Instead of chopping down 10 fully-grown poplar trees and 8 gingko trees to make way for a new glass-box pavilion in front of the Architecture College of Beijing Jiaotong University, Bo Zhang, ASLA, and his colleagues convinced the university to create an open, canopied exhibition space that works around the trees.
Zhang, a landscape architect and assistant professor of landscape architecture at the Oklahoma State University, partnered with Zhongzhong Zeng, associate professor of architecture, and Yongquan Chen, also on the faculty of architecture at Beijing Jiaotong University, to create a tree-first pavilion that both preserves nature and creates a charming space for exhibitions and events.
The tight site along the glass-fronted wall of the college is just 21 feet wide by 183 feet long. Within these challenging parameters, Zhang and his colleagues developed a set of hexagonal structural units made of Douglas Fir, carefully siting them to avoid hurting the trees and their roots.
At top, gaps between the forms allow trees to penetrate through; and below, spaces in the elevated wood floor covering the trees’ roots enable stormwater to permeate into the ground.
Other gaps between the forms are covered in glass, creating more usable spaces.
Zhang tells us the hexagonal forms were prefabricated and trucked into Beijing, where they were assembled onsite. “The whole process of construction took only ten days.” In that short time, the design team also avoided using heavy machines and vehicles that would compact the top soil.
Zhang and his colleagues purposefully kept the space open so it can be configured for multiple uses, such as lectures, meetings, or exhibitions. Removable wood exhibition panels and chairs give the university flexibility.
College administrators have also opened up the space to the surrounding neighborhood: residents use the space to teach classes, practice Tai Chi, dance, or just relax.
“Our vision was achieved by blending architecture and landscape, civility and nature, people and space. We hoped to create a model relationship between educational institution and surrounding community.”
Professor Invents Wearable Garden Fertilized by Human Waste – The New York Post, 12/18/19 “Aroussiak Gabrielian, a landscape architecture professor at the University of Southern California, has created the world’s first wearable farm, which can grow a variety of fresh produce using fertilizer supplied by your own human waste.”
Thomas Woltz– CLAD, 12/22/19 “Thomas Woltz, owner of Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, leads one of the most revered landscape architecture firms on the planet. Kath Hudson caught up with him while he was on a fact-finding mission, camping on the Montana plains.”
Next to the Botanic Garden Is Another, Tinier Green Refuge – DCist, 12/3/19 “Bartholdi Park isn’t exactly hidden. Located at a busy intersection next to the Botanic Garden (which is celebrating its bicentennial this coming year) and mere steps from the U.S. Capitol, it’s got prime real estate. And that’s kinda the point.”
“When we talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion, what are we actually talking about?,” asked Thaisa Way, FASLA, program director of landscape and garden studies at Dumbarton Oaks, in a session with Diane Jones Allen, FASLA, director of landscape architecture at the University of Texas at Arlington; and Mitchell Silver, NYC commissioner of parks and recreation, at the ASLA 2019 Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Diego.
“Diversity means difference but it’s complex. Diversity has been described as bringing different people to the table, but that’s not real diversity. We actually have to change the table. Equity is about fairness, but it’s also complex. Fair for whom? And inclusion is about creating spaces ‘for all people,’ but how do we design for all people?”
Way made these points to say that “our language really matters.”
She applauded the efforts of ASLA and its members to make landscape architecture a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive profession. “The ASLA diversity summits have been an important project.” But what needs to happen next is for Caucasian landscape architects to “give up some of our privilege and power.”
“Landscape architects can provide a voice and be a tool for vulnerable communities,” Allen said. Through her work with vulnerable communities in New Orleans, Louisiana, she found that diversity, equity, and inclusion is “what happens on the ground.”
After Hurricane Katrina, Charity Hospital, which was a crucial community teaching hospital, was shut down by Louisiana State University and instead merged into city’s new medical center in the lower Mid-City neighborhood. “The community was upset. This is the place you went with an emergency, like a gun shot wound, and where the indigent went for care.”
The Greater New Orleans Foundation stepped in, leading a new master planning process for a Spirit of Charity Innovation District, with the goal of redeveloping the old hospital as a new mixed-use district. “If this was to be an inclusive process, participation is needed.”
Allen coordinated the engagement effort, which involved using both online and on-the-street surveys at transit stops and food trucks, events specifically tailored for kids and families, and reaching out directly to the homeless. Her team also organized community workshops, both large and small planning and design charrettes. At a second set of charrettes, the results of the surveys and feedback were then presented back to the community. Local residents saw the need for a pharmacy, clinic, and steps to address homelessness.
