Have Your Say on Design Competitions

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Public viewing of Resist, Delay, Store, Discharge: A Comprehensive Strategy for Hoboken, Rebuild by Design Competition / OMA with Royal HaskoningDHV; Balmori Associates; and HR&A Advisors

Architectural Record and the Van Alen Institute have created a new survey meant to mine the design world’s complex feelings about competitions. The survey, which takes just about 10 minutes to complete, is sure to collect some fascinating data on what motivates designers to enter competitions, how they would like to see the format improved, and what they have gained or lost from participating. The sponsors say the “survey results will help catalyze the development of new models for this highly charged” practice.

In one section, the survey aims to uncover just how truly interdisciplinary those interdisciplinary teams are in these competitions. There are questions like: “How frequently are you required to work with other design professions (e.g. architecture, landscape architecture, planning, etc.) in the design competitions  you have entered? How frequently are you required to work with other non-design professions (e.g. finance, ecology, social sciences, etc.) in the design competitions you have entered? What professions outside of design would you like to work with on a competition?”

Other interesting questions ask respondents to think more broadly about the role competitions play in focusing our attention on critical issues. “What do you think has been the most interesting or influential design competitions of the last decade and why? What sites or issues do you think future competitions should address?”

The survey doesn’t address student design competitions explicitly.

Results will be presented at a conference organized by the Van Alen Institute and Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design on April 23-24 and also be made available online.

A few lucky random respondents will receive prizes like an iPad Mini, Bose QuietComfort noise-cancelling headphones, a Nespresso Vertuoline espresso maker, and a $200 gift card to MoMA Design Store.

Complete the survey before March 2.

Gardening the Metropolis

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Nus de la Trinitat Barcelona, Spain / Battle i Roig

Enric Batlle, founding principal of Barcelona-based Batlle i Roig, believes landscape architects should not be afraid of to use the term “garden.” Early in his career Batlle never used the word to describe his projects. He called them parks because he felt it elevated their status. But Batlle has embraced the notion of the garden, titling his book and recent lecture at the University of Virginia, “The Gardens of the Metropolis.” The title is intriguing because it connects two scales: the intimate garden and the immense metropolis.

Batlle showed us a map of the edges between Barcelona’s built environment and open spaces. His projects are bridges that connect the two. He presented a few examples of his work in Barcelona:

Trinitat Park (see image above) occupies an inaccessible location common to many major cities: the middle of a highway interchange. These spaces left over from large-scale infrastructure projects are almost uniformly forgotten. Here, his firm used rows of trees, grade changes, and a large circular “mountain” to sonically and visually shield the park from surrounding traffic.

The park acts as a bridge, allowing urban residents to access and enjoy previously inaccessible spaces. These kinds of bridges are increasingly necessary in growing cities searching for novel public spaces.

Batlle i Roig also worked on a landfill restoration project in El Garraf National Park completed in 2010 and located more than 10 miles from the center of Barcelona. Battle remains emphatic that the Garraf landfill reclamation project is in fact “urban public space” despite its distance from the city. It’s urban because the park is filled with more than 40 years of Barcelona’s waste. “What could be more urban than that?,” he asked.

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Garraf Waste Landfill, Begues, Spain / Battle i Roig

The space is public because a path switchbacks down immense terraces and eventually wanders into the city itself. The path defines the landfill as a public space, creating a sense of both accessibility and responsibility for the visitors confronted with the magnitude of urban waste production and management.

The Garraf Landfill Project demonstrates the radical nature of Batlle’s theory of the garden’s role in the contemporary metropolis. To garden is to cultivate and tend. By treating a landfill as a garden, Battle expands the traditional definitions of the term. Are landfills, highway interchanges, and other forgotten spaces that support the metropolis all potentially gardens?

This guest post is by Luke Harris, Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, University of Virginia.

For Philadelphia and Baltimore, Parks Are Central to Livability

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Schuylkill River Dog Park / FSRP.org

“Many people think parks are easy, but parks are one of the hardest things for governments to do because of the physical and human aspects,” explained Peter Harnik, Hon. ASLA, director of The Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence, while introducing a panel of experts at the New Partners for Smart Growth conference in Baltimore. The complex undertaking of how to best to create and maintain parks — for both governments and non-profits — is a thread that connected all speakers.

Mark A. Focht, FASLA, first deputy commissioner of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation and former president of ASLA, gave an overview of the amazing progress made in Philadelphia’s expansive park system over the past few years. Some 80 percent of the city’s residents are already meeting Mayor Michael Nutter’s “goal of everyone being within a ten-minute walk away from a park.” Examples of recently built green spaces and amenities that help the parks department to reach all city residents include Paine’s Park, a skate park and public space; the Schuylkill River Dog Park; and the Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk.

As part of Philadelphia’s innovative, 25-year Green City Clean Waters plan, the parks department has also “made strategic investments to stabilize, improve, and green existing recreation centers and playgrounds.” It also is implementing green infrastructure for innovative stormwater management in existing neighborhood parks and bringing “high-quality amenities” like trail systems to communities.

Baltimore residents Stephanie Murdock and Jennifer Robinson described how non-profits — not the city government — are leading a resurgence in Baltimore’s parks, helping to make the city more livable. Murdock, the president of Skatepark of Baltimore, talked about her non-profit’s ten-year journey to build a public, concrete, destination skatepark in Baltimore. The first phase – a 5,000 square-feet concrete bowl — was completed last May in Roosevelt Park, a late-nineteenth century park in the Hampden neighborhood.

