Matthew Albanese’s Strange Worlds

Artist Matthew Albanese creates small-scale detailed models using common household materials to create rich landscapes. Using materials like cotton, sugar, tile grout, charcoal, a range of spices, and other easily available materials, Alabanese molds his “strange worlds.” 

Tornado, the model above, is made of steel wool, moss, ground parsley, cotton, and moss.

Salt Water Falls, the model below, is made out of plexiglass, glass, tile grout, moss, twigs, salt, painted canvas, and dry ice. “The waterfall was created from a time exposure of falling table salt.”

Lastly, Sugarland was made out of 20 pounds of sugar, jello, and corn syrup. The crystals were grown over two months.

Albanese invests time in photographing his models from different angles to create depth: “Every aspect from the construction to the lighting of the final model is painstakingly pre-planned using methods which force the viewers perspective when photographed from a specific angle. Using a mixture of photographic techniques such as scale, depth of field, white balance and lighting I am able to drastically alter the appearance of my materials.”

The photography lasts, but the models don’t. “The past models used to make my photographs have all been destroyed. Typically they are made using various materials that are not intended to be permanent. The final piece comes to life when the landscape is viewed through a camera lens from one specific angle. The models tend to look dramatically different in person. Some of my creations exist at different times and in different parts to be composited later, and others are even destroyed during the process of their creation i.e. the burning room. Through experimentation and developing new methods, the models have become a transient aspect to my work.”

See more photos and learn more about Albanese’s work on his Facebook page.

Image credit: Matthew Albanese / Strange Worlds

Next Generation Design: The Bioengineered Brick

Metropolis magazine announced the winner of the 2010 Next Generation Design Competition, which aimed to find a “small and elegant” but also crucial fix that could have big-time impact if scaled-up. This year’s winner, a bioengineered brick, could reduce CO2 emissions from building materials production by 800 millions of tons a year. As Metropolis explains, bricks must be kiln-fired at 2,000 F. For each brick, this means 1.3 pounds of CO2 waste. “Multiply that by the 1.23 trillion bricks manufactured each year, and you’re talking about more pollution than what’s produced by all the airplanes in the world.” Also, in many places, wood is used to heat those brick-baking kilns — meaning 400 trees are used to create 25,000 bricks. Given many countries are focused on rapid reforestation, any design that enable a reduction in commercial wood use would also have positive benefits for the atmosphere.

Ginger Krieg Dosier, an assistant architecture professor at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is the non-mad scientist behind the concept. Using  “sand, common bacteria, calcium chloride, and urea (yes, the stuff in your pee),”  Dosier created a process known as microbial-induced calcite precipitation (MICP), which uses the microbes found on sand to bind multiple grains together through chemical reactions. “The resulting mass resembles sandstone but, depending on how it’s made, can reproduce the strength of fired-clay brick or even marble.”

Others have tried to bioengineer building materials, but with perhaps less success. “Intrepid entrepreneurs have tamped everything from fly ash and plant refuse to car tires and plastic bottles into a neat little block and called it a brick (thoroughly peeving the brick industry, which will tell you that anything short of clay and shale is just a cheap imitation).”

Dosier has been exploring bioengineered architectural materals for a while now. Metropolis writes that her master’s thesis, a salt-composite handrail, was designed to remove germs from anyone who touched it. Her idea was to demonstrate that architectural materials could serve more than one function. She said: “I wanted to show that architecture can do more than just exist.” The competition judges lauded her interdisciplinary approach, arguing that blending various forms of science was crucial to creating architectural innovation.

Getting a mix of materials to turn into a hard brick wasn’t easy. “At the University of Sharjah, where she moved in 2007 to teach full-time, she spent two years trying to develop a brick with different microbes, material proportions, and pH levels. Everything failed.” However, once she set upon a winning formula, she repeated the combination more than 30 times, experimenting with different materials and manufacturing processes. “Traditional casting is the most obvious method, since it requires few resources—formwork, sand, bacteria, and the calcium chloride–urea solution, almost all of which is available locally, both in New York and in the UAE. Rapid prototyping is another, decidedly less democratic option.” Dosier hopes to be able to program the brick’s composition and fabricate it layer by layer via a 3-D printer (see an earlier post on Neri Oxman’s work in this area).

