The Martian Landscape

Just about every news source in the world featured amazing photos of the Martian landscape earlier this week taken by the Mars rover Curiosity. NASA has sent the $2.5 billion rover to the Red Planet in hopes of getting a better sense of the history of water there and whether the planet could ever have hosted life. Using its 100mm telephoto lens, Curiosity captured photos of an “intriguing geological ‘unconformity,'” reported BBC News, which may provide more clues about how watery its past was.

Above we see an image taken by Curiosity’s mast camera, which highlights the geology of 5-km-high Mount Sharp, a mountain that actually sits within the Gale Crater, the spot where Curiosity landed. NASA writes that earlier satellite coverage of the area, below the white dots, indicated the area bears “hydrated minerals,” perhaps the residue of water that once existed on the planet. However, earlier satellite overpasses weren’t able to capture the incline above the white dots, which, interestingly doesn’t contain these minerals.

According to NASA, this “provides independent evidence that the absence of hydrated minerals on the upper reaches of Mount Sharp may coincide with a very different formation environment than lower on the slopes. The train of white dots may represent an ‘unconformity,’ or an area where the process of sedimentation stopped.” 

Another shot below shows just how similar parts of Mount Sharp are to the Grand Canyon in the western U.S., which was carved by ancient rivers. 

The next stop for the rover will be Glenelg (who names these places?), some 400 meters to the east, which is an “intersection” between different rich geological zones.

And now that NASA has gotten Curiosity warmed up, the sturdy, plutonium-powered rover will make its way to the base of Mount Sharp over the course of the next six months or so. (Interestingly, the rover is powered by plutonium from an old Soviet nuclear weapons plant).

At the base of the Mount Sharp, the rover will fire “subatomic particles neutrons at the surface to examine levels of hydrogen- and hydroxyl-containing minerals that could hint at Mars’ prior water-rich history,” writes BBC News. Another tool in its extensive kit is the ChemCam, a laser that will be used to vapourize rocks and then chemically examine the vapour. To get a closer look at the atomic makeup of rocks and soils, Curiosity will scoop up Martian materials and move them to an internalized lab for examination. 

On Monday, the rover received and then sent back a recorded message by NASA administrator Charles Bolden. Then, a song by was broadcast from Mars as part of an educational event. That marks the “first voice recording to be sent from another planet.”  

See more images and learn more about what NASA is after in their tour of the Red Planet.

Image credits: NASA

ASLA Announces 2012 Student Awards

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) announced the winners of the 2012 Student Awards. More than 450 submissions were received but just 21 student projects were given awards this year in the categories of General Design, Residential Design, Analysis and Planning, Communications, Research, Collaboration and Community Service. Students will receive their honors on October 1, at the 2012 ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in Phoenix, Arizona.  

The student awards jury included: David Yocca, FASLA, Chair; Sheila A. Brady, FASLA; Mark A. Focht, FASLA; M. Paul Friedberg, FASLA; Paul H. Gobster, FASLA; Debra Guenther, ASLA; Linda Jewell, FASLA; Chris Reed, ASLA; and Andrew Wilcox, ASLA.

The September issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine (LAM) features the winning projects and is available online for free viewing. September’s LAM will also be featured on the endcap of the magazine section in nearly 500 Barnes & Noble stores beginning September 14.

The winners of the ASLA 2012 Student Awards of Excellence are:

General Design

Colón: Collective Strategies for a Regenerative Waterfront (see image at top)
Carolina A. Jaimes, Assoc. ASLA, Graduate, Florida International University
Faculty Advisor: Gianno Feoli

Project statement: “The interest behind this research is the role of Individual Perception and Collective Space in highly complex urban environments, particularly the relationships between culture and the built environment and their impacts on society with a special interest in the role of the young population. The proposal challenges the role of Landscape Architecture to move beyond typical “potential” constructions and develop truly alternative conditions of “reality” that respond to the current challenges in contemporary, blighted urban life situations.”

Operative Platform
Hansol Kang, Student ASLA, Graduate, Harvard Graduate School of Design
Faculty Advisors: Gary Hilderbrand, FASLA, David Mah, Miho Mazereeuw and Chris Reed, ASLA

Project statement: “The project provides a vision for an urbanization process that integrates plant nurseries operations and practices as its main structuring system. The project aims to project a novel mode of urbanism that is framed by a productive ecology and integrates a more systematic proposal for a time based dynamic urbanization process. Way to reduce the cost of plant nursery operation and to reframe hydrologic system of Willets Point will be envisioned within this project, the Operative Platform.”

