Archive for April, 2012


Mrs. Francis Lemoine Loring house, 700 South San Rafael Avenue, San Rafael Heights, Pasadena, California, photo by Frances Benjamin Johnston

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston was shooting gardens and hand-coloring her glass-plate lantern slides. LAM’s April issue featured a stunning selection of these slides, but now you can see many more of them on the Library of Congress’s Flickr page.

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The Urban Land Institute announced the winners of its ULI/Gerald D. Hines Student Urban Design Competition last week. The winning team, made up of five students from the University of Colorado and Harvard University, took home a $50,000 prize.

The ULI/Hines competition encourages interdisciplinary collaboration among future land use professionals and those in allied fields. Some 695 students from 64 universities participated in this year’s contest, which required students to rethink a 16.3-acre property along the Buffalo Bayou near downtown Houston. The site was a distribution center for the U.S. Postal Service until it was closed in 2009 as part of the postal service’s financial restructuring.


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Want to show off your rendering skills? Nemetschek Vectorworks and MAXON Computer GmbH are sponsoring the 2012 Inspired Visions Global Rendering Competition, which is open to both students and professionals. To qualify, models must be created in Vectorworks and rendered using Renderworks or CINEMA 4D.  Awards are offered in a number of different categories, and the winners will each receive $2,500.

If you are interested in competing, but don’t have the most recent version of Vectorworks with Renderworks, you can request a free 30-day trial of the software here, or, if you are a student, here.  A free 42-day trial of CINEMA 4D is also available. For more information about the competition, you can visit its web site. All entries must be submitted by August 16, 2012.

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Yesterday, in light of the scandal unfolding at the General Services Administration, a reader wrote:


I wonder if you’re going to do an update to this month’s LAND MATTERS.  Your buddy Robert Peck got canned for misusing tax dollars. No wonder so many architects are flocking to the GSA. It seems the agency thinks it’s Google or Apple and can spend like drunken sailors while those of us in the private sector have seen layoffs and severe cutbacks in benefits.

Great timing on your column.

As for an update, I initially said no to this reader. But I really should provide one, which would be that the positive views expressed toward GSA in my April column are basically unchanged, including my view of Robert Peck, the head of the Public Buildings Service and one of two top executives fired by the administrator, Martha Johnson, before she resigned earlier this month. Peck is not my buddy, by the way, but is someone whose excellent work in the public sector I have admired. If you read the pertinent testimony and exhibits carefully, you may conclude, as I have so far, that Peck’s main bad luck was that of a political appointee in charge of a part of a federal agency that had a regional (career) manager with sociopathic spending habits.

Speaking as a taxpayer, though, I still have no doubts about the enormous value GSA has brought to the country with better architecture, landscape architecture, and design over the past 20 years. This scandal seems to have first been uncovered, as you might hope it would be, by an alert GSA accounting employee. Apart from it, though, if I were looking for really serious federal government waste and abuse of tax money, that is, with a few more zeros behind it, GSA would hardly be the first place I’d go looking.

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Photo: Courtesy the Cultural Landscape Foundation

Surprise! The same day my editorial on the fate of Peavey Plaza in Minneapolis came out, the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission voted 8 to 1 against issuing a demolition permit. I had been expecting the permit to be issued, given the air of defeat hanging over the pro-Peavey phalanx. But the commission asked the city’s planning director to study the plaza, designed by M. Paul Friedberg in the 1970s, and determine whether it should be designated as historic; that process could take up to six months. The city’s director of the renovation project, Beth Grosen, told a local paper, City Pages, that Peavey is a “beloved space” and that her department looks forward “to having it be even more vital and sustainable in the future.”

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Land Matters, from the May 2012 issue of LAM

When you work in the public realm, you’ve got to have a thick hide. If you don’t, the public will give you one.

M. Paul Friedberg, FASLA, and Tom Oslund, FASLA, have each run into this reality over the past year and a half. The two were teammates in 2010, until they weren’t, for a competition project to renovate Peavey Plaza next to Orchestra Hall, the home of the Minnesota Orchestra, in downtown Minneapolis. Friedberg designed the plaza in the early 1970s. You see his signature written in concrete all over its long amphitheater stair seats, floating terraces, groves of shade, plus, when the plumbing worked, in the cubic fountain that shed solid sheets of water and the big pool that stared up from the center of it all.

The pictures of the plaza are gorgeous. The plumbing hasn’t worked for some time. A couple of pumps that supply the 120,000 gallons of water it needs are on the fritz and can’t be fixed. The plaza is crumbling in places. It suffers from a chronic lack of love, not least from the city, which wants to replace it.

Replacement is not what Friedberg and his biggest advocate, Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, the founder of the Cultural Landscape Foundation, had in mind when they both joined Oslund’s design team, one of four that competed for the project. Things soured between Friedberg and Oslund after Oslund won the competition and Friedberg realized a new design would not keep his old one intact.

Otherwise this is pretty much a standard preservation dispute, (more…)

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If I look to my right as I sit at my desk, I can see a midsized tree across the street. For the past 12 years, I’ve seen that tree turn gold in the fall, shed its leaves for the winter, then spring back with bright green buds in March that unfold, fill out, and deepen in color right about this time every year. So how much is that tree’s display worth? That tree, and other trees I can see if I look in another direction, increase my productivity as an employee to the tune of $3,000 a year, or so says a study cited in an article on GreenSource.

What seems difficult to quantify is nonetheless being tackled by scientists, who conclude that access to nature and views of nature not only make more productive employees, they shorten hospital stays, increase retail sales and home property values, and make people healthier.

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