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

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C&O Canal in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. / AgnosticPreachersKid [CC BY-SA 3.0]

The C&O Canal in Georgetown Is Not in Danger of Being ‘High Lined’The Washington Post, 7/19/19
“If you have ever felt overwhelmed by overcrowding on the otherwise beautiful High Line, you might agree with Stephen A. Hansen’s June 30 Local Opinions essay, “Don’t ‘High Line’ Georgetown’s C&O Canal.” Unfortunately, the call to ‘rethink this proposal from scratch’ is based on mischaracterizations.”

America’s Greatest Gardening Partnership Produced This PlaceForbes, 7/21/19
“There is no better Art Deco garden anywhere in the United States than the Blue Steps at Naumkeag. A series of dark blue painted grottos climb up a steep hillside, connected by stairs and placed against a backdrop of white birch trees.”

A Brazilian Polymath’s Tropical Oasis at the New York Botanical GardenThe New Yorker, 7/22/19
“Roberto Burle Marx designed a swirling garden path at Copacabana Beach, and his American protégé has created a fragrant homage to the landscape architect in the Bronx.”

Sidewalk Detroit Wants You to Rethink the Purpose of Public Space Curbed, 7/23/19
“Sidewalk Festival is about creating spontaneous moments like this, but also reimagining what it means to be in public space.”

The Dull Blocks West of Navy Pier Get an Engaging Park: Will It Be Loved to Death?The Chicago Tribune, 7/31/19
“It’s no secret that the blocks between Navy Pier and North Michigan Avenue are dull with a capital ‘D.’ They’re filled with bland high-rises, underused public spaces, and the circular hole in the ground that was to form the foundation of the unbuilt Chicago Spire.”

More Climate Surprises Expected

Sargassum seaweed in the Gulf of Mexico / NASA, Michael Stein

After the White House suppressed his Congressional testimony on climate change and national security, Dr. Rod Schoonover, a scientist and analyst with the State Department’s bureau of intelligence and research, resigned in protest. Nearly three weeks after his resignation, Schoonover discussed the substance of his testimony with Andrew Light, senior fellow at the World Resources Institute (WRI). His primary conclusions: the U.S. and other countries can expect more “climate-linked surprises;” climate change will cause much more than weather-related impacts, and combined with environmental, social, and political events will become a national security “threat multiplier.”

In a June briefing, the White House allowed Dr. Schoonover to give oral testimony, but blocked the submission of his written testimony drafted on behalf of the bureau into the permanent Congressional record. In internal administration emails uncovered by The New York Times, the reasoning for this was the testimony included science that didn’t correspond with White House policy views. The White House called the testimony part of the “climate alarmist establishment.”

Intelligence experts argue that any scientific analysis included in a risk assessment is by nature objective and rooted in mainstream, peer-reviewed findings. The White House’s actions constituted a “suppression of factual analysis by a government intelligence agency.” And According to The Times, the State department’s bureau of intelligence and research is viewed as one of the most “scrupulous and accurate” in the federal government.

In his conversation with Light, Dr. Schoonover said the U.S. intelligence community has been testifying on the coming impacts of climate change since at least the late 90s, so “this is not new territory.”

National security policy decision making is increasingly of a “technical nature.” Therefore, to give policymakers the best analyses, the intelligence community must incorporate the latest science. The intelligence community doesn’t generate the science, but must interpret it objectively. “We need scientists in the U.S. government to stay current. We need scientists to help us understand nuclear, infectious disease, near space objects, and climate change.”

Light said it has been 12 years since the Center for Naval Analysis and the Military Advisory Board published National Security and the Threat of Climate Change, which identified climate change as a threat multiplier. “Since then, the attribution science, isolating the degree to which climate change has an impact, has only improved.” Another study published in 2015 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) linked climate change, drought, and the onset of civil war in Syria. And in a recent worldwide threat assessment presented to Congress, now-former director of national intelligence Dan Coats identified hot spots where climate change could create conflict, such as Egypt and Sudan.

