The Wirtz Garden: “A Free-Spirited Landscape Experiment”

The famed Wirtz Garden in Schoten, Belgium, was neglected for more than 30 years before landscape architect Jaques Wirtz took it over in 1969, writes Metropolis magazine. Since then, the garden has grown into one of the most beautiful in Europe and the subject of a recent (and expensive) coffee table book. While not open to the public, this “secret” garden with its “Lewis Carroll” landscape probably wouldn’t attract hordes of tourists if was open anyway — it’s not “inviting” in any conventional sense.

Metropolis writes: “The plants, at first glance, appear to be pagan creatures immobilized under some sort of spell. In the foreground, the wavy rows of unevenly clipped boxwood, as intricate as cloud formations on Tibetan scrolls, cast strange scalloped shadows on the silky-smooth surface of the dry, sandy walkways. Behind, huddled together in silent expectation, their hooded silhouettes sticking out of the shrubbery like sentries on the lookout, groups of topiaries form small compact battalions. Still standing at the edge of the garden, you hesitate before taking a first step into this well-guarded domain.”

In spots, the garden offers a post-modern mashup of styles. “It integrates 200-year-old moss-covered fruit trees (apple, pear, and mulberry), the last remnants of a dense orchard, as well as ornamental weeping cherry trees, left to blend in with the thick undergrowth. The minute you think you perceive an overall design, you turn a corner and all you see is a patchwork of abstract forms and pixelated foliage.”

Additionally, while the shrubs are well-pruned, the many varieties of plants are encouraged to cross-polinate. During this process of cross-pollination, the natural cycle of decomposition is also allowed to progress. “They’ve let patches of thorny weeds grow under the coral-red canopy of prunus trees, watched approvingly as funky clumps of water ferns nestled between soggy reed stems, and applauded as a thick carpet of fall foliage turned alleys into slippery lava flows. They didn’t bring out the leaf blower when, with winter approaching, the place was strewed with deciduous confetti of all shapes and colors. They were pleased when the pruned evergreens in the back of the garden looked positively giddy covered with red, purple, and yellow serpentine streamers—the windswept content of some giant autumnal piñata.”

Jaques Wirtz now owns a landscape architecture firm with his two sons and works on both private and public projects across Europe. French President Mitterand asked him to re-do the grounds of the Elysee Palace. He also recently completed the Jardins du Carrousel in the Tuileries Gardens in Paris as well as the gardens of Alnwick Castle.  According to Wikipedia, Wirtz was involved in the renovation of the garden of the 1,000-year old temple complex at Khajuraho in India, a World Heritage Site containing over 80 Hindu temples.

However, Metropolis says Wirtz’s high-regarded style all started in his own garden, where he spent 15 of his early years perfecting his landscape architecture techniques. “It served as a back lot where he stored his botanical props—topiaries, hedges, and ornamental trees—and conducted gardening experiments, perfecting his fertilizing, pruning, and clipping techniques.”

Read the article and a lengthy 2004 review of Wirtz’s work in The New York Times Magazine.

Image credit: Véronique Vienne / Metropolis

Attacking Invasive Plants from the Air

Wired’s Planet Earth
reports that the Nature Conservancy’s Hawaii program has undertaken an ambitious conservation program in the Kauai watershed, a 144,000-acre “cloud forest” that varies in elevation by 3,000 feet. According to Wired, the area has been invaded by Australian tree ferns, an invasive species characterized as “water-sucking” and “plant-strangling.”

Given the difficulty of accessing the area’s varied and dense terrain on foot, the Nature Conservancy team decided to go by plane. The Nature Conservancy first flies a Cessna 186 fitted with digital cameras and “a multispectral imager” that creates precise images of areas of infestation. Australian tree ferns have a distinctive shape so individual plants can be marked for herbicide. 

Once plants are marked, a helicopter is set up with a “winch system” with a hose used to spray tree ferns. The Nature Conservancy team also tested the use of “high-pressure paintball guns” that can shoot herbicide pellets. This system was developed for by University of Hawaii weed ecologist James Leary.

Read the article

For more on fighting invasive plant species in the U.S., go to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Library, which offers a comprehensive set of resources on invasive plants. The New York Botanical Garden has an online catalog as well.

