What We Can Learn from Hollywood’s Iconic Landscapes

Griffith observatory, Los Angeles / ASLA 2017 Annual Meeting

Film makers and landscape architects may ask themselves the same question: “How can we make a landscape iconic?” Movies can make places magical, imbuing them with deeper meaning. Landscape architects can shape the contours of a place, heightening the impact. In a session at the ASLA 2017 Annual Meeting, Chip Sullivan, FASLA, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, explored the dynamics of iconic Hollywood landscapes and what designers can learn from them.

Like landscape architects, film makers “start with the program first — in this case, the script.” As location scouts hunt for the perfect places to tell their story, they “measure everything on site, and note where the sun and moon are, where north is; what the noise levels are; they observe everything.”

In crafting a place, film makers may also take away elements of a landscape to achieve a facsimile of the era of the film. “They engage in urban removal, painting over street striping, putting up a barrier to hide glass towers, fixing things up.”

Some landscapes in Los Angeles are iconic because they are so flexible and open to interpretation. For example, Griffith Park, the largest urban park in the country, is “filmed every day.” The park, home to the famous observatory filmed in Rebel Without a Cause, has been featured in a diverse shows and movies, such as the original Batman TV series, StarTrek, Star Wars, The Searchers, and dozens of other classic films.

Bat cave in Griffith Park / Meetup

LA LA Land, which almost won an Oscar for best picture, itself plays tribute to Griffith park and its observatory.

LA LA Land / Daily Dot

But Sullivan wondered what exactly makes an iconic landscape, and how can they be designed. “Why are some so important that film lovers will make a pilgrimage to the site? How can we make a timeless landscape?”

Sullivan described how parts of Scotland are now overrun with Outlander fans, and New Zealand capitalized on Lord of the Rings mania by creating a real Hobbiton that draws tourists from around the globe. “There’s now a hobbit hotel you can stay in, so you can live like how they live in the film.”

Hobbitton / Hobbitton tours

At King’s Cross train station in London, Harry Potter super-fans now wait in line for hours to have their photograph taken on the fake platform 9 3/4. “They are there all day and night. What does that mean???”

Harry Potter platform at King’s Cross station / The Independent

Sullivan joked that these destination landscapes for movie pilgrims may offer the foundation of a contemporary religion. And if so, “how do we get people to go to our landscapes and chant?”

In iconic film landscapes, Sullivan sees some common design elements, which can be translated into real-world landscape architecture:

“Contrast is a powerful design tool — moving from big to little, macro to micro.”

“Make focal points distinctive and fantastic.”

“Manipulate perspective, use radical curves.”

“Organic forms are ideal.”

“Everyone is into dreamscapes. There should be strangeness and fear and then compression and release.”

And clearly inspired by Jim Jarmusch’s latest film, Paterson, which is about a poet who is bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey, Sullivan said: “It’s about place — the genus loci. Find the poetry around us every day.”

How 3 Cities Are Addressing Homelessness

Homeless encampment in San Francisco / Broke Ass Stuart

Over a half of a million people in the United States are homeless. In major cities, homelessness is on the rise, due in part to increasing rent costs and a lack of affordable housing.

Officials and landscape architects addressing homelessness in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Denver shared insights and lessons learned from their cities in a discussion at the ASLA Annual Meeting in Los Angeles. Panelists included Scott Gilmore, deputy executive director of Denver parks and planning; Joe Salaices, city of Los Angeles department of recreation and parks; and Guneet Anand, ASLA, SITELAB urban studio. 

“You’re not going to end homeless,” Gilmore said. “There’s always been homelessness, and there will always be homelessness.”

“It can be a very daunting task,” he said about addressing the issue. “But I have hope. There are positive actions to be taken.”

Gilmore noted a series of initiatives in Denver, like the Denver Day Works program, which provides work experience in parks and public spaces for people experiencing homelessness. Gilmore says the program has been an effective recruitment tool for full-time employment with the city. The program also offers storage units for homeless individuals to keep their belongings while they access social or healthcare services.

Storage locker in Denver / Colorado Public Radio

“People think when you’re homeless you might be a drop out from high school or you don’t have everything together,” he said. “About 25 percent of these people are college educated. That gives you a sense that anybody in this room making the wrong step, or just having bad things happen, can be homeless at anytime.”

