Lawsuit Opposing the Obama Presidential Center Moves Forward

Proposed Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park, Chicago / Obama Foundation, DBOX

A federal judge ruled that a lawsuit filed by Protect Our Parks to stop the Obama Foundation from building a new presidential center in Jackson Park, a 543-acre waterfront public park on the South Side of Chicago, can move forward. The ruling creates significant new challenges for the proposed $500 million project, which has been designed by Todd Williams Bill Tsien Architects and landscape architecture firm Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. The center was expected to open in 2021, but hasn’t broken ground due to outstanding legal issues and federal environment and historic site impact reviews.

U.S. Judge John Robert Blakey didn’t make a ruling on the legal merits of the lawsuit filed by Protect Our Parks and other parties, only stating there are grounds to proceed.

At dispute is whether protected public park land can be used to build a privately-run presidential center; the Obamas have chosen not to create an official, National Archives-managed presidential library.

The Obama Foundation stated it chose the proposed 19-acre site in Jackson Park so it would be near the Museum of Science and Industry and connect to the existing museum hub in the park, which was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and other Olmsted Brothers firms.

Chicago’s city government, led by Obama’s former chief of staff and current Mayor Rahm Emanuel, has been highly supportive of the project, viewing it as a way to boost economic development; create 5,000 construction jobs and 2,500 permanent, local jobs; and attract 760,000 tourists annually to the under-served South Side. In addition to the exhibition spaces, the Obama Center would create new top-notch public playgrounds and athletic facilities, a sledding hill, a community vegetable garden, and incorporate a public library, using just 3 percent of the existing park.

City officials and the Obama Foundation see creating a major cultural destination like the Center far outside the downtown loop as an important step towards a more equitable Chicago.

According to the Associated Press, many legislative actions have been taken by the city and state to move the project forward. State legislators amended the Illinois Aquarium and Museum Act to “include presidential libraries as an exception to the no-development rules if there’s a compelling public interest.” And the Chicago City Council approved building the presidential center in Jackson Park, 47-to-1 (and provided construction permits).

As part of the deal, the Chicago Park District sold the 19.3 acres of Jackson Park requested for the presidential center to the city for $1. The Obama Foundation then paid the city $10 to use the land in Jackson Park for 99 years, but also agreed to raise the $500 million needed for the presidential center and pay for all costs associated with operating the center for 99 years. After the opening of the physical center, the foundation would transfer ownership of the building back to the city.

If city councilors truly represent the will of their districts, this indicates widespread support for the project and its financing scheme among Chicagoans.

But there are a number of detractors as well — Protect Our Parks, a parks advocacy group, was joined by three individuals, and other organizations offered support. The Chicago Tribune reports their lawsuit isn’t directed at the Obama Foundation itself but is instead lobbed at the city government and Chicago Parks District. The suit argues that “the presidential center is not the same as a presidential library and should not be granted access to public land.” The lawsuit states: “defendants have chosen to deal with it in a classic Chicago political way … to deceive and seemingly legitimize an illegal land grab.”

Furthermore, critics contend the state will need to spend $175 million of taxpayer money to re-route roads around the presidential center, which constitutes a partisan use of public funds, an argument the judge rejected. And the center would damage the environment and create an obstacle for migratory birds and butterflies.

The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) filed a “friend of the court” brief in support of Protect the Parks’ lawsuit. In a statement, Charles A. Birnbaum, FASLA, President & CEO writes: “The Obama Foundation and the University of Chicago created this controversy by insisting on the confiscation of public parkland. The Obama Foundation could make this issue go away by using vacant and/or city-owned land on the South Side for the Obama Presidential Center (which is planned to be a private facility rather than a presidential library administered by the National Archives), or, better still, land owned by the University of Chicago, which submitted the winning bid to host the Center.”

TCLF and other park advocacy groups have long called for the presidential center to be moved out of Jackson Park, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. As the lawsuit moves to trial in federal court, it remains to be seen whether the Obama Foundation will attempt to persuade the judge of the merits of their proposal or pick up and move to another location on the South Side.

The worst fear of the project’s supporters is the lawsuit will cause the Obama Foundation to totally rethink their plans, just as another suit caused George Lucas to move his proposed $400 million Museum of Narrative Arts — which he sought to locate on the Chicago waterfront — to downtown Los Angeles. Lucas didn’t even wait for the judge’s ruling. In the case of the Obama Center though, there has been a far greater commitment to stay in the South Side.

