Bing Thom: Social Architect

Bing Thom is the subject of a new full-color book by Princeton Architectural Press. Prominently featured in the collection is his new Arena Stage, which has helped catalyze redevelopment in southwest Washington, D.C. (see earlier post). The book, however, also goes way beyond his recent critically-acclaimed D.C. work and explores his earlier large-scale cultural projects in his native Vancouver along with his serene residential projects. For anyone inspired by nature, Thom’s biophilic, environmentally-sustainable, and socially-conscious built sculptures are worth delving into.

Thom sees architecture as playing a critical role in society. He tells students in his introduction: “Architecture is more than art. We have a social responsibility as architects; we affect people’s lives; and we can change the nature of society, but only after digging deep and asking tough questions. With the majority of the world’s planet now living in cities, the possibility – and urgent need – have never been greater for the planet.” Furthermore, he wants to engage young design professionals in a dialogue through the book, showing photos and then including behind-the-scenes details on the projects.

Thom has been deeply influenced by his local place: Vancouver, a city he says that is at the “edge.” For Thom, Vancouver is primarily at the edge of Asia. As a result, Asian concepts of space in architecture, “where the negative is as important as the positive,” also drive his designs. He believes Asian concepts influence the “way we design our buildings, the whole idea is open plan, open flow. We don’t think of walls and structures, we think of circulation and rhythms. There is no concept of outside and inside, no separation between man and nature.” Vancouver also regularly tops livability rankings so great skill is required to create projects that can further contribute to that city’s already rich cultural and social fabric, while being accessible in the unique climate and environment.

In one example, Surrey Central City (see image at top and below), Thom focused on how to build a new city center in the midst of suburban sprawl, at the “suburban edge.” Surrey is a “young sprawling city of highways, parking lots, and shopping malls that is frequently the butt of jokes. It struggles with lower education and income levels that elsewhere in the region.” In an attempt to limit the ever-expanding sprawl, metro Vancouver developed a “livable region plan.” A key part of this plan was a set of new town centers that would take pressure off Vancouver’s central downtown, creating a new set of constellation hubs for the many spokes leading out from the city. Unfortunately, none of this really worked, writes Thom. “There was no ‘downtown Surrey.’ It was Nowhere, North America.”

Thom thought a large mixed-use development could help. In the “bleakest part of the city,” Whalley, his complex project includes a new campus for Simon Fraser University, offices for a major insurance company, and new real estate. One key ingredient in the project was a shopping mall, financed by the insurance company. Thom decided to create lots of shared spaces between the university and shopping mall. “By combining the energy of the shopping center and the university, we also saved both capital and operation costs.” To organize the building, Thom created new atria made up of wood-space frames constructed from peeler-cores (a plywood waste).

There’s also a new civic plaza, the first “truly urban, civic, and open space in Surrey.” It has become the entrance to the mall and university and a zone for commuters heading into the city via Skytrain. Thom adds that overall the project has been enormously popular: “The new generation of students, many working part-time, like being integrated into the community; it’s more like real life.” A library and city hall are being planned for next door, helping expand an area that has truly become “Downtown Surrey.”

In the end though, Thom believes each project is judged long after it’s completed. “Does the building have depth? Poetry? Does it capture spiritual values and satisfy more utilitarian needs? Can the building withstand the test of time? Have we made a difference? Did the building deserve to be built?” These are questions every designer should ask themselves when evaluating their own projects.

Check out the book and see a slideshow of recent projects.

Image credits: Surrey Central City (1) Azlidesign, (2) Nic Lehoux via The Washington Post, (3) Bydefy. Tumblr

The Genius of Olmsted

Genius of Place: the Life of Frederick Law Olmsted, a new biography by Justin Martin, illuminates Olmsted’s major achievements as a visionary artist, social reformer, pioneering environmentalist, and founder of the modern profession of landscape architecture. Olmsted is best known for creating several noteworthy landscapes, including New York City’s Central Park. Martin, a journalist who has written two acclaimed biographies on Alan Greenspan and Ralph Nader, paints a portrait of Olmsted as a preeminent American figure, revealing that “as a park maker, environmentalist, and abolitionist, Olmsted helped shape modern America.” 

