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Urban Ecology Reading List 2: Landscape Ecology

URBAN ECOLOGY READING LIST – 2

Beyond some of the specific books focusing  on the science of Urban Ecology, there are subsets of literature that support this study.  This is the first of three posts to expand the reading list that investigate these other, related disciplinary alignments, including landscape ecology, the hybrid books on planning and design based on ecological systems, and finally, a set of formative literature on environmental planning & design I would consider part of the historical canon.

Landscape Ecology

Closely linked is the science of landscape ecology, which according to the International Association for Landscape Ecology is “…the study of spatial variation in landscapes at a variety of scales. It includes the biophysical and societal causes and consequences of landscape heterogeneity. Above all, it is broadly interdisciplinary.  
The conceptual and theoretical core of landscape ecology links natural sciences with related human disciplines. Landscape ecology can be portrayed by several of its core themes, including the spatial pattern or structure of landscapes, ranging from wilderness to cities, the relationship between pattern and process in landscapes, the relationship of human activity to landscape pattern, process and change, [and] the effect of scale and disturbance on the landscape.”

 


Foundation Papers in Landscape Ecology   Moss, Turner, Mladenoff, Weins (eds).  Columbia University Press, November 2006.

Landscape ecology focuses on spatial heterogeneity, or the idea that where things are and where they are in relation to other things can have important consequences for a wide range of phenomena. Landscape ecology integrates humans with natural ecosystems and brings a spatial perspective to such fields as natural resource management, conservation, and urban planning. The thirty-seven papers included in this volume present the origins and development of landscape ecology and encompass a variety of perspectives, approaches, and geographies. The editors begin with articles that illuminate the discipline’s diverse scientific foundations, such as L. S. Berg’s keystone paper outlining a geoecological analysis based on soil science, physical geography, and geology. Next they include selections exemplifying landscape ecologists’ growing awareness of spatial pattern, the different ways they incorporated scale into their work, the progression of landscape ecology from a qualitative to a quantitative discipline, and how concepts from landscape ecology have come to permeate ecological research and influence land-use policy, conservation practices, landscape architecture, and geography. Together these articles provide a solid introduction to what is now widely recognized as an important area of research and application that encourages new ways of thinking about natural and human-dominated ecosystems


Landscape Ecology, 1st ed.   Richard T.T. Forman & Michel Godron.  Wiley, February 1986.

This important new work–the first of its kind–focuses on the distribution patterns of landscape elements or ecosystems; the flows of animals, plants, energy, mineral nutrients and water; and the ecological changes in the landscape over time. Includes over 1,200 references from current ecology, geography, forestry, and wildlife biology literature.

 

 


Landscape Ecology in Theory and Practice: Pattern and Process, 2nd ed.   Monica G. Turner & Robert H. Gardner, Springer, November 2015  [original publication date 2003]

This work provides in-depth analysis of the origins of landscape ecology and its close alignment with the understanding of scale, the causes of landscape pattern, and the interactions of spatial pattern with a variety of ecological processes. The text covers the quantitative approaches that are applied widely in landscape studies, with emphasis on their appropriate use and interpretation.

The field of landscape ecology has grown rapidly during this period, its concepts and methods have matured, and the published literature has increased exponentially. Landscape research has enhanced understanding of the causes and consequences of spatial heterogeneity and how these vary with scale, and they have influenced the management of natural and human-dominated landscapes. Landscape ecology is now considered mainstream, and the approaches are widely used in many branches of ecology and are applied not only in terrestrial settings but also in aquatic and marine systems. In response to these rapid developments, an updated edition of Landscape Ecology in Theory and Practice provides a synthetic overview of landscape ecology, including its development, the methods and techniques that are employed, the major questions addressed, and the insights that have been gained.”


Landscape Ecology: Theory and Application, 2nd ed.  Zev Naveh & Arthur S. Lieberman, Springer, December 1993.

In the preface to the softcover edition of this book in 1989, we stated: Since the publication of the first edition of this book, landscape ecology has made great strides. It has overcome its continental isolation and has also established itself in the English-speaking world. By attracting both problem inquiry and problem-solving-oriented scientists with different cultural, academic, and profes­ sional backgrounds from all over the world, it has broadened not only its geo­ graphical but also its conceptual and methodological scopes. We are pleased to confirm in 1993 that the growth of landscape ecology continues, and to again express our gratification at the encouraging re­ sponse to this first English-language monograph on the subject and its contribution to these developments. As before, we feel special satisfac­ tion that it has reached not only the shelves of libraries and academic re­ searchers, but that it has also appealed to professional practitioners, teachers, and their students from industrialized and developing countries, embracing the broad range of fields related to landscape ecology in the natural sciences as well as in the humanities.


Land Mosaics: The ecology of landscapes and regions, 1st edition.  Richard T.T. Forman.  Cambridge Univ. Press, November 1995.

Animals, water, wind, and people flow at different rates according to spatial patterns common to almost all landscapes and regions. This up-to-date synthesis explores the ecology of heterogeneous land areas, where natural processes and human activities interact to produce an ever changing mosaic. The subject has great relevance to contemporary society and this book reflects the breadth of this importance: there are many ideas and applications for planning, conservation, design, management, sustainability and policy. Spatial solutions are provided for society’s land-use objectives. Students and professionals alike will be drawn by the attractive and informative illustrations, the conceptual synthesis, the wide international perspective, and the range of topics and research covered.


Learning Landscape Ecology: A Practical Guide to Concepts and Techniques, 2nd ed.  Sarah E. Gergel & Monica G. Turner (eds).  Springer, April 2017.

This title meets a great demand for training in spatial analysis tools accessible to a wide audience. Landscape ecology continues to grow as an exciting discipline with much to offer for solving pressing and emerging problems in environmental science. Much of the strength of landscape ecology lies in its ability to address challenges over large areas, over spatial and temporal scales at which decision-making often occurs. As the world tackles issues related to sustainability and global change, the need for this broad perspective has only increased. Furthermore, spatial data and spatial analysis (core methods in landscape ecology) are critical for analyzing land-cover changes world-wide. While spatial dynamics have long been fundamental to terrestrial conservation strategies, land management and reserve design, mapping and spatial themes are increasingly recognized as important for ecosystem management in aquatic, coastal and marine systems.

This second edition is purposefully more applied and international in its examples, approaches, perspectives and contributors. It includes new advances in quantifying landscape structure and connectivity (such as graph theory), as well as labs that incorporate the latest scientific understanding of ecosystem services, resilience, social-ecological landscapes, and even seascapes. Of course, as before, the exercises emphasize easy-to-use, widely available software.


