A new, free, web-based tool from the US Geological Survey (USGS) and ESRI allows us to gain a better understanding of the ecological character of any place in the world. As the team explains, the web site can be used by everyone — from local government officials and planners to landscape architects and conservationists — to visualize the world’s complex ecological patterns. This also means in the future the tool can be used to map the impacts of climate change and development on ecosystems over time.
According to Randy Vaughan, ESRI, an enormous amount of science (and data) went into creating the tool. “The globe was divided in cells at a base resolution of 250 meters.” Each cell was then assigned input layers of data that “drive ecological processes.”
When users search for any place in the world, they see a map, with four layers of information. There’s info on bio-climates, described with terms like “warm wet” or “hot dry”; landforms, with terms such as “flat plains” or “mountains”; rock type, with terms like “carbonate sedimentary rock” or “metamorphics”; and also land cover, the vegetation that results from these conditions, described with terms like “forest, farmland, or grassland.” For all data types, users can also further zoom in, all the way to the street level.
The data has resulted in an amazing number of possible combinations: There is now a “global raster data layer with 47,650 unique combinations of the four input layers. The facets were then aggregated into 3,923 ecological land units (ELUs).” These ELUs themselves represent a new, data-based way of organizing the biosphere, based in “ecological and physio-graphic land surface features.”
Roger Sayre, senior scientist for Ecosystems, USGS, said the way the tool was set up also “advances an objective, repeatable big data approach to the synthesis and classification of ecologically important data.” This big data approach means “mapping can be updated as better or more current input layers become available.”
Indeed, the team is hoping for lots more new data, given there are “known and expected deficiencies in the current input layers. For example the release of the new SRTM 30 meter elevation terrain data provides an opportunity create a higher resolution landforms map.” They are looking into adding data about social and cultural factors. USGS and ESRI also hope that other scientists will use GIS to add their own layers and do their own analysis over time.
According to Fast Company, these first maps really are the beginning of an even more compelling analysis. Sayre said: “The map is a baseline for these ecosystems, so we’ll be able to assess them for climate change or other disturbances. We see the value of the dataset as a spatial accounting framework. In the future, we’ll be able to show them as a temporal sequence [of the world unfolding].”
Singapore has long aspired to be a “city in a garden.” Since the early 1960s, the 300-square-mile city-state has been serious about preserving nature and also greening underused spaces. In 1970, President Lee Kuan Yew dictated that there were to be “no brownfields;” all empty space would be planted. Today there are 5.4 million people packed into the island, but nearly 10 percent of the country is covered in parks, many of them newly created. More than 300 neighborhood and regional parks along with four nature preserves are in the process of being connected through hundreds of kilometers of greenways. Now, Singapore’s Changi airport, the sixth busiest in the world, is getting the same treatment as the rest of the country — its being greened, in an exciting way that re-conceives the experience of the airport.
Safdie Architects and PWP Landscape Architecture are creating a spherical “air hub,” a 134,000-square-meter bio-dome, in the center of Changi so even brief visitors passing through Singapore will get a sense of this garden-city as they walk through the interior landscape.
According to Safdie Architects, the glass dome will be home to gardens and walking trails, accessible via multiple levels.
The centerpiece will be a “rain vortex,” a 40-meter-tall waterfall fed by recycled rainwater collected from the dome.
This being Singapore, the land of shopping malls, some 4 million square feet of retail, hotel, restaurant and entertainment space will circle the exterior of the gardens.
The entire structure will be supported by a ring of tree-like columns at the outside edge of the gardens.
Safdie told DesignBoom: “This project redefines and reinvents what airports are all about. The new paradigm is to create a diverse and meaningful meeting place that serves as a gateway to the city and country, complementing commerce and services with attractions and gardens for passengers, airport employees, and the city at large.”
Work began at the end of 2014, and the dome is expected to open in 2018.
Award recipients will receive featured coverage in the October issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine and in many other design and construction industry and general-interest media. Award recipients, their clients and student advisors also will be honored at the awards presentation ceremony during the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in Chicago, Nov. 6–9, 2015. The award-winning projects will be featured in a video presentation at the ceremony and on the awards website following the event.