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Skatepark of Baltimore / Explore Baltimore County

“For a young person in Baltimore to have a place where they can be free, that’s huge,” said Murdock. She told the audience the skatepark will soon add more “shade, seating, walkways, and restrooms” so that all members of the community can enjoy the space.

Robinson, the director of Friends of Patterson Park, another park in southeast Baltimore, said her non-profit’s efforts showed her that “parks become very personal for the people who use them.” Her non-profit is transforming the once-neglected Patterson Park, an Olmsted-designed space, into the city’s “best backyard.”

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Patterson Park / Patterson Park

The group’s involvement began with the renovation of the park’s historic pagoda, which had fallen into disrepair. Today, the group ensures the park remains “a green space for all sorts of users” through community events and programs. The group is now “looking at a formal conservancy model that will elevate the friends’ role in management of the park.”

Green Infrastructure Helps Communities Become “Climate Smart”

At the New Partners for Smart Growth conference in Baltimore, a panel of experts called for using green infrastructure to make communities “climate smart,” which can also boost their resilience to natural disasters.

According to Breece Robertson, the Trust for Public Land’s geographic information systems (GIS) director, climate-smart cities use green infrastructure in four ways (see a brief video above). They create “safe, interconnected opportunities to walk or bike; cool down the city by planting trees and creating parks; absorb stormwater to save energy and recharge aquifers; and protect cities through green shorelines.”

In a pilot study with New York City government, Columbia University, and Drexel University on how to use green infrastructure to protect New York City’s waterfront, the team created a GIS data tool to model priorities. According to Robertson, the models found that “green buffers really do improve resilience.”

Pete Wiley, an economist with the NOAA’s office for coastal management, spoke about a post-Hurricane Sandy assessment of the restoration of living shorelines in New York and New Jersey. According to Wiley, one of the challenges is communities and policymakers “think about restoring what was” because they only regard a “narrow range of benefits based on a specific issue.”

Instead, policymakers must “consider the full range of the benefits for all restoration options.” For instance, more resilient coastal designs that apply green infrastructure can provide a range of benefits, including “recreation, carbon sequestration, storm surge protection, and wildlife habitats.”

Hilarie Sorensen, an educator with Minnesota Sea Grant, described how Duluth, Minnesota is assessing how to use green infrastructure in the wake of a massive storm. Th city, which is located in the Great Lakes Basin, suffered from an estimated $100 million in damages after a catastrophic flash flood hit the region in 2012. The organization selected a 4,400-acre site called Chester Creek for an economic assessment of using a green infrastructure approach, because “it had sustained the most damage from the flood and discharged into Lake Superior.”

A cost-benefit analysis explored the use of green infrastructure to reach 76-acre-feet of water storage, with the goal of a 20 percent reduction in peak discharge for a 100-year storm event. The researchers walked through green infrastructure options and selected the “most viable” during meetings with the local NOAA team. They then worked with the local planning department to “preserve existing green spaces and wetlands.” They “calculated the square footage of roofs” and identified potential “green or blue roofs;” they also examined “tax-forfeited properties to preserve parcels of land.” The group received a $250,000 Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant in 2014 to fund restoration projects that also support green infrastructure.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (January 16 – 31)

A park visitor is dwarfed by the 30-foot-tall Garden Mount, a focal point of the McGovern Centennial Gardens in Hermann Park – Gary Coronado / The Houston Chronicle

Yoko Ono and Project 120 Collaborate to Reimagine Chicago’s Jackson ParkArch Daily, 1/16/15
“Chicago’s Jackson Park is expected to see some big changes in the coming years. Nonprofit organization Project 120 is working to revitalize the park, restoring many of the design aspects implemented by its landscape architect, the famous Frederick Law Olmsted.”

McGovern Centennial Gardens a Sensory Experience – The Houston Chronicle, 1/16/14
“During a sneak preview last year, I was struck by the views in Hermann Park’s McGovern Centennial Gardens. As the designers intended, I immediately focused on the strong axis that surges from the parking lot path through the shimmering gateway along the expansive Centennial Green to an unexpected sight – the 30-foot Garden Mount.”

Emanuel to Unveil Ordinance Transferring Parkland for Obama LibraryThe Chicago Tribune, 1/21/14
“The mayor plans to assemble a group of community leaders and open space advocates to identify potential land in the city to be converted to green space, as well as look for opportunities to reinvest in and restore the parks designed by noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.”

Palo Alto Seeking Best Bridge Brainpower With Design ContestThe San Francisco Gate, 1/21/15
“So it’s no surprise that a proposed span for bicyclists and pedestrians in Palo Alto — the self-styled ‘heart of Silicon Valley’ — is the subject of a design competition with guidelines that emphasize ecological restoration and ‘the city’s commitment to innovation’ as well as the prosaic need to get from point A to point B.”

Revamped Minneapolis Sculpture Park Adds Some InformalityThe Star Tribune, 1/27/14
“A citizen group that’s advising the $10 million revamping of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is opting toward crossing its 16th-century formality with 21st-century sustainability. Reinforcing the formality of the garden’s south end while leaving the garden’s signature Spoonbridge and Cherry where it is.”