Analysis and Planning

Mining as Demining
Xiaoxuan Lu, Student ASLA, Graduate, Harvard Graduate School of Design
Faculty Advisor: Pierre Bélanger, ASLA

Project statement: “The project poses a new linkage between resource extraction and post-war metal cycling economies, strengthening a livelihood that heals a war-scarred landscape. It proposes a strategy of ‘demining bombs through mining gold.’ The bomb-impregnated landscape of Laos, which has 80 million unexploded bombs left over from the Vietnam War, is seen as an opportunity to rethink the processes of mining. Simultaneously, mineral exploration and excavation processes are used as mechanisms of rehabilitating and reconstructing the hazardous ground.”

Student Collaboration

Anna Christy, Student ASLA; Kyle Fiano, Student ASLA and Erica Mackenzie, Assoc. ASLA, Undergraduate, Arizona State University
Faculty Advisor: Kim Steele

Project statement: “Peritoneum reflects the collaboration of interdisciplinary students employing their respective talents to build a temporary shade structure for a plaza space on a university campus. The undulating blue structure evokes a calming, cooling environment, and captivates others by its daring interpretation of typical shade structures. Peritoneum, associated with the ribcage, transforms an underutilized area into an active passageway, place of rest, and ultimately the core adjacent design and art school.”

For the complete list of winners, please explore the 2012 ASLA Student Awards Web site.

Image credits: (1) Colón: Collective Strategies for a Regenerative Waterfront, Carolina A. Jaimes, Assoc. ASLA, (2) Operative Platform. Hansol Kang, Student ASLA, (3) (4) Tim Trumble and Anna Christy, (3) Mining as Demining. Xiaoxuan Lu, Student ASLA, (4) Peritoneum. Anna Christy, Student ASLA; Kyle Fiano, Student ASLA and Erica Mackenzie, Assoc. ASLA.

ASLA Announces 2012 Professional Awards

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) announced the winners of the 2012 Professional Awards. The awards honor the top public places, residential designs, campuses, parks and urban planning projects from across the U.S. and around the world. High-resolution images and full project information can be viewed online.

ASLA will present 37 awards to professional landscape architects and their firms, selected from more than 620 entries in the categories of General Design, Residential Design, Analysis and Planning, Communications, and Research. In addition, The Landmark Award recognizes a distinguished landscape architecture project completed between 15 and 50 years ago that retains its original design integrity and contributes to the public realm of its community.

This year, the professional awards jury included: José Almiñana, FASLA, Chair; Stephen T. Ayers, FAIA; Gail Brinkmann, ASLA; Kathryn L. Gleason, FASLA; Mikyoung Kim, ASLA; Tom Leader, ASLA; Thomas R. Oslund, FASLA; and Jim Schuessler, ASLA.

The September issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine (LAM) features the winning projects and is available online for free viewing. September’s LAM will also be featured on the endcap of the magazine section in nearly 500 Barnes & Noble stores beginning September 14. Winners will be announced at the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in Phoenix on Monday, October 1.

The winners of the ASLA 2012 Professional Awards are:

General Design Category

Award of Excellence (see image at top)
A Green Sponge for a Water-Resilient City: Qunli Stormwater Park, Haerbin City, Heilongjiang Province, China
By Turenscape and Peking University

Project statement: “Contemporary cities are not resilient when faced with inundations of surface water. Landscape architecture can play a key role in addressing this problem. This project demonstrates how a stormwater park acts as a green sponge, cleansing and storing urban stormwater, and can be integrated with other ecosystem services, including the protection of native habitats, aquifer recharge, recreational use, and aesthetic experience, in all these ways fostering urban development.”

Honor Award
Canada’s Sugar Beach, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
By Claude Cormier + Associés, Inc.

Lafayette Greens: Urban Agriculture, Urban Fabric, Urban Sustainability, Detroit
By Kenneth Weikal Landscape Architecture

Quarry Garden in Shanghai Botanical Garden, Songjiang District, Shanghai, China
By THUPDI and Tsinghua University

Arizona State University Polytechnic Campus – New Academic Complex, Mesa, Ariz.
By Ten Eyck Landscape Architects, Inc.