Dr. Schoonover, who gave up a tenured position teaching complex systems at California Polytechnic State University to work at the federal government, made a few key points that he wasn’t able to elaborate in his abridged Congressional testimony:

The U.S. and other countries should expect more “climate-linked surprises,” which are events with low probabilities but high impacts. For example, no one could have predicted that deforestation in Brazil would lead to fertilizer runoff in the Atlantic Ocean to mix with warming oceanic currents and create massive Sargassum seaweed blooms that would then cover the beaches of the small island nations in the Caribbean. Tons of seaweed now wash up on beaches across the Caribbean every day. “For these countries, Sargassum is a national security threat, as it impacts tourism and economic vitality, strangling their resources.” This is an example of a “surprise element that came out of nowhere. Very rapid changes could occur with dramatic impacts.”

Non-weather climate stressors also create national security risks. He called for moving past a “weather-centric” approach that solely focuses on sea level rise, drought, wildfires, and extreme heat. Peer-reviewed scientific studies find that climate change will also impact ecological food webs and cause mass extinctions and biodiversity loss, which will negatively impact human food systems. Climate change will also impact human health by changing the ranges of infectious disease vectors like mosquitoes. Like with Syria, there is the risk that weather-related climate impacts, such as drought, will cause political and social instability and increase violence.

A final important point: “the bundle of issues is what’s important. Climate change together with environmental degradation and social and political instability is the threat multiplier.”

Global Reforestation Could Drawdown Carbon but Also Jeopardize Water Supplies

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Eucalyptus Plantation in Arimalam, India / Wikipedia

In the global scramble to reduce carbon emissions, planting more trees is always near the top of the list of solutions. Pegged as a low-cost, natural, and scalable approach, projects like the Great Green Wall in North Africa, Pakistan’s 10 Billion Tree Tsunami, and New York City’s Million Tree Program raise the bar for this climate change mitigation strategy. While a new scientific study found there is untapped potential for carbon sequestration through planetary reforestation, other researchers are concerned about how growing new forests could reduce the focus on preserving existing old growth forests or negatively impact the water supply in developing countries.

The recent study published in Science, led by Thomas W. Crowther at ETH-Zürich, posits that an increase in 0.9 billion hectares (2.2 billion acres) of new forests, an amount that would cover about 14 percent of habitable land, could sequester 205 gigatons of carbon from the atmosphere. This means a forest roughly the size of the United States or China could sequester more than five times the annual carbon output of the planet.

Under current climate conditions, the Earth could support a maximum of 4.4 billion hectares (10.9 billion acres) of forests. Approximately 2.8 billion hectares (6.9 billion acres) are currently forested. This leaves 1.6 billion hectares (4 billion acres) were additional forest could be planted. The research team removed land used for crop-based agriculture or cities,”which are necessary for supporting an ever-growing human population,” leaving 0.9 billion hectares (2.2 billion acres) available for forest restoration.

Across the lifetime of these proposed new forests, the trees would sequester 205 gigatons of carbon from the atmosphere. For reference, we have released 1,510 gigatons of carbon to date (as of 2015), and some 55 percent of that has been sequestered by oceans and plants.

A sequestration strategy of this magnitude would make a sizable dent in the total carbon released into the atmosphere, but needs to be matched with reductions in fossil fuel use and other major forms of greenhouse gas emissions. The World Resources Institute (WRI) reports that 37.1 gigatons of carbon were released in 2018 alone. At this rate, more carbon will be released than can be captured by the new forests during the 50-100 years it will take for the trees to mature.

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A 15-year old reforestation project, U.S. / Wikipedia

The research team is correct in asserting that global tree restoration is “our most effective climate change solution to date,” but some researchers fear that addressing one warning light may turn on others.

