In Seattle, Framing Mount Rainier – The Huffington Post, 7/16/15
“Gustafson Guthrie Nichol was called in to create a ‘fountain to mountain’ walking experience called Rainier Vista. It’s now a half-mile-long pedestrian mall that visually connects Red Square to Mount Rainier through the iconic Drumheller Fountain at the heart of the campus.”
Landscape Architecture Comes to the Fore in Chicago – The Chicago Tribune, 7/18/15
“Given its preeminent role in the birth of the skyscraper, Chicago is often called a laboratory of modern architecture. This summer, the city has put on new mantle: It has become a nationally significant testing ground for public space.”
Peter Schaudt, Distinguished Landscape Architect, Dies at 56– The Chicago Tribune, 7/20/15
“Chicago landscape architect Peter Schaudt, whose creative and collaborative approach burnished everything from iconic Midwestern football stadiums to outdoor plazas in downtown Chicago, died Sunday at 56 of a heart attack at his Villa Park home, according to his wife, Janet.”
A Sad Goodbye to Peter Lindsay Schaudt– Planetizen, 7/22/15
“To say he will be missed hardly begins to cover the impact his loss will have on his family, friends, colleagues, clients, the city of Chicago, and the profession of landscape architecture. He was an amazing person, a good friend, and a terrific designer.”
Archinect has launched a new competition that seeks “imaginative, pragmatic, idealist, and perhaps dsytopic” design proposals to address the future of water in California, as the most severe drought in a generation continues. The organizers point out that California only has about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs, and the state’s groundwater, which is supposed to be banked for the future, is being rapidly depleted by unabated industrial farming.
Archinect writes: “The stakes couldn’t be higher: not only is California the most populous state in country, it is by far the largest agricultural producer. According to many experts, the drought in California correlates to both unsustainable human practices and the larger product of unsustainable human activity: climate change. With current responses largely amounting to ‘too-little-too-late,’ the clock is ticking for California.”
The competition will divide submissions into two categories: “one for speculative projects that involve realities, futures or technologies not yet imagined and one for pragmatic responses that could actually be implemented within current economic and technological conditions.”
The inter-disciplinary jury includes: Allison Arieff, former editor of Dwell and now head of Spur; Geoff Manaugh, founder of BLDGBLOG; Hadley and Peter Arnold, co-founders of the Arid Land Institute, NASA’s Jay Famiglietti; Charles Anderson, FASLA, Werk; and Colleen Tuite and Ian Quate, founders of the “experimental landscape architecture studio” Green as F*ck.
Another opportunity worth checking out: The Walton Family Foundation is looking to fund projects that fit into its plan to “elevate the quality of architectural and landscape design in Arkansas’ Benton and Washington counties.” The foundation will fund landscape designs by local governments, including school districts, and non-profits. In 2014, the foundation provided more than $40 million in support. For this year’s round of local investments, planner Victor Dover and University of Virginia landscape architecture professor Elizabeth Meyer, FASLA, are among the judges. Landscape architects should submit design proposals by September 16.
Leading up to the UN climate change summit in Paris in December, the question is: can the heads of the world’s governments get it together and create a real game plan to stave off a 2-degree increase in global temperatures? At an event organized by the Center for American Progress and The New Republic in Washington, D.C., government and international organization leaders concluded there’s a lot more work that will need to be done leading up to Paris, and even after the summit, because any agreement reached there will only cover 2020 to 2030. The goal at Paris is to get a sense of what all countries’ national pledges to limit emissions mean in terms of hard numbers, which will then serve as the baseline upon which “ambitions can be ratcheted up” every few years.
At this point, pledges by governments fall far short of what’s needed to get on a pathway to a 2-degrees-or-less temperature increase. A 2-degree increase in itself will “not be benign,” as the World Bank’s special envoy for climate change Rachel Kyte explained. With a 2-degree rise, island countries will be consumed by rising seas, and people living across the Sahel in Saharan Africa will find they can no longer grow food. But it’s even worse, under current business as usual scenarios, the world is heading towards a 5-6 degree increase in temperatures, with hugely destructive impacts worldwide. To date, the world’s temperature has increased by 0.8 degrees due to human-caused climate change, with those in the Arctic already up by nearly 2 degrees.
