Mobile Garden on the Loop

Earlier this fall, Noisivelet, a public arts organization whose name is “television” spelled backwards, brought Mobile Garden to a train car riding Chicago’s downtown Loop, where it was exhibited along with projects by 50 other artists. Part of the Art on Track festival, the exhibition offered passengers with a lush respite filled with sod and native plants. Some passengers clearly got into it:

For five hours, seats, windows, and floors were completely covered in vegetation. Floors offered grassy lawns, while potted plants rested on some seats, windows, and floors, creating distinct seating areas.

Chicken wire on the ceilings provided a trellis for ivy-like plants, which also covered poles and rails. 

According to Noisivelet, plants and materials were donated by local grass farms, green roof designers, and arboretums. Local Chicagoan artists also rode the exhibit, explaining the plants to passengers.

The project is meant to demonstrate ideas related to “responsible materials, urban stewardship, and sustainability.” The group is now trying to raise funds for a flat-bed garden to be tacked on to the end of trains, giving both passengers and people waiting at the platform a brief planty view.

Also, check out other projects from the exhibition.

Image credits: Mobile Garden / Noisivelet

UN Climate Summit Moved Goal Post

The Global Carbon Project, a collaboration of climate scientists, recently calculated that global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions grew a whopping 5.9 percent in 2011 (the largest annual jump on record) and total emissions jumped nearly 50 percent since 1990. Unfortunately, a recent agreement forged out of the latest two-week United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) summit in Durban, South Africa, does little to limit warming by 2 degrees celsius (the aim of the multi-year process) and simply punts on creating a new agreement after Kyoto expires at the end of 2012. According to The Economist, the core of the Durban agreement is two-fold: the European Union (E.U.) will start on a second round of emission cuts under the existing Kyoto protocol, even after that expires at the end of next year. China, India, and other developing countries, in turn, will give up their demand for embedding special considerations for developing countries into a new treaty to take shape by 2015 and come into effect by 2020. “Crucially, this will require sacrifices by poor counties as well as rich ones.”

This represents a breakthrough of sorts. The U.S. never signed onto the Kyoto agreement because China, India, and the world’s developing countries weren’t held to the same requirements as developed countries. U.S. officials argued that meeting the emissions cuts in Kyoto would then hurt the economic competitiveness of the U.S. vis-a-vis developing countries. At the same time, countries like India and China long argued that given their economies are developing, they simply can’t give up the opportunity to increase standard of livings for their populations and quench their own development ambitions in favor of emission cuts, which would require huge and expensive investments in new energy technologies. Those arguments, however, are increasingly falling short given China is now the world’s leading source of CO2 emissions, and developing countries account for 58 percent of total emissions. Indeed, The Economist argues, China has since realized it needs to make a major shift and is investing heavily in new clean technologies.

However, India is still deeply worried whether it has the capacity to transform its economy. During the negotiations, it wasn’t a “pushover,” holding out for 36 hours during a marathon 60-hour negotiation session and forcing developed countries to accept a less-rigorous text. As a result, the new deal that will start in 2015 is not “legally binding,” but will be “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force.”

While the Kyoto protocol was actually legally binding, there were no provisions to enforce penalties. “Unless penalties for failure are inserted into the successor protocol, or instrument, or outcome—which China and India would almost certainly not allow—it is hard to imagine how it would have greater force.” The Economist adds that the essential toothlessness of the new proposed framework, like Kyoto before it, means that countries will be able to continue to exceed their targets long into the future, like Canada has for years before it just announced it was pulling out of the Kyoto protocol all together. 

The Guardian quotes Keith Allott, head of climate change at WWF-UK, who sums up many environmental groups’ concerns on the non-binding approach: “Governments have salvaged a path forward for negotiations, but we must be under no illusion — the outcome of Durban leaves us with the prospect of being legally bound to a world of 4C warming. This would be catastrophic for people and the natural world.”

In another Guardian article, Bob Ward, Grantham Institute, London School of Economics, argued that “current pledges from countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions were not enough to hold global temperatures to 2C above pre-industrial levels, beyond which scientists say climate change becomes catastrophic and irreversible.” So even if countries do achieve a more enforceable framework, the targets may still be too low. 

Perhaps on a brighter note, countries may have moved closer on the design of a global “Green Climate Fund,” which is expected to put some actual money behind some of mitigation and adaptation goals. Developed countries will provide $100 billion a year to help developing countries mitigate emissions and also adapt to climate change. However, the U.S. is concerned that this fund will be run by the UN instead of an independent body like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, which also receives significant financing from major non-profits and foundations. 

Learn more about the details of the agreement at WRI, an environmental think tank. Also, review what happened last year at the UNFCCC meeting in Mexico.

Image credit: Durban climate change negotiations / Reuters

E.P.A. Offers $1.8 million in Urban Green Infrastructure Grants

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) is offering up to $1.8 million in new grants for urban green infrastructure projects that both improve water quality and support community revitalization. Projects that support the restoration of canals, rivers, lakes, wetlands, aquifers, estuaries, bays and oceans qualify.