She will also need to address more obstacles. Right now, the process produces its own waste. “Microbial-induced calcite precipitation spews tremendous amounts of ammonia, as scientists affiliated with Delft University of Technology, in the Netherlands, discovered recently when they tried the chemical process on contaminated sand and soil.” Furthermore, that ammonia can turn into nitrous oxide, a very potent GHG. The system would needs its own waste capture and reuse system. Also, bioengineered bricks, if scaled up, will require a feed-in of vast amounts of those materials needed to make the bricks solid. Lastly, bioengineered bricks take a long time to grow, up to two weeks in comparison with two days for the conventional brick.

However, Dosier’s use of MICP technology not only resulted in building material design innovation, but may also inform other applications. Grant Ferris, a geology professor at the University of Toronto, told Metropolis: “This is what makes Professor Dosier’s work so compelling. Bioremediation and industrial applications look out!”

Meanwhile, Dosier is exploring a potential demo of the project in the UAE-Saudi Arabian border area as well as in Ethiopia. Learn more about the bioengineered brick

Some of the runners-up in the 2010 Next Generation Design competition had equally compelling ideas.

A few focused on getting plastic trash out of the oceans (see earlier post).

Marine Satellite: “AnDstudio, an architecture collective from Korea University, in Seoul, has conceptualized a trash-trapping buoy. Inspired by fishing weirs, the Marine Satellite has 36 ‘gills’ with a slender conical shape that snares particles in the water without capturing fish. The plastic bits then fill up a 1.35-million-square-foot storage tank. When the satellite reaches capacity, passing cargo ships and oil tankers haul it back to shore; and once it’s emptied, it’s rereleased into the ocean. It’s a simple solution to a global problem.”  

Ocean Harvest: “Ocean Harvest dispatches a series of trash-collecting buoys into the murky depths. The difference is that Ocean Harvest relies on filters to electrostatically attract plastic bits, some only one-thousandth the diameter of a strand of human hair. “These particles are incidentally the same size as microorganisms which benefit our planet’s atmosphere,” says Matthew Kihm, 21, a senior at the Rhode Island School of Design. “That makes for a tricky situation.” The filters emit an electrostatic field too weak to lure living creatures; only polymer pieces get sucked in. When the buoys fill to the brim, a GPS system alerts passing ships, which are paid to clean the filters.” 

Another focused on creative reuses of recycled materials: 

Sprouting Glass Sand Bags: “By crushing recycled glass bottles into sand, then stuffing it into biodegradable sacks along with soil and seeds, [Dru ] Lamb [a 30-year old interior designer] creates new coastline in a bag. Stacked up in low-lying areas, the bags form a makeshift bulwark. Eventually, as the sacks biodegrade and the grass takes root in the ground, they morph into permanent land mounds.”

Lastly, a team came up with an idea of using solar energy to power a small texting device, an application that could be produced cheaply for users in the developing world:

Solar TeXter: “The $1 Solar TeXter is precisely what you would think: a dirt-cheap handheld device that sends and receives short messages, making wireless communication accessible to everyone from city dwellers to rural farmers. It targets countries like Uganda, where texting is inexpensive compared with cell-phone technology, and where people regularly use Google short-message services for communicating with family, farming advice, and basic socializing. “We felt our device would be a natural complement,” says Donna Zimmer-man, a 28-year-old designer in Brooklyn. A touch bigger than a Post-it note, the Solar TeXter features an ultrasimple, five-button interface and a black-and-white LCD screen that displays letters when you’re ready to dash off a message, avoiding the complexities (and character limitations) of a key-board.”

Read more about all the runners-up.

Image credit: Metropolis

West 8 Will Create 40-year Master Plan for Longwood Gardens

West 8, the Dutch landscape architecture firm, which recently won the Governors Island master plan design competition (see earlier post), will create a 40-year master plan for Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, one of the leading horticultural centers in the U.S. The plan will guide the long-term growth of Longwood’s campus, which covers more than 1,000 acres and includes 180 structures.  WEISS/MANFREDI Architecture/ Landscape/ Urbanism, a multidisciplinary design practice based in New York City, is also included in the project. The $ 1 million master plan is expected to be complete by May 2011.

