Clean Water for Everyone Who Lives in a City

Water Infrastructure / Columbia University Press
Water Infrastructure / Columbia University Press

Water Infrastructure: Equitable Deployment of Resilient Systems is an important, timely book. Synthesized from discussions leading up to Habitat III, the United Nations conference on housing and sustainable urban development, held in Quito, Ecuador last October, the book explains how to better provide clean water to everyone in the world’s cities by making water systems more equitable and resilient to shocks. A perfunctory foreword by Kate Orff, ASLA, demonstrates how refreshingly unpretentious this book is: lines crammed together, a minor typo halfway through, as if to say, who cares about formatting? Get the ideas out there.

With that, Water Infrastructure, written by Columbia University professors S. Bry Sarte and Morana Stipisic, hits the ground running. What threatens the sources of clean water in cities? The authors offer a highly-visual drive-by tour of the risks: water pollution, sea level rise, terrestrial flooding, drought, and failing infrastructure. The tremendous speed of urbanization increases the risks and leaves us in need of better solutions.

Water Infrastructure doesn’t offer sure-fire solutions, but does provide exciting real-world innovations. These innovations aren’t just technological, but fall into the realms of ecology, finance, and equity. All share a similar DNA: they’re decentralized, adaptable, and rational.

The book diagrams which innovations can be applied to specific risks. Confronted with aging infrastructure? Integrated micro-infrastructure centers (IMICs) could help. These are modular water systems that can stand alone or complement aging infrastructure. They can be tailored to local conditions and mitigate damage in case of a centralized system’s failure. IMICs are an ideal response to aging infrastructure, but one can see how they could help reduce water pollution by reducing the overall load on a system.

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Emory University’s IMIC reduces the load on public water infrastrucuture / Water Infrastructure

Landscape architects will be familiar with the ecological innovations Water Infrastructure touts. “The integration of high performance ecology in an urban context” (the unartful name of one innovation) covers both hard and soft coastal buffers, floodable parks and public spaces, and methods for reducing the urban heat island effect. It’s a concern, though, that these items are considered innovations, with the edginess that label connotes, and not standard practice. But one should consider that 20 years ago, at the time of the Habitat II conference, these ideas were fringe at best. Resilient and sustainable landscape design has come a long way.

What constitutes a financial innovation? New ways of sourcing money, and new sources of said money. This section is a bit light. And some of the innovations’ intent could be compromised through privatization. The authors make two useful suggestions: encourage community-based implementation of water infrastructure, akin to Grameen Bank’s model, and use public health benefits to drive funding for these systems.

Innovations in equity, leadership, and governance pick up where these community-centric ideas leave off. The authors’ key policy suggestions here include designing legal and financial systems for community ownership of water infrastructure. The authors write that the “personality of a community can be expressed by the choice of infrastructure and its implementation.” More than that, communities would hold a vested interest in that infrastructure, which would likely lead to greater appreciation and upkeep.

A noteworthy recommendation is leveraging infrastructure’s “cool factor” to create more of it. This is an astonishing comment on the state of things, that plumbing can be art. Any yet it’s increasingly the case, with examples such as Google’s data Center in Douglas County, Georgia, and Ned Kahn’s Cloud Portal in San Francisco.

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Google’s data center in Georgia uses recycled water for cooling operations. / Georgia Globe Design News

Leveraging coolness in a project isn’t always possible. And this recommendation, while alluring, shouldn’t overshadow the book’s other solid and potentially transforming ideas. But its inclusion shows that the authors and participants of Habitat III have considered all aspects of water infrastructure and are excited to share their findings.

Book Review: Nature and Cities

Nature and Cities / Lincoln Institute of Land Policy
Nature and Cities / Lincoln Institute of Land Policy

It’s been 20 years since the publication of Ecological Design and Planning, the collection of essays that established ecological design as the defining innovation of 20th century landscape architecture. Not only has this mode of design informed all thinking about landscape since Ian McHarg first championed it, but designs eschewing this approach have risked irrelevance.

The ensuing two decades since Ecological Design and Planning’s publication have seen two major global changes. First, climate change has emerged as a force that will shape our future. Second, cities have grown to such an extent that their populations account for half of the Earth’s total. The world has not stood still, but, as Nature and Cities: The Ecological Imperative of Urban Planning demonstrates, neither has landscape architecture.

