Barangaroo Comes Together

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Barangaroo Final Plan. From top (Headland Park, Barangaroo Central, and Barangaroo South / PWP Landscape Architecture

After nearly ten years of planning and development, Barangaroo, a 22-hectare port on the Sydney waterfront, is coming together as a rich, $6 billion, mixed-use development that will fill in missing gaps in the city’s waterfront promenade and offer a stunning, one-of-a-kind park with an embedded Aboriginal cultural center. As Peter Walker, FASLA, PWP Landscape Architecture, described at the ASLA 2014 Annual Meeting in Denver, “it’s the most amazing project I’ve ever worked on.”

Walker explained how the original port had been “engineered to death.” Flat, covered in asphalt, and completely separated from the surrounding residential areas by a 60-foot cliff, the port had long severed parts of the city from the waterfront. PWP fleshed out a new landscape plan that dramatically improves connectivity to the water, while designing a new park that recalls the landscape early settlers would have seen.

Throughout Barangaroo, there will be a 50/50 split between buildings and parks. Headland Park, in the north, will be entirely green public space, while Barangaroo South will be entirely developed, with a new casino and a set of 40-story towers offering a mix of residential, commercial, and retail space.

In the middle, Barangaroo Central has an even mix of private development and parks. As Douglas Voight, SOM, explained, Barangaroo Central will feature a new set of “Sydney steps” that mimic Spanish steps, taking people down from the upper level at the top of the cliffs to the water. “There, we will introduce a civic element, a cultural space.” Views from Observatory Hill, one of the city’s best vantage points, will be protected, and the old building there will be made more accessible, so as to enable views “from water to stars.”

According to Brian ten Brinke, with the Barangaroo Delivery Authority (BDA), the goal of the Headland Park portion of the project was to replace the rectilinear edges of the port with the meandering, nature-carved shoreline of the 1700s. Examining maps from the early 1800s, they found a coastline they could recreate, which, amazingly, they did.

As PWP designed Headland Park, they also “established a design vocabulary for the whole precinct’s waterfront walk,” said Jay Swaintek, ASLA, PWP. From Headland Park all the way to Barangaroo South, “we engaged with the casino and building owners to ensure the foreshore worked for the public and read as public domain.”

Dave Walker, ASLA, also with PWP, then delved into the challenges of creating a naturalistic landscape where there was once flat asphalt. (This brief video enclosed of the construction process is really worth a watch):

First, they created a 60-foot cliff with the yellow sandstone found throughout Sydney, in order to recreate an edge that connects with the surrounding communities. “We married it up to the existing cliff face.”

All that height created an opportunity to build down within the cliff and create a new memorial and cultural center for Australia’s first inhabitants, the Aborigines. Walker said this was critical as for hundreds of years, “there was an apartheid-like situation” between the Aborigines and whites. Sunshine will trickle down into the building from gaps in the surface.

Park visitors will wind their way through a reconstituted bush landscape filled with Eucalyptus trees. Dave Walker said while these bush landscapes look quite dense from the outside, within, they offer a scrim with many views looking out. Parallel to a 2-meter-wide path through the bush and down the slope, there will be separate bicycle and pedestrian pathways that wind through.

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Headland Park bush path / PWP Landscape Architecture
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Headland Park waterfront promenade / PWP Landscape Architecture

Wrapping the shoreline are 10,000 rectangular, hand-carved sandstone blocks that recall patterns in remnant coastal landscapes. Organized into geometrical shapes, “these striated forms have a natural precedent,” said Dave Walker. Each GPS-tagged stone was individually set to create intricate patterns that connect with the nature. “In high tide and low tide, the transitional patterns change.”

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Headland Park waterfront / PWP Landscape Architecture

With hundreds of trees being planted now, Headland Park is expected to open early next year. More and more of Barangaroo will also come online in the following few years. BDA is already expecting more than 12 million people a year to visit.

Robert Bullard: “Equity Can’t Be Left Out”

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Wilmington Waterfront Park, Los Angeles / AEC Cafe

True sustainability is a three-legged stool, said Dr. Robert Bullard, one of the fathers of the environmental justice movement, at the ASLA 2014 Annual Meeting in Denver. It rests on environmental sustainability, economic sustainability, and equity. However, equity, Bullard believes, is still too often left out. This is a problem because “a community can’t be sustainable if it’s not equitable.”

It has been 30 years since the environmental justice movement in the U.S. was born out protests to stop a toxic landfill from being created in an African American community in Warren County, North Carolina. While there have been significant gains — “every state now has its own environmental justice movement” — there are still far too many inequities to address.

Bullard argued that place still matters a lot, and not in a good way. Where you live largely determines your health and well-being. “Zipcode is the most important predictor of someone’s health.”