Findings from the community listening process were compiled in a summary report, which proposed steps to achieve “continual engagement,” and then given to the design team and developers.
In another project — the Claiborne Cultural Innovation District — Allen and her team helped local stakeholders better understand the needs of the community that had been split by the insertion of Interstate 10 through New Orleans. “We learned they didn’t want to take the highway down, because they feared gentrification would then happen, and the space they had claimed underneath the highway would be gone.”
Through a comprehensive engagement process, her team learned the community also didn’t want the underpass turned into all green space. “You can’t second line or have a parade through green infrastructure.” The goal instead became “how to stabilize the cultural activities that were already happening and better connect the site to the community’s Moorish, French, and Spanish histories.” The result was a master plan for 19 blocks that included a Garden of the Moors and a marketplace. “We didn’t want to over-design; we wanted to reinforce what they were already doing.”
Allen believes engagement summary reports are a “critical prerequisite” for any project.
For Silver, the problem is that “diversity, equity, and inclusion are too often merged together, like they are the same thing. They are not the same thing. If we are going to use the words, we need to better understand the emotion and intent behind them.”
He traced the history of the social equity movement from the Suffragettes, who advocated for women’s right to vote at the beginning of the 20th century, to the African American and LGBT civil rights movement in the 1960s, the social and environmental justice movements of the 1990s, and then national debates on fairness, affordability, and gentrification that began in the wake of the 2008 “Great Recession.”
For Silver, “equity is about fairness. Whether you are 5 or 50, you know what is fair or not.”
When Silver came on board, New York City had spent more than $6 billion to improve parks over a 20 year period. But still too many neighborhood parks throughout the five boroughs were in such poor condition that “you wouldn’t let your children or grandchildren go in at anytime of day.” Through an in depth analysis, Silver’s team found that 215 parks had seen little or no capital improvements over those 20 years. “That wasn’t fair and had to change.”
With some $300 million, Silver initiated a program that has redesigned some 67 parks, turning decrepit places into multi-functional green spaces with adult fitness equipment, spray parks, playgrounds, and green infrastructure to capture stormwater. The new parks were also redesigned to be multi-generational. “Seniors like to sit at the periphery, so more seating was added to the perimeters of parks.”
Furthermore, earlier regulations didn’t allow adults, except in the company of a minor, to access play spaces. For many seniors looking for shade on a hot summer day, that rule could cause them to walk another 10 blocks to find a seat. Silver’s team did away with the regulation.
Of the 67 parks targeted for redevelopment, some 45 have been completed. In the new parks, “usage rates are up 15 percent” on average.
Other inclusive public space programs include: the Creative Courts program the city has undertaken to bring in artists to paint basketball courts across the city; the AfroPunk festival, held in Commodore Barry Park in Brooklyn each year; and the incorporation of BBQs and picnic spaces across public parks and plazas, which allows people of all colors and ethnicities to “go eat, connect, and have fun.”
Mitchell argued that the broad case for planning and designing for diversity can’t be economic, a marketing ploy, or a scheme to win more business. “Diversity is about the value of having different perspectives and being socially and morally responsible.” The reality is that by 2030, the majority of U.S. households will be single persons; and by 2040, majority-minority.
In the Q&A, discussion veered towards how to make room for multiple histories in a landscape. Allen said she is “always looking to history as it’s the source of inspiration and transformation.” But she also acknowledged that reintepretations of public spaces can bring up conversations like: “whose history are you going to use — African American, or Native American, or Caucasian?”
“There’s a real tension, which is the exciting part. Things change; history is in flux.” But conflict can arise when there is the feeling that “you are erasing our history to talk about their’s.”
Mitchell believes “demographic change is making a lot of people uncomfortable.” Communities need to learn there are “multiple histories side by side.” But they have to go through this process of reaching a new understanding together.
A survey of homeless individuals by Downtown Streets Team yielded one overwhelming response: they felt completely ignored as human beings. At the ASLA 2019 Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Diego, Brian Elliott, policy analyst for San Diego Councilmember Chris Ward; Brandon Davis with the California-based Downtown Streets Team; and Lena Miller with Urban Alchemy, discussed strategies to reintegrate homeless individuals into their communities, ranging from top-down policy decisions to empowering local unsheltered populations through employment options.
California is ranked number 1 in homelessness, with nearly 130,000 homeless individuals, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and numbers only continue to rise.
Elliott expressed a commitment to reduce the number of unsheltered people in San Diego County, which he cited as at least 4,476 people, nearly 55 percent of the at least 8,100 homeless residents of San Diego County. Councilmember Ward is the chair of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, an “integrated array of stakeholders committed to preventing and alleviating homelessness.”