Janos Pasztor, assistant-secretary general for climate change at the United Nations, explained what will happen in Paris. The talks will have a few key parts. All countries will put forward their “intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs),” which are bottom-up, voluntary pledges for cutting carbon emissions. Pasztor explained this what countries believe they are “able and willing to do.” At the same time, local governments, companies, and non-profits will put forward an “action agenda” comprised of innovations around the world that governments can refer to for ideas. As part of this, there will be a senate of global mayors, led by the Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo and former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg. There will need to be an agreement on financing. Developing countries will need help getting access to money from the wealthiest. And there will need to be a legally-binding agreement on the rules “for how governments are going to ratchet up pressure to move up levels of ambition.”
For Kyte at the World Bank, what’s at stake at the next UN summit is “how ambitious do we dare to be? What will this cost? Who will pay for it?” The end-goal needs to be a zero-emission global economy. “Emissions need to peak earlier and earlier — that’s what we are looking for.” Kyte also echoed arguments made by Pope Francis with his encyclical: at Paris, the wealthiest countries have a responsibility to help the poorest. The World Bank, she said, realized it can’t end poverty, its stated mission, with climate change occuring. As countries attempt to develop and achieve their own aspirations, “climate change pulls the rug out from under them.” This is happening to everyone — “rich, middle-income, and poor countries alike.”
The World Bank is ratcheting up its own efforts, administering large climate financing funds that can move dollars from the U.S. and Europe to the least-developed countries. They have also decided to stop financing any new coal power plants worldwide, except in exceptional circumstances in which a poor country has no other cost-effective energy option available to them. She added that the end of coal is simply a fact of life, part of the grand transition that will occur over the next few decades. “And this will cause dislocation.” But she argued this transition needs to start happening soon, as “it will only become more difficult and costly later.” To speed this transition, she called for further divestment in coal companies.
The world can’t forget the poorest, who, “through no fault of their own, have come into harm’s way. As they build their resilience, we have a responsibility to help them.” Many communities are planning for “continuous change, but what about discontinuous change?” For example, coastal communities may soon have to ask themselves, “can we afford sea walls, or should we cede parts of our community back to the sea?” Some coastal communities have to figure out if they can become a “saline economy,” producing food and goods in brackish water. Just as some coastal communities will need to need let some of their land go, some mountainous communities will need to move further up the slopes. “So many communities have already had to pick up and get up out of the way.”
But Kyte was optimistic the world can make this difficult transition. She said the Industrial Revolution is an example of a global transitional process that succeeded. And in just the past few decades, there has been a shift from from state-owned-enterprises (SOEs) to private ownership of production almost everywhere. The future challenge will be not to just find the $100 billion least developed countries need to adapt, but the $1 trillion the world economy needs to make the shift. “The challenge is to build an economy that is low carbon and competitive.” To do this, countries need to undertake a few steps now: “end fossil fuel subsidies, put prices on carbon, and then set long-term prices for carbon.”
One audience member asked whether all these countries’ INDCs can be used to create a “race to the top,” a sort of environmental Olympics between countries in which they compete to see which country has achieved the most significant carbon reductions. France’s Ambassador to the U.S. Gerard Araud, there representing the summit’s host country, said “using peer pressure is a great idea, but we aren’t there yet. At Paris, we need to set the baseline and go from there.” When asked which countries would win the gold in this race, he pointed to France, with its stated goal of having 50 percent renewable energy by 2030; Denmark, with its success in hitting 100 percent wind power; and Costa Rica, with its smart efforts to preserve its rainforest and invest in renewable energy.
And, lastly, Denis McDonough, White House chief of staff, reiterated that President Obama has made fighting climate change his priority, and reaching a global agreement at Paris will be at the top of the list. In a partisan speech focused on mostly domestic climate politics, McDonough said Obama would not back down with new regulations that limit emissions from power plants. The Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.)’s upcoming Clean Power Plan, which will be released in August and will reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants, the largest source of carbon pollution, will move forward despite “Republican scare tactics.” McDonough said Republicans have been using the same tactics for 40 years, since President Nixon created the E.P.A. and signed the Clean Air Act. “They say environmental regulation will kill jobs, raise prices, and lead to power failures.” The reality, he said, was “the U.S. has cut pollution by 40 percent and grown the economy by three times over the past 50 years.”
