Archive for the ‘BOOKS’ Category

Specimens of the Tiliaceae Family. United States National Herbarium (US).

Specimens of the Tiliaceae Family. United States National Herbarium (US).

The United States National Herbarium was founded in 1848, and it now holds five million specimens, with a particular strength in type specimens. Housed in the botany collections of the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History (NMNH), the herbarium’s collection is now part of a new crowdsourcing project that allows anyone with Internet access to view and transcribe data from specimens and contribute to the expansion of the herbarium’s collections database. It’s a terrific way to engage with plants as historical artifacts, design objects, and, of course, as botanical specimens, while essentially doing important work for the Smithsonian from the comfort of your own device.

After registration, which requires no special credentials or knowledge, you can begin transcribing the text from the labels into a web form. The data you enter, once approved, becomes part of the specimens’ record. Sylvia Orli, an information manager from the department of botany who helps facilitate the NMNH’s program, says the transcription project is part of a global effort to digitize natural history records. Within the NMNH, the department of botany is among the first to use the new crowdsourcing transcription tool, and several other units within the Smithsonian are participating as well.


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A European honeybee (Apis mellifera) cared for by Urban Apiaries, in Philadelphia. The hives live on the roof of the SHARE Food Program in North Philly. Photo by Lauren Mandel.

A European honeybee (Apis mellifera) cared for by Urban Apiaries, in Philadelphia. The hives live on the roof of the SHARE Food Program in North Philly. Photo by Lauren Mandel.

Lauren Mandel is one of rooftop agriculture’s more ardent cheerleaders, but also one of its most helpful handicappers. Her new book, Eat Up: The Inside Scoop on Rooftop Agriculture, is a complete guide to making rooftop agriculture work at various scales, and she’s not afraid to let people know about the challenges as well as benefits. We talked with Mandel about what’s going on in rooftop ag today and how farms are showing up in the most unlikely places.

You have a landscape architecture degree from the University of Pennsylvania and you’re now working for Roofmeadow, a firm that’s known for roof gardens. How did you get from A to B?
I’ve always been interested in green roofs and rooftop agriculture, and when I went to Penn, my objective was to get really solid training in landscape architecture with the idea that I would eventually work in a slightly different industry but with a landscape architecture lens. Learning how to think like a landscape architect has been instrumental in my ability to design at multiple scales, and understand how all the parties and priorities relate to one and another. So there’s been a lot of things I’ve learned from landscape architecture that I’ve been able to apply to green design and rooftop agriculture.

I had worked for a few years in landscape architecture firms in Philadelphia and Seattle, and then again while I was in graduate school. During my last semester of graduate school, I wrote the first draft of my book; my advisors were landscape architect Karen M’Closkey, urban planner Domenic Vitiello, economist Anita Mukherjee, and Charlie Miller, the founder of Roofmeadow. I thought it was important to have these advisors because it was a very multidisciplinary subject.


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From the November 2013 issue of LAM:

Landscape Urbanism and Its Discontents: Dissimulating the Sustainable City. Edited by Andrés Duany and Emily Talen. Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society Publishers, 2013; 316 pages, $29.95.

Charter of the New Urbanism, Second Edition. Edited by Emily Talen. New York: McGraw-Hill Professional, 2013; 302 pages, $60.

Reviewed by John King, Honorary ASLA.

New Urbanism is in the throes of midlife crisis, and Charles Waldheim, Affiliate ASLA, is reaping the benefits.

As the chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture at Harvard University, Waldheim champions a repackaging of the discipline into a school of thought that he and the like-minded call “Landscape Urbanism.” This vague term has been applied to a number of efforts that readers of this magazine will find familiar, such as CityDeck in Green Bay by the firm Stoss, as well as New York’s most-talked-about intervention of the past decade, the High Line, designed in part by James Corner Field Operations. The concept at a small scale often translates to urban parks that fold an abstract sense of nature into the built terrain; Corner has described the High Line with its wild-looking grasses amid train rails as “a combined or furrowed landscape surface.” Waldheim, meanwhile, presents Landscape Urbanism in much larger terms—no less than “a broad theoretical framework for thinking about the city as an ecological construct and concept,” to quote a 2012 interview.

Its ambitions aside, “Landscape Urbanism” remains a theoretical premise better known to design insiders than to the lay public. But it looms ominously large in the worldview of Andrés Duany, the architect who helped found the New Urbanism movement in the 1990s and now is eager to portray Waldheim et al. as the 21st-century equivalent of the modernist planners who uncorked such evils as blank-slate urban renewal after World War II. As far as Duany is concerned, efforts to restore ecological corridors within cities are nothing more or less than “green camouflage for…big box retailers, junkspace office parks, and residential high-rise clusters.” The same old formless sprawl as ever, but with bioswales instead of golf courses.

