GSA Adopts SITES

SITES / GBCI
SITES / GBCI

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) has decided to adopt the Sustainable Sites Initiative™(SITES®) certification program for GSA’s capital construction program. The GSA determined the incorporation of SITES — which provides a focus on ecological services and sustainability beyond a building’s envelope and also possesses the ability to be applied independently or coupled with LEED certification — offers a highly effective and efficient way to compel environmental performance.

This decision has been memorialized in the 2016 version of our Facilities Standards for the Public Buildings Service (P-100) document, which establishes design standards and criteria for new buildings, infrastructural projects, major and minor alterations, and work in historic structures for the Public Buildings Service (PBS) of the GSA. This document contains both policy and technical criteria used in the programming, design, and documentation of GSA buildings and facilities.

The GSA is an independent agency of the U.S. government whose mission is to deliver the best value in real estate, acquisition, and technology services to government and the American people. The agency’s Public Buildings Service is one of the largest and most diversified public real estate organizations in the world. Its portfolio consists of 376.9 million rentable square feet in 8,721 active assets across the United States, in all 50 states, 6 U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia.

This guest post is by Christian Gabriel, ASLA, national design director for landscape architecture, U.S. General Services Administration.

Adelaide Will Plant 100,000 Square Meters of Greenery by 2020

Adelaide Design Manual
Adelaide Design Manual

Only a few years ago, if you mentioned the words sustainability, green, or global warming you were probably met with an eye roll and maybe some sort of off-handed remark about being a hippy. Now, the opposite has happened: it’s totally uncool to be disinterested in the environment, as celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio bring climate change to the foreground for the public.

Locally, the Adelaide City Council in South Australia is leading by example. Our new Adelaide Design Manual provides strategic and technical guidance for designing streets, squares, parks, with a strong focus on greening and water-sensitive urban design. The design manual will help the city achieve ambitious goals identified in the 2016-2020 draft strategic plan: to become one of the world’s first carbon-neutral cities; plant an extra 100,000 square meters of greenery by 2020; and provide a path to a real reduction in city temperatures by 2040.

The Adelaide Design Manual outlines a greener approach when designing for Adelaide and ensures consistency across projects at all scales. This means whether you are working on a garden, green wall, or multi-million dollar project, the principles for greening are exactly the same.

These principles include:

  • Considering and integrating greening across the city and at all stages of public space design;
  • Creating a connected network of greening;
  • Reinforcing the urban character through thoughtful approaches to greening;
  • Harnessing the multiple functions greening can provide through shade, shelter, stormwater management, and traffic calming;
  • Creating conditions for the success and longevity of greening by providing the right conditions for greenery to survive;
  • Using greenery to provide beautiful, comfortable, and inviting spaces that enhance the city’s social and economic value; and
  • Maximizing the seasonal benefits of greening for high-activity streets and enhanced building performance.

So much of our daily life is shaped around the public spaces we inhabit. The Adelaide Design Manual’s approaches will help the city improve these spaces, enabling greater accessibility, community health, and safety, and promoting a stronger sense of cultural identity and neighborhood character, supporting a sense of civic pride. In a warming world, the successful implementation of green infrastructure will bring more people outdoors and boost their well-being.

Some approaches will cost more up front, but realize savings in the long term. For example, Adelaide City Council’s Go Green with Public Lighting project has swapped 1,500 lights from halogen to LED lighting, which have a lower life cycle cost and will save the city $150,000 annually over their lifetime.

Adelaide Go Green with Public Lighting / ADLT.com.au
Adelaide Go Green with Public Lighting / ADLT.com.au

The Adelaide Design Manual will transform Adelaide into a design-led city, focusing on quality, not quantity, through gradual and long-term change.

The manual will provide the foundation and clear direction for the future of Adelaide as one of the world’s great small cities.

This guest post is by Suzanna Parisi, Adelaide City Council.

Has Landscape Architecture Failed?

anthropocene
Welcome to the Anthropocene / The Topograph

“A sense of crisis has brought us together. What is merely offensive or disturbing today threatens life itself tomorrow. We are concerned over misuse of the environment and development which has lost all contact with the basic processes of nature… A key to solving the environmental crisis comes from the field of landscape architecture, a profession dealing with the interdependence of environmental processes” — I. McHarg, C. Miller, G. Clay, C. Hammond, G. Patton, and J. Simonds. 1966. A Declaration of Concern.

In 1966, Campbell Miller, Grady Clay, Ian McHarg, Charles Hammond, George Patton, and John Simonds marched to the steps of Independence Hall in Philadelphia and declared that an age of environmental crisis was upon us and that the profession of landscape architecture was a key to solving it. Their Declaration of Concern launched, and to this day underpins the workings of the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF), now headquartered in Washington. To mark its 50th anniversary, the LAF will hold a summit at the University of Pennsylvania involving over 60 leading landscape architects from around the world. Delegates are being asked to deliver new declarations (manifestos if you will) about the profession’s future. Drawing upon these statements, the LAF Board will then redraft the original 1966 Declaration of Concern so that it serves to guide the profession into the 21st century.

On one level, redrafting the declaration is relatively straightforward: it would simply need to stress the twinned global phenomena of climate change and global urbanization — issues which were less well understood in 1966. On another level however, the redrafting of the declaration is profoundly complicated, because if it is to be taken seriously then a prerequisite to doing so is to ask why, after 50 years of asserting landscape architecture as “a key” to “solving the environmental crisis” does that crisis continue largely unabated? Seen in this light the declaration can be read as an admission of failure. Consequently, we must ask if McHarg and his colleagues were justified in placing such a tremendous responsibility on the shoulders of landscape architects why we have we failed so spectacularly to live up to their challenge?