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

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Tianfu New District masterplan, Chengdu, China. / Adrian Smith, Gordon Gill Architecture

Inside Chengdu: Can China’s Megacity Version of the Garden City Work? The Guardian, 2/4/19
“It may be China’s most liveable burgeoning megacity, but Chengdu’s park city plans bear a price tag of forced evictions and relocations”

Hermann Park and Discovery Green Getting Major Makeovers The Houston Chronicle, 2/7/19
“The latest developments of Houston’s ongoing green renaissance will transform two of the city’s busiest parks in ways that make them more attractive than ever to families with children.”

How to Design Playgrounds for the World’s Most Vulnerable Kids CityLab, 2/7/19
“New UNICEF reports explore the ultimate design challenge: How to provide spaces to play and prosper for children living in urban poverty.”

Hong Kong Yet to Make the Most of its Iconic Harbourfront The South China Morning Post, 2/10/19
“If one runs a Google image search for Hong Kong, the top 50 pictures are of Victoria Harbour and the city’s iconic skyline. Visitors’ impressions of Hong Kong are often defined by that postcard-perfect vista of gleaming skyscrapers rising from the shining waters up the island’s lush green hills.”

Courtyard to Be Named for Historic Landscape Architect Beatrix FarrandThe Daily Princetonian, 2/12/19
“The courtyard between Henry, Foulke, and 1901-Laughlin halls will be named the Beatrix Farrand Courtyard after famed landscape architect Beatrix Farrand, who worked at the University from 1912-1943 as its first consulting landscape architect.”

ASLA Statement on the Green New Deal

Green New Deal launch on Capitol Hill / WIkipedia

Significant Overlap Seen Between ASLA’s Report, Smart Policies for a Changing Climate, and Many Provisions of the Green New Deal Resolution

A wide-ranging proposal for a Green New Deal (GND) was introduced on February 7 in the House of Representatives in the form of a resolution sponsored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), with a companion resolution introduced in the Senate by Sen. Edward Markey (Mass.).

Although the current GND resolution is largely aspirational and includes few specific policies, it contains a commitment to core principles of urgent transformational change that are fully compatible with ASLA’s positions, and mirror the recommendations the Society already put forward in our Blue Ribbon Panel report, Smart Policies for a Changing Climate.

Like our report, the GND resolution calls for widespread, immediate action that will ensure clean air and water; climate and community resiliency; access to nature; and a sustainable environment. We also strongly back calls for a national commitment to environmental justice for all Americans, especially for those from underserved, vulnerable, and neglected groups that have historically borne the brunt of the ill-effects of environmental calamities. ASLA supports the underlying principles of the GND resolution that relate specifically to climate change and resilience, and we are pleased that it has served to stimulate public debate about the accelerating climate crisis.

We note that in addition to climate-related policies, the resolution also contains several recommendations about social and economic issues that are beyond the scope of the Society’s mandate and existing policies, matters about which we can take no formal position.

ASLA members can be assured that when the GND is translated into formal legislative proposals to reduce carbon emissions, make transformational changes to infrastructure, and create a robust 21st-century clean-energy economy, ASLA will be at the forefront of the fight to enact them into law. We firmly believe that landscape architects must take a leadership role in planning and designing sustainable, resilient communities and ASLA, without question, will do its part to bring the climate principles of the Green New Deal to fruition.

ASLA is pleased that the Green New Deal resolution has significantly expanded the scope and intensity of the dialogue about climate change and we are extremely gratified that the Society’s report mirrors its major climate and infrastructure goals and we look forward to the legislative proposals that will stem from it.

Shadow-Casted Artwork Tells the Story of Time on an Indian Street

We can feel the passage of time as we watch the sun chart its course across the sky. But we have also become accustomed to the daily arc of our closest star. To bring the movement of the sun — and the progression of time — into the foreground, Indian street artist Daku leveraged the sun’s shadow-casting power to create a temporary installation — Theories of Time — for the St+art India art festival along a commercial street in Panjim, Goa.

Theories of Time / Daku

A street-long awning holds up stenciled adages that project shadows forming a tapestry of words on the ground: “Things take time; time is a great teacher; time heals all wounds; lost time is never found again.”

Theories of Time / Daku
Theories of Time / Daku

Light, shadow, and words figure in earlier works as well. In 2016, Daku created Time Changes Everything, installing words on the side of a white-faced building, letting the movement of the sun form and then slowly disintegrate words like ability, hour, definition.

The artist seems to enjoy incorporating surprising words and sentiments into the built environment — in particular humorous messages aimed at motorists.

Street sign / Daku
Ad space artwork / Daku

Daku’s shadow-casting artwork adds an interesting layer to the streetscape and offers an approach filled with possibilities for other public spaces.

