Come for the Fun, Stay for the Challenge and (Possible) Bragging Rights

Image 1 Mini Golf Clubs  Anne McDonough Photography
The National Building Museum’s summer mini-golf is back, this time with two courses of nine holes each. Each hole was constructed around the theme “Building the Future” and was designed by a variety of architects, landscape architects, designers and contractors. A group of four of us played through both courses; the highlights, favorites and frustrations of which are detailed below.

Perhaps the coolest looking hole on either course was Holograph Hole on the Green course. Designed and built by architecture firm Skidmore, Ownings & Merrill with help from students at Catholic University’s School of Architecture, this hole featured a 3-D virtual cityscape in glowing holographic green. Calling attention to the digital tools that architects now use, this hole highlights how 3-D technology is also changing the design process. Par was 2. Half of our crew scored on par, the other half a 3. Is it an acceptable excuse to say the sci-fi surroundings were a bit distracting because they were just so awesome?

Image 2 Holograph Hole Kevin Allen Photography
FOREward Thinking
, hole 6 on the Green course, was built and designed by STUDIOS Architecture, under the premise that we can be sustainable by revitalizing old buildings. Common materials came together in the construction of this hole, along with two separate paths, one of which was up a ramp and down a xylophone. This route was, of course, not the direct route.  Par was 3, which our group easily made, with the exception of yours truly, who got stuck trying unsuccessfully to use the xylophone. This resulted in 2 over par, though the invitation to draw on the chalkboard walls took away some of the sting.

Image 3 FOREward Thinking Emily Clack Photography
Hole 8 on the Green Course, Capital RiverGreen, designed by Shalom Baranes Associates and built by Winmar Construction, showcases D.C.’s relatively new Yards Park, which runs along the Anacostia River. Depending on where you stand, panels line up to create large pictures of the landscape in and surrounding the park. Play is directed around a tiny Navy Yard Metro sign and over the park’s iconic bridge rendered in miniature. Enjoyment of this hole has to do with an interest in community green space and not just because of a score of 2 on a par 3.

Image 4 Capitol RiverGreen - Photo by Kevin Allen Photography (2)
Our merry band of mini golf players made it through the “easy” Green Course, which was par 25, with a respectable 24 and 25, as well as a slightly less than respectable 26 and 28. But who’s judging? We’re just having fun. On to the Blue Course, which, you guessed it, was the “hard” course. Some of the holes on this course seem nearer to impossible than hard, but again, who’s judging?

First up was Mount Vernon Triangulation, which at first blush is deceptively simple – lines of light form triangles on a flat rectangle with a straight path to the hole. Then you step on it and realize that where you stand affects the shape of the putting green. Designer, E/L Studio, and builders, Think Make Build; FLOR; and Independent Custom Metalworks, want to teach participants about triangulation, which is a process that determines a location by using other known and fixed points. Upon closer inspection, the lines of blue lights also form a map of the Mount Vernon Triangle. It is possible to direct the ball by jumping from side to side and changing the shape of the course rather like a game of pinball, but no need, we were all off to a good start scoring on par or below on this hole’s par 3.

Image 5 Mount Vernon Triangulation - Emily Clack Photography
The Evolution of the Office
, Hole 2, which was designed by Determined by Design and built by DAVIS Construction, reminds us that technology has fundamentally changed how, and where, we work. Our laptops and smartphones give us the opportunity to take our work from the office to the park bench. This, like many holes on the Blue course, provides the player with two routes, generally one more direct than the other. Not wanting to say no to challenge, I chose the route over the desks and back around the park bench. The angle is a bit awkward and high off the ground, so it seemed like a good idea to use the club like a pool cue. That is until the ball went flying off the bench and landed on the other side of the room. This resulted in a score of 4, 2 over par, with my mini-golf associates scoring at par, or 1 over.  You might guess who chose the direct route.

Image 6 The Evolution of the Office - Anne McDonough Photography
Hole 4, The Future’s Looking Up!, designed by Bonstra I Haresign Architects and built by Monarc Construction, shows the player the latest in green roof technology. Play is a straight shot uphill, once you get past the drainage elements and round the chimney. But don’t get too confident, or you’ll end up in the roof’s gutter which sends you back down the hill. Par was 3, though only one in our group scored that, with the rest of us scoring a very sorry and disappointing 6.

Image 7 The Future's Looking Up! Green Roofs as our New Urban Playgrounds - Photo by Kevin Allen Photography
Tomorrow’s Water
, Hole 5, sponsored by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and designed and built by students at Virginia Tech’s Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center is not only arguably the most beautiful hole on either course, it is without question one of the most difficult. Carved in layered wood, this hole shows in topographic detail D.C.’s watershed and forces the player to confront something that few of us ever consider in our day-to-day lives: Where does storm water go and how does it get there? Par is 3, though if it weren’t for witnessing a hole in one, one might argue par should be nigh impossible. Unlike water which flows where it will, there is one route that will lead you directly to the hole, but beware falling off the edge. If that happens, you might have to call it at 6 strokes rather than admitting the 15 strokes you took to try and get back on track.