The immediate response is to discredit the question; for surely the so-called environmental crisis is too general and enormous for any single profession to “solve” and then be measured against. The environmental crisis is the by-product of the ways in which the industrial revolution (modernity) has spread globally, beginning with the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century and continuing on as capitalism exploits resources for profit and growing populations work to free themselves from poverty. This, arguably, is completely out of landscape architecture’s — or for that matter any other profession’s — control.

Be that as it may, many landscape architects subscribe to McHarg’s assertion — made repeatedly in his manifesto Design with Nature which soon followed the Declaration — that landscape architects are “stewards of the earth.” If that is so then they have a prima-facie responsibility to answer for the continued denudation of the planet since 1966. Even if we reign in the question of failure to something more tangible than the entire environment — say just land-use in North America — then landscape architecture still appears to have largely failed in mitigating the most basic elements and causal forces of environmental degradation. In fact, it is hard to think of any environmental topic which landscape architecture could claim to have substantively improved over the last 50 years.

In our defense, we might argue that landscape architecture is a very young and very small profession and an even smaller academy. We can also protest, as many do, that other, more established disciplines — such as engineering and architecture — have restrained our rise to environmental leadership. We can argue that the status quo of political decision-making makes it impossible for us to meaningfully scale up our operations and work in the territory where our services are needed most. These justifications (or excuses) all contain aspects of the truth but here, by way of self-reflection on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the original Declaration of Concern, we inquire more fundamentally into the evolution of the profession’s theoretical basis over its life time. Via this route we will return critically to the original declaration and argue that landscape architecture over the last 50 years is less a story of abject failure and more one of a discipline taking the time that has been needed to prepare for a more significant role in this, the twenty-first century.

The proliferation of theory and practice that emerged in response to McHarg’s ecological method in the latter half of the twentieth century can be organized through the archetypal paradigms of knowledge production; that is, through the competing epistemologies of positivism and constructivism. Positivism — the notion that objectivity is possible, that knowledge is constructed through empirical deduction, and that such deduction could lead to generalizable Truths – constitutes the knowledge paradigm within which McHarg’s ecological method evolved. For landscape architects, this meant that “there was a design for the earth, which made it for every form of life that has existed, does now exist, and all imaginable forms in the future” and that an intervention was “right when it [tended] to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.” This form of landscape positivism evolved into the contemporary forms of thought and action known as landscape performance, in which the ecological function of landscapes is measured, optimized, and even monetized; urban metabolism, in which broader urban systems are conceived as systems of stocks and flows to be measured and stream-lined; green infrastructure, in which landscapes large and small are designed to deliver a suite of ecosystem services; and to a lesser degree urban ecology, in which the relationship between social and natural systems form a more descriptive than prescriptive field of study. Put another way, landscape positivists argue that the solution is “out there” — finding it is simply a matter of empirical study and that relative equilibrium between natural and cultural systems is the aim.

Alternatively, Constructivism — the philosophy premised upon the notion that objectivity is a mirage, that knowledge is socially and inductively constructed, and that such inductions have little relevance outside of a very specific context — constitutes the knowledge paradigm within which reactions to McHarg’s positivism emerged. By the 1980’s in the “deconstructionist” phase of post-modernity, designers began to question McHarg’s prescriptive method, asking: Design with which nature exactly and according to whose values? Simultaneously, in practice the profession became predominantly involved in the design production of public, urban space; denatured places where McHargian land suitability analysis has only limited, if any applicability. In such places, phenomenological theories such as genius loci as well as attention to human behavior, aesthetics, and innovative construction techniques were found to be more inspiring and more useful. During the 1980’s the sublime art work which emanated from a generation of so called land artists was also brought to landscape architecture’s attention, reminding us of the historical depth and poetic potential of our medium.

In this vein in 1997, James Corner, ASLA, launched a critique that the “continual emphasis upon rational prowess — often at the exclusion of phenomenological wonderment, doubt, and humility — fails to recognize the very minor degree to which the combined landscape architectural constructions around the world have affected the global environment.” He argued that landscape architectural theory ought “…to find its basis less in prescriptive methodology and formulaic technique than in the realm of perception, phenomenology, and the cultural imagination.” This is to say that the staggering complexity of social-ecological systems and the inherent subjectivity of creative perception rendered McHarg’s notion of design as evolutionary fitness moot; positioning the designer as more of an artful interpreter than a landscape scientist.

Corner’s remarks echoed statements made a few years earlier by McHarg’s nominal antithesis, the consummate landscape architect Peter Walker, FASLA. Responding to allegations of environmental disinterest in his work, in 1995 Walker expressed regret that “… we’ve been held up by our fellows as being somehow culpable, but actually we’re a very small part of this whole problem.” He pointed out that with their “parks” landscape architects only impact about 0.02 per cent of the earth’s surface. Walker seems however to have missed the point: for whereas he used the profession’s puny territorial impact to absolve it of any significant environmental responsibility, from the perspective of the LAF’s founding fathers he just provided the statistical confirmation of its abnegation. Indeed, landscape architecture can not ignore the fact that in the same time that it has produced designs for Walker’s 0.02 per cent of the world’s surface, the global conservation community under the auspices of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has by now legally secured an extraordinary 15.3 per cent of the planet as protected areas.

This raises the crucial question of landscape architecture’s professional identity and its scope: for if we follow Walker’s delineation that landscape architecture is in reality a profession more or less limited to the production of small, rarefied sites such as gardens, parks, and plazas then landscape architecture is – as its name suggests – most akin to the high design discipline of architecture, not planning or environmental science. For Walker landscape architecture is a public art and as such the environmental crisis is not its yardstick. As such we have not failed at all. On the contrary, over the last 50 years we can see that landscape architecture’s contribution to the subject of designing public space and creating ‘a sense of place’ in the wake of modernism has been a story of great success. In much of the the post-industrial, developed world, the transformation of the public realm into attractive, inclusive, and multifunctional places by landscape architects has been perhaps the most salient feature of post-modern urbanism. The problem remains however that this work is materially insignificant when compared to the reality of the “crisis” identified in the LAF’s original Declaration of Concern.