In 1906, industrialist Pierre du Pont created Longwood to save a collection of historic trees from being sold for lumber. According to Longwood Gardens, du Pont invested in turning the site into a “horticultural showplace.” Since then, the administrators have updated the site’s infrastructure and applied innovative sustainable practices. “Every plant used in the seasonal displays is composted in Longwood’s robust composting program, producing soil for future plantings. The Gardens limit the use of pesticides through a leading Integrated Pest Management Program that uses natural means whenever possible. To conserve energy, Longwood’s innovative root-zone heating system in the conservatory planting beds enables heat to be concentrated on the roots of the plants without having to heat the ambient air.”

The new master plan will help Longwood Gardens “expand the experience” through more of the 1,000 acres of gardens (currently only 27 percent of the total grounds are open to the public), provide a more centralized route for pedestrian traffic, and relocate some building operations. The new plan will lay out a new technology infrastructure within the gardens. Longwood’s educational programs will also be included in the new master plan, with the goal of linking up sustainability education with components of the site. 

Paul Redman, Director of Longwood Gardens, said: “West 8 has demonstrated a genuine sensitivity to our heritage, the living legacy of Pierre S. du Pont.  We are confident that, with this sensitivity and ingenuity, West 8 will develop a plan that is respectful of our heritage and deeply rooted in our commitment to innovation, design excellence, environmental stewardship and sustainability.”

Adriaan Geuze, Founding Partner and Design Director of West 8, was equally as positive about Longwood: “The idea of Longwood Gardens as a ‘garden as a paradise’ in the context of the regional urban landscape was an attractive aspiration for West 8.  Pierre du Pont’s contribution to the legacy here – as a place of imagination, delight and innovation – reflects West 8’s values as designers and is very inspiring.”

Last year, Longwood Gardens drew 885,000 visitors. Learn more about the gardens.

Image credit: Longwood Gardens/L. Albee

Urban SOS Ideas Competition

AECOM is seeking submissions for its second Urban SOS ideas competition. This year’s competition is focused on “Transformations,” specifically, in seven cities worldwide. AECOM says many of the world’s major cities are now undergoing deep changes, which present both opportunities and challenges for improving “the quality and tenor of built environments, the effectiveness of infrastructure and the responsible stewardship of ecological interactions.”

Competition entrants are asked to propose a design or planning initiative that will help a major city address transformation. AECOM writes: “Responses can range from a strategic framework to a surgical micro-response. Entrants should demonstrate a holistic approach to expressing these transformations. Designs should show a connective language that can embrace many or all aspects of the site. They should express a language of built form that ties together land, community, buildings, ecology, infrastructure, economic and social activity to strategically transform your site.”

Entrants must submit a site redevelopment plan in one of seven cities:

  • Beijing, China
  • Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
  • Johannesburg, South Africa
  • Istanbul, Turkey
  • Phoenix, USA
  • Port au Prince, Haïti
  • São Paulo, Brazil

AECOM says responses will be judged based on a set of criteria:

  • Response directly answers stated question for chosen city
  • Clear strategy for how proposal will affect larger city’s transformative state
  • Clear sense of how proposed design will affect transformation of site
  • Holistic approach to design that fully embraces site
  • Appreciation for interdisciplinary thinking beyond traditional practice
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Feasibility and viability
  • Ability to communicate ideas in a clear, interesting and compelling manner

“The most successful responses will be those that are well-presented, combining the points of view of more than one discipline — architecture, landscape architecture, engineering, economics, planning, ecological science, etc — and are realistically able to be implemented given pre-existing, city-specific antecedents, conditions, socio-economic and politico-cultural realities.”

The top four finalists (or teams) will travel to Barcelona to attend the World Architecture Festival from November, 3-5, 2010. Some $20,000 in prize money is available, but hard to get considering more than 1,000 applicants sent in ideas for last year’s competition.

The competition is open to undergraduate and graduate students at all levels of higher education in all countries of the world. Entrants must be enrolled in a certified degree program during the Autumn 2010 term.

Applications are due by July 31. Five semi-finalists will then be announced in early September. Learn more and apply.

