Best Books of 2017

Drawdown / Penguin Press

Whether you are looking for a unique book to give as a gift or just one for yourself to delve into, we have some options. Here’s THE DIRT‘s top 10 books of 2017, our picks for the best on the environment, cities, and landscape:

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming (Penguin Press, 2017)
Author and environmental activist Paul Hawken assembled hundreds of experts around the world to rank the potential positive impacts of 100 substantive climate solutions. One of the most accessible and informative books on climate change, Drawdown makes clear the vital role of landscape architecture, architecture, and urban planning in finding a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Hawken and his coalition consider complete streets and bicycle infrastructure, walkable cities, green roofs, composting systems, and net-zero buildings as critically important. Other top solutions — like educating girls in developing countries and silvopasture — will cause you to think more about the relationships between population, agriculture, and sustainability.

Be Seated (Applied Research and Design Publishing, 2017)
In his new book, Laurie Olin, FASLA, founder of the landscape architecture firm OLIN and this year’s Vincent Scully Prize winner, brings to life his deep interest in outdoor seating. As he describes: “My interest in public outdoor seating in parks and plazas revolves around two poles: one is related to the fascination that Emerson and other philosophers have shown regarding aspects of the quotidian in our lives and experience, its pressures and benefits; the other is the utility of public seating in guiding our conduct as citizens.” Scattered throughout are evocative sketches and water-colors and well-curated images. If you enjoy trying to figure out what makes a public space great, you’ll love this book.

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America (Liveright, 2017)
Richard Rothstein, an authority on housing policy, “explodes the myth that America’s cities came to be racially divided through de facto segregation―that is, through individual prejudices, income differences, or the actions of private institutions like banks and real estate agencies. Rather, The Color of Law incontrovertibly makes clear that it was de jure segregation―the laws and policy decisions passed by local, state, and federal governments―that actually promoted the discriminatory patterns that continue to this day.” As American cities continue to address the legacy of segregation while also dealing with widespread gentrification, this new look at urban history is invaluable.

Extreme Cities: The Peril and Promise of Urban Life in the Age of Climate Change (Verso, 2017)
Ashley Dawson, a professor of English at the City University of New York, argues that mega-cities, which are most often found on coasts, are “ground zero for climate change,” given they are home to our largest populations, highly vulnerable, and also contribute the most to greenhouse gas emissions. Reviewing Extreme Cities, author McKenzie Wark writes: “Dawson shows how social movements have combined action on disaster relief with forms of equitable common life to produce models for radical adaptation from which we can all learn. This is a brilliant summation of what we know and what we can do to build a new kind of city in the ruins of the old.”

Handbook of Biophilic City Planning & Design (Island Press, 2017)
University of Virginia professor Tim Beatley’s new book presents everything he has discovered on what he calls “biophilic urban planning and design” — strategies that both boost biodiversity and foster deeper human connections with nature in cities. He brings together the established science, the important case studies, and innovative code and design practices from around the world in one place. Even if you think you already know a lot about how best to incorporate nature into cities, there will be some interesting new facets in this book for you to explore. (Read the full review).

Movement and Meaning: The Landscapes of Hoerr Schaudt (The Monacelli Press, 2017)
This book highlights the depth of work created by landscape architects Doug Hoerr, FASLA, and the late Peter Schaudt, FASLA. From private gardens to lush civic spaces, Movement and Meaning chronicles the major works by the Chicago-based studio, from inception to final installation. The sheer variety of images, drawings, and photography make this book an absorbing overview. (Read the full review).

The New Landscape Declaration: A Call to Action for the Twenty-First Century (Rare Bird Books, 2017)
Last year, on the eve of its 50th anniversary, the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) brought together 700 landscape architects, designers, and planners in a symposium in Philadelphia to forge a New Landscape Declaration. LAF now offers in handy book form 33 speeches that “reflect on the last half-century and present bold ideas for the what the discipline should achieve in the future.” Those ideas are meant to “underscore the need to diversify, innovate, and create a bold culture of leadership, advocacy, and activism.” (Read more about the declaration and symposium).

