Category Archives: biophilia

Austere Gardens

I received a little gem of a book from Oro Editions entitled Austere Gardens: Thoughts on Landscape, Restraint, & Attending.  Written by Marc Treib, the book (at a slim and image-heavy 100 pages) is a meditation of a sort.  Having been immersed in some much heavier reading recently, I sat down and absorbed (reveled in?) this book in one sitting, and it was a breath of fresh air in contrast to much more academic writing.

austere_gardens_cover_final_for_printing_17_august_2015

The word garden means implies form-making, so Treib contrasts the Edenic model, which aims “… to surpass our given environment in abundance and delight,” in contrast to that of simple “…landscapes of reduction and compression,” (10) which embody the idea of the Austere.

From the publisher’s website, a bit of the background:

The word “austere,” as used in this essay, does not imply asceticism, but merely modesty and restraint. Austere landscapes may first appear devoid of interest if noticed at all. To those who do not look beyond their surfaces, these sites, and the world outside them, usually appear plain and uninteresting, or even lacking of the very properties by which we define a garden. But there are sensual, aesthetic, and even philosophical, pleasures to be gained from these seemingly dull fields should we attempt to appreciate them. These qualities, normally associated with abundance and complexity, may be found in a different way, and at a different level, in austere terrain.

Many of the examples used in the book come not from traditional landscape architecture, where formal quality is typically the main driver, but from environmental artists like Robert Smithson, Richard Long, Robert Irwin, and others.   The idea here is that austerity can emerge from both the unplanned, what Treib refers to as Traces, “the marks of human existence and its activities… result from wear, removal, and erosion.” (22) Artists use subtle clues but add the concept of Intent, or “considered action.” (24)

Using the example of Richard Long’s A Line Made By Walking where he “walked back and forth in a meadow until he had trampled a recognizable line in the grass…” with the intent to “…produce a trace to be apprehended aesthetically.” (24)

linewalking

::  image via Richard Long

Another example is Walter De Maria’s The Lightning Field – seen below, which is the culmination of a long passage in the book that explores the idea of geometric patterning, constructed compositions such as grids, bands, figural fields – popularized by Peter Walker and inspired by the work of minimalist artists such as Frank Stella and Donald Judd.  The simplicity of Walkers work can be considered austere in a way, “landscapes appear primarily in lines, extruded vertically as places that define spaces or trace streaks across the terrain.  In their repetition they create visual rhythms, playing the individual element against the repetition of the field as an entirety.” (80)
This is one of the few times in the book where actual works of landscape architecture are discussed, owing to the fact that much work in the field is not ‘austere’ but more garden-like, perhaps?

pKempinskiMunich_00258

:: image via PWPLA

The result is described by Treib through the example of Edmund Burke’s “artificial sublime”, where he “suggested that a man-made creation of sufficient length and repetition might induce a similar effect…”  to that of the true sublime.  In De Maria’s work, this repetition is present but less distinct (perhaps due to the size and space in the landscape), where the steel poles “…fade into the landscape as the light changes or with any shifting in viewing position. The promenade through the field and the awareness of subtle changes in the surface, skies and the distance mesas equal in significance the precision of the stainless steel forest arranged mathematically.” (80)

austere_gardens_pages_final_for_printing_25_august_2015-43

The idea of the connection of simple moves on the landscape that have been installed for functional reasons, such as hedgerows (and example from Jutland, Denmark below) which “make evident what to many had been only latent, with the rows of trees demarking the contours of the land.” (29) This hints at a powerful opportunity to mark space, as well as controlling wind and sunlight, that could be employed at large and small scales using very simple means.

austere_gardens_pages_final_for_printing_25_august_2015-16

The influence of Japanese gardens, particularly the spare minimalism of the form and it’s simple palette, seen in Saiho-ji garden in Kyoto, the banner image above and repeated below.  For Treib, “Austerity does not always connote deprivation, however, but is user here to suggest a restriction in means.  Richness within austerity is a hallmark of Japanese visual culture, and pairing the words ‘austere’ and ‘beauty’ is no anomaly within its aesthetic thinking…”  He continues, “Austerity her lies in the acceptance – or adoption, if consciously made – of few prevailing materials, or even only one: in this case moss.  It also requires restraint. By restricting the palette to water, trees, and moss, one becomes more aware of each constituent element.” (17)