Nature and Cities, edited by Frederick Steiner, FASLA, George Thompson, and Armando Carbonell, was intended to be Ecological Design and Planning’s successor, Steiner said. It follows a similar formula: A collection of essays from both well-established and up-and-coming landscape architects with big ideas and projects that showcase them.

Steiner believes Nature and Cities can entice readers outside the fields of landscape and planning, despite its niche topic. The book is handsome and visually rich, and the essays are warmer than they are academic. They vary in subject matter. Richard Weller, ASLA, examines urban forms and formation; Kate Orff, ASLA, and Kongjian Yu, FASLA, explore aqueous landscape design. Several of the most thought-provoking essays make valiant attempts at applying to design our growing understanding of systems, resilience, and the myth of ecological equilibrium.

If these issues don’t interest you, you can use the book to check in on the state of the “landscape architecture: science or art” debate. Nature and Cities offers several worthy contributions to it. Of course, it’s not a question of either or, but as James Corner, ASLA, writes in his essay, there’s a tendency to allow science to govern our designs to the exclusion of the subjective and aesthetic. In our current design atmosphere, improvisation and beauty strain under the yoke of performance metrics. Corner argues that more honest applications of biophilic design would incorporate the errant, much as real ecosystems do, as a means of enrichment.

The Mill River Park and Greenway, ASLA 2015 Professional General Design Honor Award. An example of the successful introduction of nature into a city's fabric / Nature and Cities, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy
The Mill River Park and Greenway, ASLA 2015 Professional General Design Honor Award. An example of the successful introduction of nature into a city’s fabric / Nature and Cities, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy

Let’s not forget metrics are good for business, Laurie Olin, FASLA, points out in his essay. And if you can put an exclamation point on those metrics with a beautiful design, all the better. His firm accomplished this with a designed marsh on Yale’s campus. Students enjoyed it so much they added fish, leading to a richer ecosystem and indirectly saving the purchase of an additional 1.8 million liters of water per year. Social buy-in can occur when sustainable design is made evident.

“The more I understand the dynamics associated with global climate change and urbanization, the more I want to make sense of it all with other human beings,” writes Kristina Hill, Affiliate ASLA, in her essay. It’s for this reason, Hill argues, that designers should create aesthetic experiences that address this rapid and destabilizing change. Rising sea levels and water scarcity can be frightening, but new aesthetic experiences can help us better understand those threats.

Part of Nature and Cities’ purpose, Steiner said, is to showcase the contributions that landscape architects have made to our cities and environment. “When Susannah Drake, ASLA, and her colleagues want to clean up the Gowanus Canal, that’s heroic,” Steiner said, referring to her essay. “And that they’ve made as much progress as they have is quite remarkable.”

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Gowanus Canal Sponge Park / DLANDstudio

Sizable ambition certainly shines through the successes touted in the book, but reading about them, one wonders if these efforts are adequate in scope to the environmental challenges we face. Adequate or not, isn’t it great that landscape architecture has something to say about it all?

Read the book.

Symbols and Systems: The Work of Barbara Grygutis

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Part of Barbara Grygutis’ acclaimed sculpture, Dawn’s Silver Lining. / Oro Editions

When reductionist artwork, like a Jackson Pollock or Piet Mondrian painting, succeeds, it succeeds in part because of the role it affords us, the viewer. Faced with a vacuum of meaning, we impart our own identities on the work, gratifying ourselves in highly-personal ways. Artist Barbara Grygutis, whose sculptures are featured in the new book, Public Art / Public Space: The Sculptural Environments of Barbara Grygutis, practices a different reductionism. It’s not us, but the sculpture’s setting that completes the composition.

The book’s subtitle tells us a bit about how Grygutis sees herself, not just as a composer of materials, but a composer of environments. Many of her sculptures cast intricately woven shadows, filter and disperse light, or consolidate it into beacons. The resultant spaces are elevated by the sculptural work and reconstituted environmental qualities. Bronx River View is one such example. This collection of sculptures transform the walls of an above-ground subway station into windows and seating. The view works both ways, and the light cast inward onto the train platform illuminate the sculptures and the passage of time.

