At Main Street and 18th Avenue in Vancouver, the Palm Dairy and Milk Bar, an old ice-cream shop, was a popular spot for more than 30 years, until it closed in the late 80s. In its place, Mid Main Park speaks to what must be the community’s nostalgia for that community gathering place. Landscape architecture firm Hapa Collaborative worked with the Vancouver Park Board and local residents to create a one-of-a-kind park that harks back to that old Milk Bar. This new gathering spot is part of Vancouver’s “greenest city” initiative.
The history of the place is found everywhere in the new park. Within the concrete paving are “large, random ‘milk bubbles.'”
The trellis looks like giant “bendy-straws.” (The trellis itself supports kiwi vines growing fruits locals can snack on).
And, lastly, there are dairy-bar stools set within the park, even with spinning seats. All powder-coated steel elements are painted with Palm Dairy’s orange-red color.
The space taken up by Mid Main Park was an “underused slip lane” set within the Main Street right-of-way. It was transformed with curvy seat-walls, earth mounds, layered plants, and lighting schemes. The designers tell Landezine they used rounded paths to take the edge off an awkward triangular site.
The park also has lots of sustainable design features. According to Hapa, permeable concrete paving convey stormwater into a “detention gallery buried in the central mound behind the main seatwall, reducing runoff rate and quantity discharged into the city’s storm sewer.”
The Buckminster Fuller Institute is looking for solutions to the world’s toughest problems. They just released the call for entries for their 2014 Fuller Challenge, “socially-responsible design’s highest award.” Landscape architects, architects, planners, artists, entrepreneurs, and students from everywhere are invited to go for the $100,000 prize for most outstanding strategy.
According to the institute that bears his name, Fuller called for a “design revolution to make the world work for 100 percent of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone.”
This worthy goal is now being pursued through the Fuller challenge, which seeks to identify global change-makers. Winners haven’t just taken on a building or landscape but a whole broken system.
Last year, an amazing group of materials innovators at Ecovative took home the prize for their game-changing Styrofoam made of mycelium and agricultural waste. The year before, the Living Building Challenge won for showing the world how a green building could become a self-sustaining system.
Charles Joseph Hullmandel, who died in 1850, was one of the forefathers of British lithography. His name is on thousands of lithographic prints from the early 1800s. He was apparently well-known for creating a method for printing subtle shifts in tones and reproducing the effect of light washes. This enabled the print reproduction of Romantic landscape paintings.
Among Hullmandel’s thousands of prints is a fascinating series on the alphabet in landscape form. Each letter is a story. They are among the goodies found on the British Museum web site.
For the letter A, we see three figures around a fire at the edge of a pond (see image above). The outline of the letter is vegetated.
C is for a castle on a cliff, with waves crashing and clouds curling.
The letter E is a “ruinous gate,” a broken arch magically hanging in the air. Two men point at the ruin.
M returns us to natural splendor, with willows and spruce. Ducks linger under the trees.
The letter Q shows us a stone bridge over a winding river, with hills covered in trees.
W is another romantic ruin; this time a gate with trees growing away from it.
Z is a pastoral scene of a cozy hut with smoking chimney set within a forest.
The one-of-a-kind Janet Echelman, who creates monumental net sculptures all over the world, just unfurled Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks, her largest piece yet for the 30th TED conference in Vancouver.
With data artist Aaron Koblin at Google’s Creative Labs, Echelman went interactive, enabling visitors to this nearly 750-wide floating cloud to paint beams of light across the face of the mesh using their smartphones. Amazingly, the pulsing lights on the sculpture are made possible by embedded technology. The giant sculpture essentially acts as a “single full-screen Google Chrome window over 10 million pixels in size,” writes the design team.
The title of the sculpture, Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks, comes from a line in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Echelman said: “it’s about each one of us being one of those stars – those sparks – and being able to paint the skies.”
The sculpture has 145 miles of braided fiber, tied up in 860,000 hand and machine-made knots to form intricate patterns. The piece weighs nearly 3,500 pounds, which is still light enough that it can be tied to many buildings, given there are so many foundation lines.
Digital elements are embedded within the mesh, which is made of Honeywell Spectra Fiber manufactured in Washington state. Echelman told Arch Daily, pound-for-pound, it’s “fifteen times stronger than steel but light enough to float.” Spectra Fiber is “ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene using a patented gel-spinning process.”
