Pokémon Go Adds a New Layer to Public Spaces

Pershing Square Park as depicted in Pokémon Go
Pershing Square Park as depicted in Pokémon Go

According to the National Academy of Sciences, “nature-based recreation” has decreased 25 percent in the last 40 years. The average American now spends only one half of a day per week outdoors. Furthermore, kids now spend an average of only 30 minutes or less outdoors each day, half as much as 20 years ago. Is Pokémon Go — the explosively popular game app released worldwide this month — a way to get adults and kids off their sofas and into parks and other public spaces?

After a couple of days happily playing the game, my answer is a qualified yes. The qualification: it is possible to play a circumscribed version of the game while sitting at your desk or sofa. But the game is really designed to get you out into streets, parks, and plazas. It got me out into two public places — the town square in downtown Rockville, Maryland, and Pershing Square Park in Washington, D.C. — where I had different yet intriguing experiences.

Pokémon Go, which may be downloaded on iOS and Android devices, is a free, location-based augmented reality game in which players capture adorable-looking creatures called Pokémon. The game is played not from a comfy sofa, but out in the real world.

The app provides a map of the player’s real-world surroundings. Players move outside in order to find Pokémon and capture them using Poké-balls. The map provides a handy way to locate Poké-stops, which are found in such public spaces as public art installations, historical markers, and monuments and contain additional Poké-balls and other items. Poké-gyms, where players unleash their Pokémon to fight, are also located near prominent local businesses and other attractions.

I spent my first afternoon playing the game at Rockville Town Square, a 12-acre suburban public plaza that opened in 2007, part of a larger master plan to create a “daytime, evening and weekend activity center that is easily identifiable, pedestrian-oriented and incorporates a mix of uses and activities.” Not only is it home to shops and restaurants, the square also includes a number of Poké-stops. The large crowd who congregated there on a Sunday afternoon included many Pokémon Go players, smartphones in hand, searching for virtual goodies hidden in the colorful public art.

Rockville Town Square via Better Cities & Towns / Dan Cunningham
Rockville Town Square via Better Cities & Towns / Dan Cunningham

The game turned into a communal experience as we chatted with strangers along the wide sidewalks. We all certainly benefited from Rockville’s cohesive pedestrian policies and were able to crisscross the square and surrounding streets safely with little interference from traffic. While it may be facile to urge landscape architects to create Pokémon-friendly landscapes, they should continue to design high-quality and lasting public spaces that accommodate ever-evolving recreation preferences and pedestrian safety.

A couple of days later, I felt the urge to play the game at D.C.’s Pershing Square Park, a multi-level park designed by M. Paul Friedberg + Partners that opened in 1981. It features a monument to General John J. Pershing as well as a bronze sculpture of an eagle by Lorenzo Ghiglieri — both, unsurprisingly, are Poké-stops. I spent half an hour in the park on a Thursday afternoon and quickly gathered items from the statues (this is done on the app by spinning a photo of the public art or feature).

Pokémon in Pershing Park, Washington, D.C.
Pokémon in Pershing Park, Washington, D.C.

After capturing these Pokémon, I found myself with nothing to do. The park was seemingly devoid of Pokémon, no matter where I stood, so I gave up and sat down to enjoy the calm retreat from the noisy traffic streaming on all sides. Tree branches shook in the breeze, and a parade of Falun Dafa supporters marched by. One woman paused in front of the Pershing monument, not to admire its historical significance, but to retrieve items for the game. Once she finished, she quickly walked away.

Later, a family of tourists arrived with cameras. They stood in front of the monument and photographed it and each other as they spoke in their native language. Clearly they were savoring a moment to be remembered later — a traditional experience of a public space that still serves a time-honored purpose.

My experiences with Pokémon Go, and observations of other players, show that the game may not fit the traditional definition of outdoor recreation, but it certainly creates enthusiasm for exploring your environment and engaging in physical exercise.

And perhaps this new enthusiasm for augmented reality games can be tapped to generate more creative designs of public spaces that integrate real and game worlds. Similar games are sure to come in the future.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (January 16 – 31)

Joe Weishaar & Sabin Howard / U.S. World War I Centennial Commission
Winning WWI Memorial design by Joe Weishaar & Sabin Howard / U.S. World War I Centennial Commission

Houston’s Big Green TransformationThe Huffington Post, 1/21/16
“The car-centric, zoning-averse city is undergoing a monumental transformation that is being led by landscape architecture–transformation at a scope and scale unseen in the U.S. in more than a century.”

7 Picturesque Public Parks Soon to Sprout Around the WorldForbes, 1/23/16
“Now underway on Governors Island, ‘The Hills’—designed by Dutch landscape firm West 8—will comprise of four mounds made entirely of construction debris and clean-fill material, blanketed with over 860 trees and 43,000 shrubs.”

How This Pop-up Park Engages an Excited CommunityThe Landscape Architect’s Network, 1/25/16
“When designing a site, it is necessary to research and analyze existing conditions in the beginning, but after a project is implemented, natural and human processes usually change the landscape in unexpected ways.”