Urban Landscape Ecology: Science, policy and practice (Routledge Studies in Urban Ecology)  Robert A. Francis, James D.A. Millington, Michael A. Chadwick (editors), Routledge, April 2016

The growth of cities poses ever-increasing challenges for the natural environment on which they impact and depend, not only within their boundaries but also in surrounding peri-urban areas. Landscape ecology – the study of interactions across space and time between the structure and function of physical, biological and cultural components of landscapes – has a pivotal role to play in identifying sustainable solutions.  This book brings together examples of research at the cutting edge of urban landscape ecology across multiple contexts that investigate the state, maintenance and restoration of healthy and functional natural environments across urban and peri-urban landscapes. An explicit focus is on urban landscapes in contrast to other books which have considered urban ecosystems and ecology without specific focus on spatial connections. It integrates research and perspectives from across academia, public and private practitioners of urban conservation, planning and design. It provides a much needed summary of current thinking on how urban landscapes can provide the foundation of sustained economic growth, prospering communities and personal well-being.

Urban Ecology Reading List – Updated

Note:  This was originally published in late June, with a plan to include specific books that discussed the science of urban ecology.  I’ve added a few titles in this realm to the original post on 7/7 and organized them alphabetically with a summary at the beginning.

The literature of the somewhat youthful discipline of urban ecology contains a relatively small number of books, at least for now.  I’m compiling resources on a number of topics, starting with specific topics of Urban Ecology, but will be adding more on some related ideas such as Landscape Ecology, Ecological Urbanism, as well as more historical titles from the Design Canon.  This initial list below is a start, with some summaries for a bit of context.

If you know of others to add let me know!

URBAN ECOLOGY


Advances in Urban Ecology: Integrating Humans and Ecological Processes in Urban Ecosystems   Marina Alberti, Springer, December 2008.


The future of Earth’s ecosystems is increasingly influenced by the pace and patterns of urbanization. One of the greatest challenges for natural and social scientists is to understand how urbanizing regions evolve through the complex interactions between humans and ecological processes. Questions and methods of inquiry specific to our traditional disciplinary domains yield partial views that reflect different epistemologies and understandings of the world. In order to achieve the level of synthesis required to see the urban ecosystem as a whole we must change the way we pose questions and search for answers.

Cities are the result of human and ecological processes occurring simultaneously in time and in space and the legacy of the simultaneous processes of the past. Urban ecology is the study of the co-evolution of human-ecological systems. Scholars of both urban systems and ecology must challenge the assumptions and world views within their disciplines and work towards a hybrid theory that builds on multiple world views.

The synthesis of research findings provided in this book is a first step towards articulating the challenge for scholars of urban ecosystems; it leads the way toward the integration we must achieve if we are to better understand and solve emerging issues in urban ecosystems.


Ecology of Urban Environments, Kirsten M. Paris.  Wiley-Blackwell, May 2016.

 Urban environments are expanding globally as the number and proportion of humans that live in cities continues to increase. The discipline of urban ecology is also expanding as interest surges in the ecological impacts of urbanization and the diverse ways in which urban environments can affect their human and non-human residents.

This book provides an accessible introduction to urban ecology, using established ecological theory to identify generalities in the complexity of urban environments. Engaging yet scholarly, it examines the biophysical processes of urbanization and how these work together to influence (a) the characteristics of urban environments in developed and developing countries, and (b) the dynamics of urban populations, communities and ecosystems. With a strong international focus, it also explores the ecology of humans in cities and discusses practical strategies for conserving biodiveristy and maintaining ecosystem services in urban environments. Finally, it argues that existing ecological theory is appropriate for understanding the ecology of urban environments across all levels of organization, from individual organisms to entire ecosystems; effective science and management need not wait on a new theory of urban ecology.


The Routledge Handbook of Urban Ecology, Ian Douglas, David Goode, Mike Houck, Rusong Wang.  Routledge, March 2015.

The birds, animals, insects, trees and plants encountered by the majority of the world’s people are those that survive in, adapt to, or are introduced to, urban areas. Some of these organisms give great pleasure; others invade, colonise and occupy neglected and hidden areas such as derelict land and sewers. Urban areas have a high biodiversity and nature within cities provides many ecosystem services including cooling the urban area, reducing urban flood risk, filtering pollutants, supplying food, and providing accessible recreation. Yet, protecting urban nature faces competition from other urban land uses.

The Handbook of Urban Ecology analyses this biodiversity and complexity and provides the science to guide policy and management to make cities more attractive, more enjoyable, and better for our own health and that of the planet. This Handbook contains 50 interdisciplinary contributions from leading academics and practitioners from across the world to provide an in-depth coverage of the main elements of practical urban ecology. It is divided into six parts, dealing with the philosophies, concepts and history of urban ecology; followed by consideration of the biophysical character of the urban environment and the diverse habitats found within it. It then examines human relationships with urban nature, the health, economic and environmental benefits of urban ecology before discussing the methods used in urban ecology and ways of putting the science into practice.

The Handbook offers a state-of the art guide to the science, practice and value of urban ecology. The engaging contributions provide students and practitioners with the wealth of interdisciplinary information needed to manage the biota and green landscapes in urban areas.


Urban Ecology: An Introduction, 1st edition.  Ian Douglas & Philip James.  Routledge, January 2015.

Urban Ecology: An Introduction seeks to open the reader’s mind and eyes to the way in which nature permeates everyday urban living, and how it has to be understood, cared for, and managed in order to make our towns and cities healthier places to visit and in which to live and work. The authors examine how nature can improve our physical and mental health, the air we breathe and the waters we use, as well as boosting our enjoyment of parks and gardens. Urban Ecology sets out the science that underlies the changing natural scene and the tools used to ensure that cities become both capable of adapting to climate change and more beautiful and resilient.

The book begins with a discussion of the nature of urban places and the role of nature in towns and cities. Part 1 looks at the context and content of urban ecology, its relationship to other foci of interest within ecology and other environmental sciences, and the character of city landscapes and ecosystems. In Part 2 the authors set out the physical and chemical components of urban ecosystems and ecological processes, including urban weather and climate, urban geomorphology and soils, urban hydrology and urban biogeochemical cycles. In Part 3 urban habitats, urban flora and fauna, and the effects of, deliberate and inadvertent human action on urban biota are examined. Part 4 contains an exploration of the identification and assessment of ecosystem services in urban areas, emphasising economic evaluation, the importance of urban nature for human health and well-being, and restoration ecology and creative conservation. Finally, in Part 5 the tasks for urban ecologists in optimising and sustaining urban ecosystems, providing for nature in cities, adapting to climate change and in developing the urban future in a more sustainable manner are set out.


Urban Ecology (Ecological Reviews), Kevin J. Gaston (editor).  Routledge, March 2015.
This is the urban century in which, for the first time, the majority of people live in towns and cities. Understanding how people influence, and are influenced by, the ‘green’ component of these environments is therefore of enormous significance. Providing an overview of the essentials of urban ecology, the book begins by covering the vital background concepts of the urbanisation process and the effect that it can have on ecosystem functions and services. Later sections are devoted to examining how species respond to urbanisation, the many facets of human-ecology interactions, and the issues surrounding urban planning and the provision of urban green spaces. Drawing on examples from urban settlements around the world, it highlights the progress to date in this burgeoning field, as well as the challenges that lie ahead.


Urban Ecology: Patterns, Processes, and Applications, Niemela, Breuste, Guntenspergen, MyIntyre, Elmqvist, and James.  Oxford University Press, January 2012.


