For landscape architect Edmund Hollander, FASLA, the monumental form of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., which opened in 1971, evokes images of former First Lady “Mamie Eisenhower wearing pearls and a mink stole.” The towering white marble facades architect Edward Durell Stone created represent “architecture for the wealthy elite.”
That imposing building is now complemented by perhaps its opposite: a lyrical new extension, The Reach, which architect Steven Holl’s firm designed with Hollander after winning the competition for the project six years ago. Defined by its curving white titanium concrete walls and open lawns and gardens that also host performances and events, “it’s not for the elite; it’s for everyone.”
In a tour organized by the American Institute of Architect’s DC chapter, Chris McVoy, a senior partner at Steven Holl’s office, and Hollander, explained how the building and landscape were designed as one. “The experience is inside and outside simultaneously.” The buildings shape the landscape and vice versa; their forms riff off each other. “There is music, dance, theater in the building and the landscape,” Hollander added.
The Reach has seven entrances and five stairways, creating multiple ways to access the 10 interior stages, performance spaces, and practice areas, which are buried under sloping green roofs. McVoy and Hollander said the goals was to create a sense of “porosity” or openness to the surrounding landscape.
And indeed almost all the performance spaces within The Reach have massive windows that not only pour in light but provide views of the gardens and Potomac River beyond. McVoy said it has taken the opera and ballet performers some time to adjust to all the light, as they are used to practicing in black boxes. But they have taken to the windows that face into hallways and allow visitors to peer in. “Performers love to be seen.”
Steven Holl is from Seattle and is inspired by the Puget Sound, so all of his projects incorporate water in some form, Hollander said. As visitors descend the terraces into the landscape, either through steps or paths, or meander down the lawn through the buildings, they discover a fountain meant to be a “mirror to the sky” that also connects visitors to the experience of the river just below.
Hollander believes his role was to “help Steven Holl’s vision grow.” That vision was to use the landscape to create a “living memorial to Kennedy,” who was assassinated in 1963. Through seasonal change, the landscape itself gives a performance imbued with meaning.
For example, a grove of 35 prehistoric Gingkos trees — 35 because Kennedy was the 35th president — at the far end of the landscape turn a bright yellow in autumn and drop all their leaves at once around the time that Kennedy was assassinated.
Aside from that poetic arboreal piece, there are redbuds that burst out in spring; waist-high, immersive meadows of perennials, such as verbena, echinacea, rudbeckia and heptacodium that attract bees and butterflies in the summer; and red maples, gingkos, and sweetgums that overlay warm layers of color in the fall. The meadows are perhaps the most effective draw, pulling you into the landscape and out of the city. In the winter, the trees and grasses “keep their form.” Sprinkled throughout the gardens are works of public art.
To keep The Reach as accessible as possible, there are no obvious security elements. McVoy said the space is open to the public from 10AM to midnight year-round, and ample use of cameras means the security is largely invisible. “The goal is to make an open and inviting space that reflects Kennedy and his ideals.” Any issues identified by camera result in a drop-by from one of the Kennedy Center’s red jacketed ushers or the nearby patrols of the National Park Service and DC Metro police.
For Hollander, perhaps the toughest design and technical challenge was creating a lawn that essentially continued up one side of the main pavilion. As the “warped plane” becomes more vertical it turns into a sedum green wall that had to be carefully structured and planted. Creating an irrigation system that keeps both the upper and lower parts of the swoop well-hydrated year-round was challenging.
Hollander writes that “the irrigation system has an advanced web-based system with the ability to confirm water flow, water pressure, water temperature, ability to self-empty prior to frost, and refill right after temperatures warm up, so that the irrigation can effectively run 24/7, 365 days a year.” The swoop has been there about a year now and is “acclimating well.”
The team behind The Reach also addressed major connectivity issues as well. A much-needed pedestrian and bicycle connection between the upper levels of the Kennedy Center and the Potomac River below has finally been forged. Bicyclists can now wind through the new landscape and use the bridge to connect to Georgetown.