In Los Angeles County, homelessness jumped 23 percent last year. Salacies says that trend will likely continue, given the area’s expensive housing market. “We have situations where people become homeless because they miss a paycheck or two.”

Salaices said Los Angeles is working to collect data on the city’s homeless population.

“By collecting data we are able to go back and use it for budget services,” he said. “Without the numbers, the justification to share with elected officials, we’re never going to get the budget and money to improve our situation.”

In San Francisco, the leading cause of new homelessness is eviction. “Even though 44 percent of the homeless population does have a job they are not able to afford homes,” Guneet said.

She explained how SITELAB urban studio has been working with Lava Mae, which repurposes old buses into showers and toilets to serve homeless populations in San Francisco. Together, they developed the Lava Mae popup care village, which explores how the design of public space can better serve vulnerable populations.

SITELAB with Lava Mae Pop Up Care Village / Image courtesy SITELAB

“Care is the most important when you’re doing work that relates to the homeless, ” she said, adding that we are “sometimes desensitized because it is so present in our cities. We often walk past encampments and don’t think twice about what we can change or what we can do differently.”

Brie Hensold, ASLA, a principal at Sasaki and moderator of the session, noted a common thread between each of the cities is an effort to listen to the individuals and build relationship with the homeless communities, pointing to examples where “key individuals in the homeless population have become ambassadors and problem solvers.”

One such instance is found Gladys Park in Los Angeles, which has a large homeless population.

Gladys Park / City of Los Angeles

“A couple of the individuals started taking charge,” said Salaices. He added that the city has started hiring these people to help with maintaining spaces like the restrooms and grounds within the park.

Visions of a Renewed Los Angeles River (Part 2)

CalEnviroScreen of Los Angeles River area / LA River Index

As revitalization efforts reach a new stage on major sections of the Los Angeles River, including the creation of a new park at Taylor Yard, an old railroad station, a team of architects, landscape architects, and civil engineers are building off of the approved 2007 Los Angeles River revitalization master plan and 1996 county master plan guiding city, county, and Army Corps of Engineers work. The team comprised of Gehry Partners, OLIN, and Geosyntec  — who are now working “pro-bono” and claim to have volunteered $3 million in time — is undertaking a multi-year, “data-driven” research effort to better understand the trade-offs involved in greening the concrete culverts that now define the Los Angeles River in much of its 51-mile span. Mayor Eric Garcetti and the non-profit River LA, formerly known as the Los Angeles River Revitalization Corporation, have lent support to Gehry’s new planning effort.

At a session at the ASLA Annual Meeting in Los Angeles, civil engineer Mark Hanna, Geosyntec, explained that the Los Angeles River is highly variable in its outflow, which makes it dangerous. In 2007, some 48,000 acre feet of water flowed out of the mouth of the river, while just two earlier, there had been 950,000 acre feet. “The variation is extreme.”

Along the course of the channelized river, there are different zones designed by the Army Corps of Engineers to move water rapidly through or hold it. “The channel morphs — there are culverts and also reservoirs. There are narrow box culverts and wider trapezoidal ones. There is a ‘soft bottom reach.’ And then the river widens out as it reaches the estuary by the sea.”

However, Hanna cautioned, even with all the engineering, there are still flood risks. The Los Angeles River was originally channeled because it used to meander and spread wide across the flat flood plain, damaging properties and even claiming more than a hundred lives. The current system has been designed to handle the 100-year storm in most parts, but there are still around 3,300 homes at risk if that level of storm hits the city.

While there are plans underway to return more ecological function to the river zone, there are more calls to make the actual concrete culverts green. “There’s 2,000 acres of open space that is now hot and unwelcoming.”

The problem is any greenery added to the culverts “create friction and therefore slows water down.” Hanna said replacing all the culverts with natural systems would in turn require widening the river by five times, an impossibility given communities now line the concrete channel. Greening the culverts without widening could then in effect create a major flood risk.

“Just adding trees to the banks would reduce flood capacity by 60 percent; turf, grasses and shrubs along the bottom of the culvert would reduce by 45 percent; just grasses, 25 percent; trees in the middle band alone, 20 percent; and grass along the middle stretch, 5 percent,” explained Hanna.

For Richard Jackson, former head of environmental health for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and professor at University of California at Los Angeles, adding more green is the goal, but not at the cost of future flood deaths. Still, he wants to see a revitalized river become a positive change agent, instead of a contributor to health problems, as it is now.