The prestige of the ASLA awards programs relies on the high-caliber juries that are convened each year to review submissions. Members of this year’s professional awards jury are:
Keith LeBlanc, FASLA, Keith LeBlanc Landscape Architecture Inc., Boston, Jury Chair
Thomas Balsley, FASLA, Thomas Balsley Associates, New York City
René Bihan, ASLA, SWA Group, San Francisco
Alan Brake, The Architect’s Newspaper LLC, New York City
Kathleen Dickhut, ASLA, Department of Housing and Economic Development, Chicago
Signe Nielsen, FASLA, Mathews Nielsen, New York City
Mark Robbins, American Academy in Rome, Rome, Italy
Richard Weller, ASLA, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
Members of the student awards jury are:
Kona Gray, ASLA, EDSA, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Jury Chair
Richard Bumstead, ASLA, University of Chicago, Chicago
Maurice Cox, Tulane University, New Orleans
Katya Crawford, Affiliate ASLA, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Lisa Gimmy, ASLA, Lisa Gimmy Landscape Architecture, Los Angeles
David Hill, ASLA, D.I.R.T. Studio, Auburn, Alabama
Fernando Magallanes, ASLA, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina
Katherine Orff, ASLA, Scape / Landscape Architecture PLLC, New York City
Laura Solano, ASLA, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts
Both the ASLA professional and student awards feature five categories: general design; residential design; analysis and planning; communications; and research. The professional awards also include the Landmark Award, while the student awards include the student community service award and student collaboration categories.
Entry submissions and payment must be received by:
March 27, 2015 for ASLA professional awards May 22, 2015 for ASLA student awards
In need of inspiration? View the ASLA 2014 professional and student award-winning projects.
This interview was conducted at the ASLA 2014 Annual Meeting in Denver.
This year is the 30th anniversary of your book, The Granite Garden, which argued that cities are part of nature and should be designed with nature. Since 1984, how much progress have we made? Where are we still going wrong?
We’ve made enormous progress, particularly with water. Ironically, we’ve done less well on climate and air quality. I say ironically because there’s so much awareness of climate change these days. There’s been a lot of attention paid to design proposals aimed at adapting to rising sea levels, but less to the enormous potential that the design of cities holds for reducing the factors that contribute to climate change in the first place. We need to truly reimagine the way we design cities.
Scientists and engineers are focused on technical solutions, social scientists on policy. And that’s where the public debate is focused. We designers and planners are not getting our message across as well as we should.
On the other hand, it’s a tremendous challenge for us to keep up with the latest and best scientific knowledge that would directly affect the way we design. We’re awash in information. You can’t expect a practitioner to stay abreast of all this literature, which is why we at MIT are proposing to do a monograph series on knowledge related to the urban natural environment — air, earth, water, ecosystems — and make that bridge to design. These monographs would be authored by teams of designers and scientists.
We hope to make these available at no cost, to anyone in the world. We hope that they’ll be valuable to scientists too, because most scientists don’t really know how their discoveries apply to design and planning. We are seeking funds to start with urban climate and air quality and then do our next monograph on water.
My hope is that this will prompt new experimentation and research that will give landscape architects the information we need. Right now, scientists develop their research agendas for their own purposes, mainly to document, record, and predict, but not to alter the world or make it more beautiful.
Thirty years ago, there was a sharp divide between proponents of ecological design and landscape as an art form. Examples of urban design that were both ecologically functional and artful were few and far between. I wrote “The Poetics of City and Nature: Toward a New Aesthetic for Urban Design” in 1988 and my book, The Language of Landscape, to argue for design that fuses ecology and art. Others made that argument, too. Now we have many great models of artful ecological design. So that’s another area where we have made real progress.
What do you think of the theoretical discussions born out of your book: ecological urbanism and landscape urbanism?
They’re very important in several ways. Both movements have appealed to architects, and that’s really important. Green infrastructure is something that landscape architects have been talking about for many decades, but architects weren’t thinking in those terms. Landscape urbanism and ecological urbanism were deliberately aimed to capture that audience. And that’s good. On the other hand, some proponents have claimed their approach is radically new, which it is not, and have ignored the contributions of many others to both theory and practice. Certain built projects have captured the public imagination, but for the most part, the landscape urbanism and ecological urbanism literature has been aimed at the design disciplines, not the larger public. There is a need for publications that are valuable to designers and planners and are also challenging, interesting, and enlightening to a broader audience.
