efficiency arguments. However, infrastructure needs to be better leveraged so it can do other things. Infrastructure can help save the planet, but all projects also have aesthetic arguments.

Walter Hood: “Place should be used as leverage.” People should recognize where they are and use existing ecological systems when creating new infrastructure. “How do you tap into existing ecological systems? This is an interdisciplinary problem.” As an example, Hood noted that Washington, D.C. is a swamp, but the built infrastructure was designed to keep the swamp dry. “How do you tap back into that swamp for your benefit?”

Using Data to Design:

Stan Allen: Returning to the point about information infrastructure, Allen asked whether almost too much information was available. “What data counts?” Architects can visually relate and spatialize data, but “new tools of representation are needed.”

Elizabeth Diller: “The first step is to seek information, determine what you need to research.” Geo-spatial and other design tools can, in part, “think for us.” However, Diller thought a lot of important data still isn’t collected. “There are lots of data black holes.”

Marilyn Jordan Taylor: Someone joked that “planners collect data and architects mess it up trying to use it.” Analyzing data is important, but all design professionals need to reach a point when accumulated data starts to “mean something to you. What is the breakaway point?”

Cecil Balmond: All the finalists’ projects used data “loosely, apriority.” 

Extending the Lifespan of Infrastructure:

Stan Allen
: Infrastructure has a long life span. “Landscape architects have been dealing with change over long periods of time, and thinking in 50-100 year time horizons.” How can infrastructure projects be designed to change? How do we know their future needs?

Walter Hood: Projects need to factor in reactions over time. Many finalists’ projects didn’t explain any causalities. “What happens in a 100 year storm event? What happens if there is a mass exodus of people from the region?”

Thom Mayne: All the projects have a global and local aspect and are based in data. “There is a broader problem and the local problem.”

Stan Allen: Design professionals have an “ethical mandate to work optimistically.” All projects, even tiny ones, can have incremental effects. “Projects demonstrate tactics and can be catalysts or models of new tactics. A project may only reduce .000001 percent of global C02 emissions, but can be scaled up.

Walter Hood: In responding to the idea that sometimes park projects seem like some final end point, “we can’t work in a singular way. Projects need not close the loop. They should leave open other options in the future.”

Marilyn Jordan Taylor: All the projects rely on scientific, bio-driven processes. Some decentralize. “The concentration of energy, water treatment at the local levels is a great idea.”

Urban Infrastructure Design in Developing Countries:

Stan Allen: What about developing countries? In terms of Sub-Saharan Africa, Allen heard from a colleague that “$1 billion in infrastructure investment in Ghana would disappear overnight” due to the overwhelming stock of projects waiting for investment along with corruption. “The challenges in terms of creating urban infrastructure design strategies in developing countries is exponential.”

Elizabeth Diller: When working in developing countries, there must be a sensitivity to local conditions. “Through the process of collecting data, you can understand local conditions.”

The Importance of Interdisciplinary Teams in Next-Generation Infrastructure Design:

Elizabeth Diller: Diller, Scofidio + Renfro works in “trans-disciplinary teams.” However, through interdisciplinary work, architecture has the danger of “losing its discipline.”

Marilyn Jordan Taylor: Working in an interdisciplinary manner means having an affinity to one field, but knowing about the others. Good collaboration means bringing areas of expertise or knowledge. There have to be clear responsibilities. Someone has to lead.

Cecil Balmond: There must be a “community of integration.” Balmond argues that Holland has created the most beautiful and successful infrastructure projects of the last 50 years with their underwater sea wall system that covers 80-100 miles of coastline. “It’s the world’s most exciting infrastructure project.” The project was led by marine engineers and architects, but the project teams were highly interdisciplinary. “No one cares which function is at the head of the team as long as they can provide the necessary vision to get the project done.”

Elizabeth Diller: The High Line Park in NYC occured because of a combination of factors: civic activism, a supportive mayor, sponsors, etc. All these factors, which were “trans-disciplinary” enabled a “trans-disciplinary” team to form.

