Archive for April, 2012

Up at the Toronto Star, the critic Christopher Hume sees a rather unsustainable condo skyline going up in his city. He thumps this sort of development in the context of rising environmental consciousness in the building arts and sciences generally. “[W]e will look back at these early 21st-century towers much as we do now at suburbia,” Hume writes. “Too often, architectural elegance hides inner ecological ugliness.” He adds, pleasantly enough: “Landscape architects have been quicker to grasp this new reality that the built environment remains part of the larger environment.”

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ASLA’s latest Business Quarterly survey of billings and inquiries for new work among landscape architects is out today, and holds some encouraging news. In the first quarter of the year, 71.3 percent of firms report steady or improved billable hours over those of the final quarter of 2011. More than three-quarters of responding landscape architects say that inquiries for new work are stable or better. There are signs for hope among architects, too. The March 2012 Architecture Billing Index compiled by the American Institute of Architects shows slight growth in actual billings, and somewhat stronger growth in inquiries for new work.

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Plants Pages

Did you know that Arbor Day was first celebrated 140 years ago in Nebraska? It is said that more than one million trees were planted that day.  If you are interested in celebrating today’s holiday but don’t have any more room in your backyard, you can learn about tree planting opportunities near you on a special web site created by the National Arbor Day Foundation.

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Looks like Google SketchUp will soon be just SketchUp again. Google is selling the 3-D modeling software company to Trimble, known for its engineering and construction management software. Daniel Tal, a frequent contributor to LAM and author of Google SketchUp for Site Design, says he’s received e-mails from various SketchUp employees and “they’re all pretty happy about this.”

“Thankfully,” Tal says, “they did not kill it like previous Google products lost to the trash heap.”

It seems there may actually be big plans for combining the strengths of the two companies and creating more integrated software. “Users will be able to collect data, design, model, and collaborate on one platform,” says the press release from Trimble. SketchUp’s blog is also talking up the move, saying: “We’ll be better able to focus on our core communities.”

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In honor of Frederick Law Olmsted’s birthday today, many landscape architects will be taking to the streets to tell the world about what they do. Meanwhile, Slate is marking the occasion with a gallery of photos from Olmsted’s most famous commission, Central Park, and an excerpt from a new anthology of essays showing that park’s place in the public imagination, edited by Andrew Blauner.

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USA Today has come out with an incredible report on long-forgotten “ghost factories,” where lead was processed before the Environmental Protection Agency was created. Following up on research by the environmental scientist William Eckel, reporters used old Sanborn Maps, directories, and historical photos to identify  more than 230 former lead factory sites around the country. They conducted hundreds of soil tests and found that many of the neighborhoods where these factories once existed have unsafe levels of lead in the upper layers of the soil.

The contamination is not limited to properties where smelting took place. Lead dust released from smokestacks blew into the surrounding neighborhoods, where it was supplemented by lead from paint and particles emitted from vehicles that burned leaded gasoline, creating a serious health threat for the young children who live and play there. (more…)

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In the alpine Himalayas, Jan Salick, a senior curator at the Missouri Botanical Garden, and a research team member study plants affected by climate change. Photo by Suresh Ghimire. Courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden.

A major announcement comes today from four of the world’s leading botanical gardens: By 2020, they plan to launch what is called the World Flora, an online database to compile information on 400,000 plant species worldwide. The collaborators are the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, the New York Botanical Garden, and the Missouri Botanical Garden. When it’s up and running, the World Flora will fulfill one major goal of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, which was articulated by the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity in 2002 “to halt the continuing loss of plant biodiversity around the globe.” It’s an extremely exciting prospect. Read the full details here.

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