Landscape Architect Sara Zewde’s Urban Monument Design Has Brazil BuzzingTadias, 1/26/16
“In the spring of 2011, Sara Zewde was on her way to Harvard’s Graduate School of Design to study landscape architecture when she found herself in the middle of a movement to preserve a historic Afro-Brazilian heritage site in the Pequena Africa (little Africa) neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro.”

World War One Centennial Commission Moves Forward, CautiouslyThe Washington Post, 1/26/16
“The World War One Centennial Commission has decided to go forward and endorse a winning design in the competition to create a new national memorial to the Great War at Pershing Park.”

WWI Centennial Commission Selects “The Weight of Sacrifice” for Memorial in Washington, D.C.Architectural Record, 1/27/16
“The United States got in and out of World War I in well under two years. The U.S. World War I Centennial Commission hopes it can move as quickly.”

Recreational, Scenic Wetlands Planned for Inner Harbor The Baltimore Sun, 1/28/16
“Three years from now, a green oasis of floating wetlands, bay grasses and terraced edges leading down to the water will greet visitors to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, under a plan unveiled today by officials of the National Aquarium.”

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (August 16 – 31)

Times Square Night / Wikipedia
Times Square pedestrian plaza at night / Wikipedia

Top 5 WWI Memorial Designs for D.C. Park Lean Toward the SereneThe Washington Post, 8/19/15
“On Wednesday, when a federal commission unveiled the five design finalists for the creation of a national World War I Memorial in the District’s Pershing Park, it chose less radical, if less eyepopping, concepts.”

The Cultural Landscape Foundation Opposes Demolition of Pershing Park for a World War I Memorial – The Cultural Landscape Foundation, 8/19/15
“The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) today opposed demolition of Pershing Park for the creation of a World War I Memorial following the announcement by the U.S. World War I Memorial Commission of the five finalist designs for a new memorial, all of which call for the demolition of Pershing Park.”

‘Secret Garden’ Restored at Wright’s Masterpiece FallingwaterThe Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 8/19/15
“Eric Kobal stretches across a lush planter to examine a brown leaf on a rhododendron he planted in this garden on the Pottery Terrace at Fallingwater. The sound of running water is never far away here, especially this year as Bear Run, the stream that runs under the famous property, is flowing fast and high after a summer of plentiful rain.”

Challenging Mayor de Blasio over Times Square PlazasThe New York Times, 8/21/15
“One of Mr. de Blasio’s big initiatives, Vision Zero, aims to improve pedestrian safety. Ripping up the pedestrian plazas in Times Square, restoring cars and forcing millions of people to dodge traffic again, runs headlong into his own policy.”

A National Model for Better Streets Is Suddenly at Risk CityLab, 8/24/15
“In challenging the Times Square pedestrian plaza, New York City leaders are showing a profound misunderstanding about the impact of public space.”

A Yellow GreenThe Architect’s Newspaper, 8/26/15
“About four-and-a-half miles south of Philadelphia’s Center City, a collection of highly regarded architects are proving that office parks do not have to be soulless and stuffy.”

Landscape Design Brings Communities TogetherThe Toronto Star, 8/31/15
“You are likely experiencing the wonder and significance of landscape architecture — and also probably don’t realize it.”

Commemorating Loss Through Touch

Vietnam Veterans Memorial / Slideshare.net

“Memorials are transitional spaces, which can reduce post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Martin Holland, a professor of landscape architecture at Clemson University, at the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA) conference in Los Angeles. “They are holding environments where people can approach, touch, and see losses in a secure setting.” Using two examples — the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. and the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma — Holland showed how touch is used as a design strategy to commemorate loss.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which opened in 1982, was designed by architect Maya Lin who won the national design competition. It consists of a long black granite wall in an open V shape. The wall is a timeline, with the 58,300 dead listed in chronological, not alphabetical order. This enabled a “social ordering of the space,” so visitors could find the name of their loved ones by the year of the conflict.

The names of the fallen soldiers are etched in the wall, which enable rubbings that create “haptic memories.” Lin thought that “our primary sense was touch, so she used this as a design strategy.”

Rubbing of a name on the wall / Wikipedia

“Material culture is also used to express grief.” People leave flowers, teddy bears, and other objects to commemorate their loved ones. Flowers are often inserted in the wall itself. “It’s a palimpsest that changes as people engage with it.” All the left objects are periodically swept from the site and archived.

Objects left at the memorial / U.S. Department of Defense

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial set an important precedent for many other memorials, including the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum in Oklahoma City. In 1995, a bombing orchestrated by American terrorists brought down a federal office building, killing 168 people and wounding another 680. The blast destroyed or damaged more than 340 buildings in a 16 block radius. Holland explained that approximately one-sixth of all Oklahoma City residents knew someone who died or were affected by the blast, so “for them, it’s a local tragedy.”

