University of California San Diego Densifies to Protect Its Landscape

Pepper Canyon West at UC San Diego / Perkins & Will, courtesy UC San Diego

Like other state universities in California, the University of California at San Diego (UC San Diego) must develop to meet the needs of a rapidly increasing student body. The university, a designated growth campus in the UC system, currently educates 42,000 students and plans to accommodate thousands more by 2030. Approximately 30 percent of the 1,150-acre campus is an open space preserve that includes a fragile coastal zone. To protect the campus’ critically important ecosystems and cultural character, campus planners and landscape architects are weaving in transit-oriented development and dramatically increasing density in key areas, with up to 23-story student residential towers.

During a tour of the campus as part of the American Planning Association‘s National Planning Conference, Robert Clossin, director of planning, and Todd Pitman, ASLA, campus landscape architect at UC San Diego, explained that dense new “living and learning neighborhoods” were central to the long-term strategy of balancing growth and nature preservation.

In a campus where parking spaces for cars were largely hidden from view, but hundreds of racks for bicycles were in plain sight, it’s clear the campus planners and landscape architects are trying to move past vehicle dependence and plan for a denser light rail-, bike- and scooter-centric future.

After five years of construction and decades of planning, the expansive university is now connected to greater San Diego through two light rail stops. At the first stop on our tour, the Central Campus Trolley station, Clossin and Pitman, along with Raeanon Hartigan, principal planner for the campus, walked us through a vibrant new “front door” to the campus, which is now under construction.

A new “front door” to UC San Diego at a light rail station / Jared Green

There, landscape architects with the Office of James Burnett (OJB) designed an accessible urban landscape that weaves together an amphitheater that can hold 3,000, and a Design and Innovation Building, designed by architects with EHDD, which will serve as an entrepreneurial hub bringing together students and faculty with community inventors and firms.

A 750-foot-long pathway, a tactile artwork by artist Anne Hamilton, further stitches the new development together. “This is true transit-oriented development,” said Bryan Macias, with capital management projects on campus.

Concordance by Ann Hamilton at UC San Diego / Jared Green

Adjacent to the new trolley station is Pepper Canyon West, which includes two 23-story student housing towers designed by Perkins & Will that will soon house 1,300 students (see image at top). At the base of the towers, which will offer retail, there is a new stormwater management basin also designed by OJB. “The Office of James Burnett is really the glue between projects,” said Pitman.

As we walked further into the interior of the campus, Pitman said the university has increasingly recognized the value of landscape architecture over the past decades. Campus leaders realize that the walking and biking experience is central to a successful learning environment. “It’s about focusing on the user experience and connecting the public realm,” Pitman said.

UC San Diego bike racks / Jared Green

Partnering with the Stuart Collection Foundation, UC San Diego has also woven in public art throughout the campus. And this art isn’t just plopped down, but integrated into the landscape and architecture. Through the Stuart Collection program, artists take the lead on finding locations on campus where their art is best suited and then create site-specific works. A triangle park that was once a left-over space between buildings was transformed into a charming community space. Artist Tim Hawkinson partnered with Spurlock Landscape Architects to site his impressive 180-ton Bear sculpture and create a lush park to frame the work.

Bear sculpture and park at UC San Diego / Jared Green

At the Franklin Antonio Hall, a collaborative research and engineering laboratory, the campus planning and design team highlighted their efforts to balance protection of coastal ecosystems with the need to densify. The building offers views of the enveloping 300-acre preserve.

Franklin Antonio Hall and Open Space Preserve, UC San Diego / Jared Green
Open Space Preserve, UC San Diego / Jared Green

Here, OJB built benches into low walls, but instead of facing the courtyard around the building, they are positioned to provide views over the rugged landscape. It’s one of those subtle, thoughtful touches that highlights the user experience Pitman mentioned.

The landscape immediately surrounding the laboratory, which includes wide fire truck lanes, is designed to be resilient to fire and support the adjacent preserve. In addition to managing all stormwater, the landscape includes 100 percent native plants, which is much higher than the 30-50 percent the campus usually aims for in their projects. “It was really hard to do,” Pitman said. “We pushed the boundaries much farther and made this as sustainable and resilient as possible,” Clossin added.

A winding path in the form of a snake by artist Alexis Smith brings us through coastal shrubs to the Geisel Library, the iconic Brutalist building designed by architect William Pereira in 1970.

Snake Path by Alexis Smith / Jared Green
Geisel Library at UC San Diego / Jared Green

Underground levels added in the early 90s increase density. Deep caverns and surface skylights, designed to stream daylight to the subterranean stacks, add depth to the library plaza.