Dispelling myths about who the homeless was paramount to all three speakers, but Elliott highlighted that in San Diego, the cause is primarily economic. He noted that “a hospital bill they could not pay, a utility bill they could not pay, balanced with housing, especially in a high-cost market with low vacancy rates, leads to homelessness.”
The City of San Diego unanimously passed the Community Action Plan on Homelessness, a body of policy focused on helping the existing homeless population, preventing future homelessness, and ensuring that homelessness is an experience that is brief and non-recurring. Davis made clear that “homelessness is an experience, not an identity.”
The plan looked at three short-term goals to be achieved in three years: end youth homelessness; end veterans homelessness; and decrease unsheltered homelessness by 50 percent. Building community and state level buy-in is central to achieving these goals. As can be seen below, veterans homelessness spreads across generations.
The first step of the plan calls for transitioning away from using the police as a first point of contact and instead reaching out to social workers. In order to combat the housing issue, the city council has committed to at least 140 new units of permanent support housing in all 9 council districts to be built over two years. To achieve this, Elliott encouraged landscape architects to continue to design for everyone, not specific populations.
Miller started Urban Alchemy in 2018. The organization birthed out of Hunter’s Point Family, an earlier non-profit Miller founded that focused on public housing.
Miller became interested in public toilets, specifically their importance in ensuring the dignity of the homeless, but also their potential for jobs. The organization has created 24 safe and clean public toilets in Tenderloin and other parts of San Francisco with high homeless populations and given homeless individuals jobs cleaning and maintaining those toilets, BART stations, the Civic Center area, downtown streets, and parks.
Urban Alchemy works with long-term offenders, integrating them back into society in order to prevent them from experiencing homelessness. Miller pointed to their high levels of emotional intelligence, their ability to read people, and their ability to interact with different kinds of people. All of these skills help them to establish and maintain social norms in the public places they work.
The police are brought in to offer deescalation training, helping to establish a relationship between law enforcement and employees of Urban Alchemy. Miller said this “transforms the paradigm of how the police see us, and how everyone in society sees us.”
Miller noted how the work provides not only an income but also a sense of pride, remarking on an anecdote where one employee called the Governor of California into a bathroom stall he had just cleaned to show him how clean it was.
Urban Alchemy saved 85 lives in 2018, through Narcan deployment, which brings back people from drug overdoses, and providing water to dehydrated people.
Downtown Streets Team employs local homeless populations to clean community spaces in San Jose and San Francisco. Instead of an hourly wage, they offer a non-cash basic-needs stipend, case management, employment services, and a support network within their community. The program offers people who have been out of work for a few years a platform to build their resume and eventually re-enter the workforce.
Volunteers wear bright yellow shirts, denoting them as members of the community and part of the Downtown Streets Team. The simple action of donning a yellow shirt and cleaning the community restores their dignity as people and members of their community.
The marginalization of homeless individuals often leads them to ignore the social norms of public space. Including them as part of the community helps ensure norms are met.
Each Tuesday, Downtown Streets Team hosts a town hall where people can participate in public life, share in each other’s successes, and be together. For Davis, “we are all here to hold each other accountable to be our better selves.”
To date, Downtown Streets Team has secured over 1,900 jobs and homes for people.
Landscape architects need to become urban planners and work “upstream” in policy and regulatory processes to ensure public space leads urban placemaking efforts. That is the argument Michael Grove, ASLA, chair of landscape architecture, civil engineering, and ecology at Sasaki; Brian Jeneck, ASLA, director of planning at HOK; and Michael Johnson, ASLA, principal at SmithGroup made at the ASLA 2019 Conference on Landscape Architecture in Washington, D.C.
Grove linked the current misalignment between public space and private development to the long history of “decoupling policy making and placemaking.” Urban planners have led in the policy and regulatory-making realm while landscape architects have proven expertise in placemaking.
Landscape architects can instead lead and participate in urban policy-making through “upstream urbanism” while prioritizing public spaces as the dominant placemaking strategy in cities.
To illustrate the importance of this approach, Jeneck discussed the typical block structure of San Francisco, which is 360 feet by 360 feet, as it relates to floor area ration (FAR), or the amount of building area in relation to the size of a lot.
A four-story building occupying 50 percent of the site would have a floor area ratio of 2, which Jeneck notes is on the low end for urban development. Assuming the lot is the entire block, the dimensions of this building would be 180 feet by 360 feet, a footprint with an impractical amount of interior space.