Martin’s interest in the great landscape architect stems from the fact that he lives in Forest Hill Gardens, New York, a suburban neighborhood designed by Olmsted’s son, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. Intrigued by the man who created Central Park, Martin consulted letters from five different archives to piece together a broad picture of Olmsted’s life and legacy. His book does not disappoint in the totality of its coverage, but where it may do so is in the lack of focus given to Olmsted’s work after Central Park. The author does, however, give some sense of the significance of Olmsted’s role in shaping the profession of landscape architecture. 

The book covers the extent of Olmsted’s life, with lengthy portions devoted to his early achievements as well as his work on Central Park and subsequent career as a landscape architect. It also provides an intimate account of the personal tragedies and illnesses that plagued him throughout his life and fueled his near obsessive work ethic. Martin gives detailed accounts of Olmsted’s early forays into scientific farming and gold mining, as well as his more significant accomplishments as a journalist and abolitionist. Later he reveals how these experiences shaped Olmsted’s sensibilities as a landscape architect, his most successful professional occupation and one he essentially fell into at age 35. 

Despite his lack of formal training, Olmsted proved a worthy collaborator when architect Calvert Vaux asked him to partner on a competition to design Central Park. Central Park was the first of his great successes and his “grand passion.” He used the park as an opportunity to further his agenda for social reform, creating a place celebrated for its formal aesthetic qualities that was also “intended to furnish healthful recreation, for the poor and the rich, the young and the old, the vicious and the virtuous.” Martin gives a compelling account of the 20 years Olmsted devoted to the park’s construction and maintenance, highlighting it as the centerpiece of his career. 

Olmsted went on to design an array of other notable landscapes, including more than thirty public parks, the U.S. Capitol Grounds, several planned communities and university campuses, and the grounds of various private estates and asylums. Martin chronicles many of these achievements, for which Olmsted entered into the role of pioneering environmentalist along with social reformer. Unfortunately, he does not extend quite the same coverage to these projects as he does to Central Park. He provides enough detail to reveal their importance though he does not quite indicate their true value: Some of these landscapes have become equally, if not more, relevant to the profession today than their famous predecessor.

Included among these projects is Olmsted’s most ambitious park system, the Emerald Necklace, which connected several parks into an integrated system of open spaces covering 1,100 acres near downtown Boston. One of the parks is the Back Bay Fens, the first wetland restoration project in an urbanized area of the United States. The idea of creating a continuous swath of green spaces that provided social benefits and performed ecological functions in a rapidly urbanizing city was visionary. Figuring out how to carve out similar spaces in cities today has become one of the profession’s major challenges.  

Chicago’s lakefront is another important example. Olmsted wanted to create a public waterfront to connect the city to its most notable natural feature and provide open space for its residents. The city government shelved the project due to inadequate funding, but he capitalized on an opportunity to resurrect it while designing the grounds of Chicago’s 1893 World Fair. It was an incredible success and remains one of the city’s best assets. Many cities today are investing in similar projects, reclaiming valuable land along post-industrial waterfronts to create public spaces that provide social, economic, and environmental value.

Olmsted was also a visionary in defining the aims of landscape architecture, including resource conservation and the preservation of places like Yosemite and Niagara Falls, though he often had to fight popular trends with varying success to do so. His initial proposal for Stanford University’s campus recommended a scheme suited to native plantings for an arid climate, rather than one mimicking the popular aesthetic found on New England campuses that would require extensive watering. Unfortunately, much of the scheme was omitted in the actual construction. However, at a time when only a few Americans were concerned with the clear-cutting of trees on huge stretches of land, Olmsted convinced financial mogul George Washington Vanderbilt to showcase one of the earliest forest management projects on his Biltmore Estate near Ashville, North Carolina.

Regardless of the measure of success he enjoyed during his lifetime, Olmsted has since achieved his overarching endeavor: an enduring legacy. In a letter urging his son, Fred Jr., to become his successor, he wrote, “I have all my life been considering distant effects and always sacrificing immediate success and applause to that of the future. In laying out Central Park we determined to think of no results to be realized in less than forty years. Now in nearly all our work I am thinking of the credit that will indirectly come to you.” He need not have worried. His work has endured and continues to influence all landscape architects today. Martin may have missed an opportunity to express the full extent of this great landscape architect’s achievements, but his intriguing account of Olmsted’s life nevertheless captures the significance of his legacy.