Library plaza surrounding Geisel Library at UC San Diego / Jared Green

And landscape architect Peter Walker’s Library Walk, also designed in the early 90s, terminates in the lower level of the library.

Library walk at UC San Diego / Jared Green

Continuing down Ridge Walk, a central spine on the campus that offers views of the Sun God sculpture by artist Niki de Saint Phalle, the bike infrastructure of the campus becomes more apparent. Designed with Spurlock Landscape Architects, Ridge Walk is actually a collection of landscape projects including parks, plazas, paths, irrigation and lighting systems, and bike lanes that cost $19 million, Pitman said. “It has been the university’s single largest investment in landscape architecture.” To fix previously unsafe conditions, the project separated bike and scooter traffic from pedestrians.

Ridge Walk at UC San Diego / Jared Green
Ridge Walk adjacent bike lane at UC San Diego / Jared Green
Ridge Walk adjacent bike lane at UC San Diego / Jared Green

The walkable, bikeable DNA of the campus enabled planners and landscape architects to densify through additional mixed-use development. This future is being realized in the North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood. Designed by HKS, Safdie Rabines Architects, and OJB, the project came out of a tough three-month design-build competition.

North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood at UC San Diego / Copyright © the Board of Regents of the University of California

Tiered student residential, educational, and retail spaces frame a central plaza and views of the Pacific Ocean, providing that indoor-outdoor experience so characteristic of Southern California.

North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood at UC San Diego / Copyright © the Board of Regents of the University of California

The orientation of the buildings and the open spaces, including layered-in terraces, were purposefully designed to democratize views of the ocean.

North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood at UC San Diego / Copyright © the Board of Regents of the University of California

“The sunset is a must-see celebration from these buildings,” said architect Ricardo Rabines. “And students only pay $14,000 in annual tuition and $1,300 a month for rent,” Clossin said. A pretty good deal for La Jolla.

A 10-acre Ridge Walk North Living and Learning Neighborhood is now in development, with beds for 2,000 students, along with a Theater District Living and Learning Neighborhood, also with 2,000 beds for a planned eighth college. These neighborhoods are part of the university’s long-range plan to house 65 percent of its students, making it the country’s largest residential campus.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (December 16-31)

Elyn Zimmerman’s new design for “Marabar” at American University / Elyn Zimmerman Studio

A Million-Pound Artwork, Once Threatened, Finds a New Home — 12/28/21, The New York Times
“‘It’s a piece that’s part of the history of landscape architecture,’ said Jack Rasmussen, the director of the American University Museum, who will now be charged with safeguarding ‘Marabar.’ ‘A woman sculptor in the 1970s and 1980s who was doing this? It’s ground breaking.'”

Why Cycle Lanes Aren’t Responsible for Urban Congestion — 12/28/21, Streetsblog
“It’s important to note that creating cycles lanes reduces the space available for cars but does not necessarily get people out of cars. Copenhagen is a city famous for cycling, with 28 percent of journeys made by bike. Yet car traffic is only slightly less than in London.”

10 Ways Cities Came Back in 2021 — 12/27/21, Bloomberg CityLab
“Even as Covid-19 continues to disrupt urban life around the world, some cities this year still made transformative — and in some cases unprecedented — changes toward improving residents’ health, safety and overall livability.”

The West’s Race to Secure Water — 12/21/21, Bloomberg CityLab
“How four cities are trying to survive future droughts, from expanding reservoirs and tapping neighboring watersheds to pushing conservation efforts.”

The Pandemic Kicked Cars Off Some Streets. 2022 Could Be the Year They’re Banned Permanently — 12/20/21, Fast Company Design
“The planters are part of a new and permanent effort in the Meatpacking District to give streets more than the single purpose of moving cars. Installed in June, the planters both close and open the street, blocking vehicular traffic and clearing the space for pedestrians to take over.”

How Equity Isn’t Built into the Infrastructure Bill — and Ways to Fix It — 12/17/21, Brookings Institution
“Ultimately, $1.2 trillion is nothing to sneeze at, and new public investment is welcome after years of disinvestment and neglect. But if we want to ensure prosperity for all in the future, the [Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act] is only a down payment on the debt that is owed to communities who have been denied resources.”

The Incredible Opportunity of Community Schoolyards

NY Public School 366 (before image) / Trust for Public Land
NY Public School 366 (after image) / Trust for Public Land

A new report from The Trust for Public Land (TPL) makes a compelling case for transforming underperforming, paved public schoolyards into green oases for the entire community. While the benefits for schools and their educational communities are clear, TPL sees an opportunity to open up these facilities to surrounding neighborhoods after school hours, on weekends, and when school is out. If all 90,000 public schools in the country had a “community schoolyard,” more communities could tackle the persistent park equity issue — in which too few communities, particularly undeserved ones, enjoy access to nearby high-quality public green spaces. TPL argues that opening up all schoolyards, essentially turning them into part-time all-access community hubs, would “put a park within a 10-minute walk of nearly 20 million people — solving the problem of outdoor access for one-fifth of the nation’s 100 million people who don’t currently have a park close to home.”

