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BY JESSICA BRIDGER

Venetian bridge with Biennale banner.

Venetian bridge with biennale banner.

Rem Koolhaas, the director of the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale, calls for the “end of starchitects” and a refocusing on capital-A architecture, which is usually marked by insecurity and ideological cliquishness. While no one, not even the chief starchitect himself, could remove this high school mentality, Koolhaas did succeed in wrangling what is usually a messy biennale of murky disconnection into a unified exhibition of buildings and their contexts. This approach is a switch for Venice and turned the biennale into an introspective, research-driven look at architecture and influence. With any luck, it will resonate into the future and bring more analysis within the building disciplines of what we build, beyond Internet posts of the latest and greatest, as architecture and landscape increasingly draw themselves into the greater task of urbanism.

Koolhaas united the biennale, titled Fundamentals, around the history of modernity over the past century. The most successful national pavilions, all following the modernity theme, gave nation-specific takes on modern life and situated architecture within that context. Connecting architecture to political, cultural, and economic forces is important, but embedding these factors within geographic and environmental contexts is essential, and largely nothing of the sort was done.

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Beneath many older cities across the globe are mysterious worlds hidden from sight since the Industrial Revolution. Rivers, once lifelines to wealth, were exiled underground as they became breeding grounds for disease. Burying rivers solved the sanitation issues of the times, but the aging infrastructure today falls short of modern needs and cuts off humans from nature. Caroline Bâcle, the writer and director of the new film Lost Rivers, which follows the stories of these forgotten waterways, spins an intriguing narrative of the rivers themselves but also of how people might connect with them. I spoke with Bâcle, who is based in London, about her experiences during the project and what Lost Rivers could mean to cities today.

How did you get the idea to make a film about these “lost rivers”?
My producer Katarina [Soukup, founder of Catbird Productions] and I—I think she stumbled upon it first, on the website of Andrew Emond. The film kind of opens with him. He’s a photographer who was living in Montreal but is in Toronto now, and he basically went into the underground of Montreal and took photos of its lost waterways. We were just fascinated by his website and thought, “Oh, my gosh, there are rivers under Montreal, my hometown. How incredible.” We thought it was a unique thing to Montreal, that it was only our city, and we had this amazing, incredible, mysterious history. And so originally we thought, “Oh, we have to make a film, or do something important about Andrew and his work or about the history of Montreal,” and we just developed the idea, and the minute we started doing any kind of remote research on “lost rivers,” we found that it was a part of urban history around the world. So the subject kind of opened up to something much bigger.

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BY JESSICA BRIDGER

Visitors roam the Urban by Nature exhibits on opening day.

The landscape architect Dirk Sijmons wants to make a double point with the name of “his” biennale—the 6th International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam (IABR)—which opened in late May. Sijmons called the event Urban by Nature to suggest both that it is in our nature to be urban (implying a certain inevitability to our urbanization, now at an unprecedented and alarmingly fast rate) and that our urban areas are, in fact, natural. To Sijmons, humans are undeniably as natural as the world’s flora and fauna, and so are carbon emissions and border crossing checkpoints—it is time to acknowledge as much and to become more explicitly responsible actors in this unified scheme. This is integral to the work of Sijmons and the ethos of the biennale, and it is reminiscent of the epigram on Stewart Brand’s final Whole Earth Catalog: “We can’t put it together. It is together.”

The IABR is a research biennale, where projects are meant to fulfill the curator’s, in this case, Sijmons’s, position or point of view. The research focus also lets the IABR have a scope and effect beyond the biennale’s boundaries—as opposed to what commonly goes on at the Venice Architecture Biennale or a conference. The research comes from an open call for projects and from the IABR’s own test labs or “Project Ateliers.” These test labs investigate and propose ways to tackle issues at specific sites, this year in Texel, BrabantStad, and Rotterdam. Work from the Project Ateliers appears in the biennale along with work chosen from more than 500 international submissions. It’s this continuity between the test sites and the outside work that gives the IABR its lasting quality and that benefits the broad abstract topics the biennale tends to tackle, such as 2009’s Open City or Making City in 2012.

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NATURE’S SALARY

BY JONATHAN LERNER

Flooded agricultural land in payment for ecological services approach in interior Southern Florida.