Duany has received considerable mileage from such attacks, including an invitation to be with Waldheim on the keynote panel of the 2011 ASLA Annual Meeting (an appearance canceled by Duany the night before because of flight difficulties). Now comes Landscape Urbanism and Its Discontents: Dissimulating the Sustainable City, a book-long salvo against Waldheim and his academic/ideological allies, a collection of essays that suggest many New Urbanists aren’t sure what to do now that the novelty of their crusade has worn off.


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VogueAUSTIN, TEXAS—As landscape architecture educators socialized Thursday evening with Lone Star beer, whiskey, and wine, conversations frequently returned to that day’s speech by the landscape historian John Stilgoe of Harvard University. What did it all mean? Is Stilgoe a prophetic observer or is he out of touch with the profession? Is he a feminist or the opposite?

The speech was a winding road system with many cul-de-sacs, loosely related observations that cannot be done justice in this format. Its main intent seemed to be challenging landscape architects to think about where they get their conceptions of landscape beauty, and where clients get theirs.

Stilgoe asserted that many people get their ideas about landscape beauty from advertisements. More specifically, he thinks many women get their ideas from the ads in fashion magazines, and so he has become an avid reader of these magazines himself. He challenged the audience to look at the landscapes that fashion models appear in, and showed slide after slide of unsmiling models positioned in similar landscapes of concrete and stone. “The very straightforward formula for producing the background image is very, very creepy,” Stilgoe said. “Notice how often the model is in a derelict environment.” The model is the beautiful thing. Nothing is allowed to outshine her or her dress.

He wondered why we seem to put historicized scenes on our Christmas cards and how our movies, our children’s books, and our camera lenses are affecting the way we see landscape.

Stilgoe has built his career on such questions and observations. “J. B. Jackson told me to get in a car and go look,” Stilgoe recalled. “Don’t ever ask for a grant, because how are you going to ask for money if you don’t know what you’re going to look at?”

He has observed a nation of passive consumers, more concerned about their own bodies than the content of their character or the flowers around them. “We became a people who stopped dancing and started to watch others dance,” Stilgoe said. (more…)

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From the January 2013 issue of LAM:

On the High Line: Exploring America’s Most Original Urban Park, by Annik LaFarge; New York: Thames & Hudson, 2012; 218 pages, $29.95.

Reviewed by Jane Gillette

Everybody loves New York’s High Line, because what’s not to love? The 1.45-mile park, stretching through the Meatpacking District and West Chelsea along New York’s West Side, offers a pleasant amble with the different perspective of a city viewed from 30 feet up in the air. There are the beautiful steel tracks, places to sunbathe, a big window and benches for convenient traffic and people watching, and a variety of gardens with slightly different moods and uses (the Gansevoort Woodland, the Washington Grasslands, the Chelsea Thicket, the Bog, the Lawn, the Astor Farmland).

Since its opening in 2009, the High Line has attracted some four million visitors a year, nearby real estate values have soared by an estimated $2 billion, and over 20 years the project is expected to produce some $900 million for the city in extra tax revenue. All this at a construction cost of about $152 million (for sections one and two).


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Petrochemical America, an absorbing and at times shocking book by the photographer Richard Misrach and the landscape architect Kate Orff, explores the industrial corridor of lower Louisiana. LAM featured Orff and her work behind the book in a story by Melanie Rehak in the May 2012 issue. The book is due out October 31 and is available to order through Amazon and through its publisher, Aperture (the list price is $80). This Friday, September 21, the authors hold a reception and book signing at Aperture’s gallery and bookstore in New York, where there is also an exhibition about the project. On Tuesday, September 25, Aperture hosts a talk by Orff with Mike Schade of the Center for Health, Environment & Justice and Wilma Subra of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network. Both events are free; if you can’t make it to either one, read this conversation with Misrach and Orff at the Aperture Foundation’s web site.


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“The majority of existing playgrounds are still of the level asphalt type, with fixed equipment chosen from an ironmonger’s catalogue. Rarely is there grass, or trees, or flowers, or animals or any beauty. Children are increasingly condemned to live in a harsh, stark desert of hard surfacing. This antiseptic approach kills play stone dead…

It is the adventure playgrounds, where children can ‘do it themselves’, that are liberating, especially for those who live in the crowded cities and over-regulated and over-tidy housing estates. They are places where children can test themselves against new challenges in complete freedom.”

Lady Allen of Hurtwood wrote those words in her 1968 manifesto, Planning for Play. Hurtwood was an English landscape architect and one of the preeminent advocates for adventure playgrounds on both sides of the Atlantic. Finding vintage playground books can be a bit of a struggle, and the books can cost a pretty penny. But thanks to the blogger Paige Johnson, Hurtwood’s book is now available to inspire the next generation of playground designers

Johnson is a bit of a polymath; at her day job she works as a scientist  studying nano-structures. In her spare time she blogs about playground design and history at Playscapes(more…)

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