Environmental Justice a Growing Concern Among Landscape Architects

Shanghai / Flickr
Shanghai / Flickr

Environmental justice, which is about the fair distribution of environmental benefits and costs, is a “growing concern” among landscape architects across the globe, said Kurt Culbertson, FASLA, Design Workshop. For example, in ASLA’s 2016 Student Awards, 68 percent of the award-winning designs focused on environmental and social justice. 

At the ASLA 2016 Annual Meeting in New Orleans, global perspectives on the subject were offered by Kongjian Yu, FASLA, Turenscape; Senator Kamel Mahadin, ASLA, MK Associates; and Mario E. Schjetnan, FASLA, Grupo de Diseno Urbano.

Good intentions for people and the environment can lead to bad results if they are pursued in an unfair way. Yu focused on villages demolished to create an urban greenbelt around Shanghai. In the name of “good will,” 100 square kilometers, comprised of thousands of villages surrounding the city, were demolished to make way for another population explosion in Shanghai, which has expanded 4 times in 20 years.

Villages were demolished and parks were built, but to what end? “Goodwill may not necessarily lead to a good or justifiable result,” said Yu.

Green space is central to the equitable growth of cities, said Jordanian Senator Mahadin, who was a landscape architect before becoming a politician.

The Jordanian city Aqaba, which has grown by over 180,000 people in recent decades, has handled it’s growth successfully, in part because it is one of the “few cities in the Middle East with a master plan that holds green space” as important.

The master plan holds that the Port of Aqaba – the only one in Jordan – should not be further developed, but held for the people. “Cities are not painted by landscape architects or architects, they are painted by the people.” 

Aqaba 2012 Master Plan / Aqaba Development Corporation
Aqaba 2012 Master Plan / Aqaba Development Corporation

Mahadin made a pitch for more landscape architects to push for environmental justice through politics. “Lead by example.”

“Landscape is a human right,” Schjetnan argued. Landscape has the ability to de-marginalize people and integrate them into society.

Preserving landscape is especially critical in developing-world cities, which are “not developing, so much as developing too quickly through accelerated growth. Four-fifths of the world is like this,” he added, “neither developed nor undeveloped – just growing too quickly.”

In Schjetnan’s Mexico City, and many other exploding cities, landscapes are deteriorating due to worsening problems with congestion, natural resource depletion, water and air pollution, especially for those communities with lower incomes. 

Mexico City expansion / Dual Warez
Mexico City expansion / Dual Warez

In the developing urban world, many more landscape architects and designers, particularly from minority groups, are needed if the goal is more just cities. 

The Design Opportunities of Agriculture

Farmers at Grow Dat Farm Claire Bangser
Farmers at Grow Dat Farm / Claire Bangser

In New Orleans’ City Park, Grow Dat Youth Farm nurtures young leaders through the important and meaningful work of growing food. Started in 2011 on 4 acres, the program has grown to 7 acres and produces 20,000 pounds of produce a year. It is a successful operation, to be sure. Yet, as Johanna Gilligan, with Grow Dat, said at the ASLA 2016 Annual Meeting in New Orleans, the farm struggles with systemic issues, something a thoughtful landscape architect could help them solve.

Garden Plots / Grow Dat Youth Farm
Agricultural Plots / Grow Dat Youth Farm

Landscape architects are “generalists and synthesizers who design in complexity,” said Connie Migliazza, ASLA, WRT San Francisco. The skill set of the landscape architect is perfectly suited to agriculture: they are trained to understand both the human and large scales, grading and drainage, and the importance of cultural interpretation of the land. They can manipulate the land for better use and provide “tactical interventions that can improve biodiversity and water usage.”

Unfortunately, said Migliazza, the profession sees agriculture in a dichotomy of scales – either the small scale of raised-bed urban agriculture, or large-scale industrial operations. Between the two scales, “there is an opportunity to intervene.”

Farmer and rancher Kelly Mulville at Paicines Ranch agreed, urging action to improve agricultural systems. “This country’s biggest export is top soil,” which is washed away from farms at an alarming rate each year. Unless something changes, said Mulville, “we probably only have 60 years of top soil left.” Plus, climate change is only worsening the overall situation.

