5 x 5: A Powerful Commentary on Gentrification in Washington, D.C.

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Glenn Kaino’s Bridge / Jared Green

The Washington, D.C. Commission on Arts and Humanities just seriously upped their game with their latest city-wide temporary public art project called 5 x 5. Five curators brought 25 artists’ site-specific installations to all 8 wards. Each piece we toured highlights an aspect of the District’s changing identity in the face of rampant redevelopment and gentrification. Many pieces make a combative, political point, wading into some of the most troubling issues in the city, while others offered more nuanced stories, but still aim to strike a chord.

Underlying all of it was a genuine effort to bring compelling pieces to all D.C. residents. As Sarah Massey, who was doing outreach for the commission, explained, “this whole project is a dialogue between the monumental core of the city — where all the tourists go — and the actual district, where people live. Do people who live in Anacostia go to the monumental core? We don’t know. The commission wanted to bring art to where people live.”

We start at the Navy Yard, which has gone from being the site of abandoned armaments factories and strip clubs to one for high-end condos, restaurants, and a hipster-loving trapeze school in less than a decade. Many of the old naval buildings have been taken over by new restaurants, but one that has yet to be turned, a gorgeous empty shell of a building, is now the temporary home of Glenn Kaino’s magnificent Bridge (see image above). Kaino’s work overwhelms on first sight, appearing to be a hundred-foot-long dinosaur spine hanging from the ceiling. But it’s actually a bridge, made up of 200 unique slats. Each slat is a cast of athlete Tommie Smith’s arm, with a clenched fist at the end. Smith made his famous Black Power fist at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, where he won a gold medal. For this political act, Smith was expelled from the games.

Kaino writes that the use of extended arm and fist was long a political symbol before it was appropriated by Black Power activists, and its meaning has since evolved, given our ever-shifting understanding. The bridge is then meant to show this path of a “revised, formed, and remitted cultural narrative.” Smith seems to reflect that changing narrative himself. When I asked him what the Kaino’s piece said about black power in the District today, he replied, “Well, I didn’t actually make the Black Power sign. I was showing solidarity with all the world’s repressed people. It was a sign of freedom.”

As we move to Anacostia, we learn about a series of billboards that match African American male poets and visual artists to create site-specific billboards around the city called Ceremonies of Dark Men. As curator A.M. Weaver explains, “D.C. used to be the Chocolate City, but it isn’t anymore. We need a new way of looking at the black male figure. We want to re-assert this figure in a changing community, with all the hipsters coming in.” Weaver picked highly visible spots in every quadrant and augmented the billboards with apps that have video slideshows. She said each juxtaposition between image and text was carefully curated.

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Ceremonies of Dark Men / Jared Green

Heading towards the Southwest Waterfront Metro stop, we are confronted with a group of five pieces in what was empty grassy space next to a D.C. government office building. There, curator Lance Fung, who was behind the ambitious Artlantic project in Atlantic City, New Jersey, explained his Nonuments public arts exhibit. Fung said with the help of the “best neighborhood” and local partner, Washington Project for the Arts, “the community now has a temporary art park.” He made a point of saying “we didn’t phone in these works of art; they all came out of the soil of this place.”

To lay the foundation for this art park, artist Peter Hutchinson threw a rope and plotted natural material along its path — in this case, 33 trees.

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Peter Hutchinson Thrown Rope / Sarah Massey

Four other works seem to orbit this central work. One is Migration, a set of otherworldly “nests” by artist Cameron Hockenson, who explains: “these nests are much like neighborhoods now on the move, embracing, adapting, or resisting forces of gentrification now sweeping the city.”

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Migration / Jared Green

There’s also Portrait Garden by Jennifer Wen Ma, a painter who magnified a picture of a local resident, chosen at random through a lottery, into a large-scale portrait through an unusual material: ink-stained plants. Ma wants to honor the “unsung heroes of daily life with plants that, like every life form, are under daily stress.”

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Portrait Garden / Jared Green

But here, Ma has added extreme stress, coating the plant’s leaves in ink, like they are rice paper in a Chinese brush painting. Ma explained that this was part of the meaning of her work. The plants, like people, will either succumb to or overcome their challenges. I expressed concern for the plants, but she said, “they prove to be amazingly resilient. The same plant can come back year after year. They will survive if they are watered.”

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Portrait Garden / Jared Green

And the most arresting piece was Peep by artist Jonathan Fung, which aims to use art to increase awareness of human trafficking, a dark undercurrent of humanity that also runs through the District. Fung told me that there are now more people enslaved at any point in human history, more than 30 million, and the district is a hub for this activity. In his piece, a shipping container, which is a common means of transporting trafficking victims, is painted bright pink, like something that would appeal to a child. This is because vulnerable foster children or young adults in this country — and around the world — are often the targets of trafficking, lured by people pretending to be their friends. Fung said the piece represents “stolen innocence, lost childhoods.”

