Pulse, a new work by artist Janet Echelman, may be the stickiest public art ever conceived. Sticky is a term used by web developers to explain compelling design elements that bring users back again and again. In the case of Pulse found in Dilworth Park, at the western edge of Philadelphia City Hall, you wait there — and also return later — because you are uncertain when the sculpture made of light and mist will appear and, once it does, each sequence of color and motion is unique. Later, you realize the blast of atomized water and light actually marks the arrival in real-time of the green line subway pulling into the central transit station just beneath the park.
Dilworth Park opened in 2015 after a two-year, $55-million revamp by landscape architects at OLIN and architects at KieranTimberlake, as part of an effort led by the Center City District. The new park — perhaps really more a plaza — was designed to be a flexible event space, with fountains, a small lawn, restaurant, and moveable tables and chairs set within lush gardens. But the park itself was designed from the beginning to incorporate the work of Janet Echelman. As Susan Weiler, FASLA, partner at OLIN explained, “there was a consensus decision to integrate Pulse into the project, which removed the potential of it not being installed later.”
Echelman is known for deeply researching a site where her works will be installed. This research adds depth and meaning to her enigmatic, enveloping works. Echelman said two elements of Philadelphia history inspired her: water and transportation.
Philadelphia’s industrial and manufacturing success was only made possible by the Schuykill and Delaware Rivers that flank its sides. “So I decided water needed to be used as a material.”
Transportation has also been critical to Philly’s development. “In the 1960s, they tore down the old Penn railroad but from vintage photographs, you can see trains running on steam.”
Furthermore, just below Dilworth Park is a central transit hub for the subway — a key node in the city’s circulatory system. “I wanted to reveal through a simple gesture above ground what was happening below ground.”
Pulse actually pulsates with mist — mimicking the steam trains of old, but also to express “the pulse of the city.” Echelman didn’t want the pulsations, which only appear when the red line train pulls in below, to be predictable, but “fun and playful.” Indeed, when I visited kids were lined up on the pathways between fountains waiting for the explosions of steam to envelope them and would joyfully scream when it did happen.
The light that infuses the pulsating mist is made of three different colors — a predominant color that is tied to the subway line’s color and two undertone colors — that are programmed via computer algorithm to never be exactly alike. Thirteen different pulsations are sequenced that way, too. The result is that each combination of pulsation and color is unique.
“God bless OLIN for protecting the artwork.” By working Pulse into the final construction documents, the landscape architects prevented the artwork from being value engineered out at some later stage. Pulse was purposefully embedded into the entire park’s complex water and energy systems.
Weiler said the project was a “huge collaboration” between Echelman, OLIN, CMS Collaborative (the fountain designers), and Arup (the lighting designers). In Palm Springs, California, the team evaluated full-scale mock-ups of the art work, tinkering to make sure the system would work in a highly-trafficked area amid Philly’s rugged environment.
There was a multi-year lag in building Pulse because when the park opened, “there wasn’t money for the art,” Weiler said. Philadelphia-based philanthropists and foundations stepped in to make it happen.
The artful illumination of the green line is just the beginning. A similar art work for the orange line will soon cut through the length of the park, and one for the blue line will run perpendicular to the west entrance of Philadelphia City Hall. Also, worth noting: the center court of City Hall will soon be revamped by WRT.
Hitesh Mehta, FASLA, is president of HM Design, which has completed planning, architecture, and landscape architecture projects in more than 60 countries. He is an international expert in sustainable tourism, including wildlife conservancy planning and eco-lodge development. Mehta is also the author of Authentic Ecolodges (Harper Design).
In more than 60 countries, you have worked on some of the finest sustainable tourism planning and eco-lodge projects in the world, including the Crosswaters Ecolodge in China, which won two ASLA professional awards. National Geographic has called you a pioneer of sustainable tourism. What are the top three lessons you have learned from your many projects working with local and indigenous communities?
Lesson number one: Never judge people from the way they look. Indigenous people have lived on their land for thousands of years. Through storytelling and personal experiences that have been passed over generations, they have built knowledge and wisdom crucial to every project.
Lesson number two: Empower local people from day one, especially women, and children. At home, women make a lot of the decisions and youth are the future. Bringing them into a project on day one helps ensure a sustainable project. You want to give them ownership. It’s a ground-up approach rather than top-down.
Lesson number three: No matter how much of an international expert you are, no matter how much research you have done, and how much knowledge you have acquired, always go into every project without an ego. Go with good listening skills first. Once you’ve heard local peoples aspirations, needs, etc., gathered on-site information, walked the site with the locals, and have conducted a metaphysical site analysis, slowly share what you can bring to the table, making sure you let them know what they bring to the table is equally important.
Indigenous communities are in the front lines in the fight against climate change. How do you empower them in their fight to protect endangered ecosystems and their own livelihoods? Are there any projects that serve as models?
Indigenous communities, especially in the less developing world, are greatly affected by climate change. A lot of these communities live in the tropics. Especially in Africa, drought and the lack of drinking water are big issues. This in turn, causes food security problems. In Kenya, where I am still a citizen, the Maasai look at their cattle as their economic lifeline. That’s what keeps them going. If there is drought, there is no grass. There’s nothing to feed the cattle, and it can become a serious issue, because this is their security.
