Category Archives: Field Trip

Seeing Nature

A recent exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum compiles a range of works from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection.  From the program on the site: Seeing Nature features 39 historically significant European and American landscape paintings from the past 400 years. These diverse works offer a unique opportunity for visitors to see the natural world through the eyes of great artists.”

I’ve been looking forward to checking this out, so finally had a chance this weekend to visit.  The first thing one notices is the amazing John Grade’s installation ‘Middle Fork’ , a painstaking reproduction of a ‘140-year-old western hemlock tree’ floating above you in the lobby.  More on this in a later post as it’s worth a deeper dive.  My quick snap from the upper level.

Seeing Nature has three main sections to organize the works, according to the website, including Admiring Nature, Shaping Nature, and Composing Nature.  The gallery show was not really structured overtly, making a meandering wander. Each has a write up, for instance, the description for Admiring Nature below, which includes the idea of both the subtle beauty and the spectacle of nature, from the picturesque to the sublime:

“Nature impresses us. Its color, complexity, and vastness are inspiring. Thomas Cole and Thomas Moran, who were moved by majestic views, saw in the landscape a language for sharing heartfelt emotions and addressing the profound questions of life. Georgia O’Keeffe also responded to beauty and spirituality in nature, but she looked instead to quiet experiences on an intimate scale, painting the delicate petals of an iris. There are many ways to admire nature. The Impressionists responded not just to their physical surroundings but also to the qualities of light and atmosphere that colored them. In his painting of Vesuvius erupting, Pierre-Jacques Volaire offered another perspective from which to celebrate the spectacle of nature: with a fearful respect for its uncontrollable power.”

Eruption of Mount Vesuvius with the Ponte della Maddalena in the Distance (Volaire, ca. 1770)
Ruins in the Campagna di Roma, Morning (Thomas Cole, 1842)

The section on Shaping Nature delves more into the architectural, referencing “humanity’s long history intervening in nature” and includes a range of artists from Manet to Canaletto‘s depiction of the Grand Canal to Thomas Hart Benton‘s agricultural landscapes, encompassing a diversity of styles of depicting landscapes and cities.  Canaletto’s architecturual precision next to the smeary impressionism makes for interesting juxtapositions.

View in Venice – The Grand Canal (Eduoard Manet – 1874)
The Grand Canal, Venice, Looking Southeast from San Stae to the Fabbriche Nuove di Rialto (Cannaletto – ca. 1738)
Spring Ploughing (Thomas Hart Benton – ca. 1940)

The final set of works under the theme Composing Nature looks more abstractly at the artistic approach to scenes “communicated in nature’s visual language, creatively altering and arranging it to share a personal vision.”  This engages with the works of more well-known artists such as Klimt and Cézanne,  as well as lesser known (to me) work of Pointillist Paul Signac and the surreal work of Yves Tanguy.  The Klimt work ‘Birch Forest’ (1903), like so much art, is so impressive and has a depth that makes it feel like you can walk into the painting itself.

Birch Forest (Gustav Klimt, 1903)
Mount Sainte-Victoire (Paul Cézanne – 1888-90)
Morning Calm, Concarneau, Opus 219 (Larghetto, Paul Signac, 1891)
A Large Picture that Represents a Landscape (Yves Tanguy, 1927)

Maybe one of my favorites of the whole exhibition was ‘Rio San Trovaso, Venice’ by Henri-Edmond Cross (1903-04) – an amazingly rich pointillist waterscape that digital reproduction does not do justice.

While there are plenty of landscapes available for viewing in regular collections, it’s a rare opportunity to see the range of works all in one place at the same time.   The known mixed with the lesser known, and spanning a broad range of styles and centuries to time, all woven together with a broad loom of landscape, makes for some interesting viewing.  Plus, while digital imagery is an amazing resource, the ability to see works in person, close-proximity, in an actual gallery, is compelling whatever the subject. Those in the Seattle area should definitely check it out.




Hidden Hydrology at UERC Conference

I recently gave a talk at the great annual conference Urban Ecology Research Consortium of Portland/Vancouver (UERC), which focuses on ” advance the state of the science of urban ecosystems and improve our understanding of them”.   I was really excited to be chosen to present (i had done a poster presentation in past years), and it seemed a great way to introduce the Hidden Hydrology of Portland and what work has been done to date.