Using California’s EnviroScreen, a tool he helped develop, he found those communities “most at risk of severe health problems are near the river.” High levels of asthma and obesity are co-located along the river because many of the communities near the river lack parks, access to healthy foods, and are also near pollutant-spewing highways and freeways.

Richard Roark, ASLA, a partner at landscape architecture firm OLIN, also wants to see a new Los Angeles River creating a healthy environment for both people and wildlife. “If restoring the ecological function of the Los Angeles River costs $100 million a mile, at a total cost of $5 billion, think about what it could be preventing in terms of healthcare costs.” Indeed, Jackson estimated the total public health costs of a poor environment in Los Angeles to be around $25 billion.

Roark called for using “designed ecologies” to improve the quality of life for the communities near the river, by creating fresh air and cleaner water and wildlife habitat. But he cautioned that “we can’t think about restoring the river to its original form; we can’t free it. Within the urban matrix, we have to control it.” Roark also called for a green infrastructure network in the neighborhoods surrounding the river and its primary tributaries.

When landscape architects in the audience questioned why the team didn’t look more closely at distributed options that could make greening the entire river a viable option — including more upland green infrastructure, including reforestation; using structural soils to slow down and store water; or building underground channels to convey water — Hanna cautioned that the models show these systems would help with regular storm events, but not the 100 year storm the culverts are designed to handle.

Still, many of the landscape architects called for much bolder thinking and a renewed effort, given the LA River now functions as “a giant urinal.”

View the team’s full analysis at LA River Index.

Solutions for the Affordable Housing Crisis

Ministry of Housing infrastructure development program / Parsons

“Housing is where jobs go to sleep at night. Affordable housing is where essential jobs go to sleep at night,” explained David Smith, CEO of the Affordable Housing Institute at the ASLA 2017 Annual Meeting in Los Angeles. The farther apart a home is from a workplace, “the more stress” is placed on the transportation system. As essential workers are forced to look farther and farther from the urban core for affordable housing, they reinforce patterns of sprawl, increase traffic, and reduce economic efficiency, not through any fault of their own. A few solutions, according to the panel, are building new affordable housing in smaller lots and through more “moderately-dense” infill development.

As the world urbanizes, particularly the developing world, meeting the housing needs of rapidly-growing urban populations has become increasingly difficult. According to Smith, almost every city in the world is now experiencing an affordable housing crisis. This is reflected in the fact that “every fast-growing city has a slum.” Those slums tend to formalize over time, but their appearance reflects a housing marketplace out of synch — they reflect a community that can’t give essential workers jobs near their employer.

Smith defined affordable housing as “quality accommodations affordable to a target population, secure in tenure, affordable over a duration that operate independently as a business.”

Interestingly, the challenges facing seemingly vastly-different regions are similar. In the case of southern California and Saudi Arabia, for example, both “fetishize horizontal growth; are infatuated with car-based transportation; depend on immigrant or expatriate workers, but don’t acknowledge them; underuse verticality; and demonstrate a massive cultural resistance to affordable housing.”

Looking at Saudi Arabia, landscape architect Charles Ware, ASLA, explained how “development patterns are sprawling, wasteful, and alienating.” Beyond the 9 million temporary workers brought in from South Asia, who must live in basic dormitory conditions, some 85 percent of Saudis “can’t afford basic housing.” But amid great social change, a growing youth population is “demanding a better quality of life.”

According to Ware, estimates run from half a million to two million fewer homes than what is needed. Land development costs are high, so there are low financial returns for developers. And it’s difficult for them to access finance. “Saudi Arabia is in trouble.”

To address these problems, King Abdullah, who passed away two years ago, created a national strategy of economic diversification, with affordable housing as a central component of a sustainable future path. For Ware, this means smaller lots than what Saudis are currently accustomed to, which would use less water, energy, and land.

Working on a Parsons-led project with the Saudi Ministry of Housing, David Keenan, City Lights Design Alliance, explained how the kingdom is undertaking the development of 500,000 new housing units, set in brand-new sustainable, compact, walkable mixed-use communities. These communities feature “smaller lot sizes, reduced street sizes, and smaller public spaces.”

Delving into the details of Parson’s project in Dammam, found in eastern Saudi Arabia, landscape architect David Carlson, ASLA, detailed walkable 300-meter-radius clusters centered around a mosque, kindergarten, park, and retail zone. From the onset, the community was designed to reuse grey water from homes to irrigate the landscapes of public spaces, and light-colored building materials were used to reduce the urban heat island effect.