“Firms have to work within systems. Policy makers create sets of systems designers have work within. Systems thinking happens on one level, but only designers can then translate that into site-specific solutions. There are inter-connected issues that must be addressed in a unique way.”

Walter Hood: Urban infrastructure projects are political. “Who takes credit? Who benefits? On the other side: Who isn’t looking? If no one cares about an area, this creates an opportunity to do something on your own.”

Image credit: PORT Architects

WPA 2.0: Working Public Architecture Competition Announces Winners

UCLA cityLAB announced the winners of its WPA 2.0: Working Public Architecture competition, which claims “whoever rules the sewers, rules the city.” “Carbon T.A.P.// Tunnel Algae Park” by PORT architects won the professional competition, and “R_Ignite” and “Aquaculture Canal_New Orleans” jointly won the student competition. UCLA Architecture and Urban Design Chair Hitoshi Abe announced the winners at the end of day-long symposium at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. Sponsors of WPA 2.0 include: The Graham Foundation, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, LLC, Buro Happold, UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture, The Architect’s Newspaper, The National Building Museum, The Ziman Center for Real Estate Development, Sarah Jane Lind, the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture.

According to the WPA 2.0 competition site, the winning project, Carbon T.A.P.// Tunnel Algae Park, would grow algae pontoons with car C02 emissions captured from New York City’s underground transportation tunnels. The algae would then be harvested for bio-fuel production. The pontoons would also provide the foundation for a sea level structure that would include an urban park with structured wetlands, aquatic and avian habitat, recreation amenities, as well as high speed bike lanes and public promenades. The proposal included a look at how algae pontoons could also provide a bridge between Brooklyn, Governor’s Island, and Manhattan in New York City.

“R_Ignite” was designed by Peter Millar, Jamie Potter, Andy Wilde and Stuart Wheeler, four graduate students of the Manchester School of Architecture. Their proposal would revitalize port cities and green the shipwrecking industry through the addition of recycling and social programs.  “Aquaculture Canal_New Orleans” was created by Fadi Masoud, a Master of Landscape Architecture student at the University of Toronto, John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design. Masoud’s proposal re-envisions the New Orleans’ Industrial Canal, which is set to be closed by the Army Corps of Engineers, as productive infrastructure that can provide flood control and and enable aquaculture. More than 140 student teams from around the world submitted entries.

WPA 2.0: Working Public Architecture was inspired by the 1930’s U.S. WPA program. The organizers also see an enormous opportunity in the $150 billion of 2009 Recovery Act infrastructure funds. They hope policy makers and design professionals will use these funds to create a new, more positive role for infrastructure in urban design. Instead of creating more single-use infrastructure, the WPA competition organizers think the infrastructure of the future should be multi-functional, flexible, and play a key role in revitalizing urban areas. “For WPA 2.0, approximately 200 groups of designers envisioned a new legacy of federally supported infrastructure hybrids, projects that explore the value of infrastructure not only as an engineering endeavor, but as a robust design opportunity that can revitalize cities.”

The symposium’s keynote speaker, Ron Sims, Deputy Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), framed the event in the context of the new federal partnership on livable communities (see earlier post). “What you design and build defines us as a people.” Sims argued that architecture, in part, defines who we are and “societies that husband their resources effectively last the longest.” New infrastructure ideas are desperately needed so the U.S. can “strike in a different direction and change the built environment so it serves the public good.” Sims thought the U.S. was at a “singular moment” in terms of rethinking its infrastructure, and “either we do this really well, or we will be mocked as a generation.”

High Point, a sustainable mixed-use, mixed-income affordable housing community in Seattle, Washington, was highlighted by Sims as a model. “Housing can be a platform for other services.” High Point, through its “Breath-Easy” homes and allergen-free landscapes, has dramatically reduced its residents health issues (and therefore health costs). The community has improved energy efficiency, reduced C02 emissions, and offers a new direction for housing.