To try and broach this troubling discrepancy, what McHarg and later the landscape urbanists realized was that if post-modern landscape architecture was ever to transcend its history and be more than the design of gardens, parks, and plazas in locations predetermined by others, then the profession needed to “jump the garden fence” and somehow take on the city as a whole. In the case of McHarg, following in the lineage of Patrick Geddes and Lewis Mumford, this meant zooming out and placing the city in its regional context. This in turn inspired his methodological veneration of large-scale landscape systems as the ideal determinants of urban form.

Recoiling from McHarg’s positivism and New Urbanism’s reactionary, neotraditional aesthetics, in the early twenty first century landscape urbanists began to reconceive of previously stable notions of the city, nature, and landscape. Firstly, that thing called “the city” as a bastion of culture opposed to nature was conceptualized reinterpreted as a ubiquitous and hybridized combination of both; a new condition Neil Brenner labelled as “planetary urbanism.” Secondly, landscape urbanists found themselves mainly working in brownfield situations where “the environment” or “nature” had to be re-invented, not simply protected. Thirdly, landscape urbanists, along with everyone else were enveloped by neo-liberal economic restructuring, against which state sponsored large-scale (master) planning, at least in North America, was increasingly ineffectual.

So, whereas McHarg had zoomed out so as to control and direct the city in terms of its bioregion, landscape urbanists, for better or worse, realized they had to “get inside” the logistics of both shrinking and sprawling cities if ever they were to harness and redirect those forces toward more ecologically and socially just ends. Put simply, if they were to do more than just design post industrial parks and the usual repertoire of small public commissions, landscape urbanists had to also become urban designers and urban planners. It is no mistake then that Waldheim has, for the last decade or so, set about constructing a lineage of landscape architecture (via Olmsted, Wright, Hilberseimer, Branzi, Frampton and Koolhaas), which champions landscape architects as “the urbanists of our age.”

Substantiating this big claim has however proven difficult for the landscape urbanists: for not only have other disciplines not so easily given over the keys to the city, but landscape urbanism’s own adherents have been largely unable to substantiate the movement’s urban design aspirations with built work. To date, landscape urbanism has not been convincingly applied to at least three major forms of contemporary urbanization; mega-regional decentralization, suburban and peri-urban sprawl, and exploding informal settlement patterns in the developing world. This is not to say that the theory is flawed, on the contrary landscape urbanism is well suited to these challenges, but it seems hard to sustain the argument that  landscape architects are the urbanists of the age when they have so little to do with its major twenty first century characteristics.

In any event, hypothetically the question becomes what sort of city would landscape urbanists create if they could and in what way will it fulfill the environmental mandate of the original Declaration of Concern? The predictable answer is of course that they will create a green and “sustainable” city. Indeed, for much of the life of the Declaration of Concern, and especially since the Brundtland Report of 1987 “sustainability” has been a cure-all expression for everything the environmental crisis entails. In this sense, sustainability operates as a form of contemporary utopianism, literally a utopos meaning a good place, which is no place. Along these lines we argue that the sustainable city is an impossibility. Why? Because it is predicated on a stable-state view of the world.

The world view that idealizes equilibrium, harmony, and stability has roots in early twentieth century models of ecosystems, where it was thought that if left to their own devices natural systems tend inexorably toward stable climax states via the process of succession. During the era in which McHarg and the LAF envisioned such a harmonious relationship between humans and nature, mainstream ecological thought believed that systems could and should be stable if only we could remove human disturbance. But the science of ecology in the last 50 years has evolved away from the notion of stability and towards one of indeterminacy and resilience. Now, all of the ecological and physical sciences tell us that nature is chaotic, something we can only partially predict. If this is true, then how could humanity ever expect to achieve a McHargian balance with nature? Understood as a perfect end-state, sustainability is what systems theorists such as Donella Meadows describe as the “seventh archetype of systemic failure”: seeking the wrong goal. In other words, it is not that landscape architecture has failed to bring about sustainability — it is that sustainability is the wrong model!

In the wake of sudden chaotic events such as stock-market crashes, earthquakes, and 100-year storm events resilience theory has emerged as a more realistic theory of environmental and cultural change. Unlike the teleology of sustainability, resilience theory stresses adaptation to constant change and the ability to cope within a certain range, with that change. One of the most attractive attributes of resiliency as a new design paradigm is that it also operates in full-recognition of its short-comings. It is also organized around the idea of coping capacity — or the ability of cities, people, and ecosystems to cope, persist, and co-evolve with change and disturbance. Rather than working deductively — as sustainable development principles might — to superimpose an image of “good” upon a place and then work to reshape that place in a preferred image, resilience theory works from the local asset base outwards. For some this could be construed as sustainability without hope, a dystopia where the best we can do is calculate risk, but in its incipient stages as a theory of urbanism we prefer to think of it as design now getting closer to the way the world really works.

Considering our historical moment one is reminded of the incredible optimism with which the moderns announced theirs. In 1920 the great architect Le Corbusier launched his journal L’esprit nouvea with the declaration: “There is a new spirit: it is a spirit of construction and synthesis guided by a clear conception … A great epoch has begun.” A mere 46 years later a small group of landscape architects would declare that epoch as one of environmental crisis. And now, precisely 50 years later as we acknowledge their original Declaration of Concern the International Commission on Stratigraphy is expected to formally announce the dawn of the Anthropocene Epoch: a new geological period defined by the fact that the earth’s systems are now fundamentally and irreversibly altered by human activity.