Bronx River View / Barbara Grygutis
Bronx River View / Barbara Grygutis

“If you look back at civilizations, we learn about them through their art,” Grygutis says in an interview at the outset of her book. That’s an edifying thought if we consider Dawn’s Silver Lining, a sculpture that epitomizes Grygutis’ most successful work (see image at top). Set in Salina, Kansas, the surrounding rural landscape is flattened into a silhouette of trees and vegetation and pressed onto perforated aluminum: the reduction process. The silhouettes are then re-extruded by the light, the quality of which is constantly changing.

It’s not always enough to simply reduce. There must be a re-introduction of substance into the artwork. Without this — or with too uncritical a reduction — the piece can suffer from a poverty of meaning. Grygutis’ Drop in Prewitt Park is a 35-foot steel and glass sculpture of a water drop. Set centrally to rippling landforms, the sculpture is intended to read as the moment of congruence between water and earth. Instead, because of the drop’s very recognizable and very flat form, it reads as a corporate logo, a symbol rather than a system.

Drop in Prewitt Park / Barbara Grygutis
Drop in Prewitt Park / Barbara Grygutis

This logo-ization of complex system holds back a few of Grygutis’ sculptures that seem to have powerful ideas behind them. Weather, an oblique steel and glass structure located in North Richland Hills, Texas, is meant to evoke the meteorological systems that our landscape is subject to. But the pattern emblazoned in the glass says less about our weather systems than a barometer. Grygutis’ sculpture Signs and Symbols, Symbols and Signs, is quite literally a giant symbol, π, comprised of several other symbols borrowed from keyboards and calculators. There’s literalness in this and other Grygutis sculptures may put an expiration date on them.

Signs and Symbols, Symbols and Signs / Barbara Grygutis
Signs and Symbols, Symbols and Signs / Barbara Grygutis

Other projects, like Flaming Arroyo in Las Vegas and Frequencies, a project slated for completion in 2017 in Palo Alto, feel timeless. The latter, which is comprised of five perforated aluminum sculptures and set on a tech campus, indexes electromagnetic frequencies that are ordinarily invisible to us.

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Visitors gather under the sculpture Flaming Arroyo / Oro Editions
Frequencies / Barbara Grygutis
Frequencies / Barbara Grygutis

This is Grygutis at her most impactful, manifesting the unseen or ignored forces of our environment with sculptural interventions that beg people to slow down and take notice.

Sorting Through Contemporary Landscape Architecture

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Thinking the Contemporary Landscape / Princeton Architectural Press

Thinking the Contemporary Landscape, a new collection of essays edited by EHTZ professors Chistophe Girot and Dora Imhof takes on the considerable task of creating a unified understanding of landscape. The essays’ takeaways don’t quite paint as cohesive a picture as the editors suggest. But if the rational and the poetic in landscape are to be reconciled, as the editors insist they must be, this scattershot approach seems as good as any.

Several of the essays deal with the critical issue of place, and how design might enhance rather than obscure it. Girot, in his essay, points to the trend of homogenized ecological design as a missed opportunity to enter a dialogue with the local context. An increased reliance on 2D mapping techniques is to blame for this, Girot argues. An alternative? 3D, of course. Girot is an effective pitchman for the point cloud and the specificity it allows designers to access. Still, it seems too convenient to blame out-of-the-box designs on one set of tools or methods. Girot himself describes these ecological designs as a trend. And as trends are by nature fleeting, perhaps the fear of homogenization has outgrown its actual threat.

In her essay, Allesandre Ponte at the University of Montreal suggests the mapping craze Girot refers to might be a sign of insecurity on the part of designers who find themselves groping around a dark and ever-expanding room of ecology, territory, and culture. The multitude of ways designers can approach sites could come as a relief to some but also induce further “paralysis by analysis” in others.

A meditation by Kathryn Gustafson, ASLA, on model-making weaves together interesting personal anecdotes to make a valid criticism of 3D technologies. Rhino and Grasshopper are a necessity but don’t confer good landscape sense. One trusts Gustafson writes from experience when she shares that a designer cannot explore a landscape with just a keyboard and mouse. “Where are you?” Gustafson prods. “What are you truly experiencing? This is the only thing, for me, that really matters.”