200 5th Avenue, New York
By Landworks Studio, Inc.

Powell Street Promenade, San Francisco
By Hood Design

Tudela-Culip (Club Med) Restoration Project in ‘Cap de Creus’ Cape, Cadaqués, Catalonia, Spain
By EMF Landscape Architecture and Ardevols Associates Consultants

Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center, Orange, Texas
By Jeffrey Carbo Landscape Architects, in association with William T. Arterburn, ASLA, and MESA

Winnipeg Skating Shelters, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
By Patkau Architects Inc.

National 9/11 Memorial, New York
By PWP Landscape Architecture

Sunnylands Center & Gardens, Rancho Mirage, Calif.
By The Office of James Burnett

Residential Design Category

Award of Excellence

Drs. Julian and Raye Richardson Apartments, San Francisco
By Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture

Project statement: “The Drs. Julian and Raye Richardson Apartments provide a dignified home for formerly homeless residents with 120 fully-equipped studios and supportive services, including counseling, medical care, job-training, and employment opportunities.  The landscape design encompasses a streetscape, a central courtyard, and a roof deck – all fully-accessible with custom furnishings. The project uses local materials and offers a multi-faceted stormwater management with permeable paving over a gravel infiltration system, rain gardens, and a green roof.”

Honor Awards
Quaker Smith Point Residence, Shelburne, Vt.
By H. Keith Wagner Partnership

Quattro by Sansiri, Bangkok, Thailand
By TROP Company Limited

New-Century Garden: A Garden of Water and Light, Palm Springs, Calif.
By Steve Martino and Associates

Malinalco Private Residence, Malinalco, State of Mexico, Mexico
By Mario Schjetnan / Grupo De Diseño Urbano

Maple Hill Residence, Westwood, Mass.
By Stephen Stimson Associates Landscape Architects

Reordering Old Quarry, Guilford, Conn.
By Reed Hilderbrand LLC

Urban Spring, San Francisco
By Bionic

Analysis & Planning Category

Award of Excellence

The One Ohio State Framework Plan, Columbus, Ohio
By Sasaki Associates, Inc.

Project statement: “The One Ohio State Framework Plan redefines the role of planning at one of the largest universities in the country. In response to increasingly complex challenges — a sustainability imperative, reduced access to capital,  and a driving vision centered on increased collaboration — it provides a unique combination of principles, scenarios and innovative software tools that allow the university to agilely adapt to changing circumstances while always moving towards a long-term vision of campus and community.”

Honor Awards
Governors Island Park and Public Space Master Plan, New York
By West 8 Urban Design & Landscape Architecture, P.C.

Wusong Riverfront: Landscape Infrastructure Pilot Project, Huaqiao, Kunshan City, Jingsu Province, China
By SWA Group

Core Area of Lotus Lake National Wetland Park Landscape Planning, Tieling City, Liaoning Province, China
By Beijing Tsinghua Urban Planning & Design Institute

Coastal Roulette: Planning Resilient Communities for Galveston Bay, Galveston Bay, Texas
By SWA Group

Nanhu: Farm Town in the Big City, Jiaxing, China
By SWA Group

A Strategic Master Plan for the Dead Sea, Dead Sea, Jordan
By Sasaki Associates, Inc.

SW Montgomery Green Street: Connecting the West Hills to the Willamette River, Portland, Ore.
By Nevue Ngan Associates

Red Mountain / Green Ribbon: Linking Across Birmingham’s Great Divide, Birmingham, Ala.

Communications Category

Award of Excellence

Digital Drawing for Landscape Architecture: Contemporary Techniques and Tools for Digital Representation in Site Design
By Bradley Cantrell, ASLA, and Wes Michaels, ASLA
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Project statement: “Digital Drawing for Landscape Architecture is a book about bridging analog and digital landscape representation techniques. Digital landscape representation relies heavily on the past, and we attempt to tie past and present together. The book is intended to highlight examples, explain techniques, and provide context for how we use digital media as designers and landscape architects.”

