In Los Angeles, Freeway Cap Park Plans Move Forward

The Architect’s Newspaper writes that plans for freeway cap park are moving forward in Los Angeles County. The cap idea involves covering parts of a freeway with a “planted concrete lid.” The freeway cap parks are designed to reconnect neighborhoods cut off by freeways and create green community spaces through the city. Additionally, the cap parks will help reuse existing infrastructure and avoid the enormous costs involved in pulling down freeways. The parks would function as a sort of High Line, but instead of residing on top of abandoned rail road tracks, would be placed on working transportation systems.

According to The Architect’s Newspaper, there are four separate projects being considered across L.A.: one in Hollywood, one in downtown LA, and two in Santa Monica. “Hollywood Central Park would be built atop the 101 Freeway on a proposed 44-acre site between Santa Monica Boulevard and Bronson Avenue. Park 101 would be built atop the ‘Big Trench’ over the 101 Freeway downtown. Santa Monica is hoping to cap portions of the 10 Freeway between Ocean Avenue and 4th Street, and between 14th and 17th streets, creating five- and seven-acre parks.”

The four cap park plans differ depending on existing infrastructure. Francie Stefan, community and strategic planning manager for the City of Santa Monica, said: “Some are glorified bridges, some need center supports, and some just span the whole distance.”

Among the four cap park proposals, the Hollywood Freeway Central Park project is furthest along and has just completed initial feasibility studies, developed by AECOM. The Friends of Hollywood Central Park are now raising funds for detailed environmental impact assessment studies. Early estimates put the cost of the proposed Hollywood Central cap park in the range of one billion.

Vaughan Davies, director of urban design at AECOM’s LA offfice, sees the new park as central to smart growth plans for Los Angeles: “The proposed site separates some of our most prized and appealing landmarks—Olvera Street, Chinatown, and Union Station on one side; Disney Hall, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, and City Hall on the other—creating isolated pockets of activity rather than what we need: a livable, walkable, and unified downtown district.”

L.A. Curbed writes that Santa Monica is also moving forward with one of the cap parks. The city council is voting on $3.5 million study and preliminary engineering on a proposed five-acre park.

Read the article and see AECOM’s design concepts.

Image credit: The Architect’s Newspaper / AECOM

Rewilding: A Model for Sustainable Conservation

While climate change gets most of the ink in environmental news sections, biodiversity is at a “point of no return” says Hilary Benn, the UK environment secretary. If ecosystems fail, their ability to sequester carbon or provide flood control diminishes. These ecosystems then also fail to provide the habitat necessary to preserve diverse species that rely on complex interactions with one another to survive. One possible solution is “rewilding,” a model that can be implemented piecemeal across landscapes to promote the reconnection of isolated habitats, form bridging corridors that help revive complex natural systems, and reintroduce predators. The approach is designed to restore biodiversity in places where it has been lost.

According to Carolyn Fraser, a noted environmental writer who recently discussed rewilding in Yale University’s Environment 360, the idea is also known as “cores, corridors and carnivores,” and was originally developed by Michael Soule and Reed Noss, two leading conservation biologists. Since conception, it has been picked up at the grassroots level across the world. The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y) is using these ideas to connect ecosystems in the Rocky Mountains.  The idea has spread as conservationists have “grown bolder in the size of their conservation programs.”

Fraser says the model has proven adaptable because it can function outside of structured park systems. In Kenya, “eleven group ranches have since joined the Northern Rangelands Trust, with eight of those creating their own conservancies, setting aside a percentage of their grazing land for wildlife and planning eco-lodges. Those with lodges have already dedicated revenue for community improvements, such as schools and medical clinics. A million-and-a-half acres of northern Kenya have thus been set aside for wildlife management, and security for people and wildlife has improved.” The model has also been successfully tested in Nepal where a community forestry program is restoring corridors for Asian tigers, rhinoceri, and elephants. 

The model was successfully applied in the American Southwest in part because incentives were used to keep predators alive. In many range areas, ranchers kill predator species that prey on their livestock. Instead, in one program, the ranchers were paid to demonstrate they had kept them alive, preserving their role in a wider ecosystem. “In the American Southwest, galvanized by surprise sightings of jaguars, conservationists have banded together to buy private land in northern Mexico, establishing a core wilderness area to keep that species — and a host of other unique wildlife — viable. They have also reached out to the reserve’s neighbors: Mexican ranchers, like American ones, have always shot big predators on sight, but biologists with Defenders of Wildlife designed a clever contest, equipping ranches with remote camera traps. For every picture of a live jaguar, mountain lion, or other cat, participating ranchers who promised to leave the animals unmolested were paid a handsome sum — $500 for a jaguar, $100 for a mountain lion.”