TPL found that “only a tiny fraction” of current public schoolyards met their criteria for a community schoolyard. While some communities have been greening their schoolyards — adding trees, gardens, and stormwater management systems — and others have opened their schoolyards to the public after hours, very few have done both. TPL calls for massively scaling up efforts to revamp schoolyards and make them more accessible through more federal funding and support through their organization and others.

Community schoolyards are the result of planning and design efforts, most often led by landscape architects and designers, to transform “overheated, vacant, and uninspired” places into green healthy ones. These spaces include trees, which provide ample shade and cool the air; gardens that increase biodiversity and provide environmental educational opportunities; stormwater management systems that help reduce flooding; and tracks, fields, and play equipment that offer space for exercise and building social skills and community engagement.

NY public school 152 before image / Trust for Public Land
NY public school 152 before image / Trust for Public Land

These shade-producing spaces, designed to cool and clean the air, offer benefits to any surrounding community, but help some even more. Research from TPL found that nationwide, “36 percent of the nation’s 50.8 million public school students attended school in a heat island, which is defined as 1.25 degrees warmer or more, on average, than the surrounding town or city. Among that group, 4.1 million students to a school in a severe heat island of 7 degrees ore more, while 1.1 million attend school in an extreme heat island of 10 degrees or more. In some communities, the heat anomaly exceeded 20 degrees.”

Income is correlated with exposure to heat risks. Average household incomes in the communities with more dangerous heat islands were estimated to be $31,000 less than the income in the coolest parts of communities. Some of the discrepancies can be explained by the enduring and dangerous legacy of racist urban planning. A study published in 2020 in the journal Climate found that communities that experienced redlining and disinvestment are 2.6°C (4.6°F) hotter than neighboring communities that didn’t. This is because that legacy resulted in a lack of street trees and public green spaces. Indeed, in the 100 largest cities, neighborhoods where people predominantly identify as people of color have access to an average of 44 percent less park acreage that predominately white areas.

One case study demonstrates the great gains that can be made by investing in public schools in historically marginalized and underserved communities. In Newark, New Jersey, a new half-acre green schoolyard at the K-8 Sussex Avenue School, co-designed by third and fourth graders and Heidi Cohen, ASLA, a landscape architect with TPL, resulted in a new turf field and running track, trees and flowering shrubs, a drinking fountain (for the first time), and an outdoor classroom space.

K-8 Sussex Avenue School / Trust for Public Land
K-8 Sussex Avenue School / Trust for Public Land
K-8 Sussex Avenue School / Trust for Public Land

The investment in students’ health and well-being resulted in noteworthy benefits: “Average daily attendance climate from 90 percent to 96 percent almost immediately after the renovation. Disciplinary actions declined, while test scores went up among the school’s 500 students, 95 percent of whom qualify for a free or reduced lunch.”

Given climate change is increasing the dangers of already hot, and unfairly hot, urban heat islands, future investment in high-quality public schoolyards is now a climate justice issue. TPL cites a study in NYC that found a correlation between rising temperatures and test scores. Another study by the Harvard Kennedy School, the College Board, and others offered “evidence that cumulative heat hurts cognitive development.” While a community schoolyard can’t solve all problems, they can improve health and educational outcomes for students. The health benefits of access of green space are increasingly well-understood, and a growing body of research shows that views of green spaces can improve cognition, mood, and learning. “By virtue of their shade, Community Schoolyard projects could help students improve their test scores,” TPL argues. Shaded areas can be up to 50 degrees cooler than a similar area in full sun.

The report also covers the many climate resilience benefits of community schoolyards. Like other sustainable landscapes, they can effectively manage stormwater using green infrastructure. TPL’s community schoolyards in NYC are estimated to capture 19 million gallons of stormwater a year; and in Philadelphia, these schoolyards capture 17 million gallons annually. “Installing green infrastructure at public schools reduces flood risk throughout the neighborhood.” Planting and maintaining school rain gardens also provides environmental education opportunities for students of all ages.