This undesirable set of dimensions for a building can result in design teams creating assemblages of towers, which to achieve the same FAR could take up 70 percent of the site, greatly limiting public space. Developments like this happen because policy makers haven’t accounted for public space corridors and connections from the beginning.
The speakers set out five scales in which urban design takes place: regional plans, city general plans, city area plans, city-specific plans, and project plans.
Landscape architects are intimately familiar with the project scale, but need to shift up in scale towards the regional plan, affecting policy that begins to shape the form of the city.
Scaling up gives landscape architects a larger role in designing the broader framework in which smaller urban, area, and project plans must exist, a crucial role the profession is currently lacking.
According to Johnson, landscape architects’ ability to work with complex systems makes them a natural choice for managing the goals that must be met at each scale.
He gives the example of a set of scalar jumps, 1, 10, and 100. 1 is the site scale, the place landscape architects are currently most comfortable, 10 is the city scale, and 100 is governance and public policy.
All presenters looked at lessons from past planning movements in order to inform what a future landscape architect-led planning framework could look like.
They traced the history of Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City and the influence of Frederick Law Olmsted and Daniel Burnham on the City Beautiful Movement. While the Garden City and the City Beautiful movements were highly influential, they were also ensnared in class politics, giving them a green veneer without truly being equitable.
Cities account for 3 percent of our land area, but 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Getting the next generation of urban planning and design right is imperative.
Revitalizing post-war plazas requires a deep understanding of the historical significance and degree of integrity of the existing conditions, which to Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, president of The Cultural Landscape Foundation, can then “guide the level of intervention and level of surgery that one is applying to the bone structure.”
Birnbaum provided a framework for how to measure success that operates on two axes: historical significance and integrity.
Historical significance relates to the importance of the plaza culturally, both locally and within the landscape architecture canon, while integrity focuses on the condition of the original design and implementation.
To demonstrate how the graph works, Birnbaum located three plazas within it: Peavey Plaza in Minneapolis (high significance and high integrity); Boston City Hall Plaza (medium significance and medium integrity); and Love Park in Philadelphia (low significance and low integrity).
Birnbaum then defined seven aspects of integrity for plazas:
Location: Place where the plaza is constructed. Setting: Physical environment around the building. Design: The form, place, materials, and structure of the plaza. Materials: What the plaza is constructed with. Workmanship: Physical evidence of the construction and craftsmanship of the plaza. Feeling: Quality and often intangible elements that constitute a place. Association: Historical and cultural ties to the plaza.
Birnbaum used his methodology to categorize Mellon Square in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (high significance and medium-high integrity); Lever House Plaza in New York City (high significance and medium integrity); Time-Life Building in Chicago (medium-high significance and medium integrity); and Nollen Plaza in Des Moines, Iowa (medium-low significance and low integrity), prefacing the case studies Rademacher and Smith detailed.
Rademacher explained how Mellon Square had maintained its integrity for many years after its construction but lost its character after an integrity-reducing reconstruction in the 1980s.
The 2007 update, led by the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and implemented by Heritage Landscapes, aimed to restore Mellon Square to its original design, eliminating several of the changes that occurred during the 1987 reconstruction.
Rademacher laid out a few of the problems that came up with the restoration. Fountain function was dependent on a worker being present. Planting was overgrown or dead. And “most egregious was a redesign of the fountain” that led to a new double crenelated edge, which divorced the timing of the water feature from the original design and its intent.
Many of the materials were preserved in the 1987 reconstruction, but recreating the major elements of the plaza would be central to the 2007 reconstruction. The fountain was the most difficult piece to return to its historical character, with the original slow contemplative rhythm of the fountain being at odds with contemporary thought about how fountains should perform. Ultimately, the team decided on a flashy program on the hour and the slower contemplative program for the remainder of the time.
Returning the plaza to its original design was important for it to retain its integrity and to maintain its historical significance for the City of Pittsburgh.
Smith elaborated on three projects that his firm has worked on, each project approaching the historical legacy of plazas in different ways.
First, and the most historically significant, was the Lever House in New York City (see image at top). Smith’s team relied on a set of photographs by Ezra Stoller to recreate the plaza in lieu of many architectural drawings for the plaza space.
Stoller photographed the project during construction, upon completion, and for several years after the project was finished. This helped Smith to understand the changes throughout the first few years of the project, particularly in planting and usage. The analysis resulted in a near-identical reconstruction of the space.
The Time-Life Building plaza features a distinct terrazzo patterning that carries through into the building’s lobby, which is the only part of the building complex that is part of the historic registry. The tile patterning was then paramount to the design of the plaza. Smith’s team recreated the terrazzo look in concrete. The major change was relocating the fountain to “reframe the plaza relative to the sidewalk,” creating a connection between the Avenue of The Americas and the plaza.