Residents of wealthier and often whiter communities still lead longer, healthier lives. Bullard believes this is because these communities typically have  more trees. Bullard believes that “trees and inequality are linked. Parks and green space matter.”

But, unfortunately, “not all parks and green spaces are created equal.” Bullard pointed to a small park in a historic African American community in Norfolk, Virginia, settled in between two oil refineries. “If you stand there for 15 minutes, you will get a headache.”

Bullard has spent the past 30 plus years mapping social vulnerabilities across the country. He has identified “disaster hot spots,” areas of the country where are multiple overlapping high-risk factors. Perhaps not surprisingly, most of the many layers of high risk are in areas where there are higher levels of minorities: the south, southwest, and, especially, southeast of our country.

“There is still a Southern legacy of inequality. So it’s not a coincidence that the South is also the most environmentally degraded region of the nation.” Slide after unrelenting slide proved the worst health and environmental levels in the country are in the southeast, which makes the area least resilient to disasters.

Today, African Americans are still the most vulnerable group as well. “African Americans are 79 percent more likely to live where industrial pollution poses the greatest health danger.” In fact, in 2007, 56 percent of African Americans lived within 2 miles of a hazardous facility, and 69 percent live within 2 miles of two or more facilities. As a result, asthma rates for African Americans are 35 percent higher than for whites. “African Americans are 13 percent of the population but 26 percent of all asthma cases.”

For Bullard, this is a huge waste of resources. He estimated some $56 billion is spent per year dealing with asthma. “Imagine what we could spend $56 billion on?”

Bullard concluded that “addressing equity is a prerequisite to achieving sustainable and livable communities.” The gaps in health, parks and green space, and income are all inter-related.

“We need more landscape architects and planners, along with a few sociologists, in the room working on these issues.”

Dredge Design

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Jamaica Bay / Drudge Design Collaborative

To dredge simply means to scoop up sediment, often underwater, and move it to another location. While this process is often associated with moving contaminated soils to a place where they can be safely capped, today, dredging is also increasingly about harnessing natural processes to create new landforms and ecological systems. New “dredge landscapes,” designed systems, offer opportunities for ecological restoration, said Brett Milligan, ASLA, Dredge Research Collaborative, at the ASLA 2014 Annual Meeting in Denver.

Sediment is dynamic and dramatically differs from place to place. Studying the natural flow of sediment in rivers and deltas, we can begin to understand how the movement of sediment can be “choreographed” to achieve ecological goals. However, given sediment flow happens within complex ecosystems impacted by human activities, like the deepening of channels for large ships, using dredge to create new landscapes is a highly complicated process.

As an example, Milligan pointed to efforts to dredge sediment into new landforms that can support wetlands in Jamaica Bay in New York. At current rates, “the wetlands will totally disappear in 10 years. Water regimes have changed due to stormwater runoff and deeper shipping channels.” While efforts are underway to rebuild the low-lying islands that can support wetlands in the bay, he asked how dredge can be used to restore a natural environment “where everything has changed?”

According to Hugh Roberts, Arcadis, we must “design with nature” when dredging, and a changing nature at that. Coastal land loss plus sea level rise means using dredged sediment to create wetland habitat is incredibly complex, hence the need for his job, numeric modeling lead. Wetlands require multiple flushings of water per day and they only exist at sea level, so there are “narrower number of places where they can survive. It’s a fine balance.”

In the Mississippi River delta, Roberts has been working on the White Delta diversion project, which aims to create the most efficient interventions for spreading out sediment in the widest possible fan from the river into the delta. Flow paths are dredged to enable the reconstitution of sediment far into the delta plains. All of this is part of an effort to undo the built system of containing the river, which looks like “a plumbing diagram,” in favor of letting the river flow and deposit sediment where it’s most needed, ecologically.

Roberts also pointed to the innovative Sand Engine project in the Netherlands as a great example of how dredging can work with nature. The Dutch have created a “changing land form that distributes sand along the Dutch coast.” They have placed large “nourishment mounds.” Nature then “spreads out the sand where it needs to.”

This process is the opposite of the conventional approach of pumping sand directly onto eroding beaches, an approach often called botoxing beaches. Like botox, this pumping approach only works for so long before the beach needs to be re-sanded.

The Sand Engine, Roberts says, is about “increasing resilience through nature.” Models, like the ones he creates, can help nature optimize its efforts. Today, one can see the Sand Engine has actually resulted in “natural dune formations” and the return of endangered plant species.