I first set out to accomplish that with The Granite Garden. It probably took me an extra 3-4 years to write the book because I had to learn how to write to this larger audience, use no jargon, and explain the concepts in a way that wouldn’t be boring to my professional colleagues but at the same time would be engaging to the public. I learned the power of that approach when The Granite Garden was reviewed in The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, and then abroad. It was picked up so widely because it was published as a book for a general audience, not solely as a professional text.
Landscape architects are not doing a good enough job at reaching that broader audience.
You say some things have improved; some haven’t. How would you change the way we’re communicating today? What’s the best way to reach the public?
The Web and electronic publishing have opened up powerful new opportunities. Twenty years ago, in 1995, the West Philadelphia Landscape Project Web site was in the works. Within two years, we’d had millions of visitors to the Web site, from 90 countries. This is the extraordinary power of the Web. I maintain several web sites, all geared to both a professional and a general audience, related to my research, writing, and teaching.
At AnneWhistonSpirn.com, I make available all of my writings except my books. I retain copyright and distribution rights to my articles, and so I can make them free for download on my web site. All of my courses have been online since 1996. They’re all available at no cost.
I’ve been part of the open-access movement before there was an open-access movement. I’ve always wanted to reach the broadest possible audience. There’s no single way to reach the public, but we shouldn’t dumb things down. We can engage both professionals and the public, if we go beyond the PR stuff and really try to reach the public in a serious way. As my editor would say, “Anne, your readers are not like your students. They don’t have to read. They can go get a beer and put down your book and never pick it up again, so you have to keep them engaged. You have a duty to your reader.”
New e-book editions of The Granite Garden and The Language of Landscape will be published later this year. You will be able to read them in two ways: through verbal text (with links to images and captions) or as an essay of images and captions (with links to the book’s text). I envision this as a new kind of reading experience.
Looking at innovation today, what do you see 30 years ahead?
In the epilogue to The Granite Garden, I imagined two visions of the future: the infernal city and the celestial city. A lot of what I envisioned then is now commonplace. On the other hand, much has happened that I did not imagine. A lot can change in 30 years. Just think: the original Macintosh, the first personal computer with a mouse and graphic interface, was released in January 1984, the same month as The Granite Garden.
Today, we have the Internet and social media. Our phones can collect and upload all kinds of data. We’ve got crowd sourcing of data. 30 years down the pike, clothing, and vehicles that gather data will be commonplace. We’re going to be overwhelmed with data, so we need to be even smarter about figuring out what this data means and how to use it.
Climate change and the gross disparities in economic means and access to education and employment across the world are threatening the human species. They’re equally threatening, and social upheavals can only get worse as disparities in income and opportunities continue to get wider. Many people won’t have anything to lose. They won’t have a stake in society.
For the past 30 years, since I wrote The Granite Garden, I’ve focused on restoring the natural environment of cities at the same time as rebuilding inner-city communities and educating and empowering young people who don’t have access to a high-quality education that will set them up for having a stake in society. Those are areas where I’ll continue to devote my efforts.
The West Philadelphia Landscape Project, which builds on work I did in Boston from 1984 to 86, has been an investigation into how to improve environmental equality and social equity at the same time. There are obstacles, but I’ve learned that it’s not difficult to conceptualize issues and mobilize people. Then it’s just a matter of lining up the resources and getting the administrative framework in place. It’s possible. There are many great examples. In Philadelphia alone, there are many, from the Urban Tree Connection at the grassroots to the city government’s Green City Clean Waters program.
Designers are optimistic. People don’t go into landscape architecture to create a worse world or even to maintain the status quo. We are in this business because we want to make the world a better place. I’m really worried, but I also believe we can do it. It’s possible.
Much of your writing and photography has been focused on learning how to “read” a landscape. What do you mean by this phrase? How is that different from seeing a landscape?
It’s like the difference between merely looking at a picture and understanding how it was constructed and what it means. Landscapes are full of stories. There are natural histories: stories about how a place came to be in terms of its geology, climate, and plants. There are also political stories and folk stories and stories about memory and worship. People’s gardens hold their own stories. In shaping landscape, individuals and societies express their values, beliefs, and ideas. All these stories are embedded in landscape, and they can be read.
Landscape literacy – the ability to read and tell such stories – is fundamental to being a landscape architect. I wrote my book The Language of Landscape because I realized that lack of fluency in the language of landscape was a barrier to more fluent and functional design, more expressive design, more eloquent design.