In South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, a failure in the model occurred when the Peace Parks Foundation (PPF) attempted to reconnect ecosystems, but failed to alert local communities to the new elephants, lions and other potentially dangerous animals that had been released into the zone. Community involvement in roll-out is critical.

Fraser contends that even if there are hiccups in implementation the model’s core strength lies in the fact that it presents a model for “sustainable conservation” that will put people to work and also mitigate climate change. As Fraser describes, a few key components can be fit together to form a new, more practical sustainable conservation model: 

Create endowments that can support reconnecting ecosystems and rewilding private or community-owned land. As an example, she points to Dan Janzen, an innovative conservationist: “University of Pennsylvania biologist Daniel Janzen has been instrumental in the phenomenal success of the Area de Conservación Guanacaste (ACG) in northwestern Costa Rica, which accomplished what was once thought impossible by restoring former cattle ranches to dry tropical forest and rainforest. ACG thrives on the interest from its $30 million endowment. Janzen is now seeking a half-billion dollars to endow the entire Costa Rican park system in perpetuity.”

Use rewilding programs to create new green jobs. Local people can take “bioliteracy” courses so they develop conservation job skills and aid trained conservationists in their taxonomy work. Through taxonomy work, conservationists and local communities can catalog a region’s biodiversity and map out where ecosystems can best be connected. (The green jobs component is particularly crucial given huge increases in population are expected in many developing countries with key natural resources.)

Link climate change mitigation (through bio-carbon sequestration) with native habitat conservation. “The Baviaanskloof Mega-reserve Project in South Africa has created hundreds of jobs in ecotourism and restoration, training workers to remove invasives and plant native bush in a delicate Cape habitat overgrazed by goats. In Australia, ecological restoration of salt-damaged wheat farms conducted by the Gondwana Link project has provided carbon sequestration while regrowing native bush.”

Fraser concludes that the Puget Sound Partnership demonstrates the great potential of the model: “In the United States, the restoration of wetlands is generating jobs, from Chesapeake Bay in the east to Puget Sound in the west. The Puget Sound Partnership, a network of environmental groups and state agencies — tasked with cleaning up decades of pollutants — represents one of the most massive ecological restoration projects in the nation’s history: The partnership recently identified a half-a-billion dollars worth of “shovel-ready” stimulus projects, from removing tons of fishing nets and other debris to restoring tidal salt marsh habitat, itself a powerfully-effective means of sequestering carbon.”

Read the article and check out Fraser’s book, “Rewilding the World: Dispatches from the Conservation Revolution

Image credit: Africa Conservation Centre

Land Art Generator Initiative

Studied Impact, a design firm, has organized the Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI), an international design competition based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). LAGI seeks to design and build a set of large scale public art installations that can also produce clean energy. The idea is each land art sculpture should contribute enough energy to power thousands of homes back to the grid. “The UAE Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI) is a landmark initiative to bring together artists, architects, scientists, landscape architects, and engineers in a first of its kind collaboration. The goal of the Land Art Generator Initiative is to design and construct a series of land art installations across the UAE that uniquely combine aesthetics with clean energy generation.”

While large-scale power generators will always be required, local, distributed energy production facilities don’t have to look bad. In fact, they can be even be integrated in urban and communities through better design. “As the days of the gas or coal fired power plant at the farthest outskirts of the city come to a close, we will find more and more integration of energy production within the fabric of our commercial and residential communities. The need for large scale exurban generation will always be there, but it will be augmented more and more by urban and rural micro-generation and mid-scale generation. We live in a world that puts a high emphasis on design. Micro installations should take care in their designs to integrate with the fabric of the urban community.”

LAGI says design issues will only become more critical as local, distributed energy production takes off.  “What is needed in order to bridge the gap between the larger desire for a renewable future and the community-level negative reactions to the application of the systems required for it is an artistic movement that can set a course towards aesthetic considerations in sustainable infrastructure. Because, after all, sustainability in communities is not only about resources, but it is also about harmony.”

The LAGI design competition seeks to highlight artistic power generation ideas that can also be financially sustainable.  The juror includes a mix of local UAE officials, including many involved in the proposed Masdar “ecological city,” and international designer practitioners such as Jennifer Leonard from IDEO and Jeannette Ingberman from Exit Art.  