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Dutch Sand Engine / Topos Magazine

Milligan said up to 45 gigatons of earth is dredged per year, about 30 tons per person in the U.S. According to engineer and dredger Chris Dols, Great Lakes Dredge and Dock, there are a number of different dredging technologies. There’s the cutter suction dredge, which turns mud underwater into a slurry then moved through massive hydraulic pumps. Then there’s hopper dredging, which involves using a mobile dredging vessels that vacuums up material then stores it within the boat only to be sprayed or pumped to other locations. Both can be used to support restoring ecosystems.

Sean Burkholder, ASLA, a landscape architecture professor at University at Buffalo, wants landscape architects to see dredging as a real design opportunity. Today, in the Great Lakes region, only 25 percent of sediment is reused; the rest is dumped on land or sent out to sea. Instead of treating contaminated sediment as merely waste that needs to be moved and capped, contaminants can be separated out, leaving material to create new dredge landscapes. “We can use this material more creatively in our own work.”

Also, existing dredged landscapes can become environmental education opportunities. These landscapes are typically near cities. “We can create access and interpretation for legacy sites.”

For those interested in learning more about dredge landscapes, Milligan organizes DredgeFest every year.

Simulating Landscapes with Point Cloud Models

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Postcard from “Gotthard Landscape: The Unexpected View,” 2014 Architecture Biennale, Venice, showing a multi-layered perspective / Department of Architecture, ETH Zurich

We need to find a word that brings us back to common ground. In a lecture at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Christope Girot, professor and chair of landscape architecture in the architecture department at the ETH (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) in Zürich, Switzerland, suggests that “topology” may be the word, for it speaks to the logic and intelligence of a landscape. Girot acknowledges his unique way of viewing: “I believe in the landscape as a body.” He means this in a very literal sense, emphasizing landscape’s physical qualities.

One of the first slides Girot flashes before the audience shows topology’s etymological roots: Topos (place) and logos (reason). Topology, he claims, is about sensing and conceiving landscape. Rather abstractly, topology, then, can define a way in which constituent parts are interrelated or arranged. This approach can be applied to landscape architecture through multi-layered visualizations, and new, multi-scalar methods of design.

(Girot borrows the term topology from philosophy, but also reclaims its original meaning from its contemporary mathematical association. Girot makes reference to Hans Kollhoff, who retrieved the term “tectonics” from the realm of volcanoes and inserted it into the core of architecture).

In practice, his use of point cloud modelling for large-scale projects emphasizes landscape’s elevational information. This means designing on a “skin,” an abstracted land form developed by filtering raw data and draping a point cloud. The raw data to which he is referring is what his team collects by sending flying drones with laser scanners over a landscape. Girot uses an incredibly complex coordinate system to achieve a level of precision previously unknown to landscape architects. If his lecture could be summed up by a single statement it would be this: Landscape architects must become masters of simulating reality for this is the future.

A term that Girot employed even more than topology is precision. Point cloud modelling, he argues, is the optimal tool for achieving precision because it achieves a precision competitive with the instruments employed by structural engineers. It elevates the position of the landscape architect, granting a heightened level of control and broadening the landscape architect’s territory. Girot reminds us of a time when engineers, architects, and landscape architects each practiced within their respective scalar domains (1:1-1:1000 versus 1:10,000-50,000, etc.). In contrast to this, today, point cloud modelling enables landscape architects to reverse the order by teaching engineers something about sensitivity.

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Detail of a perspective generated from a point cloud model / Department of Architecture, ETH Zurich

What is astounding is how Girot has been able to apply this methodology, translating a seemingly infinite set of tiny informational dots into more than a pretty pointillist picture. (It is worth mentioning, however, that this does not preclude the possibility of an unlimited number of instant perspectives exported from zooming around in the point cloud model dimension.) While it is easy to gape at the seductive visualizations, such as the 20-meter projection of a fly-through made for Gotthard Landscape: The Unexpected View, the ETH’s contribution to the 2014 Architecture Biennale in Venice, Girot wants to make clear that this method is not just for show; it is a tool.

His animations present a new way of perceiving landscape, allowing viewers to experience an x-ray-like vision of the alps that situates the tunnel beneath a massive load, a measurable “void” beneath the modeled surface. The tunnel itself will alter the way in which visitors make their way “through the alps” by promising a 1-hour 40-minute journey without a single alpine view. In this case the model becomes a tool for communication rather than a tool for design.

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Postcard from “Gotthard Landscape: The Unexpected View,” 2014 Architecture Biennale, Venice / Department of Architecture, ETH Zurich

While point cloud technology introduces new design methods to the field, it by no means guarantees the quality of a design. This technology can only bring us one step closer to a desired level of precision. For example, point cloud modelling is a tool that measures, with surprising accuracy, the extent of flood events on existing topography. For the ongoing project with the Future Cities Laboratory in Jakarta, Indonesia, Girot and his team use point cloud modelling to give definition to a landscape that lacks topographical data.