Robots Produce World’s Longest 3D-Printed Concrete Bridge

3D printed concrete bridge / JCDA

During the Sui dynasty, it took a decade for master craftsman Li Chun to build the Anji stone bridge in southern Hebei province. Some 1,400 years later, Tsinghua University robotics professor Xu Weiguo copied the structure in just 19 days, with the assistance of robots 3D printing in concrete. The resulting engineering marvel — an 86-feet-long, 12-feet-wide bridge in the Boashan district of Shanghai — uses a single load-bearing arch, just like Anji.

3D printed concrete bridge / JCDA

Robotic arms swung back and forth for some 450 hours, fulfilling the demands of their algorithms. The robots were programmed to follow separate models of the arch structure, fence, and deck, yielding some 176 uniquely-shaped pieces, which were then slotted into place.

Robots burning midnight oil 3D printing / JCDA

The hyper-real, curvilinear, machine asthetic of many 3D modeled objects is also found in this bridge. On the deck, a brain coral pattern filled with fine stones add some warmth, bringing the feel of traditional Chinese garden path.

3D printed concrete bridge / JCDA

According to Tsinghua University, the 3D printed bridge costs just two-thirds the price of a bridge produced the conventional way.

Robots at work on the 3D printed concrete bridge / JCDA

Professor Xu and his team at the Tsinghua University School of Architecture’s Zoina Land Joint Research Center for Digital Architecture (JCDA) tested the bridge design using a 1:4 scale model to ensure it would bear the weight of pedestrians. And for extra safety, they built in a real-time monitoring system. Wires and sensors embedded throughout the structure send a constant stream of data on the performance of the bridge.

ArchDaily notes the world’s first 3D printed steel bridge just debuted in The Netherlands, and Columbia Unversity has been experimenting with 3D printing timber lookalikes. Like other sectors, construction may soon become more automated.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Turns to Nature

Cover
Engineering with Nature: An Atlas / U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

“We rely on natural processes and landscapes to sustain human life and well-being. Our energy, water, infrastructure, and agricultural systems use these processes and landscapes to satisfy our most basic human needs. One motivation, therefore, for protecting the environment is to sustain the ecosystem goods and services upon which we depend. As we emerge from the sixth decade of modern environmentalism, there is a growing international awareness of opportunities to efficiently and effectively integrate natural and engineered systems to create even more value.”

One might understandably think this was written by a landscape architect, or excerpted from somewhere on the ASLA website. In fact, it comes from the forward of Engineering with Nature: An Atlas, a new book by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Engineering with Nature (EWN) team, led by environmental scientist Dr. Todd Bridges. 

Over the last eight years, Bridges has quietly built the EWN initiative out of the Army Corps’ Vicksburg, Mississippi headquarters, working with a team of engineers, environmental scientists, and ecologists to develop pilot projects that prove the viability of engineering large-scale infrastructure in partnership with natural systems. 

Now, after successfully completing dozens of projects across the U.S., Bridges is pushing to take EWN to new heights. The initiative’s 2018-2023 strategic plan envisions an expanded portfolio of engineering strategies and project types, deeper interdisciplinary and community engagement, and heightened public awareness of EWN goals, activities, and success stories.

To that end, Engineering With Nature: An Atlas documents more than 50 engineering projects completed in recent decades that exemplify the EWN approach. The projects are grouped according to typology, including chapters on beaches, wetlands, islands, reefs, and rivers. Reflecting the collaborative approach of the EWN initiative, only half of the case studies profiled were carried out by the Army Corps. The remainder were executed by partner NGOs in the US and government agencies in England, The Netherlands, and New Zealand, countries which have made substantial investments of their own in innovative coastal and water-based engineering.

Sand_motor
The Sand Motor, The Netherlands / Zandmotor Flickr

A key theme of the book is the beneficial re-use of dredged material. While conventionally viewed as a waste product, the EWN initiative seeks to find and develop beneficial uses for the material, such as in wetland restoration, habitat creation, and beach nourishment. And because the Corps is required to maintain the navigability of all federal waterways, the EWN team has a ready supply of dredged material to work with.

One example of this strategy can be seen in Texas’ Galveston Bay, where the Corps partnered with Houston Audubon to create the 6-acre Evia Island, which today is populated with herons, egrets, terns, and brown pelicans. 