Paradoxes of Green: Landscapes of a City-State (University of California Press, 2017)
This new book by Gareth Doherty, ASLA, director of the masters in landscape architecture program at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, is a successful hybrid of landscape writing and ethnography focused on the island nation of Bahrain. It presents a portrait of Bahrainis’ rich and evolving relationship with their landscape as well as a model for future studies. (Read the full review).

Transmaterial Next: A Catalog of Materials That Define Our Future (Princeton Architectural Press, 2017)
While we have all experienced the effects of the information technology revolution now underway, we may be less aware of the impact of the new “materials revolution,” argues University of Minnesota professor Blaine Brownell in his new book. Building materials are being transformed to respond to our planetary environmental crisis, lower costs and boost efficiency, and provide new media for creative expression. Given the serious problems facing the Earth, the scale of the ambition is heartening. (Read the full review).

Wise Trees (Harry N. Abrams, 2017)
Landscape photographers Diane Cook and Len Jenshel offer gorgeous full-page photographs of 50-plus wise, old trees, which are accompanied by a brief story about the spiritual and cultural life inspired by each of these natural wonders. With the help of grants from the Expedition Council of the National Geographic Society, the photographers spent two years traveling across five continents to capture these historic specimens.

Also, worth knowing: buying these books through THE DIRT or ASLA’s online bookstore benefits ASLA educational programs. And if you are based near Washington, D.C. we also recommend checking out the National Building Museum’s fantastic book store.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (November 1 – 15)

2017_Groundbreaker_images4_Tech_Deck_Bionic_border
Tech Deck in Mountain View, California / Bionic

Young Landscape Architect Works to Shape the Future San Diego Downtown News, 11/3/17
“Growing up in Tempe, Arizona, Magnusson was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture, and had opportunities to explore several of his commercial, institutional and residential projects.”

Michael Maltzan Architecture to Expand ArtCenter College of Design The Architect’s Newspaper, 11/3/17
“ArtCenter College of Design has unveiled renderings of a new, two-phase master plan created by Michael Maltzan Architecture that aims to reposition the college as an expansive, urban campus connected by pedestrianized open spaces, new housing, and student amenities.”

Lines Are Drawn Over Design for a National World War I MemorialThe New York Times, 11/8/17
“When it was built in 1981 as part of an architectural revival of Pennsylvania Avenue, Pershing Park was a downtown oasis of tree line and water fountain steps from the White House. In the years since, the park has fallen into disrepair and has become a haven for homeless people and pigeons.”

It’s All About the Details for Landscape Architect Kathryn Gustafson The Vancouver Sun, 11/10/17
“This year the Robson Square lecture hall was packed to hear renowned American landscape architect Kathryn Gustafson, and she did not disappoint.”

Bionic Forges Lush Landscapes and Public Spaces in the Dense Bay Area Curbed, 11/15/17
“Wilson is changing the shape and texture of some of California’s most beloved landscapes and outdoor public areas in ways that are surprising, unconventional, and delightful.”

New Public Light Art Brings Technology into the Public Realm

New technologies have enabled light artists to conceive public works that would have been impossible just a decade ago. These works create new opportunities for landscape architects and designers who seek to bring the dynamism of digital light into the public realm. As broadband and smart phones become ubiquitous, technology and LEDs may become more prominent in the public realm. Our public spaces may evolve to reflect our increasingly technological nature.

In Accumulation, which runs through a cycle of patterns that explore concepts such as “rise, flow, accumulation, dimension, light, and overlap,” artist Minha Yang used LED and algorithms to create a mesmerizing entry gateway for a hotel in Seoul, South Korea (see video above).

For the 2017 Oastrale Biennale of Contemporary Art in Dresden, calligraphy graffiti artist Said Dokins partnered with photographer Leonardo Luna, visual artist Andrea Hilger, and others to create a brilliant temporary installation Heliographies of Memories in which calligraphy appears to be written by hand in light. An elaborate set of projectors traced the text in the air in Dresden’s public spaces.

Heliographies of Memories / Said Dokins, Leonardo Luna, Andrea Hilger

And, lastly, the stunning and alien Light Barrier, created by South Korea artist pair Kimchi and Chips uses eight architectural projectors, split into 630 sub-projectors that create a projection akin to a “field of fog,” graphic objects that “animate through space as well as time.” According to the artists, the projection helps bring the audience into a “new field of existence.”