Read the book

This guest post is by Shannon Leahy, ASLA 2011 Summer Intern

Image credit: Dacapo Press

Sustainable Design Still Not Mainstream Among Design Professions

DesignIntelligence, publishers of market intelligence for the architecture and design industry and creators of annual school rankings, released their 2011 Green & Sustainable Design Survey, which argues that despite all the talk, “sustainable design practices are not yet in the mainstream of architecture and design.” How is this possible? DesignIntelligence points to “inertia” along with “denial and resistance.”

According to James Cramer, editor of DesignIntelligence, some firms lack leadership, self-confidence, and are confused about which issues to address. Many have not embraced the idea that a total shift is needed. The sense of urgency is pushed back to another day. Many just aren’t stepping up to the plate. “They are not cognizant that architects, designers, and clients are the central elemental force – for better or for worse – with regards to the environment and a sustainable future.”

The group cites a few leaders in the green movement, including William McDonough, Ed Mazria (Architecture 2030), Bob Berkebile, Ray Anderson, and Amory Lovins (three architects, one product manufacturer, and one engineer. It seems no landscape architect or planner makes the cut). DesignIntelligence says these five have “all embraced sustainability when few others took it seriously.” Five firms, including Arup, HOK, BNIM, Perkins+Will, and KierenTimberlake are seen as out-front on sustainable design. “They exemplify a new species of design organization, a species that is alert, anticipatory, and intelligent.”

Despite the leadership of these firms, a sense of stasis is pervasive within the design professions. Of the professionals surveyed (more than 55 percent architects, 28 percent “executive staff,” 7 percent interior designers, 2 percent engineers, and only 4 percent landscape architects), some 63 percent were satisfied with their own firm’s progress on sustainable design. However, Cramer notes that less than half of new design projects meet LEED Gold or equivalent levels.

Cramer offers a whole set of useful recommendations for firms, many of which would also be applicable to landscape architecture firms. He says “principal leaders of organizations should find a way to walk the talk and be role models for sustainable design in their own ecosystems.” In addition, leaders need to focus on branding around sustainable design, offering higher levels of in-house continuing education, moving their staff far beyond LEED, thinking regionally about environmental impacts, committing to Architecture 2030, and pushing for green building codes and regulations at the local levels.

While DesignIntelligence’s results are geared towards architects (given they make up 55 percent of the survey), the results are worth browsing. They would have been even more interesting had the group published how many were actually included in the survey. Also, check out their article on “sprawl repair” by Galina Tachieva, a partner at Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co, and an interesting piece by Bert Gregory, CEO of Mithun, on moving toward green neighborhood design, along with other articles from the report.  

Another recent survey from DesignIntelligence covers Trends Forecast & Foresight Scenarios. Some 50 unnamed thought leaders from the architecture, design, and construction industries were surveyed and identified 16 key trends gaining steam over the past year. The top five trends include life-cycle design, BIM adoption, “productivity increases,” sustainable design, and “intelligent buildings.”

In terms of economic forecasts, the 50 respondents were far from bullish on landscape architecture for the year. According to the anonymous thought leaders, the profession faces the worst conditions among all design professions, with only 11 percent seeing positive growth for the field in 2011-2012, and more than 68 percent saying growth will be neutral. In contrast, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found in a recent report approximately 20 percent growth for landscape architects through 2018. Landscape architecture was seen by the U.S. government as one of the fastest growing arts and design fields.

Additional market analysis covers a variety of sectors. Growth was expected to be strongest in the health care facility, federal government facility, and transportation sectors.

Image credit: DesignIntelligence

Rebel Art Goes Global

Rebel Art, an intriguing blog by French art critic and curator Alain Bieber (although he also seems to enjoy being confused with teen pop singer Justin Bieber) features a number of “rebel art” projects around the world, often created by well-established artists with MFAs. Given the huge numbers of projects covered by Bieber along with the proliferation of Web sites and blogs dedicated to tracking the work of street artists, designers, and sculptors, it seems rebel art in the vein of Banksy is exploding.