Evia_island
Evia Island / U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Other projects take advantage of erosion and sediment flux to catalyze beneficial outcomes. In Louisiana’s Atchafalaya River, the Corps placed dredged material in strategic upriver locations to create a 35-hectare island that is “self-designed” by the river’s flow. And at Sears Point, in the northern San Francisco Bay, the Sonomoa Land Trust and Ducks Unlimited restored 1,000 acres of tidal marsh by puncturing a levee, allowing water from the Tolay Creek to flow into a field of constructed sediment mounds. The mounds slowed the water’s rate of flow, stimulating land growth within the project area.

dredge
Dredging in the Atchafalaya River / U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

These approaches have considerable overlap with recent research in the field of landscape architecture, particularly the work of the Dredge Research Collaborative, which advocates for ecological and watershed-scale approaches to the management of sediment and dredged material and has collaborated with the EWN initiative in recent years.

An Atlas also includes projects that retrofit conventional infrastructure to provide ecological benefits, such as creating nesting habitat for terns on top of breakwaters in Lake Erie, or efforts in the Netherlands to redesign coastal reinforcements to serve as habitat for marine plants and animals. Reminiscent of SCAPE’s Living Breakwaters project off the southern coast of Staten Island, these projects demonstrate an increasing interest in designing infrastructure that provides multiple benefits.

tern_nest
Decoy terns at the Ashtabula Harbor Breakwater Tern Nesting Habitat / U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Despite its title, At Atlas does not contain any maps or diagrams to orient the reader–an unfortunate omission that makes it difficult to grasp the scale of the presented projects. Instead, the projects are depicted using solely perspective and aerial photos.

While these photos are informative, the book would have greatly benefited from the development of a graphic language to more clearly and visually communicate the impacts of the presented projects and the issues they seek to address.

Despite these omissions, the breadth and scope of projects presented in Engineering with Nature: An Atlas makes a considerable impression, presenting a range of strategies for designing infrastructure with ecological, social, and cultural benefits at multiple scales.

Perhaps most significantly, An Atlas suggests there is great potential for meaningful interdisciplinary collaboration between the Corps and landscape architects. As landscape architects increasingly seek to broaden the field’s scope to include the planning and design of large-scale systems and ecologies, this collaboration may prove vital. Engineering with Nature: An Atlas begins to paint a picture of what such a collaborative practice may look like.

Learn more about the Engineering with Nature initiative and download Engineering With Nature: An Atlas.

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

Site of new park crossing the Ohio River in Southern Indiana / OLIN

The Controversial Renovation of Montreal’s Beloved Public Park CityLab, 1/22/19
“Parc-Jean Drapeau’s redesign attempts to balance priceless serenity and outdoor art with profitable festivals. Many Montrealers are skeptical.”

Pier 4 ‘Sea Steps’ in Seaport District Opening This Summer Curbed Boston, 1/22/19
“The five so-called Sea Steps next to the future Pier 4 luxury condo complex and the Institute of Contemporary Art area in the Seaport District are expected to open this summer, according to developer Tishman Speyer.”

West Aurora Schools Seek Donors to Help Build ‘Inclusive’ Playgrounds The Chicago Tribune, 1/24/19
“Hope D. Wall and Smith elementary schools in Aurora are calling upon the community for donations to help build new playgrounds at the schools.”

OLIN Designing a 400-acre Waterfront Park for Southern Indiana The Architect’s Newspaper, 1/28/19
“OLIN has been tapped to design a 400-acre park along the northern shore of the Ohio River in southern Indiana. Set within a swath of waterfront long-occupied by landfill and industrial facilities, the future park will give local residents a much-needed connection with the river and its history, while boosting the area’s link to Louisville, Kentucky.”

Joshua Tree National Park Could Take 300 Years to Recover From Government Shutdown Damage USA Today, 1/29/19
“The federal government shutdown may be over, but fans of Joshua Tree National Park are still angry and upset about the furlough that kept park rangers off the job.”

Home Buyers Want Outdoor Spaces — and They’re Willing to Pay for Them The Tennessean, 1/29/19
“Outdoor features of all kinds, from pools to fireplaces to complete living rooms with furniture designed to stand up to the elements, are being installed in backyards everywhere, said Joe Raboine, a manager for Belgard. The company provides materials and design services.”

Landscape Architecture Coalition: We Need More Walkable Streets – Associations Now, 1/30/19
“Smart Growth America, which focuses on improving infrastructure around the country, recently released a study highlighting the scope of dangers that pedestrians face due to metropolitan areas not being built for walking. The study was produced in tandem with its subsidiary, the National Complete Streets Coalition.”