It’s possible to get the impression from some contemporary landscape architects that the greatest transgression a designer can make is neglecting aesthetics in the pursuit of ecological function. Reading of people drowning in the streets of Beijing due to urban flooding, one can forgive Kongjian Yu, FASLA, this offense in his deployment of urban sponges. “Healing the ecological system at the national scale needs simple, replicable, and inexpensive solutions, not self-indulgent ornamental design or artistic form,” writes Yu. Of course, Turenscape’s Qunli Stormwater Park is staggering in its messy functionality. Yu shares its origins as well as the genesis of Turenscape in one of the book’s more personable essays. It’s organized as a guide, with steps such as “Do not Try to Influence the Experts,” and “Make a Proposal to the Prime Minister.”

The book’s most successful essays tell stories. Yu’s falls into this category, as does Susann Ahn and Regine Keller’s delightful essay on nature and imitation. Conceiving of nature as a construct can be extremely liberating. But what happens when that conception runs up against cultural expectation? Designers buckle and imitative natures get built. “The question remains whether, and when, the imitation will render the original meaningless.”

Collaboration Is King

heatherwick-hudson-yards
A rendering of the proposed Hudson Yards gardens by Nelson Byrd Woltz, with Thomas Heatherwick’s sculptural tower / Hudson Yards

If one were to pen a history of landscape architecture, who would emerge as the central hero? Or would it be a person at all? Thomas Woltz, FASLA, principal at Nelson Byrd Woltz, proposed collaboration as landscape’s protagonist in a lecture at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design. Collaboration, according to Woltz, “is the only way to realize incredibly complex and layered projects.”

“We live in a society that wants chest-beating heroes,” Woltz said. But the practice of landscape architecture offers little room for excessive pride.

“Your project is only as good as the next tsunami, hurricane, or flood. Landscape straddles horticulture, civil engineering, culture, storm water management, and all these systems have to work together. It is a very humbling profession.”

For that reason, Nelson Byrd Woltz actively engages with experts from a number of fields – conservation biology, soil science, ornithology, cultural history, and archaeology, to name a few – as a means “to tell the story of the land.”

Richard Weller, ASLA and chair of the School of Design’s landscape architecture department, noted that the resulting design work is “intrinsically of its place, evidently beautiful, and poetic without lapsing into spectacle.” It marries ecological restoration with highly-composed and relevant designs. In other words, it has integrity.

Woltz prefers the word authenticity. He described authenticity not as a byproduct of a design, but rather the result of an intentional process on the part of the designer.

“We research events, traces, and artifacts of the specific place, then find ways through the design process to reveal and celebrate those narratives.” It just so happens that the history of a site serves as an inventory of rich design ideas.

Asked for a recent example of this pursuit of authenticity, Woltz offered his firm’s work on the daylighting of Cockrill Spring in Nashville’s Centennial Park.

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The excavated Cockrill Spring / Nathan Hubbard

“In early traveler’s letters there was repeated mention of returning to Nashville along the Natchez Trace and knowing you were home when you ‘drank the cold waters of Cockrill Spring’.” So Woltz and his team worked with archaeologists to locate and excavate the spring. They then designed a contemporary fountain that celebrates the water and tells the story of an important but relatively unknown early settler, Anne Cockrill. The spring now supplies much of the park’s irrigation.

Isn’t examining early maps and historic artifacts the natural thing to do when beginning a project? “In my opinion, it’s the responsible thing to do,” Woltz said. “We owe it to every site to look carefully at what was there before we showed up.”

One would think this method is perhaps less applicable on a site as developed as Manhattan. But Woltz received a laugh from the crowd when, presenting his firm’s recent work on the eastern Hudson Yards, he shared that his firm’s research began with the examination of maps of Manhattan island from 1609. This research clued them into the existence of several streams underneath the train yards. During early talks with the project’s civil engineer, Woltz asked, “How does all of the water underneath the site get out to the Hudson River?” “How,” the civil engineer responded, “did you know there’s water down there?”

Collaboration was an integral part of the Hudson Yards project from the beginning, Woltz said, as the project deals with enormous complexities in sewage, transportation, irrigation, and engineering systems. Initially, there was no one entity coordinating those elements. But Woltz emphasized that landscape architects can inhabit this coordination role, as his firm has done.

