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Drought is said to be too many nice days in a row. Well, in California, three years of nice days has curdled into sheer dread. In the Features section of our September issue, Bill Marken, a frequent LAM contributor and a former editor of Sunset, takes a road trip through California to witness the effects of the drought, which is crippling in certain places and seemingly not such a big deal in others, and to comment on the efforts, or lack thereof, to help soften the drought’s blows. In Mexico, a memorial to victims of the drug war struggles to honor the local impact of this complex, global tragedy. When the ever-encroaching tides threatened an iconic Norman Jaffe house in the Hamptons, LaGuardia Design Landscape Architects pulled it back from the brink and garnered an ASLA Award of Excellence in Residential Design. The landscape historian Thaisa Way takes Michael Van Valkenburgh’s words to heart when she looks at Chicago’s Lurie Garden, by Gustafson Guthrie Nichol with Piet Oudolf, 10 years after it opened beside Lake Michigan.

Also in this issue: The new landscape design for the Weeksville Heritage Center unearths the site’s past as a freedmen’s settlement; the ongoing efforts to contain sudden oak death’s spread (efforts which, it turns out, may be helped by the California drought); ecologists on the cutting edge of assisted migration who argue that it’s the only way to save the trees; and a brief history of pushback on Rails to Trails conversions. All this plus the regular goodies in Species, Goods, Books, and Now. The full table of contents for September can be read here.

As always, you can buy this issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine at more than 200 bookstores, including many university stores and independents, as well as at Barnes & Noble. You can also buy single digital issues for only $5.25 at Zinio or order single copies of the print issue from ASLA. Annual subscriptions for LAM are a thrifty $59 for print and $44.25 for digital. Our subscription page has more information on subscription options.

Keep an eye out here on the blog, on the LAM Facebook page, and on our Twitter feed (@landarchmag), as we’ll be ungating some September pieces as the month rolls out.

Credits: The Lurie Garden, The Lurie Garden; Assisted Migration, Torreya Guardians; Weeksville Heritage Center, Nic Lehoux Architectural Photography for Caples Jefferson Architects; Sudden Oak Death, Yana Valachovic, UC Cooperative Extension; Memorial to the Victims of Violence in Mexico, Sandra Pereznieto; LaGuardia Associates Perlbinder House, Erika Shank; San Luis Reservoir, Peter Bennett/Green Stock Photos. 

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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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At the Cities for Tomorrow conference hosted by the New York Times on April 22, I sat down with U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan to get his perspective on the Rebuild by Design competition. The competition launched by President Obama’s interagency Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, which Donovan chairs, could potentially transform vast stretches of metropolitan New York’s coastlines. The winners from the 10 finalist teams will receive funding from the approximately $3.6 billion in remaining Hurricane Sandy disaster money that HUD has slated for rebuilding and reinforcing flood-prone areas.

Donovan, who trained as an architect, describes the competition as part of a larger effort to change the ways government agencies and the design professions approach issues such as resilience and sustainability. “There are many competitions that have spurred innovation and excellence,” he told me. “What we were looking for here was to go beyond that in a couple of ways. One was to make an investment in some of the projects so at the end, they would get built. Second, to get innovation in community engagement, and third, to think about how this could actually bring about innovation in the way that government works.”

Donovan says outdated rules and regulations hampered the development of sustainable design solutions in the past. “There are many federal rules, fewer now than before, but there are still some which don’t encourage this type of thinking,” he said. “Even the cost-benefit analysis that is done by FEMA and other agencies often does not have a way of taking into account the benefits of green infrastructure.”

Beyond the competition, the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force is working to make coastal areas more resilient by gathering more information about climate change and making it publicly available to citizens, “but also to professionals like landscape architects,” Donovan said. “You are building on the waterfront—what are the risks of sea-level rise over the next 50 to 100 years, and how do you then think about building as a result of that?”

One of the more transformative aspects of Rebuild by Design is that instead of privileging hard engineering solutions, as has been the case with traditional approaches to building resiliency to storms, it is elevating softer strategies such as restoring wetlands and other ecosystems alongside them. Donovan says that one example of this multipronged approach is a system of oyster reef breakwaters designed by the landscape architecture firm SCAPE, which leads one of the finalist teams. “What they [breakwaters] do is significantly reduce wave power. And what that does is naturally start to build back the beach behind it, which itself creates dunes and protects homes—so it is a much more sophisticated approach that involves hard and soft [strategies].”

Donovan has a distinctive perspective on designing storm resilient infrastructure. In addition to his architecture degree from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, he is married to a landscape architect, Liza Gilbert, who worked for Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates on Brooklyn Bridge Park, a waterfront park that, although hit hard by Sandy, emerged relatively unscathed.

Nearly all the projects by the 10 finalist teams have a strong landscape architecture component, and Donovan believes that the profession is especially well-positioned to drive design decisions in Sandy-ravaged areas, where much of the work involves rebuilding beaches, promenades, and boardwalks. “Landscape architects have a unique set of skills,” he said. “In some ways they most easily get beyond this opposition of hard versus soft—they understand that the natural world can be part of the man-made world.”