Piet Oudolf, Leader of the New Perennials

The Royal Institute of British Architecture (RIBA) Journal wrote an in-depth profile on famed plant designer, Piet Oudolf, who has become the “living embodiment of the New Perennials’ landscape movement.” The New Perennials philosophy, rooted in a reverence for “wild nature,” is realized through plant designs which feature “architectural plants chosen for their form and structure rather than their colour.”

Oudolf’s recent New Perennial work includes the The High Line, the New York City park which transformed abandoned rail road tracks into an lush elevated green space (see earlier post). On the plant design for the High Line, he said: “It’s far more daring than anything I’ve done previously. I had to deal with a limited soil ecology right in the centre of a hard urban environment, and design it for people who might never have ever really left the city environment.”

According to RIBA journal, the plant designer uses his own one-acre garden to continually “investigate” the life cycle of perennials. “Here in vignette are all the thinking, formal devices, shrubs and flowers he uses, in the greatest traditions of landscape, to act as a metaphor for human birth, life and death.” Oudolf was quoted as saying: “I like to connect people with the processes of their own lives. What it takes humans a lifetime to experience, a plant will experience in its own yearly life cycle. In that sense, gardening is a microcosm of life.”

The New Perennials movement is often associated with Irish garden designer William Robinson (1838-1935), who pioneered the man-made “wild garden […] dominated by hardy perennials, and native plants and flowers, to create landscapes that were a natural parallel of and complement to the architecture of the English arts and crafts movement.” Oudolf, who is seen as the heir to Robinson, has had no formal training, arguing he designs through instinct.  This instinctual approach has resulted in natural designs that are never “fixed from the outset, but respond to the raw landscape, climate, nature of the client and complexity of the brief.”

To ensure his perennials are always available, Oudolf became part owner of, “a collective of four nurseries bringing together all the perennials integral to his landscape repertoire.” The company has enabled him to cross-fertilize and cross-pollinate plants, creating more than 70 new breeds of plants. He says the company enables him to “put all these plants into mass propagation, and acts as an escape for me to get my plants out into the world.”

Oudolf’s upcoming projects include Frank Gehry’s Beekman Towers in New York, the second phase of the High Line, the Skarholmen Garden in suburban Stockholm, and a museum park in Holland.

Read the article and see more photos.

Also, check out Oudolf’s perennial planting design in section one of the High Line, designed by James Corner Field Operations and Diller, Scofidio + Renfro, and the Lurie Garden in Chicago’s Millennium Park designed by Gustafson Guthrie Nichol.

Image credit: Iwan Baan / ASLA 2010 Professional Honor Award. The High Line, Section 1. James Corner Field Operations (project lead) and Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

Philadelphia’s Cutting-edge Green Infrastructure Plan

More than a hundred years ago, Philadelphia set the standard for water and sanitation, creating one of the world’s first modern water management systems. To this day, tourists are still coming to view the more than 3,000 miles of underground water works. Now, Philadelphia Water Department’s Office of Watersheds may be leading the next generation of innovation in water infrastructure with its plans to roll-out an ambitious $1.6 billion green infrastructure plan, which would use rain gardens, green roofs, pervious pavements, and trees to recycle and reuse rainwater.  According to one study, “one inch of rain water hitting one acre of asphalt means 27,000 gallons of water” is going into the sewer. For a city like Philadelphia, that means billions of gallons are flooding its now aged water management system.

The green infrastructure proposal would turn 1/3 of the city’s impervious asphalt surface, or 4,000 acres, into absorptive green spaces. The goal is to move from grey to green infrastructure. Grey infrastructure includes “man-made single purpose systems.” Green infrastructure is defined as “man-made structures that mimic natural systems.” As an example, networks of man-made wetlands, restored flood plains, or infiltration basins would all qualify as green infrastructure. The benefits of such systems include: evaporation, transpiration, enhanced water quality, reduced erosion / sedimentation, and restoration. Some grey / green infrastructure feature integrated systems that create hybrid detention ponds or holding tanks, which are designed to slow water’s release into stormwater management systems.

