Artifice and Landscape

Everyone is publishing their best of 2007 blogs, and there are a number of interesting items of note. The amount of imagery showing buildings and landscape integrated was notable. My current interest is in seeing how many of these ‘green’ roofs and facades are actually feasible – and how many are merely the ‘green mantle’ just applied to a building as a inert material.

Modest examples from the Brad Pitt led competetion for housing in New Orleans… with open screen panels and vegetation, to the simple base treatment of pier footings including:


:: Design by James Timberlake, photo from Treehugger


:: Design by Shegiru Ban, photo from Treehugger

To acheive the next stage of greening, there is the abstraction from simple form to more robust unbuilt examples that require some significant work to realize. The first, by Edouard Francois, is entitled Eden Bio, and literally engulfs the structure in vegetative cover. I am personally a big fan, and loved some of the previous work, such as the TowerFlower in Paris, but must be skeptical of anyone whose face occupies a large portion of their website.


:: Design by Edouard Francois, photo from Dezeen

Next we move on to what BLDGBLOG described as ‘literal green architecture’ from SCIFI and architect Minsuk Cho… for a speculative building in Seoul, South Korea. This was my first introduction to Jeffery Inaba, whose interview with BLDGBLOG entitled ‘of cars, dogs, golf and bad feng shui ‘ is a must read:

:: photo via BLDGBLOG

Our short tour ends with the notable non-building example. Still, it is a significant example of literal greenwashing… in the form of a mountain in China that was painted green. The reasons for doing this ranged from response to degraded environments do to increase logging and subsequent erosion, to improving the town’s feng shui. Perhaps the $60,000 would have been better spent on actual green plants?

:: Photo from Sine English
It’s over-the-top, but still a poignant example of the disregard for the actuality of vegetation as an material, whether natural or architectural. To portray landscape on par with horizontal and vertical panels of abstract material forgets the fact that there is pragmatism and reality to these types of application. This is not to say that they are not possible and that examples do not exist for precendents (such as the Renzo Piano designed California Academy of Sciences building and it’s undulating green roof, or some recent living walls posted here). There is the excitement and use that is vital to continual innovation and adoption of landscape integration, but also the failure potential and logistics that will be required by landscape professionals to pull them off. Take into account maintenance, and it’s definitely a large issue – but also a wonderful opportunity. Time for LAs to step up to the challenge – it’s going to be a green, green year.

Best Careers 2008

The year starts off with news that we’ve all know for years. US News and World Report issued their Best Careers of 2008, which includes Landscape Architect in the listings. Also included for 2008 from the design world are Urban Planner, and Engineer. While perhaps over-simplifying the profession, here’s Marty Nemko’s description of a typical day in the life of a landscape architect:

Landscape Architect: A Day in the Life
“You’ve started a new assignment: designing the landscape for a school district’s administration center. You’ve already met with the developer, project architect, civil engineer, hydrologist, and government regulators. Today, you’re considering the site’s sun patterns, land slopes, and soil characteristics. You read the results of a questionnaire you gave to the site’s future users, trying to figure out what would make their experience most pleasant and efficient. Then, using a computer-design program, you sketch out a first draft of the site’s land grading, building placement, walkways, and roadways, along with decorative features such as plantings and a fountain. Next, you head out to the work site for a walk-through, documenting your stroll with a camcorder. You get excited as you set up a meeting to present your draft plan to the client. If only you didn’t have to spend two days writing a sheaf of land use and environmental documents for the government.”

Making the dubious Overrated Careers list was our friends the Architect. I don’t know if i agree totally with the the prognosis, there is some validity regarding the negative trends including: “…the housing decline souring the job market… more potential clients are offshoring the work to India, downloading premade blueprints developed by top architects, or having lower-cost interior/exterior designers or building contractors design their structure.”

Either way, there is perhaps a shifting of the bias/balance between architecture and landscape architecture regarding our value and skill-set, including site planning, sustainable design, and integrated building/landscapes. I think in the end, both professions are healthy and vibrant, and in need of a collaborative spirit that will continue to provide innovation and creativity – which cannot be out-sourced or prefabricated.

Living Walls

A theme that will recur often, is the idea of meshing landscape and architecture, particularly related to building skin. This approach has recently been showcased with the work of Patrick Blanc – specifically related to the Musee du quai Branly in Paris which has been extensively documented elsewhere…

A few recent versions:
Referenced in the Southeast portion of the US, and touted as ‘the largest soil based green wall in N. America. It is a 2000 +/- square foot green wall with a variety of> sedum genus.’ Using GLT’s modular system, it’ envelops a portion of building and wraps corners – a significant project that harkens back to when ecoroofs were a fledgling industry and we all got excited for any signficant square footage.