Light Barrier was commissioned by the Asia Culture Center in Gwangju, a city in southwest South Korea, and is displayed there.

Janet Echelman Weaves Complexity into the Urban Fabric

Impatient Optimist / Ema Peter

Janet Echelman’s gigantic yet delicate woven art works are evolving. While her earlier work offered warm, enveloping concentric rings of colors enlivened by carefully-orchestrated folds, her newer works, which pair with contemporary works of landscape architecture, introduce bold molecular forms and evoke more complicated ideas and histories.

Over a central plaza designed by landscape architecture firm Gustafson Guthrie Nichol (GGN) at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation campus in downtown Seattle, Echelman created Impatient Optimist, which is suspended between two buildings, for the ambitious do-gooders who work there. Sparer woven forms featuring cellular geometries focus attention on the piece’s circular middle.

Impatient Optimist / Ema Peter

A new work on the Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood is another departure from her norm. Connecting two buildings for Hotel 1, Dream Catcher is inspired by traditional Native American forms but updates them with data-based representations of brainwave activity, offering a portal into the depths of our dream worlds.

Dream Catcher / Studio Echelman
Dream Catcher / Studio Echelman

It’s otherworldly, even a bit spooky, with its neural-network organization, but no doubt mesmerizing in person.

Dream Catcher / Studio Echelman

The 10-story sculpture sits above a plaza designed by landscape architects with Mia Lehrer + Associates. Unfortunately, timing-wise, the design of the plaza and the sculpture didn’t synch up, so they exist independently of each other.

Dream Catcher / Studio Echelman

Echelman writes on her website: “The artwork’s inspiration stems from dreams and the idea of dreaming hotel guests asleep in the two buildings. Dreams are not only private experiences, they are also social and cultural ones. Dream Catcher is an apt title not only for how it speaks to the guests of the hotel, but to the larger region and its identity as a global epicenter for entertainment and media – the place where dreams are invented and pursued.”

Also worth noting: a work that just celebrated its one-year anniversary is Where We Met, which forms the centerpiece of LeBauer City Park in Greensboro, North Carolina. Landscape architects with OJB Landscape Architecture purposefully left a space in the middle of the green park for a monumental art work. The piece weaves in the textile industry and transportation history of Greensboro through strikingly bold bands of color, also a bit of a departure from her past work.

Where We Met / Lynn Donovan
Where We Met / Joshua Spitz

On her website, Echelman writes: “I discovered that Greensboro was nicknamed the ‘Textile Capital of the World’ and ‘Gateway City’ because six railroad lines intersected there, so I started tracing the railway lines and marking the historic textile mills that dotted the routes. These routes brought together people from diverse cultures and races, so I wove together lines of brilliant color that meet at the center, and titled it ‘Where We Met’.”

Glorious Collages of Nature in the Salish Sea

Nature Medley / Copyright Jill Bliss

Artist Jill Bliss organizes the vibrant mushrooms of the Salish Sea ecosystem into collages, which she then photographs. These exuberant works showcase the rich biodiversity of this unique region, which covers the coastal waterways of northern Washington state and the southern part of Canadian British Columbia. For her, “nature is my church.”

Many of her mushroom collages are assembled on islands — Decatur Island, San Juan Island, and Cortes Island, among others.

Nature Medley / Copyright Jill Bliss
Nature Medley / Copyright Jill Bliss

Bliss states that since discovering the Salish Sea, “I’ve been living, working, traveling and exploring” here ever since.

By trade, she works as a naturalist aboard a tour boat exploring the Cascadia region.

However, when tourist season is over, “I satisfy my nomadic nature by holing up in various off-grid cabins, preferably with wild animals and semi-feral people for neighbors, mentors, and muses. These are the months for hibernation, quiet reflection, close observations of discreet moments in nature, and art making.”

Nature Medley / Copyright Jill Bliss

See all of Bliss’ nature medleys on her website.

Tadao Ando’s Hill of the Buddha

While architect Tadao Ando’s Hill of the Buddha opened more than a year ago, we are just now discovering this wonderful work of landscape architecture in Makomanai Takino Cemetery in Sapporo, Japan.