The West Philadelphia Landscape Project was a laboratory for working out ideas about the language of landscape and landscape literacy. It was extraordinary working with 12- and 13-year-olds in Mill Creek, a low-income African-American neighborhood in West Philly, as they learned how to read that landscape.
So what was the best way to teach these kids landscape literacy?
Their neighborhood was called Mill Creek, but there wasn’t any creek you could see. My students showed them old maps, photographs, and other kinds of documents that described the neighborhood at different historical periods from pre-colonial times to the present. Each week was a different period. Gradually, they came to understand through looking and investigating these old maps, newspaper articles, and planning documents that there was once this creek, Mill Creek. They found out that it was buried in a sewer and that there were cave-ins over the sewer. That’s where a lot of the vacant lands were, including in blocks right around the school. The creek literally flowed right alongside where the school is located.
The children also learned about socioeconomic issues of the 1930s and political decisions that led banks to stop lending money for small businesses and home mortgages in their neighborhood. And they came to understand that their neighborhood today is the result of all these things that happened in the past.
Then they took the historical maps and went out to compare them with the present neighborhood and discovered: “Oh, my goodness, this huge vacant lot block was once six blocks, and there were houses here,” and, “Oh, my gosh, there’s a fire hydrant in the middle of these woods that grew up on these lots.” It really turned their whole attitude about their neighborhood around.
Before learning to read its history, the children didn’t believe their neighborhood could ever change. When my students had asked them how they would like to see their neighborhood in the future, they had said, “Nothing’s going to change.” They were very cynical. After learning about its history, they began to say, “The neighborhood could change. It hasn’t always been the way it is. It could change in the future. Why couldn’t it? We know how it’s changed in the past.” Using that knowledge, what kinds of policies and actions could lead to change in the present?
About that time, I started reading Paulo Freire, who was a Brazilian community organizer. He developed literacy programs, for adults in poor, informal settlements in Brazilian cities. His findings about verbal literacy were exactly the same findings I was having in landscape literacy. He found that the most effective way to teach literacy was to collect oral histories of older people in the community, put them into text, and then teach people to read from those texts of the oral histories of their place.
So these kids were learning to read from the primary documents about their own neighborhood. The landscape itself became a primary document. They then became ambassadors. As a 12-13-year-old, to know more than the adults know is tremendously empowering. They went home and told their parents, “Guess what? This happened here and that happened there. See where that vacant land is? There was a creek there.” This is landscape literacy.
If I were working with those kids today, I’d also have them out taking photographs. My new book, The Eye Is a Door: Landscape, Photography, and the Art of Discovery, is a guide for using the camera as a tool to discover the stories that landscapes hold. Through photography, I want to inspire people to look deeply at the surface of things and beyond to the stories landscapes tell, the processes that shape human lives and communities and the earth itself. To pick up a camera and use it to see, think, and discover.
What is the purpose of landscape architecture in the 21st century? Is it to beautify public and private spaces with well-chosen plants and pavers? To increase ecological health by mimicking natural systems and processes? Or to manage stormwater and cool our built environment by incorporating green infrastructure? In Landscapes of Change: Innovative Designs and Reinvented Sites, University of Oregon professor Roxi Thoren, Affil. ASLA, argues that 21st century realities demand that landscapes do not just one but all of these things. Works of contemporary landscape architecture must connect neighborhoods, provide wildlife habitat, absorb stormwater, and combat the urban heat island effect.
The book profiles twenty-five landscape projects that meet these hybrid needs in response to the “changing context of landscape architectural design.” For example, Jaffa Landfill Park, designed by Braudo-Maoz Landscape Architecture of Tel Aviv, Israel, “used the removal of a landfill and reconstruction of a seashore to ameliorate a painful past and serve as a springboard for social discourse . . . [reestablishing] visual, climatic, and physical connections to the sea that reaffirm the identity of the city.”
According to Thoren, some of the changes in landscape architecture are due to shifting perspectives internal to the profession, “as designers increasingly explore material processes, seek a theoretical basis internal to the discipline, embrace a landscape praxis of ‘reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it,’ and engage the challenges and opportunities of complex, multidisciplinary projects.”
