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Archive for the ‘IDEAS’ Category

BY ELIZABETH S. PADJEN

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ReDe Boston 2100, designed by Architerra, imagines an accessible waterfront that allows for tidal submersion.

All this talk of sea-level rise and 100-year floods…. If you’re a Bostonian, you can talk in terms of 30-day floods.

That’s the interval between astronomical high tides—the so-called wicked high tides (no one bothers with quotation marks around “wicked” anymore) that regularly flood parts of the city. Locals have been industriously filling in tidelands and marshes for a few centuries now, increasing the city’s land area by more than half. But in just the past century, sea level has risen by almost a foot, with a projected additional five- to six-foot increase by 2100 that will flood most of that filled land, leaving dry zones that almost match the footprint of the original 17th-century Boston.

Bostonians have got the message: The sea is calling, and it wants its stuff back.

The most recent effort to negotiate palatable terms of surrender is Boston Living with Water, an open, international, two-stage competition that attracted 50 entries representing more than 340 individuals. Winning submissions were announced on June 8 by Boston’s mayor, Martin J. Walsh, at a standing-room-only event that attracted more than 150 attendees, including designers, civic and business leaders, community members, students, and even Miss Earth Massachusetts (Olea Nickitina, resplendent in a sash and suitably green frock).

Selected from a field of nine semifinalists, the winners were: (more…)

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Under the Elevated launch event at Pier i.

Under the Elevated launch event at the Pier i Café.

Aside from the surviving section of the hulking Miller Highway viaduct looming overhead, Thomas Balsley’s masterfully designed Riverside Park South is a serene place with tall, wavy grasses and meandering pathways. The viaduct, however, bisects the park, casting shadows and blocking views. The din from the traffic overhead can make it difficult to hear people talking on parts on the park’s distinctive curved pier that juts out into the Hudson River.

Such was the case last week, when officials from the nonprofit Design Trust for Public Space and the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) had to shout to make themselves heard as they announced the publication of a new 128-page book called Under the Elevated: Reclaiming Space, Connecting Communities. The product of a two-year study, the book looks at ways to transform the often dark and dirty spaces beneath the 700 miles of bridges, elevated subway lines, and highways that run throughout the five boroughs of the city. According to the book’s introduction, the amount of space available for redesigning is nearly four times the size of Central Park.

With the publication of Under the Elevated, the Design Trust is seeking to inspire civic efforts throughout the city similar to the one it helped catalyze with its pivotal 2001 study for the High Line. “Not every neighborhood needs a High Line,” Design Trust Executive Director Susan Chin said. “However, the need to alleviate the negative impact from the presence of elevated lines is even greater in the outer boroughs.” (more…)

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BY TIMOTHY A. SCHULER

Our cities' aging populations require new approaches to urban planning.

Our cities’ aging populations require new approaches to urban planning.

From the June 2015 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

In December 2013, a massive ice storm crippled Toronto, killing 27 people and knocking out power for 600,000 Ontario residents. Without electricity, elevators in Toronto’s residential high-rises stopped working, and many elderly people were trapped. “I know that there were elderly women up on the 18th floor in a tower near our office who were trying to make tea on a little gas burner,” recalls Patricia McCarney, the director of the Global Cities Institute (GCI) at the University of Toronto. “The elderly were going between two floors to help each other for four days while they didn’t have power. They were actually having small tea parties up on these high floors! So there is a social capital out there, but if that went on any longer, who’s going to take groceries up to them? Who knows they even live there?”

McCarney’s story illustrates both the vulnerability and resiliency of our cities’ older people, a population that planners and designers of all types must increasingly account for. As the world becomes more urbanized, those urban centers are rapidly aging. In the next 25 years, the number of New Yorkers older than 65—currently 12 percent of the population—is expected to increase by 50 percent. According to a recent GCI report, the number of people in the world over 65 years of age will increase 183 percent by 2050, and according to the AARP, most of those elderly want to age in place rather than move to a traditional retirement community.