Honor Awards
Asphalt to Ecosystems: Design Ideas for Schoolyard Transformation
By Sharon Gamson Danks, ASLA, Bay Tree Design, Inc.
Publisher: New Village Press

Landscape Infrastructure: Case Studies by SWA
By SWA Group
Publisher: Birkhauser Architecture

Landscape Urbanism Website and Journal
By Sarah Peck, ASLA

What’s Out There
By The Cultural Landscape Foundation

Research Category

Honor Awards
Arizona Department of Transportation Ironwood Tree Salvage and Saguaro Transplant Survivability Studies
By Logan Simpson Design Inc. and Arizona Department of Transportation

Productive Neighborhoods: A Case Study Based Exploration of Seattle Urban Agriculture Projects
By Berger Partnership

The Landmark Award

Village of Yorkville Park, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
By Ken Smith Landscape Architect and Schwartz Smith Meyer Landscape Architects, Inc.

Project statement: “The Village of Yorkville Park has become a local landmark. While small in size, the park has played an important role in the revitalization of the neighborhood since its completion in 1994. Recently, the park underwent some restoration work, but its original design integrity as a distillation of regional ecology, along with its role as a neighborhood connection point, remain as strong as ever.”

Explore all the ASLA 2012 Professional Award winners.

Image credits: (1) ASLA 2012 Professional General Design Award of Excellence. A Green Sponge for a Water-Resilient City: Qunli Stormwater Park, Haerbin City, Heilongjiang Province, China. Turenscape and Peking University, Beijing / Yu Kongjian, (2) ASLA 2012 Professional Residential Award of Excellence. Drs. Julian and Raye Richardson Apartments, San Francisco. Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture, San Francisco / Bruce Damont, (3) ASLA 2012 Professional Analysis and Planning Award of Excellence. The One Ohio State Framework Plan, Columbus, OH. Sasaki Associates, Inc., Watertown, MA / Sasaki Associates, (4) ASLA 2012 Communications Award of Excellence. Digital Drawing for Landscape Architecture: Contemporary Techniques and Tools for Digital Representation in Site Design. Bradley Cantrell, ASLA and Wes Michaels, ASLA. Publisher: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., (5)ASLA Landmark Award. Village of Yorkville Park, Toronto. Ken Smith Landscape Architect, New York City, Landscape Architect of Record: Schwartz Smith Meyer Landscape Architects, Inc. / Peter Mauss/ESTO.

Industrial Landscapes Reborn

Landscape architects are increasingly recognized as the most critical designers of post-industrial sites, perhaps the only ones capable of transforming abandoned and often toxic industrial infrastructure into vibrant new parks and event spaces that also show a deep respect for the past. Like the ASLA award-winning Steel Yard Park in Providence, Rhode Island, or the Paddington Reservoir Gardens Park in Sydney, Australia, these three new projects from around the world, each with very different vibes, show how the bar is constantly being raised as landscape architects transform beautiful ruins into exemplars of public design.

In Genk, Belgium, Hosper Landscape Architecture and Urban Design created C-M!ne square, a new cultural center on the site of a former coal mine, writes Landezine. Forming a “spectacular” open space, the square also plays host to revamped former industrial buildings, a new theatre, cinema, restaurants, and Genk design academy.

Hosper’s team design writes: “An obstacle-free surface ensures that the square can be used for a wide variety of purposes.” Anticipating both heavy use and just a few pedestrians, the square is paved with “black slate slabs,” set with different sizes and laid in an informal pattern. The black slate seen below is a visual reference to the “black gold,” the coal dug up from the mines.

Together with the lighting, which is embedded into zig-zagging paths within the pavement in some places (see image at very top), the custom-designed, removable chairs and stools made of stainless steel plate “glitter like diamonds” among the coal-black pavement. The chairs are red so they have a warm glow at night. 

Across the globe on the Waverton Peninsula in North Sydney, Australia, landscape architecture firm Hassell led a huge team that also transformed a coal mine, this time the Coal Loader and Caltex industrial site, into parkland. Decommissioned in the early 1990s, the site had been vacant for more than 40 years by then. The site used to be a “bunkering and distribution point” since the early 1900s, and then used to store oil throught the 1950s.

In Landezine, Hassell writes the primary challenge was to “preserve the site’s timeless quality, to resist the temptation to embellish the structure with artifice, and to ensure that the place became a viable recreation resource for the local community.” In practice, this meant “minimal interventions” and “meaningful spatial relationships.”