Holland explained that just three days after the bombing, local officials were talking about the need to create a memorial. Over the following years, in one of the “most democratized memorial design processes ever,” local officials used surveys and public meetings to gauge what people wanted. The most popular answers were “healing, peace, hope.”

In 1997, Berlin-based architects Hans and Torrey Butzer won the Oklahoma City Memorial design competition. While Hans is German, Torrey is from Oklahoma and had a connection with the city and site. They created a memorial that enabled people to touch and interact with objects that commemorated the victims. The memorial has become “the most visited tourist site in Oklahoma City.”

Visitors can enter through the Gates of Time. The bomb went off at 9:02. The first gate is marked with the time 9:01, which represents the “last moment of peace,” while the gate at the other end of the park is marked 9:03, which represents the “first moments of recovery.” Holland argued that the gates “intentionally slow you down, which increases haptic memory.”

Gates of Time / Oklahoma City National Memorial

One of the few trees that survived the blast now has a honored place in the memorial, where it has thrived. The space around the tree is a major gathering space because it’s the “only place with shade.” Nearby in the memorial, in a place enshrouded in trees, is where Timothy McVeigh parked his bomb-laden car. Holland said this was another example of turning the horrific into the healing.

Survivor Tree / Flickr

Each of the 168 victims is memorialized in a chair, which glow from within at night. The chairs for the children victims are smaller. After the official ceremony that opened the park in 2000, victims’ loved ones began decorating the chairs, leaving photographs and mementos. What is particularly sad is the “adults remember the children always as children,” but there are no photographs of them, for some reason, only toys.

Oklahoma City National Memorial / Federal News Radio

Like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, all non-perishable materials are periodically collected and archived, which then becomes available for viewing at the museum, except some of the excess teddy bears left at the memorial have been sent overseas to kids in need.

The chairs and the process of leaving mementos are another touch experience that help visitors deal with loss.

Holland argued that some people have called these mementos “kitsch and consumerist,” but he wonders if that doesn’t reflect some “class bias?”

New Video: FDR Four Freedoms Park

Photographer and video artist Barrett Doherty has created a beautiful 10-minute video that provides a vivid, experiential tour of the 4-acre Franklin Delano Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park in New York City. First conceived by architect Louis Kahn and his close collaborator, landscape architect Harriet Pattison, in the early 1970s, the park didn’t actually open until October last year, some 40 years later. This is Kahn’s first work in New York, and last work overall. In fact, he was carrying plans of the park when he died of a heart attack in Pennsylvania Station in New York City in 1974.

The design was completed after Kahn’s death by David P. Wisdom and Associates and Mitchell/Giurgola Associates. Located east of the UN complex at east 42nd street, the park is named after the “Four Freedoms” Roosevelt articulated in his 1941 state of the union.

In Landezine, Doherty tells us the memorial was first delayed by Kahn’s death and then derailed by the ill fiscal health of New York City during the 70s and 80s. It took William J. vanden Heuvel, a former U.N. ambassador and founder of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, to launch an effort in 2005 that built the momentum needed to finally realize Kahn and Pattison’s vision. Gathering more than $50 million in private and public funds, the project began to move forward, once some legal disputes among the corporation charged with creating the memorial and the foundations involved in its financing were resolved.

Kahn’s vision for the park was a simple one. Doherty quotes from one of his lectures at the Pratt Institute in 1973:

“…I had this thought that a memorial should be a room and a garden. That’s all I had. Why did I want a room and a garden? I just chose it to be the point of departure. The garden is somehow a personal nature, a personal kind of control of nature, a gathering of nature. And the room was the beginning of architecture.”

Doherty separates the design vision into five segments, two major elements and three supporting ones:

Major elements

  • The Room “a place of inspired use.”
  • The Garden, a place where “ the wildness of the American continent gives way to the order of the room.”

Supporting elements

  • The Grove, where one receives “the invitation to visit the memorial.”
  • The Sculpture and Forecourt, provides “a most personal welcome at the foot of the garden.”
  • The House in the Garden, a place for amenities that was unbuilt.

In Landezine, he provides a detailed explanation of site details that serve as a complement to the video.

Late last year, Michael Kimmelam, architecture critic for The New York Times, reviewed the site: “It gives New York nothing less than a new spiritual heart. That’s to say it creates an exalted, austere public space, at once like the prow of a ship and a retreat for meditation. It’s a memorial, perhaps naïvely optimistic but uplifting and confident, unlike the one at ground zero. It is as solemn as the Roosevelt wartime speech it honors, a call to safeguard the freedoms of speech and worship and the freedoms from want and fear. From inside the great, open granite enclosure that Kahn called the ‘room’ at the tip of the island, a long fly ball away from the United Nations, a visitor looks out over the city and the churning waters of the East River in the direction of the Statue of Liberty, the ocean and Europe. It is the long view that Roosevelt had for America.”


On Kahn’s approach to the park, he writes that this is “probably the closest Kahn came to pure abstract art, a virtual walk-in sculpture.”