Urbanization is a global phenomenon that is increasingly challenging human society. It is therefore crucially important to ensure that the relentless expansion of cities and towns proceeds sustainably. Urban ecology, the interdisciplinary study of ecological patterns and processes in towns and cities, is a rapidly developing field that can provide a scientific basis for the informed decision-making and planning needed to create both viable and sustainable cities.

Urban Ecology brings together an international team of leading scientists to discuss our current understanding of all aspects of urban environments, from the biology of the organisms that inhabit them to the diversity of ecosystem services and human social issues encountered within urban landscapes. The book is divided into five sections with the first describing the physical urban environment. Subsequent sections examine ecological patterns and processes within the urban setting, followed by the integration of ecology with social issues. The book concludes with a discussion of the applications of urban ecology to land-use planning. The emphasis throughout is on what we actually know (as well as what we should know) about the complexities of social-ecological systems in urban areas, in order to develop urban ecology as a rigorous scientific discipline.


Urban Ecology: Science of Cities, 1st edition.  Richard T.T. Forman.  Cambridge Univ. Press, April 2014.

How does nature work in our human-created city, suburb, and exurb/peri-urb? Indeed how is ecology – including its urban water, soil, air, plant, and animal foundations – spatially entwined with this great human enterprise? And how can we improve urban areas for both nature and people? Urban Ecology: Science of Cities explores the entire urban area: from streets, lawns, and parks to riversides, sewer systems, and industrial sites. The book presents models, patterns, and examples from hundreds of cities worldwide. Numerous illustrations enrich the presentation. Cities are analyzed, not as ecologically bad or good, but as places with concentrated rather than dispersed people. Urban ecology principles, traditionally adapted from natural-area ecology, now increasingly emerge from the distinctive features of cities. Spatial patterns and flows, linking organisms, built structures, and the physical environment highlight a treasure chest of useful principles. This pioneering interdisciplinary book opens up frontiers of insight, as a valuable source and text for undergraduates, graduates, researchers, professionals, and others with a thirst for solutions to growing urban problems.


Urban Ecology: Strategies for Green Infrastructure and Land Use, Kimberly Etingoff, Apple Academic Press, July 2015

 With increasing global urbanization, the environments and ecologies of cities are often perceived to suffer. While pollution and destruction of green space and species may occur, cities also remain part of natural systems. Cities provide natural processes necessary for survival for humans and other living organisms in urban areas. Urban ecology elucidates some of these processes and sheds light on their importance to healthy, fulfilling urban livelihoods.

Urban Ecology: Strategies for Green Infrastructure and Land Use provides background on issues relating to urban ecology and urban natural processes. The first section covers the types, values, and recognition of ecosystem services provided by natural processes in urban areas. The second section details the importance and potential of green spaces in urban areas. The third section focuses on biodiversity traits of cities, and the ways in which urbanization affects biodiversity indicators. Finally, the fourth section covers some of the tools and approaches available for urban planners and designers concerned with improving or maintaining urban environments and the services they provide.

This easily accessible reference volume offers a comprehensive guide to this rapidly growing field. Case studies and up-to-date research provide urban planners with new options for creating cities that will meet the demands of the twenty-first century. Also appropriate for graduate students who are preparing for careers related to urban planning, this compendium captures and integrates the current work being done in this vitally important field.


Urban Ecosystems: Ecological Principles for the Built Environment, 1st edition.  Frederick R. Adler and Colby J. Tanner.  Cambridge Univ. Press, June 2013.

As humans have come to dominate the earth, the ideal of studying and teaching ecology in pristine ecosystems has become impossible to achieve. Our planet is now a mosaic of ecosystems ranging from the relatively undisturbed to the completely built, with the majority of people living in urban environments. This accessible introduction to the principles of urban ecology provides students with the tools they need to understand these increasingly important urban ecosystems. It builds upon the themes of habitat modification and resource use to demonstrate how multiple ecological processes interact in cities and how human activity initiates chains of unpredictable unintended ecological consequences. Broad principles are supported throughout by detailed examples from around the world and a comprehensive list of readings from the primary literature. Questions, exercises and laboratories at the end of each chapter encourage discussion, hands-on study, active learning, and engagement with the world outside the classroom window.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Google Timelapse

The announcement Google Earth Timelapse has created a bit of a stir, with a number of videos exploring landscape change of natural and urban systems.  From their site:

“Timelapse is a global, zoomable video that lets you see how the Earth has changed over the past 32 years. It is made from 33 cloud-free annual mosaics, one for each year from 1984 to 2016, which are made interactively explorable by Carnegie Mellon University CREATE Lab’s Time Machine library, a technology for creating and viewing zoomable and pannable timelapses over space and time.”

I’m a bit disappointed with the resolution – as it is not able to zoom in to a district level at a scale that provides appropriate level of detail.  That may be surmountable by using Google Earth Engine and delving into the API and programming tools.

There’s also a series of Datasets that are available from the Google Earth Engine that would be interesting to explore also, including maps for aerial imagery, geophysical data, climate/weather and demographics.

I used the Timelapse Tour Editor to quickly make a few maps of Seattle and Portland – with an eye towards  For Seattle, I wanted to focus on the development of South Lake Union, where Amazon and other development has been most pronounced in the past decade or so.  It shows how much redevelopment has occurred there, as well as throughout the downtown core (mostly visible with white roofs).

These are better by clicking the title and viewing in full size, as the grain for urban areas is pretty bad. 

South Lake Union and Downtown Seattle

For Portland, I wanted to zoom in on the inner Southeast area, around Division Street, which was been subject to a fair amount of density in recent years.  The inability to zoom into that level of detail makes this a bit less instructive, but does show the level of development north of downtown, and across the river the ‘fingers’ of density on transit mixed-use streets (which is what provides for vibrant, walkable urban neighborhoods that make Portland, well… Portland.

Portland

Lots of fun exploration planned for this.

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Game/Landscape

I’ve mentioned a few times on Twitter, I have had an on-going interest in game design as a medium, but also in relation to the potential synergistic overlaps between the technology/techniques with landscape architecture and urbanism practice.  The most obvious connection has to do with visual representation, as the ability to create engaging site and building environments is clearly , but there are some interesting opportunities for educational tools, user experience, ecological and urban modeling, scenario building, and iterative design.

ORIGINS

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Growing up with gaming, a trio of interactions early in college defined the concept and hooked me into the potential in an interesting way – even 20+ years ago.  The first was a game my sister and i were obsessed with, Myst.  Building on the word-based computer games from the 80’s like Adventureland and Pirate Adventure, Myst came out in 1991 and provided a graphical environment (that at the time was incredible) along with a mystery and things that needed to be observed and unlocked.

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The interactivity and lack of linear timeline, which included puzzles and problem solving was great for some obsessive teens, but showed that games didn’t have to be either violent or proscriptive.  The follow-up Riven in 1997 had better graphics and another story.