A project that serves as an exemplary model is one in which I led a team of local Kenyan consultants and where we worked together with the clients — the Koiyaki Maasai community — to help create an ecotourism and conservation destination called Naboisho Wildlife Conservancy. Previous to our intervention, the community had subdivided their 50,000-acre land into 50-acre parcels owned by 500 families. But every family had their cattle and goats, which caused the land to be overgrazed. Lack of grass and presence of cattle kept all the wild animals away.
The Maasai decided to consolidate all their land and brought in private lodge operators — eco-tourism companies — as a way to generate income for them. The Maasai all moved to neighboring lands they also owned. The private partners contracted us as protected area ecotourism planners, and, together with the Maasai, tourism and conservation stakeholders, we created an integrated sustainable tourism, biodiversity, and grazing master plan for the conservancy.
With five small twelve-room tents and lodges, money started flowing directly into every Maasai’s home at the end of each month via their mobile cell-phones. They no longer had to rely solely on cattle for their livelihood. Wild animals started coming back, because cattle mainly grazed in neighboring areas. And the tourists are paying big bucks to have quality guided safari experiences. Creating a wildlife conservancy was a win/win for everyone: the tourists, the private partners, flora and fauna and of course the Maasai and their cattle. During droughts, cattle are only allowed into the conservancy in certain controlled areas. The conservancy fees provide the Maasai community with a sustainable livelihood and ensure the conservation of the wildlife in this vital corridor of the Maasai Mara ecosystem.
As populations grow around the world, but also in sub-Saharan Africa, human and wildlife conflicts are becoming more prevalent. How can we protect endangered species while also ensuring people’s livelihoods? Are there models that show the way?
There are many models, particularly in Africa, and it has become mainstream to go in this direction. A project that I worked on many years ago that is still a good case study is the Virunga Massif Trans-Boundary protected area. Virunga Massif straddles and borders of three East and Central African countries: Uganda, Rwanda, and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Each country has a national park along their respective borders. This region protects the only remaining populations in the world of mountain gorillas. The parks are bordered by dense populations of local peoples, and there are human-wildlife conflicts with gorillas going out into the fields. We prepared an integrated sustainable tourism and biodiversity master plan for the whole region. When we began the master plan in 2005, there were only 600 mountain gorillas, and the latest count is 1,004!
Apart from conserving important habitat, the master plan also proposed several eco-lodges at the edge of the parks. All of them have now been built and are financially successful. The demand to see the mountain gorillas is so high that eco-tourists are paying $1,500 for one hour to be with these great apes. There’s a one-year waiting list!
What’s great is that some money is channeled straight to local communities, which now see the importance of maintaining the gorillas’ habitat. The communities no longer take firewood from the forest because they earn a living from gorilla tourism and the eco-lodges bring in a lot of money from guests, with part of the profits used to benefit these communities.
A heart-warming part of the master plan just got realized five months ago on the Uganda side of the Virunga Massif in Mgahinga National Park. The Batwa, indigenous peoples, who used to live in the forest but had been chased out when the National Park was created in 1991, have now been re-located to a new village at the edge of the park and act as guides, taking visitors into the forest in the National Park, and showing them about their lives and connections with the forest. An eco-lodge where I had provided site planning consultancy, funded the Batwa village and Visitor Center, so the Batwa community could share their culture and live closer to the forest instead of the nearby urban town of Kisoro.
You have said we cannot have true sustainability without incorporating the spiritual. This belief is central to your metaphysical or sixth-sense approach to planning and designing projects, which you have also trained other planners and designers to apply. What is the core idea you want people to understand?
For the longest time, pragmatic environmentalists have been talking about the triple bottom line of sustainability — environmental, economic, and social. But in my work, I have found that without respecting the fourth element — spiritual — one cannot have sustainability. What do I mean by spiritual? Spirituality is the energy embodied in any place. The metaphysics of a place. The intangible aspects that cannot be measured by modern science. We need to respect this embodied energy to create a sense of place. The sacred space.
Feng Shui is a well-used example of the spiritual aspects of sustainability — the yin and the yang, the chi, and how to use that energy to create an amazing experience in which you have a spiritual connection with the site. Similarly, for over 8,000 years, the Indians have been applying principles of design, layout, measurements, ground preparation, space arrangement, and spatial geometry called Vastu Shastra, which is even older than Feng Shui. Vastu Shastra is the ancient Indian science of harmony and prosperous living by eliminating negative energies and enhancing positive energies.
Native Americans also have a strong spiritual connection with their lands. When they take you on a walk of their country, they will point at a hill and say “this is our sacred hill” and when you look around, there are probably several others that look the same. So why is that hill sacred and not the others? It’s because there is a sacred energy embodied in that particular hill. My job as a landscape architect is to work with indigenous communities, so they can identify all those areas sacred to them. And then protect them.
If the clients do not believe in these traditional ways of looking at the land, I propose the use of each one of our six senses to immerse into the site to understand the energy. Connect deeply to the land through the ears, mouth, eyes, nose, fingers, but most importantly through the sixth sense: when you become a part of the site and feel its energy. That is the crucial element of trying to create a project that’s sustainable, but also which creates a beautiful sense of place.
