In the Hudson’s Image– Urban Omnibus, 5/2/19
“Over the last two centuries, artists have painted, sketched and photographed the Hudson, while scientists, surveyors and others have mapped the river landscape as a first step to shaping it with human hands.”
For Colleges, Climate Change Means Making Tough Choices– The Chronicle of Higher Education
“The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation’s awarding of $100 million to reinvent LaSalle Park and to complete a regional trail system represents the largest philanthropic gift ever in Western New York.”
In Detroit, twelve arts, cultural, and educational institutions are clustered together geographically, but have failed to form a unified district, a true destination. The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) and the Midtown Detroit Inc, hope that a new central public space around the DIA and a broader urban design to boost connectivity and accessibility can change that. In an attempt to create a coherent, inclusive, accessible, and sustainable district that can attract both residents and tourists, DIA and Midtown launched an international design competition last year, which has since yielded three finalists that presented to some 200 local residents at the DIA last week.
More than 40 submissions from 10 countries were narrowed down to eight finalists. And now it’s down to three interdisciplinary teams led by landscape architecture firms: Agence Ter from Paris, France; Mikyoung Kim Design from Boston, Massachusetts; and TEN x TEN, which is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
According to the DIA and Midtown Detroit, Inc, who worked with the twelve educational and cultural institutions, the finalists’ proposals are the result of a year of input from committees and residents, which participated through 40 public engagement sessions.
Finalists presented to the competition jury at the DIA, which includes Salvador Salort-Pons, president of the DIA; Maurice Cox, Detroit’s planning director; and landscape architect Julie Bargmann, ASLA, founder of D.I.R.T. Studio.
All the teams seek to shrink down the width of boulevards; remove parking; add event spaces, cafes, and public art installations; and vastly expand public green space. The new designs could be the National Mall of Detroit or a lush, interactive university campus. The design teams seek to bring people in from around the Detroit and the suburbs and keep them there, engaged, enlightened, and entertained year-round.
The Agence Ter team offered meandering paths through forested and planted areas, with experimental event spaces for local artists and public art installations that speak to Detroit’s unique history.
The Mikyoung Kim Design team envisioned a verdant space, with a central lawn that can host events, as well as an outdoor movie screen, cafe, playground, and maze garden that converts into an ice rink in winter.
And the TEN x TEN team proposed a more angular, contemporary design, with green space but also “fog gardens,” an “exploratorium,” and interactive light graffiti wall.
An exhibition of the proposals is on view at the DIA until April 1. The winning proposal will be announced by the end of April.
This incredible investment in raising Detroit’s profile as a cultural mecca can only help this city get back on its feet after years of disinvestment and near bankruptcy. Only a few years ago, the city seriously considered selling off the amazing art at the DIA to pay down debt. The message of this project is inclusive cultural and ecological revitalization is the new way to do urban revitalization.
The Manhattan Project, the secret US government program that produced the world’s first atomic weapons during World War II, left a complicated legacy in its wake. It brought the second world war to a close, but laid the groundwork for the Cold War. It was responsible for the deaths of over 125,000 Japanese citizens, the majority of whom were civilians. It ushered in the atomic age as scientists and businesses sought ways to use “atoms for peace,” leading to advances in medical imaging, the rise of nuclear energy, and even “atomic gardening.”
At a recent lecture, senior curator Martin Moeller delved into the planning, architecture, and cultural legacy of these cities — their lasting impact on the industries of the built environment. He began by pointing out that, in terms of design, there was little revolutionary about these towns. Precedents for planned communities existed in developments such as Olmsted and Vaux’s Riverside, Illinois; the Garden City Movement; and the work of Scottish biologist and city planner Sir Patrick Geddes.
What makes the cities of the Manhattan Project significant, however, was the scale of their design and speed of their construction. Moeller pointed out that, unlike earlier examples of community planning, these cities had to be entirely self-contained due to the nature of the work being carried out there.
In the case of Oak Ridge, architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) was responsible for the design of an entire city that would be home to 75,000 residents by the end of the war.