Much of this has been covered on the L+U blog – but there’s new ideas worth exploration, and some new momentum to realize some of the site-specific installations discussed here.  A short visual recap:


My first experience with the concept was stumbling over the ‘Disappearing Streams’ map produced by Metro.  Not sure of the vintage – but I remember seeing this easily in the late 1990s, and it’s stuck with me for years.  Not actual streams but modeled topography generating basins – the concept is pretty simple – show what streams existed, and highlight those buried, piped, channeled in red, which is predominately on the inner east side and downtown.Slide2

A bit of digging yields a great set of maps, the Cadastral Survey of 1852 provides amazing detail of a nascent Portland, with stream corridors like Tanner Creek still intact running through downtown Portland, and other ecological resources (wetlands, lakes) as well as trails and early city grid (seen to the right)


A few folks share this passion, such as David James Duncan, who talks of disappeared streams in his book ‘My Story as Told by Water’ (2002) and historical account from folks like  fellow Tanner Creek nerd Tracy Prince, who has authored some great accounts of the areas in Goose Hollow and Slabtown, evoking origins of place names, connections to hidden creeks, and tying this together with the rich history of Portland’s development.


Many layers interact in painting the picture of hidden hydrology. Photos are another great resource – with historic scenes of sewer creating, as well as floods and other historical events.


Beyond the Cadastral Survey, a wealth of maps exist, ranging from the mid 1850s through today – which paint a temporal portrait of the path of waterways over time – such as Tanner Creek, here shown still in existence in 1866.


And through an illustrative Aerial Lithograph here in 1870 – again showing the Tanner Creek drainage from the West Hills through the north portion of downtown.


Map Making

Using these tools we can start to craft maps that take the historical and overlaying information – in this case a composite of Cadastral survey mapping, amended with other information, notes, and annotations – a layered history in map format.  These could easily be hosted online (a future plan) for additional input and integration with stories, photos, experience.


The process of extracting this information from the survey – shown here in a few steps – involves 1) referencing the historical layers, 2) adding streams and other water bodies, 3) adding additional info such as wetlands and other topographic featueres, and 4) georeferencing and overlaying the historic with the current day mapping.  A reverse map regression that allows us to create an interesting connection between then and now.

Animation of overlay process – (c) Jason King

Because the Cadastral survey is based on the Public Land Survey System (PLSS) – the township, section, range geometry (see the faint orange lines in the map above allow the historic and modern to overlap with reasonable fidelity through cartographic rectification.  The maps then, overlaid with GIS data – then digitized into shapefiles with linked data – start to allow us to provide some more detailed analysis – such as for instance, correlating basement flooding in proximity to old streams?

Interventions: Tours

The second part of the talk focused on interventions – as the maps are compelling, but the ability to use them for actions are key, both in terms of expanding the validity of our interventions, but also to connect folks everyday to their hidden nature.

My colleague Matt Burlin and I have been talking about tours of the Hidden Hydrology for some time – so recently took the field maps for Tanner Creek and traced them from up towards the headwaters near Washington Park Zoo, down through the west hills and through downtown.


There are portions that still exist – albeit in a somewhat degraded form – but the visceral thrill of seeing this stream was compelling – The immersion in the sounds and experiences of these remnants is worth further visits.


And as you get to the urban sections, the natural remnants make way to a creek completely hidden – save a subtle topographic cue and some cultural interventions of markers and Tanner Springs Park, before getting to the current outfall location in the Willamette, near Centennial Mills.


Interventions: Art

How do we interact with that which is hidden, bringing lost layers of history back to the surface.  Some great art installations provide inspirations that could be applied to hidden hydrology, for instance the Freen The Billboards project (which used fixed viewfinders to overlay images on billboards)…


Could be applied in zones to allow one to click through a series of images that show the stages of current, mapping, routing, and location of historical waterways – in this case a simple illustration of how this would work for Tanner Creek.

Animation of ‘Viewfinder’ slide (c) Jason King


And drawing from the functional aspects of utility locates with the community artistry of intersection repair…


…one could imagine a meandering Tanner Creek weaving its way through downtown and northwest Portland streets, taking the idea of a couple of markers in the sidewalk to a much higher level of engaging and awareness in the underlying historical systems.