Agricultural Fields at Paicines Rangh / The Sustainable Sweet and Savory Gourmet
Agricultural Fields at Paicines Ranch / The Sustainable Sweet and Savory Gourmet

Mulville has put landscape architects’ tool box to use in his work at vineyards and ranches —  bio-dynamic thinking, plants for pollinators, systems to improve water penetration in soils – but he’s doing so without design.

On Paicinces Ranch, Mulville adopted an approach of “ecosystem mimicry,” which involves diversifying crops, adding cattle for grazing, and using sheep to handle the suckers on the vines and weeding between the rows. The system is deceptively easy: “sheep plus sun,” he joked.

Sheep at the Vineyard / Paicines Ranch
Sheep at the Vineyard / Paicines Ranch

However, the results are nothing to laugh at: there has been a 90 percent reduction in irrigation, a 1,260 pound per year increase in yields, and a $450 per year savings per acre.

Mulville challenged landscape architects to engage in agricultural projects with “principle-based holistic design.” Landscape architects and designers can “design for management, ecosystem mimicry, beauty, economic and social factors, and quality of life.” The designed beauty of our agricultural lands — as well as the joy that comes from growing and producing food in such a setting — can help prevent agricultural lands from being industrialized.

Just as design can stabilize agriculture, agriculture can be used to stabilize the edge of our urban areas. Sibella Kraus, with SAGE: Sustainable Agriculture Education, invited landscape architects and designers to promote the idea of “new ruralism.” Rather than letting the edges of our cities sprawl out into suburbia, gobbling agricultural lands through development, new ruralism is intentional, multi-value agriculture at the urban edge.

Kraus used Coyote Valley outside of San Jose, California, as a case study. Located in the Santa Clara Valley, and originally one of California’s best producers of fruit, Coyote Valley had been “declared dead,” and was slated for a new housing development as the city spread outwards.

Coyote Valley's St Joseph Meadow / Sun Valley Trekking
Coyote Valley’s St Joseph Meadow / Sun Valley Trekking

Not wanting to lose the Valley to development and believing in the stabilizing good of agriculture, SAGE researched the area and discovered where the land could be farmed and the appropriate size and scale of croplands that could be added. The study called for the “revitalization of specialty crop agriculture” and found the region would gain $1.6 – $3.9 billion per year in tourism, a sustainable and permanent local agriculture, and the conservation of land.

Discover Coyote Valley / SAGE
Discover Coyote Valley / SAGE

The question is: how do you monetize these plans? Here, again, a call for the landscape architect. Kraus echoed Mulville in the need for beauty and design to save our agricultural lands. “What we need is a designed plan for the Valley.” Landscape architects could present an “in-depth assessment.”

As Mulville said, farmers have on-the-ground knowledge, but “what they are missing is design.” Farming done well, much like landscape architecture, is a genius melding of art, science, and place. The opportunities for designers are abundant.

The Story of Two Landscape Architects: Friendship and Collaboration

William Johnson, FASLA, Jim Richards, FASLA, and Peter Walker, FASLA at the ASLA 2016 Annual Meeting / NC ASLA Twitter
William Johnson, FASLA, Jim Richards, FASLA, and Peter Walker, FASLA at the ASLA 2016 Annual Meeting / NC ASLA Twitter

How does it happen that two men from different backgrounds become not only fast friends but life-long collaborators? In the case of William Johnson, FASLA, a now-retired professor at University of Michigan, and Peter Walker, FASLA, founder of PWP Landscape Architecture, it started on the first day of their master’s of landscape architecture studies at Harvard Graduate School of Design, when they noticed each other driving the same car.

In a delightful and warm session at the ASLA 2016 Annual Meeting in New Orleans moderated by James Richards, FASLA, Townscape, Johnson and Walker recalled their youth, friendship, and growth into two of the profession’s best-known practitioners and mentors.

Walker grew up in San Francisco and was influenced early by the Bay Area School and Thomas Church. He also worked for Lawrence Halprin his senior year at the University of California Berkeley. He was on the verge of leaving landscape architecture for publishing when he was convinced by Stanley White that “landscape architecture was as much of a cultural enterprise as books.” He followed White to the University of Illinois to study. There, Walker’s path crossed with Hideo Sasaki who said, “come to Harvard,” so he did.