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Peep / Jared Green

Inside Peep are rows of sewing machines and a recording playing their droning music. Fung said, “it’s about the commodification of people.” Being in there working on the piece, Fung said he also now understood why so many trafficked people don’t make it on their long journeys: The shipping containers are unbearably hot. (Learn more about human trafficking in Fung’s film, Hark, or this TED talk).

Many more pieces not covered here are on view until December. Learn more at 5 x 5.

ASLA Launches Guide to Green Infrastructure

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ASLA 2012 General Design Award of Excellence. A Green Sponge for a Water-Resilient City: Qunli Stormwater Park. Haerbin City, Heilongjiang Province, China. Turenscape and Peking University, Beijing

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) has launched a guide to explain the many benefits of “green infrastructure” — designed systems that harness nature to create proven benefits for communities and the environment.

Green infrastructure includes park systems, urban forests, wildlife habitat and corridors, and green roofs and green walls. These infrastructure systems protect communities against flooding or excessive heat, or help to improve air and water quality, which underpin human and environmental health.

The idea that nature is also infrastructure isn’t new, but it’s now more widely understood to be true, according to Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, executive vice president and CEO of ASLA. Researchers are amassing a body of evidence to prove that green infrastructure actually works: these systems are often more cost-effective than outmoded models of grey infrastructure—a term used for the concrete tunnels created to move water—and also provide far more benefits for both people and the environment.

“At all scales, green infrastructure provides real ecological, economic, and social benefits,” added Somerville. “Cities need as much green infrastructure as possible, and landscape architects are implementing it in communities across the country.”

Here are just some of the many benefits that these systems provide all at once: green infrastructure absorbs and sequesters atmospheric carbon dioxide (C02); filters air and water pollutants; stabilizes soil to prevent or reduce erosion; provides wildlife habitat; decreases solar heat gain; lowers the public cost of stormwater management infrastructure and provides flood control; and reduces energy usage through passive heating and cooling. In contrast, grey infrastructure usually provides just a single benefit.

The guide, part of ASLA’s series of sustainable design resource guides and toolkits, includes hundreds of research studies by leading scientists, news articles, and case studies on innovative uses of green infrastructure.

Resources are organized into seven sections that go from large scale (the region, the city) to the small scale (constructed wetlands, green streets, and green roofs and walls). Specifically, there are sections on forests & nature preserves; wildlife habitat & corridors; cities; constructed wetlands; green streets; and green roofs & walls. There are descriptions of the many types of green infrastructure, their quantifiable benefits, and the role of landscape architects in creating these systems.

For example, in the section on cities, there are two powerful examples showing the benefits of green infrastructure:

In Philadelphia, a comprehensive green infrastructure approach is estimated to cost just $1.2 billion over the next 25 years, compared to over $6 billion for “grey” infrastructure. The city is expecting up to 1.5 billion pounds of carbon dioxide emission to be avoided or absorbed through green infrastructure each year, the equivalent of removing close to 3,400 vehicles from roadways. The city estimates 20 deaths due to asthma will be avoided, and 250 fewer work or school days will be missed. Lastly, the economic benefits are also outstanding: the new greenery will increase property values by $390 million over 45 years, also boosting the property taxes the city takes in.

New York City’s green infrastructure plan is projected to cost $1.5 billion less than a comparable grey infrastructure approach. Green stormwater management systems alone will save $1 billion, at a cost of about $0.15 less per gallon. Also, sustainability benefits in NYC range from $139-418 million over the 20 year life of the project, depending on measures implemented. The plan estimates that “every fully vegetated acre of green infrastructure would provide total annual benefits of $8.5 in reduced energy demand, $166 in reduced CO2 emissions, $1,044 in improved air quality, and $4,725 in increased property value.”

Landscape architects were deeply involved in the creation and management of these visionary plans. Many more contribute to making these plans a reality by planning and designing urban forests, parks, and green roofs and walls.

Explore the guide.

This guide is a living resource, so the public is invited to submit additional research studies, news articles, and case studies. Please e-mail them to ASLA at info@asla.org

Sustainable Design Innovation: Perez Art Museum Miami

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Perez Art Museum Miami / all photos by Robin Hill

The built and natural environments merged to form something new and amazing in Miami: The Perez Art Museum. One of the most fascinating recent uses of integrated design, the museum features a hanging garden and a complementary, tropical landscape filled with native plants and irrigated by the building itself. Designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron and landscape designers at ArquitectonicaGEO, the museum is a prime example of multidisciplinary team-driven sustainable design.

Exploring the museum from the ground up shows us how the project just builds one sustainable layer upon the next. As ArquitectonicaGEO explains, given the museum is close to the Biscayne Bay, it first had to be elevated to meet flood and storm surge requirements.

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The designers ended up putting the garage underneath, which opened up opportunities for smart, multi-purpose design. The arrangement enabled the creation of a “design that integrates parking and planting beds with irrigation system water storage, storm water infiltration, temporary storm surge storage, and aquifer recharge. The innovative porous-floored parking garage, along with rain gardens, has been designed to capture rain water and funnel it into the ground water system, thus reducing local flooding and storm water runoff into Biscayne Bay.” This approach apparently saved the client money, too.