Moeller explained that SOM went from “being architects to being planners and civil engineers, and soon they were going to becoming construction engineers, interior designers, and even designers of the school curricula in the schools within Oak Ridge.”
In addition to being planned in utmost secrecy, Oak Ridge and other Manhattan Project cities had to be constructed at a breakneck pace. “During the height of the war, the contractors building these houses were turning over the keys to the government to one house every thirty minutes,” said Moeller.
The speed of construction was possible thanks to advances in prefabrication technology. Houses at Oak Ridge were constructed using Cemesto boards, a prefabricated product made of compressed cement and asbestos fibers, and were built in an assembly line fashion, a technique that developer William Levitt would later use in the construction of his Levittown developments.
Given the speed at which these cities were constructed, one of the more remarkable aspects of their design is the inclusion of green, walkable community space. “This is extraordinary,” argues Moeller. “This is an emergency situation, where people are thinking that we are in a race against time, and we’re being careful to preserve large trees and create greenbelt spaces between houses.”
This also raises provocative questions about modern day development practices. If the planners of these communities were able to take the time to preserve existing natural features and integrate green space under extraordinary circumstances, why do we find it so difficult to do the same thing today?
There were darker aspects to these cities as well. Land for the developments was seized from existing residents via eminent domain; property owners were told that the land was needed for a “demolition range.” In Oak Ridge, this primarily impacted poor subsistence farmers. In Washington, the government seized land from the Wanapum people, a Native American group that traces its identity to the region and the Columbia River that runs through it.
Race also played a part in the story of these cities. For example, segregation was designed into the plan for Oak Ridge. African American residents were forced to live in “hutments,” small, single-room structures with minimal protection from the elements. The hutments were separated from the city and further segregated by sex, dividing up families and adding further insult to the indignity of being forced to live in substandard housing.
Despite a complicated social and political legacy, for Moeller, the urban design legacy of the Manhattan Project is clear. “The real thing to come out of this, in terms of architectural and planning history, is the emergence of the modern architecture-engineering-construction firm.”
By the end of WWII, SOM had grown to 650 employees, and would eventually become “arguably the single most influential corporate architectural firm in the post war era.”
In their work on Oak Ridge, SOM took on an expanded role as “architect, engineer, planner — all these things really beyond the scope of what architects had ever done.” Because of this experience, “they were uniquely prepared coming out of WWII to design for the new world, creating corporate campuses and communities on a scale that we wouldn’t have even been conceived of before.” They paved the way for the business model that would come to define the planning and design industries in the second half of the 20th century.
This year the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) looked to the future for World Landscape Architecture Month (WLAM) by featuring ASLA student chapters, who are the next generation of landscape architects.
In 2018, ASLA continued its This is Landscape Architecture social media campaign. More than 1,638 users posted nearly 6,000 instances of their favorite landscape architect-designed spaces with #WLAM2018. These posts helped educate 2.8 million people around the globe about the profession.
To see a glimpse of the future of landscape architecture, ASLA asked a different student chapter to take over our Instagram each day in April. Arizona State University showed us how they are exploring the basics of design: sketching.
ASLA student chapters also work with their local communities on projects. Auburn University shared its Alabama Lab, where students “use design to help create and continue conversations about local issues across a larger geographical and disciplinary spectrum.”
In mid-April, the Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) hosted Leading with Landscape IV: Transforming North Carolina’s Research Triangle, the latest in TCLF’s series of conferences designed to help communities better understand how landscape architecture can yield transformational change in the public realm. Ten speakers from the Triangle and nine from elsewhere gathered in Raleigh, North Carolina, to unpack the region’s history, explore its landscapes, and pose questions about the role of landscape architecture in a region reconciling tensions between growth, equity, and ecology.
Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, president of TCLF, introduced the notion that the Triangle’s landscapes represent a continuum of “cultural lifeways” — landscapes that have over time encompassed public squares and greenways, parkways, and freeways; agrarian values and modernist ideals; asphalt-dominated office parks and revitalized downtown cores.