The philosophical and practical consequences couldn’t be greater: in short, Nature, as Elizabeth Meyer, FASLA, noted, is no longer that ever-providing thing “out there,” it is, for better or worse, the world we have created and the world we are creating. The landscape of the Anthropocene is one of permanent ecological crisis. As such the Anthropocene is overwhelming, but since it is by definition a human creation, the Anthropocene is some thing we must take responsibility for, something we can design. This doesn’t automatically sanction the hyper modernity of geoengineering planetary systems but it does return us, humbly and critically to McHarg’s concept of stewardship.

As sketched in this essay, from the last 50 years of landscape architecture we have two dominant epistemological paradigms; positivism and constructivism; and three models of professional identity and scope; the landscape architect as artist (Walker), the landscape architect as regional planner (McHarg), and the landscape architect as urbanist (Waldheim). Rather than see these as competing models cancelling each other out, perhaps what we have really learned from the last 50 years is that each is somewhat incomplete without the other. If however we make a concerted effort to combine these various paradigms and models, we begin to give credence to the notion of landscape architecture as a uniquely holistic discipline, one especially well-suited to engage with the contemporary landscape of planetary urbanization and climate change.

So has landscape architecture failed? Yes and no! The small discipline of landscape architecture may not yet have impacted vast territories but it should be acknowledged for its lofty ethical concerns and for ranging so far and so wide in its pursuit of a relevant professional identity. And if in that pursuit it has been stretched too thin too far then rather that admonish it for failure, we see the last 50 years as a necessary process of preparation for this historical moment. For this is now landscape architecture’s century — all the major issues of the times are at root about how we relate to land — and if by the end of it we are still small, weak and ineffectual, and if the world is a worse place than it is now, then we will only have ourselves to blame.

This guest post is by Richard Weller, ASLA, Martin and Margy Meyerson Chair of Urbanism and Professor and Chair of Landscape Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania (PennDesign) and an LAF Board member, and Billy Fleming, a doctoral candidate in the Department of City Planning at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is conducting case study research on the use of natural features in climate change adaptation within cities along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts. Read a full version of the paper with footnotes.

GBCI Now Developing SITES AP

SITES / GBCI
SITES / GBCI

In a recent Green Business Certifications Inc. (GBCI) survey, 80 percent of respondents said they planned on implementing SITES® in their organization or practice, and 89 percent indicated interest in earning a professional credential, such as SITES Accredited Professional, or “SITES AP.” As a result, the development of SITES AP is currently under way at GBCI.

The new SITES AP credential will not only establish a common framework to define the profession of sustainable land design and construction, it will also provide landscape professionals with the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge, expertise, and commitment to the profession and will help scale up the market for SITES.

What is involved in the process of creating the SITES AP?

1. Conception: GBCI will bring together leading experts in the fields of sustainable landscape design to form a Job Analysis Committee. This committee will include landscape architects, planners, consultants, horticulturalists and water, soil, and human health specialists from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. The committee will be responsible for creating content areas that lay the groundwork for building the SITES AP exam.

2. Validation: GBCI will enlist the help of a wider group of subject matter experts, who will review the content areas and their relative importance through the SITES AP Job Analysis Survey. The survey will give experts in the sustainable landscape community an opportunity to contribute to the SITES AP credential. GBCI will then gather and analyze results to create an exam blueprint, which will outline weight distribution for exam questions by content area.

3. Development: Once the blueprint is finalized, GBCI will enlist subject matter experts to write and review questions to appear on the SITES AP exam. With expert consensus, a well-rounded exam will be created and launched for the SITES AP credential. The exam will be finalized and placed into the testing platform for aspiring SITES AP candidates.

The SITES AP exam will be an important tool for all professionals practicing sustainable landscape design who are looking to grow their careers and impact the direction of land development and management.

If you would like to contribute as a subject matter expert and help write or review test questions that will shape the first generation of SITES APs, please fill out our call for volunteers survey to get involved.

We are also conducting an online job analysis survey to seek industry feedback on what a professional should know and do to perform competently as a SITES AP. Take the SITES AP Job Analysis Survey.

GBCI will begin offering testing for the SITES AP in October 2016.

For more information about the Sustainable Sites Initiative™, visit sustainablesites.org.

Houston’s Green Makeover Only Reaches Some Neighborhoods

Busy freeway flyovers above Buffalo Bayou Park near Downtown Houston / SWA Group
Busy freeway flyovers above Buffalo Bayou Park near Downtown Houston / SWA Group

The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF)’s recent conference in Houston comes a time when the “car-centric, zoning-averse city,” as TCLF president and CEO Charles Birnbaum described it in a recent Huffington Post article, is receiving national acclaim for its public spaces and parks. As Mimi Schwartz wrote in The Texas Monthly, “Houston doesn’t look like Houston anymore.” It has “become fanatically green. Hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on this extreme makeover. And ‘you can’t believe you’re in Houston’ has replaced ‘it’s not as bad as you think,’ as an unofficial motto.”

This was the context for the conference, Leading with Landscape II: The Houston Transformation, held at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, which highlighted uncomfortable but perhaps unavoidable truths about the character of Houston’s green transformation — that access to green space, which was largely made possible through public-private partnerships (PPPs), with an emphasis on private financing, is growing but remains highly inequitable.

Birnbaum first identified lingering perceptions that Houston is “built on private interests” with “light-handed planning” and remains an “inchoate community with little available public space.” He traced some of these perceptions back to Calvin Trillin’s 1975 New Yorker essay, “On the Possibility of Houstonization.”