University of Southern California professor and architect John Mutlow then discussed affordable housing challenges in the Golden State. Beginning in the 80s, the focus was on creating family housing, but that shifted to create homes for those with special needs, and then HIV, veterans, and, now the homeless. Homelessness has exploded in the past few years, with nearly 60,000 homeless on the streets and in shelters in Los Angeles county today. The situation has gotten so dire that “homeless are now creating shelters for themselves in residential neighborhoods.”

To address the lack of affordable housing for homeless, California government put Measure H on the ballot, which was approved by voters and provides some $355 million, but mostly for “social services instead of financing for actual new housing.” Another 15 more housing bills designed to speed up the housing review and approval process and increase density have made their way through the legislature and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, but these actions just “nip at the edges of the problem.” Mutlow said another $4 billion affordable housing proposal coming up next year.

More than 60 non-profit community-based housing corporations have sprung up in southern California alone to make up for the lack of government action and bring together state and federal funds to make projects happen. However, for Mutlow, the main problem remains the high cost of building affordable housing in California. With not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) concerns, high labor and material costs, affordable housing is “$200 per square foot in California, at a minimum; it’s about $100 per square foot in the Deep South.” Still, he saw “moderately-dense” infill development as the solution, at least in his case studies.

La Brea affordable housing, West Hollywood, Los Angeles / Patrick Tighe Architecture and John V. Mutlow Architecture / The Architect’s Newspaper

Smith had the last word: “Every government wants more and more affordable housing. And they have the means to create more. They have money, own land, can upzone, use taxes and incentives — they have the means. Unfortunately, governments seldom have the will.”

Laurie Olin Wins Vincent Scully Prize

Laurie Olin, FASLA / Planetizen

At the National Building Museum (NBM) in Washington, D.C., Laurie Olin, FASLA, founder of OLIN, became the first landscape architect to win this prestigious prize, joining Jane Jacobs, His Royal Highness Prince Charles, Phyllis Lambert, and Andres Duany in NBM’s pantheon of those deemed most influential in shaping our built environment.

In a brief tour of some of his greatest work — including the landscapes of the National Gallery of Art sculpture garden and National Monument, as well as the Getty and Barnes museums — Olin expressed his joy in creating democratic spaces for people. He was interviewed by landscape architect James Corner, ASLA, founder of Field Operations, a former student of his.

Some highlights from the wide-ranging lecture and conversation with Corner:

“I aim for creating a sense of calm resolve, a quiet seamlessness. The heavy lifting is hidden; I want to make it look effortless. This, however, can cause problems for me: people will see my projects and ask: ‘Why did it cost so much? What took so long?'”

National Monument grounds, Washington, D.C. / National Park Service

“Landscape architecture is not the sauce you pour over something; it’s part of the structure of an environment. When talking to people who don’t know what landscape architecture is, steer the conversation to another level. Landscape is a device for that.”

“Many things have changed since I started practicing in the 1970s. Many processes have changed for the better, thanks to new technologies. However, our faster world has caused impatience among clients. They say: ‘Why isn’t this done? We just emailed you yesterday.’ Digital technologies have made it harder to take time to slow down, stop, and think. Projects that take longer, that stall, are better because of the slowness. There is more time to consider. Landscape architecture is the slow food of design.”

“In the 1970s, most landscape architects were working in the suburbs; today, they are fully engaged in the city, because that’s where the people are. Then, just getting an urban mini-park built was seen as a major triumph; today, landscape architects are creating larger urban parks and even regional plans.”

On working with “starchitects” like Frank Gehry, Norman Forster, and Richard Meier: “Architects are control freaks. They have to be. It’s hard to get things done, or even done well, and especially hard to get something done brilliantly. So they become maniacs. It’s important to learn their ways of thinking, but then you have to push back.”

ASLA 2017 Landmark Award. J. Paul Getty Center, Los Angeles; building designed by Richard Meier and OLIN / OLIN, Sahar Coston-Hardy

“Some people will say they can see a project and know it’s my work. But I don’t have a style. They are looking more at the handwriting than the style.”