LaCima charter school, Brooklyn, NYC before photo / Trust for Public Land
LaCima charter school, Brooklyn, NYC after photo / Trust for Public Land

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (September 1-15)

Los Angeles, Wildfires, and Adaptive Design / Greg Kochanowski, GGA

Los Angeles, Wildfires and Adaptive Design: Greg Kochanowski on Creating New Futures — 09/15/21, ArchDaily
“At UCLA, I additionally became interested in landscape, particularly through an interest in a more holistic way of thinking about the built environment. This has subsequently become a passion of mine to, the point of becoming a licensed landscape architect, and has significantly shaped my personal ideology and methodology of working. I see the world holistically as a complex series of relationships between cultural and organic systems – from cities to climate, buildings to landscapes, racial inequality to ecosystems.”

SCAPE’s Living Breakwaters Project Begins In-water Construction Off of Staten Island — 09/14/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“Earlier this week, the New York State Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery (GOSR) announced that Living Breakwaters, the $107 million coastal resiliency-slash-marine biodiversity project was now taking shape off the South Shore area of Staten Island; an area pummeled by Superstorm Sandy in 2012.”

Wildfire Destroyed His Kids’ School. So This Dad Designed a Fireproofed Replacement — 09/14/21, Fast Co. Design
“Landscape architect Pamela Burton designed the grounds of the school, creating large buffers between the campus and the surrounding natural hillsides, and using large boulders and wide patios to break up the space.”

Report: To Close the Park Access Gap, Open up Schoolyards — 09/13/21, Grist
“The nonprofit environmental advocacy group The Trust for Public Land, or TPL, estimates that 100 million people in America, including 28 million kids, don’t have a park within a 10-minute walk of their home. Race plays a major role in the divide: The group estimates that, in the 100 largest U.S. cities, communities of color have access to an average of 44 percent less park space than predominantly white neighborhoods.”

Lessons from the Rise and Fall of the Pedestrian Mall — 09/09/21, Bloomberg CityLab
“Car-free shopping streets swept many U.S. cities in the 1960s and ’70s, but few examples survived. Those that did could be models for today’s ‘open streets.'”

What We Talk About When We Talk About Gentrification — 09/05/21, Vox
“Our focus on gentrification might lead people to believe that it is the dominant form of inequality in American cities (our outsized focus on the phenomenon may be due in part to the fact that gentrification scholars, journalists, and consumers of digital media tend to live in gentrifying neighborhoods themselves). But the core rot in American cities is not the gentrifying neighborhoods: It is exclusion, segregation, and concentrated poverty.”

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (March 16-31)

The Center for Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Nursing at Bowie State University in Bowie, Maryland, designed by Perkins&Will / Courtesy of Sahar Coston-Hardy, via Metropolis

Moving the Workplace Outdoors — 03/29/21, Metropolis
“‘There is an increased value of outdoor space as a result of the pandemic,’ said Zan Stewart, associate principal landscape architecture, Perkins&Will. ‘Central Park in New York and the grand boulevards of Paris both emerged from pandemics. Our teams can be happier, healthier and more productive with access to nature.'”

Rooted in St. Louis: The Creation of a Campus Forest — 03/29/21, Student Life: The Independent Newspaper of the Washington University in St. Louis
“The diversity on campus speaks for itself––it is a testament to great landscape design that you do not notice all the work and planning that went into it. Yet the design behind the campus landscape, and its hidden mechanics, are as impressive as the results.”

Palm Beach Landscape Designer Williams Pens Book, ‘The Graphic Garden’ — 03/24/21, Palm Beach Daily News
“Those who dream of an elegant garden, filled with inviting natural elements that provide solace from the daily hustle and bustle, will find a kindred spirit in landscape designer Keith Williams.”

A Black Architect Is Transforming the Landscape of Golf — 03/22/21, The New York Times
“Brandon Johnson developed a love of golf and course design at an early age. He has mastered a field that has historically lacked diversity.”

Biden Team Prepares $3 Trillion in New Spending for the Economy — 03/22/21, The New York Times
“A pair of proposals would invest in infrastructure, education, work force development and fighting climate change, with the aim of making the economy more productive.”

Williamsburg’s Cove-side Towers Are Still Moving, Get a Redesign — 03/18/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“The additional waterfront parks, inlets, and beaches, according to Two Trees, are expected to act as a storm buffer and could protect over 500 properties further inland in the event of a flood.”

Chuck Schumer Wants to Replace Every Gas Car in America with an Electric Vehicle — 03/17/21, The Verge
“Under the proposal, anyone who trades in their gas car for an electric one would get a ‘substantial’ point-of-sale discount, Schumer says. He wouldn’t say how much of a discount, only that it would be ‘deep.'”

WXY Reveals a Sustainable Master Plan for Downtown Davenport, Iowa — 03/16/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“The Downtown Davenport Partnership (DDP) commissioned the New York-based WXY, Chicago real estate consultants SB Friedman Development Advisors, and New York City engineers Sam Schwartz Engineering to draw up a path toward downtown resiliency that would also spur economic development.”