McDonough said climate change is not only a national security threat — “it’s a threat multiplier” — but it will also disproportionately affect the poorest in the U.S. and everywhere else. Already in America, “African American children are twice as likely to have asthma and four times as likely to die from it.” This is because too many African American children grow up near polluting power plants and busy transportation corridors. Climate change, which raises temperatures, only makes ozone and surface-level pollution worse, raising the threat to low-income communities. Obama also aims to bring more solar power to low-income communities so everyone can benefit from lower energy bills.
Many people assume roads became the way they are today because of the rise of automobiles. In Roads Were Not Built for Cars, Carlton Reid explains that infrastructure for bicycles, tricycles, and more were the precursors to the later transportation system dominated by automobiles. Cycling enthusiasts will enjoy learning about the influence of early cyclists on roadway development. But while Reid spends much of his time on cycling, he is also careful to examine the history of roads as thoroughfares, transportation networks, public spaces, as well as the roles they have played in broader trends.
For the typical reader, though, Reid’s arguments would be more usefully condensed into a long-form article in, say, The Atlantic or The New Yorker. Even for someone like me — who is more interested than the average bear in cycling, infrastructure, and urban planning — the amount of detail became tedious. Unless you’re a cycling history and policy aficionado, you probably won’t be sitting down to read this book cover to cover. For students, researchers, practitioners, and those interested in the history of infrastructure, however, it’s a worthwhile reference. Many will recognize historical figures like Carl Benz and Henry Ford among the automobile makers who, to varying degrees, got their start in the world of cycling. Others who are technically-minded will appreciate learning the difference between streets made of cobble and sett, asphalt and tarmac, tar and bitumen.
Reid being a Londoner, the book is biased towards London, with parallel sections examining historical developments in the U.S. But his explanation of how roadways first started out as public space but then began to be carved in spaces that are “mine” or “yours” and how this process led to unproductive roadway behaviors, laws, and planning and design resonates anywhere. “Roads were not built for cars,” writes Reid. “Nor were they built for bicycles. They were not built for sulkies, or steam engines, or any form of wheeled vehicle. Roads were not built for horses, either. Roads were built for pedestrians.” You know, people.
Not that those with power wanted it that way. Reid notes how wide roads were not built just for cars, but to increase the ability to “control” social gatherings and protests. “Air circulation for health [was important] but crowd control was a major impetus. Narrow roads can be used for throwing up barricades. The use of compacted crushed stone instead of setts, or tarred-wooden blocks, reduced the availability of ready-made missiles and fire starters.”
It’s fascinating to read about how the public associated independence with cycles and, later, automobiles, while railways were viewed as faster but restrictive. “Cyclists and, later, motorists would complain about the fixed schedules of railways, citing a lack of independence.” Reid doesn’t mention Russia much, but, for what’s it’s worth, this sentiment was shared by Russian thinkers as well. For example, Tolstoy had a deep discomfort with trains, feeling they brought an unwanted pre-destinationism (see Anna Karenina which, spoiler alert, involves a train and doesn’t end well).
Contrast this with a passage quoted from a 1896 New York Evening Post editorial on bicycles: “As a social revolutionizer, it has never had an equal. It has changed completely many of the most ordinary processes and methods of social life. It is the great leveler, for not till all Americans got on bicycles was the great American principle that every man is just as good as any other man, and generally a little better, fully realized. All are on equal terms, all are happier than ever before.”
Early debates about whether to merge all traffic into one system of streets, or separate them out mirror the debate today: “The widest and grandest path of them all — the Coney Island Cycle Path in New York — was loved by many cyclists, but not all. Some refused to ride on it, believing that such dedicated routes, while superior to the rutted roads of the day, would become the only ways open to cyclists. They feared being restricted to a small number of recreational bicycle ways, and banned from all other roads. Many in the wider Good Roads movement wanted cyclists to keep fighting for the improvement of all roads, and not be diverted by improvements to just partof the highway.”
And anti-cyclists like The Washington Post‘s Courtland Milloy, whose 2014 tirade against “bicyclist bullies” is also mentioned in the book, might find solace in knowing that “scorchers, cyclists with arched backs and grim ‘bicycle faces,’ who treated the Queen’s Highway as their own — and woe betide anyone who got in their way” — were as much a problem a century and a half ago as they can be today.