On the controversial new 150-acre Apple campus in Silicon Valley, a collaboration with architect Norman Forster: “Steve Job’s idea was a forest — a big park — for his campus for tens of thousands of employees. He believed in nature and the health benefits of the natural world. His favorite park was Hyde Park in London. He was also a fan of Frederick Law Olmsted and studied his work. His vision was a park that was also an everyday workplace, where employees could go have walks and meetings under a tree. I agreed with this vision.”

Apple campus rendering / Norman Foster + Partners, OLIN, Arup

On the role of new parks in gentrification: “We need a green public realm for the health of our populations. We need places where citizens can come together. We need to spend money and build things well.” The way to address gentrification is to “eliminate the inequalities” in access to great parks. “We need to bring great parks to places like North Philadelphia.”

“Fears about community, other people, or terrorism negatively affect our public spaces. I believe in an open society and open environment. We can bring optimism and resistance — we can push back with good design.”

On President Trump’s proposed wall along the southern border with Mexico: “I disapprove of that on ecological, environmental grounds alone. The climate, ecosystems, and geology — and the people — run north south. You can’t divide people. I totally disagree.”

Olin’s new book Be Seated examines the role of seating in the public realm and includes many of his original drawings and watercolors.

In other awards news: Kate Orff, ASLA, founder of SCAPE, became the first landscape architect to win the MacArthur “genius” grant for her work “designing adaptive and resilient urban habitats and encouraging residents to be active stewards of the ecological systems underlying our built environment.” Also, urban designer and planner Damon Rich, one of the leaders behind the equitable revitalization of the Newark post-industrial waterfront and creation of the Newark Riverfront Park, also won.

Love and Fear in Los Angeles

Graphic by Margaret Gerhart

Sometimes things happen that make you question everything.

Two weeks ago, I walked along 103rd Street toward the corner of Grape in Watts with several community advocates and a selection committee from the California Natural Resources Agency. Viviana Franco and Maria De Leon from From Lot to Spot, the non-profit who applied for an urban greening grant, led us past Jordan High School and the Jordan Downs public housing development that is under redevelopment.

We described our proposal to the Agency, pointing out the portions of sidewalk to replace with shade trees and planting. Viviana had us meet in the beloved Heart of Watts community garden they installed a year ago, and showed us the parkway plantings and new concrete that brought patches of life and pride amid the crumbling curbs. As we walked, we talked about which trees would best shade people walking by and cool the apartment homes, which have no air conditioning. We noted the phone lines overhead, and the weeds and litter underfoot. We discussed native species and biodiversity. And maintenance.

A young man in a white suit and several teenage girls passed by on their way to school. Otherwise the sidewalk was empty.

Our group included John Jones from Council District 15, Haleemah Henderson of Watts Labor Community Action Committee, Amada Valle from the Heart of Watts garden, and Watts Gang Taskforce member Pinkus Crowther. We stopped at the corner of Grape at a large fenced lot where Mudtown Farms Agriculture Park will soon be. A few scraggly trees and one large one lined the fence opposite us on 102nd Street.

The light was red where Grape Street dead-ended into 103rd. A line of cars gathered. One driver leaned out his window to complain, laughing, to John about a new sign reading “No Right on Red.” John told him, “The community asked for it.”

Pinkus and I talked about the huge change trees could bring to the street.

“I just hope they don’t come cut their branches,” he said. “We plant trees and as soon as they start growing, they cut the branches so the police can see.” He turned to John, “Do you know if the police came to cut the trees yet?”

“Not yet, but they need to,” John said. He pointed across the lot at the big tree. “That big one. That’s where one of the toughest gangs in LA hangs out. The police need to cut it so they can see who is there.”

As we walked back towards the Heart of Watts, I said to Pinkus, “I know nothing of the situation here. But how do we balance immediate security with providing the very thing that can improve social cohesion, reduce criminal behavior, improve self-esteem, and build a community? Because we know trees and gardens can do that.”

“I don’t know,” he responded. I don’t know either.

This is where the tension lies. Which approach would you choose: fear, or love?

The night after I walked through Watts for the first time, my son’s best friend was killed there, on the same street I had walked on the day before. He and two friends went to a birthday party meant to bring youth from different communities together. They left the party without a ride, were attacked by a group of men, and beaten until he lay unconscious against an alley wall. One of the men pointed a gun at his friends. They ran for their lives. Two gunshots sounded. They returned to their friend, called 911, and tried to stop his bleeding. He died while they watched over him.