Adriaan Geuze, ASLA, founding partner at West 8, is designing a sculpture garden for the Nasher Museum of Art on the suburban-feeling stretch of Duke University that lies between its Georgian East and Gothic West campuses. Geuze shared ideas about improving the journey from East to West, and his firm’s attempts to find inspiration in the site’s Piedmont landscape, which had been compromised by stream channelization and road construction.
Geuze joked that culverts are “America’s legacy to natural land,” and he described with humor his perception of Campus Drive, the Olmsted Brothers road that connects East and West campuses: “Everyone travels it — up and down, up and down. It’s pretty dumb. It’s not cool. The buses are noisy. And if you are a student on a bike, you are dead five times in a mile — it is very simple; you will not survive.”
Later in the day the same landscape features — the ubiquitous culvert and Duke’s Campus Drive — made it into the remarks of Alexandra Lange, Curbed’s architecture critic who grew up in Durham. For Lange, the “little wilderness” of the culvert near her family’s house was one of the most precious cultural landscapes of her childhood, as was Campus Drive, which afforded some measure of teenage independence when she was allowed to ride “the slowest, safest bus in the world.”
The distance between the remarks suggests the fertile ground on which the conference operated, seeking to make sense of a landscape continuum that can contain both definitions of a culvert — on the one hand a symbol of irresponsible design practice and an obstacle to ecological restoration, and on the other hand a vernacular feature, a site of memory and attachment capable of fostering genuine communion with nature.
Randolph Hester, FASLA, director of the Center for Ecological Democracy, is a North Carolina native and Durham resident. He described the Piedmont as “the land of the second sons,” dominated in its earliest European settlement by those who had not inherited the family plantation in Virginia and so moved south to become modest “dirt farmers,” inextricably tied to the land and characterized by “ragged edges.”
“How do we maintain that modesty as we become a place where everybody wants to be doing design?” Hester asked. “How do you get the essence when you come from the outside? And it makes me think — how do natives get the essence of a place when they take it for granted?”
The conference offered a venue for both outsiders and natives to grapple with questions of place and authenticity. The opening presentation by Birnbaum, followed by North Carolina State University faculty members Chuck Flink, FASLA, and Kofi Boone, ASLA, grounded the day’s discussions in the history and contemporary realities of the Triangle.
Flink, president of Greenways Inc., offered a sweeping view of the Triangle’s landscape spanning millennia. He traced over time the importance of local ecology in driving culture, economies, and development patterns. He reminded the audience that the Piedmont, before European settlement, was defined by a deciduous and pine forest so thick that, in the words of ecologist B. W. Wells: “One could travel for days without a good view of the sun, and at night the constellations could seldom be seen because of the interfering canopy.”
Flink spoke to the degradation of that forest to make way for farmland, which later made way for quarter-acre subdivisions. He addressed the “myth of an aristocracy” established by European Southerners to justify the brutal, economy-building exploitation of enslaved Africans. He pointed out that a young Frederick Law Olmsted was the first to broadly expose that myth through a series of articles for the New-York Daily Times.
And he pointed to the traditional push and pull between development and ecological design in the Triangle, represented on one end by the city-approved floodplain development of Raleigh’s Crabtree Valley Mall — which flooded the day before its opening in 1972 — and on the other end by growth since the 1970s of the city’s 115-mile, 3,800-acre riparian greenway system, which has become an international model.
Boone offered a crash course in regional history through a cultural lens. He described the economic engine of Research Triangle Park (RTP), a suburban office park that in the 1960s marketed its proximity — by way of forested highways — to three major research universities. RTP currently is seeking to retrofit its sprawl — to introduce an urban fabric that it sees as essential to attracting today’s top talent.
Boone then discussed the Triangle’s history of racism in the landscape — from plantation slavery to Jim Crow segregation, and the relegation of lower-wealth, African-American communities to floodplains. He spoke about the black communities that grew out of segregation, including the financial powerhouse of Black Wall Street in Durham, and the role of Raleigh’s African-American Chavis Park in hosting the early development of peaceful protest tactics by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which itself was founded at the segregated Shaw University.