The E.P.A. argues that improving urban water quality is central to sustainable urban development. “Many urban waterways have been polluted for years by sewage, runoff from city streets and contamination from abandoned industrial facilities. Healthy and accessible urban waters can help grow local businesses and enhance educational, recreational, employment and social opportunities in nearby communities. By promoting public access to urban waterways, E.P.A. will help communities become active participants in restoration and protection.”

Projects, training, and research initiatives that advance the restoration of urban waters while improving water quality and community access have a good shot at winning some funds. The E.P.A. lists some example projects:

  • “Education and training for water quality improvement or green infrastructure jobs
  • Public education about ways to reduce water pollution
  • Local water quality monitoring programs
  • Engaging diverse stakeholders to develop local watershed plans
  • Innovative projects that promote local water quality and community revitalization goals.”

Proposals must be received by January 23, 2012. The E.P.A. will host webinars on the grants on December 14, 2011 and January 5, 2012. Grants will be awarded in summer 2012.

In other news, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) announced a new set of “Our Town” creative placemaking grants ranging from $25,000 to $150,000. The NEA seeks to invest in planning, design, or “arts engagement” projects that “contribute toward the livability of communities and help transform them into lively, beautiful, and sustainable places with the arts at their core.” The grants must be matched 1-to-1 by other sources outside the federal government. There are no details on the total pool of grant funds available.

Image credit: Gowanus Canal Sponge Park, Brooklyn, New York / dlandstudio llc

You Create Bluebrain’s Landscape Soundtracks

Washington, D.C.-based musicians and brothers Hays and Ryan Holladay released the first “location-aware album,” a free smartphone app, for the National Mall earlier this summer and then, just recently, an app for Central Park in NYC. Leveraging the global positioning system (GPS) technology of smartphones, Bluebrain serves up hours of music based on the physical location of listeners. As listeners move through these landscapes, they enter different zones, each with a different electronic yet soulful song. For the National Mall app alone, there are some 264 zones. Staying put will turn the song into a loop: a two-to-eight minute segment will simply repeat. Ryan Holliday said: “It’s like a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ of an album.” 

The Washington Post writes that the National Mall album keeps you moving and exploring. “Approach the Capitol dome, and you’ll hear an eerie drone. Climb the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and it’s twinkling harps and chiming bells. As you wander from zone to zone, ambient washes dovetail into trip-hop beats and back again. The music follows you without interruption, the way a soundtrack follows a protagonist through a movie or a video game. When you leave the Mall, the sound evaporates into silence.” 

For the brothers, the National Mall album was a labor of love: “The brothers saw their first concert on the Mall — a Fugazi gig at the Sylvan Theater band shell in 1995.” Also, Hays remember visiting monuments at night and having his first date at the FDR memorial. For the teenage Hays, the National Mall lit-up became a “ancient-futuristic landscape.” Ryan added that “if you don’t think of that as a George Washington Monument, it’s just a really crazy-looking thing.”

After hearing exorbitantly costly quotes from potential producers ($80,000 and up), the brothers finally found Brooklyn-based developer Bradley Feldman, who saw a great opportunity and offered to put in a lot of time, pro-bono. To make the app work, Feldman created “Sscape,” which is somewhat similar to software used to create background music for virtual multi-player game worlds. But within this program, Feldman and the Holladay brothers set map coordinates for each song, establishing their temporal boundaries. In this instance, the real world is like the music-infused virtual game world. The music for each zone is set off as listeners approach.  

The Washington Post says the project felt “magical” and represented a revolution in music. “In an iPod era, where bite-size MP3s have threatened to vanquish the traditional album format, Bluebrain is helping redefine what an album can actually be.”

In addition, the just-released, free 400-song Central Park (Listen to the Light) app got equally rave reviews from The New York Times. As soon as a listener walks through the entrance of Central Park, “it sounds like an orchestra tuning up, a chaotic jumble of wind chimes, electronic moans and discordant strings. Push farther into the park, and a sweet violin melody emerges over languid piano chords.” Then, every 20 to 30 steps new musical themes appear, “as if they were emanating from statues, playgrounds, open spaces and landmarks.”

Different aspects of the landscape are represented in themes, which then layer over one another as you pass out of one zone and into another. “It’s a musical Venn diagram placed over the landscape, and at any time you might have two dozen tracks playing in your ears, all meshing and colliding in surprising ways.”

The brothers decided to go for a distinctly classical feeling for Central Park, sounding warm and mellow for some parts of the park and using symphonic elements to create drama in others. “The melodies are mostly stately, slow marches played on strings or the piano, usually involving a simple two- or four-chord progression, with some electronic chirps, loops and ambient sounds added in the higher registers or rumbling beneath the melody.” 

Also, check out a brief video that explores how Bluebrain created Central Park (Listen to the Light):

The free apps have been downloaded 10,000 times so far. Create your own soundtrack in these iconic landscapes. Go to iTunes to download.