Image of Tanner Creek – Locate (c) Jason King


Thinking beyond a map or a kiosk with some informational interpretation, the array of interventions together provide multiple ways to engage, and coupled with technology could yield self-guided walking tours, vivid sound maps, and immerse multi-media experiences.


On a larger scale, the idea of Hidden Hydrology inspires thinking about community and our connections to each other.  The concept of Neighborsheds, which i coined in the mid 2000s and presented at the ASLA National Conference about – involves using these natural drainages to redefine neighborhood boundaries.  By rethinking political or cultural boundaries defined outside of natural systems, we can reconnect to our place in new ways.  This knowledge is perceptual on one hand – but can engage folks in shared commitment – because if you’re in the neighborshed, all of your actions become innately connected in you cumulative impact downstream.


Urban Ecology

Finally, for me the concept of the Hidden Hydrology is tied to the larger ecological history.  There is no better project to illustrate this that the Mannahatta Project  (read more on a post here) which in it’s broader incarnation as The Welikia Project, takes the notion of historic mapping and blends field observations of biotic and abiotic factors in a rich and illustrative composite that is both rigorous and compelling.



My call to action, to create this detailed historical ecology for Portland, blending historical mapping with history, archaeology, anthropology, ecology, and other disciplines to paint a vivid picture of this historical ecology.


Beyond being fodder for art and culture, defining neighborsheds, or ways of engaging in urban exploration and wayfinding – there are some key opportunities available with this information.  This can be inspiration for design interventions, can guide decisions about habitat, ecology, water, runoff, vegetation, and other factors, not in a general sense but in a block by block, historical watershed and stream basin scale.

The overlay and congruency with the hidden streams and our subsurface pipe systems is no accident – each are governed by system conditions of gravity.  One is surficial and the other is hidden, so opportunities for making adjustments to the gray systems can be augmented with opportunities to use the green systems – with potentials for daylighting, integration of green stormwater infrastructure, and replication of pre-development hydrology.  These decisions aren’t just based on current conditions (i.e. paved, permeable, landcover), but can be guided by understanding and modelling the pre-development hydrology – the best guide to how a particular basin wants to act by referencing how it worked before we altered it.

Finally, the concept of a pre-development metric is used for many things – to set stormwater management goals, to measure runoff in site and basin scales, and to set targets for sustainability for ecodistricts and other planning scale efforts.  The return to the ‘native forest’ is a generalization of the pre-development condition, and also becomes a technological construct.  Rather than pre-development condition, let’s thing of historical ecological function, which begins to not just provide us with numbers to meet, but also blends the vegetated, the ecological, the habitat, the cultural with the historic sounds, smells, textures, and colors the historical places before we forever altered them.

We won’t restore these to their natural state in all but a few selected places, but if we can restore, through metaphor, interaction, and intervention, the experience of these places, blended artfully with what they are now – places to live, shop, play – we reveal these hidden layers of inspiration to the urban experience.

A short video of the presentation is in development – and a longer follow-up, brownbag session is in the works – so look out for details.

On Walking

I’ve been thinking about walking more.  As a way to process the overload of information we deal with on a daily basis.  Or as a way to live with more immersion in nature.  Or to explore my new city.  Or, maybe just because the weather is nicer and it’s not raining all the time.


1. An interesting post on Farnam Street Blog entitled “A Philosophy of Walking: Thoreau, Nietzsche and Kant on Walking” delves into the pedestrian habitats of writers and philosophers and what this could mean in our plugged in and programmed lives, and fits this thinking.  As author Share Parrish mentions:

Walking allows us time to play with ideas, explore concepts, and be wrong in our thinking without worrying about others seeing the rawness of our thoughts.

indexThe post is in reference to the book “A Philosophy of Walking” by Frederick Gros, where he “explores people and lives that were shaped by walking. He ponders Thoreau’s seclusion, why Rimbaud walked in fury, Nerval and his cure to melancholy. Rousseau and Nietzsche walked to think. Kant walked through his town at the same time daily to escape the “compulsion of thought.”  

There are some specific rules to consider, which are instructive to separate this form of walking from those things considered ‘exercise’.

  • As mentioned, foremost, walking is not a sport, and thus requires no training, organization, scorekeeping, or other requirements.
  • It is about freedom, to roam, observe, and to let ones mind wander, or to experience the sublimity of surroundings.
  • Slowness is a virtue
  • It is best done in solitude.