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The second was for a urban planning class, we were giving a quarter long Sim City game simulation and discussed progress in class, as a way to explore ideas.  Those of the certain age will appreciate the 2D top down version of Sim City, as we were doing this initially in 1993:

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The scenarios allowed us to employ principles of urban simulation, think through the concepts, and then starting the clock and see how things evolved, or more likely devolved.  To use this for class was transformative. The graphics have come a long way, indeed, since then, as this recent Sim City graphic below shows, with the more prototypical 3D Axonometric we think of with the game.

SimCity City

The technology seems akin now to some of the less game and more GIS specific tools for scenario-building in programs like ESRI’s City Engine (more on that that and GeoDesign here).  On the flip side of the Sim City was geeky kid favorite Doom, the immersive and ultraviolent 3D game that literally and figuratively blew away gamers at the time.

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In addition to an addictive, networked game play, there was an added feature of a back end tool to create worlds Doom Builder – which paired a bit of Dungeons and Dragons graph paper mapping with rudimentary 3D graphic world creation. The difference of course is, once done with the creation, you could play your creation.

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THE SOPHISTICATED BEAUTY OF GAMES

It’s easy to dismiss gaming as a medium for geek culture with little relevance to the lofty ambitions of the architecture/urbanism endeavor.  But there’s a lot more to it that shooting thing and bloddy violence.  As shown above, there’s potential for wonder and problem solving, urban planning education, world building, and yes, lots of bloody violence.  Guess it’s a good metaphor for life, right?

But, the ubiquity and size of gaming culture goes beyond a few teen to twenty-somethings playing violent FPS games. The size of the industry is worth billions. And that revenue is diverse.  The demographic for the prototypical first person shooter is probably more focused, but there are men & women, young and old, across races that participate in some what in gaming culture.

The few recent games that have blown me away recently provide some context.  First, the simplicity and beauty of Monument Valley – as probably first seen on House of Cards, which in addition to fictional presidents, appeals to designers and architects (especially those with a fondness for Escher), with atmospheric graphics and more literally puzzles to solve.  The games are challenging enough to engage but not so hard as to frustrate.  It’s a lot of magic.

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Shifting gears to more modern FPS games, one of the first games i discovered in recent years was Bioshock Infinite, a much hyped and controversial game that wove through a fictional universe of a floating city of Columbia on a quest of sorts.  Atmospheric and with a great, detailed backstory, the legend that the game exists within is compelling.  The graphics complements the narrative with quasi-realism and a fuzzy, dream like quality.

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The predecessor Bioshock also had an amazingly creative environment, which in converse to Columbia City was the underwater city of Rapture lending to a more moody and claustrophobic emotional state.

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Both of the Bioshock games are, as well, incredibly violent, which takes away somewhat from the exploration and appreciation of scenery, but makes for some excitement.

A beautiful game in terms of the subtle environment is the graphic but non-shooting murder mystery, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.  The player wanders through a landscape and abandoned town to find clues and unlock the secret of what happened.  It’s emotional and you feel it, the scenery and soundscape lending to the drama.

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As images, these don’t do justice to the feeling you get from these environments, which have subtle motion and great mixing of ambient sounds.  For anyone new or interested in gaming, who wants to experience what a well crafted, non-shooter, modern game can be, this would be a good one. I included a video so you can see the experience:

For me it’s not a stretch to jump from these narrative stories to having the ability to explore a project site or potential design.  I see the above image of the rail tracks, and immediately it evokes a simulation of exploring the High Line, both before and after construction. And not just exploring, but interacting, seeing motion and complexity.  With simple visual cues This game evokes that feeling.

Finally, a more recent game released in installments is Life is Strange, which follows a third person graphic adventure of a teenage girl in an odd Oregon town. She is able to unlock events by rewinding time, which allows you to make different decisions and see how that impacts outcomes.

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Check out here for more on the plotline, but the graphics again reinforce the mood.  It also offers a slighly different game interaction, with a sketchy white line graphic that appears when something is of note either on the object or as subtle cues.  I also love in this case there’s a proto-realism – it’s got a tinge of cartoon to it, but is also brilliant at capturing mood and the mundane.

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The sophistication of these games in terms of environments, aesthetics, and narrative draw you in.  There’s not a feeling of immersion, although i’d love to see some of the graphics in a VR rig, but your are 100% immersed in both the story, and, when it doesn’t get in the way, the graphical interface, also known as the HUD, or human user interface.  It’s a big deal, this interface, and millions have probably been spent on making it seamless.  While specialized controls and rigs are used, they are available to a few.  For most, there’s simple touch or mouse input, whereas the line between the user and environment is very distinct.

A game, of course, is a constructed world with a narrative already baked in.  And there are likely many more examples out there that make the point that games can be both defined broadly and offer a very close connection to the world building of landscape architecture and urbanism.  While it’s possible to offer free movement and discovery in these games, in the end there’s a series of tasks, events, actions required to move from start to finish.  It’d be a dull game indeed where you just walked around in an environment with no purpose.

That said, the approach may be different, and the way the environments are used may also vary, but the fact is that these games give visual examples  1) constructed worlds, 2) the ability to freely explore these worlds, 3) animated objects that also exist in these worlds, and 4) a measure of emotion and mood that is derived from real environments and landscapes.  In this way, they become similar to visualization in a design medium.  Thinking of this less as a narrative

TOOLS

There are many tools out there focused on game development, all of which blend tools for creating environments, coding behaviors, and developing user interface.  The one I’ve spent the most amount of time working with is Unreal Engine, which is amazingly, now a free to use suite of tools (with a royalty structure set up to capture revenue). An example of the tool in an architectural setting, is the Unreal Paris, a video tour that came out a year ago, showing a highly photorealistic scene done in Unreal Engine, which shows the level of detail that is typically available in static rendering now being employed in a space that is both fully 3d and fully interactive.

It’s a bigger stretch to expand this beyond the enclosed architectural space, and delve into the landscape. The complexity of materials and motions in the entire apartment is probably less than a single tree, thus, to me, this is the holy grail.  The seemingly large gap between architectural rendering and landscape is immense. However, this is changing.  To see the potential of the technology, Epic Games did a very impressive video on their ‘Kite Demo’ seen below.

It’s a really nice animation, akin to a Pixar movie, with some stunning visuals. The part that’s not evident is that this environment is a fully realized world, which you could right now, dive into and be able to explore every square inch, through multiple platforms from game systems and virtual reality rigs.  The concept that it’s not just a static,  linear progression, but an actual, virtual world, is the wow moment.  Because, as a landscape, while not perfect, it’s head and shoulders about anything i’ve seen in 3D landscape architectural visualization.  The level of detail and size of this world gives you a taste of the potential for landscape to be transformed by these tools.

While the demo itself is impressive, if you want to dig into the specifics, there’s a longer demo from GDC 2015 that goes in-depth in some of the technology uses to create the demo assets and put them all together.  It’s geeky, it’s technical, and it’s amazing.

As shown, there’s a strong visual component to this type of work that fits nicely into landscape architecture production, but it’s interesting to think of some uses that expand the notion and potential for exploration and movement.  The potential for specificity, as you see with the second more detailed video, isn’t relegated to a generic library of materials, but can be augmented with a range of scanning and capture tools, such as detailed photogrammetry that yields highly realistic assets.

