Tree Church Grows in New Zealand

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The Tree Church designed by Barry Cox / Barry Cox

While some aspire for grand pools or tranquil gardens in their backyards, New Zealand resident, Barry Cox, had other ideas for a 3-acre space in his own yard. Yearning for an old stone church like those he had admired on his travels through Europe, Cox united his passions for religion and tree relocation to create a 100-seat chapel at his Ohaupo, New Zealand home made almost entirely from mature trees. According to the New Zealand Gardener, as a child, Cox wanted to be the Pope, but instead, settled for the position of head altar boy in his hometown church. His interest in Christianity, coupled with his encyclopedic knowledge of trees, came full circle in the creation of Tree Church.

Cox, who owns the mature tree rescue and relocation business, Treelocations, spent only four years “growing” the church. By re-homing semi-mature trees, he accelerated the maturity of the structure, giving it the appearance of a project 20 years in the making.

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Barry Cox with one of his dogs, Scruff / New Zealand Gardener by Sally Tagg

Cox carefully selected from a wide variety of trees for the chapel. He writes on his website that he used live cut-leaf alder trees for the roof canopy and copper sheen for the walls, as well as camellia black tie, Norway maple, and pyramidal white cedar. These species were specifically chosen for their flexibility and their ability to be trained around the iron frame of the chapel. Some of these trees have stone-colored trunks, while others have sparse foliage, ensuring that the church can always be illuminated by sunlight.

Inside the church, rows of wooden benches form a pathway to an altar that holds special significance for Cox. The altar come from his family’s church in Shannon, New Zealand and is made of marble from Lake Como, Italy, where his ancestors are from. The copper-sheen walls of the church’s interior have thick, stone-colored foliage that must be trimmed every six weeks to maintain their lush quality.

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The inside of the church / New Zealand Gardener by Sally Tagg

Across from the church, Cox designed a labyrinth walk based on the walls of the ancient city of Jericho, created in 460 BC. He also constructed a large canopy from military cargo parachute to be used for after-event gatherings. Preparing for these events at the church is demanding for Cox, who told New Zealand Gardener it generally takes “five hours to mow the lawns and at least three hours of final primping to get the gardens and Tree Church to the standard to be happy for an event.”

Aerial view of the church and labyrinth / Barry Cox
Aerial view of the church and labyrinth / Barry Cox

While Tree Church was originally “designed to show how an instant garden can be created” using a tree spade, since its opening to the public in January 2015, the church is now not only “a welcomed retreat from society” for Cox, but for others as well. After urging from his friends and relatives, he decided to open the church to the public twice a week and it’s now a popular spot for photo shoots, events, and, of course, weddings. While it’s currently closed for the winter, it will open again October 2015.

Watch a video about the project

30 Years of Emerging Voices

30 Years of Emerging Voices / Princeton Architectural Press
30 Years of Emerging Voices / Princeton Architectural Press

The Emerging Voices Award was created in 1982 by the Architectural League of New York to showcase the work of early- to mid-career American architects, landscape architects, and urban designers. Each year, through an invited competition, a jury selects practitioners or firms with a “significant body of realized work that represents the best of its kind and has the potential to impact the future of architecture and landscape design.” 30 Years of Emerging Voices: Idea, Form, Resonance, a new book by the Architectural League of New York, documents and assesses the first three decades of the League’s Emerging Voices program, highlighting firms that have been recognized for their innovation, insight, and influence.

Organized chronologically by year of submission and interspersed with essays by leading design critics, this book is a true reference, valuable as a comprehensive snapshot of the past three decades of design. The Emerging Voices award is unique in that it recognizes professionals who are no longer students, but are not yet “fully mature practioners.” As Ashley Shafer, an associate professor of architecture at the Ohio State University, states in the book’s first essay, this career phase often gives way to work that is “idealistic, experimental, and formally clumsy on occasion.” While some of the work in the book may have been “dismissed as hypothetical, utopian, or even naïve,” it’s work we now look at with appreciation.

Take for example Steve Holl’s Bridge of Houses proposal for the then-abandoned High Line in Chelsea, Manhatttan, which was recognized among several of Holl’s other projects with the 1982 Emerging Voices Award. The firm’s proposal for the disused High Line was to construct many different houses over the rail. Each villa is, in itself, a slightly different looking bridge that provides pedestrian passage. While the ambitious project was merely conceptual, it served as a precedent for James Corner Field Operations’ High Line park, which was recognized with the award in 2001 and is also featured in the book. While seemingly unrelated projects, “a host of newly created buildings” engage the High Line as was intended by Holl almost two decades earlier.