:: via press release from Green Living Technologies

An elegant version from Seoul, Korea – this project uses a geotextile and plantings of clover at a fashion retail store. I especially like the extensive building coverage, as well as the integration with windows and curves:

::via TreeHugger additional images found at DesignBoom

Landscape and Sustainability

The new Sustainable Sites Initiative from ASLA and The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center is a wonderful step in the right direction for sustainable landscapes. In the world where LEED is dominant, the true essence of landscape is sometimes forgotten in a push for drip irrigation and native plantings, it is a positive step to see. In addition, the Cascadia Chapter of the USGBC is offering a companion to the Living Building Challenge entitled the Living Site and Infrastructure Challenge.

The push for formalized sustainable strategies is laudable and necessary, as it seems to drive more sustainable design to assign points/globes/whatnot to a project that to merely design the way we are supposed to. I am equally puzzled by the response to the Sustainable Sites Initiative in this months editorial ‘Completing the Puzzle’ from Metropolis, December 2007 by Susan S. Szenasy:

“I’ve always thought of landscape architects as advocates for nature, proponents of healthy outdoor living who respect the local flora and fauna as well as human needs and cultures. But all too often I’ve been disappointed by their superficial knowledge of these things—or worse yet, their cavalier disregard for them. This new initiative has the potential to put landscape architects, though they come late to the discussion on sustainable design, at the very heart of our ongoing dialogue on ways to integrate the powers of nature with our equally powerful
technologies.”


Hmmm. i’m missing something here? I believe this is a product of the innate ‘quietness’ of Landscape Architecture as a profession – as there is a long history of landscape architects at the forefront of sustainable design… perhaps we are just too nice.

Integrating Habitats: A Competition

Phew. So i seem to have forgotten the toll on everything that occurs when one agrees to enter and invest in a competition, specifically those done on one’s own time. The Integrating Habitats Competition I was working on finished on Monday – thus the long delay in posts. See a small version of our entry board below:

Competitions are a funny thing. Having only entered a few in my lifetime, it’s a interesting duality of visionary design, detachment from a certain reality, and the ability to express ideas in a forum much different from the normal day-to-day operations. In a certain way, it’s a lot like school – not just the late nights and not being able to shut off your brain thinking about it – but the way in which you are thinking on a different level. Sometimes it is a higher level – expanding where perhaps not-profitable in a regular project. Sometimes its a bit lower – detaching from reality to a degree where sometimes anything goes. Is the idea to general viable projects or to generate ideas?

Either way, i’m ready for the next one in about 6 months… and looking to reflect on this in more detail after i’ve had a chance to forget about it. For information on a totally different competition – just revealed, go the The Park at the Center of the World competition page, featuring entries by Field Operations, West 8, Hargreaves, WRT, and REX. I will post more after i’ve had a chance to absorb them in greater detail.

(note: in the interim before judging, i took this post down because it had our entry, but now that winners have been announced, here ’tis.) Check out the upcoming post for more detail on the entry.

For the Love of Trees

A number of articles in the past few days about the purposeful and sometimes not-so-purposeful changes we are making to our lovely local flora. The first article, from the Seattle Times – Nov. 27: “Trees giving bizarre clues to climate change” talks about trees as an early warning system to climate change by providing indicators in the form of increased cone production. The article mostly talked with childlike glee about the Wind River Canopy Crane (pictured below) which allows researchers to hoist themselves high into canopies to conduct scientific experiments.



There are specific plants that have been seen to bloom earlier in the spring, due to climate changes. These changes are harder to detect in trees, but scientists are finding new signs. In addition to increased cone production, bud production is a possible sign of impacts climate change may have, causing potential earlier budding due to higher temperatures earlier in the season. Global warming also will potentially increase fires and insect infestations. Research has also shown that older forest sequester huge amounts of carbon, and that removal would cause a imbalance in the carbon impact that would take years to correct. Yeah for old-growth. Also mentioned is a plan for a National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) which would provide much needed additional data for a variety of ecological systems.