Farm the Rooftops

In many cities, rooftops that can handle the soil, water, and plant loads are being put to productive use, attacking food insecurity and building communities in the process, said Leigh Whittinghill, Michigan State University, at the Green Roofs for Healthy Cities conference in Philadelphia. Still, there are some major barriers preventing more widespread rooftop farming, namely just finding enough low-cost, structually-sound roofs to plant; obstructive municipal zoning; and issues with “managing fertility.” There are also challenges with fertilizer runoff and economic profitability.

Rooftop Agriculture Isn’t Easy

Ben Flanner, the founder of the Brooklyn Grange, a 40,000 square foot rooftop farm in NYC that grew 15,000 pounds of produce last year, said it took a while to find a “landlord with guts.” He struggled, cold-calling lots of building owners. “The big issue was finding a space we could afford,” given urban agriculture quickly becomes un-economic if rents are more than $1 per square foot. Flanner understands that building are worth millions so some landlords would be worrying about possible damage. “But it’s about risk and return.” With more successful projects, the risks will go down, and so will the costs.

“Educating the local building department is really important,” said Brendan Shea, Recover Green Roofs, who just worked on adding a 1,500 square foot rooftop herb and vegetable garden to a restaurant. “It’s about building permitting agencies and making them feel comfortable, that we aren’t damaging the building.”

Mark Morrison, FASLA, Mark Morrison Landscape Architecture, who did his first green roof in Moscow in the 1970s and works on lots of diverse rooftop spaces (restaurants, hospitals, and community gardens), said the issues relate to policy. “We need policy changes.” He pointed to his Visionaire greenroof project in Battery Park City, where there’s a “strong authority” that didn’t want to see plants on roofs, so he had to make design changes to hide the roof produce. Keith Agoada, Urban-ag, agreed, adding that “commercial farming is often illegal.” Rooftop farmers often need “special use permits” to get around out-dated regulations meant to encourage densification by keeping farmers out of the city. There are also complications with adding greenhouses on roofs, which are “technically another floor,” so farmers need “legal and design workarounds.”

There are structural challenges as well: Brad Rowe, Michigan State University, says roofs can only grow so much in 5-inches of soil, largely because they can only handle so much weight. For Lisa Goode, Goode Green, who designed Eagle Street Farms in NYC, roof weight and waterproofing are major issues. Morrison said “structural engineers” are then very important to the process of evaluating a roof. Engineers can either evaluate roof load by finding the average load over a roof or just identifying a capped load for every square foot. The second option prevents designers from creating deeper 24-inch areas for fruit trees. “If you find an engineer who won’t provide an average range over the roof, find a different engineer,” said Morrison, with a wink.

Managing Soil Fertility

Keeping the soils healthy and productive may be challenging. Rooftop structural soils are different from ground-bed soils, argued Shea. “The media doesn’t hold compost well.” Furthermore, some structured roof soils may “not be ideal for growing vegetables.”

Meanwhile, at the Brooklyn Grange, where there’s 10 inches of soil, “every inch counts,” but some 300 square feet is dedicated to composting made up of leaf scraps, coffee grounds, wood shavings. Flanner said their next roof farm will have a freight elevator, which will be used to bring up manure.

Both Goode and Shea mentioned that it’s also particularly hard to maintain high levels of nutrients after rain, not to mention that fertilizer-rich runoff can present problems. Goode said “with rooftop farms, it’s very hard to keep nutrients in the soil.”

Morrison thought that laying out the garden the right way was key to maximizing fertility. “If you are gardening in small areas, it doesn’t have to be aesthetically pleasing. You can over-maximize.”

Agoada said the tricky part is finding local waste streams and managing fertilizers with small amounts of space. He explored hydroponic solutions, including liquid nutrient sources, as well as agriculture / aquaculture combined systems that continually reuse the whole cycle of resources and nothing is wasted. “It would be good to even include animals on the roof.”

Dealing with Runoff

It turns out that urban farms don’t store all stormwater and have runoff problems, which can be made worse through the use of fertilizers. On the Brooklyn Grange, a new bioswale will be added to the roof, which will be compared to another area that simply has a drain.

Morrison said “I don’t love extensive roofs,” which are made up of shallow sedum layers. “Haven’t we seen sedum done before?” With deeper pits, up to 4-inchs for tomatoes, farmers can grow anything that can be eaten. Those deeper, “volumetric” soils may also hold more water better. Futhermore, the addition of bioretention or permeable pavement systems to urban farms could also help capture and cleanse farm runoff.

Economic Profitability and Social Value

Low profitability is associated with high social value, argued Goode. Projects like Eagle Street Farm, which are a “hub of education and interest,” are unique. “There’s no rent, or profit sharing. What is sold supports the project.” She added that “farming is a tough numbers game. It’s a tough sell, but educating children in cities about how food is grown is worth any size project.”

The Brooklyn Grange is moving ahead profitably and even expanding because it’s big and efficient. Flanner said “it does require significant scale. You have to figure out how many square feet you need. Then you have to be really scrappy.” For example, the Grange has a beehive, totes, jaring. “We monetize social capital.” Given products are sold locally, they also save by excluding packaging. “That’s 10 cents per unit that we don’t have to spend.” Bicycles are used to distribute rooftop food grown locally, which makes us “cheaper than rural distribution, with their trucks, fuel, and labor costs.”

