Olmsted’s Blank Snow

Sergio López-Piñeiro, an assistant professor of architecture at the University of Buffalo, has created “Olmsted’s Blank Snow,” a seasonal “snow-scaping” project. The university writes that López-Piñeiro is working with the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy to plow snow into 15 giant forms in Buffalo’s Front Park, a park Frederick Law Olmsted designed with his partner Calvert Vaux. 

As can be seen from the photo directly above, the snow mounds aren’t very big at this point. However, López-Piñeiro is aiming for 42 feet wide and 7 feet high mounds by February. This should be easy considering the city often receives almost 100 inches of snow each year. 

The university says when the project is completed, “the view from above will be whimsical: mammoth snow spots in formation, arranged along the border and interior of a half-ellipse. From the ground, the view will be picturesque, with glimpses of the city and waterfront filling the space between the man-made knolls.”

López-Piñeiro thinks of himself more as a choreographer of natural events than a landscape architect. “This project explores how to plow the snow in ways that result in interesting landscapes. So, in a way, you could argue that my role as a designer has been to choreograph the movements of the snow plows in the parking lot through the winter.”

The architect spent two years working out the concept, which first came to him while taking photos of the city’s naturally-occurring snow drifts. He then started to build a scale model of the park with toy snow plows and lots of heavy salt. Part of his modeling involved leaving some space “blank,” purposefully not defining how the space could be used. López-Piñeiro said he has no clear plans for how the space should be used by people or local wildlife. “I’m interested in relinquishing some of the power that architects have traditionally held. I’m interested in allowing and enabling people to use spaces in ways that are not necessarily foreseen by a single mastermind, the mind of the architect.”

The university believes the project could also serve as a model for other cities with a surfeit of snow but no way to harness its potential artistic and civic value. Hopefully, lots of people will visit.  

The New York State Council of Arts provided a $10,000 grant for the project, and the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy provided access and donated the plowing.

Learn more about the project and watch a video.

Image credits: (1) Olmsted’s Blank Snow model, (2) Image of construction / Sergio López-Piñeiro

Cancun Climate Summit: Success for Mexico and the UN, but a Win for the Climate?

The Economist writes that wealthy and developing countries reached some “common ground” on climate change at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meetings that just concluded in Cancun. The deal builds on the Copenhagen accord negotiated last year (see earlier post), includes a new $100 billion “Green Fund” to aid developing countries with emission cuts and adaptation, and features a new REDD+ agreement, which will provide countries with financial rewards for reducing deforestation and new protections for the rights of indigenous people. There were agreements on technology transfer, and the UN will now play a larger role in creating a global adaptation framework. However, while the agreement may have improved the standing of Mexico and saved the UN process, it’s unclear whether it went far enough in terms of performance on reducing emissions.

Some commentators argue that the agreement demonstrated the success of Mexican diplomacy. Michael Levi, Council of Foreign Relations, argued: “By all accounts, the Mexican diplomatic team displayed great skill, giving all parties a voice while taking the reality of international power politics seriously. As a result, they eliminated silly procedural excuses for rejecting an agreed outcome, and in doing so appear to have established a much firmer foundation that the Copenhagen accord ever came close to enjoying.” The World Resources Institute (WRI) added that “in contrast to Copenhagen, the majority of countries described the process run by the Mexican presidency as transparent, enabling a basis of trust to underpin the negotiations. Countries felt they were consulted in an inclusive manner throughout 2010 and were not worried that a ‘secret text’ would emerge and trump their work in Cancun. This trust was fundamental to reaching agreement.” At Copenhagen, developing countries balked when they learned that a separate text was being formulated among key European players.

The New York Times’ opinion page also adds that the agreement is a win for the United Nations and its multilateral process, which was viewed as teetering on the edge of irrelevance. WRI argues that a “failure to make progress would have meant a true sidelining of the UNFCCC process, which most governments wanted to avoid. This dynamic likely increased their willingness to find solutions and make compromises.”

However, a number of commentators note that the agreement falls far short of what is needed to limit a temperature rise to 2 degrees celsius. The Guardian says under current committments, there would be a 3.2 degree celsius rise, a “total disaster.” Also, The Economist notes there was no deal on agriculture’s impacts on the climate or any agreement on the emissions from shipping and planes. In addition, Japan effectively removed itself from being bound by the Kyoto protocol’s emissions targets after 2012, asking for a new loophole.