But there are few issues: the new bridge is perhaps too narrow, and there was an absence of bicycle parking anywhere in The Reach. I doubt the design team wants bicyclists locking their bikes to the beautifully-crafted handrails in the gardens, which is now happening.
To note: BNIM Architects partnered with Steven Holl Associates to design and build The Reach. And architecture firm KieranTimberlake is now working on a new master plan for the Edward Durrell Stone building that also seeks to make the now-dated center more open and democratic. This shift is already reflected in the new Kennedy Center logo, which adopts the curved forms of The Reach.
Long-Neglected North End of Central Park Will Get a $150 Million Revamp – Architect’s Newspaper, 9/18/19
“The northern end of Central Park is slated to get a major upgrade by 2024. Today the Central Park Conservancy and the New York City Parks Department unveiled its plans for a $150 million restoration of the long-damaged landscape surrounding the Harlem Meer.”
The beach is 15 miles from the center of Amsterdam, but a small piece of it will soon exist among the windy rooftops of the city. Buro Harro, a Dutch firm co-led by landscape architect Harro de Jong, in conjunction with Ronald Janssen Architecten and Bastiaan Jongerius Architecten, are building a dune roof on one building of the Groenmarkt complex. The team won the competition for the project in 2015 and construction is scheduled to be completed in 2020.
Groenmarkt (Green Market) was a fruit and vegetable market that occupied the block from 1898 to 1934. Today, the complex consists of a 35-unit apartment building, four private town homes, and a small urban square linking the buildings. The complex sits along the Singelgracht, a canal that once marked the outer limit of the city.
The design team transformed the notion of the green roof. Much of the development in Amsterdam is similar in height, approximately 14 meters (45 feet), which de Jong describes as a place where “the wind blows as in completely open landscapes.” The unique rooftop micro-climate inspired the team to draw from a similar windswept landscape that Dutch people enjoy, even during stormy weather: the beach.
The roof will be complete with sand, beach grass, and a salt water pool. De Jong believes “the sounds of Amsterdam in the background will be like the murmuring of the sea.”
Accomplishing this feat is not as simple as it sounds. Beach ecosystems are fragile, with each layer of dunes playing a vital role. Dunes rely on colonizing species, usually grasses to help secure the top layer of sand from blowing away. Eventually layers of dunes develop, from primary, closest to the water’s edge, to tertiary. Tertiary dunes are more stable, because of decreased wind exposure, which allows more plant growth and even some small trees to grow within them. Buro Harro plans to use this kind of dune for the Groenmarkt roof.
In order to do this, the firm will transplant part of the dune onto the roof. They used this technique for Bartokpark, but now face the added difficulty of trying to move a dune on to the roof.
Ultimately, the effect will be a fully-formed tertiary-like dune, with a variety of grasses and a few small trees to provide shade and further stability. The transplantation method provides an ecological base to work from, but the team will consult with ecologists to ensure the dunes are able to thrive.
Typical dune fencing will establish the boundary of the walking space on the roof, with walking paths keeping people off the grasses.
Other elements of the project: trees will be introduced in the plaza, encouraging residents to use the plaza throughout the year.
Typically, residential blocks in Amsterdam are formal and flat on their public facade, while the interior courtyard is a collage of balconies and greenery.
The team decided to invert this relationship so that, according to de Jong, “the outside of the building becomes very irregular and very green.”
The decision to turn the social space outward gives the project an identity from the river and improves connectivity with the plaza. De Jong also created pre-fabricated nesting spaces in the facade for bats and birds. Holes in the floor slabs allow vine growth.
Buro Harro has plans for other kinds of roof environment — for instance, orchards or wet landscapes that contain stornwater runoff. De Jong has found people will pay extra for integrated architecture and landscape. This allows his firm to “multiply landscapes through architecture,” creating spaces for both people and biodiversity.