There are other interesting tidbits. For example, Broadway in New York City was originally the “Wickquasgeck Trail,” stamped into the brush of Mannahatta by Native American tribes people. US Highway 12 began as the Great Sauk Trail, named after the Sauk people’s hunting trail, originally trodden down by buffalo, with paleontological evidence that it was first blazed by migrating mastodons. And “motorists driving today between Washington, D.C. and Detroit are following a route padded out 10,000 year ago by now-extinct megafauna.”
In the end, the big takeaway is that with the resurgence of cycling and changes in public perception about our auto-centric lifestyles, cars are not the way of the future, especially for dense cities. “Motor cars came to dominate our lives not by design but by stealth. Few predicted the motor car’s eventual dominance and it’s reasonable to assume that the same inability to accurately predict the future afflicts us, too. Cars ‘will become redundant in cities,’ something that’s already ‘happening organically’ because cars ‘cannot be fully enjoyed or used to potential'”, says Britain’s Automobile Association. As Reid notes, “Today, cars in ‘rush hour’ London creep along at 9 miles per hour, an average speed not much greater than capable of horse-drawn carriages in the 19th century. Some progress!”
What new, fascinating future for public roadways might await us just around the bend?
Yoshi Silverstein, Associate ASLA, is the founder of Mitsui Design and director of the Jewish outdoor, food, and environmental education fellowship at Hazon, the country’s leading Jewish environmental organization.
Globally, 1.24 million people are killed in traffic accidents every year, with more than 90 percent of these deaths occurring in low and middle-income countries. Traffic-related incidents are the eighth-leading cause of death worldwide, and the number-one leading cause of death for those between the ages of 15-29. A response to the United Nations’ declaration to create a “Decade of Action” on improving traffic safety, Cities Safer by Design, a new report by the World Resources Institute (WRI) Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, offers urban design best practices and real-world case studies both developed and developing world cities can use to put an end to traffic deaths and injuries.
Cities Safer by Design presents five basic urban design elements that create safer travel environments: block size, connectivity, lane width, access, and population density.
Safe urban design is about reducing motor vehicle speeds. The faster a driver goes, the more difficult it is for him or her to avoid hitting a pedestrian in their path. Due to less frequent interruptions, larger blocks allow vehicles to accelerate more freely. More junctions mean more places where cars must stop and pedestrians can cross. According to the report, to improve safety and walkability, blocks should be 75-150 meters long. If blocks are any larger than 200 meters, mid-block pass-throughs with signals or raised crossings should be added every 100-150 meters.
Smaller block sizes have been successfully implemented in central areas of Shanghai, such as Xin Tian Di, to create more walkable neighborhoods. More Chinese cities that had mistakenly built “super blocks” are starting to apply the same approach.
The report recommends increasing connectivity to multiples modes of transit in order to decrease travel distances and improve access to destinations. Creating multiple routes for pedestrians and cyclists also helps disperse traffic, discourage car use, and reduce travel time.
Mexico City has also created walkable urban landscapes around its Metrobús bus rapid transit (BRT) system that enables safe bicycle and pedestrian access.
Vehicle Lane Width
The amount of a street devoted to vehicles shapes the amount of street available for pedestrian crossings, bike lanes, parking lanes, and landscape curb extensions. Reducing street widths creates a safer pedestrian experience because they shorten pedestrian crossing distance and exposure to cars and also slow traffic by “increasing drivers’ perception of impediments.” Again, slower traffic mitigates the potential severity of crashes.
According to the report, evidence from Mexico City shows that as the maximum pedestrian crossing distance at an intersection increases by 1 meter, the frequency of pedestrian crashes increase by up to 3 percent. Other studies highlighted in the report show the most significant relationship to injury crashes is street width and street curvature. As street width widens, crashes per mile per year increase exponentially.
Access to Destinations
Neighborhoods should be designed to include transit, parks, schools, and stores within walking distance, which is defined as 0.5-kilometers. Having a variety of destinations in neighborhood clusters encourages people to meet close to home, decreasing the need for vehicular travel and improving overall safety.
In the Coyoacan neighborhood of Mexico City, the prevalence of shops and public spaces encourage walking while discouraging vehicular traffic. Recalling an earlier area before sprawl took over the city, Coyoacan’s cobbled streets lead to garden plazas where street vendors gather.