Girot generated a model of the polluted Ciliwung River to achieve the information required for a systems approach to dealing with a region where informal settlements established within the narrowing riverbed suffer from frequent flooding. With a virtual topography, or a “skin” of the river district, the lab succeeds in developing what Girot calls “the new Nolli plan,” an “urban bas relief” that reveals useful information for an urban strategy.

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Detail from a bird’s eye view rendering made by the Future Cities Laboratory for the Ciliwung River project / Department of Architecture, ETH Zurich

Girot introduces to us a new design approach: communication through simulation. Here, precise data-based 3D modeling precedes the design of a landscape.

This guest post is by Lara Mehling, Student ASLA, Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, Harvard University Graduate School of Design

Major Revamp Planned for D.C.’s South Mall

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New South Mall campus plan / BIG

The new master plan for the Smithsonian’s South Mall campus, which runs from the Hirshhorn Museum all the way to the Freer Museum, is a shocker. It obliterates the existing landscape, filled with intimate nooks that invite exploration, in favor of “improved connectivity” and open plazas that extend the grand expanse of the Mall in between the buildings. While the current set-up is perhaps rightfully criticized for being difficult to navigate and uninviting in parts, with so many walls separating museum from museum, the new plan by Danish architecture and urban design firm BIG and San Francisco-based landscape architecture firm Surface Design, as well as many other collaborators, may leave visitors feeling exposed. Given full design and implementation of the $2 billion plan is expected to take more than 20 years and won’t even start for the next 5-7 years, we can expect elements of this plan will certainly change. The Smithsonian just began its public comment phase of the process.

For the past two years, the Smithsonian has invested $2.5 million in developing these plans, seemingly under the radar. Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, said the impetus for the new plan came from all the negative public feedback about the experience at the South Mall campus. The subterranean Ripley Education Center, for example, is nearly impossible to find, as is the entrance to the Sackler Gallery. Underground, good luck getting from the Freer to the Sackler or the Ripley Center; the passages are incredibly confusing. These museums, set deep within the Mall, are dark. At night, the whole campus is devoid of light. Visitors can’t walk directly from the Hirshhorn to the Freer, but must zig and zag. As a result, Clough believed the Smithsonian needed to totally “reimagine the experience and transition the Smithsonian into the future.”

This new master plan is then meant to be a road map to guide how to get there, added Smithsonian Undersecretary Albert Horvath. “It’s fluid and provides opportunities and options for us.”

Bjarke Ingels, the founder of BIG, explained the key facets of the plan for a site that may be the “most heavily regulated piece of real estate on Earth”:

The centerpiece of the redevelopment — and the first phase the Smithsonian will tackle — is updating the Castle and protecting it from earthquakes, like the one that heavily damaged it in 2011. The entire building will be set on rollers, a system of “base isolation,” to guard against future seismic anomalies. Given “we are digging anyway,” said Ingels, a new underground interactive exhibit is planned, which will outline all the resources the Smithsonian provides. The building’s interiors, which have been broken up into shops selling knick-knacks and offices, will be reunited in a grand hall, as it once was.

As visitors exit the Castle from the rear, heading toward the Enid A. Haupt garden, visitors will discover a contemporary landscape that peels up in the corners. Each corner will be home to a bright, glass-enclosed entrance that leads visitors either down into the Sackler Gallery or the African Art Museum. Ingels said: “These will be entrances to a much bigger experience. No more hidden pavilions.”

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Visitors will also be able to go up the top of the slopes or picnic on this green roof deck.

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Given the current Haupt garden isn’t under any historical protection, it could actually find new life in this form. One architect with BIG said the team would keep Jean Paul Carlhian’s Moongate Garden, which people love, “just putting it back even better.”

The Sackler Gallery and African Art Museum will also now be viewable from the revamped garden, providing a preview of the art below. “The skylights will give people a sneak peek into the museums, making them intuitively accessible.”

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The spaces themselves will be flooded with light, an improvement everyone can appreciate.

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One reason for all the walls separating these museums from each other is that there are three separate loading docks for the museums. BIG proposes consolidating them into one loading dock and creating a subterranean road that will enable artworks to be safely transported. Paralleling this route will be underground passages, all sky-lit, that allow visitors to travel directly between the Hirshhorn to the Freer, perhaps bypassing having to have your bag checked by security again. With one dock, the walls separating the museums can then be pulled down and direct, above-ground paths can also be created cutting through all the sites, too.

BIG then proposes further exposing the museums to the expanse of the Mall, first by removing the high walls around the Hishhorn Museum, and creating a new landscape design at near-Mall level with a pattern or circles that appear to be radiating off the building. One architect from BIG said they saw the original drawings for the site, and this new concept actually returns this space to the original design intent.