Much of the change, however, is driven by factors external to the profession: urban growth (and decay), population growth, and global “reorganization of industry” have created a groundwork for urban redevelopment. For example, Paddington Reservoir Gardens in Sydney, Australia by JMD Design landscape architects and Tonkin Zulaikha Greer architects “combines aspects of sunken plazas, the romance of industrial ruins, and green roof technology . . . providing urban refuge, rootedness, and continuity.”
Above all other external factors, climate change has increased demand for landscapes “that are resilient in the face of storms, flooding, or drought.” Buffalo Bayou Promenade by SWA Group, which won an ASLA Professional Award of Excellence in 2009, provides flood control, ecological restoration, and recreation in downtown Houston.
Profiles of projects – most built, but a few that are conceptual – demonstrate that a multi-disciplinary response is needed to address these changing internal and external contexts. Profiles are organized into five categories: infrastructure, post-industrial landscapes, vegetated architecture, ecological urbanism, and edible landscapes.
An example from each:
Infrastructure: Marco Polo Airport Car Park in Tessera, Italy, by MADE Associates incorporates mature trees, porous pavers, and a “graphic soil” to propose that parking lots “can be locally specific, visually engaging, ecologically productive, and verdant.”
Post-industrial Landscapes: Northala Fields Park in Northolt, West London — by Peter Fink, an artist; Igor Marko, architect, FoRM Associates; Peter Neal, ecologist; LDA Design, landscape architect — was self-financed through tipping fees “to solve the pragmatic problems of the park while also providing recreation opportunities, biodiversity, and extraordinary earth forms that attract and energize people.”
Vegetated Architecture: Seymour-Capilano Filtration Plant in Vancouver, British Columbia by Sharp & Diamond Landscape Architecture has a vegetated roof over a new metropolitan water filtration plant linking up with the local recreation system. Lupine, a common early successional species in the Pacific Northwest, adds color and improves the soils. This landscape recreates the early successional meadows and shrub lands estimated to have once covered a third of the Pacific Northwest landscape.
Ecological Urbanism: Wijkeroogpark in Velsen-Noord, the Netherlands, by Bureau B + B urbanism and landscape architecture and Atelier de Lyon is “an elegant, streamlined watercourse that performs a host of ecological functions” within a highly engineered landscape. It restores and newly creates “portions of a freshwater stream that was once imprisoned in a culvert,” reclaims brackish marsh habitat, and provides recreation paths and sports fields.
Edible Landscapes: Gary Comer Youth Center Roof Garden in Chicago by Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects and John Ronan Architects, which won an ASLA Professional Honor Award in 2010, serves as a model for urban agriculture, teaching students “the skills of growing, processing, preserving, and cooking food” along with business, math, and environmental science classes.
While I would like to have seen a project or two more explicitly tackle drought issues — as most of the climate-related projects skew towards challenges of too much water — the book presents a compelling and modern vision of landscape architecture.
Yoshi Silverstein, Associate ASLA, is founder and lead designer-educator at Mitsui Design, focusing on landscape experience and connection to place. He was the ASLA summer 2014 communications intern.
The Slow Rebirth of Dumbarton Oaks Park – The Washington Post, 12/17/14
“Given the magnitude of its slide and the limits of public and private funding, restoring the park has at times seemed like an impossible dream, but in 2010 a particularly determined group named the Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy formed to take up the challenge.”
Planting for an Edible City – Metropolis POV, 12/22/14 “While these edible efforts are fairly new to New York City, the MillionTreesNYC’s fruit tree giveaway is an event to celebrate. Somewhere out there, across the five boroughs, the city has a new orchard that would comprise nearly 30 acres if planted collectively, approximating two Central Park Sheep Meadows.”
The Biggest Arts Stories of 2014 – The Houston Chronicle, 12/26/14
“In October, the Hermann Park Conservancy unveiled the last major project of its long-term master plan – the spectacular $31 million John P. and Kathrine G. McGovern Centennial Gardens. Along with landscape architect Doug Hoerr’s eight acres of theme gardens, dramatic 30-foot mount and nearly seven-acre, environmentally friendly parking lot, the project features a sensitively designed pavilion of glass, stone and stainless steel designed by Peter Bohlin.”
Architecture Future: How Buildings Will Begin to Make Our Lives Better – The Denver Post, 12/28/14
“This holistic attitude is architecture’s greatest promise and seems to be steering trends. More and more, landscape architects are emerging as project leaders, devising how sites will be organized, used and maintained. These days, they might be the ones to hire building architects to complete their vision.”