A 2009 study cited in the report found that for an increase in density of 100 persons per square mile, there was a 6 percent reduction in injurious crashes and a 5 percent reduction in all crashes after controlling for vehicle miles traveled, street connectivity, and land use. In contrast to more sprawling cities, high-density cities not only reduce the need for vehicle travel, but also reduce the need for their associated infrastructure, such as roads and sewers.
Tokyo has successfully developed high-density mixed-use neighborhoods near rail and bus stations. According to the report, Tokyo has a traffic fatality rate of 1.3 per 100,000 residents. Compare this rate to Atlanta, Georgia, one of the most sprawled-out cities in the U.S., which has 9.7 traffic fatalities per 100,000 residents.
With the percentage of the world’s population living in cities expected to hit 70 percent by 2030, reducing traffic fatalities from unsafe streets should be a priority. Safer streets also increase the quality of life for urbanites, particularly for those in developing countries. WRI’s report shows policymakers, urban designers and planners, and landscape architects what works: designing for pedestrian safety means improving urban health and sustainability overall.
Contemporary artists around the world are painting with light, using photographic techniques to add layers of light art on top of real-world scenes. These layers, which take many forms, add depth, evoke awe, and are stunningly creative. These images also illustrate the changing relationship between real and digital realms, nature and technology, and the photographer and their studio tools.
Korean artist Lee Jeong Lok overlays glowing Korean characters, symbols, and stylized natural forms like butterflies and trees on the natural vistas he has photographed.
In Designboom, he writes: “I have been painting something that exists despite its invisible nature; places that correspond to the visible world, places beyond our sensual cognition, profoundly mysterious places that nevertheless cannot be separated from our world of cognition.”
Lok adds: “painting with light is the body, mind, and the soul harmoniously following the rhythm; it is an act of delivering positive energy felt by the body, rather than creating something from nothing.”
French artist Julien Breton, otherwise known as “Kaalam” is also inspired by light, translating his own movements with flashlights into gorgeous depictions of Arabic calligraphy.
The characters seemingly appear out of thin air, although in a few photographs Kaalam doesn’t completely photoshop himself out, so you see the man behind the light, the precise moves that result in the alphabetic additions.
As This Is Colossal writes, Kaalam is attracted to architectural backdrops as well as dark rooftops and streets. The contrast between the tightly-scripted visions of light and the organic urban scenes adds to the allure of these art works.
And then there’s Italian photographer Paolo Pettigiani, whose augmented layer is an infrared filter, which completely remakes the Italian countryside into a candy-colored (or perhaps toxic) fantasy world. Designboom brings together a collection of these photographs.
Like Lok, he is also showing us an unseen world, given humans can’t see infrared light.
Beaches, woodlands, and marshes become unfamiliar, their forms seem renewed.
Most smartphone map apps give you several direct routes to get from Point A to Point B, but the quickest or most convenient path isn’t always the most enjoyable. Those interested in finding the most beautiful, walkable route to their destination can now try Walkonomics. The app, created by United Kingdom programmer Adam Davies, allows users to find more beautiful paths through seven cities across the globe using both open and crowd-sourced city data.
Walkability-related data and apps have existed for a number of years. Websites like Walk Score rate individual addresses based on a number between 0 and 100, telling you how walkable or car-dependent an area is. But according to CityLab, Walk Score has yet to incorporate “more fine-grained and diverse data about the quality of the pedestrian experience.”
Walkonomics attempts to provide just that. Not only does this free iOS and Android app allow people to check the pedestrian-friendliness of most streets in Central London, Paris, New York, San Francisco, Toronto, Buenos Aires, and Glasgow, but it also allows them to chose either the quickest or most beautiful routes between destinations in these cities.
The app provides star rankings for eight different categories of pedestrian-friendliness: road safety; easy to cross; pavement/sidewalk; hilliness; navigation; fear of crime; “smart & beautiful;” and “fun & relaxing.” These ratings are generated from open data including street widths, traffic levels, crime statistics, pedestrian accidents, and even how many trees are on each street. Visitors and residents can provide additional ratings for each of these criteria as they walk down streets in their neighborhood, as well as geo-referenced photos.
As I tested the app, I found that certain elements are not as user-friendly as existing ones in Google Maps. For example, typing in the name of a location rather than a specific address, which typically works pretty accurately in other mapping apps, is a bit of a struggle with Walkonomics, which requires your location or a very specific address if you’re not navigating to a famous landmark.