The fact that other countries agreed to this may mean major countries like the U.S. and China don’t really expect any new binding agreement like Kyoto to appear. The Copenhagen accord, which was largely integrated into the UN process in Cancun, only asks countries to commit to reducing emissions and set their own national targets. Perhaps most countries know that a new Kyoto-like agreement with binding targets is not likely to be ratified by the U.S. Congress, leaving the U.S. out of any future global binding agreement again.  

Read more from WRI on the details of the agreement and also check out The Guardian’s comprehensive coverage.

Also, state department documents obtained by WikiLeaks outline how the Dalai Lama is now more concerned with addressing climate change on the Tibetan plateau than winning autonomony and religious and cultural freedoms in Tibet. Read the article.

Image credit: UNFCCC Sesssion / The Guardian

Using Plants to Clean up Toxic Sites

In Urban Omnibus, urban designer Kaja Kuhl writes that in New York City “underutilized or vacant space can be a source of creative inspiration for urban agriculture, public parks, housing, community space, and the occasional mini-golf course.” However, before these abandoned lots can be reused, a thorough environmental assessment must be conducted and contaminated soils must be cleaned-up. Phytoremediation, a form of bioremediation that uses plants to clean up leach toxic chemicals from soils, may be the small-scale, cost-effective solution landowners need to make abandoned sites productive again. Kuhl contends phytoremediation is fully 90 percent cheaper than conventional remediation processes.

Through PlaNYC, New York City’s comprehensive climate change plan, Mayor Bloomberg has made a strong committment to the productive reuse of the city’s brownfields. In addition, the mayor recently signed the New York City Brownfield and Community Revitalization Act. PlaNYC, along with this new legislation, led to the creation of the Office of Environmental Remediation, which “oversees the environmental review of brownfield sites and offers assistance to property owners on the path to a Green Property Certification and potential redevelopment.” 

Even with the new policy and regulatory incentives, however, a huge share of abandoned lots are left vacant because of the high-cost of conventional remediation, which typically involves bringing in bulldozers to excavate contaminated soils. Kuhl argues city landowners need a cheaper way to remediate sites, and phytoremediation may provide that low-cost option. “Instead of removing tons of toxic soil and filling the site with new clean soil, plants remove contaminants from the soil and store it within their plant tissue. In some cases, the plants themselves then have to be removed as hazardous waste, other plants break down the toxins and eliminate them altogether.”

Phytoremediation works, but the correct plants must be used. “Contaminants successfully removed in field studies have included heavy metals, radionuclides, chlorinated solvents, petroleum hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), pesticides and explosives. In order to successfully remediate toxins in soil or water, the appropriate plant groups have to be planted and monitored. Different plants have different remediative qualities.”Also, plants provide added value: “Improved air quality and reduction of storm water run-off are among the additional benefits of planting on sites that would otherwise be underutilized until funding for soil removal becomes available.”

Kuhl dug through NYC data and found that more than 11 percent of the city is an abandoned lot. If glued together, these disparate, small-scale lots would be the size of Manhattan. Also, most of the sites are small: 50 percent of all vacant lots of less than 2,500 square feet and 80 percent are less than 5,000 square feet. If applied across these small sites, low-cost and highly-effective phytoremediation techniques could have a powerful impact and help ensure future urban development is really just redevelopment.

Kuhl outlines eight steps for cleaning up an urban brownfield. To learn more, also check out an animation created using Google Sketchup that illustrates how plants and microbes clean up toxic sites.

In addition, the University of Arkansas Community Design Center has just released “Low Impact Development: a Design Manual for Urban Areas,” a 230-page guide that covers buildings, properties, streets, and open space, and includes detailed diagrams of a range of green infrastructure solutions. The guide is designed for “those involved in the development of urban property, from homeowners, to institutions, developers, designers, cities, and regional authorities.” The design center says “the goal is to promote implementation of LID technologies in urban areas through adoption of best practices in planning and design. An accompanying goal is to encourage reform in municipal codes which outlaw LID as a non-conforming stormwater management system in favor of conventional pipe-and-pond systems.”

Image credit: Urban Omnibus

West 8’s Garden of 10,000 Bridges

This spring, a new landscape created by West 8, a Dutch landscape architecture firm, will appear in Xian, China for the international horticultural expo. With its series of undulating bridges that will rise and fall into bamboo gardens, this poetic new garden is designed to perhaps convey the idea of life’s ups and downs, while also immersing visitors in nature.