Martha Schwartz, FASLA, now works mostly outside the U.S., having moved to London and taken up shop there some years ago. Now a perma-expat, she has done many big master plans and parks in the Middle East and is now taking on projects in China. In Chongqiing, a massive metropolis in western China, Schwartz and her team just created the 16,000-square-meter Fengming Mountain Park, a place where visitors can be taken on a “dynamic journey via a series of iconic mountain-shaped follies, plazas, greenery and water features,” right up to the sales office for a new development. This is a bold, modern park rooted in Chinese culture, but also a place meant to encourage you to buy a new apartment.
The park helps create an identify for a new urban development, Vanke Golden City. Like some developers in the U.S., this group seems to be working on the landscape first in order to create some sense of “there” there, before the buildings come in. In Washington, D.C., developer Forest City used this approach with their winning Navy Yard redevelopment on the Anacostia riverfront, which Witold Rybczynski called one of the most successful redevelopment projects in the U.S. Schwartz Partners say the park is meant to stimulate sales at first, but will evolve with the new development as it takes shape. The park is then also a permanent amenity for this community.
Schwartz’s firm tells us that the “extreme topography” was both a challenge and opportunity. The steep slope made it tricky to get people from the upper car park to the sales center. On the other hand, the place gave them a chance to create a distinctive park that speaks to the surrounding mountainous landscape.
“The vision was to create a strong connection between the setting of the site and the surrounding backdrop of the mountainous peaks, valleys of the Sichuan Basin; the agrarian patterning of rice paddy terraces; the Chang Jiang river; and the mysterious white, grey misty sky of Chongqing. These elements provide the inspiration for the mountain pavilions, zigzag patterns, orchestrated terrain and the use of vivid colors (to contrast against the sky).”
As for the visitor’s experience, the park is designed to provide a “triumphant journey.” As visitors come in off Fengxi Road, there are a series of bright orange and red triangular pavilions that speak to the surrounding mountains.
The pavilions offer shade during the day and are lit from within at night.
The path zig zags to ensure the deep slope is accessible for all visitors. Schwartz’s firm tells us that “the path also becomes a geological pattern language, as if one is a walking on trails winding up a steep mountain.” At each zag, there’s a spot to sit and check out the view.
Water also flows through, from the arrival spot all the way to the sales area. “Channels, pools and jets to assist with cooling, provide sounds and atmosphere to what is a captivating landscape.” A local Feng Shui master must have approved.
Global Forest Watch, a new $25 million dollar, web-based tool — which was created through a partnership of the World Resources Institute (WRI), ESRI, United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Google, and a slew of other environmental groups — aims to provide a “near-real time” view of deforestation (and reforestation) around the world. According to data from Google and the University of Maryland, the world has lost 2.3 million square kilometers of trees from 2000 to 2012 from logging, diseases, and storms. BBC News tells us this is the equivalent to 50 football fields of trees being lost “every minute of every day over the past 12 years.” But during the same time frame, about 800,000 square kilometers of new forest were also planted. Still, this means the world has lost forest cover equal to the size of Mongolia in little more than a decade. The world can’t keep going at this rate given only about 15 percent of the planet’s original forest cover now remains.
Since the late 1990s, WRI has led the development of the forest watch service, which “unites satellite technology, open data, and crowdsourcing to guarantee access to timely and reliable information about forests.” The program uses more than half a billion high-res images from NASA’s Landsat program, which are organized with new algorithms created by the University of Maryland, and then made available for easy online access thanks to the cloud computing power of Google’s Earth and Maps engines. BBC News writes that high-res images of global tree loss and gain are updated annually while data on tropical forests is updated monthly.
The program’s ability to crowdsource information is particularly interesting. Campaigners and local communities can also submit data, pictures, and video on the ground. This picks up on an existing trend: “In Brazil, the Paiter Surui people are already using smart phones and GPS software to monitor illegal logging.”
The watch service will visualize protected areas, as well as concessions for logging, mining, and palm oil. For example, any user can look up whether a given area is protected or whether a company has the right to take down the trees there. Policymakers and regulators can now point to the map to see if laws are being followed on logging in vulnerable areas. Multinational companies like Nestle say it will enable them to better track where they supply palm oil and other ingredients. And sustainable forestry companies can better prove their products are coming from sanctioned places. Dr. Andrew Steer at WRI said: “Global Forest Watch is a near-real time monitoring platform that will fundamentally change the way people and businesses manage forests. From now on, the bad guys cannot hide and the good guys will be recognized for their stewardship.”
