Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (December 1 – 15)

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Better Block event on Washington Avenue in Houston / Asakura Robinson

Finding Light Through the Concrete of Canada’s Holocaust Monument – ­CityLab, 12/6/17
“In 2007, Laura Grosman, an 18-year-old university student in Ottawa learned that Canada was the only Allied nation that didn’t have a monument to victims of the Holocaust.”

A Brand New Boston, Even Whiter Than the OldThe Boston Globe, 12/11/17
“Imagine a fresh start — a chance for Boston to build a new urban neighborhood of the future, untouched by the bigotry of the past.”

“Splash Pad Urbanism” and 2017’s Other Notable Developments in Landscape Architecture The Huffington Post, 12/11/17
“This was a breakout year for landscape architecture, as well as a period of great trial. The innovative melding of design and ecology at SCAPE earned firm founder Kate Orff a MacArthur Foundation ‘genius’ grant, a first for a landscape architect.”

A New Leader for Central ParkThe New York Times, 12/12/17
“Elizabeth W. Smith grew up in Rye, N.Y., about an hour north of Manhattan, and said her earliest memory of Central Park was from when she moved to the Upper East Side after college.”

Changing Houston, One Little Fix a Time The Houston Chronicle, 12/12/17
“Using colored duct tape, spray chalk and stencils, we were done in 10 minutes. The results were just as immediate: Cars stopped well in advance of this modified intersection, and pedestrians walked with new confidence.”

Why Are We Wrecking Our Best Modernist Landscapes? The Architect’s Newspaper, 12/14/17
“If you’ve seen the movie Columbus, you’ll remember, among all the nerdy dialogue about modernist bank branches and James Polshek’s buildings, that scene where the two protagonists passionately discuss the Dan Kiley landscape outside the Eero Saarinen–designed Miller House.”

In Boston’s Leading Hospitals, Nature Is Part of the Therapy

Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, roof terrace designed by Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects / Steinkamp Photography

In the 1908s, Roger Ulrich discovered hospital patients recover faster and request less pain medication when they have views of nature. Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, built on a former brownfield in Charleston’s Navy Yard, and MGH’s Yawkey Outpatient Center, both in Boston, seem to be guided by this essential finding.

At Spaulding, patients recovering from traumatic injury are rejuvenated by good medical care, but also sunlight, garden terraces, and views of the surrounding Charles, Mystic, and Chelsea Rivers. The hospital landscape is a multi-functional therapeutic space where therapists aid patients in the air and sun. In a tour of the 132-bed facility at the 2017 Greenbuild, Jeffrey Keilman, an architect with Perkins + Will and Sean Sanger, ASLA, principal at landscape architecture firm Copley Wolff Design Group explained how the facility heals, but is also one of the most sustainable and resilient hospitals in the country.

Spaulding picked this brownfield site in part because rehabilitating it would help tell the story of resilience to its patients. If a toxic place can become a place of healing, then a broken person can return to health stronger as well.

The LEED Gold-certified hospital, designed by Perkins + Will, Feldman Architecture, and Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects, has all the usual green building features, but its the extra, humane elements that make it something special — the custom-made sinks so that a patient in a wheel chair can more easily wash their hands; the tall wall of windows in the main rehabilitation room that offer views of the river; the light and views every patient enjoys from their rooms; the garden terraces with horticultural therapy spaces, as well as the gardens just for staff; and the multi-functional therapeutic landscape.

Spaulding Rehabilitation Center, designed by Perkins + Will, Feldman Architecture / Anton Grassl/Esto
Spaulding Rehabilitation Center, designed by Perkins + Will, Feldman Architecture / Anton Grassl/Esto
Spaulding Rehabilitation Center employee terrace, designed by Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects / Anton Grassl/Esto

The landscape — which was ingeniously designed by Copley Wolff Design Group to significantly reduce the impact of flooding in a 500-year storm event — is both for patients and the public. Like the building, the landscape has small but thoughtful features that exemplify patient-centered design.

For example, there are small brass sculptures of animals spread throughout. While these can be enjoyed by visitors and the public, they are really there for patients recovering from traumatic brain injuries who search for them in scavenger hunts in order to rebuild cognitive abilities and memory.