Rowe at Michigan State University thinks the economics of rooftop farms only make sense in dense environments like NYC. “It doesn’t make sense in Detroit where there’s lots of available open space.” There, he said farmers, protect against vandalism by guarding their spaces.

Another model for economic profitability may be to go high-tech. “With high-tech hydroponics, farmers growing herbs, grasses can do well,” said Agoada. With these sytems, it’s important to create a large enough space, also to recoup the “soft costs.” “Economies of scale are very important. You still need the same staff for a small space.” Also, cutting out the middle man is a way to improve profits. At farmers’ markets, rooftop farmers can sell their produce directly, and turn basic products like basil, which may go for $2.25 a bunch, into pesto, which can easily go for $5.00 a container. “This is a way to add dollars without adding cost.”

Agoada made an interesting argument when asked whether rooftop farm businesses should donate a share of their produce to food banks. He basically said no, arguing that a share of pre-tax profit can be given to a cause but the role of the commercial rooftop farmer is to maximize profits, selling heads of high-end lettuce for $2.50 a pop. Socially-focused non-profits need to be the ones that can spread access to low-cost produce, combatting food deserts in the process.

Maximizing Yields

“We are constantly experimenting with planting schemes,” said Flanner. Tomatoes, herbs, and lettuces are set within rows but large spaces, the areas between rows, are also used. “We utilize every square foot.” Instead of calculating yields monthly, the Brooklyn Grange just calculates aggregates at the end of the year.

The grange maximizes vertical growing, mixing taller and shorter plants. “The challenge is time and efficiency. If crops are all over the place, they are harder to harvest.” He said some mixes that work very well are tomatoes with basil.

Scaling Up

“We’ve gotten feedback from restaurants. The quality of our rooftop produce is on par with those grown at conventional farms,” said Flanner. Another competitive advantage: rooftop farm produce is really fresh, particularly when it’s delivered to the restaurant the same day it’s picked. So, for commercial rooftop and non-profit producers doing things correctly, there’s no quality issue preventing rooftop farming from scaling up.

But Agoada thinks the future of rooftop farming is tied to subsidies. “Green roofs get lots of subsidies” and rooftop farms should get them, too. If cities like NYC, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and elsewhere are serious about rooftop farming, they will need to incentivize their development. 

There are also more ambitious concepts being considered: Parking garages with millions of rooftop square feet could be ideal places for farms. Agoada’s consulting firm did a study evaluating the potential of parking garages in San Francisco. In another idea, the roofs of big box stores could be transformed into productive food landscapes. The roofs could be leased out to local farmers, and then the produce could be bought back by the stores. One audience member said roofs in D.C. will soon be growing medical marijuana. Inner-city school and hospital rooftops could also be ideal places for non-profit organizations.  

Image credit: (1) Brooklyn Grange / Cyrus Dowlatshahi, (2) Brooklyn Grange / Brooklyn Grange

Burj Khalifa Park Gets Starring Role in New Mission Impossible

The Burj Khalifa, currently the world’s tallest building, opened in Dubai in early 2010. However, it’s just now getting its big screen debut (at least in a major American film) through the fourth film in the Mission Impossible franchise. There are no real details on the plot developments that bring in the Khalifa, but Filmfilia says the movie offers thrills: “This is not just another mission. The impossible mission force (IMF) is shut down when it’s implicated in a global terrorist bombing plot. Ghost Protocol is initiated and Ethan Hunt and his rogue new team must go undercover to clear their organization’s name. No help, no contact, off the grid. You have never seen a mission grittier and more intense than this.”

Designed by Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, the 2,732-feet tower is inspired by Islamic architecture. From above, the tower replicates the onion domes of some of the world’s great Islamic buildings. The lead architect of the Burj Khalifa, Adrian Smith, was also said to be inspired by Hymenocallis genus flowers, with their array of spokes. The flower isn’t native to the region though.

The “Y” shaped structure and floor plan create wings, offering lots of views and natural light. Composed of some 4,000 tons of steel, the building is clad in reflective glazing meant to shield the interiors from the desert sun. Within, there’s a 300-room Armani hotel, apartments and business offices, terraces, and observation decks.

SWA Group designed the verdant park featured in Tom Cruise’s acrobatic rapelling scenes. At 27 acres, this massive park was also inspired by the Hymenocollis, with their symetries outlined in landscape form. Apparently, the railings, benches, and signs also incorporate the flower design.

The park itself includes a lake-edge promenade, an island, a forest, outdoor dining areas, and a children’s playspace. “Along Emaar Boulevard, a thoroughfare of luxury shops and cafes, a palm-lined greenway provides shade, water features, and a variety of settings for public gatherings and celebrations,” writes SWA Group.  

The landscape is kept alive with condensation from the building. The building consumes 250,000 gallons of water a day (much of which goes into its massive air conditioning system). All that water consumption yields condensation, which is then harvested, drained, and pumped into the landscape’s irrigation systems. SWA says 15 million gallons of condensation is reused by the landscape each year. There are no details on the heavy energy load that must be involved in this system of landscape maintenance.

