Studio Zewde Designs for Cultural and Climate Resilience
02/24/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“With several major projects on the docket—including a five-acre park in Pittsburgh’s historically Black Homewood neighborhood—Zewde persists in combating the shibboleths of her field. Landscape has adopted the rubric of resilience as an overarching frame, but its manifestation in individual projects can often feel like an add-on or PR spin.”
WEISS/MANFREDI and Reed Hilderbrand Reveal an Expansive Reimagining at Longwood Gardens
02/18/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“WEISS/MANFREDI and Reed Hilderbrand’s ‘sweeping yet deeply sensitive’ transformation will ‘expand the public spaces of the renowned central grounds and connect them from east to west, offering a newly unified but continually varied journey from lush formal gardens to views over the open meadows of Pennsylvania’s Brandywine Valley.'”
Boston’s Dogs Just Wanna Run Free
02/16/21, The Boston Globe
“So, if the national ‘pandemic puppy’ trend holds up in Boston, soon-to-be mature dogs will be matriculating in public spaces and will insist that their voices are heard. And the dog-owning bloc in Boston naturally keeps sniffing for opportunity and will not take rejection lightly. How does a dog park in every Boston neighborhood sound? That’s the city’s goal, Boston officials confirmed.”
In the era of the coronavirus, public spaces enable us to socialize and connect, across the masks. And public art is a powerful way to bring more people together safely, spark new connections, and add even more value to our public spaces. Illuminate, a free public art exhibition, brought world-class light and interactive art to Coral Gables, Florida, a community of nearly 50,000 southwest of downtown Miami over this past winter. One of the country’s first planned communities, the Mediterranean Revival-style development features a two-mile-long downtown strip that hosted eight new interior and exterior art installations. Working with the Coral Gables Community Foundation, the city, and other partners, a team of curators led by Fung Collaboratives sought to “produce a proper museum-quality group exhibition rather than a ‘light festival.’”
Blue Night by contemporary artist Kiki Smith featured 42 suspended art works inspired by late 17th century drawings of constellations of the zodiac by Johannes Hevelius and others. Smith said: “In ancient times it was believed that the sky was somewhere between heaven and Earth. It’s great to be able to present light, hope, and joy for so many to experience.”
A companion augmented reality (AR) app enabled visitors to interact with the aerial astrological signs. Visitors who aimed their phone cameras at the artworks saw ghosted images of the animals, along with the stars and asterism that make up each constellation. There’s also a fantastic free coloring book for kids (and adults).
On the facade of the Coral Gables Museum, the video art projection You Are Here was the result of a course artist and professor Jonathan Perez taught at Florida International University (FIU) Art & Art History Department that took “an inclusive and historical look” at the city. Perez states that the installation is “heartfelt, relevant, and another time capsule for the city to treasure.” Students that participated in the course were also credited on the final artwork.
Echoes of Souls and Echoes of My Skin by David Gumbs are a dynamic diptych video installation. Visitors passing below triggered “random computer-generated animations and patterns inspired by David Gumbs’ Caribbean cultural, fauna, and flora heritage,” the curators write. His work is also a “token to lost souls due to the COVID pandemic and social injustice.”
At Coral Gables City Hall, Cuban-born and Miami-raised artist Carlos Estévez worked with animators Mai Shirai and Johnny Sim and projection mapping artist Clifford Walker to create the mesmerizing Urban Universes. Estévez transformed his paintings and sculptures into animations that move across the surface of the historic building.
And on street corners throughout downtown Coral Gables was Yes/No by Antonia Wright and Ruben Millares. The artists state that metal barricades were once viewed as providing safety for events, but because of waves of protests have become ubiquitous in downtowns. They can now symbolize repression and control. By lighting them up, they hope to focus our attention on their complex role in the built environment.
Illuminate, founded by Venny Torre and Patrick O’Connell, is a project of the Coral Gables Community Foundation and includes partners such as The City of Coral Gables, The Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce, the Business Improvement District (BID), and the Coral Gables Museum, along with numerous public and private sponsors.