Alex Ulam is a frequent contributor to LAM.

 

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Shute's Folly Island: Redefining Tourism Site Plan. Courtesy Zheming Cai.

Shute’s Folly Island: Redefining Tourism Site Plan. Courtesy Zheming Cai.

Undergraduate Zheming Cai’s ASLA award-winning student project to reimagine the historic military site of Shute’s Folly Island off coastal South Carolina took on the twin behemoths of preservation and tourism and forged them into a refined solution that balanced the site’s architectural and landscape histories. The project, Preservation as Provocation: Redefining Tourism, won a 2013 ASLA Student Honor Award and was praised by the “very impressed” jury for its sophistication. Cai’s design of the historic fortification “broke away from the military history” and “built on other reasons to visit,” according to the comments. Now a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Cai talked with us about how to use flooding as an interpretive tool for historic places, understanding the genius loci, and taking a landscape perspective on tourism.

You won the ASLA Student Honor Award for a project that was about preservation and tourism in South Carolina while you were a student at Purdue University. Can you tell us how you got interested in these two concepts and how you chose the site?
This was my senior capstone design project. The previous semester, I had taken a more architecturally oriented historic preservation course with Ken Schuette, who is also my adviser. I had focused on community, cultural heritage, and downtown areas, so that took some of my initial interest in that direction. Schuette discovered a student competition for Castle Pinckney sponsored by the American Institute of Architects and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture. He asked me if I had any interest in doing a competition for my capstone, and I said yes, I will do it.

The reason I picked this competition was that I was reading through their brief and they had this attached image of the castle (Castle Pinckney). Lots of my undergrad research is on the genius loci, the spirit of a place, and it reminded me a lot of the picturesque Tintern Abbey kind of image, and that got me really excited. I’m a landscape architect, so I wanted to stick my hat into the ring and do this competition from a landscape perspective. I didn’t win because my project wasn’t architectural enough, which was pretty interesting.

So initially it wasn’t my intention to apply for an ASLA award, but my adviser highly recommended it. At the time, I had graduated already and I was traveling in Yellowstone with my parents, so I had to put it all together in a little cabin.

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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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Energy City Framework

Chen used parametric tools to study how new forms of energy production (wind, solar, biomass) can be overlapped with other land uses in urban areas. Images courtesy of Chen Chen.

The Overlapped City was architect Chen Chen’s second ASLA Student Honor award winner, and because of this, it offers a chance to see how ideas and frameworks can grow and mature over the course of graduate education. Chen’s work is notable for its moody, almost dystopian graphic presentation, but it’s her analytical heft that caught the jury’s eye this year. The project distills the spatial implications of energy production, with the city of Houston as a prototype site. We talked with Chen Chen from her Beijing studio, reMIX, about her project, her abiding interest in energy, and the big opportunities that she believes landscape architects are missing.

You won the Student ASLA Honor Award in 2011 (for Vertical Territories, with E. Scott Mitchell and Amy Whitesides) and again in 2013. How would you describe the difference between your projects, and what have you learned and applied in the interim?
The projects share a lot in common. There are continuities of scale, but with quite different topics. Two projects deal with landscape primarily through vertical dimensions, integrating multiple goals, multiple data sets, and a multilayered approach. What is common is the verticality of those two projects, and they both try to deal with problems in [the] context of compact or dense urban environments. Both try to make a synergy between different types [of] land use. For example, both talk about how energy production can be overlapped with open space or landscape or ecological elements. I look at how those functions can work on different elevations to give some productivity to land and open space. Usually, open space in urban areas doesn’t produce any revenue—that’s usually the first thing to be removed when there is a high-pressure urban development. I am trying to look at ways of putting that back in.

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HOW TO FIX FARMING

Anna Claussen

Anna Claussen. Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

We’ve been hearing a lot about the intersection of food production and landscape architecture lately, so we thought we’d contribute to the conversation by opening up our Q+A with Anna Claussen  from the October issue of LAM. Claussen talks about how her work in landscape architecture gave her the social and ethical tools as well as the practical chops to get things done in food policy. –Eds.

Two years ago, Anna Claussen, ASLA, left a Minneapolis urban design firm for the nonprofit world. She talked over lunch with Adam Regn Arvidson, FASLA, about her own rural roots and that a family that still farms made her want to take some responsibility for how food is grown and distributed. She landed at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, where she is dedicated to rethinking the food system, with the goal to create environmentally and economically sound rural communities. These days Claussen may find herself in the fields with midwestern farmers, on the phone with agriculture experts in Europe, or reviewing policy documents with an eye to the bigger landscape picture.

What are you and your colleagues at IATP working toward?
Dismantling a current agricultural system that is unsustainable and unjust. Where I intersect with that is on the ground with solutions to the policy issues and higher-level discussions about what’s not working—about how government is not supporting a system that is fair and sustainable. We start with farmers, so we can collect data, and we can work with them to understand what are the drivers, the motivators, and the barriers to changing landscape practices.

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