Taking Nature to the City

In Biophilic Cities: Integrating Nature into Urban Design and Planning, Timothy Beatley, Teresa Heinz Professor of Sustainable Communities at the University of Virginia, argues that planners and landscape architects must design cities so people feel intimately connected with nature. Beatley hopes his book will foster a dialogue about biophilic cities by first defining what these are, offering a set of indicators for measuring biophilic interactions, then imagining how these look at various scales, and finally outlining what institutions and organizations can do to build communities more in tune with nature.

Beatley describes how biophilia, a term coined by famed sociobiologist and conservationist E. O. Wilson, can inform how we plan, design, and manage our cities. He defines a biophilic city as one that puts nature first. “It recognizes the essential need for daily human contact with nature as well as the many environmental and economic values provided by nature and natural systems.” In addition, these cities are places where “residents spend time enjoying the biological magic and wonder around them. In biophilic cities, residents care about nature and work on its behalf locally and globally.” 

Throughout, there’s a strong case for the psychological benefits of urban nature. E. O. Wilson writes in the foreword: “The evidence is compelling that frequent exposure to the natural world improves mental health, it offers a deep sense of inner peace, and, in many ways we have only begun to understand by scientific reason, it improves the quality of life.” Beyond improving humans’ well-being though, fostering biophilia among residents can also increase cities’ resiliency to future changes.  

Beatley compiles research and case studies that highlight the environmental, economic, and quality-of-life payoffs of nature in the urban setting. He breaks down several indicators of a biophilic city while acknowledging that urban design and planning is concerned with various scales: regional, community, neighborhood, street, block, and building. “The best biophilic cities are places where these different scales overlap and reinforce biophilic behaviors and lifestyles. Ideally, in a biophilic city these scales work together to deliver a nested nature that is more than the sum of its parts.”

He explores a number of indicators for determining how well a city creates biophilic connections:

Conditions and Infrastructure

Beatley covers the growing body of biophilic architecture (see earlier post) and then inspires to translate them to the broad scale. He also argues for improved accessibility to green spaces. At the broad scale, he asks policymakers to consider how well they facilitate access to nature:

  • What percentage of the population is within 100 meters of a park or greenspace?
  • Per capita, how many miles of walking trails exist in the city’s borders? 


The residents and institutions of a biophilic city celebrate the unique biodiversity of their place and actively enjoy and participate in the nature around them. Beatley writes that cities can encourage us to connect with nature through programs and offering volunteer opportunities. Some questions for the cities trying to measure the biophilic connections created through activities:

  • What is the percentage of time residents spend outside, understanding that climate must be accounted for?
  • What percentage of the population is active in nature or outdoor clubs or organizations?  How many of these organizations exist in the city?

Attitudes and Knowledge

The metabolism of a sustainable city relies on residents both knowing and caring about its unique nature, natural history, and restoration opportunities. Beatley points to Tadao Ando’s “Sea Forest” plan for an 88-hectare parcel in the Tokyo Bay where trees will be planted on landfill, educating all who visit about the benefits of nature. In this area, there are some questions to evaluate how actively residents participate in the natural city:

  • What percentage of the population can recognize common species of native flora and fauna?
  • To what extent are residents curious about the natural world around them?

Institutions and Government

To facilitate the growth of biophilic connections, many players must become involved. Most important: there should be education programs to foster connectedness to nature- locally, regionally, and globally. Institutions that could have particularly strong roles include botanical gardens, municipal zoos, natural history museums, and conservation groups. Beatley writes about Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden of Richmond, Virginia, which grows food for its community. It has five “learning farms” for urban youth to work at and earn an income.  To determine whether governments and instutions are doing enough, questions are directed at how well cities are protecting and building their biodiversity and investing in education:

  • Has the government adopted a local biodiversity action plan or strategy?
  • Has priority been given to environmental education?
  • Has the government adopted green building and planning codes, grant programs, density bonuses, green space initiatives, dark-sky lighting standards, etc?

Overall, the city should be a place that is deeply connected to nature; it breaks the average urban resident’s feeling of alienation from nature. Planners and landscape architects need to mediate and facilitate this process so that we envision our cities as a living environment. With many case studies and best practices, the book offers exemplary ideas for professionals to consider as they re-naturalize the urban world.

