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AMERICAN GOTHIC 2.0

BY PATRICK SISSON

A high-tech greenhouse developer argues that preserving the agricultural landscape
requires a sustainable, scalable start-up.

FROM THE OCTOBER 2020 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

One of the first things visitors will notice inside the sprawling AppHarvest complex—a 60-acre, 2.76-million-square-foot, 30-foot-high greenhouse in Morehead, Kentucky—is the blinding, almost antiseptic whiteness. A forest of tomato plants, green tendrils reaching up from nutrient-rich charcoal beds toward the glass roof, will soon be arranged in rows that stretch nearly a mile end to end. Walls, gutters, and flooring, all coated in white to reflect the sunlight, give the appearance of a soundstage.

“It’s just awe-inspiringly massive,” says Kentucky native Jonathan Webb, the company’s founder, about the experience of standing inside a space the size of 30 Tesla Gigafactories. Seedlings have already been planted, and by the end of the year, AppHarvest will be shipping the first of what it hopes will be an annual haul of 45 million pounds of fresh, Kentucky-grown tomatoes to grocers including Kroger, Walmart, and Costco. “We’re trying to use technology to align with nature and put nature first,” Webb says.

As its name suggests, AppHarvest views farming and food through a start-up lens. For Webb, who has a background in the solar industry, the central argument is sustainability. Tomatoes are grown year-round in a climate-controlled, chemical-free greenhouse using hydroponics, robotics, more banks of LED lights than a ballpark, and two species of wasps for natural pest control, resulting in significantly more produce per acre. Strategically placing one of North America’s largest greenhouses within a day’s drive of 70 percent of the U.S. population means less time between harvest and consumption, ideally resulting in a tastier tomato and less trucking emissions. Nearly $2 billion worth of tomatoes are currently shipped into the United States annually from farms and greenhouses in Mexico.

Webb argues he needs to go big to fight the dystopian farming practices of Big Agriculture, which run ever-larger industrialized operations that emit noxious levels of animal waste and fertilizers. Animals raised on huge CAFOs (concentrated animal feed operations), for instance, live in crowded misery, amid complexes that stain the landscape with so much ammonia and nitrogen, hydrogen sulfide, and methane that children nearby developed elevated levels of asthma. Artificial structures of glass and steel the size of airport terminals can free up the land by concentrating production. It’s a pragmatic strain of tech utopianism that asks if the sacrifice of a small portion of the landscape can serve the greater good. Continue Reading »

This fall, LAM will be highlighting professional and student winners from the 2020 ASLA Awards by asking designers to dive deep into one image from their winning project.

Jia: Bringing Landscape Architecture to Webtoons, by July Aung, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, Student Communications Award of Excellence.

“Webtoons are a story and illustration-driven medium that makes information easily digestible and relatable, creating engaging content for younger audiences that have grown up in a fast-paced culture. Typical landscape architecture publications tend to have long, informative narratives that are often hard or take time to understand without a background in the subject. The webtoon format allows for graphics that clearly illustrate and summarize these concepts throughout an immersive story. Additionally, webtoons are designed for smartphones and are often distributed for free online, delivering messages and information to a global audience regardless of background and situation.

“When designing for the smartphone, the most important step is to limit the quantity of narration and dialogue so that it doesn’t overwhelm the screen and become hard to read. The illustrations and graphic design are the focus, while the words serve as the clarification, thus acting as the connecting thread between the panels. As with film, the pacing and flow of the illustrations and narration define the mood, time, and changes in location, which directly influences the reader’s feelings. For example, fast pacing exudes strong emotions such as anger and excitement, while slow pacing is mellow, sentimental, and relaxed. Hence, providing the wrong pacing and chapter design takes the reader out of the story or overwhelms them with too much information.”

—July Aung, Student ASLA

 

This unusual project delivers the story and values of landscape architecture into a new realm. Webtoons are vertical, linear cartoons meant to be read on smartphones—a graphic novel in text message format. The platform is favored by audiences who are younger or outside landscape architecture’s typical horizons, and the graphic quality allows for visually rich narratives that can unfurl the profession’s many trajectories. The story of Jia is that of a small, family restaurant whose owner confronts a resource crisis as he searches for a missing ingredient, and through navigating it, learns to live differently on the land. The central conflict of resource exhaustion is expressed through the story of the family’s coming to terms with waste and regeneration and learning to live and work in a more sustainable way. Jia animates and activates many central values and tenets of landscape architecture, and through the webtoon format, offers an exceptional opportunity for engaging wider audiences.

—Haniya Rae

A LAKE AND A LONG HISTORY

BY RACHEL DOVEY

In Akron, Ohio, investment in the civic commons sparks a dialogue about social equity.

FROM THE OCTOBER 2020 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

Summit Lake in Akron, Ohio, is a glacial landmark shaped like a lopsided figure eight. It sits along a continental divide, so its waters flow both north toward Lake Erie and south toward the Mississippi River. “Not many cities have this kind of asset,” says Kyle Lukes, ASLA, a senior landscape architect with Environmental Design Group in Akron.