Kahn used seemingly minor details to major effect: “In the park’s room he chose to leave inch-wide gaps between the 36-ton granite blocks, polishing only the sides of the stones inside the gaps to create shiny, reflective slits that amplify narrow views through them. It’s a stroke of genius. The blocks seem to flatten when you’re peering through the gaps, a perhaps accidental Alice-in-Wonderland effect that nonetheless derives from the heightened awareness a visitor feels, as one does at some of those land-art sites, of the endlessly shifting relationship between nature and artifice.”

While Mitchell/Guirgola and other construction and engineering firms tweaked the design — by adding lighting, adjusting the layout of the trees, and adding a bust of Roosevelt — the original design is really Kahn and Pattison’s: “Kahn prescribed the size, placement, polish and crisp cut of the enormous granite blocks and parapets (from a quarry in North Carolina), which, like the ancient Egyptian stones at Giza, lend to the site a military dignity and rhythm. He chose copper beech trees for the entrance. He devised the sloping paths that hug the water and meet the plaza at the foot of the lawn. In the important ways this is Kahn’s park.”

See more images

Image credits: (1) Louis I. Kahn Foundation, (2-5) Barrett Doherty

Revised Eisenhower Memorial Design Clears Fine Arts Commission

In a 3-1 vote, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts approved the latest design incarnation of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial, which is to be located on a 4.5-acre site across Independence Avenue from the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. The design process for the $142-million contemporary memorial has been highly contentious, with architect Frank Gehry’s approach criticized for its scale, tone, and, especially, its large metal scrims supported by 80-foot-tall columns. In the past, these scrims have basically been characterized as fascist by Susan Eisenhower, the president’s granddaughter. University of Virginia professor Elizabeth Meyer, FASLA, the only landscape architect on the commission, was the sole no vote on the commission. With the three other positive votes though, the updated design now moves to the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), unless Congress stymies the process.

Executive Director of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission, Brig. Gen. Carl W. Reddel, USAF (Ret.) started his presentation by saying this would be a “refinement of the presentation the Eisenhower Memorial commission unanimously endorsed” at its June meeting.

Famed starchitect Frank Gehry then said they had circled back to portions of the original design and brought the memorial elements closer together in a more central location in the site. He said they’d been “guided by a lot of people’s interests, including the family,” and stressed they’ve “been trying to be good listeners” in this process. Susan Eisenhower and other D.C. historical design groups have been fiercely critical of Gehry’s design in the past. It’s not clear whether any of their concerns have been ameliorated with the new designs.

In his part of the presentation, John Bowers, Gehry’s project manager on the Memorial, explored the concept of the memorial as an urban park. Bowers called attention to the added green space and pedestrian pathways, as well as enhanced alleé that follows the diagonal of Maryland Avenue, “as if the street was there.”

Through the use of forced perspective, the alleé frames and directs a view to the Capitol building.

Not really heard, however, were the words of new Fine Arts Commissioner Elizabeth Meyer, FASLA, who expressed her discomfort in approving the design. In Meyer’s opinion, the scheme couldn’t be reviewed as a whole because the landscape architecture hadn’t been fully developed. She said, the “success of this place” is going to be tied to how it functions as a park. AECOM appears to be the landscape architecture firm working on the project with Gehry.

Meyer felt strongly that it needed a “more robust architecture of trees.” She gave some suggestions to the design team, saying that the spacing of the trees along the alleé might be tightened up to reinforce the perspective, and the ground plane itself needs to be addressed at a deeper level.

Meyer was also concerned that the plantings of Midwestern prairie plants, recalling Eisenhower’s native Kansas, were generally placed under trees, effectively taking away people’s access to shade, something people really need in Washington’s summer heat.


Equating the incomplete landscape design to a building without a ceiling, she said, “the architecture of the trees needs more time and refinement.”

Meyer voted nay on approval of the design. She was the sole voice of dissent on the commission, which also consists of Vice-Chair Elizabeth Plater-Zybeck; Alex Krieger; and Edwin Schlossberg. The design was approved, with a suggestion by Krieger that Gehry remove the controversial screens on the east and west sides of the site, saying that buildings there already defined the space well enough.

Learn more about the early controversial design, which caused the House to intervene and actually vote to scrap the design and close the Eisenhower Memorial Commission. While more than $60 million has already been appropriated for the memorial, Congress can still put the kabosh on this project. The only thing that may be stopping this is a wholesale reset of the process would cost $17 million.

This guest post is by Heidi Petersen, Student ASLA, Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and ASLA 2013 summer intern.

Image credits: (1-3) Eisenhower Memorial / Gehry Partners, (4) Eisenhower Memorial / Heidi Petersen. ASLA

Eisenhower Memorial Controversy Grows

Debate on the nearly-final Eisenhower Memorial concepts and the process used to create them erupted today, culminating in a tense hearing on Capitol Hill. Many different views on the $115 million, 4-acre project were presented. Rep. Rob Bishop, Chairman, Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands, wondered whether the designs should move forward or there should be a pause to re-evaluate them. Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva thought the idea of Congress wading into the design of a national monument was “unusual,” and Congress wasn’t the place to “litigate the design” concepts created by a team led by architect Frank Gehry and including landscape architects at AECOM and other firms.