Christine Knapp, PennFuture, said a green infrastructure plan is desperately needed to deal with Philly’s combined sewer system. (A combined sewer system doesn’t have separate infrastructure for stormwater and sewage). Because the city’s system is combined, when there’s heavy rain, more than 1/4 of homes and 1/3 of businesses experience sewage back-up and overflow. “That has a real economic impact on property and is a major health issue.” She added that the highest concentrations of impervious areas are also located in the poorest parts of town:

Options for fixing the overflow issue include: (1) separating the stormwater and sewage system, a solution “requiring billions,” which isn’t practical, (2) building more sewage holding tanks, which would be spread throughout the city, creating lots of NIMBY issues, or (3) green infrastructure, in which water would be captured on site. Interestingly, while the green infrastructure idea is the most innovative, it’s also the most cost-efficient. “The green infrastructure proposal is really a response to the city’s financial constraints,” Knapp said.

The Philadelphia city government already seems to be moving in the direction of green infrastructure. City rules declare that all new buildings must capture the first inch of water on site. The idea, Knapp says, is to “use stormwater to feed grass and trees instead of letting it rush into the sewer.” Recent additions to those rules ensure stormwater fees are now calculated based on size of impervious surfaces instead of the amount of water used (which has no relation to stormwater run-off).  “For a big warehouse downtown with lots of parking spaces, they could be looking at half a million in stormwater fees per year,” said Kate Houstoun, Director of Green Initiatives, Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia. The rules incentivize green roofs and yanking out parking lots in favor of man-made landscapes.

The new comprehensive green infrastructure proposal, which has yet to achieve EPA or Philadelphia city council approvals, would call for $1.6 billion in investment in these natural systems over a 20 year period. EPA approval would also give access to revolving green infrastructure funds. City council approval is needed for stormwater management rate changes on private property. The $1.6 billion, which would be collected through fees, private and public investment, would help “streets, schools, and all open spaces” be more pervious, added Knapp. (One study cited said regular park lawn is 80 percent as impervious as asphalt. “So, not all green spaces are actually pervious.”) In making their case, the city is calling for a triple-bottom line approach, aiming for: more green spaces, improved public health, and more green jobs.

The plan would also link up well with the recently launched Green Works Philadelphia plan, which calls for 300,000 new city trees by 2015.

Learn more in the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia’s report: Grey to Green: Jumpstarting  Private Investment in Green Stormwater Infrastructure.

This is part three in a three-part series on the “Good Jobs, Green Jobs” conference recently held in Washington, D.C. Read part one, Moving Towards a Green Economy, and part two, Rebuilding Communities through Brownfield Rehabilitation.

Image credit: (1) Green Infrastructure Digest (Hawkins Partners) / Grey to Green: Jumpstarting  Private Investment in Green Stormwater Infrastructure, (2) TreeVitalize / Grey to Green: Jumpstarting  Private Investment in Green Stormwater Infrastructure.

Rebuilding Communities through Brownfield Rehabilitation

The idea to restore brownfields came out of mass protests for environmental justice in Cleveland, says Myra Blakely, Deputy Director, Office of Brownfields and Land Revitalization, EPA. “It started as a grassroots movement.” Blakely said poor neighborhoods and communities of color were disproportionately impacted by toxic sites.

Vernice Miller-Travis, Vice Chair, Maryland Commission on Environnmental Justice and Sustainable Communities, added that when she first tried to count the number of brownfields in upper Manhattan in the 1980’s, “we found 1,800 in a 2.5 mile area.” The EPA had to get involved because there was no guiding framework for rehabilitation. “Who’s responsible for vacant toxic properties?” This tough question and others had to be addressed through a regulatory framework.

While cleaning up toxic sites was about addressing problems in the built environment, the movement was also about community revitalization and health (see earlier post). “This contaminated soup was contributing to asthma and premature deaths in Manhattan.” A framework had to then convince people that “brownfield restoration could make communities safer.”

The EPA framework eventually created was further strengthened by legislation passed in the early part of George W. Bush’s term, which enabled small businesses and local organizations to better participate in brownfield clean-up. One important thing the legislation did was ensure local organizations didn’t have to go through local agencies to get funding for clean-ups. These local constituencies were often fighting with local government on toxic sites. “This helped turn environmental dead zones on their head,” and enabled environmental remediation.

These days, the EPA’s brownfields program conducts in-depth assessments and then invests in clean-up. While Superfund financing is used for the “nastiest” sites, there are a lot of brownfield sites that don’t qualify for Superfund money, but still need help so other types of grants were created. Cleanup grants have now gone to more than 1,400 urban areas and rural small-town communities.