The 425-acre Weyerhaeuser International Headquarters in Federal Way, Washington has been called one of the world’s great corporate campuses. A foremost example of how to seamlessly integrate architecture and landscape architecture, the campus is now under threat from development plans that propose adding massive warehouses and turning the site into an industrial zone.
There is an ongoing campaign to stop development inconsistent with a mid-70s master plan created by landscape architect Peter Walker, FASLA. The campaign was initiated by a slew of organizations, including Save Weyerhaeuser Campus, the Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, Rainier Audubon, Historical Society of Federal Way, SoCoCulture, Docomomo U.S., and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and its Washington Chapter have also joined the effort.
According to The New York Times, Save Weyerhaeuser Campus, a non-profit organization, filed suit to block approval of a new 226,000-square-foot warehouse on the site, “citing concerns about environmental harm, traffic, and damage to the historic site.” Unfortunately, plans for the warehouse were approved by the city. And now new plans are moving forward for another warehouse and three new buildings totaling 1.5 million square feet, which would require clear-cutting 132 acres, or nearly a third, of the 425-acre campus. The new warehouses could draw up to 800 trucks per day into a site that functions like a public park for the Federal Way community.
Earlier this year, TCLF amplified efforts to stop the inappropriate development with an international letter-writing campaign, calling the campus “worthy of National Historic Landmark status.” The campaign has resulted in a series of letters from significant landscape architects to Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell, because of the city’s role in issuing land use and construction permits. Letters are also being directed to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Seattle district commander Colonel Alexander Bullock. “The Corps is conducting a review because wetlands are affected,” TCLF notes.
In his letter, Laurie Olin, FASLA, founding principal of OLIN and National Medal of Art recipient, argues that Weyerhaeuser is “a treasure of modern architecture, site planning, community benefit, and environmental leadership” — and any new development should respect and follow the original 70s-era master plan, which does make room for new development.
The campus was designed by Walker, a founding principal of Sasaki, Walker and Associates (SWA) and PWP Landscape Architecture, and Edward Charles Bassett, partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), and completed in 1972.
TCLF argues that the campus was “ahead of its time in merging Modernism with environmental sensitivity. Unlike other corporate campuses of the era, Weyerhaeuser was open to the public and designed to include an extensive network of pathways. Walker termed the site a park that was gifted to the city by Weyerhaeuser.”
The campus is now owned by Los Angeles-based developer Industrial Realty Group (IRG). TCLF states that “officials at IRG are ignoring a mid-1970s master plan that details appropriate areas for development and have rejected design assistance from Walker, SOM partner Craig Hartman, and SWA managing principal René Bihan.”
Duane Dietz, ASLA, president of the Washington Chapter – ASLA (WASLA), submitted a letter that proposes specific next steps, including using conservation easements to preserve parts of the landscape and safeguarding forested buffers to reduce any visual and ecological impact of new buildings.
WASLA asks the City of Federal Way and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to “direct the property owners to maintain the campus’s design integrity by using the 1981 campus master plan as a guide for new development; examine reducing the amount of new warehouses to minimize impacts; negotiate with the City and County on conservation easements in key areas (wetlands and public use trails to ensure continuous public access) of the campus to reduce their tax impacts; and provide effective forested buffers (at least 300 feet or the recommendation of the 1981 master plan) to shield any new construction.”
National ASLA also wrote a letter, strongly urging the city to stop plans to clear-cut 132 acres of the campus and preserve the immense public recreational and health benefits of this unique landscape.
ASLA has renewed its three-decades-long partnership with the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) to promote the profession of landscape architecture around the globe. This collaborative partnership will focus on battling climate change; establishing the highest standards of professional practice in design, planning, management, conservation, and development of the landscape; and facilitating exchanges of knowledge and information between IFLA Regions and member organizations and ASLA members.
“Climate change is a global crisis that needs to be addressed on a global level. As a nation, the United States is taking bold steps to address the climate crisis, like rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and convening a Climate Summit for the spring. ASLA is proud to do our part, and we look forward to taking an active role in IFLA,” said Tom Mroz, FASLA, ASLA President.