Cowles Common’s, formerly Nollen Plaza in Des Moines, Iowa received the most change while retaining the tilted orientation of the plaza in relation to the street grid.
Major changes included eliminating a wall separating the north and south sides of Des Moines, the addition of a new fountain feature in the center stripe of the plaza, and the installation of a new sculpture by Jim Campbell.
Each of the plazas hold some level of historical significance as post-war plazas, but as Rademacher and Smith noted, the measure of the success is not dependent on the funds spent on the projects, but on identifying and enhancing the spirit of the places.
Beth Meyer, FASLA, the Merrill D. Peterson professor of landscape architecture at the University of Virginia, is this year’s recipient of the Vincent Scully Prize, which is bestowed by the National Building Museum (NBM) in Washington, D.C.
Just the second landscape architect to receive the prize, after Laurie Olin, FASLA, in 2017, Meyer is widely viewed as one of the most influential landscape architecture professors teaching today. Scully Prize jury chair Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk said: “she has left an indelible mark on theories of aesthetics, sustainability, culture, and social impact.”
In a wide-ranging, dynamic conversation at the NBM with her friend Thaïsa Way, the resident program director for garden and landscape studies at Dumbarton Oaks, Meyer demonstrated her ability to enlighten and create a sense of wonder. She helped the audience better understand the deep impact beauty has on us, particularly natural beauty in the public realm.
A few highlights from the conversation:
On how she formed her ideas: “I grew up in Virginia Beach as a Navy brat. I spent endless hours on beaches and boardwalks, walking the promenades and public spaces. There was every body shape and size imaginable.”
“I came to landscape architecture sideways. Visiting Norfolk, Virginia, in the mid-60s, I saw urban renewal projects demolish buildings and communities, and what was created as a replacement was not great stuff. I became interested in design really through demolition. I wanted to make cities better. I later discovered cities involve dynamic processes that result from political and social factors.”
“I found a niche between historian and designer. In landscape history, there had been an over-emphasis on ecology. I wanted to focus on cultural and social aspects and human agency.”
“I left my suburban life to study, work, and live in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Boston. Suburbia is so segregated, but I discovered that urban parks are outdoor living rooms where you encounter people who are not like you. By recognizing the humanity of a stranger different from you in public spaces, you develop empathy and tolerance, which is the basis of community and democracy.”
“Sitting outside alone is also an act of self care. There is an intimacy to being alone in public, which allows you to quiet the usual busyness and see each other. That intimacy creates conviviality and moments of connection, which is an act of self care.”
On how to understand the social, cultural, and political aspects of landscapes: “In Southern cities and towns, there is a racialized topography. Wealthy and white live up on the ridges; poor and black live in the bottoms, the bowls, which leads to temperature, health, economic, and social disparities. Analyzing power and race topographically provides a lens for understanding public space. Landscape is a text for reading issues of power and privilege.”
“I think a lot about who has the right to the city? Who has the right to linger in public spaces? How do you define lingering versus loitering? What if a park is the only place someone has to go to during the day?”
“I’m not into the theory of landscape urbanism. It doesn’t engage with the social and political. Landscapes are a framework.”
On the importance of natural beauty: “There is a real pleasure and joy in the experience of — and interaction with — plants that are changing. Places with plants can cause people to become distracted, to pause and wonder. Princeton University professor Elaine Scarry calls this ‘wonder in the face of beauty.’ It arrests time and causes us to care. When something beautiful happens, when the mist rises, there is a ripple effect on others.”
On why we need to design with nature: “Public spaces are more than human when we recognize the agency of soil, microbes, plants, and critters. There is this constellation of life in it together. We co-construct public space with other species. Interacting with the biophysical world also alters our mood and sensibility — and our ethos and ethics.”
On climate change: “To combat the threat, landscape architects can care for materials and small things; people’s need for public space and the ability to self care; and beauty. Design matters because it alters the ethos of people who use the spaces.”
“It’s not only humans that are feeling the threat of climate change. I saw a Dogwood tree outside of Dumbarton Oaks the other day that was blooming with browning leaves.”
On how positive change can happen: “I understand now that the aggregated experience of natural beauty among many people can change our collective mood and create a cultural shift.”
Now more than ever then, natural beauty is needed in our public spaces.
The Gentrification Effect of Urban Parks– Planetizen, 10/21/19 “New research finds that different types of parks correlate with different gentrification effects, adding to the complexity of urban change.”