The EPA also funds brownfield rehabilitation job training programs through community colleges and non-profit organizations. Since 1998, there have been 10 job training grants, preparing trainees to clean up solid waste, brownfields, and underground storage facilities. The program is also training people in bioremediation technologies — innovative technologies that involve employing natural systems to clean up toxic sites. Overall, 4,000 people, including ex-offenders, welfare recipients, and “lots of people who’ve never held down a job,” have been placed in jobs through the programs. 

Blakely introduced a few people running the job training programs funded by the EPA:

Carolyn Bledsoe, Program Manager, King County Jobs Initiative: “Hazardous waste removal is a high-demand job sector.” King Country’s program has trained 2,200 people and achieved a 70 percent placement rate. “There’s now a 3-6 month waiting list.” Each trainee gets 268 hours of training and ends up with multiple certifications. “Let’s not forget: hazardous waste clean-up is a green job,” Bledsoe argued.

Eric Treworgy, CEO, STRIVE East Harlem Employment Services: “Unfortunately, the oil spill in Louisiana has provided opportunities for some of our graduates. They need people with health, safety and welfare training and experience dealing with hazardous chemicals.” Treworgy agreed that multiple certifications helped trainees with difficult backgrounds overcome obstacles. Trainees get asbestos, weatherization, photovoltaic (PV) panel installation, carpentry and other certifications. The group also won a Department of Labor “Pathways out of Poverty” grant. In total, the program has trained 3,000 per year, and 40,000 in total.

Art Shanks, Executive Director, Cypress Mandela Training Center: In Oakland, California, the program started to help “fight povery, and fight pollution.” Cypress Mandela runs a boot-camp style training program that helps teenagers and young adults stay off drugs (all trainees must be drug-free) by training them for a range of green construction jobs. Shanks said it was particularly difficult because many entering the program have “chemical imbalances” due to poor diets and previous drug use. “We are now seeing kids who started drugs around 8 or 9.” Through the program, Shanks says he can redevelop communities and create graduates who are tax payers, instead of burdens on social welfare systems. “Our past graduates are also the best sellers of the program.”

Learn more on brownfields at the EPA’s “Clean up my Community” Web site.

This is part two in a three-part series on the “Good Jobs, Green Jobs” conference recently held in Washington, D.C. Read part one, Moving Towards a Green Economy, and part three, Philadelphia’s Cutting-edge Green Infrastructure Plan.

Image credit: Rutgers University

Moving Towards a Green Economy

The “Good Jobs, Green Jobs” National Conference, which was put together by an interesting mix of environmental organizations (Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council), built environment organizations (American Institute of Architects, U.S. Green Building Council), and major labor groups (Service Employees International Union, United Steelworkers, Utility Union of America), as well as U.S. and D.C. government agencies, explored the strategies, policies, and investments needed to move towards a clean energy economy. The idea is that government, business, environmental and labor groups must work together to accelerate the shift to a green economy.

Opening sessions featured a number of environmental leaders, including Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, and Steven Chu, U.S. Energy Secretary.

Governor Ed Rendell, Pennsylvania: Rendell argued that making science and technology appealing to students was critical to the future competitiveness of the U.S. He said “all countries are racing to create the next generation technologies,” implying that creating a strong U.S. skillset in science will be crucial to participating in this race.

However, he emphasized not all green job opportunities need to be cutting-edge. Rendell said each of those large wind turbines includes over 250 tons of steel. “Much of this steel is coming from Pennsylvania.” The U.S. manufacturing sector and steel workers then also have a major role to play in shaping a clean economy. Furthermore, maintaining skilled manufacturing workers in the U.S. will pay off. “Wind companies from Spain are now manufacturing turbines in America.”

Pennsylvania has spent $1 billion incentivizing these kinds of wind turbine manufacturing deals. “This $1 billion has leveraged an additional $5 billion in private sector investment.” As a result, Pennsylvania now ranks third behind Texas and California in clean energy job production.

The state has also been a leader in setting alternative energy portfolio standards, which he says spurred the growth of the clean energy sector. Now, Pennsylvania needs to update the standard so clean energy production as a percentage of total energy production can move from 18 to 22 percent. Rendell called for a clear, nation-wide alternative energy portfolio standard.