The world no longer has to rely on guesstimates. As Rebecca Moore, engineering manager with Google Earth, explained to Reuters: “With the exception of Brazil, none of the tropical forest countries have been able to report the state of their forests. Now it will be possible to have near real-time updates of the state of the world’s forests, open to anyone to use.”
The trick will be getting out some final kinks, writes The Christian Science Monitor. Critics of the program say it currently can’t distinguish between forests and industrial plantations, a major problem given rows of palm trees shouldn’t really be counted as a forest, given these mono-cultures provide very few ecosystem services.
Also worth reading is “Networking Nature: How Technology Is Transforming Conservation,” a phenomenal article in the past issue of Foreign Affairs magazine. Conservation scientist Jon Hoekstra gives us many reasons to be optimistic about the power of new technologies. “Conservation is for the first time beginning to operate at the pace and on the scale necessary to keep up with, and even get ahead of, the planet’s most intractable environmental challenges. New technologies have given conservationists abilities that would have seemed like super powers just a few years ago.”
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Hating Bourbon Street – The Design Observer Group, 3/3/14
“Hundreds of millions. That’s how many people, over the past two generations, have crammed themselves into a minor and rather middling artery in a secondary city on America’s Third Coast.”
Soil as Carbon Storehouse: New Weapon in Climate Fight? – Yale e360, 3/4/14
“Today, just three percent of North America’s tallgrass prairie remains. Its disappearance has had a dramatic impact on the landscape and ecology of the U.S., but a key consequence of that transformation has largely been overlooked: a massive loss of soil carbon into the atmosphere.”
Five Teams in the Running for London’s Natural History Museum Civic Realm Competition – The Architect’s Newspaper, 3/10/14
“Deeming them to be not ‘appropriate to a world-class institution nor effective in accommodating day-to-day use,’ trustees of London’s Museum of Natural History put out a call for redesigns to the grounds surrounding the building. The competition has now reached its second stage, with five firms selected as finalists for the project, though who is responsible for which proposal has yet to be revealed. The winning selection will have to ease access for the museum’s growing number of visitors and create a new civic ground for the city of London.”
On the Benthemsquare in Rotterdam, Dutch landscape architecture firm De Urbanisten has finally achieved what they set out to do seven years ago: create a water park for the community fed entirely by storm water. Instead of hiding runoff in underground pipes and cisterns, the square has been designed to make water the main feature. The designers say this is the world’s first “water square.”
Storm water is channeled through stainless steel gutters into three basins. Two shallow ones collect water whenever it rains, while another deeper basin is reserved for overflows from heavier storms. To help people understand what will flood or not, everything that can flood is painted in shades of blue.
And all that transports water is shiny metal.
In summer, if there is flooding, the main basin could become a pond. If it’s not gunked up with oily residue and leaves, perhaps kids will be playing there. In winter, maybe there’s ice-skating. At least, this is the vision of the designers and community. (Apparently, this is OK in Rotterdam, unlike in the U.S. where there would be lawsuits galore).
The designers came up with the concept in collaboration with students and teachers from Zadkine college and the Graphic Lyceum; members of the adjacent church, a nearby youth theater, and gym; and locals from the Agniese neighborhood of Rotterdam.
The say over the course of three public workshops, “we discussed possible uses, desired atmospheres, and how the storm water can influence the square. All agreed: the water square should be a dynamic place for young people, lots of space for play and lingering, but also have nice, green intimate places. And what about the water? This had to be excitingly visible while running over the square. Detours obligatory! The enthusiasm of the participants helped us to make a very positive design.”
The park doesn’t just work only when it’s raining. When it’s dry, the deep basin is a “true sports pit” as well as a sort of urban theater where people can see and be seen.
De Urbanisten also interposes the basins and walkways with green infrastructure made up of trees, grasses, and flowers, all “self-irrigated.”
This new park will become the High Line of the district, but with even better views: it will span the Anacostia River and provide vistas of the nearby Navy Yard and Diamond Teague parks.
According to the design organizers, the 11th Street Bridge Park will accomplish four goals: “connect two diverse communities, re-engage residents with the Anacostia River, improve public health, and become an anchor for economic development.”