In the UK, the government has asked gardeners to help limit the introduction of non-native plant species into the wild through its “Be Plant Wise” campaign. The Guardian (UK) writes: “the Be Wise Campaign is warning that five non-native aquatic bullies – floating pennywort, New Zealand pigmyweed, water-primrose, parrot’s feather and water fern – are invading British waterways, wiping out native species and disrupting water sports and boating.” 

Lastly, check out Nature Conservancy’s now-defunct “Global Invasive Species Team” for more resources, which includes voluntary codes of conduct for the landscape and horticultural industries.

Image credit: Chad Riley, The Nature Conservancy / Wired Planet Earth

New U.N. Report: World’s Top 3,000 Companies Created $2.2 Trillion in Environmental Damage

A new, unreleased report eight years in the making and funded by the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment Initiative and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) will examine the business activities of world’s 3,000 biggest public companies and their impact on environments. According to The Guardian (UK), the report will argue these firms contributed $2.2 trillion in environmental damages in 2008 alone. Additionally, if these firms were truly held financially responsible for the costs associated with pollution, it would “wipe out more than one-third of their profits.” All 500 companies on the Standard & Poor index were included in the report.

The report may help highlight the growing cost of free corporate access to a range of environmental public goods. The Guardian says the report is integral to international efforts to put a “price on global environmental damage,” which could help create arguments for removing billions in subsidies for polluting industries or inefficient business practices. Richard Mattison of Trucost, authors of the report, told The Guardian: “What we’re talking about is a completely new paradigm. Externalities of this scale and nature pose a major risk to the global economy and markets are not fully aware of these risks, nor do they know how to deal with them.”

According to Trucost, much of the unquantified environmental costs were linked to GHG emissions, which are now widely understood as the primary causes of climate change.  Local air pollution in the form of particulates and the over-use and pollution of fresh water were seen as other unpaid environmental costs. A number of key sectors are seen as doing more heavy damage to the environment — firms include power companies and metal producers. “Heavy water users like food, drink and clothing companies are also likely to feature high up on the list.” The final report will also cover the cost of firm’s toxic waste practices, as well as consumer damage to the environment. 

Mattison argues governments need to end the free ride. “Whether they actually have to pay for these costs will be determined by the appetite for policy makers to enforce the ‘polluter pays’ principle. We should be seeking ways to fix the system, rather than waiting for the economy to adapt. Continued inefficient use of natural resources will cause significant impacts on [national economies] overall, and a massive problem for governments to fix.”  Environmentally-minded investors can help encourage companies to collaborate in this process. “One of the things investors can do is engage with companies in a collaborative way,” he said to The New York Times’ Green Inc blog.

Trucost also said changing major corporation’s supply chains was going to be a major challenge. However, one that may become easier as natural resources run out in many parts of the world. One investor lobby group says that agricultural companies shed 20,000 jobs and lost $1 billion due to water shortages in California alone.

Read the article and another on growing political pressure on many firms to clean up environmental damages.

Image credit: Treehugger

Designing for Heavy Security: The New Capitol Visitor Center

The National Building Museum hosted a tour of the new U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, a $600 million-plus, 580,000-square foot exhibition hall, learning center, and events space designed by architecture firm RTKL. The high costs were caused by the expanded scope of the project (there were more than 3,000 changes to the initial project) and heavy security requirements needed after 9/11 and the shooting of two Capitol Hill police officers. Of the more than 580,000 square feet of space, only a third is open to the public. The other two-thirds includes new space for storage, infrastructure, and security, and offices only available to Capitol Hill representatives and their staffers.

The Visitor Center required digging 70-feet into the earth. Excavating the 5-acre site involved moving 53,000 truckloads of Potomac clay soil. Due to the local clay soil, which doesn’t absorb water well, lakes formed where digging had occured, attracting migrating geese and other birds. Tom Fontana, director of communications for the Visitor Center, said “we were afraid the dig site would be declared a wetland.”  

Much of the original Capitol was built with slave labor, and, as a result, the central hall is called “Emancipation Hall.” Heavy security almost meant the removal of the skylights that bring natural light into Emancipation Hall and give visitors unique views of the Capitol dome. “After 9/11, there was a move towards removing the skylights from the plan — they were viewed as a security breach. After several re-designs, they discovered they needed to preserve views of the Capitol if they were going to avoid creating a bunker feeling,” said Fontana. Additionally, the dense, multi-layered glass was specially re-designed to withstand pedestrian bombs or the weight of an SUV. “The glass will shatter not scatter” if there is an attack.