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According to Skip Graffam, ASLA, a partner at OLIN, who created a tour of the existing Hirshhorn landscape, “architect Gordon Bunschaft designed the austere and minimalist building and site, which was later refined by landscape architects Lester Collins and James Urban.” Many may appreciate the understated landscape, always a welcome respite from the Mall.

The sculpture garden, which is in sore need of maintenance, will instead be similarly gutted under this new plan, replaced with a design encased in glass.

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The museum’s central fountain will also be further sunk in.

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A new subterranean space, which will also provide access to a new cafe, will enable visitors to directly connect between the museum and sculpture garden. Now, visitors have to leave the Museum go up over the road, and then go back down into the sculpture garden.

Throughout, BIG proposes major improvements to building and landscape systems, gutting all the 50-year old systems and replacing them with the most energy and water-efficient models. The proposal promotes green infrastructure, energy efficiency, as well as localized renewable energy sources. Ingels said: “Energy use will be reduced by 39 percent and carbon emissions will go down 40 percent.” At the same time, the amount of space available for the museums will increase by 30 percent. “It’s a significant upgrade.”

The changes to the landscape, however, are perhaps mis-characterized as “subtle, surgical interventions.” This is a wholesale redesign of this part of the Mall, but Ingels says his team can “recreate the romantic, meandering nature of the space, so people can get lost in the plants,” while also dramatically improving connectivity. Also important will be creating connections with the ambitious new plans for L’Enfant Plaza and Southwest Eco-District, which is expected to bring in tens of thousands more federal workers, dramatically upping the density in the area.

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Horvath said the “landscape portion of the plan is least developed. The gardens are really integral to the design.”

Richmond’s Transformational Riverfront Plan

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All James River Park images / Jared Green

Richmond, Virginia, and Portland, Oregon, may not seem to have much in common, except they both have rivers that cut through their cities. In the case of Portland, it’s the Willamette River, and in Richmond, it’s the James River. Portland has invested in a wonderful loop along its waterfront parks and bridges, which connects the east and west sides of the Willamette in a seamless experience for bicyclists and pedestrians. And, soon, Richmond will have a similarly transformational circuit along its 600-acre James River Park, created as part of its smart riverfront plan, which is destined to boost revitalization efforts in this newly resurgent city.

The city’s planning department has partnered with landscape architecture firm Hargreaves Associates, which is leading a team of designers and engineers, to make the vision of a more connected Richmond a reality. The first priority in the multi-year plan is the Brown’s Island Dam Walk, which will convert old dam infrastructure into a new pedestrian and bicycle bridge across the river, connecting the city’s downtown to Manchester right through some glorious urban wilds. It’s smart reuse of a charismatic piece of old infrastructure. And the impetus for getting new circuit done fast, in this most southern of cities? The UCI World Championship bike race, which will set off bikers in a 10 mile course throughout the city in 2015.

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The old dam once powered Richmond’s economy, explained Nathan Burrell, the superintendent of the James River Park, in a tour organized by The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) as part of their What’s Out There weekend in Richmond. Energy from the river supported flour mills along the riverfront. “Richmond was known to have the best flour” in part because of how well ground it was. As the dam fell into disrepair and was further damaged by Hurricanes Agnes and Camille, we just see the bones of it today.

While the storms caused hundreds of millions in damage across Richmond, there may have been one benefit, said Burrell. These storms cleared out decades of accumulated industrial sludge that had sunk to the bottom as well as raw effluent that had been captured by the river. Nature, in combination with a 30 million gallon sewage containment tank built to deal with the city’s combined sewage overflows, had, in effect, restored the river to a healthier state. While there are still the occasional combined sewage overflows with heavy rains, the river is in much better shape than it was decades ago.

The day we visited, kayakers were enjoying the park’s rapids.

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Burrell said he even takes his family down to the park’s beaches so they can go snorkel and see the migrating fish, including giant sturgeons, return.

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The islands that dot the river are home to migratory birds. “We have spotted 35 different species of birds, including Blue Herons.” Burrell said older residents of the area still think of the river as a filthy place, but perceptions in the region have dramatically changed in the past few years. Now, just 40 percent of the 700,000 visitors who have come to the park since summer began are from the city.

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Efforts to clean up the river and further restore the ecosystem have gotten a boost from Richmond’s stormwater management tax. And the riverfront plan will further promote the use of green infrastructure, including wetlands, to deal with runoff from the city and improve water quality. As Burrell explained, the goal is to show the James River Park’s value as a “habitat, not just pseudo-wilderness.”

Indeed, as one moves across the novel pedestrian bridge hanging from an expressway and lands on Belle Isle, it’s easy to forget you are in a city. The 64-acre island feels increasingly isolated from the city as you move further in and also feels like a true nature park, an effect only enhanced by the appealing industrial ruins.