The deadline for submissions is June 4, 2010. Learn more.

Image credit: Robert Ferry & Elizabeth Monoian

Rising Currents: Projects for New York City’s Waterfront

An upcoming exhibition from the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City, “Rising Currents: Projects for New York City’s Waterfront,” will offer a set of “soft” infrastructure ideas for adapting to rising sea levels. The goal of the exhibition is to highlight the threats presented by climate change and explore  “new research and fresh thinking about the use of New York City’s harbor and coastline.” Soft (or, really, green) infrastructure involves the use of natural systems and can even support the development of local ecosystems. MoMA will also highlight concepts they consider “shovel ready,” arguing that climate change adaption projects can spur economic development.

Adam Freed, Deputy Mayor, Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, gave the exhibition a positive review, calling the work “optimistic innovation.” Freed argues that the exhibition presents the green infrastructure ideas of the future. “The ‘Rising Currents’ exhibition provides us with a model of how the innovative use of both structural and non-structural elements can help us withstand the impacts of climate change while making the city more sustainable. It also emphasizes the need to involve a wide variety of disciplines, experts, and stakeholders in developing resilience strategies to ensure that all possibilities are explored.”

Freed contends New York City can prepare for climate change by developing a new approach to the built environment more in synch with the natural world. “The work of the five teams at P.S.1 illustrates that climate change will require us to alter the way we behave as individuals, build and operate infrastructure, design buildings, utilize land, manage natural resources, make investments, and plan for the future. Their work emphasizes innovative strategies that enhance our built environment while embracing the natural environment—even as it changes around us.”

The ideas were created by five interdisciplinary teams derived from P.S.1’s architects-in-residence program. The installation presents the proposals developed during the program, including a set of models, drawings, and analysis.

The exhibition will be open March 24 – October 11, 2010. Learn more and check out preparations leading up to the “Rising Currents” exhibition on MoMA’s blog.

Image credit: MoMA

Water Treatment Facility Disguised as a Park

Waterfront Toronto, the innovative and ambitious plan to revitalize Toronto’s old harbour, has led to the development of Sherbourne Park, a new $28 million storm water treatment facility that will also function as an accessible public park. It’s a prime example of green infrastructure in action. The Star writes: “The idea that everything we build in a city should do double- (even triple-) duty is one whose time has come.” 

In a recent interview, Ken Smith, ASLA, a leading landscape architect, argued that green, multi-use infrastructure results from interdisciplinary teams. “If the problem in the past was having a single profession make a single-purpose infrastructure, then I think the solution in the future is really a multidisciplinary team of people who bring multiple interests and multiple functions to that infrastructure. I think we’re starting to see that more and more — it’s engineers, architects, landscape architects, and ecologists working together on a piece of infrastructure. That’s how you bring the green to the infrastructure and incorporate it into the infrastructure.”

Greg Smallenberg, ASLA, a principal with Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg, the design firm which won the international competition for the park / water treatment facility, agrees and is bringing this approach to Sherbourne Park: “The days of the singular perspective are over. We’re getting more collaborative. I would say that as a profession, landscape architecture has become much more aware of these issues of rationalization of capital costs. This is becoming more popular now. The truth is we’ve been thinking along these lines a long time. You see this in the blurring of roles; it’s an indication that the professions realize we have to rely on each other. We now have road engineers calling us to collaborate on road design. Twenty years ago that would have been unthinkable.”

Sherbourne park will be designed to “reveal, even celebrate” the process of storm water purification. By making the water infrastructure visible, the designers also believe that they will demonstrate the system’s complexity (and its value) to an indifferent public. “At a time when Canada’s infrastructure deficit stands at $123 billion, such exposure couldn’t be more welcome. These are the systems, usually out of sight and out of mind, that provide the basic urban functions we take for granted but can no longer afford to do so.”

The $28.7 million park budget will largely go into the intricate ultra-violet (UV) water treatment equipment. “Beneath a pavilion designed by Toronto architect Stephen Teeple, water will undergo UV treatment. It then flows into the channel through three sculptures that rise nine metres above ground. The channel, which will figure prominently in the stormwater management system for the entire East Bayfront stretching from Yonge to Parliament Sts., also includes a biofiltration bed for further cleansing.”

The project is expected to launch in the fall.

Read the article and see more images of the facility.