The interior of the new building definitely feels like Fort Knox in places. There is more than 200,000 square feet of sandstone from a quarry in Western Pennsylvania, which helps create the extra-solid feel. “We used stone that has inconsistencies, imperfections, stone that would have been rejected by many buildings.” This is because the stone used in the original Capitol buldings also include flaws.

Some of the expanded costs can be linked to issues relocating historic trees and fitting members’ parking spaces into the new design. “We spent $30 million clearing the grounds and relocating trees planted by Congressional representatives or Presidents.” These historic trees “couldn’t have just been turned into pencils” but had to uprooted and moved. “We spent $40,000 moving one historic tree one hundred feet.” One key Capitol Hill staffer also almost held up the project because her car, which wouldn’t be moved from its pre-assigned place, was getting dusty from all the construction work.

Updating the air systems to handle anthrax attacks required an additional $40 million. Air systems had to be moved to secure locations deep within the building, and air is now funneled from somewhere on the top of the Capitol dome into the building at a rate of 60 miles per hour. 

In terms of design, some of the more interesting elements in the new spaces were inspired by Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed the original Capitol Hill landscape architecture, and his use of natural rock face in some walls. “Olmsted saw nature on the site as a respite from the city’s colossal structures.”

There was controversy about what the new Visitor Center would do to Olmsted’s original vision. Olmsted removed some 400 trees to create the axis on site and leave clear views of the Capitol building, accessible via paths that slow access to the main building. “Olmsted’s original plan broke the tyranny of the grid, creating arcing paths. You can see similar designs on Yale and Stanford’s campuses.”

To preserve his original designs, Olmsted-related societies and other historic preservation groups got involved, asking the Capitol design team to insert minimal “slits” for escalators that would then gradually bring visitors down into the center. Instead, the new designs cut two deep and relatively wide troughs leading to the center. Olmsted’s “teardrop” ovals remain intact though, making any procession to the Capitol intentionally slow (as was originally designed). Additionally, the pedestrian plaza is now framed by rails, benches and lighting details from the original 1840’s design.

Fontana concluded that if the design alters the original Olmsted plan, it keeps to its intentions by keeping the focus on the Capitol and preserving access. Also, “aspects of the original Olmsted plan were never even realized.”   

Image credit: Krista Sharp

The New Face of Broadway: New York City to Make Pedestrian Plazas Permanent

Would you have ever pictured Times Square to be a place to sit and relax?  Well, now you should.  New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Thursday that the city’s eight month pilot project aimed to relieve traffic congestion by closing city streets will be made permanent.  “It’s going to be innovative and sustainable and celebrate the most famous streets in the world,” said the mayor at his Times Square Press Conference. “The project gives a green light to pedestrians, to mobility, and to safety. The new Broadway is here to stay.” 

Broadway, which cuts diagonally across 6th and 7th Avenues, disrupted the city’s street grid system and caused problems with traffic congestion and high accident rates.  Since May, cars have been banned from driving on portions of Broadway near Herald Square and Times Square as part of the Mayor’s initiative to re-engineer New York’s street grid to improve traffic conditions and public safety in Midtown Manhattan.  “It’s fair to say that this is one of those things that has succeeded,” Bloomberg said. “Not in every way we thought, but in some ways we hadn’t thought about. Not as much in certain areas, but more than we expected in others.”

Despite traffic improvement being moderate compared to expectations, the city deemed the project a success, citing improved public safety statistics and positive feedback from tourists, residents, and local businesses.  The New York Times reported that travel times improved by 7 percent on average, injuries to drivers and passengers fell by 63 percent, and foot traffic in Times Square grew by 11 percent.  “It’s important to understand it’s more than just a minute or two of traffic improvement. It’s about altering the entire Times Square experience” said Times Square Alliance President Tim Tompkins. 

In addition to the street closures, pedestrian plazas were created by adding outdoor furniture, painted pavement, and other landscaping to help attract foot traffic by enhancing the cultural experience.  “It’s shifted the paradigm for what a street and sidewalk experience is supposed to be like in New York City,” said Tompkins.