Visitors will follow paths, stepping up and down the red bridges, which are set within a dense bamboo forest. Fast Company thinks it’s designed to confuse: “It’s designed so that you never know where you are or how far you’ve traveled; in other words, it’s supposed to make you feel lost.”  

However, West 8 describes their conception of the landscape, which is far richer: “Gardens are telling stories; they are poetry and have a narrative. Our garden represents the human life, the path of people’s lifetime. This path is a path of uncertainty and burden. Many bridges over troubled water. The garden design takes this path of life as a meandering, winding road – continuous and like a labyrinth. The path through nature takes you over 10,000 bridges.”

Unlike West 8’s award-winning bridge project in Toronto, which was made out of wood, the new bridges will be concrete. 

The International Horticulture Exhibition will be held in Xian from April 9 to October 9, 2011.

Image credit: West 8 / Fast Company

NEA Creative Placemaking Grants

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) announced a new set of “Our Town” grants for “creative placemaking” projects that contribute to the livability of communities and put the arts at their core. The organization says creative placemaking involves partners from the public, private, non-profit, and community sectors that work together to “strategically reshape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, city, or region around arts and cultural activities.”

Three types of projects are eligible for grants: planing, design, arts engagement activities. Memphis’ feasibility studies, plans, and the architectural models for a new downtown artist live/work site was listed as an example in the planning category. Dallas was cited as an example in the design category for its work overcoming physical barriers to better connect its arts district to rest of the city. Dallas is also highlighted for deploying its arts efforts in underserved communities. For arts engagement, the ARTery project in San Francisco, a multi-partner collaboration focused on turning two block of Market street into an arts and cultural hub, was cited as an example. The project involves addding innovative large-scale lighting design, street design, and store front art installations to create an “economically active district” and promote local cultural assets.

The grants have a unique requirement: partnerships are required, with a minimum of two organizations involved. One should be a nonprofit design or cultural organization, and one a government entity. There are 35 grants available, ranging from $25,000 to 250,000. The NEA seeks out projects relating to all design disciplines.

Watch videos on the NEA “Our Town” grants program, 2012 grants for arts project guidelines, and the organization’s new strategic plan. Actual grant guidelines will be posted January 13, 2011. Learn more about how to apply.

See NEA’s report on creative placemaking. Also, check out the $3 million in grants NEA issued earlier this year through the Mayor’s Institute for City Design’s 25th anniversary project.

Image credit: South Main Arts District, rendering of the proposed facade of 477 S. Main /Rebecca Conrad at Askew Nixon Ferguson Architects, NEA

Landscape Architects Must Fight for Public Health

An essay by Thomas Fisher, dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota,  in Places argues that Frederick Law Olmsted‘s early work as general secretary of the U.S. Sanitary Commission serves as a important model for today’s landscape architects. Fisher believes landscape architects must once again deeply engage in improving public health by creating parks and walkable, bikeable communities. Furthermore, these designers of the urban world must also get political, take on “prevailing power structures,” and make a “powerful case for long range social good and challenge those that skew the rules in favor of short-term gain for an increasingly remote elite.”

Fisher says the public health movement started in Germany in 1840’s and came out of concerns about the typhoid and typhus epidemics in Europe’s slums. One German physician, Rudolf Virchow, was “among the first to see the connection between poor sanitation and disease.” An American public health movement soon sprung up and sanitary commissions were set-up in several states. John Snow, a British physician, helped push the movement along with his breakthrough work that discovered cholera was linked with dirty water, not “bad vapors.”

Olmsted, then a public intellectual and editor of a magazine, was carefully tracking developments in public health, and began to argue for “great public parks” that could function as the “lungs of the city” and provide slum dwellers with clean air. However, Fisher says, “more accurate, in hindsight, was the emphasis Olmsted and Vaux placed on good sanitation — on well-drained land, well-circulating waterways and well-designed sanitary facilities — which reflected their knowledge of the sanitary movement and the connection the nascent field of public health had made between polluted water and disease.”