In concluding the survey of his firm’s work, Woltz touched on humility once again. “I’m showing you the successes,” Woltz said. “I would love to give a lecture on all the failed things we’ve tried.”

The Landscape of Tyranny

LA+ journal
LA+ journal

“The social and spatial manifestations of power are directly relevant to the design and use of public space,” explained Tatum Hands, editor-in-chief of LA+, the University of Pennsylvania school of design’s interdisciplinary landscape architecture journal. Tyranny, the third issue of LA+, delves into the complex relationship between abuses of power and public spaces.

The issue devotes much of much of its first half to the split identity of spaces of tyranny. For example, public squares can benefit peace protestors and goose steppers, revolutions and counter-revolutions alike. Steve Basson, associate professor of architectural history and theory at Curtin University, exhumes the more disturbing historical uses of public squares in the opening essay, citing examples from Robespierre’s beheadings to Soviet oppression and Nazi torchlight parades.

Perhaps more sinister than tyranny facilitated by physical threat is tyranny facilitated by camera lenses. Pontifical Catholic University professor of urban management Rodrigo José Firmino explores the effect of the ubiquitous security camera and “see something, say something” posters on public spaces in his essay. In the security camera’s eye, movement arouses suspicion, José Firmino writes, and “must be controlled.” Military dominance has come to depend on these eyes on the ground, in the sky, and in your inbox. Buried in José Firmino’s essay is a question that perhaps deserves its own LA+ issue: Are landscape architects enabling or challenging this militarization of the globe?

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“Operation Hello Eden” by Fionn Byrne / LA+

In another essay, University of Pennsylvania lecturer Nicholas Pevzner documents landscape-based efforts at reconciliation in a country just 22 years removed from genocide. In that time, the Rwandan national government has instituted a tree planting week and monthly civic holiday in which all able-bodied persons contribute to civic improvements, such as wetland restoration and erosion control. The effect of these efforts has been to help develop a national identity that is “neither Tutsi nor Hutu, but simply Rwandan.” This essay raises other questions: What is the role of landscape in the aftermath of tyranny?

Rwanda / LA+
Collage by Hannah Davis, with component images “Photographs of Genocide Victims at the Genocide Memorial Centre in Kigali, Rwanda” by Adam Jones, used under CC BY-SA 3.0 license via Wikipedia Commons, and “Umuvumu Tree” by Nicholas Pevzner / LA+

If landscape helps form national identity, then displacement abets its erosion. Nowhere would one expect to find this more than in refugee settlements, where residents are consigned to unfamiliar, informal living conditions. But what shines through in shelter and reconstruction professional Jim Kennedy’s essay is the resilience of the displaced. Kennedy offers the example of Dorniz Camp in Northern Iraq. The camp has sadly tripled in size from its initial population of 15,000 in 2013, but has also seen its residents replace tents with concrete and mortar, develop their plots of land, and install commercial structure. The work of residents has had unforeseen consequences, however, as economic stratification has emerged; concrete barriers installed by the “wealthy” divert water onto poorer plots. Political tyranny begets informal settlements begets economic tyranny.

Some of the issue’s essays require especially strong powers of association to discern their relationship to landscape and tyranny, but it’s worth the effort. Only by probing such fields as immigration and securitization are potentially significant relationships to landscape uncovered. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with bucking the tyranny of the journal topic.

15 of the Best Instagram Accounts for Landscape Architects

Instagram is a great way to get inspired, but there are over 500 million active accounts, so who should you follow? For landscape architects, fresh ideas can be found from following other landscape architects, but also those outside the field: artists, technologists, illustrators, and designers. Here are a few of my favorite Instagram accounts, which offer unique imagery and perspectives.

Please use the comments section to let us know other Instagram accounts you enjoy.

Aerial Aesthetics

Drone photographers (see above) are just starting to test the medium. Aerial Aesthetics provides a steady stream of some of the best images this technology has to offer.

Beeple

EASY LIFE #c4d #cinema4d #3d #gold

A post shared by beeple (@beeple_crap) on

The worst thing you can say about Beeple, AKA Mike Winkleman is that some of his work is derivative. But that’s inevitable when you’ve created a new piece of art everyday for the last 3,400 days and counting. Beeple’s “every days” have inspired many. Some of his recent work shows a fascination with vast, arid landscapes.