Now that the experimental project has been made permanent, the city plans to re-design the plazas to make them more aesthetically pleasing.  In an announcement last week, Mayor Bloomberg said the city would soon put out bids for short and long-term improvements to the plazas.  Janette Sadik-Khan, the city’s Transportation Commissioner said in a recent interview that short-term improvements will be completed this summer and involve furnishing the plazas with new paint, planters, and furniture.  The long-term improvement plan will create more permanent structures including public amenities and entertainment infrastructure that can accommodate a variety of events and performances throughout the year. The city has not yet established a timeline for this phase of the project. 

The Architect’s Newspaper reported that design proposals would only be accepted from eight “large firms” in the city’s Design and Construction Excellence Program.  While this move could limit the breadth and creativity of ideas, it stands to vastly speed up the design and construction process, as each of the targeted firms is prequalified for city work.

This groundbreaking project represents a landmark opportunity in the fields of landscape architecture and urban design.  It highlights the fact that cities around the globe are beginning to recognize the environmental, economic, and social benefits of creating public open space in dense urban areas.

The new changes to Times Square also fall in line with the city’s recently released Active Design Guidelines, which were created to spur public health and combat rising trends in obesity through innovative design strategies.  It encourages architects, landscape architects, and urban designers to create healthier buildings, streets, and outdoor spaces which promote active lifestyles and recreation. 

Learn more about the new Active Design Guidelines.

Image credit: Damon Winter/The New York Times

Land Matters: Should Arid Regions Be Landscaped?

Kim Sorvig, this month’s Landscape Architecture magazine guest columnist, contemplates land versus landscape.

If you need convincing that land does fundamentally matter, visit Earth’s arid regions. Better yet, live there awhile. You will be reminded how dependent human survival is upon the services land offers—or, in the desert, withholds. Perhaps more important is the reminder that our construction, our cultures, and our theories all rely deeply on the more-than-human world.

Modern humans readily believe that only human culture matters, but philosopher Hannah Arendt once observed that “the reality and reliability of the human world rests primarily on the fact that we are surrounded by things more permanent than the activity by which [our works] were produced.” Most permanent, surrounding, and essential to human reality is the land itself.

The American West is an ideal (but far from simple) place to contemplate land’s importance and relationship to humans. Land in the West is primal and mythic. Western land is scary enough that Western culture has both revered human ruggedness and insisted on re-creating Elsewhere to make these stark lands palatable.

These matters are not just history: Tension between land as land and landscape as human creation recurs constantly in landscape architectural thinking. Our hopes (and pretensions) of sustainability have amplified questions long part of Western debate: Who (and what species) belongs or is native? How much reshaping of the land is legitimate?

Both thoughtful and glib answers abound. In the world’s harsher landscapes, though, dogmatism about man and nature soon grows dusty, sun bleached, and weatherworn.

Rachel Hill’s discussion of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve outside Phoenix (see “Gateways to the Desert,” page 100) observes people moving to the desert to “get away,” but bringing development with them. These “amenity migrants” (for a growing literature, Google the phrase) are sometimes in conflict with those who consider themselves Western “natives.” Nonetheless, they can create strong economies based on the value of place (rather than extractive resources)—aided by landscape architects, among others. Yet even “sustainable sites” or “green buildings” in quantity add up to land depletion and disruption. Our works are bounded by the land’s carrying capacity. And that’s a concept, starkly visible in arid areas, that even sustainable developers fear to confront.

Should we then leave arid lands alone? Hill’s praise for the Preserve appearing “as if nothing were ever altered” contrasts with Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow’s reprinted column (see “Don’t Sweat the Invasion,” page 132), which questions conservation of native vegetation. Tuhus-Dubrow usually reports on social issues and squeezes the invasive species issue into sociological terms. The widely respected Precautionary Principle (err on the side of caution where ecological impact is unknown) becomes “guilty until proven innocent” and a prejudicial “white list” of allowable species. In this view, humans have an absolute right to reshape all lands, and respect for existing landscapes is merely romanticism.

Muddling social and ecological dynamics won’t help solve the tamarisk (salt cedar) dilemma raised by Tuhus-Dubrow. This horticultural import threatens to homogenize desert riverbanks, not because it is inherently evil or the victim of prejudice against “aliens,” but because these rivers, dammed for irrigation and hydropower, no longer flood and thus cannot support cottonwood forests. The real culprit is land economics. By exporting water, humans changed the land. Tamarisk survives: a botanical Rugged Individual, a cowboy displacing the natives. Bad guy or good guy? Ecology might have a chance of answering; sociological metaphor just obscures things here.