The New York Times reports that increased financing is desperately needed to replace outdated water and sewage management systems across the U.S.. “Today, a significant water line bursts on average every two minutes somewhere in the country, according to a New York Times analysis of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data.” Additionally, EPA studies show that $335 billion is needed to simply maintain existing water tap systems. Municipal water systems in New York alone will need $36 billion over 20 years. 

In Washington, D.C., the cost of replacing 100-year old pipes may be finally filtering down to residents. There are plans to raise average water rates by 17 percent, which would mean average households would pay $60 per month, with fees rising to $100 per month in a few years. With the extra funds, the city could replace all pipes in 100 years instead of three centuries.

Image credit: Waterfront Toronto

How Do You Know If Green Building Products Really Are Green?

How should “green” values in building construction products be measured — should firms look at the carbon miles traveled by product components, or total GHG emissions? How should green be defined — is it about energy efficient manufacturing processes, or eliminating toxicity? How do we avoid green washing? These questions were asked in the National Building Museum’s latest For the Greener Good lecture on “Greening the Supply Chain.”

Kirsten Richie, Director of Sustainability, Gensler, Nadav Malin, President, BuildingGreen and Gwen Davidow, Director, Corporate Programs, World Environment Center, all provided their thoughts, while Ken Langer, President, Architectural Energy Corporation, moderated the event.

Kirsten Richie, Director of Sustainability, Gensler: Gensler, a major architecture and consulting firm, has 35 offices worldwide, and more than 900 LEED APs on staff. The firm is involved in buying decisions for 300 million square feet of space per year. Gensler has calculated the square foot environmental impact of conventional building space: 28 pounds of C02, 365 gallons of water, 85,000 BTUs of power. These spaces average 17 percent utilization, and employee satisfaction with workspaces is around 64 percent. “In school, this meant an F.”

Richie outlined five concepts for building greener: (1) less space and less stuff used more intensively, (2) continually innovate to get to C02 neutrality, (3) build at manufacturing plant and assemble on site (as an example, Richie cited a new Travelodge in the UK build entirely out of shipping containers that are slotted into place. “The system is modular, scalable, and uses materials efficiently.”), (4) sustainability doesn’t have to equal austerity, and (5) if you don’t ask, they won’t tell (ask product manufacturers what’s in their products).

Nadav Malin, President, BuildingGreen: Malin’s group runs GreenSpec, a leading vetted directory that doesn’t offer certification, but is “flexible,” and encourages “life-cycle” thinking. There are “hard threshholds where appropriate.” The group also produces Environmental Building News, and recently launched LEED User, a service to help firms through the LEED certification process.

Gwen Davidow, Director, Corporate Programs, World Environment Center (WEC): The WEC is a membership organization comprised of 40-50 major multinational corporations (MNCs), including Walmart and Coca-Cola, focused on advancing sustainable development through business operations and supply chains. While the organization acts globally, they are focused on assisting local small and medium enterprise (SMEs) in developing countries revamp their supply chains and business practices so they can meet the sustainability requirements of major MNCs. “It’s not just about environmental efficiencies, but also economic ones.”

How can you tell if a building product is really green?

Malin: There is no one particular answer. Products need to have different levels of information. It’s not binary: green or not green. If you are interested in carbon, there should be details. If you are interested in toxicity, there should also be information.

Richie: A single green attribute isn’t enough. We need to look across impact areas.

Davidow: The question is: Is it Green Enough for You (GEFY)? For some firms, having a green end-product is enough, they aren’t interested in that firm’s suppliers, or the supplier’s suppliers. We need to get further up the supply chain stream to avoid cherry picking against certain criteria.

We can eco-geek out on the manufacturing process, but another question to ask is: Does the end consumer really care?

Ritchie: There should be environmental product declarations. Good, bad, or ugly, firms should record their products’ environmental impact. This creates a base map from which we can do life-cycle assessments. These can be used to demonstrate continuous improvements.

How do you do the math as a consumer?

Richie: Our goal is to ensure every building product is green, so you won’t even need to examine the details. You’ll just know. However, this doesn’t exist yet.

A big building project can include 10,000 line items. We can’t check the environmental impact details on every product. We need shortcuts — products need to be certified against standards. You should be able to buy a certain brand and know you are getting a sustainable product.

Davidow: Green needs to be a part of the product. It can’t be a niche product offered among others. Green needs to be embedded into the product.

Richie: How did we get electrical safety standards? The great fire in Chicago led to their development. You can no longer buy an unsafe car. All cars must be safe to some extent. 