Susan Eisenhower, a granddaugther of the president who is representing the Eisenhower family, said an “open, transparent, democratic process” was needed for the Eisenhower memorial and wasn’t used the first time around. Echoing criticisms made by Richard Dreihaus, an “architectural traditionalist” in The Washington Post that almost all national monuments have gone through a public design process, Eisenhower took aim at the process that was used: a review of firm qualifications by the General Service Administration (GSA)’s Design Excellence program. She said the monument must now be redesigned through a public process, and the commission needs to fundamentally review how it engages with stakeholders.

The design has been bandied about for more than two years now. But, still, the “narrative is wrong” and the 65-feet tall metal scrims are viewed as almost fascist. Eisenhower said President Eisenhower’s contributions to the U.S. are “not central,” and there’s no mention of his role in leading the “largest war effort ever in human history.” Instead, there’s a “Horatio Alger character, a boy who grew up to be president.” The Eisenhower family seems to utterly detest the metal scrim, which will display images of trees, adding that these kinds of design elements are “usually found in the Communist world.” The fact that they are made of metal may send the signal that these represent the “Iron Curtain.” Even worse: the scrims remind some Holocaust survivors she’s heard from of Internment camp fences. On top of all of this, the scrims may be expensive to maintain. (However, Gehry and the commission deny this, arguing that while that material technology is relatively new, it shouldn’t have any issues).

The family, she added, wants “something simple that focuses on his achievements.” The “scope and scale are all wrong. Eisenhower would have wanted something smaller, less dramatic. It was well-known that he wasn’t into Modern art.” The heavy stone columns could be “missile silos.” The only way to fix these issues is “redesign the entire monument,” which she said had been done three times for the Franklin Delano Roosevelt monument before everyone settled on Lawrence Halprin’s almost universally admired work of landscape architecture. But, interestingly, The Architect’s Newspaper, reports that the Eisenhower family was for the design just a few years ago. Clearly something changed.  

D.C. government departments and non-profits then weighed in with details about the design and public review process, or lent support to the Eisenhowers. The National Park Service said the environmental impact assessment was done like it’s always done. The GSA defended its program, which has been very successful in connecting big-name architects and landscape architects to a range of federal projects, improving design quality across the board. Using a request for qualifications (RFQ) instead of calling for an open design competition, GSA culled a list of 44 entries down to 7 architecture and landscape architecture firms that then provided design concepts. Four concepts then moved to the commission for review. William Guerin, Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Construction Programs, GSA, said that throughout the process there was “lots of public review and comment.”

Brig. Gen. Carl Reddell, executive director of the Eisenhower memorial commission, who recently pulled back from presenting the near-final concepts to the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), a Federal group that needs to approve the final designs, added that the memorial visioning process has been going on for 11 years now, and there has been 23 review meetings, which have all been open to the public.

A host of groups were opposed to the design and GSA-organized design process. Howard Segermark, National Civic Art Society, a group dedicated to promoting “classical and traditional art” and that sponsored its own public design competition for the site, said the “process has flown under the radar, with little public involvement.” He implied that close ties among some members of the commission and Frank Gehry led to that starchitect being selected. Segermark argued that simply weeding our potential competitors based on their qualifications meant cutting out any up-and-coming or undiscovered talent like Maya Lin, the architecture student who won the public Vietnam War memorial design competition. While the GSA has done good work elsewhere, “circumstances have conspired to create a real mess.”

The president of the National Monuments Foundation, Rodney Mims Cook, Jr., made a similar case, saying the design process should have been public, like it has been for all other presidential memorials. In this case, the “design excellence program exceeded its mandate.” Cook says the “opposition of the family must also be honored.” More criticisms came from Bruce Cole, Hudson Institute, who said the design is “incongruent.” “We need to go back to the drawing board and open a call to all designers.”

Whether you like the design or not, the controversy may raise questions about whether public design competitions with diverse juries are needed for national monuments. In this instance at least, the design process may have left a number of stakeholders feeling excluded and unheard, including a key constituency: the Eisenhower family. On the other side, some $16 million has already been spent over two years. Starting over again will mean throwing out all that design work. Plus, there are many who actually like the proposed design, including the members of the U.S. Fine Arts Commission, who voted unanimously in support of it.

A few Congressional representatives called for simply modifying Gehry’s design to ameliorate the concerns of the family. But Anne Eisenhower, another family member, said without the metal scrims, which she said Gehry doesn’t want to remove, the “design is gone,” meaning it would need to be totally redone. All this controversy makes us question whether a brilliant, young, up-and-coming landscape architect selected through a public design process could have succeeded in making everyone happy either.