Read the book and learn more about biophilic landscape design.

This guest post is by Amanda Rosenberg, 2010 ASLA advocacy and communications intern.

Image credit: Timothy Beatley / Island Press

The Suburbs’ Second Growth

Reprinted from the April issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine (LAM). In honor of National Landscape Architecture Month, the April issue is available for free online.

For decades, people have bewailed sprawl and demanded that we stop developers from spreading it any farther. While urbanists have proposed numerous alternative development patterns and zoning regulations that might improve the quality of future new construction, there hasn’t been much discussion about the millions and millions of acres that already exist.

The attention that has been paid to this existing suburban landscape has been primarily form based, when it should have been concerned with how to change that landscape and should, therefore, have been process oriented. It finally is time for a process-oriented approach, because the existing single-function landscape, created for an automobile-dependent population, is getting steadily older and obsolescent—sufficiently so that we need practical proposals for what should come next and how to make it happen.

Because the mid-20th-century suburban landscape is aging, there is an opportunity for second growth. Many single-story manufacturing facilities are closing down, open-air shopping centers find it difficult to compete with big-box retailers and climate-controlled malls, railroads have abandoned once-profitable rights-of-way, and aging office parks with out-of-date infrastructure are being taken out of service. Moreover, development has now leapfrogged into the exurbs, and residents and businesses that once occupied mid-20th-century suburbs are following farther into the hinterland. We need to recognize this mounting problem but think of it as an opportunity to shape what will be inevitable second growth.

Underused manufacturing properties, shopping complexes, and office parks can now be purchased by county and town governments in suburban areas and reused as public parks. Some vehicular lanes on major traffic arteries can now be replaced with wider sidewalks, bicycle lanes, and light rail or bus rapid-transit corridors. Some clusters of small, deteriorating bungalows can now be replaced by higher-density residential development. We should seize this opportunity by eliminating single-function zoning, introducing alternatives to private automobile travel, acquiring sites for the development of new public parks, and providing a public-realm framework that ties these communities together. All this can be accomplished once there are models to be used in local redevelopment efforts, financial mechanisms to pay for them, and agencies established to implement schemes for second growth that undo sprawl.

The model I propose is similar to what my firm proposed and was adopted by the County Commission in DeKalb County, Georgia. It can be financed through a tax increment district, which uses the increased taxes paid by properties whose value has been increased by investment in the public realm and rezoning to pay debt service on the bonds that would finance the investments in the public realm. While the money for these public-realm investments would come from bonds, the construction itself could either be done by private developers implementing a government-approved plan or by a redevelopment agency set up for that purpose by the local government.

At the start of the 20th century there may have been a rationale for separating land uses. But much of that rationale is now irrelevant. Environmental regulation now precludes the air and water pollution that made it essential to separate manufacturing from residential areas. Similarly, bicycle and light-rail networks in Denver, Minneapolis, and other cities are being extended into the suburbs, thereby diverting enough traffic to reduce the rights-of-way used by motor vehicles. As a result there is a growing opportunity for a major change in land-use patterns and, with that change, major improvements in the quality of life throughout suburban areas that were once decried as sprawl.

Alexander Garvin is president of AGA Public Realm Strategists, author of Public Parks: The Key to Livable Communities, and Professor of Urban Planning and Management at Yale University.

Blurring the Lines Between Building and Landscape

Sam Lubell, west coast editor of The Architect’s Newspaper, argues that the demands of sustainability are forcing a merger of building and landscape. At the level of the design process, this integration has led to increased collaboration between some architects and landscape architects and, in some cases, for the two disciplines to “reverse roles.” 

One architect, Michael Maltzan, designed Playa Vista park on LA’s west side (image above) to be a series of “urban rooms,” which include “floating recreation areas, large angular planted mounds, carved granite bridges, and a tensile fabric band shell.” Working with landscape architect James Burnett, FASLA, Maltzan used “materials to reinforce the separation of space and employed shapes and textures to lead people through the park. In the end, the park is as much architecture as it is landscape.” Maltzan said: “The boundary between landscape and architecture barely exists anymore.” In fact, by blurring the lines between the two disciplines, “you can then create real innovation.”