The residents who live next to the lake haven’t always seen it that way, though. In 2016, Akron was one of five cities chosen for Reimagining the Civic Commons, a $40 million effort with backing from the Knight and Kresge Foundations, among others, to counter trends of economic segregation, social isolation, and distrust through creative reuses of public space. Akron’s proposal included the lake and the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, which winds along the shore and follows a canal north. But when Lukes and a group of landscape architects and park staff broached the idea of remaking the waterfront for residents, they instead heard requests to fence off the shoreline. Continue Reading »

This fall, LAM will be highlighting professional and student winners from the 2020 ASLA Awards by asking designers to dive deep into one image from their winning project.

Peat/Land: Strategies for Restoration, Design, and Planning of North Carolina Peatlands, by Madalyn Baldwin, North Carolina State University, Student Analysis and Planning Honor Award.

“Paludiculture isn’t a well-known concept, but I only wanted to dedicate one graphic to introducing and explaining it, so the aim of creating this graphic was to fit in as much information as possible while trying to keep it legible. My goals were to create a graphic narrative that provided a definition and overview of the concept, explain the existing agricultural conditions and spatial relationship to peatland as well as what is produced here, give specific examples of crops that could be produced by adopting paludiculture practices, and use icons introduced earlier in the project to reference the specific restoration strategies and steps toward implementation. Overall, I was hoping this graphic would read as an infographic for paludiculture, answering the following questions: What is it, how and where can it be implemented or adopted, and what are the benefits?

Madalyn Baldwin, Student ASLA

 

Peat—decomposed plant matter that accumulates in boggy landscapes—sequesters a large proportion of the world’s carbon compared to its relatively small percentage of coverage, yet it is often used for energy production or simply drained to convert peatland to farmland. What if peatland were viewed less as an agricultural impediment than a climate-restorative opportunity? That’s the question addressed in this study of Fair Bluff, North Carolina, which was built on drained peatland, and was subjected to heavy flooding in recent hurricanes. By relocating Fair Bluff’s downtown from its current low-elevation site to higher ground, residents would gain a central peat park that would celebrate the region’s high water table while embracing better climate resilience that aligns with the disaster recovery plan. Here, innovative strategies for monetizing carbon storage would encourage preservation and restoration of peatlands, with increased public access and education programs to build visibility and instill the value of this natural resource. Encouraging paludiculture (wetlands agriculture) would promote peatland regrowth, and the new public park would offer tangible and long-term ecological benefit to residents in the region.

—Haniya Rae

THE PLUS SIDE

BY LYDIA LEE

When designers need to calculate the environmental cost of projects, a new tech tool crunches the numbers.

FROM THE OCTOBER 2020 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

For the new Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge project in Washington, D.C., landscape architects at AECOM made sure that the bridge’s adjacent 80-acre waterfront park would provide many environmental benefits: bioswales and rain gardens for treating stormwater, pollinator meadows, and extensive tree cover to reduce the urban heat island effect. But when they did a rough estimate of how long it would take for the carbon dioxide absorbed by the plantings to cancel out the carbon dioxide emitted from producing asphalt and concrete paving and from maintenance, they got a surprisingly high number: 39 years. Two other completed projects they investigated took even longer to become carbon neutral: 346 and 154 years. “It was pretty interesting—we had no idea we were that far off,” says Ignacio Bunster-Ossa, FASLA, the vice president of landscape architecture and urbanism for the Americas at AECOM.

These calculations can be done painstakingly by hand, but Bunster-Ossa’s group was able to get these results by using Pathfinder, a new carbon calculator and design tool designed specifically for landscape architects. The app’s developer, Pamela Conrad, ASLA, a principal at San Francisco-based CMG Landscape Architecture, has spent the past four years thinking about the carbon footprint of landscape projects. “A landscape looks green, so we assume that it’s good and that we do good things,” says Conrad. “But it has a unique carbon impact that is hidden to the eye—it’s only when we measure that we can fully understand this complex formula.” Continue Reading »

The things our art director, Chris McGee, hated to leave out of the current issue of LAM.

Photo by Robin Hill.

From “An Emerald Necklace at 70 Feet” in the October 2020 issue by Timothy A. Schuler, about a green roof system at the University of Miami devised by ArqGEO and the Henry Company that can keep everything planted amid hurricane-force winds.

“Hurricane ready.”

–CHRIS MCGEE, LAM ART DIRECTOR

As always, you can buy this issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine at more than 250 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.

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FOREGROUND

 Miami’s Next Wave (Water)
In Miami Beach, Savino & Miller wrangles with local regulations that are designed to protect natural
resources but often clash with the advancing sea.

American Gothic 2.0 (Food)
A start-up launches with a very tech vision for enormous, centralized greenhouses and resilient food
systems, even if some of the details haven’t been worked out yet.

 FEATURES

The Plus Side
Carbon calculators for architecture can miss landscape benefits, so Pamela Conrad, ASLA, turned a
spreadsheet into Pathfinder, an app with landscape at its heart.

To the Core
At a tiny semiderelict site in Detroit, Julie Bargmann, ASLA, found a collaborator and an
urban forest that was waiting to be unearthed.

The full table of contents for October can be found here.

As always, you can buy this issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine at more than 250 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 posting October articles as the month rolls out.

Credits: “The Plus Side,” City of Alameda, Recreation and Parks Department; “To the Core,” Chris Miele; “American Gothic 2.0,” AppHarvest; “Miami’s Next Wave,” www.shutterstock.com/imageMD; “A Way of Walking,” Katherine Jenkins.