According to Wikipedia, the entire “Downtown Dubai” project was estimated to cost $20 billion, with $1.5 billion for the Burj Khalifa building and park alone. Then, in part due to its unsustainable building boom and corresponding crash in prices, Dubai had to ask banks and its oil-rich neighbor Abu Dhabi in the U.A.E. for multi-billion dollar bailouts. With the housing crash, rents in the Khalifa have fallen 40 percent from the peak prices, but still some 825 apartments out of 900 are empty. Given the glut of empty Dubai real estate, getting a fully-occupied building and well-populated park may be mission impossible, at least in the near future.

Image credits: (1) Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol, (2-4) Burj Khalifa / SWA Group, (6) Los Angeles Mission Impossible ad / Francis Choe. Flickr

How to Integrate Design

Living systems, including green infrastructure systems like green roofs, are infinitely complex. “They mimic nature so will grow and thrive. Designing these systems, though, requires an integrated design process,” said David Yocca, FASLA, Conservation Design Forum, at the Green Roofs for Healthy Cities conference in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Landscape architects, architects, and green roof product manufacturers discussed the challenges in making an integrated design process work and actually translate into systems-based designs. 

Integrated design breaks down silos between professions and brings multiple designers, expert consultants, contractors, and product manufacturers together to mesh design requirements together at the beginning of a project and then co-implement the project throughout the process. Integrated design processes enable “systems thinking” and create projects that hit multiple benefits at once. Think of Philadelphia’s many city agencies coming together to create the city’s ground-breaking open space and green infrastructure strategy (see earlier post) or a landscape architect and architect together designing a man-made wetland that harvests rainwater coming off a nearby building.

The Barriers to Integrated Design

Jose Alminana, FASLA, Andropogon, said there are two levels of barriers preventing more widespread use of integrated design processes: individual and external. At the individual or professional level, education is the obstacle. Designers and manufacturers have areas of expertise and some are “narrowly focused.” Others, like landscape architects, argued Alminana, have an “integrative perspective” and traits more apt to bringing together diverse experts to achieve sustainable designs. External factors include budget limitations or an unimaginative client.

Still, many forward-thinking landscape architects and architects who could be practicing this way but aren’t because “that’s doing something outside the norm.” “Delegated design is what’s practiced today, not integrated design. However, we have a moral imperative to practice this.” Steve Moddemeyer, Principal, Collins Woerman, agreed, arguing that “we need to look across silos.”

Making the Public Case

So how can landscape architects put integrated design into practice? Yocca thinks landscape architects must get at the people in power and the clients. “We have to reach bankers and policymakers. It’s about changing the views of those in leadership positions.” Pointing to the benefits of getting the benefits of integrated design into the heads of policymakers, he said Philadelphia’s “broad water-based approach to retrofitting infrastructure” prevented lots of money being thrown at wasteful “single-use solution.” 

How can designers make the public case for integrated design? Moddemeyer argued that Wall Street is “excited by things that are not relevant to the rest of the world. We don’t have a resilient economic system so look what happened. It’s taking longer and longer to recover from recessions and the recoveries are increasingly jobless.” This lack of resiliency is manifested at multiple scales. But, he believes, it doesn’t have to be this way. Instead, there could be a more positive message about how cost-efficient and resilient infrastructure systems can be formed out of working and designing together in an integrated process, which could then form the basis for a more resilient economy and society.

Municipal by-laws are also holding up integrated design projects, said Ron Schwendinger, President, Architek. In many communities, rainwater harvesting, blackwater recycling, and other progressive practices are still banned, so their benefits, which are often drawn out only through systems-driven projects, are often lost. He added that his biggest obstacle integrating rainwater and building wastewater recycling systems into green roofs is the “plumbing inspector, who doesn’t understand it and so it not comfortable with it.”

Does Integrated Design Cost More?

Schwendinger thinks that there is a general lack of understanding about integrated design projects: “They cost less but the perception is that they are more expensive. The perception of cost is out of line with actual cost.” However, Aliminana thinks that integrated design processes do actually cost more. “Delegated design is about absolutely mimimal investment so being integrative does cost more.”

Alminana added that the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES), LEED, and other rating systems, which are basically “crutches,” can help though, because they expose the true costs of doing things improperly, but also the costs and benefits of doing things well. “These systems force designers to measure performance and value benefits.” SITES, in particular, lends itself to integrated design approaches and outlining the many benefits that can then be quantified, offsetting any higher costs.

There are other aspects of integrated design with cost implications: An audience member from William McDonough + Partners remarked that the ever-increasing specialization of consultants made integrated design expensive. With 20 consultants on a project, a client may not understand why so many need to be involved to make a systems-based project work. Another from KieranTimberlake added that “consultants have to be pushed a lot. There has to be someone there to make them accountable.”

Yocca also added that “there’s the time value of money.” Some clients don’t want to “start the meter” until they are almost at the construction phase, which shows how little the design process up front is valued. To remedy this kind of problem, Shwendinger called for “flattening the process” from the get-go, and bringing in the client so they can “see all the players as an integral part of the process.”