“We are excited that ASLA is partnering with IFLA, especially at this time when there is an opportunity for renewed collaboration and progress globally on climate change and other issues where the landscape architecture profession can provide leadership and insight,” added James Hayter, President of IFLA
Torey Carter-Conneen, ASLA CEO, further commented: “As ASLA continues to refine its long-term goals and strategy, the timing is perfect to renew our commitment to being a part of the international conversation about the impact of landscape architecture on climate change, social justice, and other issues facing society.”
Why One City in Car-obsessed Florida Is Prioritizing Pedestrians — 02/12/21, Fast Company
“The plan also involved breaking apart the superblocks that had formed in the area since the 1950s. Elkus Manfredi, along with the landscape architecture firm Reed Hilderbrand, reconfigured the grid to be more easily accessible on foot, with smaller blocks and generous space for pedestrians.”
A Fight to Save a Corporate Campus Intertwined with Nature — 02/12/21, The New York Times
“The campus, designed by the architect Edward Charles Bassett and the landscape architect Peter Walker, featured a low-slung building in a meadow between wooded hillsides. Ivy-covered terraces on the front of the building cascaded down to a lake, and walking paths wound through trees.”
Public Displays of Affection for Urban Life — 02/10/21, Bloomberg CityLab
“U.S. cities ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic are embracing a broader definition of love this year through Valentine’s Day art installations.”
For most of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, American cities prospered as their region’s center of commerce. Central business districts thrived as shopping destinations by having densely populated cores, mass transportation, large employment centers, on-street parking, and numerous governmental and civic institutions. During the 1960s, America’s larger cities began installing street trees and designer furnishings in an effort to revitalize downtowns in the wake of losing signiﬁcant market share to suburban shopping centers.
Even though they are a relatively recent phenomenon in many city centers, street trees enhance a downtown’s uniqueness and authenticity. A well-planned, tree-lined urban street contributes to shoppers’ perception that downtown stores offer quality goods and services not commonly found in shopping malls.
Studies dating back to the 1970s, including those by Kathleen Wolf, a research social scientist at the University of Washington, have documented the effects of trees and other plant life on the “restorative experience,” a concept advanced through two interpretations: Stress Reduction Theory and Attention Restoration Theory. The former theory contends that environments containing natural elements reduce levels of “physiological arousal” (stress) in the brain; the latter contends that the presence of vegetation in an environment is “uniquely capable” of effortlessly capturing attention, which allows those elements of the brain used for direct concentration to recuperate. This mitigates what is known as “directed attention fatigue” (DAF), or simply the depletion of the ability to focus on a directed task.
These ﬁndings have implications for urban retail areas. It has been proven that shopping, as a goal-oriented activity constrained by many external factors, can induce a stressed state in the consumer. Research has also documented a positive correlation between a shopper’s “mood state” and his or her willingness to buy. Further, the mood state of retail employees correlates with job performance. The vast array of merchandising techniques retailers employ when aggregated across the urban or mall setting can result in DAF, a form of “information overload” that affects the consumer. It has likewise been proven that DAF results in decreased consumer conﬁdence because of poor or rushed purchasing decisions, which may translate into dissatisfaction with a speciﬁc store or the overall retail area.
However, street trees alone cannot solve the problems and challenges that commercial urban areas face. Frequently, too much emphasis has been placed on planting street trees and installing decorative streetscape enhancements in an effort to improve retail sales in historic downtowns.
Retailers, shopping center developers, and urban designers have differing opinions regarding the layout and use of trees. Some shopping center developers even design by the “24-inch rule”: any tree is acceptable in any location as long as it is less than 24 inches tall (a metaphor for no street trees of any type).
In some cities, planners have installed short shrub-like trees that block motorists’ and pedestrians’ views of storefronts and signage but fail to provide useful canopies. In some newer and renovated urban centers, trees have either been organized around an abstract grid or randomly scattered according to some new design theory. In each case, trees have been sited without regard for the visibility of signage, storefronts, and civic buildings.
To enhance the sustainability of an urban commercial center, street trees should be carefully located to provide protection from extreme heat, reduce the scale of the street, mitigate the height of tall buildings, and improve the overall aesthetics of the shopping area. Asymmetrically sized sidewalks can respond to local climate conditions: wide sidewalks accommodate more shade in hot climates or the warming sun in colder regions.