2. This brings up the similar (related/opposing?) concept in terms of the urbanist model of the walker – the flaneur, the observer, passively strolling and observing the city in the 19th Century, as mentioned by Baudelaire, LaRousse, and others specifically in Paris.  As noted by Walter Benjamin, the flaneur is an “essentialy figure of the modern urban spectator, an amateur detective and investigator.” and was reflective of the detachment and alienation created by the crowding of the city, mass culture, and industrialization.  A quote from Wikipedia mentions this connection:

“Social and economic changes brought by industrialization demand that the artist immerse himself in the metropolis and become, in Baudelaire’s phrase, “A botanist of the sidewalk”

Echoing the 20th century and Georg Simmel in “The Metropolis and Mental Life”, the blase detachment and alienation may be referenced today with the preponderance of headphones and cell phones – but is there a way to turn this on its head? Would/do the creative philosophers of the time walk to disconnect with the world at large and have the head-space to think big thoughts, or is it to immerse in the modern world to understand the dynamism of the modern metropolis.

Is the concept walking and of a modern flaneur an interesting conceptual jumping-off point – not as the next iteration of the jaded, independent observer of urbanity,  but using the tools of the explorer and guide to the modern metropolis – incorporating the stories innate in the city, overlaying maps, images, and other spatial knowledge with multimedia, and using of technology and GPS enabled devices to connect it together into our own personal narrative?

Maybe i will take a walk and meditate on this?

See also:

“Walking the Turtle”  02/04/11

City Limits: Where I Walked”  01/04/10

Field Trip: Getty Center

Last year around Christmas, we took a great road trip down the west coast and over through the desert.  Already mentioned is some tasty sites from San Francisco (deYoung + Cal. Academy).  Plenty more to come as i sift through pics, but the visit to the Getty Center, perched on the hillside in Los Angeles was a definite highlight.


This Richard Meier designed complex clad in copious amounts of marble features an array of interesting site elements, with Laurie Olin as a major contributor to the site layout and circulation, along with the central garden by artist Robert Irwin.  The following images show the breadth site spaces.  Definitely worthy of a trip (and it’s amazing even in December) – and other than paying for parking – entry is free.

The terraced spaces and marble are sculptural forms are sculptural in their own right, while making spaces for outdoor sculpture, seating, and views of the city.





Around the site, small moments were captures through terraces, stairways, water features, and smaller plazas all of which were tied together with materials (both plant and hardscape) along with a simplicity of form and function.





Simple in form and function, I really appreciated the shade-canopy elements of bougainvillaea on rebar trellises, which made for a nice seating zone, while also provide a dynamic visual element from other areas of the site.




The focal point of Irwin’s Central Garden – probably my least favorite element of floating topiary zone – which seemed a bit overdone – particularly in the context of the sparse minimalism of the rest of the site.


Some of the garden’s circulation, however, was interesting, with a zig-zag path, seating, corten steel, and crossings of a central water feature.






We walked the grounds, never actual visiting the galleries inside, but the experience, views, and integrated architecture and landscape was pretty amazing – and definitely a must-see for the traveler to Los Angeles.


More field trip and photos to come.

(Photos ©  Jason King)

PDX Modern – Robert Rummer

Perhaps nestled within the Landscape and the Urbanism is my love for mid-century and modern architecture and design.  An ongoing series will feature pics from this years Portland Modern Home Tour from March 9, 2013 – and perhaps some others.

I really enjoyed the opportunity to see a true Robert Rummer house, and it’s worth a drive out to the burbs, because, hey, what could be more mid-century than that.  Rummer, an Eichler protege, built this fantastic mid-sixties gem is 13770 SW Bonnie Brae St. in Beaverton.  The unassuming exterior frontage notwithstanding, the experience did not disappoint.



The entry opened into an open courtyard, which was glassed in, and allowed access to the kitchen to the left and living room straight ahead, as well as hallway to bedrooms and office to the right.  The massive center beam provides a connection through the spaces, and the space acts as a visual centerpiece, and one could see this open air in a warmer and drier climate than ours.


The kitchen had been remodeled, with some built in cabinets opening up the floorplan (a good move i say) and allowing for better connection through to living and outdoor space.  It’s definitely interesting to see mid-century with authentic furnishings, which just seem to blend in with the architecture.