Explore the concepts and add your thoughts about the designs and design process.

Image credit: Gehry Partners / Eisenhower Memorial Commission

A Memorial for the Witches

Vardø, a tiny town in northern Norway with a population of just 2,200, is the site of one of the world’s most haunting contemporary memorials: the Steilneset Memorial for the Victims of the Finnmark Witch Trials. In this spot, in the 1600s, 91 men and women were tried and burned at the stake for the “crime” of witchcraft. Now, 400 years later, in a ceremony presided over by Her Majesty Queen Sonja of Norway this past summer, there’s an attempt to honor the victims both in Norway and around Europe.

Witches were first burned at the stake in the 1400s in England and Scotland. The practice then spread to Norway by the 1600s, with Vardø playing a central role in this dark period in human history. According to Norway’s tourist site, “As with most other witch trials, it was often part of the process to include ‘trial by water’ – the result being seen as ‘God’s will.’ Those accused were bound hand and foot and thrown into the water. If the person floated, it was sign of their guilt. If they sank, they were innocent. During the Vardø witch trials, all those that were subjected to ‘trial by water’ floated – thus guilty in the eyes of God.” Because fear ruled during this period, trials were then “quick and efficient,” so as to ensure that witches “could not seek revenge through spells cast upon the accusers and the population.”

In the opening ceremony for the memorial, Sturla J. Stalsett, general secretary of the Vardø Church City Mission, said the site “is meant to remind us of the ongoing danger of collectively creating scapegoats.” And while the monument commemorates the deaths of many innocent people, it’s also a powerful addition to one of the world’s great sets of contemporary landscape architecture and architecture projects, the National Tourist Route, which offers designed vantage points for seeing Norway’s rich natural beauty.

According to Architectural Record, the monument was sponsored by the town of Vardø, Finnmark County, the Varanger Museum, and the Norwegian Public Roads Administration. Famed artist Louis Bourgeois was commissioned to create an art installation for the memorial, while Pritzker prize-winning Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, who recently partnered with Piet Oudolf on last year’s successful Serpentine Gallery pavilion, was hired for the building. Bourgeois was 94 at the start of the project, so much of it was executed by her longtime assistant, Jerry Gorovoy, after she died a few years ago.

The building design was inspired by the powerful setting: “Arriving in Vardø, the architect was struck by the harsh, treeless landscape along the Barents Sea, and the indigenous man-made elements such as spindly diagonal wood racks for drying fish, once a major export item. He also found the lamps in the small curtainless windows of the houses had a certain poignancy.”

Inside, Zumthor created various window frames that “funnel out on to the landscape, a swaying bulb in each of them, one for every witch that was burned at the stake here in the 17th century,” writes Icon Magazine. “By each window is the story of the witch that the bulb commemorates, reproduced from court protocols and printed on a piece of suspended silk. Accused of demonic conspiracy and of exerting magical harm by the casting of spells, they were thrown into the icy sea to see if they sank or floated (the latter indicative of their guilt), tortured on the rack or with hot tongs and, after they’d signed a confession, burned to death at this very spot.”

Bourgeois wanted her own space for her installation, The Damned, The Possessed and The Beloved, so, at the south side of the building, an exterior “gangplank” was set leading to a “glass cubiform” pavilion with a Cor-Ten steel roof and columns that support panels of dark glass. Inside is a visceral, scary work meant to give a sense of what the victims must have experienced.

See more images and also explore Norway’s tourist route.  

Image credit: (1) Andrew Meredith / Icon Magazine, (2) Andrew Meredith / Icon Magazine, (3) Andrew Meredith / Icon Magazine, (4) © Matilda McQuaid / Architectural Record (5) © Lysholm Hege / Architectural Record

Interview with Vladimir Djurovic on His Cultural Landscapes

Vladimir Djurovic, International ASLA, is principal of Vladimir Djurovic Landscape Architecture.

You are well-known for creating innovative and poetic landscapes that put nature at center stage. What is your guiding design philosophy?

As you have already stated in your question, our guiding design philosophy is to put nature at center stage. We consider each project we take on as a unique opportunity to come up with environments that can somehow touch and affect people’s lives. We want to create places where people can reconnect with what is essential and natural. In this fast-paced era that we are living in nowadays, this need to reconnect is becoming increasingly crucial.

Our projects are scattered around the world and we are always tackling different contexts, including sites, cultures, clients, and working with different architects, engineers, contractors, etc. Our projects try and capture the essence of all these parameters, while always striving to come up with holistic and serene places that can hopefully outlast us all.

The real challenge, however, is to reach a day where our needs become in tune with nature and we start building more conscientiously.

You recently won a few international design competitions for major cultural sites. The King Hussein Memorial in Amman, Jordan is one. What stage of development is this project in? How do you plan to use landscape to commemorate the king?

We have just recently been notified that we have won this international competition. We are currently trying to resolve allocated budgets and time frames prior to proceeding with our design development.