Starfish at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, designed by Copley Wolff Design Group / Copley Wolff Design Group

A multi-functional space for physical therapy was designed for “active use.” Patients and caregivers didn’t just want “a space for respite and solitude. They wanted a space for activity, so they can get mentally and physically ready to re-enter society,” explained Sanger.

The space offers a “beginner’s walk,” with a slight grade and handrails. Throughout, there are benches, so patients can take a break.

Therapeutic landscape at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, designed by Copley Wolff Design Group / Luke O’Neill

Sculptural rock forms on poles are actually therapeutic tools for building upper body strength.

Therapeutic landscape at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, designed by Copley Wolff Design Group/ Luke O’Neill

Amid the gardens, there is also a ramp for teaching patients how to use a wheelchair.

Therapeutic landscape at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, designed by Copley Wolff Design Group/ Luke O’Neill

In warmer months, the hospital puts recumbent bikes on the waterfront harbor walk. Rails along the walk were specially designed so people in wheelchairs can use them to pull themselves up.

Our tour then moved over to MGH’s Yawkey Outpatient Center, a 1,000-bed hospital for cancer treatment in downtown Boston spread through a maze of co-joined buildings. Here was a therapeutic landscape that feels like the opposite of the one at Spaulding: a small but impactful place of respite and restoration.

As you enter the roof garden, which was added later after the building had been built, the broad trees and gorgeous views of the Charles River momentarily awe. The space is a welcome surprise in the midst of the vast hospital complex.

Yawkey Outpatient Center garden / Boston’s Hidden Sacred Spaces

Designed by Robert Adams, ASLA, principal at Halvorson Design Group, the garden is well-loved by adults and children undergoing cancer treatment.

The enclosed entry pavilion, with expansive glass windows, is open year round. Cancer patients often have a terrible, metallic taste in their mouth, so any metal fittings were painted over so as to not remind them. A journal is available for patients to write in. A giant urn is filled with rocks. Patients take the rocks to keep as touchstones; and survivors often bring back stones from their journeys, replenishing the urn, which has a “most sacred” duty, Adams said.

Yawkey Outpatient Center garden / Anton Grassl/Esto

And the garden itself, with its simple shade-covered walking loop, benches facing the river, and sculptures, is open in warm months. “You’ll often see patients with their IV in tow walking the loop.”

Yawkey Outpatient Center garden / Anton Grassl/Esto
Yawkey Outpatient Center garden / Anton Grassl/Esto

For Adams, the only wrinkle is the garden has become so popular staff can no longer easily access. Before, staff were eating lunch there and visiting often. This is a sign that “staff need open spaces, too.” As author Clare Cooper Marcus described in a recent interview, over-worked and stressed doctors and nurses means more deadly medical errors. Just a 15-minute break for these critical workers outdoors can help boost their cognition and lower stress.

Why aren’t more hospitals creating restorative spaces not only for patients but also for their staff? Spaulding and Yawkey, two of the best hospitals in the country, offer models for how to bring nature into healthcare environments that other facilities can learn from.

SITES Aims to Transform the Marketplace

ASLA 2017 Professional Communications Honor Award. Ecology as the Inspiration for a Presidential Library Park. Black Locust bridge. Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates / MVVA Inc

With the General Service Administration (GSA) and now the state of Rhode Island adopting the use of the Sustainable SITES Initiative™ (SITES®) certification system for landscape projects, SITES is gaining momentum. The system now has the potential to transform the marketplace for landscape products as well, explained Hunter Beckham, FASLA, a landscape architect; Meg Calkins, ASLA, a professor of landscape architecture at Ball State University; and April Phillips, FASLA, principal of April Phillips Design Works, in a session organized by ASLA professional practice manager Linette Straus, ASLA, at the 2017 Greenbuild in Boston.

Given SITES v2, which covers landscapes, and LEED v4, which covers all types of buildings, now have a number of synergies designers and developers can take advantage of, the potential market impact of SITES is even greater, Beckham said.