Ando told Domus magazine: “‘The aim of this project was to build a prayer hall that would enhance the attractiveness of a stone Buddha sculpted 15 years ago. The site is a gently sloping hill on 180 hectares of lush land belonging to a cemetery. The statue is 13.5-meter-tall (44-feet-tall) and weighs 1,500 tons. It is made of fine, highly selected solid stone. Until now, the Buddha statue has stood alone in the field, giving an unrestful impression. The cemetery wanted to give visitors a more serene appreciation of the Buddha.”

So Ando, who is famous for his spiritual buildings made out of concrete, convinced the cemetery to bury the grand Buddha, with just his head peeking above ground, to show respect for this ancient teacher. The Buddha is now surrounded by a hill covered in some 150,000 lavender plants. The only way to get close is to walk through a 40-meter-long (131-feet-long) tunnel.

The Hill of the Buddha / Vitra

As Ando explains, “the design intention was to create a vivid spatial sequence, beginning with the long approach through the tunnel in order to heighten anticipation of the statue, which is invisible from the outside.” The tunnel’s walls are formed out of folded concrete that feels both elemental and monumental.

When visitors reach the Buddha at the end of the tunnel, they see his head is “encircled by a halo of sky.” The cemetery says this view creates a “blessed moment.”

The Hill of the Buddha / Fubiz.net

The surrounding lavender fields offer an ever-changing frame for the Atama Daibutsu: “they turn fresh green in spring, pale purple in summer, and silky white with snow in winter.”

The Hill of the Buddha / Fubiz.net

Ando also created a water fountain, which can be seen in the video above, that serves as a “sacred boundary.” In Buddhism, water enables the quest for “calmness, clarity, and purity in our body, speech, and mind.”

The Hill of the Buddha / Fubiz.net

According to the cemetery, “by detouring around the water garden instead of making a straight approach, one purifies the soul, and one’s mindset switches from the ordinary to the extraordinary.”

The Hive: An Acoustic Playground Made out of Cardboard Tubes

Jeanne Gang describing The Hive / Dana Davidsen

Spiraling upwards into the grand space of the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. is the Hive, a trio of domed chambers designed to create unique acoustic experiences. Conceived by Chicago-based architect Jeanne Gang, the Hive towers some 60 feet and is comprised of over 2,500 cardboard tubes. Within its chambers are chimes made out of building materials, like copper pipes and wrenches, and a giant tubulum, an instrument constructed out of pipes of varying sizes that produces warm, surprising sounds.

The Hive / Dana Davidsen

In a tour of the Hive, Gang explained how she used sound to define the space. In the vast expanse of the National Building Museum, “you can’t really hear someone just 10 feet away from you. The sound gets lost, as it does in a big field.”

Within the museum, Gang instead wanted to create an intimate acoustic space. She wanted to recreate the sense of being inside a forest clearing, open but enclosed by trees, where one can sense, acoustically, the bound space as sound waves bounce off trees.

Working with acoustic engineers with Threshhold Sound, Gang and her team accomplished a similar surround sound effect inside the Hive, using catenary structures, painted silver and magenta, to create a full, harmonious timbre.

Inside The Hive / Dana Davidsen

Gang seemed particularly excited about the tubulum. “When everyone plays together, the chamber will be rocking!”

Tubulum / Dana Davidsen

The structures are inspired by both built and natural forms — Gang talked about the oculus of the Pantheon in Rome and mused about pine cones. “We see spirals in nature, too.”

The Hive is open until September 4. Interactive sound experiences will be held on Saturdays. Tickets are $16 for adults and $13 for kids and seniors. Get your tickets in advance.

Inside the Garden, and Mind, of Peter Marino

The Garden of Peter Marino / Rizzoli USA

Peter Marino’s garden is about as unexpected as you would expect from the celebrity architect, whose name has become synonymous with high-end fashion lines like Chanel and Luis Vuitton. The Garden of Peter Marino offers a look inside the designer’s sprawling 12-acre Hamptons property, where over the course of two decades he has carefully curated a series of gardens that blend formal landscape elements with unexpected details.