Bridge of Houses, New York, NY, proposal, 1979 / Steve Holl Architects via Princeton Architectural Press
Bridge of Houses, New York, NY, proposal, 1979 / Steve Holl Architects via Princeton Architectural Press

The same phenomena is true of Reiser + Umemoto’s 1995 design for Yokohama’s International Port Terminal, which was recognized by the Architectural League of New York in 1996. The complex network structure for the building seemed fantastical and impossible to construct at the time of its conception. However, Jesse Reiser and Nanako Umemoto’s Taipei Pop Music Center, which is arguably just as structurally complex as their design for the International Port Terminal, is currently under construction. While many of their ideas were considered outside the realm of possibility in the mid-late 90’s, Reiser + Umemoto’s designs became not only feasible, but well-received, at the turn of the 21st century.

Taipei Pop Music Center Competition images / Reiser + Umemoto via E-architect
Taipei Pop Music Center Competition images / Reiser + Umemoto via E-architect

While the majority of the book is devoted to architects, several landscape architects are also featured, including Susannah Drake, FASLA, Dlandstudio; Chris Reed, FASLA, Stoss Landscape Urbanism; Elana Brescia, ASLA, and Kate Orff, ASLA, SCAPE; Gary Hilderbrand, FASLA, and Douglas Reed, FASLA, Reed Hilderbrand; Ken Smith, FASLA, Workshop: Ken Smith Landscape Architect; and Julie Bargmann, ASLA, D.I.R.T. Studio.

Bargmann was one of the first, if not the first, landscape architect to be recognized with the award when she won in 2000. While she has since gone on to design many recognizable projects, such as MASS MoCa in North Adams, Massachusetts, and the Urban Outfitters Headquarters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 2000, she was best known for her work at the Ford River Rouge Plant in Dearborn, Michigan. This regenerative project transformed an industrial icon into a model of twenty-first century sustainability through the use of ambitious ecological systems, creating “a new model of environmentally integrated manufacturing.” Bargmann is a true example of the kind of practitioner the award seeks to recognize — someone who has been a novel thinker from the beginning of her career and has made this innovation a career-long pursuit.

Ford River Rouge / D.I.R.T Studio
Ford River Rouge / D.I.R.T Studio

The most recent landscape architect featured in the book is Susannah Drake, Dlandstudio, who was recognized with the award in 2013. Applauded for her unique voice in projects like BQ Green and Gowanus Canal Sponge Park, both in Brooklyn, New York, Drake has quickly proven that interdisciplinary design is the way of the future. Each of Dlandstudio’s projects emphasizes the integration of ecology, infrastructure, and design at the urban network scale — using the United States’ largest city as a primary testing ground for new ideas in a way few firms have dared to try.

BQ Green: Reviving South Williamsburg / Dlandstudio
BQ Green: Reviving South Williamsburg / Dlandstudio

Focused on firms and individuals who have tested limits and pressed the design profession forward, rather than those who are solely focused on making names for themselves, 30 Years of Emerging Voices is a unique book in its genre, prioritizing innovation over recognition and setting the stage for design breakthroughs to come.

Read the book.

Revitalizing Urban Projects Win Rudy Bruner Awards

Miller’s Court in Baltimore, Maryland / Courtesy of Billy Michels via Metropolis
Miller’s Court in Baltimore, Maryland / Billy Michels via Metropolis

From a pool of applicants from 40 communities in 26 states, Miller’s Court in Baltimore was awarded the Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence (RBA) gold medal and a $50,000 prize. Four other projects were awarded silver medals and $10,000 each.

Since 1987, the biennial award has recognized “urban places distinguished by quality design and contributions to the social, economic, and communal vitality of our nation’s cities.” The 2013 gold medal was awarded to Inspiration Kitchens in Garfield Park, Chicago.

This year’s winning project, Miller’s Court, is a “renovation of a vacant historic tin can manufacturing building, into an affordable and supportive living and working environment for school teachers and education-focused non-profits.” Located in an economically and culturally diverse neighborhood near Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus, the project, which was conceived and developed by Seawall Development Company with Mark, Thomas Architects, was completed in 2009.

The LEED Gold-certified complex includes “40 rental apartments and 30,000 square feet of office space and shared meeting rooms with contemporary, loft-like interiors.” Other features include a teacher resource center and a cooperatively owned independent café, which has become a popular meeting place for teachers, tenants and even President Obama, who visited in January.

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Miller’s Court / Seawall Development Corporation

One of the project’s crowning achievements is generating additional investment in the surrounding community. At the urging of several building residents, Seawall purchased and renovated 30 vacant neighboring houses to create Miller’s Square. Baltimore public school teachers and police officers are eligible for $25,000 grants toward homes there. Read more about the project in Metropolis.