Meanwhile, Johnson grew up in the Midwest in Michigan and was deeply influenced by the two years he spent living on a farm in high school. As a city kid on a farm, he learned “an advanced degree in land thinking,” paying close attention to the wind, water, and weather. He went to Michigan State University (MSU) and joined the military. During a visit to MSU, Sasaki took note of his work and said, “you should go to graduate school.” After two years of service, he showed up at Sasaki’s university office.

Richards asked their first impressions each other:

Walker recalled, “Bill was drawing all the time, he used it as a method of communication, and as a thinking tool.”

Johnson said, “Pete name dropped and was impressive, and taught me, ‘you gotta have an idea. An idea is essential to get somewhere.’”

The mentorship of Sasaki was instrumental in bringing them together. He convinced them landscape architecture was “growing beyond the back yard,” as Walker said. And so they set out to create an office that could handle the new complexity of the profession. They learned scale should never be a problem: “if you can solve the problem of a garden, you can solve an Eastern Seaboard master plan,” said Johnson.

After their time collaborating at Harvard and with Sasaki, they went in different directions. Johnson went back to the Midwest to found his firm, JJR, and teach at the University of Michigan. He would eventually become the dean of the school of natural resources, a job he took only after discussing it with Walker.

Walker would return to California to open a field office for his work with Sasaki. Over the years, he had various successful partnerships, but always left the door open for this old friend and colleague, Johnson. Eventually, the time was right, and they were able to join in partnership in 1992 with their firm Peter Walker William Johnson Partners.

Skyforest Plaza at Saitama-Shintoshin Station /
Skyforest Plaza at Saitama-Shintoshin Station / Peter Walker William Johnson Partners
derived from- 06802#p82.tif From Tif
Skyforest Plaza at Saitama-Shintoshin Station / Peter Walker William Johnson Partners

Johnson and Walker acknowledge and embrace the differences in their styles and approach to the discipline of landscape architecture. It those differences, as well as their deep respect for each other, that makes them work so well together. Over their long careers, they continued to refine their collaboration.

As Johnson put it, his “large-scale planning thinking combined” with Walker’s “inclination to build it,” made them great partners.

Walker agreed and continued, “It is the differences among us – even between the various aspects of the profession – that make us interesting.”

Landscape architects must work towards a holistic gathering. The expansive work of landscape architecture must be done with a deep sense of purpose. As Johnson put it, “we work in the arena between people and the earth.”

Looking ahead, the mentorship of young landscape architects – both as teachers and through summer mentorship programs – would also become a large part of how both Johnson and Walker would make a contribution.

National Park Service Looks Ahead to the Next 100 Years

National Park Service Logo / WikiCommons
National Park Service Logo / WikiCommons

“National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” — Wallace Stegner, 1983

The National Park Service (NPS) celebrates its centennial this year and is ready to move into its next 100 years by restoring its crown jewels and also embracing new parks and a diverse range of visitors. At the ASLA 2016 Annual Meeting in New Orleans, Barbara Wyatt, ASLA, NPS and the National Register of Historic Places: Landscape Initiative said, the service must “maintain natural, community, historic, and cultural elements” while upholding standards of excellence far into the future. The NPS now boasts of 412 units, including vast tracts of wilderness, important cultural institutions, monuments, and historic landscapes.

Susan Olmsted, ASLA, with Mithun explained efforts to restore one of the system’s jewels: the Mariposa Groves of giant sequoias in Yosemite. Her efforts are about “building resilience for this cherished place.” In the midst of one of the rarest ecologies in the world, there was a parking lot and a tram to accommodate all visitors. People were about to “love these trees to death.” Over a hundred years of fire suppression (natural fires were re-introduced in 1971) had also been a setback for the species. The health and well-being of the trees was put at the center of the restoration plan.

Mariposa Grove / Yosemite Conservancy Ted Soqui
Mariposa Grove / Yosemite Conservancy

Places like these, which feed into the national imagination and “elevate the human spirit,” are some of the most important elements of the NPS experience. The Mariposa Grove is now on its way back to a healthy and long future and will re-open next summer.

The National Mall, as tapis vert, is in many ways the opposite of the Mariposa Groves at Yosemite, but is no less important to the national imagination as the soaring heights of the giant Sequoia. We gather there for inaugurations and to hear the rallying cry of leaders calling for civil rights. It is, in a sense, the front lawn for all Americans. But with 30 million visitors a year and over 3,000 officially-permitted uses, it was in need of rehabilitation.