The Garden of Peter Marino, azaleas / Jason Schmidt via Rizzoli USA

Marino organizes his garden by color. But he also agrees with a friend’s assessment that he’s created a network of outdoor rooms, which are home to his 42-piece collection of Italian artists Claude and Francois-Xavier Lalanne’s surreal, cast-iron sculptures. Spread after spread reveal a pristine, manicured garden dotted with art, often placed to interact with the plants. In lieu of a masterplan, these photographs of the sculptures orient the transitions between colors.

The Garden of Peter Marino/ Jason Schmidt, Artwork: 2017 ARS, NY, ADAGP, Paris

But perhaps equally as interesting as the images is the book’s insight into Marino’s design process, which is both thorough and technical, and random and personal. Sometimes, he goes to great lengths to explain the layers and spacing of planting, where at other times, he states unqualified preferences: “I don’t care for yellow flowers mixed with other colors, so I planted them all together in what I intended to be one big explosion of yellow.” He will detail his plant choices with Latin names and variety, and in the same paragraph use phrases like “mad amounts” to account for the density of hydrangeas.

The Garden of Peter Marino, yellow garden / Jason Schmidt via Rizzoli USA

Marino also gets personal. He describes the whimsical forest section of the estate as “Harry Potter-esque,” imagined for his daughter.

The Garden of Peter Marino woods / Jason Schmidt via Rizzoli USA

The Zelkova trees in this section of the garden date back to the Civil War, he was told by an arborist. One was among 16 trees lost in Hurricane Sandy. “I was devastated,” Marino writes. “But nature has a way of doing its thing, which is why I will never really consider any garden as ‘finished.’”

The Garden of Peter Marino / Manolo Yllera via Rizzoli USA

These moments, coupled with the photos, offer an absorbing visual essay of a decades-long pursuit of an architect designing a home for his art in the unpredictable medium of the garden.

“Portals” Blends Curated with Organic

Portals by Sandra Muss at the Kreeger Museum / Colin Winterbottom

Moving through the pristine vastness of the Great Hall at the Kreeger Museum in Washington, D.C. is like being inside a monument on the National Mall. But the museum’s new installation and permanent foray into the woods offers a different experience.

Just beyond the structured lines of the architect Phillip Johnson’s Modernist residence-turned-museum are “the woods.” Far from wild, this curated, yet un-manicured portion of the sculpture garden is found in the forested back area of Kreeger’s 5.5-acre property in the residential Foxhall neighborhood north of Georgetown.

Kreeger Museum / Pinterest

Here are a series of mirrored columns clustered among the oak, maple, tulip poplar, and beech trees, and scattered along a wood chip path. These are the Portals.

Artist Sandra Muss designed the piece specifically for the Kreeger as it expanded its sculpture garden into the woods. Muss’ piece is a series of seven ten-foot mirrored steel rectangular columns, wound with rusted wire and vines.

Portals by Sandra Muss / Colin Winterbottom

Despite the size, the columns are unassuming and easy to gaze over, reading as green foliage when viewed from the concrete walkway that wraps around the museum.

But once down in the woods, the scale of the column becomes more palpable, and what appears from above to be a carefully-curated placement of columns becomes a more compelling maze of reflections. Moving through the mirrors distorts the carefully-orchestrated sculpture garden experience — reflecting, and at times framing, bending, and pulling images of the museum and other sculptures down into the woods.

Portals by Sandra Muss / Colin Winterbottom

The woods are a welcome juxtaposition to the hushed, untouchable quality of the building above and offer a more organic component to the museum’s sculpture garden.

“In general, the planting is pretty simple, because it’s the art that wants to be the focus,” said Julie Patronick, landscape designer with McHale, who designed the forested sculpture garden expansion and worked with Muss to incorporate vines on the columns from the surrounding area.

Ultimately, she said, as new pieces are added to the forest, the intention will be to let the art decide its surroundings — be it exposed with only ground cover underneath, or more hidden, and seamless like Portals.

New Ruralism: Solutions for Struggling Small Towns

Screamin Ridge farm, Vermont / Screamin Ridge

New Urbanism is a well-known movement that aims to create more walkable communities. Less known is New Ruralism, which is focused on the preservation and enhancement of rural communities beyond the edge of metropolitan regions. Small towns now part of this nascent movement seek to define themselves on their own terms, not just in relation to nearby cities. These towns are more than “just food sheds for metro areas,” explained Peg Hough, Vermont, planner and environmental advocate with Community-resilience.org, at the American Planning Association (APA) annual conference in New York City. Representatives from three northeastern states — Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire — explained how the principles of New Ruralism can help suffering communities.