Though I am not a native New Yorker, I also found it strange that the most beautiful route between two New York City locations took me around Central Park, while the fastest route took me almost directly through the park. Is a stroll down a tree-lined street truly more beautiful than a walk through a park? This raises the question: how does Walkonomics actually quantify the most beautiful route, when what makes something beautiful is subjective. Furthermore, it’s unclear how Walkonomics, which is intended for urban streets, incorporates parks. Perhaps, the app could benefit from more crowd-sourcing and input from people who really know these streets (Most streets in New York only have one user rating). Davies said he also has plans to provide more options, like the safest and cleanest routes, which are more easily quantified.
Despite the app’s shortcomings, Davies has certainly tapped into a real demand for walkable places. Also, studies have shown that walkable streets can boost retail sales by up to 80 percent. Research indicates walkable neighborhoods reduce obesity levels, carbon emissions, and crime, among other benefits. In fact, the benefits of walkable cities have become so widely known that many big businesses are choosing to move their headquarters back to more walkable locations.
If you live in one of the seven cities available on the app and have an extra five minutes in the morning, take Walkonomics for a spin. Not only could you end up feeling less stressed at the beginning of your workday, but you’ll have the opportunity to add to a growing data source designed to make cities a little bit more livable. And, hopefully, Walkonomics will in turn open up its own data, as it could be really useful to landscape architects, urban planners, and health researchers trying to figure out what makes one route more appealing than another.
All living creatures employ technologies to gain evolutionary advantage. For example, bats have evolved the use of echolocation to find their way as well as things to eat. A tortoise has evolved a shell to protect itself. There are countless examples. These technologies are tools for survival. Humans are equally a part of nature and now harness new “hypernatural” tools to “amplify, extend, or exceed natural capabilities.” Novel approaches are resulting in advances in the most essential technologies: shelter, or, in its cultural form, architecture. These new hypernatural forms be the “very aim of evolution itself,” write University of Minnesota architecture professors Blaine Brownell and Marc Swackhamer, in Hypernatural: Architecture’s New Relationship with Nature, their brilliant new book.
Although, they add that “evolution is a complex, messy process.” Hypernatural architecture, with all its technological advancements, is then subject to the same evolutionary development processes facing all new tools: these technologies will duke it out with others in a long-term struggle to see which is the most resource-efficient and cost-effective, which give individuals and communities the most advantages, and perhaps which benefit humanity the most. Furthermore, climate change, the loss of biodiversity, and reduced freshwater resources, among other environmental challenges, create a new set of conditions that will further shape the evolution of these human tools. New environmental conditions will evolve technologies, just as they will evolve new environments. But the whole goal of designing with nature — instead of wrecking havoc on nature in pursuit of profit — is to create a relationship between the environment and our tools that is more sustainable.
Perhaps the primary value of Hypernatural is that it organizes all the projects that relate to “nature-focused movements,” like geo-design, bio-engineering, and bio-mimicry, creating a clearer understanding of how architects, interior designers, artists, and others are “designing with biology.” They delve into all the ways projects incorporate biology, explaining the difference between behavioral, genetic, and epigenetic (environmental) projects. And they organize the array of new projects — some of which are truly mind-boggling — into broad groups that follow the founding domains of life: the geosphere, atmosphere, and hydrosphere. There are also examples that relate to the microbial, botanical, and zoological biospheres, as well as a final chapter on the “noosphere,” the domain of purely human thought, which Brownell and Swackhamer argue is also a legitimate “natural sphere.” (Another plus of this book is will serve as a useful refresher of all that introductory biology that has been forgotten; there are also tons of interesting factoids about the earth and its natural systems).
Here are just a few examples from the book:
In the geosphere section, which focuses on how humans can better harness the rock cycle, which works like the water cycle but just on a much slower scale, we learn about Radiolaria, created by Shiro Studio in 2009. This project learns from the “slow system of deposition found in the geological process of sedimentary rock formation,” but speeds it up with the use of 3-D printing technology. Radiolaria is actually the “first successful use of architectural-scale printing with natural rock dust.” A 953-cubic-foot “freestanding pavilion” was constructed out of sandstone and inorganic binder. “It effectively transforms marble dust, sand, or rock particles into a solid mineral with micro-crystalline characteristics that are chemically neutral and easily recyclable.”