Renovated row houses at Miller’s Square / Courtesy of the Bruner Foundation
Renovated row houses at Miller’s Square /
Bruner Foundation

Four other projects were recognized with silver medals and $10,000 each:

Located in the center of downtown Greenville, South Carolina, Falls Park on the Reedy is an urban oasis thanks to the transformation of a forgotten 40-foot tall waterfall and overgrown river valley into a 26-acre park. Development of the park, which opened in 2006, included replacing a four-lane vehicular bridge built directly over the falls with a pedestrian suspension bridge designed by Rosales+Partners. The bridge appears to float above the river, offering a dramatic overlook of the falls. Learn more about this project at Metropolis.

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Falls Park on the Reedy in Greenville, South Carolina / Rosales+Partners via Metropolis

Grand Rapids Downtown Market is a new public space in one of West Michigan’s most challenged neighborhoods. The market “promotes local food producers, entrepreneurship, and education about nutrition and healthy lifestyles” by linking urban communities with the 13,000 farms in 11 surrounding counties and attracting a diversity of customers to the southern edge of downtown Grand Rapids. The state-of-the-art facility, designed by Hugh A. Boyd Architects, is the first LEED Gold–certified public market in the country. Learn more about the market at Metropolis.

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Grand Rapids Downtown Market / Grand Rapids Downtown Market

Quixote Village, in Olympia, Washington, is a two-acre community of tiny houses that provides “permanent, supportive housing for homeless adults, including people suffering from mental illness and physical disabilities and recovering from addiction.” Since its completion in December 2013, Quixote Village has attracted the attention of many interested in tiny houses including nonprofits and private developers, as well as The New York Times. Learn more about the project at Metropolis.

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Tiny house in Quixote Village / Courtesy of Jeremy Bittermann for The New York Times

Located three miles south of downtown Cleveland, Uptown District is the “redevelopment of a corridor that links surrounding neighborhoods with art, educational, and healthcare institutions, producing outdoor gathering spaces, retail shops and restaurants, student and market-rate housing, and public transit connections in the process.” The development has transformed two previously underused city blocks between two of the city’s most iconic cultural institutions into a “community gateway.” Learn more about the project at Metropolis.

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Uptown District in Cleveland, OH / Stanley Saitowitz, Natoma Architects Inc. via Metropolis

The 2015 RBA selection committee included: Mayor Mark Stodola, Little Rock, Arkansas; Rebecca L. Flora, Sustainable Practices Leader, Ecology & Environment, Inc.; Larry Kearns, Principal, Wheeler Kearns Architects; India Pierce Lee, Program Director, Cleveland Foundation; Mia Lehrer, FASLA, President, Mia Lehrer + Associates; James Stockard, Lecturer in Housing, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Learn more: A blog series on Metropolis’ web site is chronicling the 2015 RBA process and case studies of the winning projects.

New ASLA Headquarters Will Be Built WELL

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Sunlight penetrates into basement of new Center for Landscape Architecture / Gensler

While LEED is nearly a household name, not everyone has heard of WELL, the first building standard for human health and wellness. Used for an office, LEED looks at environmental sustainability, but WELL is focused exclusively on the health of employees, whose salaries account for the vast majority of the total cost of any commercial building. The new rating system, which was just released last fall by the International Well Building Institute, is in its pilot testing phase, but already a number of companies and organizations are jumping on board. The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), which is transforming its 20-year-old Washington, D.C. headquarters into a state-of-the-art Center for Landscape Architecture, will aim for both LEED Platinum and WELL Silver in its renovation.

At an event in Washington, D.C., Whitney Austin Gray, International Well Building Institute, said WELL will help architects “design out health problems.” Like others, she believes the built environment has a major impact on health, mostly a negative one. Chronic diseases — like obesity and stress — are in large part created by poor environments that encourage sitting and eating fattening foods, and limit walking and access to nature. As a result, “planners, architects, landscape architects have a bigger impact on our health than physicians.”

As Nathan Stodola, also with the Institute, explained, the new system, which is being tested in everything from residential to commercial to restaurant environments, has 7 categories, with 102 features, and 450 requirements. Categories include air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind. WELL seeks to create indoor building environments that “create habitats for life.” The prerequisites and credits are based on “best empirical research and practices.”