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There’s a healthy competition between game engines, with Unity competing with Unreal Engine for pros and amateurs alike, with companies adapting or creating their own engines to fit, and a range of other free and adaptable tools based on what you like and your goals.  As i mentioned, i spent time with Unreal Engine mostly, but all of them have pros and cons (in terms of horsepower, learning curves, etc) – and technology is vital to this as i found out, as i could do some basic world creation and programming, but soon found my older desktop puttering with the high graphic demands.  Be forewarned, this doesn’t just open up on your current machine and go, there’s potentially an investment of time (in training) and resources (in techology) to fully unlock the potential.

The beauty of all of these systems (which are all similar in features with some variations) isn’t just the end result.  The high graphic quality and immersive end result that is nimble enough to run in real time is seen in the game examples above.  The tools are very sophisticated, with the ability to import and manipulate 3d assets from other worlds, create new assets, locate and building ‘levels’ in game parlance.  With libraries of elements and compatibility with other programs like Maya, Mudbox, etc. (SketchUp is pretty tough to get to work though).

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The back-end is where there’s a lot of beauty, with the scripting language and programming adding the dimension of interactivity to the environments.  As you see below, the Unreal Engine uses a feature called Blueprint, which is a scripting environment that is based on automation of the C++ code, and is useful for non-programmers to be able to literally connect the dots on to create triggers, interactions, events, and other ‘life’ to the scenes.  At a simplest level, you can take an object and give it action, such as the ability to turn on a light when a character gets within a certain distance, or to trigger sounds, or have other character’s act.  Any action can be scripted in a non-linear, interactive way to create sophisticated environments.

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And the specific elements for rigging characters, which can be added as main characters, either people that you can interact with, or imbuing more lively entourage into a scene.

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Admittedly there’s some lag in the quality of these, as we’re far from life-life, but they are much improved.  Call it more Pixar than reality but with a lot of interesting gestures, facial controls, and the ability for lifelike actions.

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In relation to landscape, another worth discussing is Speedtree, who creates cross platform vegetation for gaming as well as film (hell, they just won an Oscar!).  The tools allow customization of every aspect of trees, both in off the shelf libraries (which i’ve used) and a custom editor to create any type of vegetation (which I haven’t used, but is compelling).  Gone are the days of cartoony vegetation, and the sophistication of the algorithms allow these to render in high quality and even incorporate wind, lead drop, and more w/o draining graphic resources (as also discussed above in the Unreal GDC video), something that high poly count vegetation seems to persistently be problematic.

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Jumping out a scale to the overall terrain, the ability to create specific context is key to creation of these realistic environments.  One that i used a bit is World Machine, a  terrain modelling program that allows you to import topography from existing digital elevation models (DEMs) as well as to create custom features, and integrate geologic phenomena such as slides, erosion from wind and water, and other features.

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These help by providing distant terrain that interacts with the other more close up assets along with sophisticated ‘level of detail’ or LOD settings that provide realistic close up information, including motion, then slowly stepping down resolution in levels, as the view gets further away. The addition of atmosphere and really amazing lighting tools, adds to the perspective focusing and gives depth as well as life to scenes.  This allows for efficient use of computing resources to but the action where its most needed.  The results are simple but stunning.

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Another one i that i learned about more recently is Lumion, which we use at my office.  I’ve seen some of the renderings but haven’t dove into using it myself, but it seems to integrate with much of what other game engines do, and perhaps more seamlessly.  It is based on game engine technology, but has the added advantage of being focused on architectural visualization with tools to integrate directly with industry standard Revit.

A short video shows how it works.

And some of the results:

FINAL THOUGHTS

So as you seen, even in this short snapshot, there are a ton of resources, and many more i don’t know about of haven’t covered. This brain dump of a lot of ideas that definitely could use more exploration, but i wanted to close out the thought by giving some context on why i think all this, geekery aside, matters.  The takeaway is that there is a ton of potential to disrupt and expand practice, if we can expand methods of visualization and adopt some of these techniques.  On that note, a few thoughts that are worth further exploration:

  1. Immersive technology, utilizing controller and VR rigs to allow clients and users to experience the design in a number of ways, while also allowing designers opportunities to fine-tune spatial relationships and test environments.
  2. Rules based ecological scenarios, which allow for natural processes (vegetative colonization, competition, dispersal) that provides simulations of open-ended landscape concepts.
  3. Topical games to create better understanding of system interactions and engage larger populations, such as stormwater, infrastructure, climate change.

Have thoughts and other examples and stories, or know of folks in the industry working and using these tools?  Let me know.

LA+ Journal

A fine addition to the ranks of landscape architecture journals that recently emerged is LA+, The Interdisciplinary Journal of Landscape Architecture, from the Penn.   From the website, the journal is billed as the “…the first truly interdisciplinary journal of landscape architecture. Within its pages you will hear not only from designers, but also from historians, artists, lawyers, psychologists, ecologists, planners, scientists, philosophers, and many more besides. Our aim at LA+ is to reveal connections and build collaborations between landscape architecture and other disciplines by exploring each issue’s theme from multiple perspectives.”

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Interest piqued.  And they were nice enough to send me a copy of their inaugural issue, WILD which explores the concept of WILD and its role in design, large-scale habitat and species conservation, scientific research, the human psyche, and aesthetics.”  

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Impressively curated and designed, this is a journal you keep around in your library long-term, for a follow-up read or to peruse the beautiful imagery.  As an introduction on the website, a short thesis on issue one:

“Wildness has long occupied a romantic and somewhat dormant position in the discussion of landscape theory and practice.  However, current initiatives aiming to “rewild” rural, urban, and suburban environments attest to its renewed significance.   It is no longer just a question of saving or protecting wilderness, but one of how we can design novel ecosystems that stimulate the emergence of new forms of biological and cultural diversity.”

The list of contributors is massive, and the breadth of topics ranges from the general, such as Mick Abbott’s ‘Practice of the Wild: A Rewilding of Landscape Architecture’, to the global, such as Richard Weller’s ‘World P-ark’, to the site-specific, like Mousseau & Moller’s ‘Landscape-Scale Consequences of Nuclear Disasters.”  I offered to do a review of the issue, and realized quickly that it was no simple task due to the amount of material contained within (which alas, i’m still reading with much enjoyment).

Thus, it is far more that can be elaborated on in terms of full reporting on every essay.  For that, order a copy and enjoy the density of information. Here’s a few snippets and thoughts of my own, in relation to landscape architecture practice and how the explorations of this concept seen through the interdisciplinary lens.