From the July 2014 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

Low dikes separate pastures on the Florida cattle ranch Jimmy Wohl’s father bought in 1962, when Jimmy was 12. Jimmy runs the 5,200-acre spread now, driving his pickup along the dikes with a rifle ready on the dashboard. “I’m not a killer of everything, but if we see wild hogs I’m going to shoot them,” he says, pointing to a berm the feral animals have torn up while rooting for grubs. “That’s where all the exotic weeds will start growing,” he explains. “This really galls me. I’ve worked hard to keep these slopes grassy so when it rains it doesn’t cause all kinds of ruts.”

Rain and dikes—and invasive species, too—are often on Wohl’s mind. His ranch is about 100 miles south of Orlando in the peninsula’s sparsely populated middle. It’s an area nowadays referred to as the North Everglades, though in its primeval state the terrain was not a “river of grass” like the true Everglades, but pine flatwoods and palmetto scrub skeined with marshy creeks. It absorbed the seasonally heavy tropical rains and then trickled the water south into vast Lake Okeechobee and beyond into the Everglades proper. But over the past century, to dry out acreage for ranches, citrus groves, sugarcane fields, and other industrial-scale farming, landowners and government entities patched together a labyrinth of ditches and dikes, pumps and canals that thoroughly disrupted the region’s natural hydrology. In a climate this wet, “it is the agriculturalists’ mantra to get rid of water,” Wohl says. “We were taking what was considered wasteland and making it an economic driver, the salad bowl of the United States throughout the winter. Everybody kept throwing dollars down here, saying, ‘Drain more land, cut more canals.’”

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GO! FISH!

BY KATHARINE LOGAN

sea wall _blog

New design for Seattle’s Elliott Bay Seawall will include habitat for young salmon and a glass-floored promenade to allow light into the ocean.

From the July 2014 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

Before Seattle grew up on its shores, Elliott Bay was a bluff-backed beach, with intertidal marshes and mudflats providing a complex and varied habitat for birds, fish, and marine invertebrates. Its sloping beaches offered salmon a safe passage through shallow waters, with plenty to eat along the way.

The growth of Seattle changed that. The developing city filled and leveled its waterfront behind a seawall built on densely spaced and creosote-blackened pilings. Deep, dark, and toxic, the urban shoreline repels migrating salmon out into the bay on a difficult journey where they become easy prey for other fish and marine mammals.

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BY MICHAEL DUMIAK

cylindre.sonore2

Cylindre Sonore. Photo by Sophie Chivet, copyright Atelier Bernhard Leitner, Vienna.

Probably not for the first time in his 40-year career, the Austrian architect Bernhard Leitner is explaining that he’s not a musician. “My background is in architecture. I’m an architect,” he says. “But I was always very interested in the musical experiments of people like Iannis Xenakis, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Luigi Nono.”

Radical and moving experiments with acoustic engineering and composition, along with the sonic ferment of the late 1960s, absorbed Leitner so much that he decided to work with sound itself as a building and sculptural material, marking and filling and emptying spaces. When he was finally able to realize his works in outdoor environments, the landscape elements of chance and organic forms—blowing bamboo plants, say, or passing birds—added new dimensions to the designs.

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HAPPY FOURTH!

 Lincoln's Cottage sits on one of the highest points in DC. Copyright (C) National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Lincoln’s Cottage sits on one of the highest points in D.C. Copyright National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Tucked away among the 276 acres of the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home property in Washington, D.C., is a modest gothic revival home where Abraham Lincoln and his family went to escape the city’s oppressive summer heat.

President Lincoln's Cottage. Copyright © National Trust for Historic Preservation.

President Lincoln’s Cottage. Copyright National Trust for Historic Preservation.

It was here that Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation, and it was here that he was sometimes seen walking the grounds at night, wrestling with the country’s most difficult problems in the years before the Civil War.

Paths away from the cottage thread through the grounds of the Armed Forces Retirement Home. Copyright© National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Paths away from the cottage thread through the grounds of the Armed Forces Retirement Home. Copyright National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The site, now known as President Lincoln’s Cottage, is managed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It’s important for its associations with Lincoln, but also for its significance as a walking landscape, one that witnessed and perhaps nurtured some of our most enduring ideas of what it means to be American.

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