Gray provided a brief run-down of each of the seven categories as they relate to offices:

Air: Indoor air quality and building materials are deeply linked. “There are about 75,000 chemicals in existence. About 7,000 have been tested by the Environmental Protection Agency, and a further 700 are known to be carcinogenic.” While it’s hard to establish a causal relationship between exposure to a chemical and cancer, “we can look at the chemicals in a environment we don’t know the impact of and take precautions.” WELL calls for both strict air quality testing and details on the materials of all products used in the building.

Water: While there is source treatment of water in the U.S., urban water infrastructure is eroding and outdated building pipes can be problematic. “There is great misuse of water in infrastructure.” WELL aims to get all heavy metals out of the water coming into a building and moving through it. For some buildings, that will mean completely redoing the pipes.

Nourishment: “We need to create full health for employees, which means staff cafeterias or caterers don’t serve fried foods.” Gray also talked about making smart use of “choice architecture.” For example, cafeteria managers can put healthy food front and center and make it more difficult to get to the M&Ms. “We have to make it easy to do the healthy thing.”

Light: “We are concerned with circadian rhythm issues. Humans are meant to be exposed to light; its how our organs function and repair themselves.” Gray said there are studies showing that shift workers who don’t have access to daylight have higher rates of some cancers. “Light is not optional, but far too often it’s a privilege.” Already, some $63 billion in company losses can be associated with poor work performance due to sleep deprivation, which can be tied to issues with the circadian rhythm.

Fitness: “Employees need to be active throughout the day.” To accomplish this, employers must realize not all environments are for everyone. “It’s not ideal for employees to be sitting 8 hours a day. Going to the gym for half an hour in the morning it’s going to help.” Wider staircases can help as well as using “choice architecture” to force people to circulate.

Comfort: This is about everything from acoustics to temperatures to ergonomics and even smell. If any of these things are off, they can cause stress.

Mind: “Buildings need to incorporate beauty and equity.” Employees should have access to everything from spaces for respite to progressive travel policies to paid volunteer work opportunities, in the effort to restore productivity and improve wellness.

Already, efforts to achieve WELL are shaping the overall design of the new ASLA headquarters. For example, ASLA is cutting a hole through its roof, putting in a light well with a sunbeamer that will intensify and direct light all the way into the basement level so all employees benefit (see image above).

But putting all WELL asks for into practice may prove to be a challenging but fun puzzle, said Gensler architect Katie Mesia, who explained how LEED rewards buildings for reducing energy use and therefore lighting use, while WELL calls for having “light on your face and in your eyes” at all times to restore the natural circadian rhythm. She said this will be tricky to reconcile the competing requirements, but one possible solution will be to use blue lights, which have a healthier color temperature under cabinets and in task lighting, leaving out ceiling lights all together.

Another challenge relates to water: D.C.’s water standards are about 4 times lower than what WELL wants. “The standard here is not good.” A water filtration system would need to be added to ASLA’s building, but the existing mechanical system doesn’t have space for UV light or carbon filters. Replacing the existing system may be cost-prohibitive.

But Mesia is optimistic she can find solutions with ASLA: “they are a special, progressive client. I’m getting into the heart of their business, and they have opened and exposed all of that.” Plus, using LEED and WELL in combination has meant the challenge is really just “choosing between multiple healthy solutions.”

Learn how to donate and help build ASLA’s new Center for Landscape Architecture.

A Garden Airport in Singapore

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Project Jewel at Changi Airport, Singapore / Safdie Architects

Singapore has long aspired to be a “city in a garden.” Since the early 1960s, the 300-square-mile city-state has been serious about preserving nature and also greening underused spaces. In 1970, President Lee Kuan Yew dictated that there were to be “no brownfields;” all empty space would be planted. Today there are 5.4 million people packed into the island, but nearly 10 percent of the country is covered in parks, many of them newly created. More than 300 neighborhood and regional parks along with four nature preserves are in the process of being connected through hundreds of kilometers of greenways. Now, Singapore’s Changi airport, the sixth busiest in the world, is getting the same treatment as the rest of the country — its being greened, in an exciting way that re-conceives the experience of the airport.

Safdie Architects and PWP Landscape Architecture are creating a spherical “air hub,” a 134,000-square-meter bio-dome, in the center of Changi so even brief visitors passing through Singapore will get a sense of this garden-city as they walk through the interior landscape.

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According to Safdie Architects, the glass dome will be home to gardens and walking trails, accessible via multiple levels.

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The centerpiece will be a “rain vortex,” a 40-meter-tall waterfall fed by recycled rainwater collected from the dome.

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This being Singapore, the land of shopping malls, some 4 million square feet of retail, hotel, restaurant and entertainment space will circle the exterior of the gardens.

The entire structure will be supported by a ring of tree-like columns at the outside edge of the gardens.