A few interesting projects:

Lucerne Shines: In their “fight against carelessly discarded waste,” street artists The Wa, Mr. Tallon, and Democracy Creative turned 16 bins into games in Lucerne, Switzerland (see image above and two below). The city becomes an “adventure playground.” Here pedestrians can hopscotch their trash into the bin.

Or line up for a throw.

Box: In Cordoba, Argentina, an argentinian artist, Pablo Curutchet, created a massive man out of nearly 900 pounds of cardboard boxes and tape. A dozen volunteers helped construct the project.

Another view shows the scale of the paper walker.

Citylights: Well-known German installation artist Johannes Abendroth, who just showed at the Venice Bienniale, creates subtle “high-compression street washing” art in Paris, Lisbon, and Berlin.

Outside the Planter Boxes: In Toronto, Sean Martindale organized a group of artists and volunteers to creatively reimagine damaged planters found throughout the city. “Through creative interventions, this project highlights some of the neglected city tree planter boxes that line our busy streets. These planters are made ​​of concrete and many are cracked or missing large chunks. Others have been replaced with standardized two-piece boxes. However, some of these are too small for the existing mature trees and their roots, leaving huge gap between the two sides.” One artist, Martin Reis, used lego:

Martindale’s contribution to the series is called “Fragile – Handle with Care.”

Chifumi: Lastly, one group of mysterious street artists, who call themselves “Chifumi,” created these elegant structures and set them within French forests. Little information is found about them online, but they appear to made from either paper or some sort of plastic. 

Image credits: (1-3) Rebel Art, (4-5) Box / Pablo Curutchet, (6) Citylights / Johannes Abendroth, (7) Airport Planter / Martin Reis. Outside the Planter Boxes, (8)  Fragile – Handle with Care / Sean Martindale. Outside the Planter Boxes, (9) Chifumi.

Redefining Urban Design in Caracas

This article has been reprinted and adapted from the ASLA Urban Design Professional Practice Network (PPN)’s Summer 2011 Newsletter.

Sometimes your education, training, and experience cannot prepare you for a project, no matter how much expertise you believe you may have. Such was my circumstance when I first encountered the barrio of La Moran in Caracas, Venezuela. Instead of being the professional, I became the student who learned that a place with makeshift dwellings and an apparent chaotic fabric can actually be a functional and congruent neighborhood.

I arrived at the barrio with the goal of applying my urban design skills to upgrade it. What I found was a slum where 100 percent of the population lives in makeshift houses, perched on steep topographies.

There were upwards of three houses stacked practically on top of each other, directly above a ravine filled with sewage waste.

The houses were literally floating because a landslide is threatening everything they owned, not that there was much of that.

The community was plagued with many of the same problems as other slums. The reality was a maze of houses where everything is shared not because the residents want to, but because there is absolutely no more space on which to build or spread out.

I learned quickly that local knowledge is what becomes the norm, because all notions of street, sidewalk, park, home, and stairway have a different meaning than what is taught in books.

This is real urban design because it emerges from the hands and aspirations of thousands of people striving for a better quality of life without any education or professional background in the art of house-making, let alone city-making. While at first the homes seem erected based on the need for shelter, little glimpses of coherent social life, prosperity, and longing for a more normal community start appearing directly embedded in the built fabric. It is as if, unconsciously, this need for urbanization, for shelter, for home is reflected in countless imaginative solutions to housing and social life, and the construction methods of poor people.

But then come what people do not see: the opportunities for small interventions within the context of what already exists. This is a view of a local community that can come together with stairwells and walkways that connect to different areas of the barrio.

Perhaps there can be a small plaza where dancing and music enliven the whole scene and misery is quickly forgotten. Perhaps there’s a system of pedestrian streets that gives identity to the community, even agriculture patches, sport fields, and recycling centers.

A goal is to try to highlight the social aspect of the place by providing spaces for people who live there. With this vision, that word “slum” truly becomes “neighborhood.”

Nothing has ever taught me more than seeing and working in a slum in person. Everything I had learned or applied up to that point became flawed. I arrived thinking I was here to help with my arsenal of knowledge, and that I could not but improve people’s lives in this situation. Yet I was wrong. I became a beginner, almost like an intern, and instead had to let the slum teach me. While urban design gives you a perspective from which to truly see these areas; in reality, nothing prepares you for it.