Michael Stachowicz is the only turf management specialist on NPS’ staff, and recognizes the importance of keeping the Mall green and healthy. The rehabilitated lawn was “designed for modern use while keeping its historic character.” Millions of feet over many years had caused serious soil compaction, terrible drainage, and patchy green. His rehabilitation efforts included thoughtful grading, specially-grown sod from seed, drainage systems, stormwater cisterns, and engineered soils. His maintenance policy has moved from “damage repair to damage prevention.” He acknowledged sometimes the best thing you can do is ask people to “keep off the lawn.”

The National Mall / Landscape Architecture Magazine
The National Mall / Landscape Architecture Magazine

Phil Hendricks, ASLA, Robert Peccia & Associates, offered his experience in the creation of one of the newest units in the system: the Waco Mammoth National Monument, in Waco, Texas, as well as his restoration work at the Flamingo Visitor Center and Campground in Florida’s Everglades National Park. Both parks refer back to well documented NPS styles guidelines. The original “park rustic” design was applied to Waco Mammoth, and the Flamingo Resort was restored to mid-century “Mission 66” style, even down to a new coat of flamingo-pink paint.

Interior of Mammoth Dig Shelter / Waco Parks and Recreation Department
Interior of Mammoth Dig Shelter / Waco Parks and Recreation Department

The NPS seeks to embrace a broader constituency of visitors across its ever expanding urban and natural landscapes, cultural heritage sites, and monuments. With its increasing embrace of public-private partnerships, it’s also finding the funding to continue into its next century. This land is your land, go out and see it.

Heal the Landscape and Ourselves

Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoon / MLive
Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoo, Michigan / MLive

“Healing must begin with a discussion about woundedness,” said Todd Degner, Affil. ASLA, in a moving and powerful presentation at the ASLA 2016 Annual Meeting in New Orleans. By sharing both images of himself as a child and the story of his own trauma, Degner recalled the place that was his refuge. The canopy of a spirea hedge became a fortress, a place that called to him and helped him heal himself, and “smelled like hope.” Degner, along with Naomi Sachs, ASLA, founder of the Therapeutic Landscapes Network; Jerry Smith, FASLA, Smith/GreenHealth Consulting; and Virginia Burt, FASLA, Virginia Burt Designs, provided research, guidelines, and emotional anecdotes to inspire landscape architects and designers to heal ourselves and our landscapes.

As designers, “stories of the wounded fall in our lap without resolution,” said Degner. While we cannot know the outcome of these stories, they entreat designers to be mindful – to be merciful and healing. Through a simple landscape devise, landscape architects and designers can transfer deeper truths and offer paths to healing.

Many among us have sought out landscapes for solace for our own traumas or personal struggles, including Sachs, as she shared with the audience. She also shared research to help designers who may be met with resistance to their “best intentions,” as elements are cut through value engineering or tight budgets.

For example, a 5-minute-a-day walk in a natural environment can lead to decreased levels of depression and stress. For children with ADHD, 20-minutes in a park can result in fewer symptoms with results similar to a dose of Ritalin.

Even if a person is unwilling or unable to be active in a natural setting, studies prove just living near nature and trees can have such effects as better test scores for girls and decreased instances of domestic violence. Access to nature simply makes people exhibit “more pro-social behavior.”

Healing Garden / Edgerton Hospital and Health Services
Healing Garden / Edgerton Hospital and Health Services

But, as Smith reminds us, it isn’t just the individual that needs healing, but also our landscapes. Working through a process of “evidence based design,” landscape architects can convince clients “there is a reason we want to do these things, it’s not just a matter of taste.”

There has been a paradigm shift in how we talk about our landscapes. It is no longer enough to conserve, but we have to regenerate the land through performative landscapes in order to start healing. There are a number of initiatives to help us get there. The Sustainable SITES Initiative™ (SITES®) has taken “deep dive into sustainability,” and added to the list of the usual considerations of a place like water, soil, and plants, goals like the health and well-being of humanity.