Chief Seattle reminded our colonizing forefathers that we belong to the earth, not the other way around. As place shapers we are still debating what this means in practice. Especially in arid places, we cannot afford to forget that the living land, itself, matters.

Kim Sorvig
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Contributor, Building to Endure: Design Lessons of Arid Lands

From Burnt-out Pier to Light Art Installation

Fast Company
writes that Creatmosphere, a British lighting design firm, has turned Brighton, England’s 1,000-foot long pier into a light art installation called “A Pier/Appears.” In 2003, the pier was burnt “to a crisp in a series of fires.” There have been numerous plans to rebuild the pier, but none have been realized due to the enormous costs involved. In a more low-cost solution, Creatmosphere outlined the 1866 building’s original form using neon-green, high-power lasers. 

While illuminated buildings have had a long history, lighting designers are now taking building lighting design in new directions. Buildings that incorporate light design into their facades are gaining in popularity, writes Fast Company.

Read the article and see more photos

For more on current trends in architectural lighting design read a Metropolis magazine piece on Speirs and Major Associates’s well-known lighting design work.

Also, Metropolis recently wrote a series of “what’s next?” articles focused on possible future trends in various design disciplines. Lighting is an area of innovation. “Dr. Mariana Figueiro, the program director of the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, thinks the way we design spaces and the impact those spaces have on us will change dramatically—and soon.”

In comments to Metropolis, Dr. Figueiro said: “Professional lighting designers are starting to be attuned to the health effects of light. You are going to be seeing a lot more dynamic lighting, rather than static on/off schemes.” Read Metropolis’s predictions for the future of lighting design.

Lastly, check out a TED talk with Olafur Eliasson, a light and space designer, who created New York City’s Hudson River “Waterfalls” art piece.

Image credit: Creatmosphere

Portland Invests $613 Million in Bike Infrastructure

Portland’s City Council passed a measure to spend $613 million on bike infrastructure over 20 years, reports the Portland Business Journal. Portland’s Mayor, Sam Adams, recommended immediately using $20 million in savings from Bureau of Environmental Services programs to get the projects started. “Adams also said he can find savings in lower bids from contractors during the current slow economic climate.”

However, Portland’s ambitious bicycle plan may also require finding new sources of revenue. New bicycle license fees are being considered. “The Bicycle Plan for 2030 also suggests that the city find private funding sources, including the possibility of allowing companies to advertise in right-of-ways near the bike paths.”

Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish told the Portland Business Journal: “This will make bicycling a cornerstone of Portland’s sustainable transportation system. It will focus on equity and bring access to safe and family friendly bikeways for everyone.”

Fish also thinks the plan will improve the health of local citizens, put more money in people’s pockets, and aid businesses. “Hospitals have been big boosters of this plan because of the health impacts. Healthier workers are a big benefit to employers throughout the city. It also has the potential to significantly reduce the cost of transportation to families, which adds discretionary income they can spend on things other than gas and cars. The impact on local businesse could be quite dramatic.” The plan is also expected to reduce local GHG emissions.

To get community feedback, the council held public hearings that brought in hundreds. According to the Portland Business Journal, a poll held before the council vote found that Portland residents were even divided on the issue: 48 percent supported spending $600 million on bike infrastructure; another 48 percent opposed, while 4 percent were undecided.

Streetsblog writes that Portland’s overall bike infrastructure plan calls more than 700 miles of new bikeways, and is expected to increase the share of  bicycling trips to 25 percent of total trips by 2030.

Read the article

Also, The Los Angeles Times’s blog L.A. Now writes that Los Angeles is considering a “mammoth bike plan,” which would result in a bike freeway system. “Conceptual maps of the proposed Backbone Bikeway Network envision a network of long-distance routes designed to provide cyclists safe passage between different neighborhoods along heavily-traveled corridors.”