Sims said “homes are the building blocks” of neighborhoods and “porches, sidewalks are part of the fabric of the surrounding neighborhood. They shape the way we live our lives.” In many cases, zip codes are key determinants of morbidity rates and provide clues to where the “undevelopable populations” are in the U.S. “Zip codes should be a place where you get your mail, not a life determinant.” To combat unequal distribution of education, healthcare, green space, and other social benefits, Sims called for expanded municipal programs, including Hope 6 programs, to abolish “superblocks.”

“We need communities that are safe from cars with clear sight lines, and backyards, porches, and safe places for kids to play.” Schools that are farther than 0.5 miles away are too far for kids to walk to and help create “obese children.” “We need to find recreational activities for children in inner-city areas other than basketball.” Many communities also lack access to fresh food. “17 million don’t have access to fresh food because they don’t live 1-1.5 miles away from a supermarket.” In a powerful statement, Sims argued that “your community and buildings in which you live and work define your life.”

The federal livable communities partnership has $150 million available in funding: $100 million will be used for municipal sustainable planning; $40 million will be alloted for zoning and land use to encourage increased density in localities; and $10 million is reserved for joint HUD – Department of Transportation research on the linkages between housing and transportation.

WPA 2.0 Professional Design Finalists

Through its selection of finalists, the WPA 2.0 design competition wanted to highlight “the infrastructure at the heart of the next generation.” The organizers described next generation infrastructure as multi-functional, sustainable (in all senses of the word), and public. New infrastructure should also give back to the community. Furthermore, the WPA organizers thought policy makers needed to systemically rethink infrastructure.

Local Code: Real Estates, Nicholas de Monchaux & Collaborators (Berkeley, California): In this proposal, unused urban public land can be turned into common ecological infrastructure. The proposal targets “unaccepted areas” that can’t be sold by the government. In many inner-city areas of San Francisco, in the zip codes Sims mentioned, streets aren’t heavily used and provide an opportunity to create “locally optimized landscapes,” sort of mini-street parks. De Monchaux saw a new role for ecological infrastructure as a “network logic of health” and “distributed immune system” for cities. In reference to big cities with big parks, he said “we should move away from the model of cities with central lungs.”

There are a range of environmental and social benefits: creating green spaces out of unused streets and other urban public lands can help reduce load on existing infrastructure through stormwater mitigation, reduce the urban heat island effect, and help spur “open source community engagement.” “Trees and bioswales can be the foundation for social ecology.” Furthermore, these local street parks could produce fresh produce for inner-city communities.  

There are opportunities across the U.S. — In New York City, the unused public lands, if aggregated, are larger than Central Park and Prospect Park combined.

Coupling Infrastructures: Water Economies / Ecologies, Lateral Office and Infranet Lab (Toronto, Canada): Mason White said the Salton Sea in California is now a “terminal lake” and is creating salt flats that will lead to toxic dust storms. To address the rising salinity, increasingly large algae blooms, decline in fishing related tourism revenue, and falling water levels (caused by agricultural use), White proposed “floating pools” or “water pods” on top of the Salton Sea. The pools offer a flexible system, which could function in a modular way, and could be used in variety of ways. For example, pods within the sea could become recreational areas, aquaculture centers, wildlife habitat, salt harvesting systems.

White presented the idea of new water-based infrastructure as a natural system. “Infrastructure can be adaptative, responsive, soft, flexible, instead of hard, fixed, mono-functional.” He also thinks increased population growth in the southwest, one of the driest regions of the U.S., will only lead to further pressure on existing water systems as the agricultural use of water expands. “Farming is a multi-billion dollar industry in the region, and water must be artifically sustained.” New thinking is needed on how to restore the sea and make it functional again.

Mason White and Lola Sheppard write more on this project in the “Water” issue of MIT Press’ Alphabet City journal.

Hydro-Genic City 2020, Aershop / Darina Zlateva and Takuma Ono, (Los Angeles, California): Aershop proposed decentralized urban water treatment systems that could also function as community hubs. The team saw “water as a binding mechanism” for social interactions. This hasn’t been done before because older technologies were high cost; new technologies enable these types of systems, says Darina Zlateva. The water treatment system would mimic’s natural processes, but would also incorporate renewable energy systems. The waste water would pass through treatment tanks, constructed wetlands, and processing centers, and then return into the water supply. “Recycled water extends supply. It’s not if, but how, are we going to recycle water?”