Humans play a role in healing the landscape, and, in turn, it can heal us. If we are to accept this mutual responsibility, we must approach our designs holistically, and, as Burt said, with “intention.” Designs must acknowledge the emotional response that so often comes from plants. Smell can be a deep trigger for memory. For Burt, this pursuit of intention is spiritual and leads her design process: “where intention goes, energy flows.”

For the University Hospital Schneider Healing Garden adjacent to the Seidman Cancer Center (SCC) in downtown Cleveland, she created a healing garden at its front door. Starting with input from staff and inspiration from poetry, she arrived at a garden where the transformative process of healing can begin. The garden offers patients and staff places of quiet and contemplation, and sensory experiences that elevate and transport.

Schneider Healing Garden / Brad Feinknopf
Schneider Healing Garden / Brad Feinknopf

As Degner mentioned, healing is a process, and there is no quick fix. A therapeutic garden, no matter how perfectly designed, will not immediately solve all our woes.

“Healing begins with hospitality,” from our family, friends, and the professionals who help us heal. Designers can offer hospitality, too – a place that “covers, protects, and is in a setting abounding with life.” Degner offered this benediction: “say ‘yes’ to the call to help wounded people and wounded landscapes.” It is the calling of landscape architecture.

In Chicago, New Parks Are Civic Infrastructure

Burnham's Plan of Chicago / University of Chicago
Burnham’s Plan of Chicago / University of Chicago

For Daniel Burnham, the Chicago architect and planner who created the 1909 Plan of Chicago, civic and infrastructural improvements in Chicago could only happen simultaneously. This approach continues today. Using Burnham’s plan as launching point, Marshall Brown, Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and Marshall Brown Projects, moderated a discussion at the ASLA 2015 Annual Meeting in Chicago on three new works of “civic infrastructure,” with presentations by Sarah Astheimer, ASLA, James Corner Field Operations; Matthew Bird, ASLA, Michael Van Valkenburg Associates (MVVA); and Gina Ford, ASLA, Sasaki Associates.

In the Plan of Chicago, Burnham’s approach was an “integration of landscape and architecture,” creating hybrid places infrastructural in nature. The three new Chicago parks and landscapes discussed in the session – Navy Pier Pierscape by James Corner Field Operations, Maggie Daley Park by MVVA, and the Chicago Riverwalk by Sasaki – are also hybrids. All required a high level of performance, a “contemporary green and sustainable design,” as Astheimer put it.

Ford called Chicago a “uniquely infrastructural city,” and the projects reflect this. The Navy Pier, built in 1916, has a direct line to Burnham’s plan, as it is the only pier he proposed that was actually created. The new pierscape reoriented the entrance to the pier, opening a “free and clear view of the lake” as you approach, while also changing the perception that the pier is disconnected from Chicago and too commercial.

Navy Pier pierscape / James Corner Field Operations
Navy Pier Pierscape / James Corner Field Operations

The two other landscapes required building significant new infrastructure:

Maggie Daley Park required construction of a large park filled with activities, but also a naturalistic garden, all built over a parking garage. MVVA then unified “a complex site through topography” and created an “integration of ideas and programs” that resulted in a landscape to be enjoyed year round, providing opportunities for both play and relaxation.

Maggie Daley Park / Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates
Maggie Daley Park / Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates

The Riverwalk required that land literally be built on the river. For Ford, “creating a landscape on water” in a tight space was a challenge but by “knitting together” the existing walkways to create a continuous path, as well as creating new places for gathering, socializing, and recreation, the Riverwalk “allows the life of the city and the life of the river to interact.”

Chicago River Walk / Sasaki Associates
Chicago River Walk / Sasaki Associates

These new pieces of civic infrastructure can “get people out of their homes and into their community,” as Bird said. And while landscape architects and designers might not be able to change the world in as broad strokes as they may like, they can at least, as Ford put it, “create a comfortable bench for different people to engage with each other, to have a conversation they might not normally have.” It’s clear that since the days of Burnham, Chicago only continues to build on its legacy of creating and supporting large-scale civic and infrastructural improvements.