Landscape Architects Take the Lead on New Cultural District in Detroit

DIA Plaza and Midtown Connections design competition presentation at Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) / DIA Plaza Midtown Cultural Connections

In Detroit, twelve arts, cultural, and educational institutions are clustered together geographically, but have failed to form a unified district, a true destination. The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) and the Midtown Detroit Inc, hope that a new central public space around the DIA and a broader urban design to boost connectivity and accessibility can change that. In an attempt to create a coherent, inclusive, accessible, and sustainable district that can attract both residents and tourists, DIA and Midtown launched an international design competition last year, which has since yielded three finalists that presented to some 200 local residents at the DIA last week.

More than 40 submissions from 10 countries were narrowed down to eight finalists. And now it’s down to three interdisciplinary teams led by landscape architecture firms: Agence Ter from Paris, France; Mikyoung Kim Design from Boston, Massachusetts; and TEN x TEN, which is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

According to the DIA and Midtown Detroit, Inc, who worked with the twelve educational and cultural institutions, the finalists’ proposals are the result of a year of input from committees and residents, which participated through 40 public engagement sessions.

Public engagement session / DIA Plaza Midtown Cultural Connections
Public engagement session / DIA Plaza Midtown Cultural Connections

Finalists presented to the competition jury at the DIA, which includes Salvador Salort-Pons, president of the DIA; Maurice Cox, Detroit’s planning director; and landscape architect Julie Bargmann, ASLA, founder of D.I.R.T. Studio.

All the teams seek to shrink down the width of boulevards; remove parking; add event spaces, cafes, and public art installations; and vastly expand public green space. The new designs could be the National Mall of Detroit or a lush, interactive university campus. The design teams seek to bring people in from around the Detroit and the suburbs and keep them there, engaged, enlightened, and entertained year-round.

The Agence Ter team offered meandering paths through forested and planted areas, with experimental event spaces for local artists and public art installations that speak to Detroit’s unique history.

Agence Ter proposal / DIA Plaza Midtown Cultural Connections competition
Agence Ter proposal / DIA Plaza Midtown Cultural Connections competition

The Mikyoung Kim Design team envisioned a verdant space, with a central lawn that can host events, as well as an outdoor movie screen, cafe, playground, and maze garden that converts into an ice rink in winter.

Mikyoung Kim Design proposal / DIA Plaza Midtown Cultural Connections competition
Agence Ter proposal / DIA Plaza Midtown Cultural Connections competition

And the TEN x TEN team proposed a more angular, contemporary design, with green space but also “fog gardens,” an “exploratorium,” and interactive light graffiti wall.

Ten x Ten proposal / DIA Plaza Midtown Cultural Connections competition
Ten x Ten proposal / DIA Plaza Midtown Cultural Connections competition

An exhibition of the proposals is on view at the DIA until April 1. The winning proposal will be announced by the end of April.

This incredible investment in raising Detroit’s profile as a cultural mecca can only help this city get back on its feet after years of disinvestment and near bankruptcy. Only a few years ago, the city seriously considered selling off the amazing art at the DIA to pay down debt. The message of this project is inclusive cultural and ecological revitalization is the new way to do urban revitalization.

Design Competition: Public Art That Produces Energy

Light Up, 1st Place Winner, LAGI 2018 Melbourne competition / LAGI

The inventive folks behind the Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI) seek to make renewable energy beautiful. They want to integrate clean power sources into public art and the broader public realm, sending a powerful civic signal — that we can achieve a more sustainable commons and world.

For their competition this year, LAGI seeks a work of energy-producing art for a site within Masdar City, Abu Dhabi, a planned community designed by Foster and Partners in the United Arab Emirates. Masdar City is expected to be completed by 2025 and become home to some 50,000 people and 1,500 clean-tech and sustainable businesses.

According to LAGI, Masdar is the Arabic word for “source” — and in this case, refers to the sun, the source of power for the ambitious development. The city plans to get most of its energy from nearby solar facilities, which are being built with specialized solar panels that can survive sand storms. Masdar will also recycle some 80 percent of its water.

The competition is organized in partnership with the 24th World Energy Congress, which will host presentations of the 25 shortlisted finalists. Winners will receive $40,000 and the runner-up, $10,000. See the winners from last year’s competition in Melbourne, Australia.

Interdisciplinary teams can submit designs by May 12, 2019.

Another competition worth checking out: Gauja National Park, the largest national park in Latvia at some 917 square kilometers, seeks a new footbridge, a symbolic gateway to mark the park’s 45th anniversary. First place winners will receive $3,000. No professional qualifications are required. Submissions are due June 11, 2019.