Central Park Love Song – The New York Times, 6/28/18 “Even though Central Park, like the rest of Manhattan, is largely man-made, not natural, it is a place to experience in person, not secondhand through images, regardless of their authenticity, nor through narratives, no matter how illustrative.”
Gateway to What?– Curbed, 6/28/18 “The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Gateway Arch, a 630-foot-tall catenary curve—designed by Eero Saarinen and clad in stainless steel—stands on the west bank of the Mississippi River in St. Louis, Missouri. But really, it stands everywhere in St. Louis.”
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.
What Does a Presidential Building Look Like?– Curbed, 3/22/18
“On February 27, former President Barack Obama made a surprise appearance at a meeting at Chicago’s McCormick Place, the sixth public presentation on the plans for his presidential center in the city’s Jackson Park, currently under city and federal review for its impact on the historic landscape and environment.”
Young Landscape Architect Works to Shape the Future– San Diego Downtown News, 11/3/17
“Growing up in Tempe, Arizona, Magnusson was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture, and had opportunities to explore several of his commercial, institutional and residential projects.”
Michael Maltzan Architecture to Expand ArtCenter College of Design– The Architect’s Newspaper, 11/3/17
“ArtCenter College of Design has unveiled renderings of a new, two-phase master plan created by Michael Maltzan Architecture that aims to reposition the college as an expansive, urban campus connected by pedestrianized open spaces, new housing, and student amenities.”
Lines Are Drawn Over Design for a National World War I Memorial – The New York Times, 11/8/17
“When it was built in 1981 as part of an architectural revival of Pennsylvania Avenue, Pershing Park was a downtown oasis of tree line and water fountain steps from the White House. In the years since, the park has fallen into disrepair and has become a haven for homeless people and pigeons.”
Cleanup Begins in NYC’s Most Polluted Waterway– Next City, 10/18/17
“Now, a long-anticipated cleanup has finally begun. Preliminary dredging began the first week of October, and the full project is anticipated to cost around $500 million, the Architect’s Newspaper reports.”
Memorializing Tragedy in an Era of Constant Mass Assaults – CityLab, 10/24/17
“July 22, 2011, still stands as the bloodiest day in Norway’s history since World War II. Twin attacks that day, first a bomb in Oslo and then, two hours later, a gun massacre on the island of Utøya, claimed 77 lives.”
Each April World Landscape Architecture Month (WLAM) celebrates all aspects of landscape architecture. The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) asked its members and followers to share pictures of their favorite examples of landscape architecture on social media with #WLAM2017 and a card that reads, “This Is Landscape Architecture.” The goal of the campaign is to educate the public about the profession and all it entails.
This year, approximately 1,700 people from 57 different countries posted nearly 7,000 times with #WLAM2017, reaching 2.9 million people. Each day during WLAM a different ASLA chapter took over our Instagram so we could show the breadth of the field.
For example, the Iowa Chapter decided to highlight off some of its public spaces.
This well-edited exhibition is perhaps the best of NBM’s recent triptych of landscape architecture exhibitions, which included a survey of the landscape photography of Alan Ward, FASLA, and a retrospective of Oehme van Sweden’s work. The curious flow of the exhibition enables discovery. Around each corner are Halprin’s surprising drawings and dioramas, and photographs graciously donated by some of the country’s leading architectural photographers.
The exhibition moves through 35 sites chronologically, from his early residential work through to his first forays into the public realm, from the hallmarks of his Modernist designs to his post-Modern work in the late 70s and early 80s, and, finally, his capstone projects before his death in 2009.
Some themes emerge. Throughout his career, Halprin enjoyed partnering with artists. He purposefully created room for art works, knowing they add rich, pleasing layers. Gould Garden in Berkeley, California, created from the late 50s to 1960, shows one of his early partnerships with artist Jacques Overhoff, who molded bas-relief panels in concrete around Halprin’s pool.
Halprin believed in cities. When many people abandoned the urban cores after the race riots, Halprin saw opportunities for regrowth. His Portland open space sequence, with its three-part necklace of Modernist parks, was created from 1965-70 and demonstrated his early commitment. Moeller argued “it changed perceptions of downtown Portland.” And New York Times architecture critic Ada Louis Huxtable, who was not generous with the compliments, called the sequence “one of the most important urban spaces since the Renaissance.” (The sequence is now on the National Register of Historic Places, but it is in need of major repair. A $4.5 million rehabilitation effort begins next year).
Halprin was all about “animating the landscape through choreography,” particularly the movement of water. The first thing you see when you enter the exhibition is a 10-foot-tall watercolor drawing of water moving around rocks. But if you look closely, you will see Halprin drew arrows to indicate the currents’ directions; he was mapping the choreography of a shore eddy.
Moeller thinks Halprin was deeply influenced by his wife Anna, who was a dancer. “He adapted her ideas by ‘scoring’ for human activity.” In his UN Plaza in San Francisco, he applied a design approach he called “motation,” which is described in the exhibition as “scoring how perception of the environment changes depending on the speed and motion of the observer.”