This perception remains. Despite the city’s deeply rich investment in parks and public spaces during the last decade, many Houstonians in attendance still move around in their cars in a city that comprises 676 square miles, as Joe Turner, Director of the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, pointed out during his introductory remarks. (Stressing, in the next breath, that this means “lots of opportunities for landscape architects.”)

Later, Bill Fulton, who directs the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University, took an informal poll of the audience, asking how many arrived via transit at the museum, which is next to a stop on the city’s main light rail line. Three people, Fulton included, out of more than 300 hundred raised their hands. This was underscored by a fact shared by Birnbaum: 75 percent of Houston was built after the end of World War II, when the car assumed precedence in American life. Now, Houston boasts the signature public spaces that were the darlings of the day, but it also boasts about the widest freeway in the world, the Katy Freeway, and three ring roads, the most recent of which, the Grand Parkway, now under construction, is well on its way to a grand total of 170 miles around — good for the longest beltway in the country. Houstonization, indeed.

So, any analysis of the city has to take into consideration former Rice School of Architecture Dean Lars Lerup’s formulation of “stim and dross” in the “suburban metropolis,” which he described in his book, After the City. At the conference, the “dross” of Houston’s chain retail, low-slung apartment complexes, and four-lane thoroughfares that lie outside the increasingly urban Loop 610 — where most of those 676 square miles are — was never mentioned. But the “stim,” or “areas of stimulation,” as Lerup has it, was heavily praised, especially in the first panel, moderated by architectural historian Stephen Fox. Panelists went through the design and planning of these examples of stim — Hermann Park, Discovery Green, Buffalo Bayou Park, and the Menil Collection.

Discovery Green, designed by Hargreaves Associates, opened the conference up to one of the major themes of the day: the public-private partnership, or PPP, as it was referred to throughout the day. As Mary Margaret Jones, FASLA, senior principal and president of Hargreaves Associates, noted, Discovery Green was “part of a plan to bring high-rise residential” to what had been “a sea of parking” and “a few scraggly oak trees” around the George R. Brown Convention Center, completed in the ‘80s. Thus, a number of interests were invested in creating what Jones called a “memorable, transformational place.” Her point about the power of the PPP was anticipated earlier by Keiji Asakura, FASLA, principal and founder of Asakura Robinson, in his welcome address: “What is so unique about Houston?” he asked. “The one word is PPP. That’s certainly been the key in changing the dialogue.” The first parks in Houston, according to Birnbaum, were privately funded.

The second panel moved on to discuss projects now in development. Chip Trageser, FASLA, principal at The Office of James Burnett, detailed improvements to Levy Park, positioned now as a kind of Discovery Green for the Upper Kirby neighborhood, an affluent area northwest of Rice University. Douglas Reed, FASLA, partner at Reed Hilderbrand; Steven Spears, FALSA, principal and partner at Design Workshop; and Thomas Woltz, FALSA, principal and owner, Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, all discussed their work at Memorial Park, a park twice as large as Central Park that is subject to the extremes of Houston’s volatile climate — severe flooding during Hurricane Ike in 2008 and the worst drought in the history of Texas in 2013, killing tens of thousands of trees. NBWLA is creating a master plan for the park, adding 38 miles of trails, and restoring, at a massive scale, the park’s decimated tree canopy with “memorial groves” of pines, while Design Workshop and Reed Hilderbrand are creating new master plans for its Arboretum and Nature Center.

Rendering of land bridge for Memorial Park, Houston / Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects
Rendering of land bridge for Memorial Park, Houston / Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects

Notable during this panel, moderated by Frederick Steiner, FASLA, dean at the School of Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin, was the presentation by Jamie Maslyn Larson, ASLA, partner at West 8 New York, on the Houston Botanic Garden. This was the one green space presented at the conference to be funded entirely through private money, and it was the one outside Loop 610. (Maslyn said it was “proximate to Downtown,” but it’s a 20-minute drive, at least.) Though the PPP was still a large part of the discussion for these projects, a second theme began to emerge, especially with regard to the West 8 master plan for the Botanic Garden: equity, or, in this case, equal access to green space for everyone.

In the third and final panel, moderated by Christopher Knapp, co-founder and CEO of Chilton Capital Management, attempted to address this theme of equity. That morning, Kinder Baumgardner, ASLA, managing principal at SWA Group, the firm behind Buffalo Bayou Park, noted a divide between the east and west sides of Houston. The only public space on the east side of town discussed during the conference is West 8’s Botanic Garden, though SWA Group and the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, the conservancy in charge of the improvements, have begun to extend their work on the city’s signature bayou east into historically under-served neighborhoods.

Because the bayous run east to west, Michael Skelly, president of Clean Line Energy Partners, touted the potential of the Houston Parks Board’s Bayou Greenways 2020 plan to right the wrong of park inequity. The ambitious plan, which is funded through a PPP, is to build 150 miles of hike and bike trails along Houston’s original infrastructure: bayous. A recent update to that plan that Houston Chronicle arts, design, and culture reporter Molly Glentzer called a “green grid” would connect more hike and bike trails on utility corridors and other north-south easements to the east-west-running bayous. Skelly stressed that the bayous “go through all neighborhoods.”

Cyclist on White Oak Bayou Greenway north of Downtown, Houston / Houston Parks Board
Cyclist on White Oak Bayou Greenway north of Downtown, Houston / Houston Parks Board

The ambition of the design and breadth of investment by PPPs in parks and public spaces in the affluent areas of “car-centric, zoning-averse” Houston is, arguably, what attracted TCLF to Houston in the first place. But the conference concluded with questions about repeating these efforts in neighborhoods where private money doesn’t flow as abundantly. This is a tension that Fox touched on in his introduction to the first panel: the power of PPPs reveal a relative lack of power and vulnerability on the part of the city to design, pay for, build, and maintain signature parks on its own, without the oomph of philanthropy. Thus, some of the same inequities afflicting the city at large — lack of access to affordable housing and public transit, heavier pollution in some neighborhoods, and food deserts in others — remain as true for access to parks. Though anyone is welcome at Discovery Green or Memorial Park, these remain destinations, not neighborhood parks. Now we know it to be true, just as Charles Moore wrote: you have to pay for the public life.