This follows nicely with other recent reports about widespread climate change and the adjustment of USDA Hardiness zones, and the Impacts to Local ecosystems. I’m personally looking forward to Portland area getting to USDA hardiness zone 8 or 9, which could bring in some additional plants to a palette that is frankly getting a little stale…

On a more direct note, the first of two in the Oregonian, from Nov. 28, entitled: “Experts aiming to build a better biofuel tree” addresses a favorite plant topic – genetic engineering… North Carolina State University researchers are developing trees with reduced amounts of lignin, which although useful in providing structural stability to trees, is detrimential in turning cellulose into into biofuels. While energy sources from plants are admirable, making the leap from crops to trees is another matter. Also, robbing trees of the very structural fabric of which they depend seems cruel, on the likes of the ‘Boneless Chicken Farm’ from the Far Side cartoon:

Aside from the functional aspects, it strikes to the heart of our association with trees as a more mythical and special type of plant. From the article:

“The general public is not going to look at trees at this point as a row crop,” said Susan McCord, executive director of the Institute of Forest Biotechnology in Raleigh, N.C. “The same is true of foresters. The people who go into that work, they love trees. They view them very differently than a row of corn.”

The second, somewhat more noble article, “Scientists grow new lease on life for majestic trees” features selective cloning of old-growth redwood trees in California in efforts to restore forests throughout the world. By using techniques that are common to plant propagation for centuries, the trees are virtually identical to the original… creating, in the words of one of William Libby, “…reliability and control you don’t have with seedlings.” The nonprofit called the Champion Tree Project International is working to clone significant trees around the world – including Methuselah (pictured below), a bristlecone pine thought to be the oldest tree in the world at a ripe 4,700 years.



Both of these articles outline approaches to manipulation of trees to suit our needs, whether they be veiled in a search for alternative fuel sources, or protection and perpetuation of natural treasures. While both sides evoke an understandable ethical dilemma, there is a very sharp distinction between the two. Cloning, which is a widely used technique to reproduce plants, is a far cry from manipulating the innate genetic structure of plants. On one hand, to clone a plant to save and restore it is noble. On the other, it is a slippery slope between protection for good reasons, and creation of some freakish plant zoo of significant trees – especially when it gives us the ability to replace things we should be saving – giving us more creedence to continue to harm the environment because we can replace what is damaged in the process.

On the flip side, genetic engineering to alter the very structure of a plant for our own rampant energy consumption needs, by ridding it of its natural protection against damage and pests, is crossing a line. Is it because of the difference of a ‘crop’ vs. a tree being that of an annual vs. a perennial – something less sacrificial? Plant modification is significant with cultivated varieties, but there is no strong stance from the landscape industry on the perils/merits of genetic engineering. Do we turn the other cheek when it grows plants that are hardy, bloom longer, with brightly colored blossoms? Or do we stop due to a distaste for the entire idea of genetic modification due mostly to it’s unknown consequences?

Or, if a limp, lignin-free tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?

Very Urban Agriculture

An interesting story – Going Agro, from BLDGBLOG via Dwell… Overall, it is regarding the meshing of agriculture and building – definitely a blending of landscape and architecture in inventive ways.


(photo from BLDGBLOG – via Knafo Kilmor Architects – see their site for more info)

This concept brings up some interesting future scenarios of the need for multi-functional landscape interventions, which will most likely occupy space on/in buildings, as open space is reduced. While there will always be a need for nature, in the form of terra firma, recent dialogue regarding Peak Oil has offered many compelling arguments related to our need to reform a variety of processes, a significant one being food production.

The City of Portland recently commissioned a report entitled ‘Descending the Oil Peak: Navigating the Transition from Oil and Natural Gas’ – prepared by the Peak Oil Task Force. While hinting at a possibility of anarchist doom and gloom, it is a relatively straightforward approach to preparing ourselves for the possibility of severe changes in lifestyle due to our current reliance on fossil fuels. The recommendations, which to their credit includes a call to ‘Act Big, Act Now’, even though estimates range from 10-40 years before impacts will be felt, span Transportation and Land Use, Food and Agriculture, Economic Impacts, and Impacts to Public and Social Services.

There were a couple of interesting points, both in a shift to more local economies and agricultural systems, and the ways in which we develop and inhabit land. As a conceptual strategy to move us towards more thoughtful planning, including more density, better mass transit, public spaces, mixed use centers so people can live near work, and on… pretty much the sustainable urbanist princples in a nutshell. Will Peak Oil cause us to come to our senses?

From an urban agriculture perspective, the interesting aspects include a shift to more old fashioned technologies and the need for a re-education of the masses on ideas such as growing food, canning, preservation. How will these educational strategies shift building, in such a way as the modern and designerly agenda shown above, or more of a return to nature strategy that involves us getting our hands dirty, learning how to grow things, and getting satisfaction out of battling slugs with beer, and picking warm cherry tomatoes from the vine. Hopefully both?