Calkins argued that it’s critically important landscape architects and designers leverage SITES to reduce the harvesting of Amazonian hardwoods for seating, decks, and boardwalks. “Some 18 percent of the Amazon has been cut down in the past 20 years.” With SITES, “we can transform the market away from tropical hardwoods.” SITES incentivizes this transformation with its prerequisites that “eliminate the use of wood from threatened tree species.”

For example, Ipe, a rare hardwood that appears once every 7-30 acres and is a signature species in the Amazonian rainforest, has often been used in landscapes because of its durability. But SITES — which refers to plants on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)’s list of those threatened with extinction and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) “red list of threatened species” — prevents the use of this endangered tree species in SITES-certified landscapes.

One big problem with the current approach, Calkins explained, is the “IUCN list is dreadfully behind.” Many tree species were last assessed more than a decade ago, so it allows many woods that are no longer plentiful, like Cumaru.

Another issue: In the Pará state of Brazil, some 28 percent of hardwoods are harvested illegally. Even some Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified woods’ documentation is forged, with “shady chains of custody.” And while the Lacey Act is designed to prevent American companies from purchasing illegally-harvested rare Amazonian hardwoods, “fraud still happens.”

Instead of trying to find the few sustainably-harvested rainforest hardwoods, Calkins called for using alternatives like fused bamboo lumber, which is rapidly renewable and outperforms Ipe in durability; American Black Locust lumber, a hardwood native to the Ozarks and Appalachian regions and can be harvested in one-third the time of Ipe; thermally-modified woods, which are heated so they are twice as hard as the original wood and are disease resistant; polymerized woods, which has been developed in the European Union; and acetylated woods.

Furthermore, “landscape architects need to see environmental product declarations and quantifiable data” for all the products they are considering specifying. The architecture field is “way ahead” of the landscape architecture field in this regard of measuring and verifying the life cycle of products, as there are already a number of independent 3rd party product verification systems.

For Calkins, who researches the sustainability of landscape products, just finding basic information on wood products for landscapes is a challenge. “Corporate sustainability reports are a source of information, as are marketing brochures.” But, again, she is looking for independent 3rd party verification of any sustainability claims, and those don’t seem to exist for landscape products.

To shift the marketplace, landscape architects need to “ask more questions of product manufacturers, demand they disclose information and be transparent, and use environmental product declarations when specifying.”

According to landscape architect April Phillips, who has designed and built SITES-certified projects, the key is to track the sourcing of all materials from the get-go. In a “living roof native landscape” she created for 38 Dolores in San Francisco, she used 44 percent recycled materials and 60 percent regional ones.

38 Dolores / April Phillips Design Works
38 Dolores / April Phillips Design Works

And for a new, 1,500-acre landscape on the site of a former airport in Alameda, California, Phillips is reusing found logs as benches.

Phillips also made the case for environmental product declarations, claiming that too often the only ones she can find are from products made in the Netherlands or New Zealand. And importing these products to the U.S. only adds to projects’ carbon emissions and is discouraged in SITES.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson: Cosmic Light and the City

Sun Triangle, NYC / Flickr

The urban heat island effect, which causes cities to be 2-8 degrees warmer than nearby rural areas, is just one example of how the thermodynamics of cosmic light affect our built environment. As sunlight hits tar roofs and asphalt streets, it warms them. But as astrophysicist and best-selling author Neil DeGrasse Tyson explained at the 2017 Greenbuild in Boston, we can use green and white roofs to increase light reflection and reduce heat absorption. With a better understanding of the nature of light, we can make our cities not only more energy efficient, but also much more dynamic places.

For example, Tyson pointed to the Sun Triangle, a sculpture in a sunken plaza in front of the McGraw-Hill Building at 1221 Avenue of the Americas in New York City, created by Athelstan Spilhaus, a geophysicist and meteorologist (see image above). On solstices and equinoxes, different legs of the triangle line up exactly with solar noon. The Sun Triangle got Tyson thinking about “the city’s structure and form and how it interacts with the sun’s path.” This art work, he said, connects us to the beyond — the greater universe.