This guest post is by Allyn West, staff writer and assistant director of communications, Rice Design Alliance.

SITES Offers ASLA Members Early Adopter Discount for Certification

SITES / GBCI
SITES / GBCI

Traditional land development and land-use decisions often underestimate or ignore healthy ecosystems. Sustainable land development is cost-effective, better for the environment and fosters resiliency. Last year, GBCI expanded on its vision of speed to market transformation for the built environment to cover nearly every facet of sustainability, including sustainable landscape design and management. GBCI now administers the Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES®), the most comprehensive program for designing sustainable landscapes. To recognize those who have made significant contributions to sustainable landscape design, GBCI is excited to announce new pricing that rewards the early adopters. From March 1 to May 31, GBCI is offering a $1,500 reduction in paid registration and registration/certification bundle fees.

SITES-certified projects provide ecosystem services and create ecologically resilient communities, help reduce water demand, filter and reduce stormwater runoff, involve no or limited pesticide use, conserve or restore natural resources, and provide wildlife habitat. They also offset development impacts, reduce energy consumption, help sequester carbon, improve air quality and human health, and provide essential benefits that humans and other organisms depend on for survival.

In June 2015, GBCI launched project certification for v2 of SITES. Already, SITES v2 has seen projects registering across the world, from New York to Los Angeles, from Vancouver to Hong Kong. SITES certification is available for development projects located on sites with or without buildings, ranging from national parks to corporate campuses, from streetscapes to gardens. SITES is being used by landscape architects, designers, engineers, architects, developers, policy makers, and others to align land development and management with innovative sustainable design.

Take advantage of this special pricing opportunity by registering your project today with SITES.

Just as LEED undeniably transformed the built environment, SITES has the ability to transform land development and use under the administration of GBCI. The Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES®) is produced by the Green Business Certification Inc., which owns exclusive rights to the SITES rating system, its publications, and its trademarks. The material on which the SITES rating system is based was developed through a collaborative, interdisciplinary effort of the American Society of Landscape Architects, The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin, and the United States Botanic Garden.

The Visible Hand of the Landscape Architect

ASLA 2015 Professional General Design Honor Award. The Lawn on D / Christian Phillips Photography
ASLA 2015 Professional General Design Honor Award. The Lawn on D / Christian Phillips Photography

Gina Ford, ASLA, a landscape architect and principal at Sasaki Associates, keeps coming back to the same question: “How do we make the hand of the landscape architect visible?” Ford posed the question during a lecture at North Carolina State University’s College of Design. She then identified two projects from the multidisciplinary Urban Studio she chairs at Sasaki that demonstrate just a few of the visible roles landscape architects play.

Ford and her team played the roles of planner and designer for Lawn on D in Boston, a 2.5-acre project that grew from Sasaki’s commission to create a master plan for the expansion of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, which Ford called “this ginormous spaceship that landed in the seaport.” In the middle of what was then surface parking and scattered industrial buildings, Ford’s team imagined new development and open space to create meaningful connections between the waterfront, convention center, and the historic South Boston neighborhood.

“The community kept wanting open space, open space, open space,” Ford said. “The question was: How do you create open space that will appeal both to convention-goers, who are here for a weekend, and also to the South Boston community that wants to see this as an extension of their neighborhood?” She said,“this idea of the Lawn on D emerged. We created a landscape that’s temporary, so we can test some ideas about what a park might be like here and what resonates.”

After only nine months for design, bids, and construction, the Lawn on D opened in 2014 on a parking lot abutting the convention center at a cost of $10 per square foot. Using what Ford called “modest means,” the Lawn on D features lawn, asphalt, tennis court paint, a canvas tent, light fixtures, and minimal plants. The plan was to keep it open for about 18 months, to see what users liked and didn’t like, and then to collect design and programming ideas for a permanent open space that would be incorporated into the convention center expansion.

18 months later, the convention center expansion has stalled indefinitely due to budget constraints. But in that time, the Lawn on D has become a Boston landmark. Sasaki’s simple design template — green edges framing a path, a paved lighted plaza, a tent, and a big lawn — accommodate food trucks, movie screenings, concerts, art installations, snow chutes, and other creative, Boston-themed events dreamed up by the firm HR&A Advisors. Ford said one of the art installations — Swing Time by Höweler + Yoon Architecture — has become the selfie capital of Boston.

ASLA 2015 Professional General Design Honor Award. Lawn on D / Christian Phillips Photography
ASLA 2015 Professional General Design Honor Award. Lawn on D / Christian Phillips Photography

Ford’s team now faces the enviable challenge of how to retrofit and make permanent a space that was meant to last 18 months but instead became a beloved community destination, enlivening a part of town that used to be simply a midpoint between other iconic Boston neighborhoods.

Another project of Ford’s urban design studio is A Delta for All, the winning proposal from the Changing Course design competition, which seeks to “re-imagine a more sustainable Lower Mississippi River delta.” Sasaki joined a team of specialists led by Baird & Associates to answer the central question posed by the competition brief: As the coastal wetlands between New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico disappear at the rate of one football field per day, is it possible to save the cherished communities and ecosystems of the Lower Mississippi Delta?

Here the hand of the landscape architect was perhaps subtler but no less important. Ford’s role was to communicate — to consider the human element and then explain to stakeholders the function and impact of a proposed engineering marvel.