Examining the surrounding landscape, one discovers the varied yet native-rich landscape is also a journey of discovery, enabling visitors to explore new realms of both the plant and art worlds. ArquitectonicaGEO tells us: “A naturalistic planting style dominates throughout the ground level and Level 1 planters, progressing from South Florida natives mimicking endemic habitats outside the building, to a mix of plant types adjacent to the building, and finally a more constructed pan-tropical and exotic palette within the garage and Level 1 planters. The landscape sequence begins on Museum Drive along the new Science Museum and Art Museums, continues in the underground parking garage with a surprising display of plant material in an unexpected location, and continues above ground with the spectacle of the hanging vegetation, and the discoveries within the sculpture garden.”

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Landscape architects also saved ten of the large West Indian Mahogany, Black Olive, and Tabebuia trees found on the site, transplanting them to new spots.

The building itself maximizes its exposure to natural air flow and the cooling power of plants. There are “extensive roof overhangs,” providing access to the landscape and elements.

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Much like the first Brutalist buildings in France, which paired concrete and nature, here, the pan-tropical vegetation is a counterpoint to the Modernism of Herzog & de Meuron’s building. Laurinda Spear, lead designer of ArquitectonicaGEO, told us: “Native plants have been chosen to display the raw materials of our landscape as a contrast to the geometric architecture of the building.”

The hanging vertical green gardens only enhance the effect of the green counterpoint. They were created by green wall designer Patrick Blanc and horticulturalists Michael Davenport from Fairchild Tropical Garden and Jeff Shimonski from Jungle Island.

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ArquitectonicaGEO explains the original design just featured the hanging gardens, but was eventually expanded to include the sustainable system for the horizontal landscape. The result is a far richer place.

Community Resilience at the Edge

Levee Lab at Hunts Point tests designed ecologies, materials, and techniques for climate-adapted industrial waterfronts to develop new regulatory frameworks / OLIN and PennDesign
Levee Lab at Hunts Point tests designed ecologies, materials, and techniques for climate-adapted industrial waterfronts to develop new regulatory frameworks / OLIN & PennDesign

Is resilience ecological, economic, cultural, or social? For Red Hook and Hunts Point, two communities in New York City, the answer is all of the above, argued Barbara Wilks, FASLA, and Richard Roark, ASLA, at a talk at the Center for Architecture in New York City.

Wilks spoke about the Red Hook community in Brooklyn, which was the focus of their Commercial Corridor Resiliency Project, a proposal submitted to the department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Rebuild by Design competition by HR&A Advisors, Inc., with Cooper, Robertson & Partners and W-Architecture & Landscape Architecture, where Wilks is principal and founder. Their proposal, which unfortunately didn’t win, explains: “In Red Hook, resiliency involves integrating flood protection through measures that maintain and enhance waterfront maritime and industrial activity while allowing for public access to the waterfront.”

Focusing on public corridors could help create social resiliency and civic spirit. Re-integrating the historic maritime legacy more closely with other parts of the community could strengthen local identity. And embracing the importance of water as not only threat but also opportunity could be important in a community that had some streets under as much as five feet of water following Hurricane Sandy. “Every nook and cranny in Red Hook is different,” said Wilks, so many different solutions would be needed to create redundancies across scales.

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The Gowanus Canal, typically a source of flooding in Red Hook, could become a revitalized “Maker’s District” for manufacturing and production business. A raised promenade encourages access to the space for pedestrians / HR&A Advisors

The project could also bring the community closer to the waterfront edge to create pedestrian and recreational opportunities that blur the border between water and community, rather than trying to create hard separations.

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Renderings show a new wave barrier protection to reduce wave action in a storm events while providing recreational waterfront amenities during normal conditions / HR&A Advisors

A one-mile section of Hunts Point peninsula in South Bronx is “the hub of the food supply for 22 million people, a $5 billion annual economy, over 20,000 direct jobs, and livelihoods of people in the poorest U.S. Congressional District.” Up to 60 percent of New York City’s produce, meat, and fish supply comes from Hunts Point – also home to the Food Bank for New York City. And it’s all in a floodplain, said Roark, who works at OLIN. He presented Hunts Point Lifelines, a winning Rebuild by Design proposal from OLIN and PennDesign that will receive $20 million.

The community escaped major impacts from Sandy, but if the floods had moved differently during that event, the one million pounds of food Hunts Point provided to the region in the five days following the storm could have been decimated. This would not only impact New York’s food supply. The floodwaters combined with decaying food following power outages could turn the entire neighborhood into a toxic waste site.

The economic value – and vulnerability – of Hunts Point is clear. But Roark also asked the audience to consider the social and cultural value of Hunts Point: “We sit at a tipping point where communities can become incredibly bifurcated: either wealthy places, or islands of extreme poverty.” In wealthier communities, residents who can afford flood insurance can either take a hit and rebuild, or leave altogether. With both historically impoverished residents and a large influx of poor immigrants, Hunts Point residents have neither of these luxuries. But the economic disadvantages belie the cultural contributions the area has given to not just the region but the world with a thriving street art scene and its historic legacy as the “birthplace” of hip-hop.