Throughout the process, decomposing waste water material would be harvested for methane. Fuel cells would help power the system for harnessing the decomposing gas. Solar panels, wrapped around tanks, would also help fuel the water treatment system, and cut down space used by the usual solar arrays.

The team also thought the decentralized, local systems would have a lower overall environmental footprint than massive water treatment plants now in use. “The cost of piping and pumping water from distant large-scale water treatment plants is huge.”

If coupled with public transportation systems, the natural water treatment systems serve as catalysts for smart growth. Both presenters highlighted that water loss is increasing with climate change. A sustainable water treatment system would focus on reducing waste and energy usage, reusing valuable water resources, and mitigating and adaptating to climate change at the same time.

Border Wall as Infrastructure, Rael San Fratello Architects (Oakland, California): The U.S. government will create 700 miles of border fence separating the U.S. from Mexico at a cost of $4 million per mile. The success of the fence is measured in part by the number of people captured trying to cross. While $2.9 billion has been spent so far, there have been more than 3,000 fence breaches to date. Over the next 25 years, an additional $49 billion will be spent to construct and maintain the fence. To ameliorate the adverse social and environmental effects of the fence, Rael San Fratello architects think “security should be put to work” through a variety of landscape architecture and architectural projects adjacent to the fence. “Around the fence, the land has gone fallow.”

In El Paso, a community facing water shortages, the fence could serve as a water catchement basin. Additionally, fence-based water treatment facilities can be used to capture methane energy, and provide irrigation water. “Why not locate these along the fence?” There are also renewable energy opportunities. The team saw large-scale solar farms (which would provide higher security) along the fence route. The solar farms could power communities along the fence and also create green jobs on both sides of the border. Lastly, water dispersers could aid immigrants crossing the dessert, and could help cut down the number of annual immigrant deaths from dehydration.

Free Water Districts, Urban Lab (Chicago): “Water will be the next oil, the most valuable resource.” In the U.S., the Great Lakes region provides 21 percent of the world’s fresh water and 84 percent of the U.S.’s fresh water. However, much of the major agricultural farms in the U.S. are found in the country’s driest regions. The team proposed providing incentives for water-intensive industries to move to the Great Lakes region through the use “free water districts,” which would also help revive the rust belt economy. “Water-based infrastructure” in the Great Lakes could be used to attract apparel, food processing, agricultural, beverage, high-technology, automotive and other water-intensive industries to the region.

“We have grey infrastructure, but no blue / green infrastructure.” While Iceland provides free geothermal energy to attract firms, and Vancouver has created a free labor program to attract the movie industry, free water could also serve as an economic catalyst. The team envisioned constructed water districts along the Great Lakes that would provide bioremediation through wetlands, cleansing landscapes, and infrastructural “bio-streets.” Indoor / outdoor bio-machines and outdoor, constructed wetlands can both be used in a modular fashion by water-intensive industries.

The team would target post-industrial landscapes, which they said are plentiful in the region, instead of unspoiled lakefront. Community and educational facilities could also be built into the water districts.

Lastly, the project would address the cost implications of existing water infrastructure in dry areas. “Moving around water is hugely energy intensive. Water infrastructure accounts for the largest carbon footprint of any system in a city.”

Carbon T.A.P. // Tunnel Algae Park: Mining Existing Infrastructure for Lost Efficiencies, Chris Marcinkoski and Andrew Moddrell, PORT Architects (Chicago and NYC): Marcinkoski and Moddrell, the competition’s winners, outlined a plan described in further detail above which would harvest car-produced C02 emissions from underground transportation tunnels for use in surface-level algae farms. The algae farms would form “piers” jutting out in the water, which could also function as parks.