Safdie told DesignBoom: “This project redefines and reinvents what airports are all about. The new paradigm is to create a diverse and meaningful meeting place that serves as a gateway to the city and country, complementing commerce and services with attractions and gardens for passengers, airport employees, and the city at large.”

Work began at the end of 2014, and the dome is expected to open in 2018.

Learn more about Singapore’s ambitious green plan.

A New Town Square for an Urbanizing Mesa

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Mesa City Center / all images Colwell Shelor, West 8, and Weddle Gilmore

Colwell Shelor Landscape Architecture, West 8 Urban Design + Landscape Architecture, and Weddle Gilmore have won a design competition to create Mesa City Center, a new civic space destined to accelerate urbanization in Mesa, a city of more than 450,000 in the greater, sprawled-out suburban area surrounding Phoenix, Arizona. A major investment in making this part of the country more walkable, the new 19-acre town square will be a “catalyst for the next 100 years of urban growth in downtown Mesa,” argued Colwell Shelor, the lead landscape architects. The new downtown public spaces will be financed with park bonds, approved by voters in 2012. This project, like the new Klyde Warren Park in Dallas and the Newport Beach Civic Center in California, indicates that more heavily car-centric cities are making ambitious investments in high-quality public space, because people everywhere want these amenities and are willing to pay for them.

“Today, the site is a mix of parking lots and municipal buildings. When complete, Mesa City Center will feature a signature public space that will catalyze new development and enliven Mesa’s downtown core,” said Michele Shelor, ASLA, principal, Colwell Shelor. And from design partner West 8’s Jamie Maslyn Larson, ASLA, we hear: “Cities around the country have been shaped around their ‘village green’ or town square. These places are oases in the city. We started thinking, this is what Mesa wants — its own town square, but with a twist, so that it’s a place people from all over the state will revisit again and again.”

The new space is “characterized by generous spaces for flexible uses, inviting landscapes celebrating the Sonoran desert, and ground floor uses with public-oriented programs that draw people into and through Mesa City Center to Main Street, the Arts Center, Convention Center, and residential neighborhoods.”

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The center piece of the design is a new events space that will both accommodate larger festivals along with weekly events like a farmer’s market, exercise classes, and movies in the park.

The new space features a unique copper shade structure with an “evaporative cooling tower,” which will “mitigate the dry, hot climate with added moisture and a consistent, cooling breeze.” According to Colwell Shelor, “similar constructions have been shown to drop air temperatures by fifteen to twenty degrees. The surface will also host a projection screen for performances and movie screenings.”

Part of the structure is set within a pool of water. In the renderings, this undulating form will also provide the frame for swings, making this a mecca for kids.

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And the pool will become an ice-skating rink in winter.

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An upper terrace will create have a more informal feel, with Sonoran Desert-themed gardens and smaller plazas.

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A promenade will connect the plaza and upper terrace, with a path lined with seating and trees.

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Sustainability is a focus. Allison Colwell, ASLA, a principal at Colwell Shelor, explained: “A guiding principle of the design is to incorporate sustainable measures into all aspects of the design so that the Mesa City Center will be a model for environmentally sensitive and energy-efficient development. A few of the strategies we will consider are adaptive reuse of existing buildings, an evaporative cooling tower, bio-retention planters, rainwater harvesting, solar power, use of grey water, and permeable paving.”

Furthermore, “the overarching landscape strategy is to use native plants as the backbone of different plant communities for seasonal beauty, diversity, and habitats, and to use stormwater and greywater to support these plant communities.”

City Hall itself may also contribute to the the sustainability of the overall design. The team proposes a 150 kW solar parasol over the roof, creating an inviting rooftop public space with great views.

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The parasol will provide shade but also generate approximately 260,000 kWh/yr. power.

Sustainable Design Innovation: Perez Art Museum Miami

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Perez Art Museum Miami / all photos by Robin Hill

The built and natural environments merged to form something new and amazing in Miami: The Perez Art Museum. One of the most fascinating recent uses of integrated design, the museum features a hanging garden and a complementary, tropical landscape filled with native plants and irrigated by the building itself. Designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron and landscape designers at ArquitectonicaGEO, the museum is a prime example of multidisciplinary team-driven sustainable design.

Exploring the museum from the ground up shows us how the project just builds one sustainable layer upon the next. As ArquitectonicaGEO explains, given the museum is close to the Biscayne Bay, it first had to be elevated to meet flood and storm surge requirements.