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David Johannas, an architect and planner on Richmond’s planning commission, told me that much of the riverfront plan came out of earlier hard work on the downtown master plan. “I feel that the downtown master plan was the real turning point in our perceptions of our city. Hundreds of residents were very active in the process, which began in 2007. The study area reached to the east just past the Shockoe Bottom neighborhood to the city docks, north to interstate 95, west to include Virginia Commonwealth University, and across the river to the Manchester district. Reaching across the James River to Manchester became a defining element of the plan, as it made the James River and its natural parkland Richmond’s Central Park.”

The dam bridge really is just the first piece of an ambitious plan to further integrate the city and nature and put the James River Park at the heart of that connection. Learn more at Richmond’s planning department.

Urban Design Competitions Are Opportunities to Assert the Value of Landscape Architecture

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Teresa Galí-Izard / Leena Cho

Urban design competitions are opportunities to assert the value of landscape architecture while still creating a dialogue with other design professions. At a recent review of Barcelona’s Placa des les Glories Catalanes design competition, Teresa Galí-Izard, International ASLA, chair of the landscape architecture department at the University of Virginia (UVA) and partner at Arquitectura Agronomia, explained why it’s important for landscape architects to take advantage of these competitions.

Galí-Izard believes landscape architects have an identity “crisis” and an urgent need to distinguish themselves from architects and planners. To make this point, she discussed the issue of landscape representation in photo-renderings and other promotional images in competition proposals. Too often, she noted, trees appear simply tacked onto sites, with no consideration for the conditions needed for them to fulfill their potential. This is a sign of a lack of involvement by landscape architects.

Landscape architects have a nuanced understanding of plants’ needs, as well as a deep awareness of the ground as a dynamic system. The profession has a unique ability to incorporate ecological and hydrological systems as major design elements. This knowledge is essential to the sustainability of a designed landscape. In urban design competitions, landscape architects then need to get involved and shape how a proposal is presented to clients and the public.

She also emphasized the need for landscape architects to be involved in designing briefs—that is, framing the problems—for the competitions in which they participate. Engagement at this early stage gives landscape architects greater influence in guiding the scope of large-scale urban projects.

The competition she reviewed is an effort by the Barcelona city government to revitalize a central plaza—the junction of three main avenues—and enhance its role as a ecological and cultural hub in the city. While she did submit a competition entry (“Tres Cartes”), Galí-Izard focused less on her particular proposal and more about the educational aspects of all the proposals.

The exhibit itself was provocatively presented: 10 design proposals were arranged around the gallery without attribution and visitors were asked to assess the work based on visual representation. After attendees had critiqued the proposals, Galí-Izard revealed the names of designers and background information on the entries.

Galí-Izard was frankly critical of her own proposal, explaining ways to improve and enliven the design and expressing regret for not having challenged the brief more extensively: “I feel so bad for not breaking the rules!”

Thinking through drawing, she quickly sketched revisions onto the presentation board, inserting buildings around the perimeter of the park, and proposed a mix of architecture and landscape for this central plaza.

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She showed a profound interest in her competitors’ proposals and their ideas and values. Her critical engagement with the other entries revealed an exemplary attitude toward the competition process: She understands the benefit of learning from peers and pushing her own practice and didn’t measure the merit of the experience solely in terms of winning.

For Galí-Izard, a good competition—like the Placa de les Glories Catalanes—should be grounded in real site constraints but still open to experimentation and creativity, a venue for extending the rigor and imagination of the university studio into the “real world” of contemporary practice.

This guest post by Julie Shapiro, Master of Landscape Architecture Candidate, University of Virginia

Bike Share Is Growing Up

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Capital Bikeshare, Washington, D.C. / Bethesda Now

In just four years, bike share has gone from being the fantasy of a few enthusiasts to a practical and low-cost way for tens of thousands of people in cities, both large and small, across the U.S. to get around. While some cities have created their own bike share systems, many have partnered with Alta Bicycle Share, a company based out of Portland, Oregon. Alta runs bike share systems in New York City, Washington, D.C., Boston, Chicago, and Chattanooga, really inventing these systems as they go. Like many start-ups, Alta Bicycle Share has never turned a profit and has also gotten blasted in the press for hiccups in the roll-out of its services (see the ongoing complaints with CitiBike in NYC). But Alta Bicycle Share was recently acquired by outside investors, and Jay Walder, the former head of the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), will soon become the new CEO. According to Alta Bike Share founder Mia Birk, who spoke at Washington Ideas Forum, an event organized by The Atltantic and the Aspen Institute, this move is for the best, as “this new group can take us to the next level.” Birk said the acquisition signifies bike share is moving from niche into the mainstream, from being a start-up concept to a legitimate transportation option.