For example, focusing on planting new forests instead of preserving old growth trees can have negative impacts. Large, old trees, which support greater biodiversity and sequester more carbon than younger trees, are “declining in forests of all latitudes,” according to a 2012 study. Old growth forests are able to sequester more carbon than their younger counterparts because they are still rapidly growing and increasing their carbon storage capacity. Preserving older forests while implementing massive reforestation efforts would yield the greatest potential for carbon capture and forest ecosystem health.

Protecting large old trees is an important part of the climate mitigation effort, and something that landscape architects working at a variety of scales can support. Every reforestation effort, even in an urban park, should take into account existing trees and the role they play in ecosystems.

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General Sherman Tree, the largest living tree by volume / Wikipedia

Trees need water to thrive. The renewed call for mass reforestation across the globe has some researchers worried about the effect this will have on local water supplies.

In a recent study published in Nature, Jaivime Evaristo and Jeffery J. McDonnell examine the impact of forest management practices, such as deforestation, conversion into agricultural land, regrowth, and afforestation (growing new forests), on the availability of water in watersheds. The study develops a vegetation-to-bedrock model, which considers the geology of a given region in relation to its capacity to store water.

The researchers found that deforestation and conversion of forests into agricultural land increases the volume of water present in almost all watersheds, while regrowth of forests and afforestation reduced the volume of water. “The vast majority of the water loss in afforested and reforested areas is from evapotranspiration, which is a combination of evaporation from soil and other surfaces and transpiration from plants.”

Afforestation and deforestation have the largest impacts on streamflow in watersheds. Deforestation can cause flash floods, but reforestation can lead to droughts.

The data also shows the percentage change in tree cover is correlated to the socio-economic status of a country. Developing and least developed countries lose the most tree cover while developed and emerging countries lose the least. The researchers think this correlation between tree-cover change and economic status “suggests that countries that have infrastructure in place for capturing and storing water may be least vulnerable to possible water supply shortages associated with planting schemes.”

Furthermore, the research team concludes the magnitude of a forest management technique is correlated with the water-yield response. Reforesting nearly 14 percent of the landmass is a massive change, one that would surely have consequences for local communities and ecosystems.

The researchers recognize their streamflow analysis could be used most prudently “for re-calibrating the cost-benefit matrix of climate change mitigation schemes (for example, planting and removal) in different geo-climate regions around the world.”

Parks Don’t Spring From Nowhere. Someone Designed That

ASLA 2017 Professional General Design Award of Excellence. Klyde Warren Park, Dallas, Texas. OJB Landscape Architecture / Liane Rochelle

July is National Parks & Recreation Month. While you’re spending your time with your toes in the grass, watching the kids play on the swings, enjoying the scent of the flowers and plants around you, there’s something you should remember:

Someone designed that. People often think of the nature around them being… well, natural. Springing out of the ground unassisted and unpredictable, with no human hand directing it. That’s not always – and in the case of urban parks, not usually – the case. Landscape architects design, plan, and maintain the built and natural environment. Working in concert with local elected officials, city or state agencies, and the community as a whole, landscape architects design public open spaces that bring people together, encourage outdoor and active lifestyles, and protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public.

Some of the most iconic parks in America were designed, and are currently maintained, by landscape architects. From coast to coast, you can find the world of landscape architects in some of the most iconic parks and public landscapes in America.

Jackson Park in Chicago was the site of the 1893 World Columbian Exposition. After the fair’s six-month run, the land was turned back to parkland for public use. The nearly 600-acre park is located on over a mile of waterfront land on Lake Michigan. Today, the park’s green features include the Wooded Island (complete with ha Japanese-style garden), Bobolink Meadows, and a functioning vegetable and flower garden. Other features include a gymnasium, three harbors, basketball and tennis courts, multi-purpose fields, and more.

Jackson Park, Chicago / Michael Christensen, Creative Commons

The park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. Olmsted is considered by many to be the father of American landscape architecture, and his sons went on to found the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) in 1899. Jackson Park was recently restored by a team of experts which included Heritage Landscapes, a landscape architecture firm that was recently awarded the 2019 ASLA Firm Award, one of the highest honors for landscape architecture firms in the country.