But Boone reminded the audience that the Triangle’s cultural and demographic milieu is far from black-and-white. The Latino population is the biggest driver of growth in the Triangle, and the Asian population is growing in the suburbs closest to RTP. Boone pointed to evidence of this growth in the landscape, such as the Durham Green Flea Market and the growing number of Hindu temples in suburbs like Cary and Morrisville. “They’re bringing their cultural traditions with them, but right now they’re not represented in our public landscape,” Boone said. “What could that mean in 50 years, as these communities continue to grow and build resources? What will they think of our place?”
W. Fitzhugh Brundage, professor of history at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, addressed representation in the Triangle’s public landscapes through the lens of Confederate monuments. He referred to the “physical manifestations of memory that came to clutter the landscape” in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when private activists with access to funds and political power were allowed to install their monuments on public land, creating landscapes that were “by design, permanently exclusionary.”
Durham’s Confederate monument, which made national news after it was toppled by protesters in August, 2017, was dedicated in 1924. Brundage said that when private fundraising efforts for the monument failed, Julian Carr, a Confederate veteran, tobacco executive, and white supremacist, lobbied the state to allow public funds to supplement its cost.
That same year in Durham, on land down the road that had been donated by Carr, Trinity College rebranded itself as Duke University following a $19 million gift from James Buchanan Duke. In 1927, construction began on West Campus. A Philadelphia-based, African-American architect named Julian Abele designed the buildings. His identity was kept a secret until the 1980s, and he is rumored to have never visited the campus, as Duke and North Carolina at that time were strictly segregated. The Olmsted Brothers designed the West Campus landscape.
Gary Hilderbrand, FASLA, founding principal at Reed Hilderbrand, has worked on a range of Duke campus projects during the past decade. He addressed the challenges inherent in working on historic landscapes, including how to balance principles of design integrity and timelessness with shifting social and political contexts that demand an updated approach.
“While I would never say that it was easy for Julian Abele and the Olmsted Brothers to envision Duke’s campus from the start — it wasn’t easy; it’s never easy — we’ve seen how the narratives that drive renewal or expansion in our own time are colored by a far more democratic, more political and noisier world in which we negotiate for change; we negotiate for everything. I doubt if they had much of a committee back then, and it’s pretty unlikely that student groups were involved.” Hilderbrand characterized his firm’s approach as “building and rebuilding the negotiated campus, where many voices are heard, and where the challenge for design is to give voice to plurality without sacrificing conviction or deluding intentions.”
Mark Hough, FASLA, university landscape architect at Duke, described the full range of distinct campus landscapes across the Triangle, including RTP and Durham’s American Tobacco Campus. He described the “dignified restraint” of the 18th-century University of North Carolina, which he said maintained its site’s gently rolling topography. North Carolina State, the land-grant university, had an early pastoral plan that was quickly abandoned in the chaos of postwar growth, leading to what Hough described as charm in a lack of cohesion and in a personal winding experience through campus. Duke’s West Campus, he said, was originally planned by the Olmsted Brothers to hug the ridge. When funds dwindled, that plan was replaced by a Beaux Arts version that flattened the landscape.
Hough argued campus landscapes have the potential to instill in generations of students an appreciation for aesthetics, ecology, and the designed landscape. And he argued the heart of campus landscape architecture lies in stewardship — in ethos and practice that preserve and enhance the integrity, purpose, and beauty of landscapes over time.
Presentations over the course of the day evoked the shifting cultural, political, and physical landscapes of the Triangle. Linda Jewell, FASLA, partner at Freeman and Jewell Landscape Architecture, grew up in Sanford, North Carolina; practiced in the Triangle during the 1980s; then spent most of her career in Berkeley. But for decades she has made regular trips to the Triangle to visit friends, colleagues, and family, and she shared her impressions over time.
