Harvard Introduces New Sustainable Design Master’s Concentration

tanner20fountain3This fall, the Master of Design Studies program at Harvard University Graduate School of Design introduced a new concentration area entitled “Sustainable Design,” which more closely integrates the various design professions in the cause of identifying design solutions to environmental challenges.  
Coordinated by Associate Professor of Architectural Technology Christoph Reinhart, the program will enable students to research holistic solutions for today’s environmental challenges. Particular areas of specialization are: lighting and daylighting design, building performance simulation, green building performance metrics, green roofs, automated controls, occupant behavior and satisfaction, acoustics, as well as lifecycle and embodied energy studies. Reaching beyond the building scale, sustainability studies pursue a broad range of topics that may include the impact of urban and landscape design on local climactic conditions, the investigation and design of water management techniques, traffic and infrastructure studies, strategies for brown fields and other disturbed sites, and questions of landscape ecology.

Election 08 and the Scientific Methods

The state of science funding, focus and, sometimes, foolishness in Washington, D.C., prompted a small group of concerned citizens to help move the topic of science higher on the political agenda. Spurred on by these concerned few, more than 38,000 scientists, engineers, and other concerned Americans eventually signed on to the effort, including ASLA, nearly every major American science organization, dozens of Nobel laureates, elected officials and business leaders, and the presidents of more than 100 major American universities.  See who here.  Among other things, these signers submitted more than 3,400 questions they wanted the candidates for president to answer about science and the future of America.

Nature, the Enemy

In the July 21 issue of The New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert takes on the lawn. “A NASA-funded study, which used satellite data collected by the Department of Defense,” she writes in “Turf War,” “determined that, including golf courses, lawns in the United States cover nearly 50,000 square miles—an area roughly the size of New York State. The same study concluded that most of this New York State-size lawn was growing in places where turfgrass should never have been planted. In order to keep all the lawns in the country well irrigated, the author of the study calculated, it would take an astonishing 200 gallons of water per person, per day.” She then proceeds to list the logical alternatives, from meadow to wildflowers to food. Well, nature is in the eyes of the beholder, it seems. In a letter in the September 1 issue, reader Michael Jorrin of Ridgefield, Conn., calls the suggestions “unrealistic. Don’t mow and let it revert to meadow? That’s not what happens. Our lawns are not planted with native grasses; what you’ll get is a hideous tangled, tick-infested mess that you won’t want to step into, and certainly won’t let your kids or dogs play in.”  And Samuel J. McNaughton of Syracuse, N.Y., takes the position, “If we were to let our lawns grow up, we provide attractive habitats for snakes, spiders, rodents, deer (the latter two spread Lyme disease), deer flies, mosquitoes, and other undesirable organisms.” Seems there is still an appetite out there to put nature in its place.

Can Landscape Architecture Really Help Manage Traffic?

I have just begun Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)
by Tom Vanderbilt and I’m already hooked. He thus far has tagged just about every bad driving habit I’ve ever adopted and puts the act of driving to work into frightening and fascinating perspective. Which leads me to think about the role landscape architects can play in minimizing bad behaviors through the use of natural design. Is it possible, in the face of the conflicts inherent in human nature, for streetscapes and transportation corridors to use design and nature to eliminate or at least alleviate traffic woes? If so, what does it look like? I think of the Taconic Parkway in New York State. A seriously beautiful road that drivers nonetheless want to treat like I-95. I should know. It’s the site of my one and only speeding ticket.  

National Park(ing) Day Announced

Break out the deck chairs, benches, and potted plants, because the Trust for Public Land (TPL) has announced National Park(ing) Day for Friday, September 21. National Park(ing) Day aims to turn metered public parking spots nationwide into temporary public parks.

The goals, organizers say, are to celebrate parks and promote the need for more parks in America’s cities. Participating cities include New York City, Boston, Minneapolis, Washington, D.C., Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and others. Organizers are also inviting local groups to participate, expanding the opportunity from one park to a system of park(ing) parks.

Click here for pictures from the 2006 Park(ing) Day, and here for a video.

True Confessions

Sad to say, I gave up my community garden this year after a couple of years of wonderful food raised under less-than-wonderful conditions. My schedule simply made it crazy to give it all the attention it deserved (and demanded).

So I read with interest a recent blog entry on By Design by Allison Arieff of The New York Times called “Grow Your Own.” She documents her experience of transforming her city yard into an urban garden that not only feeds her family but also feeds others. This is all accomplished with the help of a farmer brought in to execute and maintain the transition. Goodbye, lawn. 

I live in a nice bit of suburbia now, but once lived in New York City. Even there, I grew tomatoes. It’s time to rethink my schedule.

So what are you harvesting?



At the Chronicle of Higher Education, UCLA’s dean of social sciences wrote about the role of fountains on university campuses and the value they bring. However, he posed an interesting question:

Ironically, fountains have become ubiquitous, albeit in lesser forms. Mass-produced, faux-Rococo fountains dot suburban yards and supermarkets. Desktop Zen pools spout water through bamboo colored plastic piping, keeping shiny marbles spinning. Shopping malls pump lighted water over floor-to-ceiling slabs of slate. Do we risk burning out on them?

As landscape architects, what role do fountains play in your designs? Does the widespread use of reduced-quality fountains desensitize the public to true works of art or trigger a greater appreciation? Let us know in the comments.

Photo: Harvard University’s Tanner Fountain by Alan Ward


Landscape Architecture in Venice

This year’s Venice Biennale, the 11th International Architecture Exhibition titled “Out There: Architecture Beyond Building” and scheduled to open September 11, 2008, will feature a prominent, stand-alone landscape architecture project that promises to shine a significant and dramatic light on the profession on a global scale.

While landscape architecture projects have been included in past exhibitions at this highly visible and respected event, this year’s project by Gustafson Porter and Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, in keeping with the event’s theme, steps outside the exhibit halls to occupy a significant piece of land.

The Biennale typically attracts well in excess of 100,000 visitors, including a huge press contingent that results in coverage across the media spectrum. The “Toward Paradise” site will be located within the grounds of the church of Santa Maria delle Vergini, a Benedictine nunnery founded in 1205 and demolished in 1869.

The firms have sent out a call for both financial patrons to help finance the project and supporters willing to donate time and materials to the installation. (To learn more, contact Anne Hill, marketing coordinator at Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, at 206-903-6802 or anneh@ggnltd.com.) What kind of impact do you think such global design projects have on the public’s understanding of the profession?

Putting a Price on Parks

As landscape architects prepare to head to Philadelphia this fall for ASLA Annual Convention, they can take heart in that city’s renewed dedication to the value and development of parks. The Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported, “Philadelphia’s parks are worth nearly $1.9 billion annually in services, income, and taxes to the city, Mayor Nutter and advocates said yesterday,” referencing a report that sets the stage for hearings regarding the future of Fairmount Park. (See report) That’s a lot of green.

With declining tax revenues and a slowed economy beginning to threaten the outlook for park development in cities large and small, are such analyses the right tool at the right time? Has anyone else attempted to assign a dollar value to your parklands?

When Parks Are Too Successful

New York magazine pretty much shatters the image of New York’s Central Park as an oasis of calm in that hypercharged city (http://nymag.com/guides/summer/2008/47976/). “The current situation is a New York City case study of the economic phenomenon known as the tragedy of the commons, whereby a shared resource is, inevitably, overexploited,” writes Gabriel Sherman. So what’s to be done to return some balance in such situations? Right now, it’s bordering on a not-so-civil war.