Like C-M!ne square, the Coal Loader, as the site is now called, now hosts a range of festivals and private events, offers new office space and cafe. To showcase how sustainable adapative reuse of old industrial infrastructure can be, there’s a new sustainability learning center in the old caretaker’s cottage.

The sustainability center is also there to teach visitors about all the sustainable design practices used. Hassell writes that best practices like “water harvesting, treatment and re-use, waste water treatment, energy capture and storage, community gardening and the use of recycled materials” were incorporated.

Lastly, Tom Stoelker at The Architect’s Newspaper takes us on a tour of a former steel plant in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, which “had to rethink its identity” after the plant went bankrupt. Between a new, redesigned streetscape and bandshell called Levitt Pavilion, which were both done by Philadelphia-based landscape architecture firm WRT, the plant is now in a prime spot, where, with dramatic lighting, it has been re-conceived as a “cultural magnet.”

WRT’s Antonio Fiol-Silva was particularly struck by how the plant created the steel for the Empire State Building and Golden Gate Bridge so really had an industrial heritage in a league of its own. The Architect’s Newspaper explains how the site was closed off for years, but as the gates came down and redesign work began, the workers came back to see the process. WRT landscape architect David Ostrich said: “They would just sit quietly and stare.”
The new “asymetric and cantilevered” addition — the Levitt pavilion — was designed to provide a vivid contrast to the plant in the background. 

But some details help the new pavilion and lawn, which can hold up to 2,500 for concerts, feel like a part of the larger site. “Beveled planes of rusted steel, concrete, and ivy beds shore up the lawn in angled gestures that recall bent metal. Unabashed use of bolts and rivets add graphic punctuation to the detailing, while blond bonded-aggregate paving ushers families toward a play area.”

Image credits: (1) C-M!ne / Hosper, Pieter Kers, (4-6) The Coal Loader / Simon Wood, (7-8) Bethelem Steel Plant / Paul Worcher, (9) The Architect’s Newspaper.

Another Winner: The London Olympics’ Landscape

While the architecture of the London Olympic games certainly won the U.K. a lot of press, there seemed to be a real dearth of coverage on the Games’ highly successful landscape architecture. Nearly 250 acres were turned into a spectacular setting. According to John King, Hon. ASLA, architecture critic for The San Francisco Chronicle, that success was due to a team of landscape architecture firms, including U.K.-based LDA Design and U.S.-based landscape architecture firm, Hargreaves Associates, who came in at the proverbial last minute to update the master plan in key spots, along with English planting designers Nigel Dunnett, Sarah Price, and James Hitchmough.

King reports that the Olympic Delivery Authority in the U.K. “wasn’t happy with the open space elements” of their master plan. George Hargreaves, FASLA, said to King: “The client told us, ‘We’ve got this product, we don’t like it, we’re not sure why.'”

Working with LDA Design, Hargreaves changed the planned river, creating “wider and more natural banks,” which were then cloaked in a sea of greenery, including a wildflower meadow planted by Dunnett and his colleagues. (The meadow, an iconic English landscape, is said to be the largest ever planted in the U.K).

Also, King reports, the plazas in the master plan were reduced in size in order to create space for new hillocks, or what Hargreaves called “sculptural tectonic forms.” These hillocks provide a platform for visitors to see the city, beyond the Olympic Village, and also help create a “softening” of the transition from the busy avenues packed with throngs of visitors.

On their Web site, Hargreaves says the plan developed with LDA Design “restores a river and transforms former industrial land, much of it contaminated through years of industrial neglect” into 100 hectares of parklands. Furthermore, the design was inspired by “the Victorian and post-war pleasure and festival gardens.”

LDA Design says the masterplan provided a solid foundation for the entire site, helping make the London Olympics one of the more sustainable ones to date. “The hour-glass shape of the Olympic Park naturally divides the park into a ‘wilder’ green northern half, The North Park and a more urban South Park. The previously canalised River Lea has been transformed into a three dimensional mosaic of new habitats – wetland, swales, wet woodland, dry woodland and meadow – that together form an absorbent flood-control measure. Specific habitats and wildlife installations have been integrated into the design to support key species identified in the Olympic Park Biodiversity Action Plan, such as Kingfisher, Sandmartin and European eel.”