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The concept of the wild is present in our conception of landscape architecture practice at many scales.  The vision of a global park (or Ark) as Richard Weller discusses, provides the context for connected ecological corridors that connect globally across countries and continents, providing a shared concept of our earth that hopefully transcends borders.  As mentioned, a north/south and east/west route “… could catalyze global cooperation and environmental investment to help augment connections between fragments along the way.” (16)

To look at the controversial and compelling issue of rewilding, as Adela Park does, is to investigate our core relationships about native-ness, genetic engineering, and our role in not just preserving, and enhancing but in recreating extinct systems as well as creating new natural systems.  The ability to connect or open up large swaths of land as wild spaces are tame in comparison to global examples like the Oostvaardersplassen in the Netherlands and the Pleistocene Park in Siberia, both of which plan the creation of lost landscapes left in a state of unmanagement.  As mentioned, “…landscapes such as Oostvaardersplassen – created almost entirely by scientists – embody the very indeterminacy and self-organizational potential that has been so much a part of recent landscape architecture discourse. “ (8)

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The topic of wildlife and habitat is at play throughout, with the synergistic and conflicted relationships between humans and animals accentuated in multiple ways.  We want interaction with nature at a distance, such as the artistic wildlife viewing structure, the Reindeer Pavilion covered in Claire Fellman in ‘Watching Wild’.  We also want interaction through consumption as investigated in ‘The Taste of the New Wild’ by Orkan Telhan.

A popular strategy to engage the wild is through provision of wildlife crossings of busy roadways . as outlined by Nina-Marie Lister in ‘Xing: New Infrastructures for Landscape Connectivity,’ a movement growing in popularity worldwide and the knowledge of interdisciplinary approaches to what works is shaping the design of these systems.

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The ability to predict and proactively engage with the ‘wild’ in this context, offers a new area of interest for designers and integrated teams.  As Lister mentions:

“By redesigning the road for two clients – animal and human – wildlife crossing infrastructure presents a timely opportunity to communicate both the problem and the solution to the public.  In this endeavor, landscape architecture has a significant new niche and a potent role role in designing safer roads with new infrastructures that are visible and legible, even beautiful.  Widespread deployment of this new typology of landscape infrastructure may ultimately change the way we move and live, and with this, reconnect landscapes and habitats through inspired design.” (50)

A specific topic of interest in our northwest fire season, it was interesting to read Steve Pyne’s essay ‘Firescaping’, which provides a meditation on fire as part of our ongoing landscape, and how to think differently about our relationship to fire, and the implications and opportunities of this in the context of global climate change.

As he mentions, “We can protect our built landscape where it abuts the wild… After all, our cities used to burn as often as their surroundings; now they don’t.  The same methods, adapted, can work along the fractal frontier of exurban settlement.” (97) With much of the west currently burning, the concept of wild does hit home with multiple meanings – directly related to design and management of landscapes.

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As I mentioned, lots more content to devour, thus a full accounting of the contents of the first issue of LA+ would occupy multiple posts.  Look out for some follow-up on some topics of interest expanding upon these and other themes,  and if you’re interested, submit your work in their most recent call for papers.

And highly recommended to get a subscription to this to journal for topical, integrated ideas that shape the fabric of landscape architecture and urbanism.

TopoView for Historic USGS Maps

The USGS tool TopoView offers access to digitized maps from 1879 to the current day – which is an amazing resource for looking at landscape change over time.  Using an online mapping tool, you can access maps from 250,000 scale down to 24,000 for the entire US , including Alaska and Hawaii.  The maps are downloadable in multiple formats, including JPEG, KMZ, GEOPDF, and GEOTIFF and are full size scans – so render in reasonably high resolution.

A sample of some maps (sized down from the original resolution) from the north section of Portland, ranging from 1897 through 1961 shows the difference in land use and geography – as well as indicates the shifting graphical standards of USGS maps over the years.  I especially like seeing the urbanization patterns, movement of industrial lands into areas like the Columbia Slough and the (d)evolution of Guilds Like in the NW Industrial area.  I hope to add these to the layering of historical mapping that we’ve already developed.

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Portland – 1897
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Portland – 1905
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Portland – 1940
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Portland – 1961

There are definitely more maps I wish existed – in different sizes – but as referenced on the site, the maps were created to highlight different features of land use – so it wasn’t fully consistent.  Per the website:

“In 1879, the USGS began to map the Nation’s topography. This mapping was done at different levels of detail, in order to support various land use and other purposes. As the years passed, the USGS produced new map versions of each area. The most current maps are available from The National Map. TopoView shows the many and varied older maps of each area, and so is useful for historical purposes—for example, the names of some natural and cultural features have changed over time, and the ‘old’ names can be found on these historical topographic maps.”

For more info – a short video walks through the usage of the TopoView features.  A resource worth more exploration for sure.

Guest Post: Geodesign

I’m happy to be able to share some information on Geodesign from mapping and visualization rock-star Nadia Amoroso.  I’ve really enjoyed following her work over the years, and did a thorough exploration of her amazing book The Exposed City: Mapping the Urban Invisibles, back in 2010 (here) and also posted about her work on Data Appeal, a mapping and visualization software tool for making map landscapes in 2011.  On my list is to check out her most recent book, Representing Landscapes: Digital, (2015 – Foreword by James Corner) which looks at the cutting edge visual techniques for graphic communication focused specifically on landscape architecture.

Nadia is still hard at work in the mapping and visualization realms – and let me know of some of the work she’s been doing around Geodesign, particularly employing some new digital mapping tools that greater expand this potential.  The following post includes a good overview of Geodesign and it’s potential to application in Urban Design and Landscape Architecture contexts.   Enjoy!

Geodesign Concept and its Solution Platform for Urban Design and Landscape Architecture

GIS (Geographic Information Systems) is important part of the urban planning and urban design process. GIS has often been associated with science, and not so much on design. Geodesign offers to shake up the notion of GIS. Geodesign provides a design framework and supporting technology for design professionals to leverage geographic information, resulting in designs that more closely follow site and natural systems. [1]

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Geodesign is a new way of thinking about the design process, utilizing site data with software such as a GIS (Geographic Information System) to create urban or landscape designs.  The Wikipedia’s entry on Geodesign states that ” Geodesign is a set of techniques and enabling technologies for planning built and natural environments in an integrated process, including project conceptualization, analysis, design specification, stakeholder participation and collaboration, design creation, simulation, and evaluation (among other stages). “

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Michael Flaxman, former MIT Professor and CEO of Geodesign Technologies, states that “Geodesign is a design and planning method which tightly couples the creation of design proposals with impact simulations informed by geographic contexts.” [2]

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Professor Carl Steinitz, Professor of Landscape Architecture and Planning, Emeritus, brought to the limelight the geodesign framework for landscape architects and designers of the built environment, by posing a series of fundamental questions that as designers of the built environment, should think about and address. Refer to the “Geodesign Framework- by Carl Steinitz” for the summary of questions.

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ESRI Inc, (the global mapping and GIS company, based in Redlands California), has created a geodesign solution platform (suite of software) that is specifically tailored for the landscape architecture and urban design industries, in order to make strategic urban designs and landscape plans.

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Jack Dangermond, the founder and President of Esri, studied landscape architecture at Harvard’s GSD. He has tapped into his landscape architecture roots and is revolutionizing the concept of geodesign for landscape architecture, architecture, planning and urban design fields. Dangermond claims that, “Geodesign is about integrating geographic knowledge with the spatial design process…..design with nature, or geodesign, is our next evolutionary step.”