How the Process Works in Real Projects

Paul Kephart, President, Rana Creek, described a $3.1 billion hospital project he worked on for Southern Health, a healthcare provider. The client used “Toyota management methods. It was completely flat, integrated process, which meant we all had to be at the table. Sometimes this was a great opportunity.” Other times, it was pretty dull.

The client was informed by a core committee that involved the client. “The owner was there at every decision tree.” In addition, all the design professionals, consultants, and contractors pooled their risks so if there were cost over-runs, that would eat into their share of the profits. “For a project of that size, a 10 percent creep can be a lot of money so contractors had to work with each other from the beginning.” There were lots of “what if, then” conversations. Kephart also discussed how co-locating contractors on site can yield efficiencies, even though that’s not always possible.

Alminana used an integrated design process to create the sustainable landscape at the Center for Sustainable Landscapes in Pittsburgh. He said a “very enlightened client,” who believes “green building is cheaper” over the long-term, was critical to making that work. Using passive-solar building strategies, the client was looking at the 100 horizon for the landscape as well. “There was a significant investment in systems, integrative thinking.” As a result, the systems in the site “can’t be pulled apart.”

On another project with KieranTimberlake for Sidwell Friends, a private school in Washington, D.C., integrated design processes helped unearth the true costs and benefits of using a green roof, in discussions at the beginning of the project. “The client really wondered whether the green roof was the cheapest solution,” said Alminana. So his firm went through the calculations with the integrated design team and found that a green roof “proved to be the most cost-effective way to manage the water that fell on the roof (as opposed to additional underground basins) and channel runoff to the landscape below.” However, he said in another project that a 2-acre green roof was just too costly so instead they used a white roof to reduce the local urban heat island effect and a rooftop catchment system to collect rainwater to irrigate the site.

Integrated Design and Hard-to-Quantify Benefits

What is the economic value of habitat connectivity? Designing green roofs as a by-way for migratory birds runs counter to a “cost-driven approach,” said Kephart. These ecosystem service values, however, were important to him and his design team so habitat elements were added into one project at low cost. He added that “we won’t value these things until we don’t have them anymore.” Perhaps integrated design approaches can help here though: LEED is now adding in points for buildings that prevent bird collisions. SITES also provides lots of credits for restoring native plants and creating wildlife habitat.

On another project, Kephart put green roofs on 10 buildings near intact butterfly habitat. “We added butterfly host plants on the green roofs. Now, they are being used by endangered species.” He said E.P.A. mandates on habitat restoration can enable push designers to simulate habitat on green roofs.

Yocca saw another potential benefit of bringing biodiveristy in through integrated design processes: local eco-tourism. “Instead of traveling far away to see natural beauty, there could be biodiversity, eco-tourism in cities.” Moddemeyer pointed to examples of this in Stockholm that “are place for people, nature, or both. The areas of overlap are exciting.”

Another fantastic idea: Turn big-box store roofs into widlife habitats. “This could help some companies with marketing. We just need successful demonstrations.” Many agreed, arguing that Target could change their prototype “A,B,C,D” buildings, and instead of using “throw-away architecture,” could actually use their massive roofscapes to provide real spaces for nature.

Image credit: Sidwell Friends School Wetland / Andropogon Associates

Interview with Emma Marris, Author of Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World

Emma Marris is author of Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World and has also written for Nature. Read her op-ed on the Anthropocene in The New York Times.

In your new book, Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Nature World, you argue that “we are already running the whole Earth, whether we admit or not.” You say this calls for a new definition of nature beyond “pristine wilderness,” which no longer exists and hasn’t for some time. How must nature be defined now?

I struggled with that definition in the book, since much of my argument is about enlarging nature to include more kinds of things and places beyond pristine wilderness, from backyard birds to city parks to farms. But one risks proposing a definition that is so inclusive that pretty much everything is nature. My own personal take is that impermeable surfaces, like roads and (non-green) roofs are not nature. But obviously, a park with some paved paths is still nature at the scale of the park.

I am not sure we need a rigorous and watertight definition. We know nature when we see it, because we respond to it. At any rate, there’s a lot more of it out there outside of designated nature reserves than inside.

You also argue that the “ecosystems that look the most pristine are perhaps the least likely to be truly wild.” So what are wild landscapes? Where are they now?

We have an expectation that ecosystems that look the most like they did in the past will be the most wild. But with climate change and all the other changes humans are making to planet Earth, keeping systems looking like they did in 1491 or 1770 or 1882 requires more and more management. Thus, if your definition of wild is that humans are not in control, the wildness of places like Yellowstone is declining even as their superficial appearance remains the same. Meanwhile, abandoned, marginal lands chock-a-block with exotic species, weed species and–occasionally–broken cars and appliances are some of the only truly unmanaged landscapes left. Here, species that humans moved around are adapting to the changing Earth and creating new ecosystems. Ecologists like to call these places “novel ecosystems,” but I think that undersells the fundamental dynamism of all ecosystems, which are all novel on one time scale or another. I like to call these places “the new wild” and I find them really exciting.

You say climate change adaptation has been a dirty word in environmentalist circles. How are current approaches to ecological restoration exacerbating or alleviating climate-caused changes in landscapes?