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (March 1-15)

Proposed redesign of Hirshhorn sculpture garden by Hiroshi Sugimoto / Hirshhorn Museum

Hirshhorn Museum Is Close to Finalizing Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Garden Revamp — 03/12/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“Sugimoto’s design will be only the second comprehensive update of the Washington, D.C. museum’s Gordon Bunshaft-designed campus, which debuted in 1974. Bunshaft’s garden, as well as its extensive 1981 renovation, was influenced by Japanese landscape architecture and garden design.”

The New Trend in Home Gardens—Landscaping to Calm Anxiety — 03/12/21, The Wall Street Journal
“Loud hues don’t cultivate serenity. ‘Reds, oranges and yellow are hot colors that stir passion,’ said New York landscape architect Edmund Hollander, who recommends mining the other end of the spectrum for tranquility. ‘The gradation of blues into greens is almost the colors of a stream, with whites and creams representing movement, if you will.'”

Toronto Swaps Google-backed, Not-So-Smart City Plans for People-Centered Vision — 03/12/21, The Guardian
“Now, Canada’s largest city is moving towards a new vision of the future, in which affordability, sustainability and environmentally friendly design are prioritized over the trappings of new and often untested technologies.”

The Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden Redesign: Paving Paradise — 03/11/21, The Wall Street Journal
“The Hirshhorn Museum’s Sculpture Garden in Washington is nearly perfect; of course, it must be destroyed. This is the paradox of landscape architecture: The more sensitive and subtle the garden, the more invisible it is—even to its custodians. At a certain point they can mistake it for an opportunity to exploit rather than a sacred trust to protect.”

Philly’s Iconic Ben Franklin Parkway to Get a Major Redesign – 03/05/21, WHYY
“Philadelphia is moving forward on a long-term plan to overhaul much of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway with an eye toward improving access for people walking and biking.”

Big Step Forward for $50 Billion Plan to Save Louisiana Coast — 03/05/11, The New York Times
“An environmental assessment said the project’s next step would largely benefit coastal areas, though it might also affect some marine life, especially dolphins.”

The Bike Boom Is Real, Says New Mode Share Data — 03/05/21, Greater Greater Washington
“Since 2007, the share of people in the Washington region who ride bikes has gone up, while driving and riding transit have dropped, according to a gigantic once-per-decade report.”

What About Jane? – 03/03/21, Urban Omnibus
“Jacobs’ legacy is divided. On the one hand she should be seen as an analyst of gentrification, not simply a harbinger of its ill effects. But she also treats with kid gloves the social phenomenon that has made gentrification such an urgent topic today: race.”

Help Save the Weyerhaeuser Campus

Weyerhaeuser International Headquarters, Federal Way, Washington / Joe Mabel, courtesy TCLF

The 425-acre Weyerhaeuser International Headquarters in Federal Way, Washington has been called one of the world’s great corporate campuses. A foremost example of how to seamlessly integrate architecture and landscape architecture, the campus is now under threat from development plans that propose adding massive warehouses and turning the site into an industrial zone.

There is an ongoing campaign to stop development inconsistent with a mid-70s master plan created by landscape architect Peter Walker, FASLA. The campaign was initiated by a slew of organizations, including Save Weyerhaeuser Campus, the Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, Rainier Audubon, Historical Society of Federal Way, SoCoCulture, Docomomo U.S., and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and its Washington Chapter have also joined the effort.

According to The New York Times, Save Weyerhaeuser Campus, a non-profit organization, filed suit to block approval of a new 226,000-square-foot warehouse on the site, “citing concerns about environmental harm, traffic, and damage to the historic site.” Unfortunately, plans for the warehouse were approved by the city. And now new plans are moving forward for another warehouse and three new buildings totaling 1.5 million square feet, which would require clear-cutting 132 acres, or nearly a third, of the 425-acre campus. The new warehouses could draw up to 800 trucks per day into a site that functions like a public park for the Federal Way community.

Earlier this year, TCLF amplified efforts to stop the inappropriate development with an international letter-writing campaign, calling the campus “worthy of National Historic Landmark status.” The campaign has resulted in a series of letters from significant landscape architects to Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell, because of the city’s role in issuing land use and construction permits. Letters are also being directed to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Seattle district commander Colonel Alexander Bullock. “The Corps is conducting a review because wetlands are affected,” TCLF notes.

In his letter, Laurie Olin, FASLA, founding principal of OLIN and National Medal of Art recipient, argues that Weyerhaeuser is “a treasure of modern architecture, site planning, community benefit, and environmental leadership” — and any new development should respect and follow the original 70s-era master plan, which does make room for new development.

