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.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (November 16 – 30)

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View down Main Street USA at Disneyland / Photo Credit: Roman Eugeniusz [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Walter Hood Digs DeepArchitectural Digest, 11/18/19
“The Oakland, California–based landscape designer, fresh off a string of prestigious design prize wins, has an approach that embraces the eccentricities of people and place.”

Podcast: Culture and Race Within Landscape ArchitectureAuthentic F&F, 11/18/19
“Listen to Ujijji discuss how she aims to promote change through landscape architecture, urban design, and an awareness of African American history across landscapes.”

10 Questions: Napa Landscape Architect Makes The Outside Look Sharp – Napa Valley Register, 11/19/19
“Susan Heiken said one of the best things about being a landscape architect is that “you are always learning something new.”

New Renderings Show 72,600-square-foot Public Park Coming to Brooklyn’s Pacific Park Development – 6sqft, 11/19/19
“Developer TF Cornerstone this week released new renderings for two sites within Brooklyn’s long-delayed Pacific Park development that have yet to break ground: 615 and 595 Dean Street.”

Dreaming Up Disneyland – The New York Times, 11/25/19
“Those who knew Walt Disney often described him as an uncomplicated man of conventional 20th-century sensibilities: a lover of model trains, farm animals, lunch-wagon food, hard work, evening belts of scotch and endless Chesterfield cigarettes. One of his rituals upon coming home from his movie studio was feeding his poodle, Duchess, a cold frankfurter, or “wienie,” by leading her from room to room while throwing pieces on the floor.”

Prospect Park Tackles Toxic Algae Blooms With Nature-Based Technology – Gothamist, 11/26/19
“For years people have walked by NYC’s urban lakes and ponds without knowing what the green stuff in the water really is. But dog owners in Prospect Park may know all too well: It’s toxic algae bloom.”

Gallaudet University Designs for the Deaf Community, but Everyone Benefits

At Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., DeafSpace, a concept developed by campus architect Hansel Bauman, is now guiding the development of buildings and landscapes in order to better address the needs of the deaf and hard of hearing people, which also results in better spaces for everyone. Gallaudet University — the oldest university for the deaf community in the country and the only university in the world where all programs and services are designed with deaf and hard of hearing people in mind — is creating a new 2020 campus master plan that expands DeafSpace beyond the buildings and into the historic campus designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and the surrounding neighborhood.

DeafSpace is focused on five key elements that impact how deaf and hard of hearing users navigate buildings and landscapes: sensory reach, space and proximity, mobility and proximity, light and color, and acoustics.

The focus is on these elements because they are too often overlooked in the design of the built environment. And as Alexa Vaughn, Associate ASLA, a deaf landscape architect at OLIN, demonstrated through a project she called DeafScape, DeafSpace principles can be readily applied to many types of landscapes.

DeafScape / Alexa Vaughn, Courtney Ferris, copyright GroundUp Journal

Bauman has been the campus architect at Gallaudet University for 15 years. In a conversation on Gallaudet’s campus, he said the masterplan is guided by Gallaudet’s heritage, its desire for sustainability, and its need for accessibility.

Understanding and interpreting the history of the campus is central to the development of the new master plan. Gallaudet was founded as a school for deaf and blind children in 1857 and was granted the ability to confer college degrees in 1864. Fredrick Law Olmsted designed the 99-acre campus in 1866 to include campus buildings, a small farm, and a large forested area. At the time of the university’s founding, it was outside the planned area of Washington, D.C. The area immediately surrounding the campus has subsequently urbanized over the last century and a half.

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Original campus plan designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted / Gallaudet University

The original campus and its buildings, which are now on the National Register of Historic Places, were mixed-use; academic and private life was integrated. A working farm mixed with academic instruction, professors and students lived in the same buildings, and academic and living spaces lined the same hallways. Daily life happened throughout the campus core, resulting in what Bauman calls “vibrancy.” For the deaf, communication is primarily visual, and the centralized core of the campus offered a visually-accessible space interwoven into daily life. “Olmsted created a scuffy, working, living landscape.”

Olmsted was successful in establishing corridors for visual communication, while planting trees that created shade. He didn’t plant any understory that would block sight lines. But it is unclear if he deeply understood the issues facing the deaf and hard of hearing community. Bauman points instead to the original buildings on campus as models: higher ceilings and large windows bring in more natural light, glass transepts over doorways let deaf and hard of hearing people see if rooms are occupied or not, and the mixed use of buildings help create a sense of life.

During subsequent campus expansions in the 1970’s, unfriendly large Brutalist buildings were introduced along the north side of campus. This expansion was necessary in part because of the Rubella outbreak of 1964 and 1965, which resulted in nearly 20,000 babies born with Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS), which can result in deafness. Many of these buildings were designated as dorms, separating academic and private life. The vibrancy found in the heart of the campus was stretched out, preventing a central visual zone for daily life.

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Campus expansion in the 1970’s / Gallaudet University

Restoring the vibrancy of campus is the primary focus of the 2022 campus plan. Maintaining visual connectivity throughout the center of campus will be balanced with planting more shade-giving trees. Many of the sidewalks will be widened to allow groups to sign to each other comfortably while walking through campus. For Bauman, “aesthetics are something to experience, not to look at.”

Using urban designer Jan Gehl’s methodology, Bauman and his students have been mapping the vibrancy of the current campus by observing and recording when, how long, and where people are moving through the campus or stopping to communicate, then turning this data into graphics. Using the historical documents of the campus, the designers are also creating similar maps for past configurations of the campus. These maps allow Bauman to see where students are avoiding spaces because the built environment isn’t conducive to visual communication and where design interventions would be the most beneficial.

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Vibrancy maps of Gallaudet Campus / Gallaudet University

The team at Gallaudet University are already using data from these analyses and applying DeafSpace guidelines to improve navigation throughout the campus. The new Kendall School Division II Memorial landscape design conforms with the principles, said Elizabeth Brading, director of program development at Gallaudet. There have also been piece meal efforts to plant more trees to create more shade and reduce glare in between buildings, update lighting, and expand sidewalks, explained Christopher Hoffman, a campus architect and manager of design services.

The guidelines are also shaping major new development on campus. In 2015, an international competition was held for a new 6th street corridor, an ambitious mixed-use development that will include a new media laboratory for the school and commercial and residential development. Hall McKnight Architects won the competition in 2016.

The university is partnering with the JGB Companies and the DC department of transportation to develop the corridor, which will include the first new public landscapes designed with DeafSpace principles. The goal is to better integrate the edge of the historic campus into the neighboring, gentrifying Union Market area and create a whole district accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing community.

In order for the design teams competing to understand the challenges the built environment present to deaf and hard of hearing individuals, architects and designers were asked to close their eyes and rely on touch and smell, so they could better understand the importance of these senses for those who use them to mentally map spaces.

Bauman said the development’s new streets will include 12 to 15-feet wide sidewalks that are consistently lit, ensuring people using sign language and lip reading can see one another. Circular seating will allow groups of varying size to sign to one another while maintaining a visual connection.

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Updated view of campus promenade near 6th Steet / Hall McKnight Architects

Lightweight, flexible seating will incorporated, allowing deaf and hard of hearing people to arrange seating so they can face one another. High tables offer people places to set down coffee, bags, or other items and use both hands to sign.