In another example, Curtis Fentress is expanding the public space in the San Diego convention center by heading for the roof. His firm will create a five-acre green park on top of the center. While Vancouver got there first, creating a massive 6-acre green roof for their convention center, Vancouver’s conference center isn’t designed for public use (see earlier post). Fentress said: “It’s about adding public space in a tight environment.”

In an instance of a true collaboration, Morphosis and SWA created a new headquarters for Giant Interactive Group outside Shanghai, a project in which the “building and landscape are often indistinguishable.” The building is covered in a “‘prairie blend’ of 15 plants that undulates and twists at extreme angles, and slopes down to the surrounding waterscape. While all green roofs provide thermal protection, this project is an entire eco-system, filtering water for the nearby canal and feeding several life forms. The green space has become an attraction for workers and locals alike.” SWA principal Ying Yu Hung, ASLA, said:“We’re all interested in the same things these days. Energy efficiency, natural materials, the healing power of nature.” 

In fact, SWA’s Los Angeles office has 13 landscape architects and two architects — “an increasingly common admixture.” In another example of a mixed, interdisciplinary, and innovative firm, there’s San Francisco-based firm Interstice Architects, which includes two principals: an architect and a landscape architect. According to Lubell, “several of their projects combine the disciplines, including the upcoming Center for Science and Innovation at the University of San Francisco. This project will include a “new green plaza made of native plants built on top of an expansion to the school’s Harney Hall. In order to provide more light inside, the firm included benches that double as skylights and a side-facing ‘storefront window wall’ that cuts into the earth.”

Their firm’s interdisciplinary design approach, which is used to achieve maximum sustainability benefits, means, in practice, a breaking down of disciplinary boundaries to achieve results. Zoee Astrakhan, ASLA, Interstice’s landscape architect principal, said: “When you begin documenting things, the lines are difficult to draw. There was definitely a lot of time spent figuring out what made sense; figuring out what was architecture and what was landscape. It wasn’t always that clear to us.”

Read the article to learn about how other architects and landscape architects cross disciplinary boundaries.  

Image credits: (1) Playa Vista Park / Ivan Baan, (2) Giant Interactive Group Headquarters / Morphosis and SWA , (3) Center for Science and Innovation / Interstice Architects

Which Cities Are Smarter?

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has launched Smarter Cities, a comprehensive “multimedia Web initiative,” designed to answer the questions: What makes a smarter city? Which cities are smarter? In this instance, NRDC is defining smarter as “more efficient, sustainable, equitable and livable.” Included in this new trove are online resources focused on “leader cities,” selected for their “best practice programs in various components of sustainability”; more than a hundred city profiles; toolkits; and a blog by NRDC smart growth experts.

NRDC writes: “Today, urban leaders—mayors, businesses and community organizations—are in the environmental vanguard, making upgrades to transportation infrastructure, zoning, building codes, and waste management programs as well as improving access to open space, green jobs, affordable efficient housing and more. If they succeed in making their cities more efficient, responsible and sustainable, what will result will be smarter places for business and healthier places to live.” The organization hopes urban policymakers will take advantage of these resources, and visit “Smarter Cities knowing that it is where they will find solutions to the challenges they face, and make good use of the valuable tools we are working everyday to gather – the model policies and programs, best practices, incentives and innovations that leader cities are piloting – by rolling them out where they live.”

Smarter Cities identifies “leader cities, those cities that for a specific sustainability factor are putting in place best practices, testing innovative new programs, passing model legislation, etc.” To bring these cutting-edge cities to life, there will be a set of research on various topics of interest to urban policymakers. New research articles on the best practices of 22 smarter cities that “made the grade” in sustainable municipal energy programs were just released, followed by additional sections on transportation, water, green buildings, and other areas. Research for each area is being informed by a research plan led by an advisory group. Next steps for the future areas include “data collection” that will be as “comprehensive as possible and involve surveys and interviews with municipal officials as well as a full review of existing data sources.”

There’s a compact yet growing toolkit, including things like a “model ordinance, a detailed description of an innovative new program, a web site for citizens who want more information, want to learn about incentives, opportunities, resources, ways to get involved, and other valuable tools cities and their residents should find useful.”