In the case of the Caracas barrios, the landscape and the process of urbanization have become more than intertwined — they are now co-dependent. Yet, sometimes, the landscape becomes a force that destroys the process of urbanization.

Having studied landscape urbanism and urban design, I arrived at the barrio ready to contribute. While I remain confident that landscape interventions and urban design can help give the residents here a sense of community, I am also sure that this slum already has a unique urban essence. This is something that other urban designers could appreciate if they experience it.

Leonardo Robleto, Affiliate ASLA, works for Enlace Arquitectura and is on temporary assignment in Caracas, Venezuela. 

Image credits: (1-5) Leonardo Robleto, (6-8) Enlace Arquitectura. Copyright 2011

The Magic of Screen Printing

Mike Perry, a artist, designer, and screen-printer who has done work for Apple, Dwell, New York Times Magazine, and Nike, has put out a new book, “Pulled: A Catalog of Screen Printing,” which explores the vivid work of 40 talented screen printers around the world. His reasons for making a book on screen printing: “It smells good. It’s messy and takes some muscle. It gets me moving and it moves me.” Also, there are some effects you just can’t achieve with digital printing.

A process invented in China in 900 AD, screen printing involves using a roller or squeegee to move ink across a woven mesh screen that includes both an ink-blocking stencil and open spaces for the ink to be pushed through to paper, fabric, or canvas. The actual designs embedded in the screens are created using a process not unlike developing a photograph in a dark room, with the design elements burnt in using a “photo emulsion” technique. When the screen is ready, each individual color is then passed through separately to the printed material. Each screen print needs to be created from scratch — they can’t be copied. 

Here are just a few artists featured in “Pulled”:

Aesthetic Apparatus (see image above): “Their limited-edition, screen printed concert posters have secretly snuck into the hearts and minds of a small, rather silent group of awkward music and design nerds.”

Steve Harrington: “Influenced by images discovered in Time-Life Encyclopedia, thrift stores, and the music of Bill Withers, his art be might be termed contextual objectivism. He views each object he creates as a tangible object that is part and parcel of a larger context.”

Andrew Holder: Holder’s work has appeared in National Geographic, GOOD, and other magazines.

Maya Hayuk: Hayuk is a muralist, painter, photographer, printmaker, and musician who lives in Brooklyn and makes album covers and art work for bands like TV on the Radio and the Beastie Boys. Her work has been exhibited in galleries and museums in the U.S. and abroad.  

Anna Giertz: Geirtz, who is based in Stockholm, has worked as an illustrator and pattern designer. Her work includes magazines, books, graphics, wallpaper, fabrics and CD covers. She recently completed a series inspired by “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”

Check out the book

Image credits: (1) Doombuddy I: Code Name: Mister Tibbets / Aesthetic Apparatus, (2) Somehow We All Seem Connected / Steven Harrington, (3) Untitled / Andrew Holder, (4)  Apocabliss / Maya Hayuk, (5) Anna Giertz


Updated Guide: Climate Change and Landscape Architecture

A recent report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal.” According to the IPCC, average global temperatures are increasing at an alarming rate. In just the past 50 years, northern hemisphere temperatures were higher than during any other 50-year period in the last 500 years, perhaps even the past 1,300 years. The IPCC projects that the Earth’s surface temperature could rise by as much as 4°C within the next century.

The primary cause of climate change is increasing concentration of greenhouse gases (GHGs), especially carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. The 2007 Assessment Report by the IPCC indicates that GHG emissions increased by 70 percent between 1970 and 2004. These gases are primarily emitted as a result of human behavior, such as the burning of fossil fuels to produce energy. Building consturction and energy use account for more than 30 percent of worldwide emissions, while the transportation sector is responsible for another 30 percent.

Experts predict that the increase in the Earth’s temperature, if left unchecked, will have devastating effects. According to the IPCC, the projected sea level rise could reach 19-23 inches by the year 2100. Additional impacts could include increased spread of diseases; extensive species extinction; drought and wildfires; mass human, animal and plant migrations; and resource wars over shrinking amounts of potable water. 