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Esri now hosts an annual Geodesign Summit where landscape architects, architects, academics, urban and transportation planners, and leading though leaders in the industry come together to learn and share their experiences on how the geodesign technology solution platform is being used to make and create smarter cities and sustainable landscapes.

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Technology wise, think of CAD, BIM, GIS all in one.  Esri offers a suite of software from 2D mapping to 3D modeling as part of the Geodesign solutions, which combines sketching and modeling tools with the power of data, GIS and high quality renderings. The Geodesign Platform includes mainly the following suite of applications:

  •  GeoPlanner for ArcGIS, which is a web-based, easy to use sketching and mapping tool to design scenarios. It leverages geo-based dataand supports all the steps of land-based planning and urban design. This includes sketching and designing scenarios (design alternatives), understanding the impact of your designs, perform site and spatial analysis and compare alternative designs.
  • ArcGIS Pro which is a robust desktop application which render and process data faster than ever. The software allows you to design and edit your concepts in 2D and 3D with multiple view ports. You can perform 3d site analysis like wind analysis, shade/ shadow analysis, circulation patterns, density, view-shed analysis. Designers can add realistic trees, buildings and infrastructures quickly.
  • CityEngine which is a 3D modeling software which leverages parametric modeling and geo-based data to create evidence-based city and landscape designs. CityEngine creates high quality renderings. CityEngine allows you to import your urban design proposals within existing built urban context in CityEngine. Using parametric and rule procedures, the landscape architect can create, change and test mass modeling to comply with zoning regulations; test shadow area; create detailed streetscapes and create quality public realm It offers intuitive and effective tools for façade and landscape texturing, adding landscape elements and various tree species. CityEngine provides perspective correction to capture the right views. CityEngine is integrated with ArcGIS.

All these tools provide real-time feedback on your changing design concepts.

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Geodesign combines site and nature “with design by providing designers with robust tools that support rapid evaluation of design alternatives against the impacts of those designs. Geodesign infuses design with a blend of science- and value-based information to help designers, planners, and stakeholders make better-informed decisions….[the geodesign platform] offers geospatial modeling, impact simulations, and real-time feedback to facilitate holistic designs and smart decisions.”[3]

The Esri’s Geodesign Platform is a critical toolkit for urban design and landscape architecture, as a means to make smart design decisions.

Further Reading:

 Footnotes:

[1] Esri Inc. on Geodesign.- http://www.esri.com/products/arcgis-capabilities/geodesign (2015)
[2] Michael Flaxman talk at the the 2010 GeoDesign Summit.
[3] Esri Inc, http://www.esri.com/products/arcgis-capabilities/geodesign (2015)

 

Guest Post: From Honolulu to Paris MONU #20

by Gabriele Baleisyte

“Nature” or nature? Does natural geography still mater much to today’s city? What is the current relationship between our conception of nature and its role in urban life? Which nature is dominating now; the pure or the second one_- man made nature? During my current stay in Rotterdam, I have heard these questions widely discussed at the 6th International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam (IABR), examining the theme “Urban by Nature“. I found a lot of answers to them in the most recent issue of the Rotterdam- based magazine MONU: #20 – “Geographical Urbanism

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The first answer appeared to me as soon as I looked at the magazine’s cover. I got the impression that the visual representation of the issue was picked out deliberately by the magazine’s editors with the purpose of introducing the topic of “Geographical Urbanism”. The picture from the contribution entitled “Seduction and Fear” of the photographer Edward Burtynsky obviously represents the dialogue between human and nature (natural geography and human made geography). On one hand I understood the repetitive military planes with their covered windscreens as a metaphor of the uncountable faceless buildings that urbanize nature all over the planet while, on the other hand, that the natural geography of our world is manipulated dramatically by the brutal invasion of humans.

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If we look at the topic from an historical perspective, first I would highlight the article entitled “The Geography of Geology” by Sean Burkholder and Bradford Watson. This particular story explains how the city of Buttle in Montana was formed by geology (mining claims), and reminds us about the traditional dependency between cities and natural geography. However, Nikos Katsikis shows in his article “On the Geographical Organization of World Urbanization” how the meaning of physical geography has been almost completely reversed since the early 19th Century. As an example of this, in his article “Niagara waterfall” Kees Lokman introduces man made geography as a significant success: artificial geography becomes a mass tourism attraction point which is as well known as the Seven World Wonders are.

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While I continued reading the magazine I tried to find out what natural geography can still mean today to cities in a globalized world, in which they are becoming more and more influenced by networks. I noticed that some articles in the magazine complemented each other on this topic, and it intrigued me even more to read further. One contribution entitled “Urbanism after Geography: The Network is Context” that was written by Clarle Lyster shows, for example, that cities can no longer be understood merely as locations at particular places. After the network has become the context, replacing natural geography, global networks (from social media to fast track shipping, from fiber-optic communication to high speed travel) have become responsible for the shift in the longstanding relationship between geography and urban development. Such a network is, for example, created by the low cost airline Ryan Air and its airports within 100km distance of major cities. Places no longer seem to be defined by geographic coordinates, but more by communicational axes that are made possible through the network.

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In relation to this, I found a completely different opinion from the Dutch architectural historian, critic and curator Bart Lootsma, in his interview entitled “Beyond Branding”, in which he emphasizes about the fact that due to the growing opportunities to work from home thanks to the Internet, and people’s increasing independency to choose their living locations in relation to particular geographical aspects, such as localization or climate conditions, natural geography is actually becoming more important.

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These were only a few aspects from MONU magazine’s new issue. While reading it I felt like traveling, such as Edward Burtynsky does while taking photographs of urban phenomena: from Honolulu to Paris; Mexico or Qinto; from Sydney to the “unknown” Charleroi; or even to Innsbruck’s famous panorama of the Nordkette mountains. I could continue listing up things that you can find in the magazine forever, because it seems endless and full of serious analytical essays and researches that invite you to the world of urbanism. MONU has showed once again to be a great platform to provide fresh ideas and answers to challenging topics.

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Gabriele Baleisyte is a student of Architecture Theory and History. Focus on new urban theories, strategies and research methods in both analytical and experimental ways. Currently she is doing an internship in a Rotterdam- based architecture office.

Urban Ecology

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Urban Ecology: Science of Cities by Richard T.T. Forman (Cambridge University Press, 2014).  Since arrival a couple of days ago, i have not been disappointed, and this shapes up to be one of the most up to date resources for ecological principals applied to urban areas to date.

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Forman needs no introduction to anyone who has engaged in landscape ecology, which his seminal writings such as ‘Landscape Ecology’ (with Godron, 1986), ‘Land Mosaics: The Ecology of Landscapes and Regions’ (1995), more recent ‘Urban Regions: Ecology and Planning Beyond the City’ (2008).  He also was involved in one the most accessible handbooks that should be on every designers shelf, ‘Landscape Ecology Principles in Landscape Architecture and Land-Use Planning’ (with Dramstad & Olson – 1996).  That is merely a snapshot of the multitude of papers and books he has been involved in.  The connection to urban areas i think is notable, and perhaps due to a long standing appointment teaching urban ecology through the Harvard Graduate School of Design, there is a connection to design and planning in a way that is not captured in typical ecological literature.  As we expand cities and continue to look for ways to connect design and planning with science, it becomes more and more vital for these elements to work in tandem.