In the same vein, What’s Smart Near You? involves residents of these cities in a broader conversation about cities through a set of searchable databases and useful tools that allow everyone to “locate local goods and services that make all of us and our communities smarter.” One easy-to-use tool enables urban residents to find fresh local foods, while another helps residents locate recycling centers near them. Also, one really nice feature is a map tool that enables you to search for resources by state. There’s also a set of “cities to watch” in this area.

Check out your city’s profile and start exploring resources.

Image credit: Chicago City Hall Green Roof / Chicago Convention and Tourist Bureaus

Santa Monica Unveils Designs for Civic Center Parks

Last year, James Corner Field Operations won the commission to design the new Santa Monica Civic Center parks, which includes a new town square and Palisades garden walk. Designs for the seven-acre, $25 million project were recently unveiled, showing an “ambitious, layered” proposal that will be broken up into a number of “systems,” writes The Architect’s Newspaper. These systems are a set of “colorful and diverse zones” that enable different experiences for park visitors. 

According to The Architect’s Newspaper, the new landscape includes a set of zones: “view-centric hills, sheltered bays, and meandering pathways surrounded by plants, fountains, and small creeks.” There’s a Grand Bluff, which will provide views of the ocean and neighborhood. Garden Hill will offer the “widest variety of plant life on the site.” A new Gathering Hill is designed for “congregation and relaxation.” The Discovery Bay is a new kids play area and will include “an area shaded by large trees that will contain extra large steel slides, forts, and other activities.” The Town Square, which local respondents to a survey said had too much pavement, will get a new reflecting pool, reflecting the city hall.

Associate Partner Lisa Switkin said: “We want people to have several ways of experiencing the park. The topography gives it a very clear structure.” The “hilly” project was inspired by the Arroyo Wash, a “dried riverbed that once ran through the site.” In addition, there are common design elements spread through the new sites, which are expected to give the area a new identity. “Most will be made of stainless steel slats and complemented with curved precast concrete benches. The most dramatic will be the large clamshell-shaped steel viewing platforms located on the Grand Bluff.” The project includes all native plants that are designed to subtly show seasonal change, along with water conservation technologies that will help make the site a more sustainable one.

As part of the design process, Field Operations surveyed hundreds of local respondents to determine their priorities. The team of landscape architects found that locals wanted “improved connectivity, circulation and access;” play and “discovery” elements to be embedded in different areas of the park; high ocean views; and bike bays at the edges of the park to discourage bike riding through the park center. As a result, the team improved the connectivity at the northeast corner of the site, better incorporated play throughout the park, increased the height of views, and added more bike parking.

Local elected officials also weighed in with a range of comments as well. Most were positive, but local landmarks commissioner Margaret Bach told The Santa Monica Mirror in late February that changes were needed: “The plan respects the landmark WPA-era City Hall and is seeking to create a meaningful and flexible public space that is appropriate to its important role in our civic life. As for the park itself, I endorse the basic concept and architecture of the park and its circulation. However, I am concerned that the park is overly designed, with contours and overlooks that create visual and functional barriers for the public. I would endorse a simplification of the plan to create more openness, access and cohesiveness.” Corner responded that all the “issues (expressed by the community and the park commission) will be taken seriously and resolved.” On the Town Square design, he added: “it’s very difficult from a design standpoint to make a space that is on the one hand ceremonial, grand, and civic and on the other hand social. There’s a tension between formality and informality.”

The landmarks and coastal commissions will review the Town Square and ocean view components of the design, and then the city council will do a final vote on the project in June. If approved and state funds are available, construction will begin next spring and will be completed by spring 2013. However, funding may still be a big issue. According to The Santa Monica Mirror, Governor Jerry Brown has proposed cutting all state redevelopment agency funding in an effort to close the state’s massive $25 billion budget gap. Karen Ginsberg, the assistant director of the community and cultural affairs department, said plans will move forward despite the potential funding challenges. If the state fails to finance this, it’s not clear where the funds will be found though.

Check out Field Operation’s design proposal and see an earlier post on the design process.

Image credit: James Corner Field Operations

Aligning Historic Preservation and Sustainable Design

Historic preservation and sustainable design are two disciplines that no longer need to be at odds but can actually join together to improve the sustainability of buildings, argued Maria Casarella, an architect with Cunningham | Quill Architects, Brendan Owens, Vice President of LEED Technical Development, and Eleni Reed, chief greening officer at the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). These experts explored all angles of the raging “historic preservation vs. sustainable design” debate during a lecture at the National Building Museum (NBM).