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The designers ended up putting the garage underneath, which opened up opportunities for smart, multi-purpose design. The arrangement enabled the creation of a “design that integrates parking and planting beds with irrigation system water storage, storm water infiltration, temporary storm surge storage, and aquifer recharge. The innovative porous-floored parking garage, along with rain gardens, has been designed to capture rain water and funnel it into the ground water system, thus reducing local flooding and storm water runoff into Biscayne Bay.” This approach apparently saved the client money, too.

Examining the surrounding landscape, one discovers the varied yet native-rich landscape is also a journey of discovery, enabling visitors to explore new realms of both the plant and art worlds. ArquitectonicaGEO tells us: “A naturalistic planting style dominates throughout the ground level and Level 1 planters, progressing from South Florida natives mimicking endemic habitats outside the building, to a mix of plant types adjacent to the building, and finally a more constructed pan-tropical and exotic palette within the garage and Level 1 planters. The landscape sequence begins on Museum Drive along the new Science Museum and Art Museums, continues in the underground parking garage with a surprising display of plant material in an unexpected location, and continues above ground with the spectacle of the hanging vegetation, and the discoveries within the sculpture garden.”

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Landscape architects also saved ten of the large West Indian Mahogany, Black Olive, and Tabebuia trees found on the site, transplanting them to new spots.

The building itself maximizes its exposure to natural air flow and the cooling power of plants. There are “extensive roof overhangs,” providing access to the landscape and elements.

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Much like the first Brutalist buildings in France, which paired concrete and nature, here, the pan-tropical vegetation is a counterpoint to the Modernism of Herzog & de Meuron’s building. Laurinda Spear, lead designer of ArquitectonicaGEO, told us: “Native plants have been chosen to display the raw materials of our landscape as a contrast to the geometric architecture of the building.”

The hanging vertical green gardens only enhance the effect of the green counterpoint. They were created by green wall designer Patrick Blanc and horticulturalists Michael Davenport from Fairchild Tropical Garden and Jeff Shimonski from Jungle Island.

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ArquitectonicaGEO explains the original design just featured the hanging gardens, but was eventually expanded to include the sustainable system for the horizontal landscape. The result is a far richer place.

Herzog & de Meuron’s Gorgeous Ecological Swimming Pool

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Helen Schneider / Naturbad Riehen

The people of Riehen, a small city near Basel in Switzerland, have long wanted a new public swimming pool to replace their “obsolescent baths” by the River Wiese. In the late 1970s, the city government even launched a design competition. Unfortunately, the initial vision was never realized, but, just a few years ago, the Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron got to thinking about new possibilities. They write: “the changed perspectives brought by the intervening years prompted the idea of abandoning the conventional pool concept, with its mechanical and chemical water treatment systems, in favor of a pool closer to a natural condition with biological filtration.” The citizens liked the idea, giving it the thumbs-up in a municipal vote.

Herzog & de Meuron say their new approach enables “technical systems and machine rooms to vanish.” Their all-natural approach means no chlorine or other chemicals are added; filtering plants help keep the water clean.

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Biological water treatment basins, which are the “heart of the baths,” also play a major role. DesignBoom tells us: “The process is modeled after natural, terrestrial water purification, through layers of gravel, sand, and soil.” Herzog & de Meuron worked with Swiss landscape architecture firm Fahri und Breitenfeld on the system.

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Amazingly, this all-natural approach enables the bath to accommodate up to 2,000 people a day, who enter as they would a small pond. DesignBoom writes: “Its edge takes an irregular and vegetated boundary, with various methods for guests to enter the water. These include a gently sloping gravel beach, staircases, as well as wood docks that allow for a jump.”

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The structures around the natural pool are modeled on the local “Badi,” or Basel’s “traditional wooden Rhine-side baths.” Timber walls provide screen on the north and west sides, with built-in recliners for sunbathing.

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The southern view, which faces the river, is open. On the east side, the wood wall opens for the entrance.

There are also open-air showers and a small cafe.

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See more images at DesignBoom.

Flower Power: The Phipps Conservatory’s New Center for Sustainable Landscapes

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Heralded as one of the Earth’s greenest buildings, the Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL) is the latest addition to the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Housed in a Victorian-era glasshouse presented to the city by industrialist Henry Phipps in 1893, the gardens have always strived to lead the country in “green gardening.” Since transforming into a non-profit, Phipps has also been dedicated to building sustainable facilities, including the first LEED-certified visitor center in a public garden; a new tropical forest conservatory, which is the most energy efficient in the world; and the first production greenhouses to be LEED certified, achieving the highest rating of Platinum. Richard V. Piacentini, the Executive Director of Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, recently visited New York City to discuss the garden’s role in the future of sustainable architecture and living.