As part of your work of Landscape Architects Without Borders, you have provided pro-bono planning and design services to aboriginal tribes in Australia and other communities. How do you enable them to incorporate their landscape spirituality into a contemporary place designed for themselves but also tourists?
We worked with the Quandamooka peoples of Queensland in Australia. They were the first aboriginal tribe that managed to get their land back from the white government in an area so close to a major city; Brisbane in this case. The land they got back was part of an island and has the second most popular camping sites in Australia.
However, the aboriginal peoples do not have camping site management experience, so we came in to help them build an ecotourism experience that would help them share their culture with guests and help make more money than before. We designed and built two glamping eco-shacks as examples of what they can achieve with enhanced camping experiences.
In the gardens, we proposed for the planting of bush tucker plants. The aboriginal peoples, who live in the outback have these special plants they eat called bush tucker. With their knowledge and wisdom, we created a beautiful indigenous garden that included both bush tucker and medicinal plants.
You are a proponent of ego-less design, which is characterized by a deep respect for the environment and all of its inhabitants, existing cultures, and vernacular styles. Can you explain how you came across this design philosophy? What about your upbringing, your religious heritage, shaped that?
My childhood has heavily influenced the work I do in landscape architecture. My upbringing is in the philosophy of Jainism, which is one of the four main philosophies that came out of India. It’s by far the least known, because Jains don’t believe in preaching.
One of the main tenets of this philosophy is a Sanskrit concept called Ahimsa, which means non-violence to fellow beings, and non-violence to all other beings as well. In my family, we’ve been vegetarians for at least 3,000 years. The respect is so deep for other beings that Jain monks in India sweep the floor before they walk so they do not step on and kill any ants.
In true Jainism, they believe plants have feelings. In fact, modern science is confirming this, but my ancestors have believed this since 1,000 BC. True Jains don’t eat anything that grows below the ground — no potatoes or carrots — because every time you pick that plant, it’s dead. So you only pick a vegetable or fruit from a tree that continues living after you picked what you want. That is deep respect, even to plants. It’s all about low-impact living. This is the conservation ethic I practice in my work.
My projects are low-impact designs that respect everything. I practice a non-homocentric approach to planning, where everything is equal. You can call it vegan or ahimsa design and planning. I design non-violent spaces. For example, I identify all native species and make sure none of them are cut. And in all our projects, we only specify native plants.
And, personally, I have been practicing a vegan lifestyle for 13 years.
Lastly, you have called yourself a “holistic, contextual designer.” How do you think this is different from being a planner or landscape architect?
For me, there’s a big difference between holistic and contextual design. Holistic is when in my projects I look at animals and plants as my clients, too. So, when human clients come to me, I tell them: I see you as half of my clients, but the other half are the animals and plants. And when I perform a beautiful marriage of the two, we will have a holistic yet sustainable project.
Local communities are an important part of the holistic process. I involve them from the beginning. Local consultants also bring in amazing knowledge and wisdom. So, I consider the local consultants and communities, fauna, flora, and, of course, the clients’ financial needs, because a project has to be profitable for it to function. That is the holistic side.
I also look at myself as a contextual designer. I like to create projects in context with their cultural and physical environments. For me, placing in a glass, aluminum, and concrete building in the middle of a remote area with rich cultural architectural heritage is not contextual. My office carries out research both off-site and on-site in order to discover the local vernacular styles before starting on any project. We use a landscape design approach called the “continuity of the vernacular.”
A class action lawsuit in Houston asks that question. The residents of a master-planned community that flooded during Hurricane Harvey are suing the engineering firm that designed the neighborhood’s stormwater management system.
While that suit targets engineers, it nonetheless represents the heightened risk landscape architects face from climate impacts on their projects.
In a panel discussion at the ASLA 2018 Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) director of environmental planning Deanna Moran and CLF attorney Elena Mihaly gave a crash course on the changing landscape of liability in the age of climate change.
“Climate impacts are becoming more and more evident,” said Moran. “What does that mean for us when we know these impacts exist? When there is more public recognition of them, but we aren’t addressing them or acknowledging them in a concrete way?”
“How might a design professional –– like a landscape architect –– expose themselves to legal liability for failing to account for and adapt to climate impacts?”
Moran and Mihaly have studied these and other questions, releasing their findings earlier this year in a report published by the CLF.
Moran said there are three factors contributing to climate liability risk for design professionals:
First, increased media coverage and general awareness of climate change means landscape architects are increasingly obligated to understand the climate-related risks that might apply to any given project.
“The more we talk about risks publicly,” the greater “the foreseeability of climate impacts,” increasing potential exposure to liability, Moran said.
Second, government agencies are investing in increasingly-powerful modeling tools to conduct vulnerability assessments and climate adaptation planning. Often, agencies make this information public and open-source.
“These tools are more sophisticated and accurate than they’ve ever been,” giving landscape architects access to high-quality modeling of potential impacts from climate change at a local level. With that increased access comes an increased expectation that designers and engineers will factor in potential climate impacts.
Finally, Moran argued the failure of previous litigation against major greenhouse gas emitters could lead to “a shift in focus on the design community as defendants” in the realm of climate change litigation.