From the Portland Modern Tour site:

This original RUMMER home was built in 1966 and is one of only two known homes with this floor plan. It went through a complete remodel in 2009 with an eye to maintaining the mid-century appeal while updating the mechanicals, kitchen, and bathrooms. Jeffrey Wiseman, homeowner and proprieter of Rose City Modern, has decorated the home with mid-century furniture and accent pieces from his own antique store as well as others around Portland.

The connections from interior to exterior, beyond the central courtyard, expand through living space, here with exposed beams and a brick clad fireplace oriented towards the backyard and the flow from interior to exterior patio.


Nothing earth shattering with the outdoor spaces, but lots of potential and the extension of the geometry into the paving patterns was a nice architectural touch.



Extra bonus, that day they had an open house for another Rummer house next door – which although not as nicely restored and much darker, was going to be a gem snatched up by someone on a short-sale.  The kitchen/dining area had original partiion walls


The living room, as in the neighboring house, had distinctive exposed beams, brick fireplace, and opened to the backyard.


all photos © Jason King

Lost Rivers

I am eagerly awaiting the Lost Rivers Documentary to come to a local theater, in the interim, there’s some great information on their website of the six cities covered in the film, including London, Seoul, Yonkers, Brescia, Toronto, and Montreal.

Lost Rivers – OFFICIAL TRAILER from Catbird Productions on Vimeo.

Once upon a time, in almost every city, many rivers flowed. Why did they disappear? How? And could we see them again? This documentary tries to find answers by meeting visionary urban thinkers, activists and artists from around the world.

Written & Directed by Caroline Bâcle
Produced by Katarina Soukup
Catbird Films, Inc (Montreal, Canada)

Field Trip: deYoung Museum

A new series offers some highlights of the epic roadtrip down the coast of California and over to Arizona and back to Oregon via Palm Springs – over two weeks of the holidays. These won’t be in any particular order – just grabbing what grabs my attention when sifting through photos.

deYoung Museum – San Francisco

A highlight indeed, and on my list of desired destinations, was the deYoung Museum in San Francisco. Located in Golden Gate Park, the museum building was designed by Herzog & de Meuron with landscape architecture by Walter Hood.


Most notable is the exterior cladding, which as we approached from behind the building, made for a very sci-fi type of form when approaching the tower. I could spend hours on the cladding alone – which to me becomes as important of a landscape feature as the site work – due to its texture and mutable materiality.DSC08248

The rhythm of inside and outside bumps offers a soft skin, which is punctuated at times with a grid of varying circles, which provide porosity to the skin and make what could have been a monolith more light. The copper lends itself to changing through oxidation to create a patina.



The greater site landscape itself is not trying too hard – but does a fair job of buoying the building in a minimalist scheme and creating some comfortable pockets of respite. The goal isn’t for a landscape of flash – but one of restraint, and Hood performs this task with alternating bands of concrete and lawn, with a few moments of more verdant foreground. The path right next to the building, which i find often disconnects building from site (the modernist floating structure) in this case allows one to get close to the copper cladding.



The highlight was the amazing entry installation called ‘Drawn Stone’ by Andy Goldsworthy, which is a subtle tracery that zig-zags and flows through the open courtyard space – a fine crack that connects through sandstone pavers and continues unabated through imported stone slabs to create a disparate yet connected composition of forms throughtout the space. With very little, the space feels very complete.



Inspired by the ‘techtonic topography’ per the signage, the earthquake faultline metaphor could have been a bit heavy handed, but i didn’t think of it until i read the words – which means it can connote different possibilities. As Goldsworthy mentions: “Stone and people making the same journey is for me a powerful expression of movement and of the great upheavals and displacements that have occurred to both.”



I’m not normally a big fan of these austere minimalist spaces – but the texture of walls and the layout of elements makes this work. It’s not a place to linger and zone out, but perhaps more to explore and hone in on the immaculate detailing. Guess that could be the takeaway for the whole building.



The interior spaces offer some spots of greenery, such as this shaftlike courtyard of ferns, which softened a bit of the angularity of the interior.


As the museum was closing, we didn’t tour the exhibits, but stopped for some refreshment in the cafe – which overlooked the central plaza garden. Oh, wait, what is that right across the street…?


Coming soon…