Trees are often planted in a 25-30-foot on-center grid, frequently evenly spaced between predetermined street lighting fixtures or curbside parking spaces. While this modular approach contributes to a balanced and organized urban aesthetic, trees frequently cause havoc with retailers and civic buildings. Rather than installing trees at regular intervals in a row, which may inadvertently align with and thus block the view of building entrances, each building’s significant architectural features or signage should be analyzed during the initial site analysis process. Where worthy building features are present, or proposed with new development, a Civic-Commercial C-shaped Zone should be included in site plans.
Proposed street trees, light fixtures, site furnishings, and landscaping should be planted outside of the C-Zone, near or on common property lines, clustered where they can hide blank walls, or spaced to avoid blocking the view of retail entrances, storefront windows, signage, important commercial architectural features, and civic buildings.
As an idealistic young landscape architect early in my career, I designed a textbook perfect streetscape for a small Wisconsin town. Large Linden trees were spaced exactly 25 feet apart, to align with the center of each adjacent parallel parking space and for a continues tree canopy at maturity in 25 years. Street furnishings and flower beds were precisely spaced in a “landscape zone” along the outer edge of the walkway. I was convinced that my design would almost immediately revitalize the then declining business district by creating a human-scaled, beautiful destination for eager shoppers and diners. Adjacent building features, storefronts of commercial signage were not even considered in my design. Symmetry and scale were all that mattered for my brilliant placemaking and hopefully award-winning design.
However, during the tree installation, a hardware store owner taught me a lifelong lesson. One of the new trees directly blocked all views of this historic neon sign from both passing vehicles and pedestrians. The owner explained how he would lose vital business to a competing larger chain store located in a nearby shopping center. Although I did my best to enlighten the businessman that my design would create a “sense of place” to attract many more people to the downtown, and that views of his storefront or sign were not important, or that the trees would eventually grow tall enough to expose his sign after 20 years, he wasn’t buying it and let me know his concerns in no uncertain terms. He was angry, and I knew he was right. I had mistakenly misplaced trees relative to the adjacent facades and commercial signage. One tree even blocked the portico of a historic landmark church. I had made a blunder that provided a lifelong lesson for future urban designs. This approach was later reinforced during my tenure as the director of planning for a major shopping center developer.
It’s almost unbelievable, but many landscape architects and designers still routinely align trees and furnishing in an abstract grid without consideration of the surrounding architecture.
Since the humbling lessons learned during my Wisconsin streetscape design, I have frequently lectured about my C-Zone theory at universities. When possible, I include photographs of local misplaced street trees, often resulting in rapid tree relocations or removal by the city. Below, see 2009 “before” and 2011 “after” photographs of a street tree blocking a luxury store along Worth Avenue, Palm Beach, Florida. The ill-located tree was moved within month of my Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce address on urban retail best practices.
Robert Gibbs, FASLA, is president of the Gibbs Planning Group, which has advised and planned commercial areas in some 500 town centers and historic cities in the U.S. and abroad. Gibbs is a charter member of the Congress for New Urbanism, a lecturer at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, author of Principles of Urban Retail Planning and Development, and co-author of eight books.
Mario, the iconic mustachioed plumber and protagonist of the game Super Mario Bros, has become the centerpiece of a new interactive theme park: Super Nintendo World, which is scheduled to open as soon as it is safe to at Universal Studios in Osaka, Japan. A life-sized video game landscape that cost upwards of $575 million and took more than five years to plan, design, and build, Super Nintendo World creates an immersive universe that uses video projections and augmented reality to blur the lines between game life and the real world.
In his discussion of what landscape architects can learn from Hollywood, Chip Sullivan, FASLA, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of California at Berkeley, explained how powerful films engage in the act of “world building, creating an entire logic.” One world building colossus — the Harry Potter collection — was recently transformed into the theme park The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, also at Universal Studios. According to Sullivan, the Wizarding World “puts drama everywhere, creates illusion and hide-and-seek moments, and features a mosaic of facades that have larger foregrounds.”