Hunts Points is a test site – a “crucible,” in the language of the design proposal – for the sort of future we want. For OLIN and PennDesign, the future includes a flood protection levee lab that combines protection of Hunt Point’s food hub with recreational and research opportunities.

A proposed open market honors Hunt Point's food production legacy and increases food access to residents / OLIN & PennDesign
A proposed open market honors Hunt Point’s food production legacy and increases food access to residents / OLIN & PennDesign

There will be new jobs associated with stormwater infrastructure, maritime emergency supply lines, and a state of the art “trigeneration” plant, designed to meet the district’s large refrigeration demands. These jobs will be accessible via “cleanways.”

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Urban “cleanway” / OLIN & PennDesign

Both projects drive home an important point: resiliency is ultimately about the people at the heart of the places we’re trying to keep safe. Both Wilks and Roark called for using resilient design to improve social equity, preserving community identity and historical legacies, and embracing multiple solutions across scales rather than attempting to find one catch-all “universal” solution.

Yoshi Silverstein is the ASLA 2014 communications intern. He is a Masters in Landscape Architecture candidate at the University of Maryland. He focuses on landscape experience and outdoor learning environments.

SITES Certifies New Set of Landscapes

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Kirke Park / Sustainable Sites Initiative

The Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES™) program has certified four new landscapes. These include: Kirke Park, a pocket park in Seattle (two stars); 38 Dolores, a grocery store and housing complex in San Francisco (two stars); West Point Foundry Preserve, a historic Civil War-era preserve in New York (one star); and the office of Perkins + Will, a design firm, in Atlanta (one star). The four projects join 30 other pilot projects certified by the SITES program, the nation’s most comprehensive rating system for sustainable land design and development. All 34 certified landscape pilot projects met the 2009 Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks, developed by the SITES program in collaboration with dozens of sustainability experts, scientists, and design professionals from across the nation.

The four newly certified pilot projects incorporate sustainable features that were evaluated using a rating system with certification levels of one to four stars:

Kirke Park, Two Stars, Site Workshop, Seattle, Washington (see image above). This pocket park was designed to reflect the site’s past, incorporating structural elements that were remnants from a church that previously occupied the site, while enhancing the neighborhood. A community garden recalls the site’s history of producing food while a secret garden offers a quiet space inside the preserved walls of the historic church. A gathering plaza contains other park relics and is connected to an open lawn, providing structure for community events and informal play. A playground and an “adventure trail” that uses logs and boulders promote an active, natural play environment.

38 Dolores, Two Stars, April Philips Design Works, San Francisco, California. This greyfield project in the diverse Upper Market community in San Francisco has become a mixed-use development with 81 residential units and a Whole Foods Market on the ground floor. The LEED® Gold certified project improves the use of city systems and reduces its carbon footprint. To achieve SITES recognition, the developer added sustainable features including rainwater harvesting, alternative energy technologies, and green roofs that provide habitat for the endangered mission blue butterfly and a haven for city visitors. In addition, the site has edible and rain gardens and features such as education components to promote eco-awareness.

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38 Dolores / Sustainable Sites Initiative

West Point Foundry Preserve, One Star, Scenic Hudson Inc., Cold Spring, New York. The preserve is at a former turn-of-the-century manufacturing facility, which later was declared an EPA Superfund cleanup site. The work of a community advisory group, informed by years of archaeological studies, helped inform the transformation of 87 acres into a publicly accessible outdoor museum and heritage destination with interpretation and restored habitat. The site’s existing artifacts and previous history manufacturing Parrott guns credited with winning the Civil War, steam engines and mill equipment were incorporated into the design. The preserve includes a restored tidal marsh that supports wildlife habitat. Salvaged materials found on site such as brick fragments and stone were used in the project. Uniquely, the project included an archaeological monitoring plan to address unexpected features found during construction. The preserve is the second SITES-certified project of Scenic Hudson Inc. along the Hudson River and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Preserve America site.

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West Point Foundry Preserve / Sustainable Sites Initiative

Perkins+Will Office, One Star, Perkins+Will, Atlanta, Georgia. This design firm’s new home is a living model for small urban sites that emphasize sustainability. Essentially “upcycling” an outdated office building on Atlanta’s signature boulevard, the site now showcases elegant stormwater solutions and innovative use of materials on a highly constrained urban location. Where a parking deck and driveway once focused on auto access at the front of the building, a new civic plaza was created as an open-air living room for tenants and the community that reconnects the building to the street. The site provides walkable transit access for employees and clients, creates tenant space for civic uses and additional outdoor spaces for social engagement. The newly renovated building is also certified LEED® Platinum with the highest score in the Northern Hemisphere at the time of certification.

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Perkins + Will office / Sustainable Sites Initiative

The SITES program is a collaboration of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center of The University of Texas at Austin, and the United States Botanic Garden.