The team argued that car-related C02 emissions account for 10 percent of U.S. total emissions. Carbon capture and storage is hugely expensive, and the side-effects of pumping liquid C02 back into the earth aren’t known. Furthermore, many firms are exploring adding algae farms to power plants that produce C02 emissions. Firms are exploring how to efficiently harvest algae for biofuels. The new idea in this proposal: creating multi-use infrastructure out of these combined C02 emission / algae farms.

The “vegetal terraces” in the algae pontoons would sit on top of “C02 bladders.” The pontoons would provide the foundation for structured wetlands, wildlife habitat, bike lanes, promenades — “public prongs.” The project seeks to reuse C02 and convert it into ecological and environmental value. They view the idea as applicable to almost 20 tunnel systems in the U.S. and other cities worldwide.

According to cityLAB, its organizers will present these proposals and other design ideas to government leaders on Capitol Hill.

Now read about how the impressive professional jury, which includes Stan Allen, Cecil Belmond, Elizabeth Diller, Walter Hood, ASLA, Thom Mayne, and Marilyn Taylor,  responded to the design ideas offered by the finalists, and discussed the future of green infrastructure. Read part two.

Image credit: Carbon T.A.P.// Tunnel Algae Park by PORT architects

Development Marketplace Invests in 26 Innovative Climate Change Adaptation Ideas

The Development Marketplace, an innovative global development grant competition, announced 26 winning climate change adaptation projects. This year, the Development Marketplace competition gave out almost $5 million in grants and was sponsored by the World Bank Institute, Global Environment Facility (GEF), Danish Foreign Ministry, and International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). There were a few key themes: improving the resiliency of indigenous peoples and communities to climate risks; climate risk management with multiple benefits; and climate adaptation and disaster risk management.

The Development Marketplace states: “There is now a strong consensus that climate change presents an urgent challenge to the well-being of all countries, particularly the poorest people in them. Even if efforts to reduce greenhouses gas (GHG) emissions are successful, it is no longer possible to avoid some degree of global warming and climate change. The primary direct effects of climate change are an increase of droughts and floods, more seasonal peaks in river flow, and a higher probability of stronger tropical storms. The poorest countries and communities are likely to suffer the most because of their geographical location, low incomes, and low institutional capacity, as well as their greater reliance on climate-sensitive sectors like agriculture. Adaptation to climate risks and change therefore is increasingly important in developing countries.”

Resilience of Indigenous Peoples Communities to Climate RisksAccording to the Development Marketplace, there are approximately 250 million Indigenous peoples worldwide. Indigenous peoples often rely on natural resources, and these natural resources form a key part of their identity. 

One project from Nicaragua from this category, “Drought-hardy ‘Food Forests’ to Help Miskito Children Weather the Storm,”  won $200,000 to establish 120 hectares of Maya Nut “food forests” in 25 Miskito communities, with production potential of 5 million pounds of food per year, worth $3 million per year, and carbon-dioxide sequestration of 125,000 metric tons over 30 years.

The project lead from The Equilibrium Fund mentioned that the Maya Nut was once harvested by local inhabitants in Nicaragua, but that local agricultural knowledge has long been forgotten. The nut, when ground, smells like chocolate, and can be turned into breads. The idea is to teach local women how to make the products again, turn Maya Nut products into nutritional school lunches, and support reforestration in the process. The project helps the environment (communities plant food forests), food security (even in drought years, the Maya Nut is productive), health (the nuts are protein-rich), and the local economy (nut products can be a source of income). Learn more at

Climate Risk Management with Multiple Benefits

The Development Marketplace writes that “communities need to build resilience to climate variability and climate change. At the same time as robust adaptation helps safeguard progress in reducing poverty, it may also yield other benefits such as conserving biodiversity and improving the state of eco-systems.”

Kashyap Bhatt’s Greenfield Hydroponics Systems won almost $200,00 for his project in India: “Portable Solar / Wind Greenhouse to Grow Fodder for Sustainable Dairy Farms.” The funds will be spent to demonstrate his firm’s hydroponic system, which looks like a high-tech and compact vertical farm shed, for year-round production of 2,000 kilograms of green fodder. The project will train local women on how to use the system to manage fodder production in a sustainable manner.