In the same vein, Super Nintendo World offers a complex, layered universe that seeks to amplify the experience of being totally immersed in defeating Bowser (King Koopa in Japan) in the Mario games. There are obstacles to overcome, points to win, friends to play with, and even a “secret” underground level to unlock. The game narrative — which is about discovering, honing problem-solving skills, and always moving up to the next level — takes landscape form.
Just as in the game, when Mario moves through a green warp pipe to ascend to the next level, visitors will enter the theme park through a real green tube, where they arrive in the lobby of Princess Peach’s Castle and can look up at Bowser’s Fortress and Mount Beanpole and see a mushroom landscape.
Within Bowser’s fortress, visitors play a real-life version of Mario Kart, a popular driving game. Riders will be given augmented-reality googles that synch with elaborate video projections mapped to areas of the course.
Players can purchase a “Power Up Band” that enables them to collect points as they hit or kick objects and obtain “virtual character stamps” as they race through the course. The wristbands are also connected to an app, accessible via QR code, and all members of a party can join together, allowing them to play as a team. Points will determine scores, turning the entire Super Nintendo World into a real-time game.
Players will need the band to collect virtual keys spread throughout the park in order to access other game levels, including Shadow Showdow, which includes a fight with King Koopa’s son, Junior. According to the Orlando Informer, “in order to beat the dastardly villain, ‘players’ will need to join together and ‘jump, punch, and use your entire body and all your instincts.'”
An underground level is also only accessible if a player earns enough points. According to the Informer, “it mimics one of the subterranean courses found in the Super Mario Bros. games.” There is a “section that changes its scale as you make your way through it, eventually making you feel as if you’ve been hit by a baddie and shrunk down to Mini-Mario size.”
For those passionate about Nintendo, watch a 15-minute video tour of the new theme park with Shigeru Miyamoto, legendary video game designer and creator of Super Mario Bros, Legend of Zelda, and Donkey Kong. Also, take a virtual tour.
The project was designed in collaboration with an interdisciplinary team of theme park planners, designers, and engineers at Universal Creative. Additional Super Nintendo Worlds are planned for other Universal Studios in the U.S.
Terraced Pocket Park Takes Shape in Chinatown — 01/28/21, Urbanize
“Landscape architecture firm AHBE | MIG designed the project and uses staircases and multiple terrace levels to account for its hillside location. The stepped levels, which provide three entrance points along Ord Street and Hill Place, will include landscaping, seating areas, viewing platforms, and exercise equipment.”
Social Urbanism: Reframing Spatial Design – Discourses from Latin America, a new book by Maria Bellalta, ASLA, dean of the School of Landscape Architecture at the Boston Architectural College, is a welcome addition to the growing number of publications on the social justice-oriented form of urbanism, architecture, and public space emanating from Medellín and Colombia. The achievements of social urbanism have rightfully become synonymous with Medellín in the world of landscape architecture, urban planning and design, and architecture.
So what is social urbanism? Is it a top-down and bottom-up planning, design, and implementation process for improving the quality of life of low-income and disenfranchised communities? Appropriately, there is no single definition in the book. There are various takes, which range from comparisons to Jaime Lerner’s strategy of urban acupuncture, integrated community approaches (engagement and participation), and projects and practices in Mexico and Brazil.
While this lack of definition may leave some readers dissatisfied, the book provides a chronology of Medellín’s many social urbanist endeavors and institutional actors, which are represented by a collection of acronyms: PRIMED, POT, EDU, PUI, EPM, UVA, AEI, etc. All these point to the value of complex solutions that include multiple stakeholders and interests.
But the results are not without shortcomings. In Gloria Aponte’s critical contribution, she highlights the lack of ecological considerations in the practice of social urbanism in Medellín. This omission is further described in Juan Camilo Jaramillo’s article on the damaged environment of the city – the accumulated negative impacts on air, water, land, and biodiversity.
Social Urbanism is a predominantly graphic book. It contains appealing and comprehensive social, economic, urban, and environmental data-based maps of Latin America, Colombia, and Medellín. As such, it is a book aligned with the work of architect and professor Felipe Correa, including his books on Sao Paulo, Brazil; Mexico City, Mexico; and Quito, Ecuador.