His friends are devastated. My eyes ache from crying. I cannot imagine the pain his family is going through. We all loved him. I will miss his kind smile and gentle nature and the days and weeks he spent with us. I will miss the unconditional love and support he gave my son during our own family struggles.

I’m grieving the only way I know how, by writing. As I grieve, I cannot help thinking about that tree as a symbol of the lives that are lost in places like Watts.

Trees provide the air we breathe. They cool our homes and our cities, protecting us from deadly heat waves. They absorb rainwater and protect us from floods. Planting more trees may even prevent senseless deaths like our dear one’s.

Drs. Frances Kuo and William Sullivan, ASLA compared Chicago public housing projects and found that trees and grass in the courtyard correlated with a greater sense of community, greater feeling of safety, less aggressive and violent behavior, and less impulsivity and irritability. A study with their colleague Dr. Andrea Faber Taylor found greater self-discipline (and fewer pregnancies) in teenage girls who lived in housing where trees and grass were. These studies illuminate the power of nature to improve mental health — to reduce the stresses and irritability that can lead to violence.

The systems so many (cities, school districts, housing developments, detention centers) have in place now — security cameras, security fencing, security guards, Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED), helicopter policing, reducing growth of trees and shrubs so people cannot hide behind them — these are based on fear. Fear of somebody doing something if we don’t control our environment.

This is the same fear felt by parents who keep their children inside and over-scheduled after the freer attitudes of the 60s and 70s when so many of us roamed our neighborhoods and creeks and parks by ourselves.

But what about design born of love? Love lets us imagine the best for all of our communities. Tree-lined, clean streets with safe sidewalks, public plazas and gardens for people to gather, public restrooms and parks where families feel safe. Shaded bus stops with benches and green schools with playgrounds open to the community at all hours. Jane Jacobs summed up a safe neighborhood with four words: eyes on the street.

I grew up in a neighborhood like this in the 70s. When our classmate was brutally murdered while walking home from school, our schools and parents taught us to walk in groups and know our neighbors, not to stay inside and hide. I lived in a neighborhood riddled with crack in the 80s, where gunshots went off regularly, few dared to walk after midnight, and our roommate was held at gunpoint at the corner deli. I’ve lived in a lot of situations in between, and I’ve known love and fear in all of them.

We need to overhaul the racist lending, housing, and justice systems that paved the way to where Watts and neighborhoods like it are today. Instead of the fear-based approach that led to barren projects surrounded by crumbling streets and punitive law enforcement, people deserve to be treated with compassion, humanity, and dignity. These communities need empathetic justice, medical and mental health care, education, job training, decent shelter, clean water, healthy food, and purpose.

People also need a respite from stress, a sense of community, self-esteem, beauty, and hope. These are things trees and gardens provide. Our children and teenagers, who are drowning in anxiety, need and deserve relief.

There are non-profits all over the city working for environmental justice. WORKS is a non-profit developer building affordable and sustainable residences with mental health services in LA’s disadvantaged neighborhoods. The Trust for Public Land in LA has created 10 parks in the last eight years, including Watts Serenity Park, which opened in 2015. From Lot to Spot sees a more humane and beautiful Watts through planting street trees and community gardens. The Watts Labor Community Action Committee is leading the effort to build Mudtown Farms Agriculture Park.

We need to support these efforts, and others like them, by advocating for funds, programs, and services to help build healthier, safer communities without displacing people — to work towards social and environmental justice. Fear has had its chance, and it isn’t working. Let’s try more love.

This guest post is by Claire Latané, ASLA, LEED AP, SITES AP, fellow in innovation and leadership, Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF), and senior associate, Studio-MLA.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (October 1 – 15)

To get to Civita, one must take a long, winding footbridge from the neighboring town of Bagnoregio / Sylvia Poggioli, NPR

Planned WWI Memorial Will Have a Ceremonial Groundbreaking on November 9Curbed, 10/2/17
“Originally, the plan was for a brand new WWI Memorial in Washington, D.C. to complete by November 2018, during the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI, but due to a final design approval yet to be had, that won’t happen. Even so, there are still plans for a ceremonial groundbreaking on November 9.”

How Modern Architecture Is Being Influenced by Video Games The Week, 10/7/17
“Fletcher’s preference for designing in a game engine, as the software is called, was cultivated two years ago when he worked on ‘The Witness,’ an “open world” role-playing video game.”