Dunnett, one of the planting designers, added more about the specifics of the planting approach: “The Olympic Park comprises two different character areas: the North Park which has a more extensive and informal character, and the South Park, which includes the main Olympic Stadium and has a more urban character. Plantings in the North Park largely represent designed versions of native habitats and celebrate native biodiversity. They include species-rich meadows of different types; wetland plantings, including rain gardens and bioswales; woodland underplantings, and dramatic perennial ‘lens plantings.’ Plantings in South Park focus on visual drama and have a strong horticultural basis. They include the 2012 Gardens, Display Meadows and the ‘Fantasticology’ art installation.”

King says the city, at least the local design press, was thrilled by the park. LDA Design’s Web site lists a whole set of positive critical reviews, including one by Kieran Long, Evening Standard: “The real star of the Olympic site is the landscape design. It’s simply beautiful, with borders packed with mixed wildflowers, all blooming gaily thanks to the wet weather. Its hillocks and valleys, ordered by the waterways that run north–south through the park, make it a unique place, and give a flavour of what will be a wonderful public space after the Games.”

The London Olympics just ended with a bang so the landscape will now become public parkland. According to LDA, the park will be expanded, reopening as the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in 2014. A 55-acre piece of that bonanza of a project will go to who else but James Corner Field Operations, designers of the High Line and winners of the Chicago Pier design competition.

See lots more photos of the Olympic landscape.

Image credits: (1) Nigel Dunnett, (2) Andy Harris, Hargreaves Associates, (3-4) Nigel Dunnett, (5) Peter Neal, Hargreaves Associates, (6) Master plan concept, LDA Design, Nigel Dunnett, Hargreaves Associates, (7-8) Nigel Dunnett.

With Drought, Lawn Painting Spreads

The worst drought in a half a century has already caused billions of dollars of losses for farmers and communities. In parts of the country where water has long been conserved, like the west, lawn painting has unfortunately long been seen as a solution. Now, with water being conserved across the country like never before, what are all those homeowners with lawns supposed to do? Instead of replacing lawns with native plants that require little water (otherwise known as xeriscaping), more may be throwing away money trying to paint their way to a lush, verdant lawn.

The Associated Press reports that homeowners across the country are now taking this path. In Staten Island, NY, Terri LoPrimo decided to hire a local entrepreneur to spray her lawn with a “deep-green organic dye.” LoPrimo said: “It looks just like a spring lawn, the way it looks after a rain. It’s really gorgeous.” Her lawn can be seen on the left:

Many landscape architects may shake their head at such a move, but at a cost of $125 to paint her 830-square-foot-lawn, it’s certainly cheaper than ripping out the lawn and replacing with native alternatives that don’t require much water or creating a new, usable outdoor space.

Indeed, these cheap and fast approaches have yielded more business for the owner of the Staten Island company, Grass Is Greener Lawn Painting. The owner told AP that he has already painted 20 lawns this summer. The dye used is a “non-toxic, environmentally friendly turf dye that […] is commonly used on golf courses and athletic fields to give them a lusher appearance.” Just to note: There really isn’t such a thing as an environmentally-friendly dye given the huge amount of water that actually goes into producing dyes. Also, much like a spray-on tan, the green lawn look doesn’t hold forever. In about five months, homeowners going the non-natural way will need a fresh spray. 

The AP then examined the practice in the Midwest, looking to Kansas City, Mo.-based Missouri Turf Paint Inc. The company has been painting golf courses and athletic fields for years, but has seen an uptick in residential spraying. Foreclosed homes are often sprayed, the owner said, to boost resale prospects. 

In Phoenix, Arizona, homeowners are also often painting their lawns to try to sell, or out of fear of being fined by their homeowners’ associations. Brian Howland, Arizona Lawn Painting, said: “Usually it’s people who don’t feel like messing with their yard or it’s a rental or a foreclosure or a sale — something where before everything gets going they want it to look nice.” 
Howland charges $200 for up to 3,000 square feet. 

Clearly more work needs to be done to convince homeowners everywhere that there are smart alternatives to lawns, like xeriscaping. With climate change, drought-like conditions may not be going away anytime soon.

One sustainable landscape case study shows how much cheaper a native residential landscape is to maintain over time. Also, explore ASLA’s guides to sustainable residential design: improving water efficiency, and its connected guide on maximizing the benefits of plants.   