The plan devised by the team’s engineers and specialists, which boast expertise in everything from wetland structure and sediments to river navigation and oysters, essentially would undo the effects of human channeling of the Mississippi River. Ford explained that before human channeling, the river moved like a hose over the landscape, shifting its mouth over centuries, redistributing upstream sediments to create the wetlands as a series of ridge lines with freshwater basins in between. After human channeling, which created set channels, those valuable upstream sediments ended up running off into the Gulf of Mexico, bypassing the wetlands, therefore failing to replenish them.

A Delta for All proposes diverting the mouth of the Mississippi River and then feeding its water and sediment into neglected inter-tidal basins. Over time, “like spigots on a faucet,” the river mouth could be shifted to feed the inter-tidal basins in rotation, mimicking the natural shifts of the pre-channelized river.

A Delta for All
A Delta for All
A Delta for All
A Delta for All

If implemented, A Delta for All would be a complex undertaking, with major implications for communities and industries, natural ecosystems, and long-held ways of life. Ford’s team created graphics and a website to break down the issues, proposed solutions, and expected immediate and long-term benefits for coastal communities.

And they also tackled the challenge of possible re-locations for the wetland communities whose homes wouldn’t be spared. “Most of the federal programs to migrate people out of high-risk zones are just one household at a time, but as we came to understand, people in the delta live in these really tight-knit small communities,” Ford said. “So we suggested maybe there’s a way to phase their inland migration over time, providing some safe haven in the short term for small communities to move inland during storm events, and over time that inland safe haven could become a permanent home.” She added, “perhaps this is a way to start thinking about moving people in the right direction, over a larger period of time, together.”

These projects get to the heart of Ford’s mission to make the hand of the landscape architect visible, or as she also put it, to help people recognize “that landscape is more than the parsley around the pig.” How can we help people to value their landscapes in the same way they value their buildings? When landscape architects transform a community’s physical spaces — whether it’s at the scale of a new park in an evolving urban district or an entire region faced with deep ecological change — they can improve quality of life and nourish the human spirit. Surely that kind of impact will help people to see and value their landscapes and those who design them.

This guest post is by Lindsey Naylor, Student ASLA, master’s of landscape architecture candidate, North Carolina State University.

It’s Time to Take Phytoremediation Seriously

Phyto / Routledge
Phyto / Routledge

Any new studio reference book needs be beautifully illustrated. In this respect, Harvard University landscape architecture professor Niall Kirkwood, FASLA, and landscape architect Kate Kennen, ASLA, don’t disappoint with Phyto: Principles and Resources for Site Remediation and Landscape Design. But while we all like to look at beautifully-crafted, well-curated imagery, that’s not the point. This book is illuminating, a careful and coherent, critical and constructive analysis of the Phytoremediation movement, which calls for using plants to remove toxic chemicals, metals, and other contaminants from the environment.

The book begins by acknowledging an accomplished group of contributors, who bring credibility to a subject critically important but too often dismissed in the “real world.” Early on, the book provides a thoughtful sequence that explains the rationale for the book’s structure and answers the question: why are we dedicating another book to this subject?

Well, the answer is clear: because no other book has provided the thoughtful and accessible bridge long needed between theory and practice. While providing justification for the book could come off as a bit self-conscious, instead it reads as an honest depiction of an emerging field. (I also feel that if more authors were forced to go through this process of self examination, we would have both far-fewer volumes, but many-more excellent books like Phyto from which to choose).

The first two chapters cover the history and fundamentals of phytoremediation. After clearly articulating the knowledge gaps that exist in the field, the book contextualizes the movement’s early failures. Phyto then provides an expansive re-branding of the discipline, empowering potential users of these plant-based technologies to think more strategically about opportunities at hand.

Contaminant organizational chart from Phyto / Offshoots Productive Landscapes
Contaminant organizational chart from Phyto / Offshoots Productive Landscapes
Examples of phyto benefits of trees / Offshoots Productive Landscapes
Examples of phyto benefits of trees / Offshoots Productive Landscapes

The text provides a clear and comprehensive vocabulary for landscape architects and designers to use in practice. From there, the book shows how to apply these technologies in real-world situations. The book delves into common contaminants of concern and how they can be targeted with precision; a summary of planting assemblages that can be deployed in concert representing best in field technologies; and typical examples of spatial designs that produce common contaminant profiles and likely site characteristics. Variation of type and scale creates flexibility, showing landscape architects and designers how to find just the right application of phytoremediation technologies.

Railyard scenario from Phyto / Offshoots Productive Landscapes
Railyard scenario from Phyto / Offshoots Productive Landscapes
Railyard scenario from Phyto / Offshoots Productive Landscapes
Railyard scenario from Phyto / Offshoots Productive Landscapes

As knowledge-based considerations continue to find their way into public landscape design and management, inventive designers and enlightened clients interested in looking at all the alternatives would do themselves a favor by adding this book to their library and its knowledge to their practice.

This guest post is by Christian Gabriel, ASLA, National Design Director of Landscape Architecture, General Services Administration (GSA).

Stormproofing the Atlantic Coast

Atlantic City, New Jersey / Structure of Coastal Resilience
Atlantic City, New Jersey / Structure of Coastal Resilience

The galleries of the Center for Architecture in New York City provide a small view of the large scope of the Structures of Coastal Resilience, a new research and design project from Princeton University. The project is sweeping: new designs for resilience on the Atlantic coastline from New England to Virginia. The exhibition displays just two proposals for Atlantic City, New Jersey, and New York’s Jamaica Bay, but the in-depth, companion web site shows all four proposals, including those for Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, and Norfolk, Virginia. The straightforward exhibition design — mostly architectural boards pinned to the wall — details solutions for buffering against storms in the next hundred years.