Design with Every Bee in Mind

Pollinator Garden / Celeste Ets-Hokin
Pollinator Garden / Celeste Ets-Hokin

The natural habitats of pollinators are increasingly fragmented. The overwhelming majority of American agricultural landscapes use chemical pesticides and fertilizers. These factors contribute to the declining health of bees. At the ASLA 2015 Annual Meeting in Chicago, Heather Holm, Holm Design and Consulting; Danielle Bilot, Associate ASLA, Kudela & Weinheimer; Laurie Davies, executive director of the Pollinator Partnership; and James Schmelzer, building operations and management, General Services Administration (GSA) showed how landscape architects and designers can better design for bees. As Holm explained, 81 percent of plants are pollinated by insects, birds, or mammals. Of those plants, 33 percent are food crops.

Most people’s idea of a pollinator is the honeybee, a domesticated insect integral to modern U.S. agriculture. Hives of these bees are shipped throughout the country, following the blooms of food crops. The plight of the honeybee has gotten a lot of attention in recent years. We have learned how we should support them through the thoughtful planting of bee-friendly plants, but less has been written about native bees, let alone the other pollinators.

We must not forget about other pollinators like native bees. North America boasts upwards of 4,000 native bee species, with 200-500 individual species per state. These native species are proven to be more efficient pollinators than the honeybee. As Bilot explained, 200 native bees have the efficiency of 10,000 honeybees. The difference is one of range: the larger the bee, the further they can travel to forage. The honeybee is able to travel a few miles from its hive to foraging opportunities, while the smaller native bee is only able to travel slightly under 1,000 feet. So this means native bees can accomplish more intensive pollination in a small area.

Native Sweat Bee / Ben Kolstad
Native Sweat Bee / Ben Kolstad

Designing for the smallest specialist bee to the larger generalist bee requires a thoughtful approach. Recognizing that “every urban center has at least 10 percent of its land use area dedicated to parking,” Bilot proposed a plan to connect rural and suburban foraging habitats of the native bees through urban parking lots. This would provide even the smallest bee with foraging opportunities through habitat corridors.

Pollinator median (before) / Danielle Bilot
Standard roadway median / Danielle Bilot

 

Pollinator-friendly median / Danielle Bilot
Pollinator-friendly median / Danielle Bilot

Adams urged all landscape architects and designers to incorporate pollinator-friendly designs “into everything you do.” The Pollinator Partnership has info for everyone from clients to designers, and all resources are free. As Adams said, there’s “a lot of good information out there. You don’t have to invent it, you just have to access it.”

Learning about the different pollinators in your community is the first step. Then, bring passion and commitment to creating a space for pollinators. Even small spaces can go a long way in bolstering declining populations of bees and butterflies, while helping to create healthy, sustainable, and beautiful communities for us, too.

How to Design Within Novel Ecosystems

Woodland, Mt. Cuba / The Washington Post
Woodland, Mt. Cuba / The Washington Post

As our landscapes become increasingly fragmented and degraded, landscape architects and designers are grappling with how to deal with invasive and non-native plants that form “novel ecosystems.” Given each one of these systems is different, there are complicated issues that require a thoughtful and strategic approach. Ecologist Stephen Murphy from the University of Waterloo joined Travis Beck, ASLA, director of horticulture at the Mt. Cuba Center, and Larry Weaner, Affiliate ASLA, Larry Weaner Landscape Associates, to discuss strategies for designers at the ASLA 2015 Annual Meeting in Chicago.

A novel ecosystem, as Murphy defined, is as an ecosystem that has “crossed an ecological or socio-economic threshold so it’s no longer possible, or at least feasible, to restore the system to some kind of historical range of variation.” For example, Chicago’s original ecosystem has far passed this threshold: It’s simply unfeasible to tear down the entire city to restore the prairie. Each novel ecosystem is fragmented to a different degree. And the more edges these systems have, the more opportunity for invasives to take hold.

An invasive plant is a “highly competitive plant or animal species” that is able to rapidly colonize because it doesn’t have any competition and is therefore able to become the dominant species. The reality is that a novel ecosystem may never be free of invasive plants, but there are ways to manage them.

Most designers already work in novel ecosystems, so the issue isn’t necessarily whether they are good or bad. Instead the question is how to design within these systems. As Beck, author of Principles of Ecological Landscape Design pointed out, one need only look at the ASLA 2015 professional award winners to see numerous examples of “naturalistic plantings with high ecological value that blend seamlessly with the surrounding landscape.” Here’s an example of a naturalistic planting in a wetland park in China.