Image credit: (1) Arizona lawn painting / Green Extreme, (2) NY lawn painting / Courier Express

Breathing New Life into Old Materials

Italian designer Marco Stefanelli is breathing new life into old pieces of wood and stone for his Brecce collection of sustainable indoor and outdoor lighting. Cast-off sawmill byproducts, left-over firewood, or broken concrete building parts are embedded with resin and long-lasting LEDs so they glow from within.

On his blog, Stefanelli writes about the idea of material reuse, or hand-made cradle to cradle manufacturing: “The idea that generates my new work is transforming a generally one-shot productive process (just think of wood and stone) into a serial one.”

Stefanelli emphasizes that he’s looking for materials seemingly on their last legs, turning what everyone views as waste products into something useful and beautiful: “In order to realize Brecce’s project I wanted to take inspiration from natural objects that in some ways have reached their final step in the life cycle. They are sawmill’s outlets, pieces of urban architecture, logs carried by the river, firewood…”

For his pieces, the “formwork” is made of wood or stone but divided into multiple segments. Resin is the middle layer that keeps the work together.

Stefanelli wrote: “I’ve tried to give these pieces a second chance, tempting the light to come out from the material and amplify the sensory experience.”

See more images at This is Colossal.

Image credits: Marco Stefanelli

Wade into Barangaroo’s Central District

In the past few years, the massive, 22-hectare Barangaroo redevelopment project on Sydney’s iconic harbour has been mired in controversy. First, an international competition was announced in 2006, which was won by Hills Thalis Architecture. Then, upon concerns about the transparency of the development process and that the project was out of scale with the surrounding Sydney Harbour, a new competition was launched a few years later, which was then won by starchitect Sir Richard Rogers. In those years, the scope of the project also changed to improve the commercial viability of the A$ 6 billion project. The amount of space dedicated to commercial use was increased by one-third. To accomodate all the expected business influx, Rogers, controversially, proposed a nearly 800-feet-tall hotel among the parks and commercial offices. Rogers defends his approach as appropriate for the massive scale of the development.

The site is divided into three segments: Barangaroo South, Headland Park, and Barangaroo Central. Barangaroo South is home to Rogers’ three skyscrapers, including the 800-feet-tall hotel, while Headland Park, a 6-hectare site, will be designed by Australian architecture firm Johnson Pilton Walker in association with U.S. landscape architecture firm Peter Walker and Partners. The park is expected to include 100 percent native “common” plant species growing on recycled water. Interestingly, prior to the announcement of the final designs, famed urban designer Jan Gehl said, due to the size of parkland, it can’t be anything but “a wasteland” and “fearful at night.” Given the park won’t be completed until 2015 and the other sites won’t come online for a few years after that, it will take some time to see if he’s proved to be correct.

Now, according to the Barangaroo Development Authority, an international competition is underway for Barangaroo’s 5.2-hectare central district. The development authority, which has been the subject of its own controversy — with a few of its members removed by the city for conflicts of interest, will be seeking world-class master planning services from a landscape architecture, urban design, or planning firm.  

On the upside, the project plans to be the first major climate positive development in Australia. However, on the other hand, according to The Sydney Morning Herald, the developers are already talking about creating a huge casino in the new central district, making any plans that don’t include a spot for gambling moot from the get-go.

CEO of the Authority John Tabart said, “On the western edge of Sydney’s CBD, Barangaroo is a 22 hectare former container port, being transformed into a vital new extension of the city, as a new global financial hub and the spectacular Headland Park. Playing a pivotal role between these two icons, is Barangaroo Central, planned to be a stimulating new place with commercial and cultural development, creating spaces for living work and leisure.” 

The successful team will create a conceptual vision while revising the existing concept plan, along with a new master plan, land use framework, and public domain plan. Beginning at the end of August, firms can find the RFP online. Submissions must be in by September 26, 2012. 

Image credit: Barangaroo Development Authority

Green Streets Cut Pollution More Than Previously Thought

A new research study by Professor Thomas Pugh at Lancaster University and other scientists in the UK has found that adding trees, bushes, innovative systems like green walls, or even ivy or other creeping vines, can cut street-level nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and microscopic particulate matter (PM), two of the worst forms of pollution, by eight times more than previously thought. Many urban streets have high levels of these types of pollution, far exceeding healthy amounts for humans.