Olmsted and Calvert Vaux famously won the Central Park commission, but years later, Olmsted resigned the position of chief architect for the park after being caught up in political tensions with the Park’s comptroller and board of commissioners. A new position opened up for him: general secretary and chief executive officer of the new U.S. sanitary commission, a tough job during the Civil War. With the famed landscape architect at the helm, the commission fought the federal government to improve the health conditions of soldiers. “The Sanitary Commission inspected and made recommendations not just about the soldiers’ exhaustion levels but also about design issues such as the location of camps, the provision of drainage and waste disposal, the ventilation of tents, and the storage and preparation of food.”

Fisher argues that Olmsted’s brief detour from landscape architecture was actually very important — it helped create an early, formative connection between landscape architecture and public health. However, years later, with Olmsted leaving the public health field, it also meant the end of the direct professional connection. “It now seems clear that with Olmsted’s resignation from the Sanitary Commission a potentially vital connection was severed — the connection between physical design and public health. The disconnection would remain in place for more than a century — and only very recently have the ties begun to be restored.”

To restore the connection, new links must be formed between design and public health, rooted in current health issues. While the public health community has had success in treating diseases, new health problems require the intervention of landscape architects: “Today millions of people on the planet, especially in the rapidly growing cities of the developing world, endure living conditions much worse than what Olmsted witnessed in Lower Manhattan, and almost a billion lack easy access to clean water. We confront as well — perhaps for the first time in history — the public health challenges of prosperity. We now identify diseases like cancer, heart failure, diabetes, emphysema and even obesity as “lifestyle diseases,” resulting from individual and social behaviors, from personal choices and cultural patterns; indeed the Centers for Disease Control have been studying “urban sprawl and public health” for several years now. We understand the problem: the increasingly sedentary, high-calorie lifestyle that’s become common in wealthier countries has made obesity an epidemic, with all of the attendant malignancies and infarctions that come with it. Here, the causes lie even closer, no farther than the car-dominated cities we build, and the corn-syrup-laced beverages and high-fat foods we produce and market so aggressively.”

Moving forward, Fisher says landscape architects must follow Olmsted’s example and write and speak out on these issues. “In an era of great change, such as ours, we need to adapt the methods Olmsted used in another turbulent time: defining the discourse, identifying the problems, and proposing the strategies and policies needed to resolve them. Some of that can happen through design, but nothing can replace the power of persuasive writing and speaking. We need more often to put aside the mouse, and take to the keyboard.”

Secondly, like Olmsted, today’s landscape architects must partner with a wider range of design disciplines. “The causes of homegrown lifestyle diseases and of global pandemics are complex and interwoven; it will take many disciplines, working together, to devise solutions. And of course Olmsted’s example suggests that the landscape architect can function not only as an expert in how we inhabit and steward the land, but also as a manager of diverse teams of people. Olmsted knew something about sanitation — but just as important, he knew how to organize and operate a complex commission and oversee the work of a large multidisciplinary staff. This may in fact be among the more important skills landscape architects can offer today, as the field studies how settlement patterns, transportation modes, water quality, etc., relate to the ramifying problems of public health in an urbanizing world.”

Lastly, these designers of the built environment must fight for those facing disease. “It will take professionalism and political will, but the price of ignoring our contemporary public health crises — pandemics that will endanger billions, chronic diseases that damage lives and by extension the whole society — will be steep, and we will all pay it.”

Read the article

Also, check out a recent article in The New York Times’ personal health section calling for “everyone to get a daily dose of green space.”

Image credit: Ocean Parkway Bicycle Path designed by Olmsted and Vaux, 1894 /New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, Places

City of Dreams Pavilion Competition

FIGMENT, a Governors Island cultural organization, the Emerging New York Architects Committee (ENYA) of the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter (AIANY), and the Structural Engineers Association of New York (SEAoNY) announced the launch of their 2nd annual pavilion competition. The theme of this year’s pavilion is “City of Dreams,” which asks designers to look towards the future of “both the island and design.”

Like last year’s competition, this year’s seeks out projects that are not only well-designed, but are also net-zero, temporary, and completely reusable. “Instead of a typical design competition, the City of Dreams Pavilion asks entrants to consider how they will construct this temporary structure in the most efficient and sustainable way possible. Entrants will consider the entire lifecycle of building materials in their submission, from preconstruction through disassembly. In the end, the goal is to create a pavilion that has net zero impact and that serves as a prototype for a new, truly sustainable, way of thinking about design and construction.”