We need green standards for products. There are no rules saying manufacturers need to use recycled content. We don’t have gross toxicity standards. 

Davidow: Green base lines in products will need to be regulated and certified if we are going to reach green product ubiquity.

Malin: There should be green labeling in construction projects. 3rd party certification is needed. Labels equal regulation.

What about clustering eco-manufacturers to leverage efficiencies?

Davidow: This is not easily done. Shanghai’s Pudong area has an eco-neighborhood for manufacturing — manufacturing inputs are shared, and load balancing helps moderate energy consumption. The problem is that it’s been so successful that Shanghai can’t support the existing infrastructure. The city needed to open another manufacturing site across the city. There need to be government incentives for this to work.

Richie: Sonoma Mountain Village enables small firms to engage in this kind of “waste to feedstock” circular manufacturing process.

Malin: Local production really doesn’t have that big of an impact on the overall environmental profile of a product. Embedded energy is much, much bigger. Products do need some connection to a place, which can lead to direct engagement by communities in local manufacturing processes. For instance, living near a timber firm in New England, I can clearly see whether they are sustainably manufacturing wood products.

How can people get better engaged?

Richie: Help develop building product and construction standards through ASTM and NSF.

Can products both be the cheapest and greenest?

Richie: Many of the major building product firms stopped investing in R&D long ago. These are mature industries relying on high volume sales. Small firms are doing most of the innovating, but given their small size, need to charge more for their products — firm size better explains the cost difference between green and non-green products.

Davidow: The costs of environmental damage are high and haven’t been factored in. Prices of ordinary products are now artificially low; they don’t account for the damage they cause to the environment now. Carbon hasn’t been monetized. 

Major MNCs are creating sustainability requirements for suppliers. Walmart’s Sustainability Index is scary, and watched closely by suppliers.

Malin: Walmart seems to be committed to becoming more sustainable. However, in my experience with them, they haven’t been able to explain their location choices and the environmental impact of all those consumers driving to their locations.

The panelist also argued that LEED, “flawed as it is,” has helped expand awareness and provides enforcement through the certification process. Some of the flaws are caused by the balance these ratings systems need to strike between environmental commitment and usability. “These tools need to be manageable for designers.” A green product certification system, Cradle to Cradle (C2C), is a “black box,” (meaning their certification process is not fully transparent), but “some good intelligence” has gone into it.

There is no easy way to determine if replacing outdated, energy-sucking products with high energy-efficiency products actually results in energy savings. Energy efficient products still consume lots of energy in the manufacturing process. Retrofitting older spaces and reusing outdated products may be a “practical,” low-cost way to use materials wisely.

Germany’s green building standards are so high that many LEED Platinum spaces in the U.S. wouldn’t qualify. Germany requires every office worker have access to daylight. “In the U.S., it’s optional. Why?”

Image credit: ASLA 2007 General Design Honor Award. Washington Mutual Center Roof Garden, Seattle, Washington. Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg, Vancouver British Columbia, Canada

Field Operations Will Design Santa Monica Town Square

James Corner and Field Operations won the design competition to design Santa Monica’s new Town Square and Palisades Garden Walk (see earlier post on the competition). According to The Architect’s Newspaper, the seven-acre park will connect the city’s Civic Center with the rest of Santa Monica. Barbara Stinchfield, Santa Monica’s Director of Community and Cultural Services said Field Operations won because of its “commitment to making places for people. It’s [about] their dedication to sustainability and public art and engaging the community.”

The one-acre Town Square part of the park will be reserved for cultural and civic events, while the six-acre Palisades Garden Walk will display the city’s “unique cultural and horticultural offerings, including a botanical element and water features.” Streetscape improvements will include more pedestrian and bike lanes designed to connect the park with downtown.

Lisa Switkin, an associate principal at Field Operations told The Architect’s Newspaper that the firm is now examining the “site’s historic significance, its local plant life, its bluffs and dunes, its significant grade changes, and even its nearby freeway interchange.”

Christopher Hawthorne, architecture critic for the L.A. Times adds that the park development work is just a piece of broader development plans for Santa Monica. The goal is to effectively apply smart growth strategies to the area. “Bringing together transit, contemporary architecture and design, open space, housing and pedestrian amenities, the Santa Monica effort is a rare example of integrated, comprehensive planning in a region struggling to wean itself from dependence on the car and create spaces for genuine public engagement. It is also a sign of how smart cities are leveraging the construction of new transit lines to pursue a broad range of improvements.”