For an example of a project that highlights the atmosphere, Brownell and Swackhamer show us Windswept, a project by artist Charles Sowers, which was created for the Randall Museum in San Francisco in 2012. Windswept features a field of “vertical wind instruments to map not just the general wind direction but the intricate movements of air across a building facade.” The pieces makes visible the invisible movement of a natural force. Some museum visitors described it as reminiscent of a “field of undulating wheat or a rippling school of fish.”
The hydrosphere section has many intriguing projects, but one that particularly leaped out was Bubble Building by DUS Architects, which was created in the Netherlands in 2012. In a pavilion in Rotterdam, the architects composed 16 hexagonal, shallow pools filled with a thin layer of soap and water. “By lifting metal rings that circumscribe these hexagons, membranes of glassy, rainbow-colored film stretch to form temporary pavilion walls.” While architect Frei Otto and others have long been inspired by bubbles, this project actually uses them to build something, albeit temporary. It disappears when unoccupied.
In the microbial section, we come across a wondrous yet also disturbing project called Radiant Soil created by Canadian architect and professor Phillip Beesley in 2013. Radiant Soil is a “suspended, responsive ceiling system that behaves like biology.” The piece responds in real-time to the “movement and proximity of people by lighting itself along LED-lined arteries, moving its biochemical fronds to generate air currents and releasing unique odors into the air through scent-emitting glands.” Brownell and Swackhamer say it has “profound implications for a new dialogue between humans and their built environment.”
While the focus is on buildings in Hypernatural, there are enough great ideas to interest any designer focused on the future of design and biology. If there are any criticisms, it’s some of the botanical examples fail to impress: it seems natural botanical forms are still far more interesting than hypernatural ones. And too many of the projects are one-off artistic or architectural experiments that don’t seem particularly scalable or accessible, unless they have been explained to you. But, then again, didn’t so many innovations we take advantage of and so many aesthetic movements we appreciate today start out the same way, misunderstood in some lab or studio? Fast forward a hundred years into the future and it will be fascinating to see what small glimpses of the future displayed here will be mainstream.
As Scotland becomes one of the first countries to run solely on renewable energy, communities face the question of what to do with the country’s abandoned mining infrastructure. In one Scottish village, Sanquhar, the answer is to transform a former coal mine into a 55-acre, $1 million work of land art. Conjuring images of Stonehenge, Crawick Multiverse, which opened July 10 with a ceremony of music and dance, was built from materials found on-site, including 2,000 boulders half-buried below ground.
At the urging of local residents, the landowner, Richard Scott, the Duke of Buccleuch, commissioned landscape artist Charles Jencks to build something dynamic that would benefit the region, which has been struggling economically. Crawick Multiverse, “represents the cosmos, from the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies to a spiral of rocks that make up the multiverse.” While Jencks often draws inspiration from astronomy, at the nearby Garden of Cosmic Speculation for example, Fast Company writes that it was also a natural fit for this site, where prehistoric stone art and Celtic gold necklaces designed to represent the moon have been found nearby.
Traditionally, former coal mines in the country are bulldozed and returned to the pastures they once were, but this misses an opportunity to reflect the cultural significance of a site. “Around the world, mines produce an environment which is depressing, and derelict and desolate and deserted, full of junk,” Jencks told Fast Company. “There have been laws put in place to restore these areas to their pristine original quality — that often means putting grass over the site, plowing it back, and returning it to the cows. We wanted to build something positive for the community instead.” By using on-site materials to create the dramatic earthworks rather than flattening the site, construction costs were also reduced.
A network of paths weave through the sites four different ecosystems (grassland, mountain, water gorge and desert), while navigating landforms represent the sun, universes, galaxies and comets. At the heart of the project is a 5,000-person amphitheater inspired by a solar eclipse.
Dramatic earthworks include the two galaxy mounds – Andromeda and the Milky Way – which stand at 25 and 15 meters high, respectively. The mounds represent “the cosmic ballet of the two galaxies coming together,” and each have lagoons that add to their visual impact.
The site was once valued for its industrial purpose, but there is a beauty in the surrounding landscape that Jencks sought to emphasize in the design. The comet walk — a ridge trail with white-yellow sandstone emulating comets’ tails — leads to the Belvedere, a lookout offering a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside. Again, stones from the site have been repurposed, this time into a stone hand with a finger pointing to the North Star.