Image credit: The Oregonian

Field Operations Will Design Atlanta’s 22-mile Beltline

James Corner Field Operations and Perkins+Will have been selected as the lead designers of the Atlanta Beltline, a 22-mile green beltway of park networks, multi-use trails and light rail, which will also reuse and revitalize old rail tracks and restore local ecosystems.  According to the FreshKills Park Blog, the $2.8 billion green infrastructure project will connect over 1,200 acres of parkland, restore multiple brownfields, construct 5,600 affordable housing units, and create 30,000 new full-time jobs over a 25-year period. Over 100,000 people live within a half-mile of the Beltline, which connects 45 of Atlanta’s neighborhoods.

Brian Leary, President & CEO of Atlanta BeltLine, Inc., told the Atlanta Examiner, “by creating a design which will integrate all of the BeltLine’s components in a comprehensive way we are building the BeltLine’s foundation.” Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed added that the selection of the design team was “a great step forward,” and “the eyes of the nation are on Atlanta’s Beltline as a model for smart growth and urban redevelopment.”

James Corner Field Operations and Perkins + Will won a competitive bidding process. The Atlanta Beltline Board selected the two groups because of their capacity to integrate transit (including networks of trails), housing, and green infrastructure.  The Board also hopes that the project will receive federal funding given it’s “shovel ready.”

Read the article

Harvard Design Magazine Focuses on Landscape Architecture

Harvard Design Magazine
‘s Fall/Winter 2009-2010 edition is all about landscape architecture and its relationship with sustainability (and pleasure). A number of articles focus on urban design, agriculture, and green infrastructure. Just a few full articles are available online, but this volume can also be purchased.  

Michael Sorkin, Distinguished Professor of Architecture and Director of Graduate Program in Urban Design, CCNY, discusses the history of utopianism and its relationship to urban design in “Eutopia Now!”, and argues that “Green urbanism – eutopia – sees cities as habitats. Placing and maintaining ourselves in healthy environments is central to this task.”

Elizabeth K. Meyer, FASLA, Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Virginia, explores “Slow Landscapes: A New Erotics of Sustainability.” Meyer reviews Nick’s Heads Station, a New Zealand homestead and working sheep farm (and rehabilitated landscape), in the context of “beauty, pleasure, and sustainability.” She writes: “Can the pleasure and desire evoked through the experience of a designed landscape increase one’s concern for the environment?”

In “Design Against Nature,” Eelco Hooftman, Founding Partner of GROSS. MAX. Landscape Architecture, asks how do we turn to a “new landscape architecture? Landscape architecture as masterly, correct, and magnificent play of vegetation under light..Landscape not as moral crusade (nature protected) but, once again, an aesthetic experiment (nature perfected). Landscape architecture as the ultimate public realm of the senses.” In the end, Hooftman argues that “nature is no longer natural; to survive, nature will need to be artificially constructed, man-made, and mass-produced.”

Gilles Clement, a French horticulture engineer and landscape designer, discusses the “Natural History of Foresaken Places,” a project which proposes “an ecological strategy for the future which man can be considered an integral part of the global ecological exchanges.” Clement argues for a “third landscape” in which it’s important to “foster and achieve an equilibrium in which no one species has the upper hand.”

Kongjian Yu,  International ASLA, President of Turenscape and Dean and Professor, Graduate School of Landscape Architecture, Peking University, outlines a “new landscape aesthetic” in “Beautiful Big Feet.” Yu, a leading Chinese landscape architect, says China must guard against useless decorative landscapes. “As China has become more urbanized and ‘civilized,’ this vernacular landscape has gradually been deprived of its productivity, its support to and of life, and its natural beauty. Like the peasant girls whose footbinding crippled them, it has gradually been adapted by the minority urban upper class and transformed into artificial decorative gardens. The aesthetic of uselessness, leisure, and adornment has taken over as part of a larger overwhelming urge to appear ‘modern’ and sophisticated.” Instead, Yu offers a range of projects in China that are examples of productive, sustainable (and beautiful) landscapes, including his famed Red Ribbon project.

Yu also calls for an end to monumental projects and the rise of new “ecological cities.” “Future cities will be “new garden cities,” emitting low or no net carbon, productive and conservation-minded. Rainwater will no longer be discharged from municipal pipes but will be retained in local ponds and supplement groundwater. Green spaces will be full of crops and fruit trees, instead of ornamental flowers and fruitless trees. Rice and broomcorn will ripen in the fields of communities and schools. In the harvest season, animals and humans
will take pleasure together. Architectural surfaces will support photosynthesis. The roofs will be fish-raising ponds, with the functions of heat preservation, energy saving, and food production. Cellars will be great mushroom factories.” Read the full article and also a recent interview with Kongjian Yu, which also touches on many of these issues.