Hawthorne is also confident Field Operations’s ability to innovate won’t be hamstrung by infrastructural challenges. “In Santa Monica, Corner and his competitors were able to anticipate the arrival of the light-rail station and consider the potential capping of the freeway without, crucially, having to worry about actually designing — or reserving money — for those infrastructural elements. Now that Corner’s firm has won the commission, he will be able to pursue an ambitious, even freewheeling design that also happens to slot satisfyingly into a larger civic plan.”

Some $25 million in redevelopment agency funds will be used for the project. Construction is expected to begin in 2012.

Read the article

Image credit: The Architect’s Newspaper / Field Operations

Soft Coastal Engineering

In an interview with Metropolis’ POV blog, Jan H. De Jager, a Dutch civil engineer and dike and dam expert, finds fault in New Orleans’ new coastal and storm management system and discusses how “soft coastal engineering” is more effective than vertical walls in combatting sea level rise.

De Jager says the current reconstruction work in New Orleans, which involves rebuilding solid vertical walls, is the wrong way to go. “One of the projects I’ve seen is the storm-surge barrier being built across the New Orleans Inner Harbor Navigation Canal. In my opinion, this is a completely wrong structure. It’s a vertical wall to stop the waves. That thing will collapse when you have another category-five hurricane.” Instead, soft coastal engineering, featuring natural marsh systems, would be more effective: “I would restore the marine marshes, the growth of trees, the barrier islands. That’s where your protection should be, not in these massive storm-surge barriers.”

Os Schmitz, Professor of Population and Ecology at Yale University, made a similar argument for restoring natural barrier systems in New Orleans in a recent interview. “The mangroves that used to grow there were excellent buffers for hurricanes before there was much settlement. These mangroves were a highly cost-effective way of controlling hurricane damage. When those were removed and the wetlands were removed and the dikes were put in their place, the human built environment became less resilient. The mini-experiment that sort of proved this was a year after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, there was another hurricane of I believe close to or equal in magnitude to Katrina that hit the Yucatan in a tourist area. The people in the Yucatan were really worried that the hurricane was going to destroy a lot of the hotels. But, they still have their mangroves in place. They still had those marshlands in place. These features acted as terrific buffers against that hurricane. The resort areas were spared a lot of damage because nature helped buffer the winds and the tidal surge. Here’s an example of where nature provides an important service to humankind. It isn’t about fighting nature and getting rid of nature in favor of built environments. It’s the idea that nature can be beneficial to us.” 

Holland is a country well versed in climate change adaptation, and the Dutch are now tapping their long history of carefully managing water levels to prepare for ongoing sea level rise. “It’s a country built on sediments, which were brought in by the Rhine River. A couple hundred thousand years ago we didn’t even exist. Our ancestors have dealt with sea level rises in the past. And they had only modest means, so what they did was build little platforms, plateaus, where they built up their farms and houses. So when sea water would rise, they would run to their earth plateau and sit out the high water.”

In addition to maintaining its complex system of dikes and dams, Holland will also preserve the role of sandbars in coastal sea level maintenance. “Our coast is all sand dunes, like you have in certain parts of the Carolinas and some parts of Texas. Big waves form in deeper water. So when you lower the water depths just in front of the coastline, even if the sea level rises and the waves come in, the sandbar breaks the waves into smaller ones. Depending on the type of storm and the way the water is flowing, the sandbars will last one to ten years. If the sandbar has eroded too much, you pump sand again.”

However, De Jager thinks its inevitable that some land will have to be given back to the sea. In some cases, ceding back the land doesn’t need to be negative: it can be an opportunity for restoring coastal ecosystems. “In Holland, we have been doing that, making cuts in the dunes and letting seawater enter in a safe way. But that was largely an environmental move, because we wanted to bring back certain plant species that had been lost for one hundred years. It’s not so much a safety concern as a matter of creating new brackish habitats.”

Read the interview and check out an earlier post on Metropolis Magazine’s vision for the future of landscape architecture.

Image credit: Dutch Sandbar. Climate Adaptation Lab, Netherlands

New International Criminal Court Headquarters: “An Abstract Sculpture in the Landscape”

Bustler writes that schmidt hammer lassen architects has won the international design competition for the new International Criminal Court (ICC) headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands. Bjarne Hammer, creative director and co-founder of the winning firm, said: “The building is designed as an abstract and informal sculpture in the landscape. This way, it becomes a backdrop for the ICC to communicate trust, hope, and most importantly, faith in justice and fairness.”