Central Park in New York City. Balboa Park in San Diego. The grounds of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. All were designed by teams that included landscape architects.

And landscape architects don’t only focus on the iconic. Some work in municipal parks departments, on conservancy boards, at schools, or in small neighborhoods all across the country to plan the parks and public spaces that bring neighbors together every day.

In Northampton, Massachusetts, the small 2.5-acre Pulaski Park was transformed by landscape architects at Stimson from a mostly-paved site to a largely green space that celebrates the city’s culture, heritage, and diversity. It was a small project with a tight budget, which resulted in a makeover that gives the community a place to connect – to each other and to the nature around them.

ASLA 2018 Professional General Design Honor Award. Pulaski Park, Northampton, Massachusetts. Stimson / Top photo by Stimson, bottom photo by Ngoc Doan
ASLA 2018 Professional General Design Honor Award. Pulaski Park, Northampton, Massachusetts. Stimson / Photo by Ngoc Doan

Prefer roller coasters and Ferris wheels to trees and swing sets? Major companies like Disney and Universal Studios employ landscape architects to design and maintain landscapes that energize and delight guests.

So as you celebrate National Parks and Recreation month in #GameOnJuly – whether it’s at one of our nation’s most iconic landscapes, or at your neighborhood park down the street – remember that where there is a park, chances are a landscape architect was behind it.

Learn more about landscape architecture.

Snøhetta’s Viewing Platforms Embrace the Panorama

Perspektivenweg, Path of Perspectives / © Christian Flatscher, Snøhetta

High above Innsbruck, Austria, the experience of walking a two-mile-long trail has been greatly enriched, thanks to a set of 10 viewing platforms designed by Norwegian multidisciplinary firm Snøhetta. Made of simple materials — Corten steel and Larch wood — the platforms either cantilever out into the air, creating exhilarating moments, or more subtly slip into the landscape, providing a place to sit and take in the vast expanses. Called Perspektivenweg, or the Path of Perspectives, Snøhetta has enhanced the experience of the valley without marring the beauty of the natural landscape.

According to ArchDaily, the Path of Perspectives is found in the Nordkette, a mountain chain of the Karwendel, the largest mountain range of the Northern Limestone Alps, just north of Innsbruck. Two cable car lines bring visitors from the city center to the Seegrube cable car station, found some 1,905 meters above sea level, where they can embark on the path. The station, and three others along the Hungerburg funicular, were designed by architect Zaha Hadid.

With the exception of the cantilevered platform found at the end of the trail, Snøhetta mostly went for “small gestures” that appear to “grow out of the landscape,” explained Patrick Lüth, managing director of Snøhetta’s Innsbruck office, in Dezeen. These include simple timber-lined viewing platforms and benches.

Perspektivenweg, Path of Perspectives / © Christian Flatscher, Snøhetta
Perspektivenweg, Path of Perspectives / © Christian Flatscher, Snøhetta
Perspektivenweg, Path of Perspectives / © Christian Flatscher, Snøhetta

The structures themselves are adapted out of methods used to create avalanche barriers, which are also made of Corten (and seen on the hillside in the image below).

Perspektivenweg, Path of Perspectives / © Christian Flatscher, Snøhetta
Perspektivenweg, Path of Perspectives / © Christian Flatscher, Snøhetta

But Snøhetta added another layer to this material, inscribing them with quotes of the writings of Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. The firm explains that “the words invite visitors to take a moment and reflect, both inwardly and out over the landscape.”

Perspektivenweg, Path of Perspectives / © Christian Flatscher, Snøhetta

Fast Company reports that Snøhetta worked with Innsbruck-based Professor Allan Janik to identify quotes such as:

The concept of ‘seeing’ makes a tangled impression. Now that’s the way it is. I look into the landscape; my glance wanders, I see all sorts of clear and unclear movement; this leaves its mark on me clearly, that only fully blurred. What we see can seem to be completely torn to bits.