Across the country, landscape architects are stepping up to face the growing global climate crisis head-on. In 2018, ASLA’s interdisciplinary Blue Ribbon Panel on Climate Change and Resilience issued a report that outlined policy recommendations and design best practices for creating resilient, sustainable communities.
The new Smart Policies for a Changing Climate Exhibition showcases 20 diverse case studies that illustrate the success these recommendations can have in harnessing natural systems, reducing carbon emissions, and improving communities’ resilience to climate change.
Some projects lower carbon emissions from transportation by improving access to bicycle lanes and sidewalks and limiting space for vehicles, like the Jackson Street Reconstruction Project in Saint Paul, Minnesota, by Toole Design Group.
Some projects show how cities can design to prepare for worst-case flooding scenarios using natural systems, like the Buffalo Bayou Promenade in Houston, Texas by SWA Group.
Others integrate renewable energy facilities into communities, like the Solar Strand project in Buffalo, New York by Hood Design Studio.
The exhibition is free and open to the public at ASLA’s Center for Landscape Architecture (636 I Street NW, Washington, D.C., 20001) every weekday from 10am to 4pm EST (excluding holidays) through May 1, 2020.
There is also an expanded companion to the exhibition at the website: climate.asla.org.
To put on the Smart Politics for a Changing Climate Exhibition, ASLA was awarded an Art Works Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. “These awards, reaching every corner of the United States, are a testament to the artistic richness and diversity in our country,” said Mary Anne Carter, acting chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. “Organizations such as the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) are giving people in their community the opportunity to learn, create, and be inspired.”
Philadelphia has made great strides in its efforts to become a more sustainable city. Most recently, the city government announced it will be powered by 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. The city’s green works sustainability plan, transportation plan, and city-wide vision plan lay out ambitious goals. Over the past decade, what have been Philadelphia’s major contribution to the sustainable city movement? And where does the city need to improve?
What propelled the big leap forward was the consent agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use green infrastructure to manage water pollution going into the Schuylkill and the Delaware Rivers. The agreement became the Green City, Clean Waters program, which is managed by the Philadelphia water department.
Philadelphia had a vast network of rivers, streams, and creeks, which in many cases were supplanted by underground sewers. These sewers erased the city’s hydrological foundation. Green City, Clean Waters is not quite undoing this system but introducing a new geography of green infrastructure that is not only shaping how the city ecologically functions but also how it looks. The program has produced fantastic parks and greenways. That’s a credit to the leadership: Howard Neukrug, director of watersheds and then commissioner of the water department, who instigated a lot of this; and Mami Hara, ASLA, his deputy for years, who is now the water chief in Seattle.
Where we still need to improve: We see projects in areas that have the land. Parks and plazas have been retrofitted or designed anew to incorporate green infrastructure. But Philadelphia is an old, pre-industrial city where streets and sidewalks are tight. The challenge is how do you green streets in South, North, and West Philadelphia? There is so little space to implement a green vision.
If you talk to engineers, they’ll say, “well, we can only put an underground cistern,” which works from a water quality point of view, but doesn’t provide the other benefits that green infrastructure produces: shade, biodiversity, and the like. This is the problem we need to address in the future.
As you mentioned, Philadelphia’s landmark green infrastructure plan — Green City, Clean Waters — and the Rebuilding Community Infrastructure program have led to the creation of more than 850 greened acres. A greened acre absorbs up to one inch of rainfall through trees, rain gardens, bioswales, and green roofs. What does the program need to accomplish next?
800 acres is less than 10 percent of the total required by the consent agreement, which is 9,300-plus greened acres. The question is: how do you implement green infrastructure in places where it’s the most difficult to implement?
There’s also an issue of cost: if a greened acre costs $100,000 an acre, that is expensive. Another challenge is hiring a quality workforce who can work on green infrastructure in a way that benefits the most number of people.
Connect, the city’s first strategic transportation plan aims to make public transportation systems more integrated, equitable, and accessible. However, state funding for SEPTA, the regional railway system, is expected to fall. How can a sustainable regional transportation plan be forged among the Delaware River Valley community?