The exhibition, of course, includes beautiful photographs of his masterpieces: the Frankin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C., which is a culmination of his life-long collaboration with artists; Freeway Park in Seattle, which creates a sense of movement through water and sculpted concrete and initiated a new landscape type — the park over a highway; and Sea Ranch in California, which showed how ecological community design should be done.
Sea Ranch in particular is made fresh by new photographs that show how Halprin ingeniously used berms reminiscent of military forts to both hide buildings and pools and create wind blocks. As Birnbaum explained, “Halprin was one of the first to think of landscape as infrastructure.”
Many of Halprin’s landscapes are under threat of demolition or a slow death from a lack of maintenance. Birnbaum hopes this exhibition will help “raise awareness of their value.” It’s a bit ironic given Halprin’s influence can be found in so many contemporary projects. Birnbaum even sees his impact on the High Line in New York City, where James Corner choreographed a continual dance between observer and observed.
DLANDstudio Launches Phase 1 Design for Rails-to-Trails QueensWay – The Architect’s Newspaper, 6/2/16
“After years of debate over what to do with the 60-year old abandoned Rockaway Long Island Railroad (LIRR), the coalition has been moving toward the goal of converting 3.5 miles of the railroad—which extends from Rego Park to Ozone Park—into a park similar to the High Line.”
Design Team Led by Mia Lehrer Picked for New Downtown L.A. Park– The Los Angeles Times, 6/9/16
“A group led by landscape architecture firm Mia Lehrer & Associates has won a design competition for the 2-acre park, on the site of a former state office building adjacent to Grand Park at the foot of City Hall, city officials announced Thursday.”
Can leaving the comfort zone push designers to re-imagine what is possible? Outside Design, an exhibition at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC)’s Sullivan Gallery, shows that the answer to this question is yes. During a talk at the gallery, Jonathan Solomon, director of architecture, interior architecture, and designed objects at SAIC, called for leaving the usual behind and “re-weirding the discipline of design,” which can allow designers and artists to innovate and move beyond disciplinary boundaries. The exhibition is part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial and features the work of five firms of artists and designers: Analog Media Lab (Urbana-Champaign, Illinois), Ants of the Prairie (Buffalo, New York), The Living and the Ali Brivanlou Lab (New York City), Species of Space (Chicago), and Sweet Water Foundation (Chicago). Solomon curated the gallery as a “series of laboratories.”
To re-weird design, as Solomon explains, designers must design outside of their wheelhouse. They have to explore ideas and processes that push both the design and themselves, and go beyond clients’ comfort levels. It may also call for designers to look outside — literally. Designers should see the “complexity of nature and ecology” as an inspiration for design and art, as well as a potential means to create a more sustainable future.
David Hays of Analog Media Lab describes their work as “purposeful, pragmatic, and playful” yet grounded in experimentation. Their Rococo Chair riffs on the floral designs of Rococo-era upholstery fabrics, replacing them with actual flowers sandwiched between clear plastic (see image above). However, these flowers aren’t sealed up; they are allowed to decay. The flowers in the chair are dynamic, making the “rococo image real.”
Moving up to the scale of the building, both Ants of the Prairie and The Living propose re-wierding building façades, integrating them with the natural world.
Whether we like it or not, animals and bugs live with us in and around our homes. How do we reveal and enhance this relationship? Joyce Hwang of Ants of the Prairie created her installation, Habitat Wall, as an “inhabitable living membrane.” Built of different types of wood, including salvaged and reclaimed pieces, and composed of a series of modules, Habitat Wall is a beautiful physical object, but also functions as nesting houses and ledges for bats and birds, allowing both people and creatures to live together.
Designing at the intersection of biology and architecture, David Benjamin of The Living works with biologist Ali Brivanlou to co-create a façade with nature. They designed Amphibious Envelope, a façade wherein the traditional double-paned glass is replaced with tanks filled with water, moss, frogs, and snails. As the oxygen levels in the wall lower, the frogs rise to the top of the water, triggering sensors which release air bubbles, thus re-oxygenating both the water and the air around the wall. The installation is both a “functional façade” and an “open-ended experiment” that allows for a more fluid relationship between the inside and outside.
And the process of re-weirding design can be expanded yet again to the scale of the public realm.
Eric Ellingsen of Species of Space plays with questions of language and people’s perception of public space. A book case built on an angle and a dream machine, a spinning strobe in a dark room that produces visual hallucinations, are a means to change our perception. Elison also is in the process of mapping poems of cities, to create a “physical manifestation of language and design.”
For Emmanual Pratt of Sweet Water Foundation (SWF), an ecosystem can be both a physical natural process and a network of people. SWF “transforms blight into life” through their internship model, which trains students in aquaponics and ultimately encourages them to create a “decentralized network of sharing.” The aquaponics ecosystem then becomes an ecosystem of community partners and users. Their installation, Aquapons, highlights the importance of a sustainable system.
Outside Design shows us how small changes in perception can yield interesting results. Designers owe it to themselves to look outside the usual design processes. Inspiration may come in the form of bats, frogs, or poetry. Everyone should be open to the opportunities “re-weirding” can provide.