When setting out to create the King Hussein Memorial Garden, we felt the need to evoke an atmosphere rather than impose a presence, withdrawing as designers to let the elements speak for themselves. The life of His Majesty the late King Hussein and the breadth of his achievements are inspirational, but most inspiring of all is the way he lived his life with the extraordinary humbleness of the truly great.

This strength and humbleness we have sought to evoke through a garden where every Jordanian finds his place. Contemplation gives way to awareness of the natural riches and beauty of the country, the value of its resources, and the legacy of its great leader, who remains eternally present. In this place, time is counted by the rhythm of flowing water and the seasons.

The primordial importance in the treatment of the landscape for the Memorial Garden was to create a haven of serenity, protected from the noise and pollution of the city. In a decisive gesture, we chose to carve out the land, creating moulded contours that gradually descend towards a focal point of contemplation. A dense plantation of oak trees on the outer perimeter of the garden works with the contours of the land to reinforce this natural buffer-zone.

As one penetrates down into the garden, the oak trees become interspersed with olive trees and almond trees and the ground clad in fragrant thyme. The garden is an environment generous in fruit and shade, deriving its natural beauty from its Jordanian geo-cultural specificity. The garden will provide for its own irrigation needs through a water-harvester beneath a sculpted circular pond. The almond trees, clustered around the pond, produce a dazzling array of white blossoms in the month of February, annually giving homage to the departure of King Hussein. Within weeks the blossoms fall, and petals are scattered poignantly on the surface of the water. 

The water marries closely the contours of the stone, creating a film of limpidity that draws in sun and moonlight, heightening the experience of the gently rippling surface. It also gives a message from the King to his people, a reminder of the scarcity of their most valuable resource. The ebb and flow of water are to be programmed to occur five times daily in harmony with the spiritual rhythms of daily life, just as the ebb and flow of the tides obey the rhythms of the moon.


Another major project is the 10-hectare Aga Khan Museum + Ismaili Center in Toronto. The 10,000-square meter rectangular museum will revolve around a central courtyard. Your landscape will then bring together the museum with the new center. What guidance has The Aga Khan given you for the design of the landscape? How will you design the landscape to reflect Islamic art and culture?

His Highness The Aga Khan has been a major influence on me personally ever since he sent me on a world tour of historic places, from the Humayun Tombs and Fatipur Sikri in India, to ancient public spaces and mosques in Egypt, terminating with the truly timeless gardens at Al Hambra in Spain. The one thing that struck me following that is that projects we design should be planned for generations to come and not only to satisfy temporary programs and ambitions.

Our vision for the project is one that captures the essence of the Islamic garden and translates it into an expression that reflects its context and contemporary age. Embracing the five senses as the means to reach the soul, every space and garden are imbued with the delicate sensations that we seem to have lost in this fast-paced era. The ephemeral and the eternal are both essential to our composition of spaces. Shadows, light, petals, leaves and water in motion are complemented by the solidity and purity of created forms. All is not at once apparent; the garden reveals itself slowly to the visitor, who experiences hidden aspects with serendipity, a sort of search for the contemporary garden of paradise.

You’ve done much of your work in Lebanon. After years of civil war and then the 2006 war with Israel, the country has focused on rebuilding its housing and infrastructure. Has there been equal investment in restoring its public spaces?

Unfortunately not. Public space initiatives have been almost non-existent since the entire 25-year civil war, and not only following the 2006 incident. The only savior in this respect has been a private company called Solidere, who have commissioned a few public areas which fall under their master plan of Beirut Central District. The rest of the country and its people are in dire need of such initiatives.

In Beirut, your Hariri Memorial Garden, a homage to the Lebanese prime minister who was assassinated in 2005, was designed to personify the values of Hariri. How did you turn Hariri’s vision for Lebanon into landscape form?

Rafic Hariri will be remembered not only as a central figure in the country’s complex political scene, but also as the man who rebuilt Beirut’s war torn historic commercial centre by launching of the most ambitious construction program in the history of the country.

The project’s intent was to create a place that reflects the values of this historic figure, personified, pays tribute to his vision and achievements, and eternalizes his memory.

Elongated planes of gray stone and water mirrors, laid on a grass surface, step down towards the city. A row of jacaranda trees marks the edge between the steps and the Serail’s façade. The effect is solemn yet intimate, impressive yet simple, monumental yet humble. In essence, the design is a sober expression symbolizing the legacy of a visionary leader.

The project presents a limited palette of elements and materials, charged with symbolic significance. The steps symbolize the gradual rebuilding of Beirut and an open invitation to the city. The basalt stone planes symbolize grief, sobriety, and perseverance. The water mirrors symbolize life, purity, peace, and the immaterial. Grass symbolizes tenderness and compassion. The jacaranda trees symbolize joy, sorrow, hope, and through their cycle of birth and death, life’s constant renewal.