Image 8 Tomorrow's Water - Photo by Kevin Allen Photography
The Blue Course’s Hole 7 provides a much needed respite after the frustrations of some of the earlier holes on the course. Imagination Powers the Future, designed and built by Hargrove, Inc., is whimsical, colorful, and a direct shot with a par 3. This hole is based on the idea that imagination and creativity make the world a better place.  We were all happy to make it under par, with one in the group getting a hole in one.

Image 9 Imagination Powers the Future - Anne McDonough Photography
The last hole on the Blue Course, PARticipatory TERRAIN, designed by D.C.-based landscape architecture firm, Landscape Architecture Bureau (LAB), built by Harkins Builders, and sponsored by The JBG Companies, requires the player to choose a side on a yes or no question, and by placing a pink plastic rod on the side of their answer, decide themselves how to change the route to the hole. The question our group confronted, “Should we prepare for an asteroid to hit the earth?” was split pretty evenly between the yes and no camps, something that may have helped direct the ball neatly to the hole, under the par 3, with one of us scoring a hole in one. Come back each week for a new question, and new challenge.

Image 10 PARticipatory TERRAIN - Photo by Kevin Allen Photography (2)
Blue Course’s par was a 26, and proved for most of us to be as much of a challenge as it was billed to be. We scored a 29, a 31 (uffda, that’s yours truly), a 23 (show-off), and a 28.

At $5 per course per person, this is truly a fun time. Come down and show off your mad mini-golf skills and prove you’re up for the challenge.

The National Building Museum’s Mini-Golf runs now through Labor Day, with a few late nights this summer where you can couple with BBQ and a live band. Don’t miss it. You might learn something, too.

This guest post is by Heidi Petersen, Student ASLA, ASLA 2013 summer intern and Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT)

Image credits: (1) Mini Golf Clubs / Anne McDonough Photography, (2) Holograph Hole / Kevin Allen Photography, (3) FOREWard Thinking / Emily Clack Photography, (4) Capital RiverGreen / Kevin Allen Photography, (5) Mount Vernon Triangulation / Emily Clack Photography, (6) The Evolution of the Office / Anne McDonough Photography, (7) The Future’s Looking Up! / Kevin Allen Photography, (8) Tomorrow’s Water / Kevin Allen Photography, (9)) Imagination Powers the Future / Anne McDonough Photography, (10) PARticipatory TERRAIN / Kevin Allen Photography

What Benefits Older People Benefits Everyone

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By 2050, one in five Americans will be 65 years of age or older, but, unfortunately, less than half of our country’s jurisdictions are prepared for this massive demographic shift. At The Atlantic’s “Conversation on Generations” forum at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., Steven Clemens, Washington editor-at-large of The Atlantic and Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class and other bestsellers, discussed how communities can better prepare for their aging populations. The big point they made: what makes these communities healthier for older people will really benefit Americans of all ages.

Florida defined aging baby-boomer populations as Empty-Nesters, those 45-64, and retirees, those 65 and older. These groups are now replicating the trends of the Millennials: they are moving to urban centers. Boomers are moving to cities to be closer to their children and grandchildren. In part, they may be moving there to build a sense of community that may be missing in the suburbs.

But at least with the aging, the differences between the suburbs and urban areas may not be so stark. Florida said the traditional “categories of city and suburb don’t cut it anymore.” The distinction is now between whether a community is livable or not. A livable community is safe, secure, and offers access to transit, health care. These places are walkable and enable a high level of sociability. All of these things combine to help people age in place. According to the AARP, this is something the vast majority of older Americans want to do.

Clemens added that “cities have become better at being cities,” but there is still work to be done to make the majority of our communities truly livable. Transit systems need to be expanded or built in the majority America’s communities. Improving the connectivity of neighborhoods via networks of sidewalks and bike lanes is important. And the things that used to draw people downtown, “the SOBs – symphony, opera and ballet,” as Florida jokingly called them, aren’t enough of a draw anymore. Boomers and Millennials alike both call for more street-level vibrancy.

Florida admits this move by the boomers to urban centers, rather than retirement communities set in warmer climates, may lay the “seeds of generational conflict,” simply because boomers have more money and freedom of movement and can therefore potentially squeeze out younger people in their 20s and 30s.

That said, it isn’t just older people who will benefit from what Clemens called the “density and connectivity” of these livable communities. Florida noted that 33 million Americans across all age groups live in solo households. The more social ties a person has between friends and family, the longer and richer their life will be. Older Americans are more and more looking to live among a diversity of ages and experiences, which living in urban centers can give them.

While livable communities allow older people to age in place, the assets that allow them to do it with dignity – sociability, walkability, access to affordable and quality healthcare, proximity to community parks and greens spaces – are also the things that make cities healthy and livable places for people of all ages.  “Cities are not just places and built environments, they are collections of people,” said Florida, also noting that, “the places that really do well, do well across the board.”

This guest post is by Heidi Petersen, Student ASLA, ASLA 2013 summer intern and Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT)

Image credit: ASLA 2012 Professional General Design Award. Lafayette Greens: Urban Agriculture, Urban Fabric, Urban Sustainability. Kenneth Weikal Landscape Architecture / Image credit: Beth Hagenbuch