Many rural low-income families depend heavily on income from cattle. High quality fodder can then help grow healthier cows and improve income security. “The project anticipates a 20 percent increase in peak and total milk yield during a lactation period, a 25 percent increase in the birth weight of newborn calves, and a 20 percent increase in beneficiaries’ overall income.”

Bhatt added that his hydroponic system could also function well in urban environments. The system enables the growth of sustainable, hiqh-quality seedlings in rapid time. With limited space for agriculture in urban areas, Bhatt’s modular system could easily be added to rooftops in dense areas, cutting down land use for agriculture. 

One innovative project from the Trowel Foundation in the Philippines seeks to enhance the security of local fishing communities and protect the environment from coastal events by restoring mangrove forests. “Fishing Communities Seek Security in Aquaculture and Mangrove Restoration” also received almost $200,000 to “build and strengthen adaptive capacities of coastal villages to impacts of climate change with the aim of securing livelihoods of subsistence fishing households, restoring biodiversity of aquatic resources,
and contributing in the long term to the protection of coastal areas from strong storms and sea-level rise.”

The Trowel Foundation team argues that the hundreds of hectares of abandoned fishponds in their local area are a sign this type of industrial farming is unsustainable. Mangroves provide a better and more sustainable habitat for the fish products the community relies on. “Planting mangroves in strategic portions of idle and abandoned fishponds and utilizing areas suitable for tiecrab fattening will not only restore and secure sources of livelihoods and food, but also enhance adaptive capacities of subsistence fishing households to impacts of climate change. Likewise, value-chain development will enhance the fishing households’ capabilities in crab fattening and marketing, thereby improving their income.”

Climate Adaptation and Disaster Risk Management

The Development Marketplace sees disaster risk management as central to climate change adaptation. “Disasters push households towards poverty by destroying their human, social, and fixed capital and trap poorer households in persistent poverty. Moreover, disasters disproportionately impact disadvantaged groups such as women, children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities. Sustained long-term efforts are needed to integrate climate adaptation and disaster risk management to reduce vulnerability and safeguard development in urban and rural areas.”

From the Dominican Republic, the Universidad Nacional Pedro Henrique Ureña (UNPHU) designed a project that will not only protect important beach infrastructure and guard against soil erosion, but also harnest ocean wave energy. The university’s project, “Wave Energy Converter to Mitigate Ocean-Wave Damage and Beach Erosion,” will utilize an “innovative wave energy converter (WEC) technology in a selected coastal community beach or infrastructure at risk of being hit by waves during storms in order to determine its effectiveness in lowering the power of waves reaching the coast.”

Moises Alvarez, the project designer, described the wave energy system as a huge pylon that moves up and down in the ocean, generating energy from the wave currents. The system has four large anchors that secure it to the ocean floor. Alvarez noted that the system, if successful, could also be connected with beach-based water desalination plants for communities facing potable water shortages. Additionally, the system could power pumping systems that could deliver water to highland areas.

In Burkina Faso, the Association la Voute Nubienne (AVN) won for its project, “Earth-Roofed Housing: Cheap, Sustainable Shelter to Face Desertification,” which seeks to expand its already successful program of “training the trainers.” The trainers can then go on to create a business with their new knowledge of how to create “Nubian Vault” houses with vaulted earth-brick roofs.  

The organization writes: “Around two-thirds of the estimated 150 million population in this region live in houses or shacks with roofs of imported corrugated iron and sawn timber. Buildings with such roofs have no thermal or sound-insulation properties, and are unhealthy and uncomfortable. The need for cash to purchase the imported materials forces many families into a vicious circle of poverty.”  Given the lack of available timber and the environmental cost of felling trees for wood, the NV brick earth houses present a environmentally sustainable solution. The project also creates “green jobs” — locals can develop natural design housing construction skills and create green building construction industries.

Since the organization launched in 2000, AVN has trained about 200 masons in the NV technique, who in turn have built more than 900 vault houses in Burkina Faso and neighboring countries.