Social Urbanism also contains the DNA for several potential books that I hope emerge soon. Chapter One on Latin America’s geography is succinct, but as a chapter may be too ambitious. The maps describing the resource extraction of the continent are also a good companion for Correa’s Beyond the City: Resource Extraction Urbanism in South America. In Chapter Two, the book shifts its focus to the urban history of Medellín. Social urbanism, the heart of the book, makes up Chapter Three.
Chapter Four is a collection of studio projects developed through the many visits and design studios Bellalta has organized in Medellín with students from the Boston Architectural College and their student and faculty collaborators from the prestigious Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana (UPB), a private, Catholic, and powerful institutional actor in Medellín’s transformation. This chapter reveals the breadth and depth of opportunities for exploration by planning and design students. The projects speak to the unfulfilled promise of progress in Latin America and the potential of social urbanism across the region. Chapter Five, “Invited Voices,” includes short articles by some of the key contemporary actors reshaping Medellin, including Jorge Perez Jaramillo and Alejandro Echeverri Restrepo, former director of the Urban Development Company.
Social Urbanism opens with a prologue by Echeverri, who highlights the quality of the graphic presentations of data. Indeed, some of the graphics are spectacular, and their presentation is supported by the generous book format. But some graphics are not immediately digestible. Take your time to process them, especially the statistical information. (The book is bilingual, with English and Spanish in parallel, only in the index, acknowledgements, prologue, and introduction sections — a limitation I hope is resolved soon through an important and potentially impactful full translation in Spanish).
Bellalta views “landscape as a cultural space, influenced by geography.” Her introduction focuses on the exploitation of the natural resources and the people of Latin America by Europe and the United States. Latin America created wealth that Latin Americans did not enjoy, because they were enslaved and offered arduous low-paid labor. Local and foreign corruption and greed, which was fueled by resource extraction, explain Latin America’s permanent under development. In the region of Medellín, cocaine, gold, flowers, and coffee were the focus of extraction. The book is written as a criticism of this social and environmental injustice, illustrating how Europe and the United States were indifferent to the consequences of their actions. This is one of the book’s strengths.
A few years ago in Medellín, I interviewed architect and urbanist Jorge Perez Jaramillo, former dean of the School of Architecture at the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, former planning director of Medellin, and author of another recent and significant book on Medellín, which is summarized in an article in the “Invited Voices” section of the book.
Perez Jaramillo described his city as a community that hit rock bottom in the early 1990s. After decades of violence and crime produced by powerful drug cartels, and the cumulative effects of decades of civil war and guerrilla activity, there was nowhere else to go except up or drown in the bottom. This springing up was fertile ground for a socially-oriented urban transformation.
If you are interested in Medellín because you know of the many beautiful public buildings, parks, and infrastructure built in the city in the last two decades, and you want to know more about these structures, then this is not your book. All the important examples — Biblioteca España, the escalators in Comuna 13, etc. — are included, but only as part of generous photographic essays woven through the chapters. The fact that the book avoids a design focus is refreshing. Social Urbanism instead targets the social and political processes that enabled these projects to exist.
The book seeks to answer: What kind of administrative, professional, academic, social, and cultural processes spawned the great design quality so widely recognized by many publications and awards? How can other cities transform inert and obstructive infrastructure, such as municipal water tanks, which in Medellín have become social-public infrastructure in the form of the Unidades de Vida Articulada (UVAs)?
This is not a how-to book, because the story of Medellín demonstrates that the great design quality could have only happened the way it did there. It may be due to the unique social, cultural, economic, and environmental conditions; the “Paisa” history, identity, and territory; the city’s resilient community; and numerous outstanding urban planning and design leaders, politicians, and academics.
Social urbanism has improved the quality of life for many who had been systematically ignored. But inequality has also increased in Medellín, and multiple projects and plans remain truncated, postponed, or unimplemented.
The important, old-yet-also-new ideas of social urbanism remind us to be always in action. Public health, safety, and welfare, which landscape architects and others are responsible for, must be sustained. As Bellalta proposes, social urbanism must transition from model to global movement.