Green Roofs Are Getting a Big Trial in Hoboken– Next City, 8/18/17
“The movement toward green building and sustainability-minded development is at an odd crossroads. On one hand, some progressive cities have made regulation strides toward more energy-efficient and less environmentally harmful building practices, while a viable industry has grown up around green construction and roofing materials.”
The Pre-Oscar Snub– The Huffington Post, 8/23/17
“Well, it’s not Oscar season but we already have one of the biggest snubs of the year. It’s pioneering Modernist landscape architect Dan Kiley in the recent motion picture Columbus.”
‘Project Birdland’ Transforms Francis Scott Key Elementary/Middle School– The Baltimore Sun, 8/27/17
“School doesn’t start for another week, but 6-year-old Kyle Schuller spent Sunday afternoon running around in front of Francis Scott Key Elementary/Middle School. The soon-to-be first-grader watered some freshly planted shrubs in a “habitat lab” that will soon welcome him and other students to school each day.”
Saving Bertha: The Effort to Turn a Piece of Seattle History into Art– Seattle Magazine, 4/20/17
“After Bertha’s dramatic emergence from the nearly 2-mile-long tunnel she diligently, if erratically, drilled in service of a new, underground stretch of SR 99 (and re-opened Seattle waterfront), a certain post-drill pallor has descended upon the city. After all the fanfare and ceremony—not to mention millions of tax dollars—Bertha is scheduled to be dissembled and sold off for scrap, and soon.”
Using RPGs to Solve Environmental Problems– PC Magazine, 4/21/17
“Landscape architects at North Carolina State University developed open-source modeling software that uses the basics of role-playing games to help solve environmental problems.”
World Landscape Architecture Month: Let’s Celebrate All Things Green – The Missoulian, 4/25/17
“It’s been a long, hard winter here in western Montana, what with blizzards, sub-zero temperatures and lots of snow. As spring slowly emerges, it’s time to celebrate all things green. Let’s celebrate April – it’s World Landscape Architecture Month.”
São Paulo’s Mayor Tries to Make the City Greener– The Economist, 4/27/17
“The phrase ‘concrete jungle’ might have been coined for São Paulo. Brazil’s megalopolis has 2.6 square meters of green space for each of its 11 million inhabitants, a tenth as much as New York and a fifth of what the World Health Organization recommends.”
Understanding What Makes Plants Happy – The New York Times, 4/30/17
“First, we have to understand that plants are social creatures. Our garden plants evolved as members of diverse social networks.”
Expand Sanctuary Concept Beyond the Undocumented – Philly.com, 12/18/16
“I believe now is the time to expand this sanctuary city concept; to make all our cities refuges for learning, for health and safety, for tolerance and inclusion, and environmental quality.”
Revamped City Planning Aims at Neighborhood Revivals– The Detroit Free Press, 12/19/16
“The City of Detroit’s Planning Department used to do remarkably little planning. Mostly the staff processed federal grant money for public housing or demolitions. One director of the Planning department confided to me years ago that he had more accountants on his staff than planners.”
Celebrating a Rugged Vision of Landscape Architecture– The New York Times, 12/23/16
“These bold environments, strung across an eight-block section in the city center, were designed by the modernist landscape architect Lawrence Halprin and his firm between 1965 and 1970.”
Eight Rooftop Gardens That Top the Lot– The Sydney Morning Herald, 12/26/16
“When summer rolls around, as it will be doing before much longer, there’s absolutely nothing better than spending all day on a rooftop garden with friends, a fridge full of cold drinks, good music and never-ending views.”
Gardens by France’s Most Revered Landscape Designer – The New York Times, 10/12/16
“Gardens are ‘an expression of faith’ and ‘the embodiment of hope,’ wrote the revered English landscape architect Russell Page in his memoir, The Education of a Gardener, in 1962.”
How to Remake San Jose’s St. James Park– The Mercury News, 10/12/16
“San Jose will host one of the more fascinating design competitions in its history: The ambitious goal is to try to remake downtown’s most gaping urban sore, St. James Park.”
The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is renovating its outdated headquarters in Chinatown, Washington, D.C. to become a showcase not only for sustainable building and landscape design, but also healthy employee environments. ASLA is pursuing certification through the International WELL Building Institute’s WELL standard. In a session organized by the Institute and DC chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), representatives from WELL, ASLA, and ASLA’s architects at Gensler explained why they are taking this approach and what well-being will look like in the new headquarters.
WELL, according to its website, is a “performance-based system for measuring, certifying, and monitoring features of the built environment that impact human health and well-being, through air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.”
WELL senior associate Sarah Welton said the standard focuses on the people occupying the building, as opposed to the building itself. The major difference between WELL and LEED is that much of the onus for meeting WELL requirements falls on owner policies.
Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, executive vice president and CEO of ASLA, argued that “wellness is a huge part of our culture at ASLA. And we, as a profession, have a strong ethic of leading by example. We want the building to show the values of the profession.”
She cited other practical reasons for going after WELL Silver certification: It promises to improve productivity and well-being by optimizing light and sound quality; it will help inscribe into the office culture a notion of work-life balance; and it helps make the space more visually inviting.