Mihaly said the first two factors –– public awareness and readily-available data –– contribute to what is known as a “standard of care,” a key concept in negligence litigation.
The standard of care owed by a design professional is determined by the courts on a case-by-case basis. Courts will look at a number of different factors to determine the standard of care owed by a landscape architect in any given case, including specific contract language, applicable codes and regulations, industry customs, and the foreseeability of harm.
When it comes to knowledge of future events or the foreseeability of harm, Mihaly said: “it’s not just a question of ‘did you know this could happen?,’ but ‘should you have known that this could happen?”
Because of the growing awareness of climate impacts and access to models and data, the answer to that question will increasingly be “yes.”
Mihaly cautioned that the inherently uncertain nature of climate change is not a sufficient defense in a negligence lawsuit. “Even unprecedented events have been held, in courts of law, as being foreseeable due to modeling.”
She also warned that mere compliance with a jurisdiction’s building or zoning codes does not protect a designer from liability if the codes do not actually prevent the harm that the designer has a responsibility to avoid.
“Compliance alone isn’t necessarily a liability shield. The key question is: do those codes and standards actually contemplate the harm you are trying to prevent against?”
Industry standards and customs also offer scant protection. “A whole practice could be relying on an unreasonable behavior, and that doesn’t necessarily make it reasonable,” Mihaly said, referring to the 1932 case T.J. Hooper v. Northern Barge Corp.
In that case, a tugboat operator was found liable for cargo lost at sea because the operator did not use a radio system to receive advance warning of a dangerous weather system. At the time, it was not common industry practice for tugboat operators to use such systems, even though they were readily available.
Judge Learned Hand, writing for the court, held that while “a whole calling may have unduly lagged in the adoption of and available devices, there are precautions so imperative that even their universal disregard will not excuse their omission.”
It’s clear “the standard of care expected of a design professional is rising due to climate change and improvements in climate science. The threat of liability is real, and there is already litigation in this space,” Mihaly said, referring to the lawsuit in Houston.
“Design professionals are the target we’re seeing crop up more and more,” she added.
While this changing nature of liability in an age of climate change may appear threatening, Moran and Mihaly instead argued for a positive outlook. “Liability lawsuits are incredibly effective at shifting industry perceptions and behavior,” Moran noted.
“This could be an opportunity for the design community to really pioneer this space and use liability to proactive in the face of climate impacts,” added Mihaly. “The threat of liability can turn what is dreamed about into the standard.”
There are just a few full-time architecture critics left at national and metropolitan newspapers in the U.S. But as Robert Campbell, long-time architecture critic for The Boston Globe, noted: “We’ve survived without architecture critics in the past — and will do so again.”
With the rise of highly-local and specialized blogs and Facebook pages examining all aspects of design and development, architecture critics may indeed go the way of the dodo. But it will be a loss for us all.
At the National Building Museum, Campbell and Inga Saffron, architecture critic for The Philadelphia Inquirer, both Pulitizer Prize winners, were given the Vincent Scully Prize for their role in elevating public discourse on the built environment. They are influential voices who have not only shaped the debate in their own cities but have also informed other communities around the world.
Here are some highlights from a panel discussion led by Blair Kamin, Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic for The Chicago Tribune.
On the rapid pace of urban redevelopment:
“Cities have really changed over the past twenty years. Before, the fear was Philadelphia would become the next Detroit and go into free fall, but now there is too much construction and the fear is gentrification.” — Saffron
“Banks and developers are now driving architectural forms. Architects have become an afterthought. They have so little control; I feel bad for them. The heroic architect myth is not reality.” — Saffron
“Developer-driven buildings aren’t very good. There are three firms that do about 90 percent of buildings in Boston. Redevelopment work is built quickly to minimal standards.” — Campbell
On the importance of place:
“I write about places, not buildings. There is an art to making great places. A great place can be a bedroom, lawn, neighborhood, city, or region.” — Campbell
Kamin then asked both Campbell and Saffron to name a great place.
For Campbell, a prime example is Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, which has “rows of homes dressed up in their tuxedos,” and for Saffron, Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia, “which is permeable and enables you to flow through.” (see images above).
On Washington, D.C.:
Saffron, who is known for her cutting critiques, had nothing good to say about the new NoMA district:
“It looks like the world’s biggest office park. They will likely run out of window patterns eventually. These buildings maximize every inch of floor space. They are all the same shape. It’s dispiriting.”
But Campbell is a big fan of the Washington, D.C. Metro system, designed by architect Harry Weese. As Kamin remarked: “It looks like civilization — those concrete vaults.”