Curiosity Rover

The best Instagram account to follow for photos of the gorgeous Martian landscape is NASA’s, whose Curiosity Rover is currently exploring the base of Mt. Sharp, an 18,000 foot peak rising up out of a 96 mile-wide crater.

Gmunk

Like a Hot #InfraMunk Oven 🌈😎🌈

A post shared by Bradley G Munkowitz (@gmunk) on

Bradley Munkowitz, AKA Gmunk, is a boundary-pushing digital artist, videographer, and photographer. His current series of infrared landscape photos is breathtaking, and he also has a great eye for patterns, textures, and materials.

Inhabitat Design

This account offers eco-architecture renderings and interior design photos, with some great landscape design mixed in.

Landscape Architecture

A good compilation of images of modern and classic landscape design.

Master Landscapers Association

Sydney Park Reuse Project Wins Top Design Award | @cityofsydney largest environmental projects to date, Sydney Park Water Re-Use Project, has received the annual Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS) Design Award, adding to its accolades since its official opening by the Lord Mayor in July 2015. The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences museum showcases excellence and innovation in technology, engineering, design and science. Since 1992, the MAAS Design Award recognises the important role for design in harnessing the challenges of science and technology – the winner selected from all categories of the annual Good Design Awards. The Sydney Park Water Re-Use Project is an intersection of design, art, science and ecology, an outcome achieved by the collaboration landscape architects Turf Design Studio and Environmental Partnership (TDEP), Alluvium (water and environment), Dragonfly Environmental (ecology) Turpin + Crawford Studio (public art) and LNA Member @designlandscapes (landscape construction and storm water harvesting) source credits The Urban Developer @theurbandeveloper #sydney #urbandesign #environmental #sustainability #rainwaterharvesting #reuseproject #landscapedesign #parks #communityparks #landscapearchitecture #gabionwalls #lnamember #awardwinning #turfdesignstudio #tdep

A post shared by Master Landscapers Association (@lna_landscapers_association) on

Master Landscapers Association offers some examples of modern landscape design that most people may not otherwise come across. Plenty of Australian flora and construction process photos, too.

Night Photography

Nighttime photography is extremely challenging, but offers great creative opportunities. The Night Photography account consolidates the most creative, dramatic nighttime shots into one feed, giving many perspectives on life in the dark.

Oehme van Sweden

Oehme van Sweden is one of the few landscape architecture firms to curate a compelling Instagram account. Vivid photos of plantings, works in progress, life around the office, and a fairly regular output of new content, make this feed stand out.

Katie Orlinsky

Photojournalist Katie Orlinsky captures everyday life, focusing on marginalized communities. Her recent series of photos from Alaska shows how integral the land and sea are to everyday life.

Pangaea Express

Eric Arneson, who curates Pangaea Express, is a landscape designer who uses Instagram well. A great mix of process photos, drawing details, photos from the field, final renderings, and all with a good dose of experimentation.

Konsta Punkka

~ Good old squirrel hood. Have a good one ✌🏻️

A post shared by Konsta Punkka (@kpunkka) on

Finnish photographer Konsta Punkka describes himself as the squirrel whisperer. His photos of Scandinavian wildlife are startling because of the close proximity of his subjects. His photos of the landscape are equally striking.

Urban Nation Berlin

There are some great Instagram feeds featuring street art. The Museum for Urban Contemporary Art curates one of the better ones. Edgy, often disturbing murals and installations.

Danielle Villisana

Morning makeup. #wakeup #makeup #window #reflection #women #riseandshine #lima #peru

A post shared by Danielle Villasana (@davillasana) on

Another photojournalist, Danielle Villisana, offers snapshots of life from global cities.

Tyson Wheatley

A post shared by tyson wheatley (@twheat) on

There are plenty of great professional photographers on Instagram. Tyson Wheatley’s account stands out for his incredible compositional skills and use of light.

Also, be sure to check out American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA)’s account, too.