Novel ecosystems are often discussed as good starting points for restoration or design projects that aren’t going to aim for a historical baseline. I think that’s a smart strategy. But I also hope we leave some of them alone to see how they will naturally adapt to the changing climate. We can learn a lot from these places.

More traditional modes of restoration, bringing back native species and reconstructing historical ecosystems, aren’t a bad idea, per se. But the more the climate changes, the less perfectly adapted these historical assemblages will be to current conditions. It isn’t just a matter of planting a few plants from the next USDA hardiness zone down, either. Some places will see thresholds crossed, where fire or water regimes fundamentally change, and then trying to recreate old systems really just won’t work.

Recently, I was talking to some Nature Conservancy scientists about their work trying to protect and restore watersheds in the Southwest in drier and more combustible times. I asked them if there were any pines that were more fire and drought tolerant than the pines that grow in the region. They said that yes, there were some in Mexico that did better in hotter, drier conditions. I suggested they plant a few of those and they just looked at me like I had suggested something offensive and unthinkable. Native plants are great, but live plants from a few hundred miles away are, to me anyway, better than charred native stumps.

Why is assisted species migration still so controversial, given, in some instances, gardeners, farmers, and landscape architects have been doing this for thousands of years?

The difference has to do with this wilderness fixation. If we move a plant and place it in a garden, a farm, a timber plantation or a city park, no one seems to mind. But if we do this in a place that we’ve mentally categorized as “wilderness,” then it is suddenly unthinkable because the only possible correct state for that place is that (usually mythical) day before the first person–or first European, often and even more vexingly–arrived. It is as if our culture has placed all our guilt and all our ideas about a fall from Eden and all this other baggage about nature in these carefully demarcated areas. Outside, anything goes and no natural value is recognized. Inside, the rules are very strict–counter-productively strict–and value is intense and spiritual. Obviously, I am generalizing here. There are certainly shades of gray and varying opinions.

You say there’s a “very well entrenched” culture of fighting invasive species. However, globally, it’s quite rare for introduced species to cause native species’ extinctions. In addition, some ecologists are now moving past this either-or duality and see a new reality beyond native or invasive: novel ecosystems. How are they changing the concept of native and invasive? How extensive are they? What are their benefits?

I sort of defined them a couple of questions ago, but a more formal definition is actually on the way, in a forthcoming volume on the subject edited by University of Western Australia restoration ecologist Richard Hobbs, Carol Hall, a Victoria, British Columbia-based environmental consultant, and University of Victoria philosopher Eric Higgs. The book will answer all these questions more rigorously than I can, but the short answer is that they are brand new ecosystems assembled in the wake of humanity’s actions, but not actively managed by them. They are very extensive, but because of their marginal nature often overlooked. Their benefits include nearly all of the benefits to humanity of more historical ecosystems: carbon sequestration, erosion control, water filtration, habitat for species, you name it. They are even sometimes quite lovely. But, yeah, they are mostly made up of exotics, so they are not given much love.

In that forthcoming book, I co-author a little sidebar that suggests that the concept “novel ecosystem” won’t necessarily be with us that long–just long enough for us to learn to see these spaces and for us to accept the extent of changes to “traditional” ecosystems. Eventually, I think we might divide up systems by whether they are actively managed or not, and neither of them will be pristine, untouched wilderness. So we won’t need the term.

Beyond novel ecosystems, there are also designer ecosystems, man-made systems that may actually perform better than purely natural systems. But is this idea really new? Isn’t Central Park a designer ecosystem, in that it may perform better than some natural systems? Isn’t this what landscape architects often create?  

Yep. And I think landscape architecture is in many ways way ahead of ecology and restoration ecology on this. I suppose the difference is that ecologists are now talking about doing Central Park-like things in places that, last year, they hoped to restore to some kind of simulacrum of untouched virgin wilderness. So the new thing here is maybe using the techniques of landscape architecture in places labeled as “nature” or “wilderness.” But it is all semantics, no? The plants and animals don’t know if they are in a park or and arboretum or a federal designated wilderness. They just live.

Lastly, you discuss the work of restoration ecologists but largely leave landscape architects out of the story. Since Olmsted and the early landscape architects who focused on the U.S. national park system, landscape architects have been creating man-made landscapes that sustain natural processes yet also evolve. What are some projects by landscape architects that particularly interest you, that are perhaps indicative of trends you discuss?

The simple reason landscape architecture wasn’t featured more in the book is that my day job for six years was writing about ecology for the journal Nature, so that’s the world I was steeped in. I am just now learning more about the exciting and parallel developments in landscape architecture. I like the idea I heard recently from Diana Balmori about how parks should be long and skinny and thread through the city as a part of it, rather than big blocks of separateness. I like that; it seems potentially more inclusive and more harmonizing of city and nature than the block model.

Another project I love is in my hometown of Seattle, the Pollinator Pathway, which connects two parks with pollinator-friendly gardens in parking strips.