According to Science Daily, previous research has said trees and other greenery can only improve urban air quality by around 5 percent. ASLA’s recent animation on the positive impact of urban forests on air pollution used U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and National Park Service-cited results, which pointed to around 10-13 percent improvement in air quality from major increases in urban greenery. 

The new study focused on better understanding the effects of adding greenery in the stagnant corridors of cities, what the authors termed “urban street canyons.” Science Daily says the team concluded that “judicious placement of grass, climbing ivy, and other plants in urban canyons can reduce the concentration at street level of NO2 by as much as 40 percent and PM by 60 percent, much more than previously believed.”  

Green walls in particular could be used to further increase the amount of pollutant-absorbing foliage available in these spaces. Co-author Rob MacKenzie from the University of Birmingham told BBC News: “The benefit of green walls is that they clean up the air coming into and staying in the street canyon. Planting more [green walls] in a strategic way could be a relatively easy way to take control of our local pollution problems.”

According to the team, researchers found trees were also effective, but “only if care is taken to avoid trapping pollutants beneath their crowns.”  

To ensure these systems work, Pugh also mentioned to the BBC that “more care needs to be taken as to how and where we plant vegetation.” Street trees, which have up to a 30 percent mortality rate in big cities like New York City, need better treatment if they are going to work effectively as filters. In the same way, green walls need to be protected from heat stress and a lack of water.

Beyond these issues, others in the UK debated the value of green walls for addressing air pollution on a cost basis. Given the higher maintenance costs associated with elaborate installed green wall systems, the Trees and Design Action Group wondered whether ivy or other creeping vines weren’t easier and cheaper to use. We’d just add that any comparison between green walls and ivy should also examine the stormwater management, urban heat island effect, and noise reduction benefits of both approaches, too.

Image credit: ASLA 2011 Professional General Design Award. Adding Green to Urban Design / City of Chicago and Hitchcock Design Group

A Digital Break in Paris

So this is probably the world’s classiest outdoor Wi-Fi hotspot. A new project in Paris by French designer Mathieu Lehanneur, who has done innovative, sustainably designed products, and JCDecaux, a British firm said to have invented the idea of embedding advertising in outdoor furniture, got lots of attention from the major design blogs a few months back and just last week The New York Times’ “Home” section also picked up the trail.

Called Escale Numérique (or Digital Break), the new Wi-Fi hotspot is a green-roofed pit-stop at the busy corner of Rond-Point des Champs-Elysées, a few blocks from the Grand Palais, writes Urban Gardens. Inspired by the Wallace fountains, “which since the end of the 19th century, have offered Parisians the free drinking water circulating beneath their feet, Escale Numérique allows everyone to benefit from a high-speed Wi-Fi connection by raising it from beneath the ground,” said Lehanneur, in comments to that Web site. 

The new piece of urban infrastructure comes with a large multimedia touch screen that provides maps, guides to city services, and local news, along with free Wi-Fi.

As Architizer remarked, “Evidently, if the 19th century flâneur needed drinking water to fuel his meandering journey, the flâneur of the 21st century needs a means to check Facebook.”

Just the beautifully-sculpted yet sturdy-looking concrete swivel seats may be worth a visit alone. These have built-in electrical outlets for a quick laptop or phone charge and mini-tables to rest weary elbows.

The New York Times
 writes that they profiled Lehanneur because he’s seems so unlike the usual designer interested in creating yet another high-end chair. Lehanneur is well-known in the product design world for creating smart sustainable products like a household air purification system using plants and a small tank to raise fish and vegetables that can fit into an average kitchen. Increasingly, he’s also interested in designing for the public realm, with new chess player tables and urban infrastructure for skaters in the works.

While Wi-Fi is free in all Parisian parks, Lehanneur makes this ubiquitious and invisible infrastructure a destination. The green roof and warm woods are inviting, the touch screen looks useful, and the chairs comfortable. According to Lehanneur, Paris may do more if the project is successful. It looks like that’s actually a possibility, too: the designer said, “It’s not easy to insert one more object in the city, which already has so many things on the street. But it seems to be very natural. Five minutes after it was set up, people were using the map, sitting and making calls.”

Image credits: copyright Felipe Ribon