The End of Automobile Dependence

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Proposed streetcar for Downtown Brooklyn / Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector

“Cities have been demanding reduced car dependence,” said Peter Newman, professor of sustainability at Curtin University and elder statesman of sustainable transportation, at a talk in Washington, D.C. As a result, 2015 saw a 3 percent decline in greenhouse gas emissions globally. And yet Newman’s indicators show global wealth rising.

Newman called this decoupling of wealth and fossil fuels, which is the crux of his new book, The End of Automobile Dependence: How Cities are Moving Beyond Car-Based Planning, co-authored with Jeffrey Kenworthy, extraordinary.

“All the economists and transport planning modelers still think that if you get wealthier, you will drive more.” According to Newman’s data, this is not necessarily true. “We are driving less and still getting wealthier.” The book traces the decline of auto-dependence in global cities.

There are four drivers of this momentous change, according to Newman: increased urban density, the transition to the knowledge economy, generational change, and the relative convenience of public transportation.

“Since 1999, cities are becoming denser,” Newman said. “The young and the wealthy want to see people face to face. And density of jobs increases productivity.”

According to Newman, car use dropped 23 percent from 2001 to 2009 among 16 to 34 year olds. People in their 40s and 50s are driving less, people in their 20s and 30s less still. But those in their 60s or older are still reluctant to relinquish their steering wheels, according to Newman’s data.

With regards to the convenience of public transportation, Newman stated, “time dominates transport.” Last decade, as people were limiting car use, public transit use increased by 100 percent, biking 122 percent, and walking a respectable 37 percent.

Newman’s data elicited several audible gasps during the presentation, one of which was heard when he demonstrated how 240 people could commute in either 1 train, 3 buses, or 177 cars. “Traffic is slowing down because of how many cars there are, and rail is getting fast,” Newman said. “The demand now is for walking and transit fabric.” To further emphasize the decoupling of wealth and car use, Newman showed how the six most walkable cities in the US enjoy a 38 percent higher GDP, on average.

Europe, which never bought into the cult of the car, and Asia, which has only experienced massive economic growth relatively recently, are leading the way on sustainable transportation, Newman said. His book cites 82 Chinese cities and 51 Indian cities that are currently building metro systems.

As for how to fund urban rail, Newman suggested identifying areas ripe for redevelopment, involving the private sector in unlocking that value, then examining what transit numbers might be achieved. He shared how his city of Perth in Australia has done just that.

“The walkable city is a delight,” Newman said while answering attendees’ questions, but he admitted that successful density is still an elusive goal for many cities.“The cities that are doing it right are doing it with biophilic urbanism.”

Newman offered Singapore, the island city-state of 5.4 million people, as an example. Roughly 10 percent of the city is devoted to public parks. Additionally, all new buildings must integrate natural habitat into their designs, replacing the potential habitat lost by their footprint. “You may not want to go out walking in a hot, dense city,” Newman suggested. “But if that city is a forest, well…”

New ASLA Headquarters Will Boost Well-Being

ASLA Center for Landscape Architecture / Gensler
ASLA Center for Landscape Architecture / Gensler

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is renovating its outdated headquarters in Chinatown, Washington, D.C. to become a showcase not only for sustainable building and landscape design, but also healthy employee environments. ASLA is pursuing certification through the International WELL Building Institute’s WELL standard. In a session organized by the Institute and DC chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), representatives from WELL, ASLA, and ASLA’s architects at Gensler explained why they are taking this approach and what well-being will look like in the new headquarters.

WELL, according to its website, is a “performance-based system for measuring, certifying, and monitoring features of the built environment that impact human health and well-being, through air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.”

WELL senior associate Sarah Welton said the standard focuses on the people occupying the building, as opposed to the building itself. The major difference between WELL and LEED is that much of the onus for meeting WELL requirements falls on owner policies.

Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, executive vice president and CEO of ASLA, argued that “wellness is a huge part of our culture at ASLA. And we, as a profession, have a strong ethic of leading by example. We want the building to show the values of the profession.”

She cited other practical reasons for going after WELL Silver certification: It promises to improve productivity and well-being by optimizing light and sound quality; it will help inscribe into the office culture a notion of work-life balance; and it helps make the space more visually inviting.