The competition organizers say that the winning pavilion will get a wide audience. Since Governors Island first opened to the public in 2004, interest in public art events have only grown. In 2010 alone, more than 400,000 visited and attended an art or cultural event or saw local sites. 

The winning design will be constructed on Governors Island in the summer of 2011. The registration deadline is January 15, and the deadline for entries is February 01, 2011. Learn more about how to register. Also, check out last year’s winner.

Image credit: Living Pavilion, 2010 City of Dreams Pavilion Winner / Nolan Rhodes

The Innovation Ecosystem

At the Energy Innovation 2010 conference, a number of leading experts on renewable energy, climate change, and sustainable transportation systems like electric vehicles, argued that innovation goes way beyond simple investments in research and development, but encompasses a comprehensive “innovation ecosystem” guided by consumer demand, supply of scientific research and marketable technologies, geographic clusters of firms, and the structures of government institutions. All these factors together will determine if the U.S. can continue to generate “game changing” next-generation technologies that can create more sustainable communities.

Incentivizing Clean Energy Production

Roger Pielke Jr., author of “The Climate Fix: What Scientists and Politicians Won’t Tell You About Climate Change,” says top-down, UN-led negotiations on climate change, which aims at creating global and then national greenhouse gas (GHG) emission targets and action plans, has largely failed. Instead, Pielke argues countries need to go “straight to innovation.” However, even then, there are still issues with setting national targets. For example, the UK “has the most ambitious CO2 target in the world — a 34 percent reduction of 1990 emission levels by 2020, but is finding it won’t be able to achieve this. “It would mean becoming as carbon-efficient as France in the next 2-3 years. The UK would need to add 30-40 nuclear power plants.” Realizing the difficulties, the UK is considering moving back its clean energy production targets.

To truly incentivize clean energy production, current undesirable forms of energy production must be taxed and those taxes must be used to finance the next generation of technologies. Pielke said both India and Germany are leading the way — India is adding a small 30 cent tax for each ton of coal. Those funds are then being reinvested in new energy technologies. Similarly, Germany is taxing nuclear rods because it hopes to move away from nuclear power. Germany is expecting to raise $40 billion for energy innovation.

Devon Swezey of the Breakthrough Institute built on this idea, adding that the “clean energy tigers” in Asia (Japan, China, and South Korea) will outspend the U.S. on government and private investment in energy innovation by a ratio of 3-to-1 over the next ten years. In addition, major global technology and energy firms like IBM, Applied Materials, Intel are now bypassing the U.S. and setting up their clean energy technology labs in China.

To keep these firms’ energy research here, the U.S. must invest in its entire innovation system — not just testing and deploying cutting-edge technologies, but opening and keeping open clean energy power plants and manufacturing facilities. “Manufacturing is part of the innovation ecology. If we lose capacity, parts of the clusters will move overseas.” Overall, panelists argued that increased investments in government energy R&D and investment isn’t enough — there must also be a focus on harnessing the innovation ecosystem and “process innovation” for new energy solutions to become reality across the U.S. 

Getting Americans to Love Electric Vehicles  

Robbie Diamond, President and CEO of Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE) and the Electrification Coalition, said only in the U.S. are there “more cars than people,” with 1,100 cars per 1,000 people. In China and India, the rate is closer to 9 per 1,000, and even in western Europe, it’s around 700 cars per 1,000. While this demonstrates an incredible car-dependency and explains the enormous demand for imported oil, the amazing number of U.S. cars may also provide an opportunity. Diamond argued that the U.S. could be the key market for electric vehicles just because American families often have 2-3 cars.

Unfortunately, to date, there are only 1.6 million hybrid vehicles on the road, “mainly in niche markets in coastal cities,” and an even fewer number of electric vehicles. Still, Diamond sees electric vehicles as “the killer app” for revolutionizing the energy sector. A host of other applications, including smart meters, could spring up from electric vehicles (see earlier post). Also, the market may be there if costs can be brought down and consumers are better educated about the benefits of vehicles. “Right now, a big stumbling block is that electric vehicles don’t get 400 miles per tank, but most car trips are 10 minutes or less,” Diamond said. Electric vehicles need to somehow connect with consumers.