05_muso_kokushi_attrib._saiho-ji_kyoto_japan_c._1338

A different Japanese form is the torii, or a gate without a fence, where it serves as a place-marker.  “Although one may physically pass through it, the gateway functions more as a sign and a mental stimulus… Figures like the torii gain presence from their contrast with the surroundings.” (46)

austere_gardens_pages_final_for_printing_25_august_2015-23

Plenty more examples abound in the text, many that were new to me.  The simple tools of observation such as Trace, and the intervention using Intent, provides some interesting ways of looking at design in a new way.   Simple rules of Addition and Subtraction (Figure and Void) can be employed artistically in environmental art, but also give us opportunities to incorporate into more function-driven works on landscape architecture. The clues in the landscape (the ordinary and the functional) that are not explicity trying to capture the Eden-like garden of transcendence, but rather look to ways of making relevant austere spaces.

It’s interesting to note that, although often simple, it’s not just about removal (of materials, ornament, etc.) as Treib mentions was a possible flaw of modernist architecture where “simplicity was commonly achieved by elimination… what is experience close in is rarely greater that what can be seen at a distance.” Instead positing that: “Compression, in contrast to reduction, brings into seemingly simple surfaces and spaces constellations of details revealed only through movement and over time.” (63)

This can happen with erosion, patina, as well as playing on seasonality and light, even with few elements, as long as they are employed with the goals of experiential quality in mind.

It’s heartening to see a simple (austere) work that is so full of inspirations.  I’ve always been drawn to work of environmental artists, and this has reinforced the idea that there is much for designers to learn from to enliven their work.  The ordinary and functional landscapes also provide inspiration not just in development of contextual design, but in how they provide form and manipulate space and microclimate.

There’s also the biophilic and the concepts of inspirations of nature through biomimicry, which Treib mentions comes with an “economy of means”, with beehives, spider webs, birds nests and termite mounds representing “the transformation of minimal materials into an efficient and functional configuration.  Maximizing the minimal.” (91)

The book is a no-brainer, easy to access and inspiring on multiple levels. It will not make you work but will make you think.  About design.  About inspiration.  About purpose and what he calls Attending, or “in what way do we view, process, and evaluate what is before us?” (94)  As we focus on environmental sustainability as a means and an ends, Treib’s final words perhaps gives the reason to engage in the book: “Following the directives of environmental responsibility provides only the basis for our designs; an appreciation of the austere landscape can direct its making and enrich our experience of the garden that results.” (100)

All images via Oro Editions unless otherwise noted.

Marc Treib is a professor emeritus of architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, a practicing graphic designer, and a noted historian and critic of landscape and architecture. He has been published widely on modern and historical subjects in the United States, Japan, and Scandinavia. 

Save

Save

Save

Treescrapers

A recent post from CityLab delves into an on-going.  Entitled ‘Are ‘Treescrapers the Future of Dense Urban Living?’, explores the concept beyond the fantastical and thinks about this type of work in terms of reality and the more pragamatic elements.  Weird Dune references about Passive House designers (?) aside, having some critical evaluation the points that were brought up by the architect in the story are valid.

86414c462
Tour des Cèdres, Lausanne, Switzerland. (Boeri Studio) – via CItyLab

I do think that the focus of the comments maybe relied a bit too much on the particular type of work (i.e. hyper efficient building envelope).  If you see everything through the lens of Passive House, and energy envelopes and embodied energy for structural upgrades, you may miss the trees and the forest.