The site in the The Hague is close to the North Sea, which includes a “rolling dune” landscape. The building’s design is inspired by this landscape. According to Bustler, “the overall building form can be seen as an undulating composition of volumes on the horizon.” Hammer added that keeping the building small helped highlight the evocative landscape: “By designing a compact building with a small footprint, we propose to return the landscape to the city.”

The competition jury applauded plans for a rich indoor garden, which is expected to create a sense of openness and transparency and also provide respite for ICC employees and visitors. “The inner atmosphere is confirmed as user-friendly, especially the spacious ground floor with beautiful daylight from above. This ground floor can be seen as an inner private park area which facilitates the interaction between all the ICC employees in a very pleasant and positive way.”

Additionally, the indoor garden will serve as a global botanical garden, using plants from around the world to express global, shared values. Hammer told Bustler: “Gardens have always existed as part of all cultures and all religions. With flowers and plants from each of the 110 ICC member countries, the parterre gardens rise up as a green landmark and a symbol of unity, regardless of nationality and culture.”

The BREEAM Excellent-building will provide space for more than 1,000 employees, and is expected to cost some 190 million Euros.  

Read the article and see more images.

Image credit: Bustler / schmidt hammer lassen architects

Interview with Franceso Bandarin, UNESCO World Heritage, on Cultural Landscapes

Francesco Bandarin is the Director of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre.

A recent UNESCO report on cultural landscapes says, “As soon as a territory is seen as a landscape, it bears cultural values; but these values are not necessarily outstanding and universal. Those landscapes where the interaction between people and their environment is considered to be of an outstanding universal value are World Heritage Cultural Landscapes.” Please describe the process for becoming a cultural landscape. There are only 63 listed in the world, less than 10 percent of the total World Heritage sites. 

There is a World Heritage list, which encompasses different categories of heritage. One of the categories is cultural landscapes, which was created in 1994. This type of heritage category identifies a special relationship between man and nature and the product of this relationship, especially when it attains what we call a standing universal value. A site’s value is measured on a comparative basis with similar types of heritage in other parts of the world. A cultural landscape is then reviewed by professionals and, finally, by the World Heritage Committee to determine if it’s a universal example.

Sites are always proposed by a Member State of the World Heritage Convention. The World Heritage Convention is an international treaty, and today has 186 member states. A state has the right, once it has ratified the World Heritage Convention, to submit a proposal for inscription in the World Heritage list, and UNESCO and other institutions then evaluate and assess whether the site merits inscription.

Cultural landscapes in danger include the Bamiyan archeological site in Afghanistan, the Fort and Shalimar Gardens in Pakistan, and the archeological landscape around Bam in Iran. Which puts most of these sites more into danger: natural events (earthquakes, flood, erosion) or human causes (looting, urban development, or intentional destruction)? 

In the case of Bam, it clearly was the major quake that struck the place in 2003. And, of course, this landscape, which is of high archeological value is still very, very important to World Heritage. So, quakes and floodings and all these natural disasters are a major threat. But, obviously, some other designed landscapes or landscapes that find themselves in proximity of urban areas are threatened by urbanization and encroachment.

This is the case of Shalimar. Shalimar today is almost difficult to recognize from what it was in the past, when it was an isolated example of built landscape in the middle of nature. Now, it’s the middle of a shantytown, so it’s in a very spoiled environment.

In other cases, I would say that one of the threats difficult to counteract is socioeconomic change.  For instance, we have a very important case in the Philippines, the famous Rice Terraces, which are the product of millennia of activity of man. The rice fields are built into hill systems for terraces, rice growing. Migration and changes in the economy of the area have resulted in damage and reduced maintenance. So the causes are different.

Certainly, it’s very difficult to preserve an evolving landscape. We live in a transitional world and have to adapt to our own constants. Sometimes it’s very difficult to imagine that something will remain exactly the same. We had to define heritage categories that are intrinsically evolving. We’re trying at UNESCO to change our approach a little bit to create a vision of how heritage can be seen in a transitional world.

Landscapes have been protected since 748 A.D., when Tang emperor Xuan Zhong issued a decree banning fishing and cutting down trees in the Nine Bend River area. Man-made landscapes, including elaborate gardens, have been designed and built for centuries. Is cultural landscape preservation really a new concept?