Also on hand was Joseph Siewers, project manager for Gensler, to discuss how ASLA’s vision for the space was implemented. ASLA’s old office space was “compact and dark,” Siewers noted. One major step Gensler took was to add a skylight to the existing green roof, which will allow light to filter from the roof to the ground floor.
One of the most forward-thinking aspects of WELL is its emphasis on lighting. Gensler sustainability specialist Brynn Kurtzman, who oversaw Gensler’s integration of WELL design, described how the lighting in ASLA’s new headquarters will sync up with staff’s natural circadian rhythm. “WELL encourages cool blue lighting to maximize productivity,” Kurtzman said. Blue orbs will illuminate work spaces from overhead at a 45-degree angle, matching the natural progression of the morning sun. The light will work much like camping does to normalize staff members’ circadian rhythms.
According to Welton, WELL standards also sometimes raises eyebrows when people learn of its influence on office diet.“WELL tries not to ban food, just carcinogens.” The standard also asks employers to limit the amount of sugar and hydrogenated fats per serving that offices may provide through catering or the cafeteria.
Welton, who has a background in public health, added that as a WELL ambassador, “I don’t want to change your office habit. I want to change your life. It’s not to restrict, it’s to open your eyes.”
Somerville said WELL’s food guidelines had definitely started a conversation among staff about the direction of office culture. “It has made people more aware of what they’re eating. We now have the comfort of knowing that what we’re serving fits healthy guidelines.”
“We need density but we also need connections to nature,” said University of Virginia professor Timothy Beatley, at an event at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) to celebrate D.C.’s successful inclusion in the Biophilic Cities Network, a group of leading cities pushing for rich, nature-filled experiences in daily urban life.
Beatley launched the network only a few years ago, but it already seems to have taken off. Building on the impact of his important books, Green Urbanism, Biophilic Cities, and Blue Urbanism, the network is designed to improve knowledge-sharing among cities who seek to merge the built and natural environments. Leading environmental cities — such as Singapore; Portland; San Francisco; Wellington, New Zealand; and now, Washington, D.C. — have joined, and another 20-30 cities are now exploring signing on.
Beatley explained how biophilic cities forge deeper, more meaningful connections to nature, which in turn increases social connections and community resilience. He then highlighted some biophilic urban innovations:
Singapore (see video at top) is now putting “nature at the heart of its planning and design process.” Singapore’s official tagline used to be “garden city,” but now it’s “the city in a garden.” The idea, Beatley explained, is “not to visit a garden but to live in it; not to visit a park, but to live in it.” To realize this concept, Singapore has issued a landscape replacement policy that ensures any greenery removed through the process of developing a lot be replaced on the building eventually found there. In reality, though, developers, architects, and landscape architects have doubled or tripled the amount of original green footprint in buildings’ structures through the use of sky gardens. “There is now a competition among developers to see who can add more green.” The city has also built nearly 300 kilometers of park connectors to create deeper connections between parks and neighborhoods.
Melbourne, Australia, has pledged to double its tree canopy by 2040. “They are re-imagining the idea of the city in a forest. It’s a multi-scale investment in nature — from the rooftop to the bio-region and everywhere in between.” Individual trees are now being registered and made accessible via GIS maps. To further boost engagement, locals can also email love notes to a tree and the trees will write a note back.
A number of cities are forging deeper connections to urban wildlife, too. In Bangalore, there’s the Slender Loris project that engages citizen scientists in noctural journeys through the city to meet these shy creatures. Austin, Texas has gone completely batty, in a good way. Underneath Congress Bridge, millions of bat fly out at dusk during the warmer months to feed. Above and below the bridge, people gather to watch the amazing exoduses and sometime-murmurations. “There are now bat-watching dinner cruises.”
In St. Louis, there’s Milkweeds for Monarchs, which has resulted in 250 new butterfly gardens. San Francisco will soon mandate the use of bird-friendly building facades. And in Wellington, city officials are investing in predator-proof fencing in many areas with the goal of “bringing birdsong back.”
“Biophilic experiences are multi-sensory. Animal sounds can re-animate our cities. People want more nature; they want to hear birdsong in their neigborhoods,” said Beatley.
Stella Tarnay, co-founder of Biophilic DC, wants D.C. to become even more nature-filled. Her group will monitor new city projects to ensure they actually integrate greenery and boost biodiversity. For example, in Adams Morgan, plans are underway to remake the Marie Reed Learning Center with a set of green roofs and gardens, but it will be important to guarantee none of those great landscape plans get cut at the last minute for budgetary reasons.
Also in the works: building more support for the city’s wildlife action plan through expanded environmental education programs. As Maribeth DeLorenzo, deputy director of D.C.’s urban sustainability administration, explained, “there are now 270 species of birds in the district, 70 species of fish, 32 species of mammals, and hundreds of species of invertebrates.” But greater awareness is needed of these species — along with the biodiversity benefits of a clean and ecologically-healthy Anacostia River and the district goal of achieving a 40 percent tree canopy by 2032.