Snøhetta founding partner Craig Dykers said the goal with the project was to create a dialogue with the surrounding environment. “Some people mischaracterize our work as always trying to merge with the landscape or trying to set ourselves aside from the landscape. We’re just interested in having a dialogue.”

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

U.S. Embassy in London / OLIN, Dennis McGlade, via Metropolis

How the U.S. Embassy in London Uses Landscape as an AmbassadorMetropolis, 7/1/19
“The project, which includes design by KieranTimberlake and OLIN, features public spaces that plug into the surrounding neighborhood as well as plantings that evoke American landscapes.”

When You Couldn’t See the Arboretum for the Trees – The Houston Chronicle, 7/5/19
“The death of almost half the trees at the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center might have saved the place.”

This Brazilian Artist and Landscape Architect Was Bound Only by the Limits of His Imagination – The Washington Post, 7/8/19
“The Brazilian modernist Roberto Burle Marx liked to tell the story of his arrival in Berlin in the late 1920s as a young man, in the German capital to steep himself in European culture. When he checked out the city’s botanical garden, the scales dropped from his eyes.”

The Nation’s Most Exciting Park Project Is Taking Shape in North Carolina – Curbed, 7/9/19
“If you’ve ever wondered how different cities’ signature parks, like New York’s Central Park or Chicago’s Lincoln Park, would look if they were designed in the 21st century, keep your eyes on Raleigh, North Carolina.”

A First-Rate Waterfront Park Is Transforming a Historic Greek City – CityLab, 7/12/19
“Thessaloniki’s New Waterfront is the centerpiece in an effort to transform the local economy, and other cities are taking notice.”

5G Is Coming to a Street Near You

Small cell installation on top of a street light in Charlotte, North Carolina / Crown Castle

5G wireless data networks are coming, but there still are important questions about their equitable implementation and energy consumption and their implications for our data privacy. Both the complexities and promises of 5G were discussed by Federal Communications Commission (FCC) commissioner Geoffrey Starks and senior vice president of public policy for Samsung John Godfrey in The Transformative Power of 5G, a panel at Transformable: Cities, a Washington Post Live event exploring how technology is altering cities.

A 5G network looks a lot different than previous cell service infrastructure. Rather than 200-foot-tall towers scattered throughout a large area, 5G will need small cell towers placed frequently in order fully carry its data capacity. Some estimates claim a small cell tower will need to be placed every 500 feet to achieve maximum bandwidth.

The increase in data capacity and speed is related to the bandwidth of the frequency used to carry wireless data. Without drilling into the technical details of the different spectra, there are three frequency bands being proposed: low, medium, and high. The low bandwidth can travel the farthest distance and pass through trees and some other obstacles, but has the lowest data rate. Conversely, the high band can only travel shorter distance, but carries the most data. Optimized networks use all three spectra.

5G towers can be easily attached to existing infrastructure, like street lights in cities, but can be intrusive in neighborhoods and implausible in rural areas due to the distance between properties. Commissioner Starks was sensitive to the disparity, concerned that “those with much are getting more while everyone else is left behind.” He went on to cite an FCC report stating 19 million Americans do not have access to broadband, let alone 4G.

Godfrey echoed this concern, but added that low band was going to be rolled-out across the U.S. and it is uncertain if the medium and high frequency will be as widespread in rural areas as it will be in urban areas. Both panelists agreed that all three bandwidths will be necessary to realize a 5G network as advertised.

The FCC, the government agency responsible for regulating radio, television, and telephone companies in the U.S., put forth rules limiting the price local governments could charge telecom companies to $270 per small cell installation. Furthermore, they required local municipalities to approve or deny new build requests within 60 days. Both of these changes prompted 24 cities to file three law suits against the FCC, which are currently working their way through the courts.