On their learning and writing process:
“If you don’t know what you are looking at, it forces you to look more closely.” — Campbell
“I’m a civilian, like every other citizen. We have a civic obligation to know how our cities are being built. I’m a big explainer. I don’t use jargon because I don’t want to lose my audience.” — Saffron
“I’m very embedded in a city. I’m a militant pedestrian and bicyclist. Walking and biking offers a more intimate pace. But dull stretches of streets will affect your whole mood.” — Saffron
“It’s easy to see the built world as a bar graph, a result of all these legal, financial, and political developments, nourished by bankers and developers deep in the caverns. But the physical environment merits its own evaluation, without looking at the subterranean forces.” — Campbell
And, lastly, advice for other writers of the built environment:
“Always go to the building or site. There is no substitution for being present. Renderings and photography can lie. See it with your own eyes.” — Saffron
“Inhabit the space. That’s the only way to see the relationships with other things — the context with other buildings and surroundings.” — Campbell
The Dutch Can’t Save Us From Rising Seas– CityLab, 10/17/18
“In nearly every major coastal city on Earth, elected officials are going Dutch—placing their faith and the future of their communities in the hands of Dutch engineering firms who are exporting their brand of climate adaptation to anyone that will listen.”
Asia’s First Vertical Forest Could Reshape How Cities Fight Climate Change – South China Morning Post, 10/24/18
“It might seem like blue-sky dreaming to imagine a Chinese city where you cannot see the buildings for the trees. But Italian architect Stefano Boeri can see it, and is crafting its beginnings in Nanjing, which he says will be home to the first vertical forest in China and Asia.”
Digging the School Day –The Altoona Mirror, 10/31/18
“Twenty-five students and adult volunteers placed all 500 plants in an hour and a half — about half the time the school had allotted for the work, according to rain garden designer Chris Foster, a landscape architect with Stiffler McGraw and Associates, and Chelsey Ergler, coordinator of the Intergovernmental Stormwater Committee, of which the city is a member.”
Despite the weight of that assessment, a panel on climate action and landscape architecture at the ASLA 2018 Annual Meeting in Philadelphia gave reasons to be hopeful and presented new tools that may help landscape architects reduce their climate impact.
“The next few years are probably the most important in our history,” said Pamela Conrad, ASLA, a senior associate at CMG Landscape Architecture. “We believe our profession can be part of the solution, and that it’s time to work together.”
Rinner stressed the need for landscape architects to become more involved with discussions around public policy. “We all have to advocate–that’s the first step,” she said. “If we can’t change policies, so many things will just continue as is.”
“After centuries of mistakenly believing we could exploit nature without consequence, we have now entered an age of extreme climate change marked by rising seas, resource depletion, desertification, and unprecedented rates of species extinction,” the statement reads.
“The urgent challenge before us is to redesign our communities in the context of their bio-regional landscapes enabling them to adapt to climate change and mitigate its root causes.”
“We’ve got to be tougher and better at doing this,” Schwartz said. “It’s not enough to be a good designer, but an active designer, to take leadership in the era of climate change and stay relevant in an ever changing world.”
LAF is also supporting leadership on climate change through its fellowship program, which began in 2017 and provides funding for active professionals to pursue innovative research ideas. As an LAF Fellow, Pamela Conrad has developed a calculator that predicts the emissions and carbon sequestration potential
“A few years back, I assumed I could go online and download a tool that would tell me exactly what I wanted to know. But frankly, those tools really only exist for architects right now. Because we have the ability to sequester carbon, perhaps we need our own tools to measure these impacts.”
Conrad’s tool, which is still in beta testing and has not yet been publicly released, measures sources of embodied emissions in landscape materials against the sequestration potential of vegetation on a site to calculate both the carbon footprint of a project and the amount of time it will take for sequestration to completely offset emissions. Past that point, the project will sequester additional atmospheric carbon dioxide, a condition Conrad calls being “climate positive.”
Using the calculator, Conrad has been able to estimate the carbon footprints of her recently completed projects and, by tweaking the input parameters, model strategies that could have reduced their climate impacts.
“We can plant more trees and woody shrubs; we can minimize paving, especially concrete; we can minimize lawn areas; we can use local or natural recycled materials.” With these strategies, Conrad estimates that she could have cut the time it will take for her projects to become carbon neutral in half.
“The design of those projects didn’t change at all, or the quality for that matter. But what a difference it could have made if we just had the resources to inform our design decisions.”
Conrad argued that, through climate sensitive design, landscape architects could be responsible for the sequestration of as much as 0.24 gigatons of carbon over the next thirty years, enough to place landscape architecture in the list of 80 solutions to climate change studied in Paul Hawken’s Drawdownproject.
And “if we were to include other work we do, like incorporating green roofs into projects or making cities more walkable and bikeable, that would put landscape architecture within the top 40 solutions.”
Conrad plans to release the calculator to the public next year and hopes that it will be used to set measurable goals for designing climate-friendly projects and create opportunities for accountability.
“How are we going to keep tabs on ourselves to make sure that we’re actually doing these things?” she asked her fellow panelists. “What would it take for us to have a 2030 challenge specific to landscape architecture?”
“ASLA or the LAF should do that — there’s no reason why we can’t!” said Schwartz.
“We all have to stand up for what this profession is founded on,” Schwartz said. “This is the foundation of who we are. This century is the golden age of landscape architecture. The world really needs you. It needs what you know and what you believe in. Now is the time.”
If you are on your phone reading this page, simply click on this URL and watch it in your YouTube mobile app: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQ2geeXMThI (please note that this video will not work in your mobile browser)
Be sure to turn around while watching so you can see all angles of the park!
Use the sphere icon to navigate through the park! Note: the 360 video will not work in Firefox or Internet Explorer.