How Historic Preservation and Sustainable Design Overlap

Given all the embodied energy found in old buildings filled with bricks, metal, concrete and other materials, why pull them down in favor of possibly more energy-efficient buildings made of all new materials? Martin Moeller, Senior Vice President at NBM, argued that both old and new LEED certified buildings are “good things” but it’s a matter of “juggling.” What’s the balance, prioritization? Still, for some preservationists, the main issue with the new green building movement, which still only accounts for less than one percent of all buildings, is that existing buildings may be the greenest.

Maria Casarella, an architect who brings sustainable design approaches to many historic preservation projects in the Washington, D.C. area, and who is also on the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board, said the district, with its wealth of historic buildings, has made great progress on sustainability but the historic preservation community was engaged “late in the game.” She said historic preservation vs. sustainable design is a bit of a “false choice,” but LEED still fails to account for a building’s historic or cultural value. “How do you assign historic value through a points system?”

Eleni Reed at the GSA agreed and said the U.S. government, which is one of the world’s biggest landlords, is working on “reinvesting in its existing inventory.” Using recovery funds, the Public Buildings Service is transforming many older buildings into “high performing buildings.” To date, some 100 historic buildings have been “touched on.” Reed believes “sustainability and preservation must go hand in hand.”

At the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), creator of the LEED rating system, the issue can be broken down into the overall carbon footprint of new green buildings vs. greener building operations and maintenance for older and even historic buildings. Brendan Owens at USGBC said their goal is to create “dashboards” for all buildings so that even historic buildings can track their “operational performance.” Owens said “existing buildings still have to operate at their potential.”

Some Older Buildings Are Greener

Owens said energy ordinances are “popping up everywhere”, which means building managers must disclose how much energy a building is using. Through these programs, the building design and engineering community is discovering that buildings created 80-100 years ago “tend to outperform newer buildings.” Unfortunately, he added, many commercial real estate developers don’t know this. Owens added that “technically sophisticated buildings may be energy hogs” in comparison with older buildings. He just wants to make sure those older, well-performing buildings are actually tracking their performance. Reed at GSA agreed, saying that the benefits of older buildings “need to be quantified.”

According to Moeller, the problem buildings are the ones created 40-50 years ago. These are the worst from an energy point of view. The “1930’s is a significant cut-off point” said Owens. 

To address the issues in these challenging mid-20th century buildings, Casarella thought that a careful approach was needed. “It’s not one size fits all.” Architects and engineers need to look at the content, climate zone, and existing materials. For example, smart lighting can make a huge difference in efforts to upgrade the performance of older buildings. HVAC controls and new systems can also be revamped. While redoing an apartment in the Watergate complex, a highly energy-inefficient building, however, she had to “go down to the bone” to restore and make more sustainable. “All the systems had to be ripped out.”

Improving Historic Buildings with New Systems and Materials

Beyond incorporating highly efficient windows, which all experts agreed was a crucial element in a greener building, Casarella made a pitch for geothermal systems, arguing that small-scale system can use the earth’s temperature to heat and cool a building with a “relatively light footprint.” In addition, these systems only require a “light intervention” in historic buildings. Geothermal means there’s no new heavy equipment sitting on exteriors or incongruos solar panels, just a well dug within the building. “Also, there’s no noise.”

Recycled material surface products are also gaining traction, along with solar-responsive products. Traditional building materials like zinc or tiles are now being manufactured in a more sustainable way. “This is contemporary fashion in manufacturing.” 

Reed said operable windows and employee-controlled HVAC systems are basic strategies too (see earlier post on the new Federal building in San Francisco).

However, Owens cautioned that “the next asbestos is already in buildings. We just haven’t learned about the negative impacts of it yet.” He called for the expansion of newer materials that “are more inert” in terms of their impact on human health. “Mitigating the impact of bad materials is very expensive. Let’s try to get it right the first time around.”

Ending the Debate

While the National Trust for Historic Preservation has been a leader on sustainability, Casarella argued, “locally there isn’t any historic preservation community engagement on this issue.” She said there’s an “engagement gap.”