The organizers have already started on an in-depth public design process, conducted through over 200 meetings with church leaders, business owners, and residents on both sides of the Anacostia river. Landscape architects and architects will need to incorporate these ideas into their design proposals. The community wants the park to provide an environmental education center, a performance area, urban agriculture, an “accessible and multi-generational playscape,” a cafe, and kayak and canoe launches for the river below.
Tendani Mplubusi-El, Ward 8 artist and resident said: “I think the bridge is going to bring a lot of people together who normally don’t cross paths.” Deborah Ratner Salzberg, president of Forest City Washington, the developer of the Navy Yard, added that: “The creation of vibrant public spaces is so critical to effective urban revitalization. The adaptive reuse 11th Street Bridge Park project will result in yet another very valuable asset for connecting the community in this area of the District.”
An esteemed jury that includes Dr. Howard Frumkin, a leading public health scholar at the University of Washington, and Carol Mayer Reed, FASLA, head of landscape architecture at Mayer / Reed, will be advised by an additional “design oversight committee.”
Submit qualifications for stage one by April 22. Teams must be lead by a landscape architect and architect. The jury will then interview the top 6-8 finalists. By stage two, each team will be given $25,000 to create full design renderings, which will be evaluated for cost and constructability. These final proposals will be publicly displayed at the District Architecture Center and online. The organizers expect the project to cost somewhere in the range of $25 million. About $500,000 has been raised so far.
A new research study from Virginia Tech’s Mobility Lab found that the vast majority of local businesses near five of the busiest Washington D.C.’s Capitol Bikeshare stations can’t tell if the stations have had any economic impact, but largely view them as having a positive effect on the neighborhood. Only 10 percent perceived an increase in store foot traffic and 20 percent, an uptick in sales, due to the installation of nearby stations. None of the 140 local businesses surveyed near the most-heavily trafficked stations thought they were negative for their business though. Washington, D.C. has the 2nd largest bikeshare system in the U.S., with 300 stations.
Planning professor Ralph Buehler and grad student Andrea Hamre say previous studies demonstrate bicyclists spend more than car drivers, creating a more positive economic impact in their local economies. One study in Portland, Oregon, found that while car riders may spend more per trip, bicyclists visit nearby stores more frequently and therefore make up a “larger share of overall per person spending.” Another analysis by Smart Growth America showed that the installation of a new bike lane boosted sales in the stores along one street in San Francisco by 60 percent. Still more reports have surveyed the sentiment of businesses near new bicycle lanes and found businesses are uniformly positive about this infrastructure and other amenities like bike corrals, parking, curbs, etc. However, until their own study, no research had actually tried to quantify the local economic impact of bikeshare stations and their use.
Sending out graduate students to survey more than 600 local bikeshare users, they found that “73 percent of respondents were motivated to use CaBi because of shorter travel times, while 42 percent reported enjoyment, 41 percent reported exercise, and 25 percent reported lower travel costs.”
Some 66 percent of bikeshare users traveled to a destination where they expected to spend money. Of those, 63 percent planned to spend $10-$49 and 30 percent planned to spend more than $50. The researchers found that most users would spend money at businesses near CaBi stations, with 39 percent reporting spending would occur within 2 blocks of the station and an additional 40 percent indicating spending would occur within 4 blocks. According to the research, about 16 percent said they wouldn’t have made the trip had a CaBi station not been nearby. (While interesting, these figures would have been made more useful had they been compared to the amounts pedestrians, regular bicyclists, and car users expected to spend near the same stores).
As for the 140 businesses surveyed, the vast majority didn’t know whether CaBi had any effect on customer traffic levels, just 10 percent perceived an increase. About 20 percent thought that CaBi had directly and positively impacted sales, while the rest were unsure or neutral. The good news may be none thought CaBi hurt their sales. The vast majority of businesses (70 percent) also thought CaBi had a positive effect on the neighborhood. The rest weren’t sure or neutral. Again, no negative perceptions.
Here’s where the CaBi bike rubber hits the road though: almost 60 percent of businesses wanted more CaBi stations put in, but only “22 percent said they would have a positive reaction to replacing sidewalk space with a CaBi station and additional 26 percent would be neutral.” This means more than half thought sacrificing sidewalk space for CaBi stations was a bad idea. In addition, only “29 percent of businesses would have a positive reaction to replacing car parking and an additional 32 percent would be neutral about removing car parking in favor of a bikeshare station.”