Option 2: Watch a 3D 360 Video on Samsung Gear VR
If you own a Samsung Gear VR headset and compatible Samsung phone, go to Samsung Gear via the Oculus App and search for “Brooklyn Bridge Park” or “ASLA” to find our video.
Why Brooklyn Bridge Park?
ASLA selected Brooklyn Bridge Park because it won the ASLA 2018 Professional General Design Award of Excellence. Less than one percent of all award submissions receive this honor.
Our esteemed jury, made up of leaders in the field, described Brooklyn Bridge Park this way: “The plan allows for and encourages different experiences in the different spaces, from being wide open and being fully engaged with the people around you to intimate, forested places. It’s remarkable.”
The award also highlights Brooklyn Bridge Park because it’s a prominent example of how to transform abandoned post-industrial waterfronts into spaces for people and wildlife. These spaces litter cities and represent so much untapped potential.
Why Virtual Reality?
The communications world is increasingly image- and video-driven. With video, you can pack in even more information about a work of landscape architecture, much more than you can in simply a photo or text. With video, you can get a sense of the sight, sound, and “feel” of a place. You can see people interacting with the design, bringing it to life.
Virtual reality takes video to the next level. As you move your phone or VR headset, you control your experience in the landscape. It more closely mimics the experience of exploring a place in person. In part, it recreates that sense of discovery one gets in real life.
Why did ASLA make this VR film?
Virtual reality has proven to be a powerful tool for explaining how the places people love – like Brooklyn Bridge Park – are designed experiences. Virtual reality can educate the public about landscape design in a compelling way.
The video has multiple goals: promote the potential of virtual reality among the landscape architecture community, which totals approximately 25,000 design professionals in the U.S. and Canada; explain the incredible value of landscape architecture to the public; and demonstrate the ability of landscape architects to turn an unloved place like a cut-off, post-industrial waterfront into a beloved community park.
Why should landscape architects use VR?
Virtual Reality is a powerful tool for landscape architects, architects, planners, and developers – really anyone involved in designing our built and natural environments. In the example of Brooklyn Bridge Park: many will never have the opportunity to visit the park in person, but with our video, they can get a good sense of what’s it like to be there.
For landscape architecture firms, this is an excellent way to really show clients that a place they’ve designed works – that people enjoy hanging out there, that kids love playing there, that people are drawn to events there.
ASLA VR Film Credits
Producer: American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA)
Production Company: DimensionGate, Toronto
Director: Ian Tuason
Director of Photography: Ian Tuason
Production Assistants: Ward Kamel and Idil Eryurekli
Narrator: Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA, President and CEO, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc.
Post Production: Callum Wilkin Gillies
Thank you to Jamie Warren and Onika Selby at Brooklyn Bridge Park for making this all come together. At Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc, we appreciate the kind assistance of Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA, Hilary Archer, Jane Lee, and Lucy Mutz.
The ASLA 2018 Annual Meeting officially commenced Saturday morning in Philadelphia with outgoing ASLA president Greg Miller, FASLA, making the case for the importance of landscape architecture in a world facing many challenges.
While the problems of climate change, inequality, strained resources, and aging infrastructure are daunting, they also create opportunities for the field to expand its influence and scope of activity. “These are exciting times for landscape architects,” who are “solving complex issues with simple solutions that meaningfully impact peoples’ lives.”
“Seeing what is being accomplished across the spectrum of landscape architecture, I’ve realized that we’re defined by our wisdom, and that is what has put us in a position to take the profession to new heights.”
Miller said this wisdom is composed of “knowledge (the easy part), experience, perspective, foresight, and judgement. When these come together, the results of our wisdom are beautiful and special. Through our actions, we can make people’s lives better, protect our lands, and craft a better world.”
Laurie Olin, FASLA, and NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg then took the stage for a wide-ranging conversation on Olin’s influences and current work.
Olin initially studied architecture but found himself shifting to landscape after traveling in Europe and being “absolutely blown away” by the landscapes.
At the same time, Olin was beginning to bristle at architecture’s limitations. “I realized architecture really didn’t satisfy some of my concerns. The 60’s were a turbulent time. Buildings were objects and didn’t seem to involve society, the public realm, and other factors I thought were really important.”
Olin said that his travel in Europe ignited his love for and interest in cities and urban design. “I had gone off to Europe to look at one thing, and then I discovered cities, and fell in love with them. I realized there was a structure to cities, and they could be organized around public spaces. I learned that people were actually designing the streets and linking public spaces before the buildings came. I thought that’s really important.”
Olin also observed these same influences were critical for Frederick Law Olmsted, who “channeled all this energy and these ideas about health and public spaces and fresh air and parks” into his work in the United States.
In Europe, Olin discovered “you had to go see it for yourself. Part of learning is being out there and actually seeing things. The books don’t do it; the slides don’t do it. The problem with landscape is it’s diverse, big, and in lots of places. You have to travel, and it takes a while to see it. Finding the good stuff is like raisins in the pudding – it’s not everywhere.”
His work as a designer has been shaped by these early insights and grew out of the same humane impulses that animated Olmsted’s work.
In his redesign of New York City’s Bryant Park, Olin sought to highlight the park’s characteristically-French elements but also make a space for people.