Based on the experiences of the 100-plus pilot projects that field-tested the 2009 rating system and input from hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals, a refined set of guidelines and rating system was released in June 2014. Known as SITES v2, it was developed over seven years and is now available for use by anyone who works in land design and development. The SITES v2 Rating System and scorecard are available for free.

A New Vision for Pennsylvania Avenue

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Pennsylvania Avenue today / National Capital Planning Commission

Pennsylvania Avenue has one of the nation’s most famous addresses – The White House, at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It forms a physical and symbolic connection between that address, which represents the president and the executive branch, and the people, represented by the U.S. Capitol building. But beyond this, what is the role of the avenue for both the District and nation in the 21st century? What does the avenue say to the rest of the nation and the world?

The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) wanted participants to answer these questions at its first public workshop on the Pennsylvania Avenue Initiative. In partnership with the General Services Administration and the National Park Service, the initiative will “develop a vision for how the avenue can meet local and national needs in a 21st century capital city.”

The workshop began with opening remarks from Elizabeth Miller, FASLA, NCPC. Miller noted the avenue’s dual role as not only a national symbol but also a place where people visit, work, and live. Recognizing and celebrating this dual role is one of the challenges the initiative faces as it crafts a vision to guide the next thirty to forty years.

Sarah Moulton at NCPC then presented some history. In particular, she noted the accomplishments of the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation (PADC), which helped turn the avenue around, after its post-WWII decline. PADC was dissolved in 1996.

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1962 was the final year street cars ran up and down Pennsylvania Avenue / National Capital Planning Commission

Without a single voice advocating for the avenue, the street today is in a bit of a slump, showing wear and tear from increased use. It’s aging infrastructure. Its deterioration may have arisen out of the jurisdictional challenges stemming from the multiple agencies responsible for planning, designing, and maintaining various areas along the avenue.

Jurisdiction issues are one of the existing challenges for Pennsylvania Avenue
Jurisdiction issues are one of the existing challenges for Pennsylvania Avenue / National Capital Planning Commission

But change along the avenue is already underway, for good or bad. The old post office is being redeveloped as a Trump conference center and hotel; the FBI is looking into possible relocation; private redevelopment is in the works for E Street; and efforts are underway to redesign historic Pershing Park as a new national WWI memorial.

Following the presentation, participants were invited to visit stations around the room, which included a gallery of posters showing comparably prominent streets in capital cities around the world. Some stations sought participants’ feedback on their visions for the future.

For example, one poster asked, “What is the role of Pennsylvania Avenue in 2040?” Responses included:

  • “The city – one great public space; iconic, walkable, wayfinding (take that tourists!)”
  • “An iconic image of Main Street USA – people, interactivity, heritage”
  • “Should be the horizontal guidepost to the Washington Monument’s vertical”
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Ideas from the public workshop / National Capital Planning Commission

The initiative intends to address four central issues: operations and maintenance; governance; program and animation; and planning, design, and economic health. This last issue encompasses everything from security for federal buildings to sustainable design practices, from safe transportation routes to the needs of the residential community. At the heart of all of this is ensuring economic vitality, said Moulton.

NCPC is starting a robust public outreach effort, with this initial public workshop just the beginning. To submit your thoughts, e-mail NCPC at PennAve@ncpc.gov; visit their website; or  tweet with the hashtag #MyPennAve.

Yoshi Silverstein is the ASLA 2014 communications intern. He is a Masters in Landscape Architecture candidate at the University of Maryland. He focuses on landscape experience and outdoor learning environments.

Herzog & de Meuron’s Gorgeous Ecological Swimming Pool

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Helen Schneider / Naturbad Riehen

The people of Riehen, a small city near Basel in Switzerland, have long wanted a new public swimming pool to replace their “obsolescent baths” by the River Wiese. In the late 1970s, the city government even launched a design competition. Unfortunately, the initial vision was never realized, but, just a few years ago, the Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron got to thinking about new possibilities. They write: “the changed perspectives brought by the intervening years prompted the idea of abandoning the conventional pool concept, with its mechanical and chemical water treatment systems, in favor of a pool closer to a natural condition with biological filtration.” The citizens liked the idea, giving it the thumbs-up in a municipal vote.

Herzog & de Meuron say their new approach enables “technical systems and machine rooms to vanish.” Their all-natural approach means no chlorine or other chemicals are added; filtering plants help keep the water clean.

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Biological water treatment basins, which are the “heart of the baths,” also play a major role. DesignBoom tells us: “The process is modeled after natural, terrestrial water purification, through layers of gravel, sand, and soil.” Herzog & de Meuron worked with Swiss landscape architecture firm Fahri und Breitenfeld on the system.

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Amazingly, this all-natural approach enables the bath to accommodate up to 2,000 people a day, who enter as they would a small pond. DesignBoom writes: “Its edge takes an irregular and vegetated boundary, with various methods for guests to enter the water. These include a gently sloping gravel beach, staircases, as well as wood docks that allow for a jump.”