Weyerhaeuser International Headquarters, Federal Way, Washington / Chris Dimond, PWP Landscape Architecture, courtesy TCLF

The campus was designed by Walker, a founding principal of Sasaki, Walker and Associates (SWA) and PWP Landscape Architecture, and Edward Charles Bassett, partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), and completed in 1972.

TCLF argues that the campus was “ahead of its time in merging Modernism with environmental sensitivity. Unlike other corporate campuses of the era, Weyerhaeuser was open to the public and designed to include an extensive network of pathways. Walker termed the site a park that was gifted to the city by Weyerhaeuser.”

Weyerhaeuser International Headquarters, Federal Way, Washington / SWA Group, courtesy TCLF

The campus is now owned by Los Angeles-based developer Industrial Realty Group (IRG). TCLF states that “officials at IRG are ignoring a mid-1970s master plan that details appropriate areas for development and have rejected design assistance from Walker, SOM partner Craig Hartman, and SWA managing principal René Bihan.”

Duane Dietz, ASLA, president of the Washington Chapter – ASLA (WASLA), submitted a letter that proposes specific next steps, including using conservation easements to preserve parts of the landscape and safeguarding forested buffers to reduce any visual and ecological impact of new buildings.

WASLA asks the City of Federal Way and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to “direct the property owners to maintain the campus’s design integrity by using the 1981 campus master plan as a guide for new development; examine reducing the amount of new warehouses to minimize impacts; negotiate with the City and County on conservation easements in key areas (wetlands and public use trails to ensure continuous public access) of the campus to reduce their tax impacts; and provide effective forested buffers (at least 300 feet or the recommendation of the 1981 master plan) to shield any new construction.”

National ASLA also wrote a letter, strongly urging the city to stop plans to clear-cut 132 acres of the campus and preserve the immense public recreational and health benefits of this unique landscape.

Sign on to a petition at Change.org and write a letter as part of TCLF’s campaign.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (February 1-15)

Water Street master plan, Tampa, Florida / Strategic Property Partners, via Fast Company

Why One City in Car-obsessed Florida Is Prioritizing Pedestrians — 02/12/21, Fast Company
“The plan also involved breaking apart the superblocks that had formed in the area since the 1950s. Elkus Manfredi, along with the landscape architecture firm Reed Hilderbrand, reconfigured the grid to be more easily accessible on foot, with smaller blocks and generous space for pedestrians.”

He Designed the Minnesota Zoo and Upgraded the Minneapolis Parkway System. So Why Don’t We Know This Landscape Architect’s Name? — 02/12/21, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“With the recent passing of Roger Bond Martin, Minnesota lost its greatest teacher of landscape architecture and one of the most influential American landscape architects of the past 50 years.”

A Fight to Save a Corporate Campus Intertwined with Nature — 02/12/21, The New York Times
“The campus, designed by the architect Edward Charles Bassett and the landscape architect Peter Walker, featured a low-slung building in a meadow between wooded hillsides. Ivy-covered terraces on the front of the building cascaded down to a lake, and walking paths wound through trees.”

Public Displays of Affection for Urban Life — 02/10/21, Bloomberg CityLab
“U.S. cities ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic are embracing a broader definition of love this year through Valentine’s Day art installations.”

Manhattan’s First Public Beach Is Moving Ahead as Hudson River Park Trust Issues RFPs –02/08/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“Now, it looks like work on the $70 million, James Corner Field Operations-designed Gansevoort Peninsula park will kick off this spring.”

California Assembly Transportation Committee Chair Laura Friedman on Climate Leadership in Transportation — 02/04/21, The Planning Report
“Despite California’s nation-leading investments in clean energy infrastructure and zero-emissions vehicle deployment, transportation remains a stubborn sector to decarbonize and the state’s leading source of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants.”

A New Era for Rothko’s Sacred Space

The Rothko Chapel / Elizabeth Felicella

During this time, when people especially need places of solace and peace, the re-opening of our sanctuaries seem particularly important. After a comprehensive restoration and expansion, the Rothko Chapel, a non-denominational sacred space in Houston, Texas, has re-opened on a limited basis. Much of the revitalization effort, which encompasses the building and landscape, helps to more fully realize the vision of Abstract Expressionist painter Mark Rothko and the Chapel’s founders, John and Dominique de Menil.

The skylight in the original Chapel, which was designed by architect Gene Aubrey in 1971, has been reconceived, letting more light pour onto the 14 deep, dark, textured Rothko paintings. The landscape surrounding the building has been re-imagined to lead visitors on a more meaningful journey from the street to the artworks. And a new visitor center helps welcome and orient visitors.