“I realized looking at it that it was a very French park,” he said. “It was basically a bunch of quotes from the Jardin du Luxembourg.” So, “if it’s going to be this French park, we should have movable furniture,” a simple move that “radically changed the place.”
At Battery Park City, also in New York City, Olin worked with Alex Cooper to create a master plan to draw people to the edge of the Hudson River. “It seemed so clear that what we had to do was get people out of the city onto the edge of the river and give the entire perimeter over to the public.”
In the wake of 9/11, Olin won a competition to redesign the base of the Washington Monument to deter a terrorist attack. However, the site needed much more than just security upgrades.
“People forget, it was a kind of nasty place in some ways. It was a complete ruin of the public realm in a place that was supposed to be the most generous and welcoming.”
Olin’s goal was “to make it as if it had always been a beautiful place,” he explained. “Why don’t we make it the way people think it always was?”
To achieve this effect, Olin’s design referred to the low retaining walls used on the opposite end of the mall by none other than Olmsted and Vaux. These walls encircle the monument, directing visitors and preventing a vehicle from getting too close. “The answer was right there, except at the other end of the mall!”
Stamberg brought the conversation to a close by asking Olin to reflect on the future of the profession.
“The future is always going to be a distorted view of the present,” he said. “We don’t know how the pieces will play out.”
He identified climate change as a uniquely-pressing issue both for landscape architects and the world at large. Olin urged landscape architects to assert themselves in important conversations on the world’s most difficult challenges.
“As a profession, we can help society find out where it wants to go. We should not wait for the phone to ring. We should be leading.”
“We have to become political in a thoughtful, non-strident, but effective way.”
“How to make the world safe for children in the next generation is your job,” he said to the audience. “It’s our job.”
“How can we make maintenance sexier and more fun?”
This was the question moderator Joey Hays, ASLA, posed to the crowd at the ASLA 2018 Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, in a session entitled “the disturbing pleasures of maintenance: audacious strategies for public parks,” which sought to address the increasingly-fraught issue of public parks maintenance and inspire creative, aesthetic, and ecological approaches to what can often seem a decidedly-mundane topic.
Tim Marshall, FASLA, was quick to respond to Hayes’ question. “Sexy and fun–those are not two things I’ve ever heard in the same sentence regarding maintenance,” he said to knowing laughs.
Maintenance may not be something that excites designers, clients, or the public, but its implementation–or lack thereof–can make all the difference in the success or failure of a project.
Marshall, who formerly served as deputy administrator and senior vice president of the Central Park Conservancy in New York City, said maintenance has become more problematic on a national level. Many parks and recreation departments have expanded their portfolios of amenities and facilities in recent decades, but operations funding has not kept up.
“We have more things to maintain, and at the same time, resources are going down.”
Recent trends in ecological design have not made things easier. Designs that rely heavily on meadows and other designed plant communities require specialized knowledge to maintain, knowledge often not held by maintenance crews accustomed to the “mow and blow” approach.
“Put in a lawn, you know exactly what to do right away,” he said. “A meadow changes year to year. It’s not a project, it’s a process.”
One of the biggest obstacles facing parks departments is what Marshall called the “silver tsunami,” the looming wave of retiring experienced staff who will take with them institutional knowledge, relationships, and experience.
Loss of funding and staff can lead to deferred maintenance, which inflates capital costs and depresses park use.
According to Marshall, public-private partnerships like the Central Park Conservancy have been key to filling the operational gaps left by budget cuts and staffing shortages. However, those partnerships come with their own challenges.
“There has to be an understanding that we’re in this together,” he said, adding “it probably took ten years before the Central Park Conservancy was firing on four of its six cylinders.”
Tim Netsch of the Metro Nashville Parks Planning Division has experienced these dynamics first hand. “There’s so much happening in Nashville that parallels some those national trends. There is something unsustainable about our current park system.”
Nashville has seen explosive growth in recent decades, which has extended the city’s park system. Since the adoption of the city’s first parks and greenways master plan in 2002, the park system has added approximately 6,500 acres.
“Our park system grew more in this 15 year period than it had in the previous 50 years,” Netsch said. “During that same period of capital budget abundance, our operating budget has stagnated,” leading to fewer maintenance employees per acre and reduced operating hours.
“Our park system has grown, but our organization has not.”
To break out of this cycle, Nashville asked Charlottesville-based Nelson Byrd Woltz (NBW) to incorporate maintenance needs into the design of two new large public parks currently being planned for East Nashville.
“We wanted to build these plans around maintenance,” Netsch said. “To make it unavoidable to reckon with maintenance.”
For Thomas Woltz, FASLA, that meant diving deep into the sites’ cultural and ecological histories. On the future site of Ravenwood Park, just east of downtown Nashville, Woltz said: “an extraordinary phenomenon here is you have 8,000 years of Native American settlement in a not terribly disturbed site.”
“What if, in the cultural landscape research, you hit upon a regime of maintenance? What if the maintenance design is right there, deep within the soil?”
In the case of Ravenwood Park, NBW has proposed a mixed regime of controlled burns and grazing by cows, maintenance practices that reflect the history of the site and provide valuable ecological disturbance that will maintain broad expanses of open grassland.