A team from Princeton University’s School of Architecture led by architecture professor Paul Lewis, also a principal at Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis (LTL) Architects, proposes to storm-proof a suburban neighborhood of Atlantic City by creating “amphibious suburbs,” elevating road and houses and softening edges between private yards and wetlands (see image above).

The strategies proposed by a team from the City College of New York, led by landscape architecture professor Catherine Seavitt, ASLA, similarly raise roads and form berms to protect bay front settlements in Jamaica Bay, New York, while focusing on urban ecology to restore marshes and improve water flow through the Bay.

Jamaica Bay proposal / Structures of Coastal Resilience
Jamaica Bay proposal / Structures of Coastal Resilience

The Jamaica Bay team broke down its analysis into a series of booklets on display, from a catalog of resident fauna to a history of infrastructural interventions. Unfortunately, the most captivating element of their work is not on view. A series of topographical models of Jamaica Bay cast in soap are a missed opportunity to take advantage of the physical exhibition space to understand the area in question and the modeling processes behind the design proposals. See a few brief videos:

The project’s website provides a better introduction to the design proposals. A team led by landscape architecture professors Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA, and Rosetta Elkin at Harvard University Graduate School of Design examines how best to add redundancy to the storm protection capabilities of coastal forests and shrub lands in Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay.

Narrangasett Bay proposal / Structures for Coastal Resilience
Narragansett Bay proposal / Structures for Coastal Resilience

And a team lead by landscape architecture professor Anuradha Mathur, ASLA, and architect and planner Dilip da Cunha at the University of Pennsylvania proposes “fingers of high ground” for refuge and new settlements in the tidewaters of Norfolk, Virginia.

Norfolk, Virginia proposal / Structures of Coastal Resilience
Norfolk, Virginia proposal / Structures of Coastal Resilience

These complex and rigorously-scientific proposals have been far less publicized than the work of the other major design research projects prompted by the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The winners of the Rebuild by Design competition are now in the planning phases for pilot projects supported by the U.S. department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The projects of Structures of Coastal Resilience focus on less densely populated landscapes, with the goal of developing recommendations for ongoing projects by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. As a result, they appear far less engaged with the human and political dimensions of adaptation to climate change. However, there is more than ecological modeling and housing prototypes to the wholesale transformation of a residential neighborhood. Amphibious suburbs are a response to the political impossibility of total retreat from the sea, but elevating homes and redefining boundaries of public and private space begs discussion, too.

Exhibitions are a great vehicle for bringing such questions to the public sphere, but, for that, they need to speak in a language more compelling than that of the architectural studio.

Structures of Coastal Resilience is on view at the Center for Architecture in New York City through April 2, 2016.

This guest post is by Mariana Mogilevich, a historian of architecture and urbanism, whose research focuses on the design and politics of the public realm.

Who Taught You How to See?

Paradise Valley Residence / Coen + Partners
Paradise Valley Residence / Coen + Partners

This is the question landscape architect Shane Coen, ASLA, founder of Coen + Partners, asked as he began his lecture at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design. For him, the answer is his father, the painter Don Coen. He emphasized the importance of teaching sight, saying “it’s our job to get people to see. It’s our job to inspire spaces that inspire people.”

Coen’s lecture showcased a selection of projects Coen + Partners have completed since its unlikely beginning 25 years ago. Shortly after graduation, Coen was asked suddenly to co-start a landscape practice by the son of the creator of Herman Miller’s famous Aeron chair. The practice began with “no money and no experience, but the unbelievable opportunity” of a five-year, rent-free space. With time and a stable foundation, he applied his “ability to see” to the mid-Western countryside surrounding their Minneapolis-based office.

Coen made clear his work does not replicate nature but rather works in contrast to it. Emphasizing the importance of working with collaborative architects, Coen’s work is in many ways itself architectural, capitalizing on “the simplicity of form and color sitting in a landscape.”

His firm’s guiding principles are manifested in Jackson Meadow, his first project, which was designed in collaboration with architect David Salmela. The award-winning 1999 planned residential community features 64 uniquely-designed but all-while pitched-roof homes, carefully placed in a rolling woodland, with porches precisely oriented toward the community’s 5-mile nature trail.

Jackson Meadow / Coen + Partners
Jackson Meadow / Coen + Partners

Awarded a 2015 National Design Award from Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, Coen + Partners’ projects cover a range of types and scales, each aesthetically adjusted to their particular context. Despite its expansion, however, the firm’s work remains 40 percent residential, with Coen noting the importance of these projects as educational and exploratory projects for the firm. Yet it is his series of award-winning public and institutional projects have led him to his latest and perhaps most challenging work in Saudi Arabia.

Coen received a sealed letter inviting the firm to interview to design the master plan and open spaces for the lands surrounding the skyscrapers of Riyadh’s King Abdullah Financial District. Coen soon found himself in the driver seat behind a 1,220-acre project, with a need to “create a vision and build a team” — a role he sees as critical for landscape architects going forward.

Drawing on the star dunes and wadi streams of the Saudi Arabian desert, renderings of the project reveal large star-shaped sun shades and water-centric linear park space.

 King Abdullah Financial District / Coen + Partners

King Abdullah Financial District / Coen + Partners
King Abdullah Financial District / Coen + Partners
King Abdullah Financial District / Coen + Partners

Considered the first inclusive public space in Riyadh, the project was recently approved by Saudi Arabia’s High Commission. With Coen + Partners ”design vision and aesthetic leadership” on the project, it will be interesting to see the firm’s minimalist design approach at this new scale.

This guest post is by Nate Wooten, Student ASLA, master’s of landscape architecture candidate, University of Pennsylvania School of Design.