It is in the modern sense of a heritage category included in the framework of an international treaty, but clearly landscapes have always existed. Often, they were essentially reserved for the elite or ruling class. We’ve had gardens probably since the world existed, but they were essentially in the private domain.

Now, we’re talking about something that is completely universal, entirely in the public domain. Cultural landscapes are conceived as a collective good, something that belongs in the sphere of democracy, choice, even rights sometimes.

The beautiful gardens of the Chinese emperors were essentially limited to a very restricted elite.  It was for their pleasure and entertainment. So, it’s not something that we can compare. The social dimension of landscapes today is quite different from the past.

Natural landscapes are becoming tourist attractions in many parts of the world– Mongolia’s steppes, rainforest preserves, archeological sites are all embedded with culture heritage.  How can countries balance access, which is needed to preserve cultural connections with landscapes, with preservation of working ecosystems?

What we are saying is that these two goals are pretty much convergent. Preserving landscapes is about defining an approach to sustainability. Defining a sustainability approach implies revising how we use technology, how urban life is lived, how we understand the future and nature.

We should try to learn from the past and use both existing and traditional technologies so we can better sustain our modern life. I think the challenge of sustainability is really to learn from the past which things can be adapted to modern life and carried into the future. I think we have a lot to learn from traditional landscaping techniques and the way in which landscapes were created. We can examine the landscape stratigraphy, the layering process throughout the centuries.

Interestingly, UNESCO’s cultural landscapes program recognizes mining landscapes as cultural landscapes, including the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape in the U.K.  Many environmentalists would show concern at lauding these sites as examples of world heritage, given they often represent a less-than-sustainable involvement with the land. Why include these?

In the World Heritage convention, we have determined there are different categories of landscapes. Some of them are landscapes that we see in daily life. Some of them are archeological landscapes, something that comes to us from the past and don’t have a function in modern life. But cultural landscapes must cover all the ways in which man and nature interact.

I think that these kinds of landscapes should encompass different types and forms of human life in the past. Even mining landscapes have to be included as part of the human experience. Clearly, we don’t consider these as examples to propose for the future, but they certainly are testimonies of history.

A recent UNESCO report argues that “continuing landscapes reflect a process of evolution and form and features which can be ‘read’ like documents, but their condition of historical integrity can also be defined by the continuity of traditional functions and the relationship of the parts to the whole landscape.” How does UNESCO preserve a continually evolving cultural landscape?

This is really the heart of the challenge. What we aren’t trying to do is freeze a landscape. We are completely aware that although our task is linked to conservation, the world evolves and the vision of heritage changes. It’s very important that we include in our vision, practice, and statutory work, a concept that allows for the interpretation of modern needs, and the values that are involved in cultural landscapes. These values are something that can be preserved, but within an evolving society.

I think this is the challenge: preserving values in a changing environment. It’s not an easy task, but this is exactly the meaning of the vision that we are trying to promote at UNESCO.

Many landscape architects are working on rehabilitating brown fields in urban areas, creating new, sustainable landscapes out of degraded, used lands. This involves incorporating new cultural values related to sustainability into the landscape.  One example is the upcoming Freshkills Park in New York City, which has gone from a massive landfill to a park and ecological preserve.  Do you see these types of projects being recognized as cultural landscapes in the future?

I think they will. Essentially, these sites are a revisitation of our industrial history. We have a number of examples in Europe, especially in Germany, which, in fact, was at the forefront of this type of approach. The transformation of these industrial landscapes or wastelands into new parks is something that has really changed the lives and profiles of entire regions. If you go today to the Ruhr region, which used to be a center of the coal mining industry, you’ll find a huge redesign effort has resulted in a new landscape. I cannot excluded these from consideration in the future because they really represent an important achievement of contemporary society.

I was recently in Cairo, where I visited the extremely important project that was done by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. It’s called Al-Azhar Park (see a short BBC video on the park). The Al-Azhar Park was a wasteland right in the middle of the city. It was a garbage dump. They turned this huge garbage dump into a new park, which has become a core for Cairo’s redevelopment and modernization, but also enabled a conservation approach to the historic Cairo area. It’s not only a specific intervention for a degraded site, but also a motor for regeneration and urban revitalization.

Interview conducted by Jared Green.

Image credits: (1)  UNESCO, (2)  Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras, UNESCO / Feng Jing, (3) Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape, U.K., UNESCO, (4) Al-Alzhar Park, Cairo, BBC