Modes of Representation

Back to Integrating Habitats… and the need for graphic representation techniques that are up to the challenges of representing time-based processes in viable ways. There are two polar opposites on the continuum – one is traditional graphic representation techniques, involving the ubiquitous rendered site plan, sketches, and such. The other is the deconstructed graphic that is both illegible and frustrating – or as i just heard – i am paraphrasing: inaccessible because it is essentially visual masturbation that only speaks to a select few in the intellectual realms. (this statement was specifically directed towards Alan Berger, but could nonetheless apply a fair number of folks when it comes down to it).

Representation is also tied closely with writing, which i’m interested in exploring further. I have slogged through some dense reading (and subsequent dense graphics) and am constantly amazed at the intellectual rigor of most writers on the subject of Landscape Urbanism. A part of me also yearns for a complex yet simplified style such a J.B. Jackson. Is the complexity necessary to convey the depth of concepts? Or is it a variant form – verbal masturbation – to elevate the writer to a higher plane of credibility?

Reading List: The World Without Us

I recently finished ‘The World Without Us’ by Alan Weisman. While not exactly what i imagined when i started reading, it definitely was captivating enough in terms of a compelling future vision of life. The nutshell is that life is for some unforeseen reason, mysteriously vanished from the earth. Or i should say, human life, that is.

:: book cover image via The World Without Us

Everything else is left to frolic and adapt to the environment that is left in our wake. Certain areas and species heal and adapt, others degenerate due to lack of human intervention, and others – well, they either degrade over millenia (plastics, nuclear materials), or await the unfortunate small mammal that stumbles upon them (underground vaults for volatile gases, nuclear waste). While painting a picture around some of the less touched spaces in the world (ancient Polish forests, for instance) and providing some real visions of deterioration (New York City devolving into nature) – what was lacking was a real picture of what this means.

My question, why write the book? Is it a plausible future to envision? Perhaps, but is it motivated by a need to teach us something. Maybe, but the conclusion, which took me totally by surprise, was a plug for population control. While a large proponent of this concept from way back college reading of the family Ehrlich, I failed to see the connection to the idea of us all being gone.

:: Photo of a flooded City of Jafaa via Naked in Nuhaka
So my summary conclusion is that for all of us to disappear would be bad – due to the instability that would create via our technologies. The other conclusion is that we must reduce the amount of people that are here, or, some portion of us (a lot) should disappear, but enough should remain to man the controls. With impending Peak Oil, global warming, and other looming catastrophes, will this rationale be the one that finally leads us to an awakening to slow down our inevitable decline… or will be laugh at the vision of new york and the world degenerating, ala ‘The Day After Tommorrow’. Guess we’ll find out.

Cradle to Cradle Development

The Greenbridge Development in Chapel Hill, North Carolina is on the docket for Christmas vacation, is of course, a trip to see the first Cradle-to-Cradle (C2C) development in the US, created by William McDonough. The website is vague on how this meetings C2C goals, but does give some indication of the overall project goals, which i’m guessing, is to be the showcase project for MBDC and yet another certification system.


:: Photo via IndyWeek

The following quote was excerpted from the Greenbridge Development site:

“A hallmark of modern construction is the use of innovative building techniques and materials. Greenbridge takes this one step further by building with innovative GREEN TECHNOLOGY. All of the condo’s most essential utilities will work in ways rarely seen in conventional housing. Heating, cooling, water, electricity will all be run by Green Technology. When green technology is incorporated into a structure, the average utility costs are decreased by 50% – according to the U.S. Department of Energy. In addition, green buildings require less maintenance and repair, and promote better health among occupants. However, green buildings don’t just benefit the individual, they benefit our society at large by reducing the environmental impact of a structure.”

Additionally, the site listed multiple reasons for C2C development that will be remedied with this project:

@ Buildings consume more than 35% of all energy and more than 65% of all electricity used in the United States. In NC, almost two-thirds of our electricity is produced from burning coal, which pollutes our air and water and fills our atmosphere with greenhouse gases, resulting in global
warming.


@ Each day five billion gallons of potable water is used in buildings solely to flush toilets. A typical North American commercial construction project generates 2.5 pounds of solid waste per square foot of complete floor space.


@ Conventional development transforms forests and fields from natural, biologically-diverse habitats to hardscape that is impervious and devoid of biodiversity “


:: Photo from CoolTownStudios

So how does one develop a cradle-to-cradle development versus a product? Looking at the concept of C2C, that would mean that the entire development meets the goals. Also, aside from roof terrace/ecoroof, it would interesting to see how the landscape is intertwined with the concepts. More to come, post x-mas, i’m sure…