ASLA Center for Landscape Architecture / Gensler
ASLA Center for Landscape Architecture / Gensler

Also on hand was Joseph Siewers, project manager for Gensler, to discuss how ASLA’s vision for the space was implemented. ASLA’s old office space was “compact and dark,” Siewers noted. One major step Gensler took was to add a skylight to the existing green roof, which will allow light to filter from the roof to the ground floor.

One of the most forward-thinking aspects of WELL is its emphasis on lighting. Gensler sustainability specialist Brynn Kurtzman, who oversaw Gensler’s integration of WELL design, described how the lighting in ASLA’s new headquarters will sync up with staff’s natural circadian rhythm. “WELL encourages cool blue lighting to maximize productivity,” Kurtzman said. Blue orbs will illuminate work spaces from overhead at a 45-degree angle, matching the natural progression of the morning sun. The light will work much like camping does to normalize staff members’ circadian rhythms.

According to Welton, WELL standards also sometimes raises eyebrows when people learn of its influence on office diet.“WELL tries not to ban food, just carcinogens.” The standard also asks employers to limit the amount of sugar and hydrogenated fats per serving that offices may provide through catering or the cafeteria.

Welton, who has a background in public health, added that as a WELL ambassador, “I don’t want to change your office habit. I want to change your life. It’s not to restrict, it’s to open your eyes.”

Somerville said WELL’s food guidelines had definitely started a conversation among staff about the direction of office culture. “It has made people more aware of what they’re eating. We now have the comfort of knowing that what we’re serving fits healthy guidelines.”

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The Case for Austerity

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If abundance and variety characterize most gardens, then an austere garden is one marked by subtlety and restraint. Respectable qualities, especially in a society that aspires to opulence. But these same qualities make austerity much trickier to identify and thus admire. Marc Treib, professor emeritus of architecture at the University of California at Berkeley, suggests in his latest book, Austere Gardens: Thoughts on Landscape, Restraint, & Attending, that we must attune our senses to recognize austerity and its value.

“Experiential richness does not depend on complex form or an abundance of elements. It is how we look, and what we want to see, that makes a garden,” Treib writes. Decouple ornamentation from beauty and austerity will have its day. Treib’s book is a vision of what that day might look like, with examples of austerity from the past and present, from art, architecture, and landscape design. Japanese gardens make several appearances (Treib has studied them extensively), but so do peat quarries in the UK, an experimental forest in Sweden, and Salgina bridge in Switzerland.

These varied examples of austere works beg the question, how does Treib define austerity? You might get a different answer depending on which page you flip to. “State less, imply more.” “Simplicity, reduction, and compression.” “Restriction in means.” These are all true, of course, but only constitute individual aspects of austerity. One might say, “You’ll know it when you see it.” The challenge Treib sets himself is attuning readers’ eyes to it.

Austere Gardens begins with a description of the musical score 4’ 33” by composer John Cage. The score is performed in front of an audience, although it requires no instrument, just the periodic disruption of silence. The performer relinquishes control to the audience. Shuffling of feet, heavy respiration: ambient noise comes to the fore. Silence becomes music and austerity delivers riches.

4’ 33” possesses an effortlessness common to many of Treib’s examples of austere works. Tactical mowing, cutting, digging, and occluding are economical strokes with outsized impact. Treib gives as an example the construction fence, hiding from passersby what lies beyond. “What has been screened, withheld, or removed often stimulates greater intrigue.” Closure and revelation. Achieving more with less can be interpreted several ways.

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Tactical mowing adds color to a path in a German meadow. // Image Credit: Oro Editions

Patience is essential to appreciating austerity, writes Treib. “Without taking the time to look, perceive, and perhaps to think, any rewards may be meager.” Even the mundane, perhaps especially the mundane, deserves a prolonged gaze. The austere beauty we’re witnessing, Treib tells us, may be intentional, inadvertent, or the result of time and its effects.

The essay’s organization will frustrate some readers who desire more structure. It is, as the title implies, a series of thoughts. One can read it in a sitting, feel refreshed by its ideas, and then wonder, “What was the overarching point?” A call for austerity and all that implies, certainly. And yet an absence can be felt after putting down Austere Gardens, the sense of a lesson left incomplete. In a way, the essay practices what it preaches, leaving room for the reader to close the circle.