There are a range of landscape architecture-based mitigation strategies that, if employed at mass scale, can help reduce GHG emissions by 50-85 percent by 2050 and limit temperature rise to 2 degrees celsius, targets that the U.N. recommends. Given the effects of climate change are already being felt in many communities, landscape architecture-based adaptation measures are also now being planned and implemented across cities and countries.

In a completely revamped climate change resource guide, which is part of ASLA’s series of sustainable design guides and toolkits, there are hundreds of vetted Web sites, research studies, and projects to explore in the following areas:

Climate Change Mitigation and Landscape Architecture

  • Low-Carbon Community Development Through Smart Growth
  • Energy Efficiency

Climate Change Adaptation and Landscape Architecture

  • Climate Resilient Communities
  • Preparing for Sea Level Rise
  • Increasing Density with Green Spaces
  • Combating Urban Heat Islands
  • Water Efficiency
  • Species Adaptation

Go to Combating Climate Change with Landscape Architecture and check out other guides in the series.

Image credit: Dry River Bed / iStockphoto

Design Competition: Rethink Water Use in the Face of Climate Change

Drylands Design, a new ideas competition sponsored by the California Architectural Foundation in partnership with the Arid Lands Institute at Woodbury University and AIACC Academy for Emerging Professionals and created in honor of architect William Turnbull, is seeking submissions for “retrofitting the American West.” The goal of the program is to “re-think” water use in the West in the face of climate change and create a set of “long-term strategies” for the arid and semi-arid western states. This challenge exceeds the “grasp of a single discipline” and will require “strategic architectures, infrastructures, and urbanisms that promote adaptation and resilience.”

Drylands Design seeks innovative submissions from landscape architects, architects, urban designers, planners, and infrastructure designers who can examine issues related to water supply, quality, treatment, and access, along with the connections between water and energy. “Drylands Design seeks integrative proposals from multidisciplinary design teams that anticipate science and policy perspectives as necessary dimensions of intelligent design response, and exploit beauty as an instrument of resilience and adaptation.”

A few components the competition organizers sees as important:

  • Examining all aspects of water use in the face of climate change: “The relationship between water, energy use, and heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions is intertwined and self-limiting. Uncoupling water’s capture, treatment, distribution, and use from energy-intensive delivery systems is critical to a new western drylands design.”
  • Designing for weather changes: “The twin effects of climate change on the American west’s hydrologic cycle are expected to be scarcity (prolonged drought periods and diminished snowpack) and variability (increased intensity of flood events). Design for variability will replace engineering for stationarity.”
  • Including viable green infrastructure systems: “Rain water, storm water and single-use municipal supplies, currently treated as waste or flood hazard, form the largest ‘undeveloped’ sector of western water. Converting local liabilities to assets will offset dependence on carbon-intensive imports.”
  • Creating water use systems that benefit all: “Recognizing that no built environment achieves true vitality without social equity, Drylands Design seeks proposals that actively benefit low- and middle-income communities, urban and rural. More specifically, Drylands Design seeks proposals that promote an active and participatory civic engagement by citizen-users.”

Design proposals may be for real or conceptual projects in one or more real sites but must be unbuilt as of spring 2012. Proposals must be considered at the global, regional and local scales, but sited within a specific location in the U.S. arid or semi-arid west. While the design concepts must be focused on very local issues, they must also be replicable. Both student and professional teams are allowed.

A high-profile jury including Shannon Nichol, ASLA, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol; Greg Otto, Buro Happold Engineers; and Enrique Norten, Ten_Arquitectos, among others, will review submissions. No information was found on the Web site about award amounts.

Learn more and register by November 15.

Image credit: Wastewater Reclamation Plant. Coachella Valley, California  / Coachella Water District

Australia Unveils Carbon Tax

After more than six months of intense public debate and parliamentary maneuvering, the Australian government announced the introduction of a new carbon tax that will price the pollutant at nearly US$25 per ton by mid-2012. Then, in 2015, the tax will be replaced by an emissions trading system like the one found in Europe. While Australia’s prime minister, Julia Gillard, succeeded where her predecessor failed, she may pay a high political price for her bold environmental leadership and deft navigation of Australian party politics, which are dominated by the Green party. According to The Economist, her Labour party’s approval ratings now stand at a lowly 27 percent, in part because of public fears of the economic impact of the tax.