In Italy, A Medieval Town Confronts a Double Threat — Erosion and Too Many Tourists NPR, 10/8/17
“Tourism is booming in Italy, which welcomed close to 50 million visitors over the summer. That has helped some places that have been struggling to survive. But for one destination, it might be too much of a good thing.”

What Harvey Did to Buffalo Bayou Park Is Only a Marker for What We Could Suffer Dallas Observer, 10/11/17
“Everything awful that happened to Houston was known beforehand. The same things are known here, too. It just hasn’t happened here. Yet.”

Landscape Architect Kate Orff and Urbanist Damon Rich Awarded 2017 MacArthur “Genius” Grants Arch Daily, 10/11/17
“The MacArthur Foundation has announced the 24 recipients of their 2017 MacArthur Fellowships Grants (sometimes referred to as ‘Genius’ Grants), and for the first time since 2011, the list includes individuals from architectural fields: urban planner and designer Damon Rich and landscape architect Kate Orff.”

Controversial Eisenhower Memorial Clears Final Hurdle

Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial / Eisenhower Memorial

After years of heated debate and seemingly-endless revisions, a simpler, stronger design for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial in southwest Washington, D.C. received approval from the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC). With a scheduled ground breaking on November 2, construction finally begins on the 4-acre memorial for President Eisenhower designed by architects at Frank Gehry Partners, landscape architects at AECOM, and a team of artists. Ending years of vocal criticism, the Eisenhower family have also signed off on the final design, too.

In the evolution of the memorial, which will be found immediately south of the National Air and Space Museum on Maryland Avenue, the highly-controversial woven-steel tapestries were scaled back — there is now just one 25,000-square-foot, 440-foot-long panel instead of three. Still, the decorative scrim, which will be made up of 600 15-by-3-feet panels, will be the size of five basketball courts back to back, writes Washington Business Journal.

Proposed imagery for the monumental tapestry also evolved from a photo-realistic image of Abilene, Kansas, President Eisenhower’s birthplace, to a figurative drawing of the Pointe du Hoc cliffs at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, the site of Eisenhower’s D-Day assault on Nazi Germany in World War II.

Normandy scene on Tapestry / Frank Gehry Partners

The original 13 gigantic limestone columns, which Susan Eisenhower, President Eisenhower’s granddaughter, famously said created a “Soviet-style authoritarian public space,” also appear to be reduced to 8, but each is still a sizeable 6 stories tall.

Eisenhower Memorial column / Frank Gehry Partners

The Commission on Fine Arts (CFA), which has requested many changes to the design over the years, also gave its approval last month. In meeting notes, CFA Secretary Thomas E. Luebke wrote the CFA had inspected a mock-up of the memorial’s tapestry and supported the new “abstract approach to rendering the cliffs and seascape of the Normandy coast.” The CFA “observed that the technique of hand drawing used to generate the tapestry image conveys much more emotional power than the previously proposed photography.”

However, the CFA will continue to review the progress of the tapestry created by artist and longtime Gehry collaborator Tomas Osinski and sculptures of Eisenhower at various stages of his life by Russian American sculptor Sergey Eylanbekov. Their goal is to “strengthen the relationship of the memorial’s elements with the new tapestry image.”

The CFA already required revisions to the location of the various statues and inscriptions to improve visitors’ experience as they walk through the memorial.

Eisenhower Memorial / Frank Gehry Partners

The final landscape design preserves views of the U.S. Capitol by creating grass pathways where Maryland Avenue is now, but also increases the tree coverage and green space in an effort to create an enclosed park-like feel. According to the CFA, the tree planting design could further evolve.

Eisenhower memorial / Frank Gehry Partners and AECOM
Eisenhower Memorial / Frank Gehry Partners and AECOM

And the three landscape architects and designers on the CFA — Liza Gilbert, ASLA, Mia Lehrer, FASLA, and Elizabeth Meyer, FASLA — no doubt helped preserve the four large trees lining the site the design team sought to remove.

According to the National Review, which called the memorial a “national embarrassment” and its design a “repellent monstrosity,” the design and review process to date has already cost a whopping $105 million. The memorial itself is expected to cost $150 million. Some $25 million is expected to be raised from private funds; the rest will come from tax payer dollars, with some $45 million already allocated for this year.

No doubt debate on the merits of the design will continue far after its completion.