The issue is politics. The solution lies in Harrisburg; it doesn’t lie with SEPTA. Many communities in Pennsylvania don’t use or need transit because they are too spread out. These communities hold power in the allocation of funds that both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia need for transit. It’s a classic case of constituencies fighting for resources.
SEPTA has improved a lot over the years. It’s much more pleasant now to ride trains and buses. We’ve added many miles of bike lanes. And in a warehouse somewhere, there are thousands of electronic scooters ready to be rolled out. There is a new dynamic for moving around in the city.
One of my biggest hopes is the city will dedicate streets or a whole corridor to low speeds, like 15- 20 miles an hour. If you hit a pedestrian at those speeds, they have an 80 percent chance of being unscathed; maybe a bruise, but that’s it. The city could do that along major corridors. Dedicated street are better than just bike lanes — they result in greater usage of sustainable transportation options.
Through its Rebuilding Community Infrastructure program, the city will be investing $500 million to make fair and equitable improvements in community parks, playgrounds, recreation centers, libraries across the city. What has the program accomplished so far? Are there fears new amenities could exacerbate gentrification?
The program is new so it hasn’t produced the scale of improvements that can lift up the whole city. The rebuild program has identified specific areas based on income, quality of the resource, need for the resource, and level of improvement. They’re spending the money in a prioritized way. And the $500 million is not all there. It’s being accumulated from a tax on soda, as well as from contributions from foundations. This is a long-term program that can produce results.
The issue of gentrification is very, very serious in Philadelphia. From a personal experience living in West Philadelphia, now known as University City District, I’ve been the recipient of the positive side of gentrification. But because of that, I’m acutely aware of the impacts.
I don’t think it necessarily follows that improvements will produce gentrification, in part because Philadelphia is one of the poorest cities. For large cities, the median income is one of the lowest, if not the lowest. The city is also predominately African-American, so the infusion, if you will, of white money that can produce gentrification won’t affect communities most in need of basic improvements. Perhaps long-term that could be the case. But the program isn’t prioritizing in any way, shape, or form projects that can induce re-development in a gentrifying way.
A recent study by Bloomberg found the City of Brotherly Love is sadly the third most unequal city in the U.S. behind Miami and Atlanta. Furthermore, the city jumped 17 spots in the past year, the sharpest negative move among the top ten most unequal cities. How can Philly better address the large income gap between those who live in or near Center City and those in low-income neighborhoods?
An associated consequence of the income gap is the gap in access to public resources. A research study by University City District called Just Spaces surveyed under-represented communities in the district. They want to find out: why don’t low-income people use bike lanes? Why don’t they use parks or public spaces? There are racial and economic reasons.
The report may point the way towards how you can create equity– not in terms of income, but at least in terms of access to affordable mobility and parks and recreation, which can elevate quality of life for everyone.
Philadelphia is also a hot spot for air pollution, earning an “F” grade from the American Lung Association and ranking just behind Memphis and Richmond for the country’s worst air. One in ten Philadelphians have asthma. Furthermore, asthma rates are spread unevenly, largely tracking with areas that are abnormally hot with fewer trees. This is because extreme heat combined with pollution forms dangerous levels of ozone that lead to asthmatic emergencies. How can Philadelphia address the inequity of the urban heat and air pollution issue?
Green infrastructure is a real solution — and it was embedded in the precursor to Green City, Green Waters, which was the Green Plan Philadelphia, a landmark report that Mami Hara also guided. The problem in Philadelphia is the tight streets where you can hardly fit a tree, given all the utilities. God forbid you remove a parking space. There’s a tremendous need for vegetation, particularly in South Philadelphia, where it’s very hard to find a tree in any given block.
The other component is obviously the roof landscape. In much of the city, roofscapes exceed streets in area. I would start programs that can produce green roofs, certainly blue roofs, but also change the material on the roof, so they are more reflective. You would see temperatures go down. I would do everything possible to improve the shade cover on streets as well.