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The structures around the natural pool are modeled on the local “Badi,” or Basel’s “traditional wooden Rhine-side baths.” Timber walls provide screen on the north and west sides, with built-in recliners for sunbathing.

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The southern view, which faces the river, is open. On the east side, the wood wall opens for the entrance.

There are also open-air showers and a small cafe.

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See more images at DesignBoom.

Blue Urbanism: A Mutually Sustainable Relationship between Cities and Oceans

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Blue Urbanism / Island Press

Timothy Beatley, professor of sustainable communities at the University of Virginia, has done it again. His excellent book from a few years ago, Biophilic Cities: Integrating Nature into Urban Design and Planning, has been followed-up by an equally well-written and persuasive new one, Blue Urbanism: Exploring Connections between Cities and Oceans. In this book, Beatley expands his purview beyond the “green urbanism” of Biophilic Cities to the vast oceans that make up 70 percent of the face of the Earth and contain 97 percent of its water. While he still argues that cities must integrate green — really ecological design principles at all levels — into dense urban environments, he cautions that cities can’t ignore oceans and marine environments. He admits that he basically left out oceans in Biophic Cities. He certainly makes up for it in this book, which argues that we also have biophilic connections to the oceanscape, and that connection is essential to building a more “complementary, mutually sustainable relationship between city and ocean.”

It seems much of the inspiration for Blue Urbanism came out of a fortuitous experience Beatley had in Perth, Australia. There, he witnessed how “urbanites, under the right circumstances, can take on ocean conservation.” A real estate developer wanted to build a massive hotel resort along the coast facing the vulnerable Ningaloo Reef. The spot proposed was apparently the “worst location for preserving marine biodiversity.” Beatley was amazed by the collective sense of outrage, manifested in everything from bumper stickers to rallies and letter writing campaigns. Under pressure, the state’s premier (similar to a U.S. governor) shut down the plans. Beatley says “this story has stayed with me as a remarkable example of how urbanites, even those hundreds of kilometers away, can care for and advocate on behalf of the ocean world.”

The trick is turning all those good feelings about oceans — and the charismatic sea creatures we all love: whales, sea turtles, sea stars, to name a few — into real urban policies and plans that protect oceans. Beatley points to a few examples of local governments that have taken the lead, from San Francisco, with its ban on plastic bags; to Hong Kong, with its burgeoning movement to stop the consumption of shark fins; to Wellington, New Zealand, which has forged a deep and sustainable connection with its coastal environment. Still, Beatley thinks most cities can go much further than they are now, creating “blue belts,” to protect ocean spaces in the same way cities create designated “green belts” on land.

The world’s oceans — and their rich coastal zones — are in dire need of protection. While ocean diversity is important in its own right, our protection of it is really self-interested. This is because our “urban future and ocean world are intimately connected in numerous ways.” The world’s oceans are major carbon sinks, soaking up 2 billion tons of CO2 annually. Ocean related jobs total 350 million worldwide. Seafood generates $108 billion in economic value, while eco-tourism to reefs creates another $9 billion alone. We also get energy from the ocean — in the form of undersea oil deposits, and, hopefully, in the future, more offshore wind farms. Beatley says offshore wind farms could provide today’s energy needs four times over, if we were smart. Oceans are also our main transportation channels. But all of these interactions with our oceans must be done in a more considered, sustainable fashion to prevent more of what Beatley calls “ocean sprawl,” which negatively impact the “integrity of ocean ecosystems.”

Ocean sprawl has had terrible impacts. Those huge gyres — garbage patches — will continue to grow for the next 500 years, even if we stop putting any plastic in the ocean right now. Coal-burning power plants send huge amounts of mercury into the oceans. Here’s just one scary stat Beatley cites: “A recently released United Nations Environment Program report documents a doubling of mercury levels in the top 100 meters (300 feet) of ocean water over the past 100 years.” Then, there are events like the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Too many cities don’t understand their connection to oceans. Beatley explains how a number of local non-profits are trying to change that. In Seattle, a group called Beach Naturalists is helping locals understand the magic of their coastline. “The program trains several hundred volunteer naturalists in the ecology and life found in the intertidal zone, and these volunteers patrol the city’s parks to help people understand more about life in tidal pools.” And then there’s the group called LA Waterkeeper, which aims to build awareness of the massive kelp forests just off the coast of Los Angeles. Did anyone know they were there?

Returning to Wellington, New Zealand, Beatley explains how that city has “created a new marine reserve on one of its shores, a marine education center providing children and adults alike the chance to touch and see marine organisms, the world’s first marine bioblitz (engaging the citizens in the recording of marine biodiversity), and a powerful new vision of its ‘blue belt,’ a complement to its historic and prized greenbelt system.” Imagine if New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco — and all the major coastal cities around the world — took their marine environments as seriously as Wellington does, and actually extended the marine world into the city.

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Dive instructor with sea stars in the Wellington harbor / Mark Coote

In a few sections of the book, Beatley dives into what blue urbanism looks like. Of interest to planners, architects, and landscape architects, he outlines how the “redesign of buildings and public spaces to foster resilience to climate change and rising ocean levels” can also extend “urban spatial planning and conservation into marine environments.” He points to innovative examples in Singapore, Rotterdam, Toronto, and Oslo.