Birk, who is also the head of Alta Planning + Design, which plans and designs bicycle infrastructure, said bike share has been as transformational as any start-up in existence. “The numbers are phenomenal. To date, there have been an estimated 45 million miles traveled on bike share, ridden over 28 million trips.”

While major bike share systems like Washington, D.C. and NYC’s get all the press, Birk said there were actually 35 systems running in the U.S. Some smaller cities’ systems may just have a few hundred bikes. For example, Salt Lake City has GREENbike. Indianapolis has started its Indiana Pacer Bikeshare, and San Antonio, Texas, has also gotten on board.

Bicycling in general is up, even if safety remains a major concern. According to data from a recent Governor’s Highway Association study, bike use has increased 62 percent since 2000, but so have bike fatalities, with a 16 percent gain. Some 69 percent of those deaths have been in cities. Birk said “we’ve found that as bike use increases, there is also an increase in the raw number of crashes. However, the number of fatalities is very small, so even a few deaths can make the percentages go up.” Interestingly, some 80 percent of bicyclists killed are men, and 28 percent were shown to have been drinking. “People drinking on bikes are a real danger.”

On New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s goal of zero transportation-related deaths, Birk said this is a worthy but “probably more aspirational than realistic. Can we really expect everyone to behave? No. We don’t have sovereign control over humanity.”

To add, Birk said we must differentiate between bicyclist and bike share user deaths. “In bike share world, there have been no fatalities.”

So what’s coming up for bike share? First, Birk sees further integration with other established transportation systems. Cities will roll out “one passes,” which will enable transit users to easily shift between subways, buses, car share and bike share. “The San Francisco Bay area may be the first out of the gate.”

Second, notoriously car-centric cities like Dallas and Atlanta will become more bike-friendly, at least in parts. “These cities may not become bike meccas, but there may be pockets that change the culture.” In Dallas, Birk and her team are working on a new trail system; In Atlanta, the goal is to bring bike share to the Beltline project. Even Bentonville, Arkansas, home to Walmart, is creating a pocket of bike share, probably because it’s a cheap way to get around. “It’s not just in Portland anymore.”

Lastly, bike share and bicycling in general will become even safer. Today, only 1 percent of Americans commute by bike. “These are usually male, lycra-clad adrenaline junkies.” Another 6 percent of the population, said Birk, are “enthusiastic, confident bicyclists who bike on weekends with their kids but feel it’s too dangerous to bike to work in traffic. They are concerned about safety and parking. They want a low stress network of bikeways, and better separation between cars and bicycles, like you find in the European Union.”

To get that 6 percent commuting everyday, Birk argued that U.S. cities need “dedicated bike signals, which are used in every European transit system.” These signals are crucial to improving safety and reducing the number of irresponsible bicyclists who fail to obey traffic signals and bike up on the sidewalks. “This is really what happens when you have very little bicycle infrastructure. People behave how they want.” As one Dutch traffic engineer told her, “bicyclists are like water, they will flow into wherever they want to go.”

So cities need to get moving on building out more bicycle infrastructure — to meet growing demand and improve safety, but equally as importantly, to reduce the growing backlash against “bullying” bicyclists. In D.C., tensions have risen to such an extent between drivers and bicyclists that we can read statements like these in The Washington Post op-eds: “It’s a $500 fine for a motorist to hit a bicyclist in the District, but some behaviors are so egregious that some drivers might think it’s worth paying the fine.”

When Landscape Eclipsed the Garden

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Morel, Jean-Marie. La Théorie des Jardins (Paris 1776). Bibliothèque Nationale de France

Joseph Disponzio, ASLA, wants us landscape architects to know where we came from. His lecture at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, which honored Frederick Law Olmsted, shed new light on the origins of landscape architecture as well as the debate surrounding the field, which has lasted almost as long. Disponzio, preservation landscape architect for the New York City department of parks and recreation and director of the landscape design program at Columbia University, said what we recognize today as “landscape,” the modeling of land, really began with the garden. The transition from garden to landscape has everything to do with a shift in the understanding of nature in the 18th century.

Disponzio pulls up a slide with three interlocking circles: God, Nature, and Man. He points to the circle at the top of the triad that reads “Nature.” This, Disponzio tells us, is the “metaphysical lynchpin” that became autonomous in the Enlightenment. He identifies this as the moment the wall of Eden fell and a new space was created and, with that, a new way of modeling the land. Lockean empiricism replaced Cartesian rationalism. Nature got a sudden promotion. Leading up to the 18th century, nature had acted as the base of all philosophical inquiry. And then, rather suddenly, it became the subject of investigation in its own right. And its secular study led, of course, to the natural sciences, with substantial consequences for the practice of landscape design.