In many struggling small northeastern rural towns, the drug epidemic has ravaged communities already weakened by the loss of manufacturing jobs. But it’s clear there are also many using “creative economy” approaches to revitalize themselves. Through her organization, Hough has collected case studies of success stories in Vermont. The communities making themselves more resilient share some important values: “volunteerism, empowerment, ingenuity, creativity, cooperation, entrepreneurism, local ownership, and self-sufficiency,” Hough said, adding that “leadership is key.”

In Vermont, the farm-to-plate economy, a “state-wide but closed-loop” system, now accounts for $8.6 billion, up 24 percent since 2007. There are 7,300 farms, employing 61,000 farm workers, on 1.2 million acres of farmland. Community-supported agriculture (CSA) models have helped farms like Screamin’ Ridge Farm flourish (see image above). Screamin’ Ridge turns left-over imperfect vegetables, which are often discarded as food waste, into soups that are served in schools, hospitals, and other institutions. “They aren’t serving the metro areas.”

Other efforts to boost self-sufficiency: the Thetford Home Energy Action Team (HEAT), a community-based group that trained 50 volunteers from the Thetford community and sent them out to educate other homeowners about weatherization and solar energy options. And on Water Street in the town of Northfield, the community undertook “flood recovery at the neighborhood scale.” A cooperative of 100 homeowners banded together to elevate the most-affected homes and turn the worst-flooded areas into a park.

Thetford Home Energy Action Team (HEAT) project in Vermont / Vital Communities

Lynne Seeley, a community planning consultant, detailed positive bottom-up efforts in mostly-forested, half-uninhabited Maine, the “least dense state east of the Mississippi.” In Grand Lake Stream, a town of just 109 souls, a land trust was formed in 2001 to protect the renowned outdoor recreation areas where people come to fish for salmon. Some 370,000 acres of lakeshore, forest, and wildlife habitat was protected. Seeley said the trust, which has had a tough time raising money, sees their future selling their forest’s carbon credits in cap and trade programs.

Great Lake region. Downeast Lakes Land Trust / Conservation Alliance

In Lubec, a town of 1,350, which is the easternmost community in the U.S., and also the poorest in all of Maine, there’s a new community outreach center where 110 volunteers (nearly 10 percent of the whole town) provide some 1,100 hours of community service a year. An associated food bank serves 20 percent of the community. And in Deer Island, which has 1,975 people, there’s the 12th largest employee-run coop in the country, which now runs three stores, including the local hardware store. CEI helped organize the financing. “This is rugged New Ruralism,” Seeley said.

In New Hampshire, Jo Anne Carr, director of planning and economic development for the town of Jaffrey, highlighted the work of the Women’s Rural Entrepreneurial Network (WREN), founded in 1984, which has grown from a pilot with 12 low-income women and now has 1,400 members. In Bethelem, WREN got the Omni hotel to create a gallery featuring artists in their network. Downtown, there’s a retail marketplace with some 300 vendors. If a woman wants to become a “WRENegade,” they have to “agree to put themselves out there and become a vendor at a market.” WREN also launched a new maker space in the city of Berlin where women can access “WiFi, latops, CNC machines, laser cutters and printers.”

WREN Makers’ Studio / NHPR

The Plymouth Area Renewable Energy Initiative (PAREI) adapted the age-old concept of a community barn-raiser to create an “energy raiser” in which members volunteer two-to-three times a year at residential solar installations, in turn learning new skills. As volunteers do the installation, they also lower the costs for the homeowner. PAREI has completed 35 energy raisers in 11 towns, including one for the local homeless shelter, which saved the organization $5,100 in annual energy costs.

Lastly, Monadnock at Home, a program for a 10-town region, provides service for 90 elderly households “aging in place,” including helping them avoid frauds and scams, providing transportation to appointments, and organizing social events to help reduce isolation. The organization has pre-screened 100 service providers that can provide small jobs around the house.

Carr reiterated that New Ruralism is really driven by “community leadership, volunteerism, and creative financing.”