But building more “age-friendly” cities will be difficult without reliable city-level data about health care, housing, infrastructure, and other quality-of-life indicators. “City data is often either nonexistent or it’s very weakly constructed,” says McCarney, explaining that global statistics for things like mortality rates are often presented at the country, not city, level. McCarney and her team worked with 20 different cities, including London, Shanghai, Helsinki, Dubai, Boston, and Johannesburg to develop a standardized set of 100 indicators organized around themes like safety, recreation, governance, and urban planning. The result, published in May 2014, was ISO 37120, Sustainable Development of Communities—Indicators for City Services and Quality of Life, the first international standard for city-level data. (more…)

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BY ELIZABETH S. PADJEN

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Mohsen Mostafavi, Francine Houben, and Craig Dykers discuss at the Keynote Panel moderated by Cathleen McGuigan.

In the opening scene of the first episode of Mr. Selfridge, an American businessman, Harry Selfridge, tries on a pair of kid gloves in a proper Edwardian department store. When he decides he wants to try something else, the clerk asks what he would like to see. “Well, maybe I don’t know until I see it,” he answers. “Why don’t we get a whole lot of them on the counter and then we can see what we like?” The clerk explains that’s not how things are done. “Come on,” he cajoles, “let’s have a little bit of fun”—and soon a drawerful of gloves is heaped on the counter.

Clients shopping for just the right design, civic-minded organizations browsing the marketplace of ideas—it’s sometimes hard to let go of the notion that design competitions are at their heart a retail experience. How can we know what we like until we see it? And shouldn’t we all have a little bit of fun while we’re trying to figure that out?

Exploring the ways that competitions can reach beyond mere consumerism was the focus of a recent conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on April 23 and 24, cosponsored by the Van Alen Institute and the Harvard Graduate School of Design. The event, dubbed “The Design Competition Conference” (surely “a” would have been more accurate, given the inevitability of future similar symposia), coincided with the release of the findings of a design competition survey conducted by Van Alen and Architectural Record magazine.

(more…)

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Remnants of Spain’s early 21st century speculative urbanization pursuits. Christopher Marcinkoski, The City that Never Was.

Remnants of Spain’s early 21st century speculative urbanization pursuits. From Christopher Marcinkoski, The City That Never Was.

A few months back, we published a short appeal for more landscape architects to apply for the storied Rome Prize with the hope that the breadth of the field could be better represented. On April 23, the American Academy in Rome announced the 2015–2016 fellows, which included three new fellows in landscape architecture: Christopher Marcinkoski, Alexander Robinson, ASLA, and Thaïsa Way, ASLA.

The Rome Prize, which provides significant time, research materials, and studio space at the academy’s recently restored Villa Aurelia in Rome, has long been a coveted honor. Described as “life changing” and “transformative” by the 1997–1998 fellow Mary Margaret Jones, FASLA, it is also a way of benchmarking where and how the concerns of landscape architecture converge with currents in the arts and humanities. Along with a cohort of musicians, writers, artists, scholars, and architects, the new landscape fellows will live and work in Rome for six months to a year.

Christopher Marcinkoski is an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a former senior associate at James Corner Field Operations. His project, “Rome, Empire Building, and the City That Never Was,” expands from the research in his forthcoming book, The City That Never Was, by looking at the emergence of speculative settlement and infrastructure projects. “My project in Rome intends to use the historical lens of Roman urbanization to think about ongoing projects that are being pursued in Africa,” Marcinkoski says. Using the example of megaprojects in Spain and Ireland that were begun but then abandoned during the recession, Marcinkoski says that these kinds of projects are now appearing in places such as Angola and Morocco, built by outside entities and sometimes in exchange for access to material resources. Coming off a long book project, Marcinkoski plans to use his time for more design experimentation, rather than written critique, though he notes that these speculative projects on the African continent deserve close attention. “There’s an incongruity between what is being proposed and what is needed.”

An interactive interface for the Owens Lake Dust Control Project explores the nexus of infrastructure performance and experience. Credit: Alexander Robinson

An interface for the Owens Lake Dust Control Project explores the nexus of infrastructure performance and experience. Credit: Alexander Robinson.