“I get these little glimpses. It’s encouraging and discouraging. I’m very envious when I see people doing projects at Duke and projects around the area where — oh, my God — they allow people to eat on the sidewalks. Sam Reynolds and I constantly proposed letting people eat outside, and we weren’t allowed to do it. And we constantly proposed not having huge swaths of green lawn around everything, but we could not convince either the clients or the review institutions that this was a better way to go. So much progress has been made in terms of some of those things.”
But Jewell sounded a cautionary note about the Triangle’s larger landscape. She said she remembers the thick forests that used to line Interstate 40, which connects several communities throughout the Triangle and takes many people from the suburbs to RTP. Every time she comes home, she said, she sees more of the “suburban schlock” that lies behind the increasingly shallow treeline.
“It is a veil,” she said. “It is hiding all of that bad stuff that we’re doing behind the veil. Don’t forget about all of that suburban stuff we’ve built. We’ve got to do something with it.”
This guest post is by Lindsey Naylor, Student ASLA, master’s of landscape architecture candidate, North Carolina State University.
Today, a revamped master plan for the Smithsonian’s South Mall campus cleared one of the last remaining hurdles — approval by the Commission on Fine Arts. First released to the public four years ago, the original plan by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and landscape architecture firm Surface Design, among other firms, was criticized for eliminating the beloved Enid A. Haupt Garden in favor of a more contemporary landscape. After years of refining the plan with significant public input, a revitalized garden, which is the legacy of the great philanthropist and horticulturalist Enid A. Haupt, is back at the centerpiece of the quadrangle framed by the Castle, Freer and Sackler Galleries, Ripley Educational Center, National Museum of African Art Museum (NMAAM), and the Arts & Industries building.
The updated master plan is smart: it proposes using a series of fully-accessible entrances to bring visitors down to a unified underground space that will seamlessly connect museums. This will also stop tourists and visitors from having to ascend and descend each time they want to visit a museum, going through security and checking bags over and over. The master plan will guide the 20-year-long $2 billion project.
Major updates made to the plan over the past four years:
The Castle acts a front door to the south mall campus, a portal into the more secluded quadrangle. According to Smithsonian Undersecretary Albert Horvath, more than 80 percent polled by the Smithsonian see the Castle as the central symbol of the museum and research system, so its enhancement as a hub is the first major project of the master plan.
BIG reduced the proposed excavation under the Castle by 50 percent, while still expanding the public space within the building and connecting it underground to the rest of the campus.
The 37-feet-tall Sackler and African Art Museum pavilions, which line Independence Avenue and hem in the south side of the quadrangle, will be removed in favor of smaller 26-foot glass pavilions at the north edge of the quadrangle. The pavilions were moved to the north end because “70 percent of the traffic” to the under-visited Sackler and NMAAM comes from the National Mall.
In a presentation to the CFA, BIG project manager Aran Coakley said: “the Sackler and National Museum of African Art lack a presence on the National Mall. Moving the pavilions, so they can be seen from the Mall, will elevate their visibility.” Despite the criticism about the contemporary peeled-up glass pavilions found in early proposals, they make a re-appearance here, but in a more subdued form.
The landscape is also poised for a major overhaul, but not for another decade. The Enid A. Haupt garden will be re-made because it rests on a green roof structure that needs to be rebuilt.
But perhaps more importantly, with the removal of the pavilions, the scale of the garden has changed and therefore the experience of the landscape needs to be re-considered.
As CFA Commissioner and landscape designer Liza Gilbert, ASLA, explained: “Everything has changed. The gardens are so much more open now with an expanded street presence.”
Furthermore, given new skylights will stream light deep into the museums from the edge of green roof that holds up the Haupt garden, there is a new design opportunity to “show how this all works. Visitors will be able to see the landscape layers, so it’s important to make them apparent.”
Gilbert called for a rigorous “landscape investigation” along the lines of what has occurred with the campuses’ structures, in order to turn the current plan’s “notional ideas” into a design that enhances the intimate scale of the gardens, improves resilience and sustainability, and illuminates how landscape architecture works.