treescrapers1

5e5296d14
Bosco Verticale – via CityLab

Admittedly, I am both a supporter and critic of the idea, which I’ve been referring to as Vegitecture (not Treescraping, for hopefully obvious reasons) for some time now.  Beyond being an aesthetic choice which has strong biophilic connections, there’s ecological and even, yes, energy considerations with integrating vegetation into buildings.  It’s definitely a key strategy for a less building centric idea of passive heating and cooling, which has to me has always included vegetation surrounding structures as part of the equation – using evergreen vegetation to block colder winter winds and shade for cooling and deciduous to provide summer shading and opening up during winter for additional heating/sun after leaf drop.  That diagram I think i first say in first year intro to landscape architecture.

la-passivecooling

Of course everything comes at a cost, so an accounting of cost to benefit is necessary, but that cost also much include other items in the ledger, like health benefits of access to nature, additional passive cooling and heating benefits that could be integrated with exterior and interior system integration.  The opportunity is to make these projects work and think of new ways to better integrate them into the buildings in artful and functional ways.

8a774620d
One Central Park, by Jean Nouvel with Patrick Blanc (Sydney, Australia)

I’ve discussed typologies before, and it’s interesting to see the evolution of the types, from building integrated living walls above, to terrace planters, roofs decks, more traditional green roofs, and much more.  The possibilities in photoshop, alas, are endless.  But in reality, there are some additional considerations, all of which should be taken into account.  Some more images of green on buildings – nothing new here on this blog.  More at the original post on CityLab as well

307425639
Vijayawada Garden Tower, by Penda Architecture and Design (Vijayawada, India)
b0c5e88a5
The Diamond Lotus, by Vo Trong Nghia Architects (Ho Chi Minh City)

And these definitely trend towards the fantastic, which is part of the reconciliation between what can actually work and what looks cool in a rendering.  So, yes, that involves messy practicalities the additional structural loading, and how to incorporate thermal breaks, and many others like how to maintain vegetation, how to irrigation, issues of wind uplift, leaf litter, structural capacity, and many more.  Great discussions, and necessary ones, as we grow and evolve the concept.

V:VCAGREEN CAIRNCADESQUISSE FIN Model (1)
Asian Cairns, by Vincent Callebaut (Shenzhen)

 

Worlds Largest

Via, Dezeen, a post about Rafael Viñoly design for The Hills at Vallco, along with landscape architecture firm Olin, to redevelop the “…Vallco Shopping Mall in Cupertino into a vast mixed-use development featuring a 30-acre (12 hectare) green roof.”  Billed as the ‘largest green roof in the world’, a title of which is somewhat arbitrary and ambiguous, it is still worth a little exploration. The integration of open space and development here seems grand and not restrained as you so often see, which is intriguing.

The aerial rendering (above) is reminiscent of a sort of green Sim City, which connected vegetated corridors draped atop a series of building forms.  Evoking the concepts of underground cities or the parti of insertion of buildings under the existing landscape, the sheer amount of green space is impressive.  And from it sounds like, mostly public.  From the post:

“The Hills at Vallco features an unprecedented 30-acre community park and nature preserve, which will not only be the largest community park in Cupertino, but also the largest green roof in the world,” said a statement from Sand Hill Property Company, the developer behind the $3 billion (£2 billion) scheme.”

Some images of the skybridges at street level provide some drama, but I feel like they want to be more physically green themselves – with hints at the edges of a verdant escape, not a metallic skybridge.

The-Hills-at-Vallco-by-Rafael-Vinoly_dezeen_784_4

The interior spaces also seem like traditional courtyards, perhaps more for the interior residents to have views of nature within their spaces. There are some hints at connections to the adjacent green belts via ramps and through buildings, but the logistics of movement is something that would be interesting to explore.  Again, the bands flying over make for sculptural forms, but one hope to see the green connections more physically within the site, not just from the air.