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ASLA 2009 Professional General Design Honor Award. Spadina Wavedeck, Toronto, Ontario, Canada / West 8 + DTAH

Read Blue Urbanism and check out the review of Beatley’s earlier book, Biophilic Cities.

Pittsburgh’s Mellon Square Is Restored to Its Modern Glory

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Mellon Square restoration aerial / Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

Pittsburgh’s Mellon Square, an icon of mid-century Modern design, has been finally restored after a six-year process. A precursor to today’s trendy green roof movement, the plaza was the first in the nation built over a subterranean parking garage. Today, Mellon Square is a showcase for urban revitalization through historic preservation, with a contemporary sensibility and the latest technologies.

Upon its initial completion in 1955, Mellon Square unified Pittsburgh’s central business district and “typified the spirit” of the city, post World War II. Locally-based architects Mitchell & Ritchey brought in landscape architect John Ormsbee Simonds, Simonds & Simonds and author of the seminal textbook, Landscape Architecture, to collaborate on the public space. The square features a majestic central fountain comprised of nine cast-bronze basins; a distinctive triangle-patterned “Rustic Venetian Terrazzo” paving, inspired by Sarah Mellon Scaife’s travels to Europe; elegant evening lighting; lush plantings; and a second multi-leveled fountain cascading down to street-level. Simonds described the square as “an oasis in an asphalt desert.”

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1950s postcard of Mellon Square / Collections of Senator John Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh

Some more thoughts on the original design: Patricia M. O’Donnell, FASLA, Heritage Landscapes LLC, lead for the park’s restoration, notes the original design team’s “masterful manipulation of urban fabric . . . layered with three-dimensionally-nested planes unfolding to a serene interior of skydome, sunlight, shimmering water, and native forest plants.” In The Post-Gazette, Arthur Ziegler, president of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, calls Mellon Square “a fine example of mid-century Modern design, but not in the sense of so many results of that time, when urban renewal was really a harsh New Brutalism. Here you had a real attempt to still use decoration and refined design in a clean-lined modernistic statement.” And, The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) tells us that, as viewed from the buildings, “the harlequin patterned terrazzo of the sizeable plaza played against the tiles and jets of the fountain and with the diamond patterned façade of the Alcoa headquarters building by architects Harrison & Abramovitz.”

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Original artist’s sketch from early 1950s / Simonds & Simonds and Mitchell & Riley from the Heinz collections

Despite a restoration project in the 1980s, years of little maintenance resulted in cracked paving, drainage issues, broken fountains, and dying trees and shrubs. But even with these issues, the park was named one of the 2008 Great Public Spaces by the American Planning Association (APA), who noted the “striking example of Modernism with its triangular-patterned paving and asymmetrical order of planters, bronze fountains, and granite benches.”

In 2009, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and a team headed by Heritage Landscapes developed a comprehensive restoration plan. In addition to the two year, $10 million restoration process, the funders established a $4 million fund for ongoing maintenance to ensure the park would not fall into disrepair again.

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Proposed design restoration rendering / Heritage Landscapes LLC

Post-restoration, the park’s bronze basins have been re-patinated. The paving has been restored. The cascade fountain was recreated and is flowing again; the water choreography was re-established. O’Donnell tells us: “the cascade and main fountains were both completely reconstructed using modern best practices and technologies.”

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Bronze fountains restored / Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy
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Cascade fountain restored / Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

Other contemporary updates include an elevated terrace overlooking Smithfield Street (inspired by early design sketches discovered in the Heinz collections), energy-efficient lighting, and a new plant palette of hardy trees, flowers, grasses and shrubs which will “provide a year-round display of textures, forms, and colors,” writes Susan Rademacher, parks curator at Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, in a recent article for Docomomo US.

Now that the plaza has been restored, attention will turn to its perimeter. Along retail shops on Smithfield Street, a permanent display will highlight Mellon Square’s “history and national significance, its relationship to the Mellon family and its important role in Pittsburgh’s Renaissance,” writes Rademacher. “Garage entrances will be upgraded in keeping with the modernist aesthetic, while new site furnishings, banners, and planters will bring the four street edges into harmony with Mellon Square.” Already, the park’s reemergence has contributed to the revitalization of the surrounding business district as millions of dollars fund new restoration and development projects.

Check out a detailed history and description of the restoration process in this upbeat video from the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy:

The 2009 Mellon Square Preservation, Interpretation & Management Plan Team was led by Heritage Landscapes LLC: Preservation Landscape Architects & Planners, with contributions by Environmental Planning & Design,MTR Landscape Architects, LaQuatra Bonci Associates, and The Cultural Landscape Foundation. The 2011 Restoration Project Team included Heritage Landscapes with Pfaffmann + Associates Architects.