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The primary drive behind the Center for Sustainable Landscapes, as Piacentini puts it, is to function “as elegantly and efficiently as a flower.” While the merits of this approach can be questioned, the pure essentials of this poetic gesture are there. The building serves to use every drop of water that lands on its surface and is technically constructed to physically react to various elements of nature. Phipps decided to pursue all three of the highest green architecture and landscape standards: the Living Building Challenge, LEED Platinum, and Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES®) 4-star certification. Meeting these standards is “extremely intense,” as Piacentini put it, but is part of the “Phipps philosophy” that he feels is necessary to retain Phipps’ reputation as stewards of the earth.

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The Living Building Challenge is a philosophy, advocacy tool, and certification program that addresses development at all scales. The seven performance areas are comprised Site, Water, Energy, Health, Materials, Equity and Beauty. These goals, as well as those laid out by SITES and LEED were mainly met in conjunction with one another. The CSL is designed to interact with its surroundings as a vital part of its daily operation. As one of the original 150 pilot projects of SITES, it features a “restorative landscape, highlighting native plants and a permaculture demonstration rooftop garden.” Other site features include a stormwater lagoon, a solar powered water distillation system, five rain gardens, porous paving and constructed wetlands that use plants and natural processes to clean wastewater.

Some 14 geothermal wells, earth tubes, locally sourced material and solar orientation are just a handful of the features that make this construction so well executed. However, in obtaining points for LEED certification, Piacentini was not satisfied with simply scoring. After having discussed the virtues of the CSL, Piacentini nearly forgot to add one of his most proud achievements of the project. In line with the idea of locally sourced materials, Phipps decided that all of the labor, design, and execution would come from locally sourced talent. Phipps looked within Pennsylvania to select the lead design team. The architect, the Design Alliance, is from Pittsburgh and the landscape architect, Andropogon Associates, hails from Philadelphia.

After the selection of local horticulturists, permaculturists, engineers, contractors and architects, a number of design charettes ensued with representatives of the Phipps organization. The idea of the charettes was to produce a dialogue among the talented pool of professionals selected to work on the project. The result: today, the CSL offers demonstration gardens, environmental education, interpretive signage, interactive kiosks, a green gallery, classrooms, and various outdoor environs for visitors and staff to enjoy. These ideas were products of the early discussions between the designers and, according to Piacentini, are at the “core of [the Phipps] philosophy.”

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“A facilitated, integrative design approach” is how Phipps approaches the challenges of building in today’s environment. “The CSL is the ultimate expression of our systems-based way of thinking and acting, to blur the lines between the built and natural environments.”

This guest post is by Tyler Silvestro, a master’s of landscape architecture candidate at the City College of New York (CUNY) and writer for
The Architect’s Newspaper.

Image credits: Phipps Center for Sustainable Landscapes / Alexander Denmarsh Photography

Scaling up Systems to Make Cities More Sustainable

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At the Innovative Metropolis conference organized by the Brookings Institution and Washington University in St. Louis, cutting-edge designers and policymakers explained how some cities can use a systems-based approach to become more sustainable. Gordon Gill, principal, Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture; Johanna Kirkinen, SITRA – Finnish Innovation Fund; Fabio Mariz Gonclaves, Professor of Landscape and Urban Design, University of Sao Paulo; and Erik Olssen, Transsolar, covered how this can work in Chicago, USA; Helsinki, Finland; Sao Paulo, Brazil; and Masdar, United Arab Emirates.

Gordon Gill, an architect, is pretty famous now in urban design circles for his ambitious decarbonization plan for Chicago. The plan was inspired by Ed Mazria’s Architecture 2030 effort, which calls for buildings to be carbon neutral by that date. But it turns out the bold plan, which covers the entire Chicago loop, also had small beginnings. He and his firm were working on making a building in the loop more energy efficient. They discovered that a redesign could yield some 60 MW of energy savings per year. But the question became, “What is that saving worth?” How could the benefits be tapped? Gill found that scaling up savings into an entire “ecosystem,” so that buildings could leverage each other’s savings, was the way to go.

He assembled a group of 25 designers who surveyed the energy use and performance of all the 450 big buildings in the loop. Buildings went through thermal energy readings. “We looked at all the details.” A 280-page document was created with the Chicago city government (for which Gill also won an ASLA Professional Analysis and Planning Design Award) that found that “there are no linear patterns for a building’s energy behavior. The interconnectedness of the buildings were more critical than the age or height or other characteristic of a building.” Transit, building use, walkability — the broader human systems running through the buildings — had much more impact. For example, “if we increase density by 50 percent, we could reduce energy use by 20 percent.”