Weishan Wetland Park, Aecom Shanghai / ASLA
ASLA 2015 Professional Honor Award. Weishan Wetland Park, Aecom Shanghai / ASLA

Weaner sees novel ecosystems as an opportunity to “preserve the propagules,” seeds or cuttings of plants. Many native plants are found in these mixed human-created and natural ecosystems and their seeds can be collected.

Meadow, Salt Point, New York / Larry Weaner Associates
Meadow, Salt Point, New York / Larry Weaner Associates

Beck offered some useful tips. Reduce novel landscape fragmentation by identifying and prioritizing land to restore. If given the opportunity to start from scratch, begin again with a clean seed bed — in other words, fresh soil without embedded seeds from other places. If not, clean up the edges of novel landscapes by removing invasive plants while leaving desirable seedlings. Only small shifts in species composition may be possible at first. A simplified, but well-considered plant palette is important for ease of maintenance.

Working with these concepts is tricky. All of the speakers caution that there is no right answer. Each site requires a different approach.

How to Re-weird Design

Rococo Chair / Tony Favarula
Rococo Chair / Tony Favarula

Can leaving the comfort zone push designers to re-imagine what is possible? Outside Design, an exhibition at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC)’s Sullivan Gallery, shows that the answer to this question is yes. During a talk at the gallery, Jonathan Solomon, director of architecture, interior architecture, and designed objects at SAIC, called for leaving the usual behind and “re-weirding the discipline of design,” which can allow designers and artists to innovate and move beyond disciplinary boundaries. The exhibition is part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial and features the work of five firms of artists and designers: Analog Media Lab (Urbana-Champaign, Illinois), Ants of the Prairie (Buffalo, New York), The Living and the Ali Brivanlou Lab (New York City), Species of Space (Chicago), and Sweet Water Foundation (Chicago). Solomon curated the gallery as a “series of laboratories.”

To re-weird design, as Solomon explains, designers must design outside of their wheelhouse. They have to explore ideas and processes that push both the design and themselves, and go beyond clients’ comfort levels. It may also call for designers to look outside — literally. Designers should see the “complexity of nature and ecology” as an inspiration for design and art, as well as a potential means to create a more sustainable future.

David Hays of Analog Media Lab describes their work as “purposeful, pragmatic, and playful” yet grounded in experimentation. Their Rococo Chair riffs on the floral designs of Rococo-era upholstery fabrics, replacing them with actual flowers sandwiched between clear plastic (see image above). However, these flowers aren’t sealed up; they are allowed to decay. The flowers in the chair are dynamic, making the “rococo image real.”

Moving up to the scale of the building, both Ants of the Prairie and The Living propose re-wierding building façades, integrating them with the natural world.

Whether we like it or not, animals and bugs live with us in and around our homes. How do we reveal and enhance this relationship? Joyce Hwang of Ants of the Prairie created her installation, Habitat Wall, as an “inhabitable living membrane.” Built of different types of wood, including salvaged and reclaimed pieces, and composed of a series of modules, Habitat Wall is a beautiful physical object, but also functions as nesting houses and ledges for bats and birds, allowing both people and creatures to live together.

Habitat Wall / Heidi Petersen
Habitat Wall / Heidi Petersen
Habitat Wall / Tony Favarula
Habitat Wall / Tony Favarula

Designing at the intersection of biology and architecture, David Benjamin of The Living works with biologist Ali Brivanlou to co-create a façade with nature. They designed Amphibious Envelope, a façade wherein the traditional double-paned glass is replaced with tanks filled with water, moss, frogs, and snails. As the oxygen levels in the wall lower, the frogs rise to the top of the water, triggering sensors which release air bubbles, thus re-oxygenating both the water and the air around the wall. The installation is both a “functional façade” and an “open-ended experiment” that allows for a more fluid relationship between the inside and outside.

Amphibious Envelope / Heidi Petersen
Amphibious Envelope / Heidi Petersen
Amphibious Envelope / Tony Favarula
Amphibious Envelope / Tony Favarula

And the process of re-weirding design can be expanded yet again to the scale of the public realm.

Eric Ellingsen of Species of Space plays with questions of language and people’s perception of public space. A book case built on an angle and a dream machine, a spinning strobe in a dark room that produces visual hallucinations, are a means to change our perception. Elison also is in the process of mapping poems of cities, to create a “physical manifestation of language and design.”