The-Hills-at-Vallco-by-Rafael-Vinoly_dezeen_784_3

The-Hills-at-Vallco-by-Rafael-Vinoly_dezeen_784_2

Another image plucked from The Hills at Vallco website shows some of these connections better, with vegetated slopes and pathways arcing up above buildings and providing a better feel for some of the ‘draping’ that connects ground plane to roof.  The architectural forms benefit from these green faces and provide an additional softness to what could be a traditional mixed use infill project.

hills_vallco

The immersion is more evident in the larger open space zones, the ‘nature preserve’ zones mimicking the adjacent rolling hillsides that open up with mixed grassland and groves, which provide some counterpoint to the urban plaza zones above.  The ability to create these multiple landscape experiences

The-Hills-at-Vallco-by-Rafael-Vinoly_dezeen_784_1

I really love the rooftop vineyard idea, both as a reference to the local regional landscape as well as a way to provide a destination and experience.  It would be interesting to see the viability of growing wine grapes on structure (dry soils with low fertility seem like a winner) and perhaps yield the first ‘green roof’ grown wine to complement some other green roof honey, rooftop greenhouses, and urban agricultural pursuits?  One wonders “What is the terroir of an engineered growing media”?

The-Hills-at-Vallco-by-Rafael-Vinoly_dezeen_784_5

Like many grand, green schemes, it will be interesting to see how this comes together in reality beyond renderings.  The creation of multi-functional schemes like these have great potential in reducing the impact of development on habitat and management of stormwater pollution and runoff, and reduction urban heat island.  It also provides a visible and concrete connection to nature to visitors and residents.

It comes with an obvious cost, but one that may well be worth it.  And, probably much better than the previous mall.  Perhaps.

Vegetal Cities

Continuing the theme, I spotted this post on Treehugger, showcasing the amazing work of Luc Schuiten, a Belgian architect who offers “…a visionary approach to rethinking cities, in a biomimetic fashion. In his lush and fantastical renderings of what he calls “vegetal cities,” urban centers are transformed into living, responsive architectures that merge nature with the man-made.”

The Woven City (image above) is indicative of the type of work he proposes. These illustrations remind me of a combination of the illustrations of Malcolm Wells, the immersive vegetated architectural constructions of Hundertwasser  to and the botanical constructions like pooktre or botany buildings to name a few. These are solidly in the vegitectural lexicon, so surprised that i haven’t heard of Schuiten and his work before.   I’m glad i did now, as it expands the notion to the city scale, and provides compelling visuals to match the notion.

A few of the images from his website:

Fresque-Berlin
The Hollow Cities
07_bz
The Lotus City

luc-schuiten-vegetal-cities-sao-paolo.jpg.650x0_q70_crop-smart

Sao Paulo

luc-schuiten-vegetal-cities-habitarbres2.jpg.650x0_q70_crop-smart
Tree House City (Habitarbes)

10_az1

The City of the Waves

As a huge fan of the use of portmanteau to describe interesting concepts (i.e. Vegitecture) i stumbled a bit over Schuiten’s concept of Cite Archiborescente  (tree architecture) is maybe a bit of a mouthful – perhaps less so in French.  Better is the concept of habitable trees, noted as Habitarbres  or more simply ‘tree-house cities’.

Digging in a bit more to his site – so amazing stuff from a career focusing on this concept.  A video of his Ted talk from Nantes is found below for a bit more context on the approach.

Vegitecture Throwback

Oh, it’s been a bit since i’ve posted something in the category of Vegitecture (aka Vegetated Architecture).  I still follow the trend closely and although more ubiquitous, there are still some showstoppers here and there.  I thought it good to do a quick throwback to some interesting ones i’ve spotted recently, from an post from the Architect’s Newpaper on the Milan Expo 2015 Pavilions from various countries.

milan_pavilion_usa

United States Pavilionby Biber Architects. (Courtesy Expo Milano 2015)

milan_pavilion_newholland

New Holland Pavilion  (Courtesy Ratti Associati)

milan_pavilion_austria

Austria Pavilion at Expo Milano 2015. (Laurian Ghinitoiu)

The header image above is the Vietnam Pavilion by Vo Trong Nghia Architects. (PHOTOGRAPHERS4EXPO – Saverio Lombardi Vallauri)

Language of Landscape

A great article in the Guardian  on an upcoming work (Landmarks) by nature writer Robert Macfarlane on the ‘rewilding of our language of landscape’.  I was not familiar with Macfarlane, but the takeaway of the connection between language and understanding of natural systems is captured in the subheading:

“For decades the leading nature writer has been collecting unusual words for landscapes and natural phenomena – from aquabob to zawn. It’s a lexicon we need to cherish in an age when a junior dictionary finds room for ‘broadband’ but has no place for ‘bluebell’”

a4c48efa-a36b-4937-b2fc-ae9986e15e33-1732x2040

Macfarlane tells the story of the Oxford Junior Dictionary, and the culling of words – ostensibly to make room for more relevant words – often was at the expense of nature.  As he mentions:  “A sharp-eyed reader noticed that there had been a culling of words concerning nature. Under pressure, Oxford University Press revealed a list of the entries it no longer felt to be relevant to a modern-day childhood. The deletions included acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture and willow. The words taking their places in the new edition included attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player and voice-mail. “

Through travels and noting place words for nature, Macfarlane captures what he terms a ” …Terra Britannica, as it were: a gathering of terms for the land and its weathers – terms used by crofters, fishermen, farmers, sailors, scientists, miners, climbers, soldiers, shepherds, poets, walkers and unrecorded others for whom particularised ways of describing place have been vital to everyday practice and perception.” 

While the list would be interesting in a cultural sense, he captured, gleaned, found contributors, and collaborators in the collection, and the potential of such a diverse lexicon.

“It seemed, too, that it might be worth assembling some of this terrifically fine-grained vocabulary – and releasing it back into imaginative circulation, as a way to rewild our language.”

Divided into 9 sections “Flatlands, Uplands, Waterlands, Coastlands, Underlands, Northlands, Edgelands, Earthlands and Woodlands” the collection is admittedly incomplete due to the sheer variability in language and place.   As he mentions “There is no single mountain language, but a range of mountain languages; no one coastal language, but a fractal of coastal languages; no lone tree language, but a forest of tree languages. ”  The goal is not comprehensiveness, but to evoke feeling of wonder in the shape and sound of the words and their connections to the places they are connected to.

Tons more in the article to read – and it also hints that the book may be well documented visually, with some stunning photographs captured in the article (all images from the Guardian) by Macfarlane and others to illustrate the ideas.

58c8ba90-5d4e-46bc-9b28-9c2f7348419c-2060x1236
Wurr – ‘hoar-frost’ (Herefordshire). Photograph: Rosamund Macfarlane
caacda6b-4c1f-4adc-b875-989cfad8fad7-2060x1236
Cladach stony beach
2a031c67-68c2-43c1-ac5e-373e9118877b-2060x1236
Shreep – ‘mist that is slowly clearing’. Photograph: John Macfarlane

The lexicon is predominately around the region encompassing Britain and Ireland where Macfarlane ranges, but it   brings to mind classic texts like The Language of Landscape by Spirn, and Home Ground – a more specific lexicon of the American landscape edited by Gwartney and Lopez.

Our connection and disconnection with the concepts of landscape as a word and as a concept is long-standing.   This goes for the general public, but is also acute in dialogue on the role and focus of landscape architects, where dialogues about landscape span decades and include the cultural landscape of JB Jackson and the landscape urbanism of Waldheim and Corner to boot.

Few other professions are so fully rooted in the concept of landscape, and as we debate the mandane labels for our new creations (green roof vs. ecoroof; green stormwater infrastructure v. sustainable stormwater; etc.) it’s good to find ground (literally and figuratively) in a rich heritage of language of the landscape.

Surely worth a read, and perhaps some regional repetition around the globe – a world lexicon of nature literally defined by culture.

Main header image :  Làirig – ‘a pass in the mountains’ (Gaelic). Photograph: Rosamund Macfarlane  (via Guardian)

(story via twitter from Geoff @BLDGBLOG)

Bioclimatic Design

bioclimatic-design-feature3Good article in the USGBC+ magazine related to Bioclimatic Design and some projects that focus on the integration of vernacular strategies (and forms) to increase responsiveness to the local environment in which they are built.  This is nothing new for many designers, and builds upon centuries of knowledge, but I’m mostly interested in how it incorporates landscape and buildings in inventive new (old) ways.