Philadelphia did a program called Green Streets that I was part of. They have a design manual for green streets, which explains how to incorporate green infrastructure every time you fix a street. Over time, the city can make a dent in the air pollution problem.
We have folks in Philadelphia working for the water department on the green infrastructure program. We collaborate on where the rubber hits the road: How do you take a very small area and make it green? If there’s one lesson about the Green City, Clean Waters program is we’re almost dealing at the micro-landscape scale. That’s the level at which improvements are made over time.
The other work is focused on building parks near creeks to improve the quality of the water, but also recreational trails, such as in Pennypack and Tacony Creeks, and the Schuylkill River boardwalk, which is part of one the nation’s top urban trails.
The city has a very robust community engagement process. Philadelphia has a neighborhood-centric social structure. It’s great to work with people at that scale to make change.
And what have you learned from your 20-plus years’ experience in Philly that you want to bring to other cities and the national level?
It’s all about the scale of the city. Compare downtown Philadelphia to downtowns in other places, compare the widths of streets. I’ve measured this: it takes me 12 steps to cross most Center City streets. That’s 2-3 seconds. It’s a highly pedestrian-friendly environment because it’s so easy to cross a street.
When I go to other places and they tell me, “oh, you need a radius of 30 feet, because you need a truck to move around the city,” I say, “No you don’t.” I can show examples of big fire trucks moving around the city in this tight environment.
If I had to say anything about Philadelphia that would lead to a better future — it’s we need to take vehicles out of Center City and dense urban areas. Uber and autonomous vehicles (AVs) create on-call circulation that can travel at very low speeds. You no longer need parking. This evolution is inevitable in American cities. Philadelphia is ready made to lead the way.
Building Your Values – Curbed New York, 11/20/18
“The Ford Foundation’s restoration of its landmark building makes a bold statement about what architecture owes the public today.”
It’s High Time to Memorialize the South’s History of Lynching — The Architect’s Newspaper, 11/2018
“According to a new report by The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) entitled, Landslide 2018: Grounds for Democracy, numerous lynching sites in Shelby County, Tennessee, are virtually unmarked for their historical significance.”
Planning a Neighborhood Square – Western Planner, 11/21/18
“Designing a neighborhood square to fulfill these social functions is not so simple. One of the biggest challenges is to get the proportions of the square right.”
Take a Look at Ambitious Plan to Transform Pease Park– Curbed Austin, 11/2/18
“A year after receiving a $9.7 million Moody Foundation grant to jump-start implementing its long-awaited master plan, the Pease Park Conservancy unveiled new drawings and details about the major transformation in store for the beloved central-city parkland.”
10 Streets That Changed America– Curbed, 7/5/18 “Americans define their homes in many different ways, but few parts of the landscape capture the culture of a city or the rhythm of daily life better than a signature street.”
How to Design a Wildlife-Friendly City– Undark, 7/5/18 “Whether it’s giving endangered species a break or providing our children with a firsthand look at nature, the benefits of biodiversity are bountiful.”
Pier 3 at Brooklyn Bridge Park Is Now Open, Making the Parkland 90% Complete– Architect’s Newspaper, 7/11/18 “Another five acres of permanent green space was added to New York City yesterday with the opening of Pier 3 in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Now 90 percent complete, the beloved, 85-acre waterfront parkland designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates is almost finished after nearly 20 years in the making.”
Is LEED Tough Enough for the Climate-Change Era?– CityLab, 6/5/18
“Twenty years ago, the U.S. Green Building Council piloted its LEED certification, which has reshaped architecture and real estate. But how much does it dent buildings’ energy use?”
The Happy Prison– Urban Omnibus, 6/7/18
“In 1999, a New York Times journalist was astonished by his visit to the Rikers Island jail complex: ‘Environmentalists might think they had died and gone to eco-heaven,’ he wrote.”