Transforming the Built Environment

Cathy Zoi, Acting Under Secretary for Energy and Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Department of Energy, plugged her department’s new Better Buildings program, which received nearly half a billion in recovery funds. Better Buildings is about scaling up building energy efficiency retrofits to the neighborhood level. The goal is to create a business model for “neighborhood by neighborhood” retrofits that leverage economies of scale. “We want to get to 5-10 million homes being retrofitted for energy efficiency in the next few years.”

Zoi outlined a story about the creation of Energy Star, which she said came out of the information technology sector and then spread to all appliances. She said the Energy Department saw in the early dates of mass computing that laptop computers shut down automatically, but desktop computers were often left on all night because users feared that their data would be lost. Going to the major manufacturers, Zoi and her team asked why couldn’t desktops also be programmed to shut down automatically. One engineer said, “Oh, this is very easy, but our marketing department didn’t see any point in this so they blocked that feature.” So marketing departments everywhere could see the benefit, the Energy department created the Energy Star logo, which helped “pull the market forward.” Now, with the Obama administration’s more stringent appliance energy efficiency standards, “we will see a $350 billion savings in energy usage.” Zoi said this model — “institutionalizing efficiency so energy efficiency is easier than inefficiency” will be crucial to expanding green buildings across the U.S.

The Department of Defense is taking a similar approach. Dr. Jeffrey Marqusee, Executive Director, Strategic Environmental R&D Program, said defense bases act are “small communities in themselves, with hospitals, stores, housing, and offices.” To address the defense department’s monster energy needs (it’s the largest single consumers of energy in the world), “we’ll need to deploy retrofits over our whole stock of buildings.” One-off green showcases will no longer be enough.

Finding the Game Changers

In addition to electric vehicles, incentivizing new energy innovation, and scaling up energy efficient building retrofits, some government officials are also trying to find the “game changing” energy solutions that will make current technologies obsolete.

Dr. Arun Majumdar, Director, Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E), sees the potential rise of “electro-fuels,” as well as energy that uses carbon dioxide as a basic feedstock. In this scenario, the key driver of climate change would instead become the source of new energy. He also said key components of the future smart grid, like an “operating system” and more powerful and efficient transformers, still haven’t been created yet.

Cathy Zoi at the Energy Department said her department’s “Sun Shot” program aims to create a next-generation solar panel in five years that can provide one kilo-watt of energy at 5-6 cents. “We are investing in a new way to do solar.” There was also discussion of small-scale modular nuclear reactors (see earlier post). “The Navy has been using these for a really long-time (in nuclear submarines),” but these could power installations and bring down the cost of reactors. As Dr. Marqusee noted, however, the questions is will local communities want a small-scale nuclear reactor in their backyard?

In future debates on next-generation energy technologies, perhaps there will also be more discussion on what this all means for the built environment and sustainable community development.  For instance, what role can design professionals (landscape architects, planners, environmental engineers, and architects) play in helping communities leverage this coming infrastructure? How can electric vehicle powering stations and smart meters, solar and wind power plants, and retrofitted neighborhoods be well integrated into pioneering sites so demand for them only grows?

Image credit: Electric Vehicle Charging Station, Brooklyn, NYC / Inhabitat

Milan’s Urban Regeneration Project Adds a Public Park

Bustler writes that London-based landscape architecture firm Gustafson Porter won the Milan CityLife international park design competition. The park is a key component of the new CityLife urban redevelopment scheme, a 3.2 million-square-feet, 532 million Euro project in the historic Fiera Milano quarter of Milan. The project’s 170,000-square-meter park will take up a good-sized chunk of the site; the rest of the space is dedicated to new skyscrapers and private spaces designed by Zaha Hadid, Arata Isozaki and Daniel Libeskind. The new park will help “identity of a grand new quarter in Milan, an area of living, work and culture,” said Letizia Moratti, the mayor of Milan.

Neil Porter said the new park will define the green, public part of the broader urban regeneration project and also connect with the city’s existing green infrastructure. “We are delighted to have been chosen to create a green and sustainable open space. Our aim is to achieve the set goals of devising a park which is environmentally sustainable, symbolic of the city’s transformation and connective within the existing and future green infrastructure of Milan, the ‘Green Rays’. We wish to create a design that will set new standards for future urban parks and gardens – particularly with regards to issues of biodiversity and sustainability within a complex urban context.”

Wikipedia writes that the new park will feature waterways that “evoke the canals of Lombardy.” However, it’s not clear whether these plans are part of the final design. To maintain space for parkland, parking for the 20-story high-rises is also said to be moved underground. There will also be a new building for the local Museum of Design.