Stefano Boeri, Professor of Urban Design, Politecnico di Milano, and Francisca Insulza, a Milan-based architect, write about their firm’s “Vertical Forest” design, a high-rise building encased in an “ecosystem of terraces.” They argue that it’s through “this symbiotic effect between the trees and plants and the hardware of the building that the most comfort and pleasure is produced.”

In “Green Pleasures,” Constance Classen, a Lecturer in Sociology at Concordia University in Montreal, asks what pleasures can be found in a sustainable city? “At first glance, ‘sustainability’ and ‘pleasure’ seem at odds. ‘Green’ practices are commonly thought to involve an almost puritanical restriction of pleasures: shivering in frosty interiors to save on energy consumption, forgoing exotic foods in favor of homegrown staples, or walking weary miles to work rather than riding in comfort in a car. Surely ‘green’ living describes an ascetic rather than aesthetic lifestyle. Beyond the satisfaction of feeling virtuous, what pleasures, what sensory enjoyments might living in a sustainable city offer?”

She concludes: “The aesthetic of sustainability is not about recovering preindustrial ways of life or making cities green machines for living. Rather, such an aesthetic calls for new ways of perceiving and interacting with the Earth and its inhabitants based on justice, compassion, and cooperation — the sharing of pleasure.”

Dorothee Imbert, Associate Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture, Harvard Graduate School of Design” offers a new design proposal for Harvard’s Allston campus — urban agriculture. “In addition to improving the faculty’s diet, farms on the Allston campus would support the green mission of Harvard University, expand teaching and research possibilities, and offer an opportunity to connect academic and residential communities. Agriculture as a tool for education is not unprecedented, as is demonstrated by the ‘Edible Schoolyard’ in Berkeley and Yale farm. But integrating agriculture into campus planning would be remarkable.”

Gary Hilderbrand, FASLA, Principal, Reed Hilderbrand and Adjunct Professor of Landscape Architecture at Harvard Graduate School of Design, says major U.S. cities in the future will be much shadier. “New York plans an increase of one million trees by 2020. Chicago projects an increase of 500,000, doubling Daley’s efforts by 1989. Boston plans to increase canopy coverage citywide from 28 percent to 35 percent.” Unfortunately, while planting “makes good politics,” urban trees have an average lifespan of only seven years. Hilderbrand asks: “Will we eventually need legislative protections for urban shade trees?”

Also, urban trees provides “performance value” in the form of ecological services, but what about qualifying their aesthetic value in cities?

In another piece on the value of urban trees, Henry Lawrence, Professor of Geography, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, explores the multiple benefits of urban green infrastructure in “City Trees for Sustainability and Delight.” Lawrence examines the history of urban trees and changing perceptions of their value, concluding that “[trees] have become active participants in the environmental sustainability of cities.” Starting in the 19th century, “trees and their spaces also played an important role in the social sustainability of cities by providing places for the reduction of social tensions.”

Michael Nairn, Lecturer of Urban Studies, University of Pennsylvania, and Domenic Vitiello, Assistant Professor of City and Regional Planning, University of Pennsylvania School of Design, write in “Lush Lots: Everyday Urban Agriculture” that local food production is critical to the future sustainability of cities. “As cities face the environmental, economic, and social challenges of the 21st century, including hunger, diabetes, and dependence on global industrial food systems based on fossil fuels, local food production will be more and more important for building food security. How do we achieve this? What do the hundreds of community gardens and farms we recently studied in Philadelphia tell us about the sustainability of urban agriculture and urban life?” Read the full article.

In “Local Food Is Not Always the Most Sustainable,” Bill Rankin, PhD candidate, Harvard University, Department of Architecture and History of Science, isn’t that big on a mass movement towards local food production. He argues “the best forms of strict localism, if expanded to become more than niche options, would inevitably involve drastic restrictions in food choice. As a universal solution, local food production is simply impossible.”

Check out the most recent Harvard Design Magazine, or purchase a copy online.

Image credit: The Red Ribbon, Kongjian Yu