To spur the growth of a national clean energy sector, he called for a multi-faceted approach:

  • Create mandates for a national alternative and renewable energy portfolio standard. “We may not see movement on cap & trade this year, but we need this.”
  • Implement permanent tax credits for renewable energy. Right now, tax credits last only 1-2 years and create uncertainty, which, in effect, lowers investment.
  • Institute a long-term loan guarantee program to encourage the private sector to invest.

Rendell added the federal government is the biggest energy consumer in the U.S. (and perhaps the world). If the federal fleet had to run on natural gas or electricity, the market would take off for greener transportation. He said the U.S. has an abundance of natural gas, “we are the Saudi Arabia of natural gas.”

Senator John Kerry (D-MA): “We are on the cusp of an economic, environmental, security, and health revolution.” Passing climate and energy legislation will spur that revolution, and help the U.S. to reduce pollution, which has negative effects across the board. “The guiding principle in the U.S. should be the polluter pays.”

Kerry said oil and coal are finite resources, but solar power is unlimited. “In fact, there are countless alternatives.” Each year, $400 billion is sent overseas to buy foreign oil. Some 70 percent of imported oil goes to domestic transportation. Kerry said electric vehicles are a real alternative — drivers could easily plug in their cars at night when there are low electricity usage levels.

This multi-pronged revolution would also create a “jobs revolution,” creating millions of new opportunities. “What are we going to chose as the jobs of the future? They can’t be low-tech. We need to invest in new technologies, technologies that can’t be reverse-engineered.” He said new energy technologies could lead to a $6 trillion worldwide market.

China is currently investing $400 billion per year in green energy technologies. “They are now the leader in wind and solar. Not one U.S. company is in the top ten for either wind or solar.” In Germany, another leader in clean energy technology, 280,000 jobs have been created in clean energy.

In the near term, Senator Kerry thought investing in energy efficiency was the way to go, citing a McKinsey report that demonstrates energy efficiency improvements over the next 20-30 years will pay for themselves through reduced energy costs. “We can’t burn or drill our way” to innovation. Instead, the U.S. needs a price on carbon so that investment in clean technology can take off.

Steven Chu, U.S. Energy Secretary: Chu made two predictions: the price of oil will be higher in the coming decades, and we will live in a “carbon-constained” world. He also laid out a vision: Right now, imported oil is a major expense. Instead of buying sources of energy overseas, the U.S. should be producers of new energy technologies that other people need to buy.

The U.S. used to have some 45 percent of the global photovoltaic market. Now, it’s around 5-6 percent. “We are no longer leaders in batteries, fuel efficiency technologies, energy transmission technologies, nuclear, solar or wind energy.” The myth is that China competes through its cheap labor. In fact, China is investing $9 billion per month in renewable energy, with the goal of reaching 10 percent renewable energy by 2010 and 15 percent by 2020. China wants 100 GW of wind power by 2020; the U.S. will be lucky to get 20 GW.
China just invested $44 billion in a new smart grid and will invest a further $80 billion in a UHV transmission system by 2020. In comparison, the U.S. has invested $80 billion in clean energy in total.

To spur further improvements in energy efficiency, Chu called for a ramp up of residential retrofits. The $450 million that has been spent on this through the Recovery Act has reached “the whole community,” spurring job creation. Total Recovery Act clean energy funds have created some 2-2.5 million jobs, Chu says. In addition, the act should help double U.S. renewable energy production by 2012.

Chu reiterated points made by Senator Kerry and Governor Rendell, arguing that the U.S. needs a permanent wind production tax credit. “Even if foreign products are involved in a wind farm installation, almost 60 percent of the total value is domestic.” Energy companies are waiting for a clear policy on carbon. Until they get a clear signal, they will “build nothing new.” The usual coal power plant lasts around 60 years. Who can tell what regulation will look like by then? So, instead, energy companies simply patch up existing coal plants.

In related news, the U.S. Interior department recently gave its approval for Cape Wind, a controversial off-shore wind power plant, to move forward. Cape Wind represents the launch of the first major offshore wind facility in the U.S.

This is the first part in a three-part series on the “Good Jobs, Green Jobs” conference. Read part two, Rebuilding Communities through Brownfield Restoration, and part three, Philadelphia’s Cutting-edge Green Infrastructure Plan.