While the lawsuits are pending, local governments have to comply with the FCC’s 5G streamlining plan. In Washington D.C., where regulatory boards oversee changes to the built environment, there was push back on the design of the small cells. For cities without regulatory boards, 5G is coming, and it is coming fast.

Both Godfrey and Commissioner Sparks said the experience you will have with your phone will be different in five years time. Godfrey expanded the changes beyond phones to include any number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, including “every cow in a dairy herd,” to laughs from the crowd. But it wasn’t a joke: in the UK, dairy cows have 5G collars, collecting biofeedback data and relaying it to milking robots.

Real-time feedback is possible with 5G, paving the way for autonomous vehicles and increasingly data intensive objects. Commissioner Starks is concerned about what this means for future data privacy: “The amount of data that is coursing through these devices is something we are going to be intentional about — how data is handled, managed, and secured.”

Starks’ privacy concern and Godfrey’s enthusiasm about 5G as a potential for innovation revolve around the IoT, and the enormous amount of data these products use and produce. Both panelists expected to see an explosion of new connected products, such as smart refrigerators and wearable devices, as 5G becomes widespread.

The coming tsunami of data will inundate data centers, creating the demand for more, a point not mentioned by either panelist. Data centers now contribute 0.3 percent of greenhouse emissions, but the entire network of information and communications technology (ICT) accounts for 2 percent of global emissions, the equivalent of the airline industry.

While data centers account for only a small portion of the total emissions, nearly all of their growth has been within the past decade and is expected to exponentially increase. Some models predict data centers could account for 20 percent of the world’s energy consumption by the time a child born today becomes a teen.

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Transformer Station outside Google data center in The Dalles, Oregon / Wikipedia

Many tech giants are aware of this, and have promised to use renewable energy to power their data centers. In a 2017 report on how green internet companies are, Greenpeace found Google uses 66 percent clean energy, Facebook uses 76 percent, while Amazon and Netflix use 43 percent.

Companies are making strides to keep their commitment to clean power in the face of incredible data growth. Hopefully, they can outpace the predicted tripling of their energy consumption in the next decade.

Latest Innovations in Bicycle Infrastructure

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Nelson Street Cycleway / Monk Mackenzie and LandLAB

50 percent of trips on bicycles by 2030. That is the goal of BYCS, the organization behind the Bicycle Architecture Biennale (BAB). This year’s event, the second BAB has held, highlights fifteen projects from around the globe that feature bicycle paths, parking, and crossings. NEXT Architects served as the jury, selecting 11 built projects and 4 in the conceptual or planning phases.

Each project offers innovative ways of weaving bicycles into the city through three approaches: routes, connections, and destinations. BYCS says these themes “convey the balance between moving and staying that bicycle architecture employs to create thriving, livable places.”

The exhibition opened in Amsterdam, as part of the WeMakeThe.City, the biggest city-making festival in Europe. The exhibition will travel to Rome, Oslo, and Geneva, over the next two years.

A few standout projects include:

Xiamen Bicycle Skyway: The Xiamen Bicycle Skyway in Xiamen, China, designed by Dissing and Weitling Architecture, is an 8 kilometer (5 mile) elevated bike path that runs under and around the Xiamen bus rapid transit (BRT) system. The path, painted green, hovers nearly 5 meters (17 feet) above traffic, accommodating 2,000 bicyclists at one time without impediment from motor vehicle traffic.

The skyway has 11 entry points throughout, connecting it to 11 bus stops and 2 metro stops, further integrating bikes into the transportation system. In several locations, the skyway diverges from the BRT in order to maintain comfortable grade changes or to navigate existing infrastructure.

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Xiamen Bicycle Skyway / Dissing + Weitling Architecture

Cycling Through the Trees: Biking 10 meters (32 feet) in the arboreal canopy is now a reality outside the town of Hechtel-Eksel in Belgium, where a 700 meter (2,300 foot) circular path ramps up and then back down through the forest. The length of the circular path ensures the grade stays below 4 percent, keeping the path comfortable for bikers and pedestrians alike. The large ring, designed by BuroLandschap, is an offshoot of an existing cycling network, ensuring cyclists will ride through this unique experience.