In the books Foreward, Mark J. McDonnell elucidates this point in reaching our goal, by “incorporation of ecological knowledge and principles into the management and creation of cities in order to develop healthy, livable, sustainable, and resilient urban ecosystems.” (ix).  He goes further in explaining the disconnect:

“…there has been a mismatch between the questions that planners, designers, and decision-makers are asking urban ecologists, and the questions that urban ecologists are asking to advance the science of urban ecology.” (x)

To achieve this, we need to get on the same page, or more concisely, to align the questions practitioners need answered with the research that is being conducted.  While it is inevitable that reductive techniques will continue to guide science by definition, creating small snapshots of data, there needs to be a middle ground where funding is available for applied research, and holistic study.  At the very least, better channels of communication are the key, as McDonnell mentions:  “Recently, there have been calls within the discipline of urban ecology to bridge the gap between basic and applied urban ecology research by increasing the interactions between scientists and practitioners, by adopting a comparative approach to the study of cities and towns, and by identifying more general principles regarding the effects of urbanization on ecological patterns and processes.” (x)

In the Preface, Forman continues this line of thinking, mentioning the needs for our now fully urban “Homo sapiens urbanus” develop applied theory, and to “catalyze urban ecology as accessible and appealing” (xiii).  Urban Ecology is the framework, building on the essential aspects of interactions with organisms and their environment to a more expansive concept of urban ecology (xii):

… Interactions of organisms, built structures, and the physical environment, where people are concentrated.

He mentions in this context the connection to the scholarship and history of landscape ecology at the core, and much as the nascent theories of Landscape Urbanism and Ecological Urbanism called for – applications beyond just parks and green spaces, but to “…ecologically explore the entire urban area – streets, walls, lawns, industrial sites, sewer systems, artifact-rich soil, aerial components, roofs, commercial centers, parks, dumps and much more.” (xii-xiii)  This more expansive ‘urban nature’ is instructive, a point of which seemed to mystify those whom didn’t understand the central tenets Landscape Urbanism, into thinking that landscape = green space, which of course meant modernist ‘towers in the park’ and green space at the expense of urban vitality.  Perhaps the use of urban ecology in place of landscape urbanism gives a more scientifically grounded and less apt to misinterpretation, but to me they are part of the same family, as they are derived from flexibilty, change, and understanding of complexity.

It also allows us to connect to scale, as the interconnectivity of issues and opportunities changes with grain size and resolution, and incorporate mechanisms of growing, shrinking, and polycentrism with “perspective from city to urban region” (xiii) which Forman explored in ‘Urban Regions’, and now moves into a smaller scale.  This is explained as:

“…peeling back our familiar human layer reveals the fundamental natural and built patterns of a city, how it works, and how it changes.  Lots of lucid patterns and processes appear.  The world of eternal flow, especially in urban networks, emerges.” (xiii).

The book offers some hope to reconciling this disconnect and opportunity of a urban focuses ecology that is interdisciplinary in order to better approach our current complexity of the modern city.  More on this as i delve into the chapters in depth.

Bio-inspired Design

The latest issue of Zygote Quarterly, an online journal with a focus covers Bio-inspired design, and offers another opportunity to explore this topic (and the back issues as well).  A really beautifully illustrated online magazine, ZG is worth delving into in depth, but also sitting back and and in this case, getting into a bit of depth on the topic.

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An essay that gets me excited about the concept is the opener from Tom McKeag, Case Study Auspicious Forms, which tracks the process of engineering a Japanese bullet train to attain high speeds with less noise on the track and when entering tunnels.  The breakdown of process looking both at the serrated wings of owls in creating ‘quiet’ air flow, to the specific beak orientation of a Kingfisher influencing nose shape to lessen sonic booms in tunnels is a fascinating exploration of how traditional engineering can look to nature for solutions.  The concept of natures patterns applied to the unnatural is the major benefit of bio-inspired design.

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The nature inspired engineering is relevant to Buckminster Fuller and the application synergistic patterns, and notably his calling card, the ultimately scalable and strong modular geodesic structure.  These geodesic structures area also found in nature, such as the eyes of insects (below) or the bones of birds – nested, scalable triangular structures that can be combined build infinite structures with stability and strength far greater than their perceived mass.  As mentioned, Fuller the biological provides not a pattern to mimic but the answer:

“Unlike many biologists, Bucky insisted that his “energetic-synergetic geometry” was ‘natural’ in the sense that it was there, all worked-out, as a mathematical principle employed by Nature to give optimum advantage to the system.”

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Fuller would be ones of the forerunners, obviously, of biomimicry, due to his understanding and application of natures rules and strategies.  This continued a long-line of thinkings throughout history who have looked to nature to inspire them, such as Leonardo da Vinci, or Antonio Gaudi, to name a couple.  The engineering/product angle is what i think is most applicable and successful biomimicry path, with the gecko-foot inspired fasteners (above) being perhaps the touchstone of that nature to useful product transition.

Outside of the realm of the mimic is the concept of blending of art and science, which is captured perfectly in the work of and featured prominently throughout ZG such as the biological art of David Goodsell, who captures scientific processes in beautiful and simple illustrations.

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The challenge then lies in the differentiation of the biological (ecological) from the biomimicry and the bio-inspired, all of which inform and apply to design but existing in gradations from actual nature to abstract nature.  The one essay that focuses more on the design side is an interview with Thomas Knittel from HOK, a firm that has been intimately nested in the Biomimicry world more than most firms.  His work on Project Haiti, below, is indicative of the bioinspired approach.  “Bio-inspiration is in the variable second skin forming a building boundary layer to reject heat and harness natural ventilation.  A wooden branching support structure facing the courtyard is based upon patterns in nature and observed by da Vinci and Fuller and, more
recently, Bejan’s constructal law. I will admit our solution is not pure, but it serves the building
functionally and metaphorically. What better place to display mother-daughter branching?”

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The other notable element that HOK has done is the Genius of Biome design resource, which desribes “…how lessons from the temperate broadleaf forest biome, which houses many of the world’s largest population centers, can inform the design of the built environment.”

Additional essays touch on topics such as Biomemetics, the connections between Engineering and Biology, and additional study on Bucky Fuller and his nature-inspired design strategies, but i will leave you to explore on your own.

Perhaps because these essays aren’t trying to over-reach and frame Biomimicry as a new approach to landscape ecological design and urbanism, they are more inspirational and less frustrating in this way.  Can biomimicry really truly be a methodology for landscape architecture and ecology?  I’m not sure, as the medium and the method are too closely aligned to make the jump to mimesis – so perhaps the concept of ‘bio-inspired’ is perhaps a better metaphor with less baggage, and a truer sense of the concept of design with nature.