Yoshi Silverstein is the ASLA 2014 communications intern. He is a Masters in Landscape Architecture candidate at the University of Maryland. He focuses on landscape experience and outdoor learning environments.

Scaling Up Urban Agriculture

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Five Borough Farm II – Growing the Benefits of Urban Agriculture in New York City / Trust for Public Space

Urban agriculture grows both food and communities – its direct and indirect benefits range from improved public health and strengthened ecosystems, to social cohesion and economic growth. The Design Trust for Public Space wants to fully scale up these benefits across New York City. And in doing so, they hope to integrate agriculture into the broader urban fabric.

In September 2012, we reviewed Five Borough Farm: Seeding the Future of Urban Agriculture (FBF 1) from the Design Trust and partner organization Added Value. Three years in the making, this first report sought to create a comprehensive roadmap for New York City to help stakeholders “understand and weigh the benefits” of urban agriculture in an effort to significantly increase local government support. FBF 1 thoroughly examined the policy aspects of urban farming, with the goal of connecting government policy with “the bottom-up grassroots movement led by farmers, gardeners, and landscape architects.” The report realized a need for better metrics and data. Now, the Design Trust has released its follow-up, Five Borough Farm II – Growing the Benefits of Urban Agriculture in New York City (FBF II) in partnership with NYC Department of Parks and Recreation.

The first section of FBF II shows us their new methodology for measuring benefits and details how they developed this with farmers and gardeners. Motivated by the high number of studies that only suggest there are benefits to urban agriculture but don’t actually back them up with data, the toolkit uses twelve measurements, ranging from food production and composting to skills developed on the farm and healthy eating impacts. This toolkit was field-tested throughout the 2013 growing season. Simultaneously, Design Trust collaborated with Farming Concrete to further develop their existing online data platform for interpreting and sharing farm data. (Free for download, the toolkit is available at Farming Concrete’s website, where users can also register for access to their online data platform).

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Design professionals, planners, and government officials will especially want to read sections two and three of the report, which illustrate best practices for “maximizing the benefits” of urban agriculture, and “scaling the benefits” through innovative models of integration with public land.

The report calls for integrating urban agriculture with the physical infrastructure of the city — by introducing compost facilities to ease pressure on waste-management, or creating rainwater-catching food production systems for stormwater management.

All of that integration will require design work. There are examples of creative use of landscape features (bioswales, raingardens) and structural elements (rainwater holding tanks also designed as seating), as well as special considerations for senior citizens (wider paths, more seating and shade, elevated planters to accommodate wheelchairs).

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Farm to Table Assembly: Comfortable, easy-to-reach components for intergenerational community gardening / Alison Duncan, ASLA, with Metro Planters for the Central Harlem Senior Citizen’s Center

One innovative design proposal: Ecologically-healthy borders can be used to define the border between agricultural and non-agricultural public spaces. Using native plants in these spaces can increase forage opportunities for wildlife and attract beneficial pollinators. And permacultural models — such as those which use “guilds” of cooperative perennial plants at multiple levels (groundcover, canopy, understory, etc) to mimic natural ecosystems — could then increase diversity of both habitat and food and strengthen community through stewardship.

City greenways could also become the base infrastructure to achieve these strategies. Greenways already serve as important networks, so why not use them for agriculture as well? Most interestingly, the report suggests a model for greenways as “linear food hubs” that integrate cyclical food systems (growing, processing, distribution, compost . . . back to growing). In this model, farmers markets become hyper-local, served by growers within the greenway and serving consumers from the same. These networks can also build infrastructure for shared tools and equipment, resources, and knowledge.

FBF II also raises some questions without easy answers. For example, as agricultural public spaces throughout the city start accepting food waste, what are the best (low-cost) models for composting that also deter vermin? Rats and public space are not the best combination.

And how best to integrate community gardens into public green spaces? The report suggests putting community gardens in public parks. They identify the challenge of balancing a semi-private space within a fully public space and the associated pitfalls of potential theft and vandalism of garden plots. Recommendations include grouping public-use facilities associated with community gardens (toolsheds, compost) separately from private plots, designing adjacent spaces for complementary activities (nearby playgrounds for children, as parents or grandparents tend gardens), and “programming the fence” by growing vines or building bird-feeders into structures to increase their functional and aesthetic appeal.

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Illustrative diagram of community garden in a park integrating native plant infrastructure and permacultures / Martin Barry & Barbara Wilks

These are a good start but don’t fully solve the issue of how to integrate urban agriculture into a dense city. Perhaps this is where landscape architects and other designers can more fully flesh out best practice designs to solve these issues.

With some 900 urban agriculture spaces, NYC is ripe for deeper city-community collaboration to further scale up urban agriculture. But designers, farmers and city officials elsewhere will also find some inspiration from this report.

Keep an eye out for the expansion of farmingconcrete.org and the release of instructional videos and technical support networks as Five Borough Farm phase III gets under way in the coming months.

Yoshi Silverstein is the ASLA 2014 communications intern. He is a Masters in Landscape Architecture candidate at the University of Maryland. He focuses on landscape experience and outdoor learning environments.