Other elements of the plan: a new entrance for the Freer Gallery on the west side of the museum; an integrated underground circuit for trucks delivering and picking up art works; a revitalized Hirshhorn building and landscape and new design for a new sunken sculpture garden and subterranean exhibition spaces on the north side of Jefferson Avenue; clearer surface connections between all the buildings and museums and down to the new Eco-District that will line L’Enfant Plaza; redesigned connections between galleries underground and reconfigured spaces for artworks; a fully-restored Arts & Industries building; expanded events and educational spaces in the Arts & Industries building and Castle; and, lastly, an expanded Mary Livingston Ripley garden.
Next up for the Smithsonian: finalize the programmatic agreement, which concludes the Section 106 historic preservation consultation process, and discuss in one last public meeting. And in the early summer, take the final version of the master plan to the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) once more.
The Detroit Institute of the Arts (DIA) and Midtown Detroit Inc have launched a design competition to find a landscape architecture firm with “exceptional design flair” to create a new “DIA plaza,” which can better connect DIA with nearby institutions and form the basis for a coherent, accessible cultural district. Back from the brink of nearly having to sell its art holdings to pay off Detroit’s debtors, the DIA aims to remake its four-acre front plaza and grounds as a destination in themselves, perhaps like the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s iconic grand staircase and fountains. They also want the designers to forge greater neighborhood connections through urban and landscape design, so visitors are encouraged to explore.
The current landscape around the museum doesn’t help the DIA achieve its goals. According to the design competition organizers, “The Wall Street Journal hailed the DIA as ‘the world’s most visitor-friendly museum’ in 2015. However, despite the success inside the museum, visitor experiences on the exterior spaces that surround the museum tell a different story. Potential visitors have described the exterior and grounds as ‘impermeable’ and ‘standing separate from our community.'”
Furthermore, there is a lack of connection with nearby institutions, which seem near in the map below, but Detroit’s blocks are very big. Educational and cultural institutions adjacent to the DIA include: the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the College for Creative Studies, the Detroit Historical Museum, the Detroit Public Library, the Michigan Science Center, University of Michigan, and Wayne State University.
The design team will be asked to create a “strong and innovative design vision that re-imagines the DIA’s grounds, making them highly visible, welcoming, flexible, and functional to support year-round outdoor programming.” Then, the team will be asked to extend this vision beyond the DIA through district-wide improved pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, way finding, public art, and parking.
The jury includes Salvador Salort-Pons, president of the DIA; landscape architect Julia Bargmann, ASLA, founder of D.I.R.T. Studio; and Maurice Cox, urban planning director for Detroit.
MVVA’s models and renderings for the $50 million park will be on display in Detroit over the coming weeks. One model will be found in the Prentis Court at the Detroit Institute of Arts through May 6 and another will be found in the Wintergarden at the GM Renaissance Center through May 10.
The University College Dublin (UCD), known as Ireland’s “global university” with some 30,000 students from 120 countries, has launched an international design competition for an “urban design vision” that will result in a more-welcoming 23-hectare entrance “precinct” or district. UCD seeks an integrated design team of planners, landscape architects, and architects for the campus where writer James Joyce once studied. A second component of the competition is to create a concept design for a new Center for Creative Design.
According to the competition organizers, the entrance precinct is expected to better link the university to the city but also make the university landscape a landmark and raise the profile of the university both in Ireland and overseas.
The new space must create a strong sense of place — with “creativity, innovation, and sustainability” at the core of the new identity. The new precinct must be attractive, inspirational, accessible, and encourage socializing and pedestrian flow, while creating space for up to 355,000 square meters of development in a footprint of 66,700 square meters. Furthermore, the new precinct must be net-zero in terms of energy use.
UCD contributes some €1.3bn ($1.6 bn) to the Irish economy each year. The university seeks to become a top 100 university in the world by 2020.
Each of the five finalist teams will receive a €40,000 ($49,000) honorarium. But bring your A-game: architect David Adjaye and others are on the prestigious jury. Submissions are due March 26.