Alexander Robinson’s research deals with some of the major water infrastructure projects in the western United States; his work was recently featured in After the Aqueduct. He says that working on that exhibition helped him understand what he wanted to do with the Rome prize, and his project, “A Projective Picturesque: Reconciling Pictorial with Performance in Landscape Architecture,” will bring his research in infrastructure into a conversation with often-maligned picturesque aesthetics. Robinson is interested in “recognizing that there is a rift between performance and pictorial—there’s a lot more embedded in what we see than the scenic.” The project at the American Academy in Rome will take him back to his roots as a landscape painter to reconcile those aesthetics with the use of the planimetric design tools that are the mainstay of his current position as the director of the Landscape Morphologies Lab at the University of Southern California. “How do we think about the pictorial and the visual syntax of landscape architecture in the context of landscape infrastructure and performance?” he asks.

Thaïsa Way’s project, “Drawing a History of Landscape Architecture,” sounds perfectly scholarly, but it has an unexpected twist. The project will allow Way, a landscape historian, to study the relationship between drawing and landscape from its architectural origins to its current idiom as a form of professional communication. “I’m really interested in the history of drawing. It’s what makes us as a profession, makes us different. We use drawings to think, create, and communicate in a huge range of ways. How did those ways of thinking come to be?” But there’s more: “I am going to also draw—as a historian, to really understand what it is to draw, I need to draw!” she says. To do this, Way will look at the drawings of former landscape architecture fellows—the Rome Prize for landscape architecture was established in 1915, so she’ll have a deep archive to draw from—and then bring them to the sites where they were made, immersing herself in the relationships between the subject, the site, and the hand.  Way says experiencing the act of drawing will inform the way she writes about drawing. “As a historian and a critic, I read differently because I also write, and I wanted to have that same experience,” she says.

Part of why Way is excited about starting the fellowship in Rome is because of the way her work fits together with that of Marcinkoski and Alexander. All of the Rome Prize landscape projects in some way deal with issues that are in the forefront of contemporary practice, and each new fellow has pulled back and asked how history might inform these questions more fully. But they also speak to the field in other ways, tying individual research to the concerns of the field at large. Way says: “They’re all really about the profession, not just about ourselves.”

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Americans throw away more than 146 billion coffee cups every year, says Alex Henige, a senior in the landscape architecture program at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. That number may seem low, but with no end in sight to the nation’s coffee addiction, Henige has a plan to take it down even lower—and plant trees in the process.

For his senior project, which Henige has turned into a Kickstarter campaign, he is developing “The World’s First Plantable Coffee Cup,” which turns a beverage container into a seed packet. The plantable coffee cups, made with fibers from local recycling centers, are embedded with an assortment of California native seeds. In his scheme, their first lives as cups would end one of three ways: The cups could be soaked in water for five minutes and planted in the ground; they could be collected in a special container for use at nearby reforestation sites; or they could be thrown away and would biodegrade within six months or so.

Henige was part of the team that won the 2014 ASLA Student Award of Excellence in Community Service for work on the Ratang Bana AIDS Orphanage Playscape in South Africa. On that trip, he saw the potential for a dual-purpose product. “They don’t have proper disposal techniques over there,” he says, “so what if we had a product that can benefit the communities by dissolving the waste?”

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At this point, the Kickstarter prototype is for the California region, and there are still many tests to complete, such as putting the seeds through the manufacturing process to see whether they can germinate afterward. If they can, he will put the cups in consumers’ hands and monitor usage patterns. “If they’re throwing them in urban environments, then we need certain species” that wouldn’t hurt ecologically, Henige says. “If there are more people who are actually throwing them into our containers where we can collect them, then, okay, these people actually want us to use this product for reforestation.”

For more information, visit “The World’s First Plantable Coffee Cup” Kickstarter, running now until March 14.

Credit: Courtesy Alex Henige.

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Don't think of the city as postapocalyptic. Think of it as pre-urban.  Credit: Detroit Future City

Don’t think of the city as post-apocalyptic. Think of it as pre-urban. Credit: Detroit Future City

From the November 2014 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

Erin Kelly, Associate ASLA, was giving me the side eye. We were sitting in a Salvadorean restaurant on Livernois, wolfing down hot food after a bleak circular tour of blighted neighborhoods that ring Detroit’s revitalizing downtown core. I had been talking about DesignInquiry, the group of designers I’d come to town with to check out the city and try to understand what design’s role might be here. Kelly thinks she’s seen quite enough of our type in the short time she’s been working in Detroit: parachuting in from thriving cities, Instagramming ruin-porn pictures shot from the safety of rental cars, and hopping back on the plane after a few days.

(more…)

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