Plans for Botanic Garden Move Forward, Despite Neighbors’ Protests– The Houston Chronicle, 2/3/16
“Until now, the proposed Houston Botanic Garden has delivered more pain than gain to some neighbors in the southeast quadrant of the city. The future garden site is still functioning as Glenbrook Golf Course, and some residents would rather keep it just as it is.”
London’s Green Revolution– The Telegraph, 2/9/16
“Landscape architects in London rarely get to think big. It’s all “pocket parks” and “parklets,” typical of a capital city where every inch of green space is worth its weight in gold, almost literally, and where garden designers strive to make buyers in small spaces feel they’re getting a taste of the great outdoors.”
There’s a Lesson in Spain’s Surreal, Unfinished Cities – The Huffington Post, 2/11/16
“In a memorable scene in ‘The Big Short,’ the Oscar-nominated 2015 movie about the financial crisis, a real estate agent shows the main characters around a desolate Florida subdivision. She insists that the market is just in a lull as they drive past rows and rows of vacant homes.”
Feature: In and Outdoors– The Architects’s Newspaper, 2/11/16
“As more people choose to live in dense urban environments, the latest hot-ticket residential amenity has nothing to do with marble countertops or on-call concierges: It’s outdoor space, the scarcest of all commodities in an environment where, regardless of grandeur, distance from nature can take a toll on quality of life.”
What Happened to the Great Urban Design Projects? – The New York Times, 2/12/16
“American infrastructure is deferred home maintenance on a massive scale. We just keep putting it off until something major — and often catastrophic — happens, and then it ends up costing twice as much as it would have had we taken care of it proactively.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The General Services Administration (GSA) granted us a rare look at a Level 5 security campus, the new U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters, at the restored St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in southeast Washington, D.C. This $646-million project is just the first in a series that will transform a mid-19th-century mental asylum, founded by social reformer Dorothea Dix, into the new headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security, of which the Coast Guard is a major piece. In a tour, Christian Gabriel, ASLA, national design director for landscape architecture at GSA, said “the goal of the new facility is improve operational efficiency by bringing together all the Homeland Security leadership in one place.” Leaders of the department will occupy revamped asylum buildings that once housed patients like Modernist poet Ezra Pound.
The tour started with moving through multiple high-security checkpoints stacked with fully-armed guards. Once cleared, we looped up towards the upper terraces of the new 1.2-million-square-feet Coast Guard headquarters, designed by architects at Perkins + Will and landscape architects with Andropogon Associates, with HOK providing landscape architecture, interiors, and sustainability services as part of a design-build team. As Gabriel explained, new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules meant that 95 percent of stormwater had to be captured on site. On top of that, historic preservation, sight, and security considerations meant that the new Coast Guard headquarters needed to be lower than the historic asylum buildings.
What that meant in reality — for such a large site on such a steep slope — was GSA needed to set the 9-story building deep in the hill and cover it in a set of stair-step green roof terraces that funnel water down to a constructed wetland and pond. GSA ended up creating the second largest green roof in the U.S. at 550,000 square feet, and the third largest in the world. It’s so big that a deer actually grazed on the roof, not realizing it was on one.
Thomas Amoroso, ASLA, the landscape architect who designed the project at Andropogon, explained that while the system may look complex, it’s actually pretty simple. “It’s low-tech and common sense. The green roof terraces are a gravity-based system that move water from the higher terraces to a lower ones and then into the pond.” That the system operates in such a seamless way — and also doubles as public space for the coast guard officers operating the facility — is a testament to the depth of the design.
As we make our way down through many floors to get to the 350,000-cubic-foot pond, we begin to see subtle differences in the plant life in the courtyards spread among the green roofs. Amoroso, and HOK landscape architect Brandon Hartz, ASLA, explained how they “replicated existing native eco-zones throughout the courtyards.” During the 120-foot-drop through the levels, water moves off the buildings, onto roofs and courtyards, through diverse regions, from the “Blue Ridge and rocky barrens of Piedmont to the coastal plains.”
All the courtyards that get ample light feature a mix of shrubs, grasses, and Oak community trees, a majority of which are native. “They are habitat for wildlife.” Indeed, Hartz told us how there are actually gravel pockets in the roof designed to enable nesting by Killdeer, a small bird. And a rare bald eagle and its family now live on the facility, too.
Once the water leaves these upper courtyards, it makes it way to the lowest courtyard — the vernal pool, where the wetlands cleanse it.
Then, stormwater is conveyed to the huge constructed pond, where it’s aerated, recycled, and used to water the green roofs and courtyards once again.
While we saw few people outside when we visited, Amoroso said many thousand Coast Guard officers are already hard at work there, with a few thousand more scheduled to move in. We saw a few officers pulling together cafe chairs and table together for an outdoor lunch. Hopefully, the Coast Guard will put some effort into organizing outdoor events, so they can better take advantage of their landscape.
While some may balk at the $646 million price tag, imagine the cost if the GSA had used grey instead of green infrastructure to deal with all that stormwater. For this alone, the design approach seems like a wise use of taxpayer money. And it’s good news that the biggest government construction project since the Pentagon is covered in green roofs; it would be upsetting if it wasn’t. It’s just too bad that the security is so high that more people can’t get in there to see it for themselves.