The Sun Triangle made Tyson think about the ancient Stone Henge, where the head stone was designed to perfectly align with the summer solstice on June 21. Tyson realized this Henge light also exists amid the grid of Manhattan. He calculated the exact day and time twice a year the sunset would pour down the avenues of Manhattan, flooding north and south sides of all streets with light. “It’s the sun at infinity — where parallel lines meet, and every street is illuminated simultaneously.” Since Tyson discovered and promoted Manhattan Henge, it has become a phenomenon, drawing hordes of people. “It has slowly gotten out of control,” he laughed.

Buildings can take advantage of the fascinating properties of light. In NYC’s Grand Central Station, curlicue wrought-iron grills on the windows create a giant pinhole camera that projects an image of the surface of the sun into the building. “These aren’t just circles of light; they are actually images of the sun. You can see the sunspots moving across the floor.”

Sun hitting Grand Central Station / Fine Art America

The Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York City, which Tyson leads, also uses light to powerful effect, telling the story of our solar system. The planetarium is in a large sphere encased in a glass box. The sphere is a scale model of the sun, with the planets in our system revolving around it. “We used architecture to tell the story.” At night, the illuminated planetarium “calls to you, reaching beyond itself.”

Hayden planetarium / Flickr

Tyson admitted the planetarium has gotten criticism from some groups who claim it creates noxious light pollution. Tyson shot back that New York City, with its tight grid of tall buildings, is actually much darker when viewed from the night sky than sprawled-out places. “Suburbs everywhere have street lights. In Manhattan, the light from these are hidden by buildings.” Tyson noted that Tucson, Arizona, which is trying to reduce its light pollution both for birds and astrophysicists at the nearby Steward Observatory, “lead the world in dark sky legislation.”

Looking to the future, Tyson believes we can tap the unlimited energy of light from the sun to power our civilization. He called for more visionary thinking about the cities of tomorrow, bringing back the big dreams of the World’s Fair of the 1960s. We must look beyond to the universe to be more sustainable at home.

Landscape Architects Announce Call for Presentations for 2018 Annual Meeting

ASLA 2018 Annual Meeting & Expo in Philadelphia

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) has released its call for presentations for the 2018 Annual Meeting and EXPO, which will take place October 19-22, 2018 in Philadelphia. More than 6,000 landscape architects and allied professionals are expected to attend.

The meeting will feature a diverse spectrum of industry experts speaking on a wide range of subjects, from sustainable design and best practices to new materials and technologies.

More than 130 education sessions and field sessions will be presented during the meeting, providing attendees with the opportunity to earn up to 21 professional development hours under the Landscape Architecture Continuing Education System™ (LA CES™).

Many of the sessions will also qualify for continuing education credit with the Green Building Certification Institute (toward LEED AP credential maintenance), the American Institute of Architects, the American Institute of Certified Planners, and other allied professional organizations and state registration boards.

Education session speakers selected from this process will receive a full complimentary registration to the ASLA 2018 Annual Meeting and may also be eligible for reimbursement for one night’s hotel stay at an official ASLA hotel (an estimated $750 value). Landscape architecture professionals wishing to present at the Philadelphia meeting need to be active members of ASLA. Allied professionals are encouraged to both submit presentations and speak but are not required to be members of the Society.

The deadline for education session proposals is January 31, 2018. Submit your session proposal today.

Lessons Learned from the First Generation of Net-Zero Communities

BedZED / Wikipedia

The first generation of net-zero communities, which were designed to add no carbon to the atmosphere, are entering their second decade. Beddington Zero Energy Development (BedZED) in London is about 15 years old now; and the first phase of Dockside Green in Victoria, Canada, is now 10 years old. In a session at the 2017 Greenbuild in Boston, Steven Dulmage with Urban Equation and Justin Downey at RNWL outlined lessons learned from these early sustainable communities and how they informed second-generation developments, such as Zibi in Ottawa, Canada, and Hazelwood Green in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

According to Dulmage, BedZED, which has 82 homes, “didn’t hit net-zero carbon projections.” While the project successfully reduced emissions from transportation — as more residents walk, bike, or take mass transit — the biomass plant built onsite didn’t work out. It ran for a few years and then was discontinued. “It wasn’t economic to run, so they converted to gas. The business case for the biomass plant wasn’t well-thought through.”