Throughout the lecture, special credit is given to the work of Jean-Marie Morel (1728 – 1810) for effectively replacing the art of gardening with the science of gardening, bringing it one step closer to the profession of landscape architecture as we know it today. Frederick Law Olmsted may be known to us as the first to call himself a professional landscape architect, but he borrowed the term from the hyphenated title architecte-paysagiste within Morel’s theoretical texts. Disponzio also points out the English term “landscape” is a new invention, but in 18th century France there was no clear distinction between paysage and jardin, neither scalar nor qualitative.

Morel published his text, La Théorie des Jardins, in 1776 alongside numerous essays and poems written by his French, English, and German colleagues. Together, the essays and treatises of Claude Henri Watelet, Henri Duchesne, Jean-Marie Morel and René de Girardin paved the way for a new landscape design tradition that would eventually become popularized as landscape architecture.

The rejection of the Cartesian understanding of nature in favor of a new Lockean tradition did not come without a few sacrifices. Pre-18th century designs, which were rife with formal devices and meanings, no longer suited the intellectual trends that emphasized the secularization of experience. These regular geometries, as it turns out, were also ill-suited for anything other than flat surfaces.

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The orthogonal geometry of pre 18th century gardens. André Le Nôtre, Vaux-le-Vicomte, 1661 / Wikipedia

An attitude of nature for nature’s sake then banished the projection of orthogonal geometry onto flat surfaces, à la le Nôtre. For the first time, an appreciation for natural topography emerged. Disponzio argued this “new, organic outlook on the world” yielded a new garden tradition, for in fact few knew what this new landscape should look like. While natural landforms proved problematic for orthogonal geometry, innovative responses to this dilemma eventually led to new ground within the field. Disponzio connects all of this with new research into the natural sciences: “It cannot be a coincidence, then, that the development of a new gardening tradition coincided with a new period of inquiry into nature.”

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The new genre of landscape design. Henry Hoare II, Stourhead, 1725 / Andrew Turner. The Landscape Garden Guide

A new design tradition grew out of this boldly new, scientific understanding of land form. While landscape, from the study of painting, had been understood to be convex, flat, and concave, now landscapes had geological and ecological complexity. Disponzio said, “in their most secular act, they took a look beyond the traditional garden wall and at a view rich in pleasure, utility, industry, and ruin.” In practice, that meant taking up a body of knowledge and technique in related fields, such as geography, geology, and engineering. Landscape built up a vocabulary of its own. Natural forms devoid of icons and associations promoted the idea that the landscape should speak for itself.

Land then came to be modeled with an entirely new agenda. Rather than impose rationalism onto the land mathematically, the landscape was to be read scientifically. The natural style synthesized all its elements into a cohesive whole,  reflecting the underlying curiosity about how a landscape is composed, formed, and structured. The focus shifted from visual order to an internal order, which may have been perceived as chaotic but was organized according to the laws of nature. Here, Disponzio discusses the rise of interdependent systems as an integral part of the practice of landscape architecture. We recognize familiar territory.

More than a hundred years after the first degree program within the field was established in this country at Harvard in 1900, the curriculum still reflects the methodology laid out in Morel’s 1776 Théorie des Jardins. Disponzio cites James Corner Field Operations and Hargreaves Associates as examples of contemporary practices that emphasize process-driven design. He also mentions the theory of landscape urbanism, the systems-driven approach to design, which is deeply embedded within the curriculum at the Graduate School of Design today. Even the recent research agendas of Jane Hutton and Anita Berrizbeitia, ASLA, come to the fore as instances in which iconic, designed landscapes such as those of Frederick Law Olmsted and Charles Elliot, are investigated through the lenses of geology and geography.

Since the gardens at Vaux-le-Vicomte, which were built in the mid-17th century, we have been steadily broadening the scope of the profession by borrowing from neighboring disciplines and adopting new technologies in an effort to become true specialists of modeling the land. We are familiar with cartography, ecology, and urban design, along with ArcGIS, Google earth, software for digital drawing, 3D modeling, and even parametric design. The question as we move forward is: how often do we look back?

Although Disponzio ended his talk without asking the audience this question explicitly, he urged us to take one more look at that decisive moment in history that led to the complete abandonment of the Le Nôtre style. What fascinates Disponzio is this sharp turn elicited no regrets. It seems everyone accepted the challenge to the status quo, as though landscape architecture as it’s practiced today was inevitable. In the end, we landscape architects are left with a silent request to look at ourselves, today, with a new understanding of our origins. And with this long view behind us, one cannot help but also steal a shy glance into the future of the profession.

This guest post is by Lara Mehling, Student ASLA, Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, Harvard University Graduate School of Design