Square Four, a park in Beirut’s historic city center, keeps the focus on the site’s beautiful old ficus trees. The design revolves around “framing and highlighting” these sculptural trees using a raised water mirror, and long wooden deck and benches. How did you come up with this approach? Do you always aim to preserve existing environments?

When existing environments have particular values and characters, we certainly aim to preserve and highlight them and try to capture the essence of that place and bring it forward for people to experience. Usually, just being in places like these and conducting very sensitive and thorough site analysis, we tend to get a lot of answers and cues from the place itself.

In the Basil Mountain Escape, a private residence in Lebanon, you wanted to create a sense of infinite space. Water, in this case, in a swimming pool, plays a major role. How did you accomplish this effect?

In minute and constricted spaces, in this case a 4.5-meter-set back around the house, we tried to incorporate every possible means to amplify the sense of space and its perception while providing all the needed living spaces. We started with the right section and hid all the undesirable views underneath while capturing all the desirable ones. We added a cantilevered water mirror that expands the space both physically and visually, framing and aligning all the various usable areas with the main focal points.

The Basil Mountain Escape became a very good example of how restricted sites can still offer their users powerful experiences and interactions with nature.

Interview conducted by Jared Green.

Image credits: (1) Joe Keserouani, (2) Vladmir Djurovic Landscape Architecture, (2) Vladimir Djurovic Landscape Architecture, (3) Vladimir Djurovic Landscape Architecture, (4) Matteo Piazza, (5)  Geraldine Bruneel  

Gehry Unveils Design for Eisenhower Memorial

The Eisenhower Memorial Commission has released the designs for a new monument to President Dwight Eisenhower that will sit near the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.. Frank Gehry won the design competition organized by the GSA’s design excellence program. The Eisenhower Memorial is just the seventh one constructed for a U.S. president. 

The Washington Post says the design, which received “totally unanimous” support from the commission, is a departure for Gehry. “The memorial, which will be built on a four-acre parcel just south of the Mall […], will be a mix of traditional and contemporary elements, but none of them scream Frank Gehry.” Frank Gehry commented on the site’s comtemplative mood: “The approach to the design was to create a cohesive and important civic space and urban monument in the heart of the capital region that provides a quiet and contemplative space for learning about the vast accomplishments of President Eisenhower. He was a masterful but modest leader. My aim was to capture that spirit with the design.”

The design chosen by the commission was the most “elaborate” of three ideas submitted by Gehry. “Gehry has proposed closing off a newly defined square defined by the intersection of Independence and Maryland avenues and Fourth and Sixth streets SW. The north and south sides of ‘Eisenhower Square’ will be limned by huge limestone columns, the interior filled with a grove of large oaks and a semicircular space made of a rough assemblage of monolithic stone blocks. There will also be carvings and inscriptions and a service building.”

According to The Architect’s Newspaper, the thirteen limestone columns that surround the site are a “homage to the neoclassical Jefferson and Lincoln memorials.”

In addition, the memorial will include educational components. “At the center of these stands a grove of oak trees through which visitors will walk to view presentations on Eisenhower’s many accomplishments. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the design is a series of massive woven stainless-steel tapestries that hang from the colonnade. The tapestries will depict scenes from Ike’s life on a grand scale.” 

In fact, there’s some controversy about those stainless steel tapestries. The Washington Post writes that the new metal tapestries could impact views out of the Department of Education, and “limit light and affect sightlines for workers who once had views to the Mall.” Gehry tried to adress these concerns at the hearing, saying that the metal tapestry would be translucent and stand some 90 to 100 feet away from the Education Department building. “Having said that, we’re very concerned about that issue.”

Preserving key views is big in on the Mall. Overall, Gehry Partners tried to arrange the memorial’s elements so they preserve the direct corridor down Maryland Avenue to the Capitol building. Gehry broke apart the series of columns so they don’t block views.

The site’s location also presented a challenge for Gehry. Surrounded by monolithic government office buildings, the site itself is awkward. Gehry said: “I saw the site, and I freaked out. Oh my God, how are we going to deal with this kind of site?’

The success of Gehry’s designs will be decided, in large part, by the levels of pedestrian traffic. If the columns create a “Soviet”-style authoritarian public space that’s “dehumanizing,” people may avoid it instead of going in to learn about Eisenhower’s work. Additionally, the site needs to be compelling enough to pull tourists off the central Mall area.

The Washington Post is dubious the site can be sucessfully integrated into the rest of the Mall: “It may make the city’s most desirable, tourist-trafficked spine feel a bit wider — and perhaps attract History Channel types, veterans and war pilgrims who can now visit the World War II memorial, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Eisenhower Memorial in one long stroll. But it doesn’t open the Mall up to the larger city. It moves the boundaries, but with a giant metal scrim attached to stone tent poles, it doesn’t dissolve them.”

The project is expected to cost somewhere in the range of $90 and $120 million, and will be completed by 2015. Congress has appropriated $19 million for the project to date.

Learn more at the Eisenhower Memorial Commission.

Image credit: Gehry Partners / The Architect’s Newspaper