The new tax is expected to cover 500 of Australia’s top polluters and cut 5 percent of total emissions (160 million tons) by 2020. However, a number of sectors, including export-focused industries, steelmakers, coal mines, and electricity producers will receive assistance (up to 90 percent free credits), reports Reuters. Under the new policy, dirty local industries will receive significant support to switch to cleaner forms of energy. The program will also lead to the creation of a independent renewable energy agency, which will manage A$10 billion in renewable energy investments.

The Australian economy contributes 1.5 percent to global greenhouse gas emissions, largely because of its heavy reliance on coal. The Economist notes that Australian emissions are equal to those of South Korea, Britian, and France, which have 2-3 times Australia’s population of 22 million. Per capita, it’s the “biggest carbon emitter in the world.”

While government experts estimate that the tax will push up prices by around 1 percent, Gillard’s government isn’t relying on these estimates and seems to be planning for the worst on price impacts. Perhaps in an effort to win broad public support, the program’s designers insured that 40 percent of the tax revenues will be redistributed to compensate 90 percent of households for higher food and electricity prices. 

Given the amount of coverage on the tax in Australia, the debate will most likely continue. On one side, the main concern is that tax will have a negative economic impact. The other side questions whether the program is strong enough environmentally. The Green party, which holds power in the Australian Senate, has called for a carbon tax of A$45 to A$50 a ton but has OK-ed the lower price given the lack of international action on controlling emissions. The idea now is that if the world moves on carbon pricing, the taxes could be moved up in the future. Christine Milne, Green Deputy Party Leader, told Reuters: “We have a view about how quickly we’d like to be addressing climate change, but our focus in the climate negotiations has been to make sure that if the world does decide to become serious about climate change… there would be nothing in the scheme that prevents us making those adjustments.”

Read The Economist article and check out an interview with Milne on the new carbon tax.

Image credit: Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Cole Bennetts / Getty Images

Peter Zumthor’s Garden Sanctuary

Peter Zumthor, considered one of the world’s great architects and a recent winner of the Pritzker Prize, recently partnered with Dutch horticulturalist and garden designer Piet Oudolf to create Hortus Conclusus, an enclosed garden, for the Serpentine Gallery in London, which sponsors a pavilion from a leading architects every summer. 

DesignBoom says the project realizes Zumthor’s vision of “a synthesized experience between architecture and vegetation.” Constructed of a lightweight timber frame wrapped in scrim and coated with a black “paste and sand mixture,” the pavilion’s stark exterior invites visitors in through a “matrix of dark hallways with intermittent streams of natural light.”

Then, visitors finally reach the secluded interior rich with Oudolf’s plantings, which are designed to attract insects and birds.

Zumthor described the ideas behind the design: “A garden is the most intimate landscape ensemble I know of. It is close to us. There we cultivate the plants we need. A garden requires care and protection. And so we encircle it, we defend it and fend for it. We give it shelter. The garden turns into a place. Enclosed gardens fascinate me. A forerunner of this fascination is my love of the fenced vegetable gardens on farms in the Alps, where farmers’ wives often planted flowers as well. I love the image of these small rectangles cut out of vast alpine meadows, the fence keeping the animals out. There is something else that strikes me in this image of a garden fenced off within the larger landscape around it: something small has found sanctuary within something big.”

UK newspaper reviews were almost entirely glowing, saying Zumthor and Oudolf’s approach was one of the most successful in the last ten years of pavilions. The Telegraph‘s architecture critic said: “What I love most is how generous the design feels. It celebrates everything within and around itself: Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf’s centerpiece, a meadow of cow-parsley and mixed wild grasses (he was given free reign by Zumthor) becomes the focal point.”

The pavilion will be open until October 16.

Learn more about the pavilion, see more images, and read a New York Times profile on Zumthor.

Image credits: (1) Entrance to pavilion. Peter Zumthor / Walter Herfst, (2) Interior walkway. Peter Zumthor / Walter Herfst, (3) Plantings. Peter Zumthor / John Offenbach, (4) Plantings. Peter Zumthor / Walter Herfst