The Rothko Chapel is a spiritual center open to those with “any background, any religion, any faith, or no faith,” explains Christopher Rothko, the son of Mark Rothko and chairman of the board of the organization that runs the Chapel.

In an introductory video, he explains how his father, who created some of the world’s most enduring artworks, had always wanted to create a space “where he could set the tone and have direct interaction” with the audience. When the Chapel’s founders, the de Menils, reached out to him, it was a “dream commission.”

Rothko the senior envisioned the 14 paintings and building together as one work of art. Architect Philip Johnson was first engaged to create the building, but Rothko and Johnson didn’t see eye to eye. Architect Howard Barnstone was then hired, but fell ill during the process. Gene Aubrey was the final architect to complete the work, which is in the form of an octagon, in reference to the spaces in a Greek orthodox cross. Rothko would never see its completion. After years of struggling with depression, he killed himself in February 1970, months before before the Chapel’s opening.

According to his son Christopher, Rothko spent his career searching for a “universal language” in art. Before the pandemic, the Chapel attracted some 80,000 visitors annually, some making pilgrimages from around the country and world. So in this sense, Rothko succeeded in achieving his goal with these enveloping, meditative panels, which are considered among his masterpieces.

The Rothko Chapel / Elizabeth Felicella

To realize the vision of Rothko and the Menils, the Rothko Chapel uses its 2-acre campus and powerful art to create interfaith understanding and champion human rights. Since 1971, the Chapel has hosted 5,000 programs on religion, meditation, and spiritual healing, and current global issues.

The renovation of the Chapel was overseen by Architecture Research Office along with lighting designers at George Sexton Associates. The skylight, lighting design, and entryway into the chapel were redesigned to heighten the visual impact of the paintings. With a new central skylight, daylight now permeates the interior, which is what Rothko originally intended.

The Rothko Chapel redesigned skylight / Elizabeth Felicella

Before, visitors would gather at the Chapel’s vestibule, crowding the experience. The new Suzanne Deal Booth Welcome House to the north of the Chapel helps relieve pressure on the Chapel, creating ample space for groups and guided tours to meet, and includes an expanded gift shop and bookstore.

New Welcome House at the Rothko Chapel / Elizabeth Felicella

The landscape has been clarified and improved by Nelson Byrd Woltz | Landscape Architects. The firm writes that the existing landscape is structured along a primary axis, which is defined by three elements: “the irregular octagonal brick Chapel, a reflecting pool, and Barnett Newman’s Broken Obelisk that is sited at the far end of the pool from the Chapel.” These elements represent art, spirituality, and justice, respectively — justice because Barnett Newman’s piece is dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Broken Obelisk by Barnett Newman at The Rothko Chapel / Paul Hester

NBW bordered the reflecting pool’s western and southern edges with a new screen of 32 evergreen Savannah holly (Ilex x attenuata ‘Savannah’) hedges, which they say “refocuses attention on the central axis of the campus.”

Lanie McKinnon, ASLA, a landscape architect with the firm, goes into greater detail about their efforts in the public space surrounding the pool: “The plaza space was redesigned to create a larger and more contiguous space between the Chapel and Broken Obelisk. The new plaza space features exposed aggregate concrete reminiscent of the original concrete. The new Ilex hedge was installed, offset from the plaza, to open the edges of the gathering space and include new custom benches that, through their thick wood seats, echo the original benches within the Chapel.”

The landscape architects also reworked the “arrival sequence” that guides visitors from the street to the sacred heart of the campus — the 14 paintings. The path moves visitors through a series of “calm, quiet, shaded landscape rooms.”

Shady paths at the Rothko Chapel / Elizabeth Felicella

The firm explains: “these outdoor chambers provide visitors the time and space to physically and mentally prepare first for Broken Obelisk, then the Chapel, and finally Mark Rothko’s paintings. The sequence is calibrated to allow the eye to continually scale down while providing increasing shade in anticipation of the transition from the usually bright Texas sunlight to the Chapel’s interior. In reverse sequence, exiting the Chapel moves visitors through a range of spaces with tree-filtered views of the campus, allowing for quiet reflection in preparation for re-engaging with the city.”

A landscape room at the Rothko Chapel / Paul Hester

NBW planted some 300 river birch (Betula nigra ‘Heritage’) trees in rows along the edges of the landscaped rooms to the west and south of the Chapel, which are used for yoga, the annual summer solstice labyrinth, and other musical events.

McKinnon told us: “the birches balance the larger gathering spaces with more intimate seating spaces. The idea was to create outdoor space for Chapel visitors to reflect before or after their journey.” All the new trees, along with a sub-grade detention system, help the campus better manage stormwater.