Reed at GSA thought perhaps it was because there was a lack of easy tools that can be used to value older buildings. In addition, LEED doesn’t provide any points for historic value or keeping materials within buildings.  To quantify the benefits of keeping materials within buildings, a lifecycle cost analysis (LCA) needs to be done “holistically” across the entire process, which is difficult to do with older buildings. New tools are needed to educate professionals. Owens agreed that LCA is the approach needed, especially for the “structure or envelope” of a building, where there’s the “biggest environmental footprint.”

The U.S. Green Building Council argued that in the revamped LEED rating system newly created buildings are at a deficit; existing buildings get a point. However, he agreed that perhaps more can be done to value existing materials and get the buy-in of the historic preservation community. Buildings that replace old buildings have to be viewed as having a “deficit problem,” and “should maybe be penalized.” For example, a brick is created for a building. From an energy point of view, that brick is a “sunk cost. You can’t get it back. The carbon has gone into the atmosphere. There should be a penalty for destroying that brick.”

Image credit: Carbon Neutral Historic Rowhouse, Washington, D.C. / Cunningham | Quill Architects

What’s an Eco-City?

The University of Washington’s landscape architecture department has put together a symposium that will explore the idea of the Eco-City. In “Next Eco-City,” a range of leading landscape theorists and practitioners like Kristina Hill, Affiliate ASLA, Pierre Belanger, ASLA, and Yu Kongjian, International ASLA, will cover how the Eco-City concept has evolved with increased urbanization and rapid globalization. 

The conference organizers argue that “urban environments worldwide are in the midst of multiple shifts, driven by interconnected flows in capital, people, and resources at local, regional and global scales. It impacts not only cities but also the network of social and ecological systems well beyond their borders.”

Despite the fact that a true Eco-City has never really existed, the idea continues to have legs, and has perservered as a potential solution to global challenges. “In contrast to the complexity of today’s urbanization, the concept of the ‘Eco-City,’ arguably dating back to the ideal of the 19th Century Garden City, seems like an overly simplistic and utopian vision. Yet, the imagery and language of an idealized ‘Eco-City’ continue to shape the planning and design of contemporary cities while disregarding the vital complexity of contemporary urban conditions and issues.”

The symposium will look into “emergent ecologies, cities, and tactics.” Emergent ecologies will explore the “relationships between environment, equity, economy, and design in our rapidly urbanizing world.” The cities talk will cover the “dynamics and implications of rapid urban growth in the emerging mega-cities of the global south,” while the discussion  on tactics will look into “how seeing the urban landscape as a set of […] matrices with interconnected and spontaneous possibilities can inspire new approaches and methods in design and implementation.”

The symposium will be held April 7-8 at the University of Washington’s campus in Seattle. General registration is $30. Learn more about the program and register.

Also, for those in the Washington, D.C. area: check out the Society of Ecological Restoration’s Mid-Atlantic conference, “Brave New World: Working with Emerging Ecosystems.” A group of landscape architects, ecologists, biologists, and conservation scientists will explore the latest in ecological design. There’s also a set of field tours, including ones for the Anacostia Riverfront, Potomac Gorge, and the U.S. Botanic Garden. The conference will be held April 1-2 at the University of Maryland, College Park. Fees are $105 and $50 for students.

Image credit: Masdar City, U.A.E. / Masdarcity.com

Vancouver’s Blue Trees

The Vancouver Biennale, a bi-annual public art exhibition that “turns the city into an open-air museum,” is featuring artist Konstantin Dimopoulos’ “The Blue Trees” this year. The installation is a set of trees that have received a rich yet enviromentally-safe “temporary colourant” designed to fade gradually over the course of a few weeks.

Art Market Canada says Dimopoulos’s public installations are meant to highlight the “importance of trees to the planet’s survival.” The artist said: “Through my work I am striving to […] provide a visual platform to effect change. So many global issues seem larger than an individual’s power of influence and I want to evoke in people the idea that we can all contribute to change in a positive way.”

The painted trees are actually newly planted just for this exhibition, which is a big plus for the city. Residents of the Richmond neighborhood get to keep the set once the blue vanishes. The artist says this is “an afforestation art action set within an urban context.”