Cycling through the trees / BuroLandschap

Limburg, the province Hechtel-Eskel is in, bills itself as a “cycling haven.” Cycling through the trees is the latest project to help build that reputation. In 2016, an award winning project, Cycling through water, was implemented along the same bike network.

Nelson St Cycleway: When a highway off-ramp was closed in Auckland, New Zealand, the city saw an opportunity to convert existing, unused space along an urban highway into a cycleway, extending existing bike trails into the downtown area. The conversion into the Nelson St. Cycleway, designed by Monk Mackenzie and LandLAB, creates a 600 meter (2,000 foot)-long hot pink strip next to the highway.

Slender rectangular lights were incorporated into the fencing. The color of the lights gradually change along the ramp, creating a rhythmic glow that heightens the brilliance of the pink ground. The vibrant colors transform transportation infrastructure into a playful space for people.

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Nelson St. Cycleway / Monk Mackenzie and LandLAB

Utrecht Centraal Station Bicycle Parking: To create deeper connections between public transit and bicycle infrastructure, cities need to create more bicycle parking. Utrecht Centraal Station, the city’s largest rail station, has parking spaces for 12,500 bikes. The removal of a structure connecting the train station and a nearby shopping mall opened up space for Ector Hoogstad Architecten to design a new public square and bicycle storage facility.

The parking facility has a cycling path that branches off to available parking stalls, which are indicated as open or full through an electronic signage system. Bicycle commuters ride through the building directly to their parking stall, making the connection between parking and the public spaces and transit easy.

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Utrecht Station Bicycle Parking / Ector Hoogstad Architecten

Explore the other 11 projects showcased in the 2019 Bicycle Architecture Biennale.

Book Review: The Architecture of Trees

The Architecture of Trees / Princeton Architectural Press

The Architecture of Trees was first published by Cesare Leonardi and Franca Stagi, two versatile Italian furniture, landscape, and architectural designers, in 1982. This “scientific tome” and “original ‘labor of love and obsession'” has been re-issued by Princeton Architectural Press in all its arboreal glory.

The book features 212 trees species depicted through 550 intricate quill-pen illustrations, each drawn to 1:100 scale. A handy paper ruler is included to help readers better understand the full breadth of these beauties. Each tree is depicted with and without foilage, showing summer and winter forms. The shape of each tree’s shadows and the hues of their seasonal color are also vividly conveyed.

According to an introduction to the new edition by Andrea Cavani and Guilio Orsini, curators of the Cesare Leonardi archive, Leonardi studied at the University of Florence, which encouraged a “liberal interpretation of the discipline of architecture, an interpretation that abandoned schematic rationalism and instead was open to visual art, design, landscape, graphic design, communications, philosophy, and sociology.”

In Florence, Leonardi interacted with trees he didn’t recognize. “Their sizes and shapes impressed him, and he felt ‘more drawn to them than to architectural forms.'” While creating a landscape design for a new city park in Modena, he realized that “it would be impossible to design a park without a deep understanding of its elements, meaning trees.”

The Architecture of Trees / Princeton Architectural Press

But he found that just reading about trees wouldn’t cut it; he needed to more deeply understand them. In the areas surrounding Florence and Modena, he “studied specimens, photographed them, and took note of their names and dimensions; and, then, with an eye to using them in his plans, he drew the trees in India ink on transparent film, using photographs for guidance and working on a scale of 1:100.”

Tree specimen from The Architecture of Trees / Princeton Architectural Press
Tree specimen from The Architecture of Trees / Princeton Architectural Press

Drawing, Cavani and Orsini argue, enabled Leonardi to isolate the tree from its surroundings, focus on its architectural elements, and clearly depict the features that make a species unique. Over time, Leonardi found that climate, exposure, and soil conditions impacted the growth rate and character of specimens, so he accommodated for those differences, too.