A landscape room at the Rothko Chapel / Elizabeth Felicella

The total revitalization plan includes some $30 million in projects. A planned second phase will include a new administration and archive building, a renovated and relocated guest house, a meditation garden, and a program center with outdoor plaza. The program center will become the new home for the events the Chapel organizes each year.

Ideas Competition: Hyperloop Desert Campus

Imagine shuttling through a large pneumatic tube at speeds up to 760 mph (1,200 kmh). In 2012, Elon Musk, founder of Tesla, proposed just that with his Hyperloop transportation system. Encased in a low-pressure tube, passengers and freight could be sped on magnetic levitation tracks from San Francisco to Los Angeles in just 35 minutes. To spur innovation, Tesla and Space X decided to make their initial Hyperloop technologies open source. A number of teams in the U.S. and Europe — including Virgin Hyperloop One, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, and Transpod — have since taken up the challenge, undertaking feasibility analyses, prototyping passenger pod and track technologies, and even building mile-long test tracks. The Wall Street Journal declared there is now a real “Hyperloop movement” around the world.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies’ full-scale passenger capsule in Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain / Hyperloop Transportation Technologies
Hyperloop track assembly in California / Hyperloop Transportation Technologies
Virgin Hyperloop One capsule and test track / Virgin Hyperloop One

Now, Young Architects Competitions (YAC) has announced an ideas competition for a visionary (and imaginary) Hyperloop Desert Campus outside Las Vegas, Nevada, which they argue is the perfect site for experimentation. YAC hopes to build on the open source spirit of the quest for a Hyperloop by creating new models of planning and design collaboration.

The competition is also an opportunity for teams of young designers of many disciplines to get their bold ideas in front of a jury comprising architect Kazuyo Sejima, the Pritzker Prize-winning founder of SANAA; Carlo Ratti, a leading architect and engineer; and Winy Maas, co-founder and principal architect of the Dutch firm MVRDV.

Hyperloop Desert Campus / YAC

Planners, landscape architects, architects, engineers, and artists will have a major role to play in the success of any proposed Hyperloop networks. Stations and facilities need to feel safe and accessible. The tube infrastructure needs to be carefully integrated into existing communities and landscapes. This is why the organizers believe a research center is needed. “A Hyperloop is made by the whole travel experience — from purchasing the ticket to the entertainment during the ride. Thinking about Hyperloop is thinking about its stations, its communication, its impact on the world, on cities, and on governments: an intricate system that requires research, testing, and training.”

The organizers seek to inspire multi-disciplinary teams to create a livable research community in the extreme conditions of the Mojave desert. With no lack of drama, they describe the site as a place of “burning horizons inhabited by sand foxes and by a rough and hostile vegetation; a place carved by millennia of solitude that is accustomed to the rattle of the snake and the high-pitched cry of birds of prey and does not easily tolerate human beings.”

For the imagined Hyperloop Desert Campus, YAC states there are no restrictions on the height of buildings or depth of excavations. However, they do note the lack of water in Las Vegas means the campus will need to optimize water collection and use. “Landscape design will be possible through xeriscaping techniques, that is designing ‘dry gardens,’ where dazzling native species such as palm trees, cacti, and yuccas can be used.”

Hyperloopers believe the tube network will be the most energy efficient transportation system in the world. As such, the campus also needs to model sustainability by producing its own electricity.

The design concepts will need to include a public welcome center, with reception hall, museum, tour route, arena, and restaurant. The headquarters will need to include laboratories, offices, apartments, and a gym and pool for staff. Lastly, a training center will need to include classrooms and additional laboratories.

The first prize winner will take home €8,000 ($9,400), second place winner €4,000 ($4,700), and the third prize winner, €4,000 ($2,300). Two additional “gold mentions” will receive €500 ($588) prizes, and there will be 10 honorary mentions.

Registration is due September 20, 2020, and submissions on September 23, 2020. Each team needs to include at least one member aged 18 to 35. There are no restrictions on the number of team members, their disciplines, or locations.

Another competition worth exploring: Lyceum, creators of traveling fellowships, have organized a design competition open to landscape architecture students. The Governor Ames Estate in North Easton, Massachusetts, will become the heart of a new cultural district.

Lyceum

Design students are tasked with creating a 1,500 square foot (139 square meter) event pavilion near or within the Estate House footprint. The goal is for the pavilion to create a “unique relationship with the designed landscape that can enhance the visitor experience and provide a platform for community, family gatherings, and celebrations.”

Landscape architect Stephen Stimson, FASLA, founder of Stephen Stimson Associates, is a member of the jury. The first place winner will receive $12,000 and a three month traveling fellowship, with similarly enticing awards for second and third place winners. Applications are due May 14, 2021.