New Public Light Art Brings Technology into the Public Realm

New technologies have enabled light artists to conceive public works that would have been impossible just a decade ago. These works create new opportunities for landscape architects and designers who seek to bring the dynamism of digital light into the public realm. As broadband and smart phones become ubiquitous, technology and LEDs may become more prominent in the public realm. Our public spaces may evolve to reflect our increasingly technological nature.

In Accumulation, which runs through a cycle of patterns that explore concepts such as “rise, flow, accumulation, dimension, light, and overlap,” artist Minha Yang used LED and algorithms to create a mesmerizing entry gateway for a hotel in Seoul, South Korea (see video above).

For the 2017 Oastrale Biennale of Contemporary Art in Dresden, calligraphy graffiti artist Said Dokins partnered with photographer Leonardo Luna, visual artist Andrea Hilger, and others to create a brilliant temporary installation Heliographies of Memories in which calligraphy appears to be written by hand in light. An elaborate set of projectors traced the text in the air in Dresden’s public spaces.

Heliographies of Memories / Said Dokins, Leonardo Luna, Andrea Hilger

And, lastly, the stunning and alien Light Barrier, created by South Korea artist pair Kimchi and Chips uses eight architectural projectors, split into 630 sub-projectors that create a projection akin to a “field of fog,” graphic objects that “animate through space as well as time.” According to the artists, the projection helps bring the audience into a “new field of existence.”

Light Barrier was commissioned by the Asia Culture Center in Gwangju, a city in southwest South Korea, and is displayed there.

The Reason to Expand Urban Forests: Our Health

Green for good project at St. Margaret Mary Elementary School / LouisvilleKY.com

A new research report from the Nature Conservancy argues that for just $8 per person, the U.S. could maintain and then significantly expand the tree canopy of American cities, an incredibly cost-effective investment in public health.

While high-profile urban tree planting campaigns like New York City’s get a lot of attention, most U.S. cities have experienced a decline in their urban forests, with a loss of about 4 million trees each year, or about “1.3 percent of the total tree stock.” The Nature Conservancy builds the case for recommitting to expanding our urban canopies for health reasons, instead of just letting them slowly diminish.

The many benefits of trees are well-documented: they clean and cool the air, combat the urban heat island effect, capture stormwater, mitigate the risk of floods, boost water quality, and, importantly, improve our mental and physical health and well-being.

According to the report, the U.S. Forest Service and University of California, Davis found that “for every $1 spent in Californian cities on tree planting and maintenance, there were $5.82 in benefits.” Another study found that for every $1, benefits ranged from $1.37 to $3.09.

In particular, urban forests can help catch harmful particulate matter in their leaves and reduce “ground-level ozone concentrations by directly absorbing ozone and decreasing ozone formation.” High levels of particulate matter and ozone can trigger asthma and cause other respiratory problems. Planting trees to deal with these issues in New York City alone could result in $60 million in health benefits annually.

Researchers are more closely examining how trees fight air pollution. In Louisville, Kentucky, Green for Good is now testing a “vegetative buffer” at the St. Margaret Mary Elementary School designed to filter the particulate air pollution coming off a nearby heavily-trafficked roadway. Initial results show that “under certain conditions, level of particulate matter were 60 percent lower behind the buffer than in the open side of the front yard. Among the health study participants, immune system function increased and inflammation levels decreased after planting.”

A Harvard Nurses Study found a 12 percent reduction in all-cause mortality for those who lived within 250 meters of a high level of greenness. And an exciting study now underway will look at 4 million Kaiser Permanente members in Northern California with the goal of determining if there is a relationship between healthcare use and the proximity and amount of nearby tree canopy.

Despite all the great research, the news still hasn’t reached the general public or even arborists. This is reflected in the fact that average U.S. municipal spending on urban forestry has fallen by more than 25 percent since 1980, to around $5.83 per urbanite today.

If the 27 largest American cities instead reinvested in their urban forests, “planting in the sites with the greatest health benefits (the top 20 percent of all potentially plantable sites in a city)” the cost would be around $200 million a year. Maintenance funds would also need to increase. The total gap between current realities and this needed reinvestment in our communities’ health is only $8 per person — so in a city of one million residents, $8 million.

Trees just get a tiny share of municipal budgets. But with these arguments backed by numbers, the hope is a relatively cheap investment in trees for public health — which would also result in so many gains in livability and property values — can win greater support.