Halprin’s Heritage Park Plaza in Texas Will Receive Complete Restoration– The Architect’s Newspaper, 12/19/17
“Landscape architect Lawrence Halprin loved cities, so it was only fitting that his cliffside Fort Worth, Texas, commission, Heritage Park Plaza (HPP), was the first-ever item on the National Register of Historic Places designated solely as landscape architecture.”
Preparing Trees to Go From Green Pastures to the Concrete Jungle– The Washington Post, 12/19/17
“The rolling hills of the Casey Tree Farm in Clarke County, Va., seem a million miles and a distant age from the real estate bustle of the District of Columbia and its constant reinvention, but these pastures offer the city future relief in a climate-changing century.”
Urban Planning Has a Sexism Problem – Next City, 12/19/17
“Take a moment to look around you. Really look. See the city — the streets, the buildings, the spaces between them — and realize for a moment that virtually everything you see has been designed and shaped by men.”
Good Design Is a Public Good– CityLab, 12/26/17
“If you asked 100 random people or even 100 designers, ‘What is design?’ you would get approximately that many different answers. In the most positive sense, this explains the pervasiveness of designers working in and touching every imaginable aspect of our lives.”
Miami Puts It All on the Line with New Park Project– Travel Weekly, 12/27/17
“When Miami unveils the first three of its 10 planned linear miles of parks and trails in 2020, the Underline will join the ranks of New York’s Highline, Atlanta’s Beltline, Houston’s Buffalo Bayou and Chicago’s 606.”
“There is no new water. We can’t make more. We have to recycle and manage it better,” said Josiah Cain, with Sherwood Design Engineers at the 2017 Greenbuild in Boston. The Earth’s water is 97.5 percent saltwater and just 2.5 percent freshwater. A very small amount of freshwater is actually available, given most of it is frozen or found in clouds. As the population heads towards 10 billion and agriculture demands only increase, every drop of water counts. We need to stop doing wasteful things like washing streets and irrigating plants with potable water.
As water becomes more precious, we can soon expect there will be different qualities of recycled water, used for different purposes. Black water, another term for toilet water, may soon be another type of reused water more widely used. As Clark Brockman with SERA Architects said, “we can go from ‘yuck to yay’ and reuse black water in a safe, feasible way to save water and energy and reduce costs.”
Cain sees a future in a highly-urbanized world where water is managed via “decentralized, adaptable infrastructure platforms.” Blending tanks will take in black water. After solid waste has been removed, the tanks will cleanse and dilute the black water with rainwater, so it can be reused as grey water for commercial, industrial, and agricultural uses.
According to Ronen Barkan with Fluence, it makes sense for large countries like the U.S. and Canada to use decentralized water recycling systems. The most effective use of recycled black water is agricultural irrigation. “That water doesn’t need to be the best quality.” With higher levels of purity, which also adds to the cost, recycled black water can also be used in “building cooling towers and toilets.” The technology for these systems is already there, but it’s the cost that’s the most important factor. If treating black water costs much more than using potable water, then it won’t happen.
Beyond getting the cost right, there also needs to be trust that recycled black water is safe to use. Regulators want assurances that water recycling systems will function as engineers claim they will. At the Codiga Resource Recovery Center at Stanford University, Sebastien Stilmans said, firms, developers, and regulators can test systems and gain confidence that they work. He helps manage the facility, which pushes 1,000 gallons of black water from Stanford’s campus through test beds every day. “We then analyze the results and give objective feedback.” Already, there is a network of testing facilities that are helping regulators accept and approve decentralized waste water treatment systems.
Google is already looking into black water recycling for its California headquarters, as it assesses the amount of every type of water that comes into contact with its site. To reduce potable water use in its landscape, Google remade it with native plants. Drew Wenzel with Google said “the goal was to recreate the natural habitat of the region.” In evaluating the creation of a blending system for rainwater and blackwater in order to further reduce campus demand for potable water, they are uncovering the regulatory landscape is complex. To achieve scale with these water recycling systems, “lots of rethinking is required.”