Also, volunteers and loaned paint equipment made the installation fairly low-cost and simple. 

Egypt-born Dimopoulos is based in New Zealand where he has created Pacific Grass, a wind sculpture, as well as his well-known rod sculptures.  

Also, check out some of the other public art on view in Vancouver.

Image credit: (1) Vancouver Biennale blog, (2) Konstantin Dimopoulos, (3) Vancouver Biennale blog.

BIG Goes Biophilic with New Sports Center

Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, perhaps one of the youngest architects to get the “starchitect” label, is creating a model of biophilic design with a new sports center in Umea, Sweden, which will be set in an “open landscape where the inside and outside meet seamlessly.” Preserving the natural lines of the site located in the Umedalen Sculpture Park, Ingels will use the area’s “natural bowl-shape” to create a dramatic 4,600 square meter ice rink, amphitheatre, restaurant, and outdoor cafe.

BIG let the natural elements of the existing site dictate the design. A natural recess that offered “people a nice place to hang out and enjoy the nature” was effectively cut into two. The south half was then used to create the new ice rink. “By splitting the recessed area into two, we can sweep the program under a green roof, the latter becoming part of the sculpture park.” The rink’s green roof will serve an extension of the surrounding landscape, blending hidden structural and natural elements.

The biophilic design ensures the center functions well year-round. In the colder months, a new glass facade in the middle of the recess will enable ample sunlight to warm the interior but will protect hockey players and ice skaters from the frigid temperatures outside. In warmer months, the daylit subterranean facility’s facade will open up, removing the barriers between the indoor spaces and the outdoor amphitheatre. BIG writes: “the interior landscape is considered an extension of the exterior landscape.”

Given this center is supposed to be an “accessible landscape” in all seasons, the design for the wheelchair ramps were built into the early concepts.

See more images of the new design.

Also worth checking out: Ingel released plans for a new waste-to-energy power plant that will also function as a ski slope. Multi-use infrastructure projects like these show how otherwise-unwieldy infrastructure can be better integrated into communities. See his new TED talk as well.

Image credits: BIG

Energy Efficient Home Landscapes

Watch an animation from ASLA’s Designing Our Future: Sustainable Landscapes online exhibition that explains how to use the landscape to reduce the energy consumed by a typical suburban home. See how smart tree placement and green roofs and walls dramatically improve energy efficiency.

Trees are being cut down to make way for new single-family homes, which then often sit on bare lots. These treeless lots not only have negative impacts on the climate, environment, and community health, but they also exacerbate the energy inefficient practices found within homes. This is a major problem given the average American home consumes 70 million BTUs annually. In fact, taken together, American homes account for 22 percent of total energy use as well as nearly 22 percent of carbon dioxide emissions (1.19 billion metric tons).
(Source: The Washington Post and Architecture 2030)

McKinsey & Co, a management consulting firm, found that energy use in the U.S. could be cut by 23 percent by 2020 by implementing simple energy efficiency measures. While homeowners can take low-cost steps to make the inside of their homes better insulated and therefore more energy efficient, the landscape isn’t often seen as a part of the problem… or the solution. Basic green technologies like smart tree placement and green roofs and walls can be used to dramatically reduce energy usage inside homes. If placed strategically, trees can reduce summertime cooling energy needs by 7-47 percent and wintertime heating needs by 2-8 percent.
(Source: The Washington Post and Reducing Urban Heat Islands: Compendium of Strategies. Trees and Vegetation, U.S. E.P.A.)

In addition, well-designed residential green roofs, which are growing popular in some parts of the world, can reduce energy usage in both summer and winter. According to one Canadian study, a 32,000-square foot green roof on a one-story commercial building in Toronto reduced energy usage by 6 percent in the summer and 10 percent in the winter. Similarly, the green roof of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) at just 3,000 square feet reduces energy usage by 3 percent in summer and 10 percent in winter. Weather, roof, and building size and location also have an impact on the amount of energy savings. Lastly, fast-growing green walls can also reduce energy use by providing insulation in the winter and limiting direct sunlight on walls in the summer. In hotter months they also cool air temperatures by up to 10 degrees.
(Source: Reducing Urban Heat Islands: Compendium of Strategies. Green Roofs, U.S. E.P.A. and American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Green Roof)