The ability to transcend climate came with “…the advent of modern technology in the 20th century, contemporary design trends shifted away from being responsive to natural conditions and emphasized instead isolating buildings from nature to try to overcome those conditions.”  As mentioned, this opened up new frontiers for where we could live, but also lead to homogenization and reliance on heating and air conditioning (or maybe even overbuilding in climates ill-suited for development).   That said, bioclimatic design can include both the vernacular as well as rely on significant technological knowledge to realize – through modelling and other modern design tools.

bioclimatic-design-feature5-300The grass covered roof is a simple and archetypal form of the landscape and building integration – used for cooling and made from locally available, regenerative materials.  Plus, goats for roof maintenance is pretty sustainable.   This pre-cursor to the modern green roof was borne of necessity, but also perhaps can also aid in resilience and climate adaptive building strategies that start to creep into the vocabulary of designers – through the guises of biomimicry and biophilia.  Both work hand in hand as there are inspirations from nature revealed in design, and the planet, as well as building/city users benefit in multiple ways.   It’s a full circle of building based on our innate traditions beginning to feed our innate need for access to this nature.

A really stunning example of the process ( Autorité de Régulation de la Poste et des Télécommunications by Mario Cucinella Architects) is outlined in the article so i won’t go into detail, but has a subtle integration of landscape with building form.

bioclimatic-design-feature7

The shape of the building is scooped to capture cooling winds, but the indigenous shape has additional benefit:

 “Another influence on the shape of the building was a desert structure used in antiquity in many arid parts of the world, called a tu’rat, Bruno says. These crescent-shaped structures, made of stones piled without mortar, captured moist winds and fog, which created condensation that percolated down to irrigate protected gardens.  “In the early morning, you can collect a little bit of water, and this allows you to grow plants,” he says. The tu’rat-inspired structure includes the enclosure of a small oasis of palm trees and other vegetation on the south side of the building.”

The relationship of water in the desert is key, and additional elements like  rainwater collection and phytopurification, using a constructed wetland), will dramatically reduce water use while providing comfort and verdant respite.

A more urban example is RB12, a building in Rio de Janeiro design by Triptyque.  Drawing from the bioclimatic concepts popularized by Ken Yeang, the building uses “Suspended gardens integrated into the façade, along with a green rooftop, also help control lighting.”

bioclimatic-design-feature10

While ostensibly a form of climate control, in this case it is less successful, as there is supplemental systems for cooling, as mentioned, which makes it less of a bioclimatic model than one that is merely inspired as such.  My thought looking at renderings is that they didn’t take it far enough, or integrated the vegetation thoroughly enough, to make it more than a few plants on terraces.

bioclimatic-design-gallery-09

bioclimatic-design-gallery-01 2The ability to integrate buildings and vegetation – as i’ve called it vegitecture, is a key element for bioclimatic architecture, and offers many potential opportunities for designers to collaborate.  The potential spans beyond the building-centric to also include potential for habitat development in the urban ecosystem, refuge for birds, and pathways for pollinators.  All while cooling buildings and making cities more livable.  Not bad.

What is the Nature of Your City?

Across the world, cities are bringing back nature to help address urban challenges.  We are healthier when we are closer to nature.  We have a greater respect for the environment that sustains us.  We are more adaptable to change when we let nature do its work.   

Join us for a free presentation by Dr. Timothy Beatley, renowned expert in sustainable city planning and author of the book BiophilicCities. Dr. Beatley is the Teresa Heinz Professor of Sustainable Communities, in the Department of Urban and Environmental Planning, School of Architecture at the University of Virginia, where he has taught for the last twenty-five years.  He will share his experience and knowledge of cities across the world that have made strides to integrate nature into our neighborhoods and communities. 
A Presentation on Biophilic Cities with
Dr. Timothy Beatley
January 18th, 2012
6:00-8:00 PM
Portland Northwest College of Art – Swigert Commons
1241 NW Johnson
Portland, OR 97209
This event is free and open to the public.
Sponsored by:
City of Portland’s Environmental Services and
Office of Healthy Working Rivers,
Illahee,
The Intertwine Alliance, and
The Urban Greenspaces Institute