Cavani and Orsini note that The Architecture of Trees wasn’t just a result of tree appreciation, but used to support a series of landscape projects in Italy, including Parco della Resistenza in Modena, swimming pool complexes created in Vignola and Mirandola, and a study for the expansion of the Modena cemetery.

The tree studies were also brought to the design of Parco Amendola in Modena, which opened in 1982. Leonardi and Stagi chose trees based on their “size, shape, shadow, and their changing colors over the course of the year.” A 40-meter (131-foot)-tall sundial tower was designed to “illuminate the center of the park at night with a multiple rotating projector that completed one full turn every hour, creating shadows that morphed continuously.”

Those shade studies are included in the beginning of the book, followed by a color analysis, and the drawings of the trees themselves, which are organized by botanical families, genera, and species. At the end, detailed drawings of tree elements — branches and leaves — are included with relevant notes about how the trees change over their lifespan, their fruit, their smells, and planting notes.

Color analysis from The Architecture of Trees / Princeton Architectural Press

While the publisher honors the original edition’s organization, moving back and forth between the color analysis, drawings, and detailed drawing notes simply using plate numbers and trees’ Latin names can be a chore. It takes some digging to find the English or common names as well.

In the forward, Laura Conti writes that trees are increasingly critical to making cities more humane and resilient to climate change. And urban leaders need to adopt policies and regulations to enhance the quality of green spaces.

But to actually design and build beautiful and functional urban green spaces, landscape architects and designers must first understand the form and nature of trees, which are inherently malleable. “If man is going to ask trees to help him survive in this prison he has constructed, he cannot simply rely on that plasticity, but must acquire information about the characteristics that each tree inherently assumes in an area’s climate.”

“Competent” landscape architects then naturally take into account “a tree’s size and shape, the pattern of branch growth, the look of leaves in different seasons, and the amount of shade it offers.”

These timeless botanical drawings help us see the aesthetic value of trees themselves — complex, living objects that define the quality and character of any designed landscape.

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

1280px-Calçadão_de_Copacabana_-_Rio_de_Janeiro_(2)
Copacabana beach promenade designed by Roberto Burle Marx / Wikipedia

At The Gardner, ‘Big Plans’ Looks At How Big-Thinkers Reformed Our Cities 90.9 WBUR, 6/18/19
“They were four intellectuals famous in the world of culture and art. Frederick Law Olmsted was a journalist and social critic turned landscape architect. Lewis Wickes Hine was a sociologist-photographer. Charles Eliot was a landscape architect and city planner, and Isabella Stewart Gardner was an art collector and philanthropist.”

Serpentine Pavilion Designed to Be “Part of Surrounding Landscape” Says Junya Ishigami Dezeen, 6/19/19
“In this exclusive Dezeen video, Japanese architect Junya Ishigami explains how his design for this year’s Serpentine Pavilion was built to resemble a ‘stone hill.'”

A Brazilian Vision Blooms Anew in the BronxCityLab, 6/21/19
“The New York Botanical Garden pulls out all the stops for its new exhibit on Modernist garden designer Roberto Burle Marx.”

Designing Women Sacramento Magazine, 6/21/19
“What makes a city great? Landscape architect Kimberly Garza believes public spaces—our parks, waterfronts, plazas, gardens and other gathering spots—are the foundation of a vibrant city.”

How a Landscape Architect’s Vision for a Roadless Area Led to the Boundary Waters The Star Tribune, 6/28/19
“A young landscape architect’s vision of a roadless wilderness laid the groundwork for the Boundary Waters.”

A First Peek at Michael Van Valkenburgh’s Bennett Park, Coming Soon to Streeterville Curbed Chicago, 6/28/19
“As Streeterville’s recently completed One Bennett Park skyscraper welcomes residents, the adjacent green space that gives the building its name is coming together ahead of an anticipated grand opening later this summer.”