Image credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images / The Guardian (UK)

ASLA Communications and Advocacy Summer Internships in Washington, D.C.

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is seeking applicants for its 2010 summer semester (May – August) internship program. This summer, ASLA seeks two full-time interns.

A summer internship with ASLA provides an excellent opportunity for graduate or undergraduate students studying landscape architecture, architecture, urban planning, sustainable development, or environmental studies. Students with an interest in policy, advocacy, and web communications are encouraged to apply.


  • Research, track, and analyze federal and state legislation focused on transportation, natural resources, environmental and water resource management, and sustainability issues, particularly as they relate to landscape architecture.
  • Assist with the Society’s direct advocacy with the Congress, the administration, and the federal agencies.
  • Assist with drafting, editing, and compiling government affairs communications, correspondence, and publications.
  • Attend educational / networking events at the National Building Museum, Harvard University’s Dumbarton Oaks, and other museums and think tanks.
  • Develop original content for The Dirt.
  • Contribute to biweekly electronic newsletter, LAND
  • Support chapter communications and resource development.


  • Current enrollment in a Master’s degree or Bachelor’s degree program in landscape architecture, architecture, urban planning, public policy or administration, environmental studies, or related field.
  • Passionate interest in policy issues related to design, land use, sustainability, and the environment.
  • Experience or familiarity with federal and state government affairs and the federal appropriations process.
  • Ability to write congressional correspondence, news stories, reports, and presentations.
  • Working knowledge of Microsoft Office (Word, Outlook, Powerpoint, Excel) and proven Internet research skills.

The 2010 summer internship is unpaid. Applicants must demonstrate they are using the internship to fulfill internship requirements. Applicants are also required to receive funding through their university or an external fellowship in order to be considered. 

 The summer intern should be present at ASLA offices for a minimum of three full days per week. ASLA offers a flexible schedule.

Please send cover letter and résumé to

Silicon Landscape

The University at Buffalo (UB) and New York Power Authority (NYPA) announced Walter Hood, ASLA, a leading landscape architect, won a public art competition to design a 1.1 megawatt (MW) solar array, which will be constructed on the university’s campus by NYPA. Fast Company says the installation is designed to “make solar energy beautiful.” According to UB, the 5,000 photovoltaic (PV) panels in the installation will generate solar energy for 735 student apartments and help reduce the university’s CO2 emissions by 500 metric tons per year.  

Hood calls his concept “The Solar Strand,” a reference to linear landscape formation and the way pairs of molecules entwine to form a DNA strand. Hood said: “Like a DNA fingerprint, solar panels would be codified and arranged to show how much power is captured/generated and where it is used.”

The solar array, which will line UB’s Flint Road entrance, is designed to integrate art and engineering innovation, and environmental sustainability. UB President John B. Simpson said: “The university sees the project as more than an energy-producing facility — we envision this as a significant land art installation that will complement the Buffalo Niagara region’s already significant reputation as a destination for world-class art and architecture.” The university will also include the new landscape in its research and academic programs on sustainability and green technologies. 

Hood said his design creates a new “patch ecology” that will merge with existing creeks and campus woodlands. The university writes: “Oaks, maples, redbuds and ground covers would be planted along with ornamental species like linden and malus (small deciduous trees or shrubs of the crabapple family) to provide microclimate and display.” Hood will also use low-maintenance sustainable grasses like bent grass and red fescue in “strands or striations to recall the site’s agricultural past.” Hood adds: “the landscape development reinforces the campus as a whole by connecting the tree canopy and the larger hydrological morphology.” 

Fast Company thinks the installation will also facilitate social interaction.”Nestled among them will be three ‘social rooms’–outdoor spaces defined by hillocks and ponds with added seating that blends into the land.” The university writes that each social room will feature “retention/detention swales and ponds adjacent to the towering panels, and seating, lighting and other furnishings will facilitate outdoor use.” Additionally, the recreational and educational spaces will be connected via trails and paths to a visitor center, and other facilities.

The campus solar project is a part of NYPA’s $21 million renewable energy program. Under the program, the university received a $7.5 million grant. The university says the project will be the largest solar installation on a “college or university campus in New York State and one of the largest on a college or university campus in the United States.”

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