Obviously, these kinds of things aren’t going to single-handedly save the planet. We need major systematic changes in how we use resources, we need better laws and regulations, we need to stop sprawl and mindless development. But I think that bringing nature to the city, in particular, can not only bring beauty and surprise to our lives but can build support for those big, difficult societal changes. Why would you vote for nature if you think that it only exists in large national parks that you can’t afford to go visit? Nature should be a familiar friend from the neighborhood, not a place you watch rich people ski and hike in on TV.

Interview conducted by Jared Green

Image credits: (1) Bloomsbury Press, (2) Novel ecosystem in Hawaii / Emma Marris, (3) Novel ecosystem in Hawaii / Emma Marris, (4) The New Farmingham Canal Greenway /Balmori Associates, (5) Seattle Pollinator Pathway / Copyright Kelly Brenner. Metropolitan Field Guide

ASLA 2012 Annual Meeting Call for Presentations

ASLA is accepting education session proposals for the 2012 annual meeting and EXPO, September 28-October 1, in Phoenix. If you are interested in presenting and sharing your knowledge with the landscape architecture profession, ASLA encourages you to submit a proposal through its online system.

ASLA continues to focus on the education program, the number-one reason people go to the ASLA annual meeting. Meeting attendees can earn up to 21 PDH’s from a well-balanced education program that focuses on the topics ASLA members value and require in their day-to-day practices.

As for topics, sustainability continues to be the number-one concern of the landscape architecture profession, the design and construction industry, and the owner/manager/client base.

Selected education session speakers will receive a full complimentary registration to the 2012 ASLA Annual Meeting ($465 value) and may also be eligible for reimbursement for one night of hotel stay (estimated $242 value).

Submit your proposal by January 20, 2012.

Need an inspiration? Check out the education session outlines and handouts from this year’s annual meeting in San Diego.

Image credit: Phoenix Convention Center / City of Phoenix

DesignIntelligence 2012 Landscape Architecture Program Rankings

DesignIntelligence released its 2012 landscape architecture graduate and undergraduate program rankings. For the second year, Louisiana State University came in at the top of undergraduate landscape architecture programs and, for the eighth year, Harvard University came in as the best graduate programs in the annual survey conducted by DesignIntelligence on behalf of the Design Futures Council.

Detailed rankings are available in the 12th edition of “America’s Best Architecture & Design Schools,” which assesses program rankings and education trends in architecture, landscape architecture, interior design, and industrial design.

Respondents from 227 “professional practice” organizations, which are listed in the report, answered questions about how well prepared graduates are from different undergraduate and graduate programs. Some 74 percent said they “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with the state of landscape architecture education in the U.S. Some 64 percent found that graduating students had an “adequate understanding” of biology, biodiversity, and environmental degradation. However, only 51 percent thought recent graduates brought any new ideas on sustainability to their new jobs.

This year, the top five emerging concerns by practitioners are:

  • Maintaining Design Quality (51 percent)
  • Sustainability / Climate Change (49 percent)
  • Speed of Technological Change (39 percent)
  • Integrated Design (39 percent)
  • Retaining Quality Staff in Design Practices (32 percent)

DesignIntelligence asks us to only list the top five schools for each program. To see the top fifteen rankings for each category, purchase the report.

Bachelor of Landscape Architecture Degree Rankings:

1)  Louisiana State University
2)  Pennsylvania State University
3)  California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo; Purdue University; Texas A&M University (tied)

Master of Landscape Architecture Degree Rankings:

1)  Harvard University
2)  Louisiana State University
3)  Kansas State University
4)  Cornell University, University of Pennsylvania (tied)

An additional deans and chairs survey asked respondents from 111 academic programs about the top programs and the issues they find significant. According to 84 percent of the professors surveyed, the design professions’ biggest concern is climate change / sustainability while another 64 percent said urbanization. Following this, some 68 percent also thought the most significant change in the curricula over the past five years has been an increased emphasis on sustainable design.

In addition, for the first time, DesignIntelligence surveyed more than 670 landscape architecture students to gauge their satisfaction with 20 programs covered.

To see the full responses from professors and students, purchase the report.

Lastly, DesignIntelligence lists their 25 most admired educators of 2012. This year, the list was dominated by leading landscape architecture educators:

  • Rod Barnett, Associate Professor and Chair, Graduate Program in Landscape Architecture, School of Architecture, Auburn University
  • James Corner, ASLA, Professor and Department Chair, Landscape Architecture, University of Pennsylvania
  • Hope Hasbrouck, Graduate Advisor and Assistant Professor, Landscape Architecture, School of Architecture, University of Texas at Austin
  • David Hulse, Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture, University of Oregon
  • Judith Kinnard, Chair of Landscape Urbanism and Professor of Architecture, School of Archictecture, Tulane University
  • Margaret Livingston, PhD, ASLA, Professor, School of Landscape Architecture and Planning, College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, University of Arizona
  • Elizabeth Meyer, FASLA, Associate Professor, Landscape Architecture, School of Architecture, University of Virginia
  • Peter Trowbridge, FASLA, Chair and Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture, Cornell University
  • Charles Waldheim, Affiliate ASLA, Professor and Chair, Department of Landscape Architecture, Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

Check out the 2011, 2010, and 2009 program rankings.

Image credit: DesignIntelligence