Dockside Green in British Columbia, which has 26 buildings that house 2,500 people, was “built up at the front end during the recession, which was very painful for the developers,” explained Downey. While the developers used a phased approach to development, Downey seemed to say the roll-out of those phases was too aggressive. “They didn’t wait for absorption,” meaning they didn’t build to the pace of tenants buying apartments.

Dockside Green / Times Colonist

Also mentioned: One Brighton in the UK, built in 2009, was the first major development built using the One Planet Living framework. While the development reduced carbon emissions by 70 percent in comparison with the average neighborhood development, that’s not 100 percent. Still, homes there sell for a 10 percent premium over comparable real estate because of their inherent sustainability and resale value. There are also other benefits: residents who move there sell their cars as they can walk and bike everywhere. No cars means much less spent on transportation and fewer carbon emissions.

One Brighton / Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

The latest generation of net-zero communities have learned from these first models and may have greater success reaching environmental goals.

Hazelwood Green in Pittsburgh, which is now under development and will transform 178-acres of old industrial property along the Mononogahela River, could achieve net-zero by using onsite renewable energy for 40 percent of energy needs and a “geothermal field” connected to the river for the rest, explained Downey. “It’s a smart design concept — the ambient geothermal loop and renewable technologies can get us to 100 percent.”

Mill 19 at Hazelwood Green / Business Journals

The Zibi in Ottawa, another community now in development, is using very ambitious sustainability goals to “find synergies among stakeholders,” Dulmage said. While developers are often conservative and “reluctant to invest in sustainability strategies, ” at Zibi, “sustainability is instead used as an alignment tool to reduce risk.” The developers are pursuing a thermal distribution pipeline using waste heat from a nearby Ottawa Hydro facility, with a 50/50 split on the cost and savings for the system between the district energy company at Zibi and the utility. The developers are also using “values-based procurement.”

Zibi, Ottawa / Zibi

As for the future of net-zero communities, Downey sees developers now dictating hard energy performance requirements. For example, in a recent RFP for a new building, Hunter College put in a 100 kwh per square meter performance target.

The conclusion seemed to be getting net-zero, or, really, near net-zero communities, right is still a challenge, but a worthy one given “we can only add 600 more gigatons to the atmosphere before the planet hits dangerous levels of warming. We are going to max out emissions by 2025.”

Sadly, the public may or may not care about these numbers. But if these developments are sold from a human health and happiness perspective, they may be more likely to succeed. The average BedZED resident knows 19 of their neighbors, which is four times the UK average, said Dulmage. On that front alone, this early sustainable development sets a model all its successors should follow.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (November 16 – 30)

Downtown Houston / Getty Images


25 People Shaping the Future in Tech, Science, Medicine, Activism and More
Rolling Stone, 11/27/17
“If our cities are going to survive rising seas, we’re going to need someone as inventive as Kate Orff.”

Houston’s Downtown Redesign in the Wake of Hurricane Harvey May Include a Five Mile “Green Loop”Architectural Digest, 11/20/17
“Even though Houston is poised to surpass Chicago as the third-most populous city in the U.S., its downtown isn’t as vibrant as what you’d find in other major metropolises.”

Brooklyn’s 100-Year-Old Japanese Garden Is Like a Living PaintingArtsy, 11/27/17
“A slender path rambles through Japanese white pines and Fullmoon maples, over rock terraces, and up to the threshold of a Shinto shrine, before lapping back down to the banks of a koi-filled pond.”

Will Denver’s New Green Roof Law Catch on in Other Cities?Livability, 11/28/17
“Earlier this month, Denver joined San Francisco as one of the first cities in the United States to mandate green roofs on new buildings.”

Landmarks Approves Fort Greene Park Design That Eliminates Rare A.E. Bye LandscapeThe Architect’s Newspaper, 11/29/17
“The Landmarks Preservation Commission has unanimously approved a Parks Department plan to build a grand new entrance to Fort Greene Park.”