Another innovative projects for this category included “Saving Glaciers: Artisanal Industry Aims to Stop the Melt and Save Water,” which will “engage local workers in the Peruvian highlands to produce a reflective cover that can be painted on the rocks surrounding glaciers. This will stop glacial melting and help restore glacial mass—a vital form of freshwater storage in the high Andes and the world.” Lastly, the winning project, “Elevated Bamboo Houses Designed to Lift Communities Above Flood Zones,” will increase the “use of flood-resistant, elevated bamboo houses in the coastal regions of Ecuador, and provide local communities with an innovative, low-cost, sustainable, environmentally
friendly infrastructure resistant to climate-related floods.”

The Development Marketplace initially received almost 1,800 submissions. Learn more about the 100 finalists, and 26 winning projects.

Image credit: la Voute Nubienne

Green Construction Will Add $554 Billion to U.S. GDP by 2013, Create 8 Million New Jobs

A new study released by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and Booz Allen Hamilton concludes that green building will add $554 billion to the U.S. economy (including $396 billion in new wages), and support 7.9 million U.S. jobs during the next four year period (2009-2013). The study also confirms that green construction spending currently supports “more than 2 million American jobs and generates more than $100 billion in gross domestic product and wages.”  Over the past eight years, the total economic impact of the green construction market from 2000 to 2008 was $178 billion (including $123 billion in wages), and “created or saved 2.4 million direct, indirect or induced jobs.

Rick Fedrizzi, president and CEO of USGBC was quoted in a news release: “Our goal is for the phrase ‘green building’ to become obsolete, by making all building and retrofits green – and transforming every job in our industry into a green job.”

The economic impact of the total green construction market:

Contribution to the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP):

  • 2000-2008: $173 billion
  • 2009-2013 forecast: $554 billion

Jobs created or saved (includes direct, indirect and induced jobs):

  • 2000-2008: 2.4 million
  • 2009-2013 forecast: 7.9 million


  • 2000-2008: $123 billion
  • 2009-2013 forecast: $396 billion

Energy savings:

  • 2000-2008: $1.3 billion saved
  • 2009-2013 forecast: $6 billion saved

The economic impact of LEED-specific spending*:

Contribution to the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP):

  • 2000-2008: $830 million
  • 2009-2013 forecast: $12.5 billion

Jobs created or saved (includes direct, indirect and induced jobs):

  • 2000-2008: 15,000
  • 2009-2013 forecast: 230,000


  • 2000-2008: $703 million
  • 2009-2013 forecast: $10.7 billion

Energy savings:

  • 2000-2008: $281 million saved
  • 2009-2013 forecast: $4.8 billion saved

*These figures only account for LEED-specific spending, not the value of LEED-certified buildings as a whole.

According to USGBC, buildings account for 39 percent of CO2 emissions, 40 percent of energy consumption, 13 percent water consumption and 15 percent of GDP per year.

Read the report

The U.S. Green Building Council’s Greenbuild International Conference & Expo 2009 is now in progress in Phoenix, Arizona. This year’s Greenbuild will feature a presentation on the Sustainable Sites Initiative, a new rating system for sustainable landscapes that will also be incorporated into LEED. Go to for more information.

Image credit: Image credit: California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, CA. SWA Group, Sausalito, CA

Sydney Harbour Design Competition

Sydney’s city government announced a design competition for a new public domain on Sydney Harbour, which will include the creation of a “signature headland park” that will be part of a new “world-class” waterfront. Landscape architecture, architecture and urban design teams are invited to submit proposals no later than December 18, 2009.

The Barangaroo site is 22 hectares, and is found in Sydney’s central business district. According to the competition registration site, key site features will include:

  • creation of a significant harbourside park;
  • restoration of an entire harbour headland to its pre-European settlement shape
  • completion of the 14-kilometre Foreshore Walk from Woolloomooloo to Anzac Bridge.

Over the past 12 months, the site’s concept plan has been altered to include a natural headland and larger northern cove. “The aim is to complement some of the key natural features of the harbour immediately west of the Harbour Bridge.”

Go to the Barangaroo site to learn more and register.