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Gill added that it’s not just about engineering solutions, it’s also about improving the quality of life for the people living and working in these buildings. “We could just build a wind farm and take the loop off the grid, but that doesn’t deal with the design challenges.”

Surprisingly, Helsinki doesn’t sound like it’s way far ahead of some of the most forward-thinking U.S. cities. Kirkinen said Finlanders have about the same carbon footprint as Americans given they drive a lot and use a lot of energy to heat buildings in winter. Her group, an independent sustainability research and innovation fund set up by the government (why doesn’t the U.S. have one of those?), is interested in pushing Finland beyond “energy efficiency to resource efficiency.” Sustainable well-being is defined as meeting “social, economic, and ecological” needs. Finland is taking a “systems-approach” to group energy efficient buildings into communities.

Her group is financing new approaches to “sustainable master planning that create sustainable lifestyles.” These communities would use 1/3 less energy. An international competition yielded some new ideas for these places that would capitalize on the country’s untapped wood resources. The result: new energy efficient buildings will now be made of local wood in a few pilot districts, with 7,000 wood apartments coming online. “We of course had to change the fire codes,” noted Kirkinen.

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These communities of apartments will also incorporate solar power and community activities like urban farming and flea markets. Kirkinen said, “we have to take a comprehensive approach and deal with food, community, energy, and health together.”

Unlike Chicago or Helsinki, Sao Paulo has the hard problems facing many large developing world cities. “We have troubles with ecology, biodiversity, in an era of untrammeled growth,” said Gonclaves, a landscape architect and educator. He’s focused on what public universities can do to address these challenges — creating a human system or network to find new ways to do more environmentally-sensitive growth. Sao Paulo, as was discussed in a previous session, is sprawling out, with new rich gated communities or poor favelas or slums taking over parks and building right up to the edge of its water reservoirs. Incredible traffic is one result. So is incredible inequality.

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Gonclaves said there are hundreds of universities offering architecture degrees in Brazil, but just one — the University of Sao Paulo — offering landscape architecture and urban design degrees. As a result, “Brazilians can’t talk deeply about ecology and landscape.” To remedy this, Gonclaves said his university has formed a network of landscape and urban design professionals across Sao Paulo and other cities in Brazil. He says his university is the only one doing this.

Sao Paulo is the currently the 4th greatest recipient of investment worldwide. “So many people are putting money in the city.” On top of all this investment, there are tons of new cars, which means more roads are being built. The result is a complete degradation of the stormwater management infrastructure. Remaining parks now close often because of flooding.

On top of this, many landscape architects working in Brazil are focusing on “closed, gated communities,” where there’s design work. “Design magazines all highlight the landscapes and buildings of gated communities.”

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Gonclaves has set up 30 workshops, with the goal of creating “local solutions” in Sao Paulo and other cities. This is because “cities have very different issues.” He’s involving both private and public universities in the mix. To date, “private universities have been focused on selling diplomas and no research.” In contrast, “public universities are doing research but don’t want to deal with real estate.” He said “both approaches are wrong. We have to reconcile and produce good professionals who address public policy issues.”

While the designers mentioned above seek to overlay more environmentally sustainable systems on existing cities, there’s one that was designed from scratch using a systems-based approach: Sir Norman Foster’s Masdar in United Arab Emirates. The city, said Olssen, is designed to be a “carbon neutral, livable community out in the desert.” Interestingly, Olssen added that Masdar uses ancient Arabic city-making techniques but just updates them with modern technologies.

To create a livable environment, streets were purposefully kept narrow to keep sunlight off streets, like an old bazaar. Because the wind tops 100 degrees in the shade, wind was also designed to be kept out during the day, but maximized at night, when it’s cooler.

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Masdar, interestingly, has a “reverse urban heat island effect”; it’s actually cooler in the city than the desert outside of it. The entire city will use 80 percent less energy than a comparable community in Abu Dhabi. Solar systems are embedded into all the buildings, while external shading systems are built into the external walls.

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This is “district energy at all scales plus photovaltaic,” said Olssen. Now, the goal is to “apply the lessons of Masdar to other cities.” Already, Oman, Boston, Toronto, Dallas, are looking at how to use Transsolar’s systems in a “whole block or community.” Systems are configured based on “access to wind, solar, daylight, and the unique urban form.”

Image credits: (1-2) Chicago Decarbonization Plan / Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, (3) Pilot wooden buildings / SITRA, (3) Housing in a ravine. Sao Paulo / Urban Omnibus, (4) Reserva Granja Julieta gated community, Sao Paulo / Tishman Speyer, (5) Masdar / Copyright Foster + Partners, (6) Masdar building screens / Footprint blog.