The multidisciplinary team led by Gustafson Porter includes !melk, One Works, Arup Italia, Ove Arup, and additional support from Studio Tre Architetti and Ferrara Palladino. Work on the multi-phased project began in 2007 and will be complete by 2014.

Read the article and see more images.

Also, see what “Il Curvo” (the Curved One), Daniel Libeskind’s building, and “Lo Storto” (the Twisted One), Zaha Hadid’s building, will look like.

Image credit: Bustler / CityLife Milan park plan, Gustafson Porter

Creating High Performance Federal Buildings (and Landscapes)

At the 2010 Ecobuild, Senator Thomas Carper, a key member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, argued that public-private partnerships are critical to creating high-performance federal buildings and — the Senator left this out — landscapes. He said sustainable, high-performance buildings are a “common sense approach” to reducing waste, increasing energy efficiency, and tackling the ever-growing government debt.

As an example of a high-performance building, Carper pointed to the National Building Museum, which he said was built 120 years ago for less than a million, but is now worth more than $21 million. Modeled after Roman palaces, the building is a feat of “19th century construction and engineering.” NBM’s great building not only demonstrates the “power of high-performance construction, but the beauty found in functional buildings” that last many years.

Since the NBM building’s construction, the concept of high-performance in architecture and landscape architecture has advanced. Carper says this is largely due to the integration of scientific and engineering breakthroughs with design practice. In addition, the federal government can play a role in further advancing high-performance design practice and ensuring that these technologies spread through the marketplace.

The federal government’s key leverage point is through its own buildings. Carper pointed to President Obama’s Executive Order 13514, the Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance, as a step in the right direction. The order calls for federal building energy use to be reduced by 25 percent by 2020 and all federal buildings to be net-zero by 2030 (see earlier post). Buildings must also improve water efficiency by 26 percent and reduce CO2 emissions by 28 percent by 2020. “On energy alone, the federal government spends some $25 billion per year. This program will save some $8-12 billion in energy costs.” The idea is to use the “federal government’s buying power” to spur a new, broader market for green building products so every major company and non-profit organization and each family can access these technologies at low cost. Carper said President Clinton effectively kick-started the recycled paper market in the U.S. In the 90’s through an executive order so Obama’s green building order has the potential to do the same.

In terms of legislation to strengthen public-private partnerships, Carper is working on the Improving Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Use by Federal Agencies Act, which he calls a comprehensive set of proposals to enable federal agencies to tap private financing to make green building retrofits. Also, this legislation would enable the federal government to sell-off unused office space and use the proceeds to retrofit green buildings. “According to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), we are spending $100 billion a year to secure and maintain buildings we aren’t using. We don’t need this given our increasing debt.” Another piece of legislation Carper worked on has made it through the House and is on its way to President Obama for signature: The Federal Building Personnel Training Act, which will “ensure the federal government has the skilled workforce needed to maintain buildings at high-performance levels.”

Beyond buildings though, President Obama’s new executive order also has the potential to revolutionize the use of sustainable landscape practices. To achieve water reductions of 26 percent by 2020, the federal government should consider applying the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) to the landscape surrounding buildings. SITES, a sustainable landscape rating system that will also be rolled into LEED, would help with sustainably siting new landscape projects; water-efficient retrofits of existing government plazas, parks, and facilities; and integrating building and landscape systems to maximize water and energy efficiency gains. To achieve the tougher goal of net-zero buildings by 2030, the GSA can apply SITES to ensure “zero environmental impact” also holds true for the site surrounding the building, not just the building itself.

To get more supportive legislation that can incentivize the use of sustainable building and landscape practices in the broader market, Carper said it will be important to measure the benefits. Given any pending legislation must be considered in terms of its budgetary implications, “we need more metrics” to prove the case on Capitol Hill.

Learn more about how some designers are applying SITES and quantifying the benefits during the rating system’s pilot phase.

Also, check out the Next Generation Design competition from Metropolis magazine and GSA, which will take a 1960’s Los Angeles government building and turn it into an environmentally-sustainable showcase that illustrates integrated design principles. Susan Szenasy, editor of Metropolis, has called on all design professionals, especially landscape architects, to submit entries. Submissions are due January 31, 2011.

Image: National Building Museum interior