“Destroyed sites are an opportunity to renew. It’s wonderful to see this park used in different ways. For a designer, such as me, that’s the pay-off,” Jencks explains in a video for the project. “This site is big enough to absorb 10,000 people a day and you wouldn’t feel crowded, so I’m really happy about that. It’ll take time to get there, but I’m sure it will be used in thousands of different ways we can’t even predict. All successful parks have to embed themselves with the locals who will use them in new ways.”
The project is potentially the beginning of an exciting series of reclamation projects poised to take hold in Scotland’s post-industrial landscape. As coal mining becomes increasingly obsolete across the country, Crawick Multiverse, in its striking whimsy, offers a practical strategy for industrial redevelopment at the landscape scale.
See a video of Jencks discussing his inspiration for the project:
Labyrinths have become increasingly popular in healthcare settings like hospitals, outpatient clinics, hospices, and elder care facilities. Designers often include them in their plans, sometimes encouraged by the client or the funding donor. However, labyrinths are not always appropriate for healthcare gardens. While they can be very successful, there are now too many examples of labyrinths that are poorly sited, badly designed, or just shouldn’t be there. As with any element of a healthcare garden, the design intention must be to provide what will most benefit the users–patients, visitors, and staff. Clare Cooper Marcus and I discuss this issue in our book Therapeutic Landscapes: An Evidence-Based Approach to Designing Healing Gardens and Restorative Outdoor Spaces, from which some of this text is excerpted. Please understand: I have nothing against labyrinths per se. In fact, in the right place and context, I think they are wonderful and very much enjoy walking them.
First, What is a Labyrinth?
The classical labyrinth consists of a continuous path that winds in circles into a center and out again. This basic form dates from antiquity and is intended for contemplative walking. A labyrinth is sometimes erroneously referred to as a maze, which consists of a complex system of pathways between tall hedges, with the purpose of getting people lost. The aim of a maze is playful diversion, whereas the aim of the labyrinth is to offer the user a walking path of quiet reflection.
The Labyrinth Trend
I’m not sure what led to the uptick in labyrinths in healthcare gardens (as well as other gardens), but here are some guesses:
Labyrinths are immediately recognizable as contemplative spaces that encourage silent walking and meditation. Like “Zen gardens,” they symbolize peace and relaxation.
They are usually easy to install and, unlike planting beds, require very little maintenance. However, most labyrinths are paved and according to many research studies, people prefer less paving and more plants in healing gardens.
Here is why labyrinths are often not the right choice for healthcare gardens:
They take up a lot of space that could be used for plants, a covered gathering area, or a more flexible activity space. Because people view labyrinths as somewhat sacred, they are reluctant to walk across them to get from Point A to Point B. Unless the garden is quite large, a labyrinth is probably not the best use of space.
Labyrinths are usually not sheltered by trees or another shade structure. People in hospitals – especially patients – are extremely vulnerable to sun and glare.
They take a long time to walk, which may not be good or even possible for some patients.
They are usually not wheelchair accessible. So people who have limited mobility — anyone in a wheelchair, scooter, walker, or even with a large stroller — can’t use them, which, especially in a hospital environment, is rather sad.
How to Design a Labyrinth for a Healthcare Garden
If you plan on including a labyrinth in a healthcare garden, consider the following design guidelines from Therapeutic Landscapes:
The classical labyrinth consists of 11, 7, or 5 concentric circles. The path of the 11-circuit labyrinth is 860-feet long and thus should not be considered for a healthcare garden. Walking that far would likely tax the energy of patients or the time of visitors or staff. The 7- or 5-circuit labyrinth is more appropriate, both in terms of the length of the path and in terms of the space it claims.
People walking a labyrinth are in a contemplative, introspective mood and do not want to be stared at. Site the labyrinth in a secluded location out of sight of other garden users and nearby windows.
Since some people view the process of walking a labyrinth to be a spiritual experience, site it where others will not be forced to walk across to get from one destination to another.
Since many people may be unfamiliar with the purpose of a labyrinth, provide information nearby indicating how to walk the path.
Consider a “finger labyrinth” – they take up far less room and can still provide people with a meditative practice.