Dream Machine / Tony Favarula
Dream Machine / Tony Favarula

For Emmanual Pratt of Sweet Water Foundation (SWF), an ecosystem can be both a physical natural process and a network of people. SWF “transforms blight into life” through their internship model, which trains students in aquaponics and ultimately encourages them to create a “decentralized network of sharing.” The aquaponics ecosystem then becomes an ecosystem of community partners and users. Their installation, Aquapons, highlights the importance of a sustainable system.

Aquapons / Heidi Petersen
Aquapons / Heidi Petersen

Outside Design shows us how small changes in perception can yield interesting results. Designers owe it to themselves to look outside the usual design processes. Inspiration may come in the form of bats, frogs, or poetry. Everyone should be open to the opportunities “re-weirding” can provide.

A number of lectures exploring the ideas of Outside Design are scheduled through November. The exhibit runs through December 19.

This guest post is by Heidi Petersen, Associate ASLA.

Yoko Ono’s “Sky Landing” Is Coming to Chicago’s Jackson Park

sky1
Restoration of Jackson Park / Project 120

On a rainy afternoon, surrounded by musicians, dancers, and dignitaries, artist Yoko Ono spoke at an “earth healing” ceremony, celebrating the dedication of the site of what will be her only permanent installation in the Americas, Sky Landing. The installation will be in Chicago’s Jackson Park, on the Wooded Island, which is currently undergoing extensive restoration work, including the reconstruction of natural areas and the creation of a new pavilion.

Sky Landing will be located on a site adjacent to the Osaka Garden in Frederick Law Olmsted’s bucolic park. The site is historically significant, as it is the location of the original Phoenix Pavilion, which was built in 1893 as a part of the World’s Fair Columbian Exposition to promote American understanding of Japanese culture and as a means to unite the East and West. The original pavilion burned to the ground in 1946.

Ono responds to this history. She explained her inspiration for the piece to Americans for the Arts’ Nora Halpern: “I want the sky to land here, to cool it, to make it well again.”

Though the actual form of Sky Landing, which is expected to open in 2016, hasn’t been revealed, the land has been formed in anticipation of the installation. Two crescent shaped mounds of earth curve into each other, creating between them a space for sky, framed by land.

sky2
View of the crescent / Heidi Petersen

The healing ceremony was organized by Robert W. Karr, Jr., president of Project 120 Chicago, which is leading the restoration effort in Jackson Park. Karr spoke of the Japanese concept of kanreki, or the idea that rebirth happens every 60 years. In 2013, exactly 120 years after the original dedication of the Phoenix Pavilion for the 1893 World’s Fair, 120 Japanese cherry trees were planted. In a continuation of this theme, Sky Landing asks that peace and understanding be reborn.

Toshiyuki Iwado, Consul General of Japan at Chicago, said the site and Ono’s new piece represent a legacy of unity between American and Japanese cultures. Here, people will be able to experience the “richness of nature and the harmony of culture and peace.”

Ono spoke of feeling Chicago’s “incredible, incredible intense opening of the heart.” She has long felt a deep connection to Chicago, saying in an interview with Halpern that “Chicago makes me nostalgic about way, way back when I was a little girl in the 1930’s. I don’t really know why.”

Derek R. B. Douglas, vice president for civic engagement, University of Chicago, spoke of the importance of parks and green space in providing community members both access to nature and opportunities for solitude. Describing Sky Landing as “one more way for local residents to connect to the park,” he reminded us of the importance of the park as a place for people to gather, engage with the natural world, and find respite.

At the ceremony, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel also took the opportunity to unveil a public art initiative, Public Art Chicago: 50 for 50, which will create a public art installation in each of the city’s 50 wards, because “public art enriches the experience of public space.”

Meanwhile, no word yet from the Obamas and Chicago city government as to whether they will take a piece of Jackson Park or nearby Washington Park for the $500-million Obama presidential library. In May, word leaked from the Obama library foundation that one of these two Olmsted-designed historic parks will be the future site, to the dismay of historic preservation and park advocates.

This guest post is by Heidi Petersen, a recent graduate of Illinois Institute of Technology’s Master of Landscape Architecture program, former ASLA Communications Intern, and a proud Chicagoan.