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Archive for the ‘PEOPLE’ Category

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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Shauna Gillies-Smith talks to  Cool Spaces host Stephen Chung about the Nelson Atkins Museum's landscape. Photo: Shauna Gillies-Smith

Shauna Gillies-Smith talks to Cool Spaces!  host Stephen Chung about the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’s landscape. Photo: Shauna Gillies-Smith

The landscape architect Shauna Gillies-Smith has worked on only a handful of episodes of Cool Spaces! The Best New Architecture, a new PBS series focused on new architecture, but she’s not worried that landscape architecture is getting the short shift. The show’s host, Stephen Chung, was a classmate of Gillies-Smith at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and she says she is confident that he is sufficiently “interested in the allied disciplines.” The show, now premiering in local television markets, is organized around different typologies—the first few episodes have themes such as “Performance Spaces,” “Libraries,” or “Healing Spaces”—and focuses on three major new projects per episode. Although landscape architecture is not yet a featured theme, Gillies-Smith has been on screen or behind the scenes for some of the projects, and she’s a big believer in exposing the nondesign audience to design. “It’s as much an advocacy project as a beautiful interesting project about design” she says.

Gillies-Smith, who is the founding principal of ground  in Boston, is one of a team of experts whom Chung may interview on screen; the team may also include an engineer, a lighting designer, or an acoustician, depending on the project. Each expert talks about a different aspect of the project and tries to make it comprehensible to the general audience. “So, for example, I spoke on two different projects,” Gillies-Smith says. “One was the Nelson-Atkins Museum, and in that project it comes down to something very, very simple: the idea that the land was constructed.” Gillies-Smith walks the viewer through the way the landscape was shaped to accommodate a Dan Kiley garden next to the museum’s Stephen Holl addition: “The addition has a very strongly sculpted landscape that is primarily creating space so the building can poke out of the ground like a series of lanterns. A very simple idea, that the landscape was built around the buildings,”  she told us.

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BY ERNEST BECK

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From the June 2014 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

When John Crespo, Student ASLA, was applying to master of landscape architecture programs a few years ago, his target list ranged far and wide, from Texas A&M to Kansas State, University of Illinois, and Cornell University. Admitted to all of them, Crespo opted for the more expensive Cornell, figuring that the school’s excellent academic program and vaunted reputation in landscape architecture might boost his career chances. Next spring, Crespo will graduate with a coveted Cornell degree, but he will also be saddled with an estimated $30,000 in student loans. “It was a calculated decision, because my biggest concern after leaving school was finding a job,” Crespo, 28, recalls about his decision. “I hope the Cornell name will provide me with some leverage and, down the road, the investment will pay off.”

Faced with rising tuition costs and shrinking financial aid opportunities, landscape architecture students are part of the wave of students across the country going deeper into debt to finance their education and professional goals. Some, like Crespo, are banking on that investment to further their careers, despite the debt load, while others are simply trying to obtain degrees that will open doors to their desired fields. Whatever the motive, the total student debt market, which includes private, variable-rate loans and federally backed fixed-rate loans, is surging. In 2013 it topped $1.2 trillion, after passing the $1 trillion mark only two years earlier. More than 70 percent of college seniors who graduated in 2012 from four-year colleges had debt from student loans, compared to 68 percent in 2008. And the average debt load for those graduating with bachelor’s degrees for the class of 2012 climbed to $29,400, up 25 percent from $23,450 in 2008, according to the nonprofit Institute for College Access & Success.

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Rich Haag with a clump of Equisetum, one of his favorite plants. Photo: Daniel Jost.

Rich Haag with a clump of Equisetum, one of his favorite plants. Photo: Daniel Jost.

On a recent tour of the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island, Washington, Richard Haag, FASLA, told a group of us, students from the University of Washington, two stories about the demise of the Garden of Planes. The garden was the first stop in the famous sequence of spaces that Haag designed at the reserve, and it was erased a few years after it was completed.

One story involves a fox. “A fox used to have a den there,” Haag explained as we passed by a giant stump that, ironically, Haag preserved for its habitat value. “And every morning, the fox would come out and leave his morning offering right on top of the gravel pyramid,” at the center of the Garden of Planes, he said. “That’s one of the reasons they got rid of it.”

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L to R: John Bela, Blaine Merker, Mayra Madriz, Matthew Lister, Julia D Day. Courtesy Gehl Studio.
L to R: John Bela, Blaine Merker, Mayra Madriz, Matthew Lister, Julia D. Day. Courtesy Gehl Studio.

BY JENNIFER COOPER

When you hear about mergers of design firms, it usually involves a global conglomerate swallowing up a smaller office to obtain local clients and staff. You seldom hear about two firms coming together simply out of mutual interests, but that is how the principals of Rebar, in San Francisco, and Gehl Architects, of Copenhagen, describe their new venture together. The new U.S. entity, Gehl Studio, will keep those offices and have a new one in New York.

In their San Francisco space in the Mission, John Bela, ASLA; Blaine Merker, ASLA, of Rebar; and Helle Søholt of Gehl Architects talked about the impetus for joining offices, which began in March. Søholt cofounded Gehl Architects in Copenhagen with Jan Gehl 14 years ago based on Gehl’s research on people and the ways they use public space. Together they have worked on projects around the world for cities and organizations such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. Until recent years, the firm focused primarily on large-scale planning but saw the need to prove their concepts to governments and communities in urban projects, as they did so successfully with New York’s public plaza and street improvements.

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