For Woltz, it is here that the “disturbing pleasures”–or pleasures that result from disturbance–reveal themselves. “Part of the disturbing pleasure is the exhilaration of witnessing a fire,” he said, “and the sublime landscape of these post-fire moments when the earth surges with this chartreuse explosion of grasses.”
This aesthetic of disturbance can reframe the conversation around maintenance and even create opportunities to design powerful spaces and experiences.
To illustrate this point, Woltz pivoted to another major public project that NBW has spent many years on: Houston’s Memorial Park.
In their research, NBW found that many Houstonians were unaware of the park’s history and did not know why it was called Memorial Park. The site was used as an army camp in World War I and was the last stop for many soldiers before being shipped to Europe.
NBW’s design calls for a 90 acre Memorial Grove of Loblolly Pines planted in a strict, regimented grid, referring to the character of the military exercises and rows of tents that once defined the site. The heart of NBW’s proposal, however, lies in the grove’s maintenance regime.
“Twenty-five years is the average age of the solider that died in World War I who trained at Camp Logan. Twenty-five years is the age of maturity for loblolly pines in the timber industry,” Woltz explained.
“So, twenty-five years from the planting of the Memorial Groves, imagine one of those regiments–a thousand trees–ceremonially chainsawed down on Memorial Day. The noise, the impact, the violence, the horror of seeing a thousand trees felled at once in a city’s park will be something you will never forget. And you just might feel, in your body, the sense and the power of sacrifice and of loss of life.”
Woltz said that the timber from the felled trees would then be given to Habitat for Humanity to build affordable housing in the Houston area. He envisions Houstonians coming together on Armistice Day to replant the thousand felled trees for another twenty-five year cycle. Every five years, a new group of trees would be felled.
“This is a memorial, in perpetuity, connecting us to the cycles of life, connecting us to the power of life, the beauty of these trees representing these individuals who were felled far, far, too early.”
“As an extreme example, this is a maintenance regime. Maintenance has been used as the very crux of a memorial landscape.”
My case for retaining the fountain is based on its merit as public art. Halprin’s work is grounded in the European tradition of using art, architecture, and city planning as vehicles for social change towards a more just society.
In the pre-WW II era, Market Street was one of the world’s great streets, with a financial district at the waterfront transitioning to a shopping district, and then in its mid-section, the city’s fabulous theaters and entertainment venues. By the 1950’s and 1960’s, Mid-Market was blighted. Theaters that escaped demolition were showing porno films and featuring live nudes.
To the north, the Tenderloin had become a tawdry district of poorly managed single-room occupancy hotels, street prostitution, and open drug dealing.
UN Plaza was created by closing off two streets that intersected Market Street at odd angles, Leavenworth, north of Market and Fulton, northwest of Market. Designed to be an allée, City Hall terminated the vista.
Using Sierra Nevada granite blocks from the same quarry as the French Renaissance-inspired City Hall for the fountain, Halprin brought the beauty of California’s landscape of mountains and sea to persons without the means for travel to Yosemite.
The asymmetrically-stacked granite blocks represent the seven continents of the world. Computer programming was intended to moderate the water level in the 100-foot-wide sunken base so that it would rise and fall like the ocean tides as well as moderate flow from the nine jets in response to the winds. The programming did not work as intended; the water is maintained at a set level.
Halprin was a Modernist and part of the Cubist and Constructivist art movements. When the plaza design was under consideration in 1974, Arts Commissioners fought bitterly over the fountain, with some members insisting that a more classical option would better suit the Civic Center’s assemblage of classical buildings. They recommended a 1904 monument celebrating the admission of California to the union. The image below shows the 1904 Phelan Fountain that was preferred. After a series of public meetings, six of the eight Arts Commission members voted in favor of Halprin’s design.
Public ambivalence toward Modernist design is another argument against the fountain. For example, a SF Weekly article refers to it as a “shameful pile of cement-covered-rebar.” There may come a time when Modernist public art will be as revered as the paintings and sculptures around which entire art museums exist. The UN Plaza fountain evokes Franz Marc’s Stony Path (Mountains/Landscape), a 1911/1912 oil painting in the collection of San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art (SF MOMA) that abstracts nature using bold forms and sharp angles in a Cubist manner.
The fountain is meant to be immersive and in motion. Halprin’s wife, dancer Anna Halprin, and his Harvard University teacher, Constructivist artist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, influenced Halprin and his focus on how people move within a landscape. Moholy-Nagy saw space as being in motion, not static. The fountain was to evoke the tides, the granite slabs were intersecting geometric bodies as in Moholy-Nagy’s AI Xat the SF MOMA, and as shown here in his watercolor and graphite on paper, Planes Cutting Planes.
Contemporary photos show that the plaza is a comfortable space, despite the lack of formal seating for persons who live in the nearby Tenderloin’s single-room occupancy hotels or on its sidewalks. The nearby Tenderloin is bereft of public outdoor spaces. And the people enjoying the plaza are not those most likely to see the SF MOMA’s collection of art. Here they can sit surrounded by beautiful buildings in a space made special by the fountain. Here they can enjoy a lunch provided by San Francisco Food Not Bombs.