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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.” (more…)

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As part of an ongoing effort to make content more accessible, LAM will be making select stories available to readers in Spanish. For a full list of translated articles, please click here.

FROM THE AUGUST 2020 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

Black people and Black communities bear the outsized impacts of public violence and, now, the deadly coronavirus. Six Black landscape architects and an architect parse the spatial factors that underlie each crisis—often both crises—and the kinds of actions and reforms they hope to see.

With Diane Jones Allen, FASLA; M. Austin Allen III, ASLA; Charles Cross; June Grant; Elizabeth Kennedy, ASLA; Jescelle R. Major, ASLA; and Douglas A. Williams, ASLA.

The idea for the following discussion, which took place the afternoon of June 22, 2020, via videoconference, first arose in late April as it became clear that the pandemic brought on by the novel coronavirus COVID-19 was doing disproportionate damage in Black communities in the United States: three times the number of infections as white people, and nearly twice the likelihood of death. The health crisis and an economic shutdown were quick to layer onto the existing vulnerabilities of Black people in the realms of health care, employment, wealth creation, community investment, mobility, and access to the virus’s nemeses—fresh air, open space, and daylight. Diane Jones Allen, FASLA, and M. Austin Allen III, ASLA, based in New Orleans and Arlington, Texas, invited four other landscape architecture practitioners and one architect to a call to talk about the spatial inequities to which the spread of the virus is plausibly attributable.

As the virus spread in May, there came national and international attention, two months delayed, to the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, 25, by racist vigilantes as he was out for a run in daylight on February 23 just outside Brunswick, Georgia, and the killing of Breonna Taylor, who was 26, in her home early the morning of March 13 by Louisville Metro Police, who were executing a no-knock warrant. Then on May 25, Memorial Day, George Floyd, 46, was murdered in public view by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds in the course of answering a call for an alleged nonviolent offense at a convenience store. As anger gathered and then exploded in street uprisings across the country, the group of designers on these pages had an expanded scope to cover—two plagues, not one, to dissect for causes and complications that bear directly on the callings of landscape architecture, its ideals, and its ill preparedness for such a moment. One plague is novel, and the other is now four centuries with us. (more…)

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TEXT BY SARAH COWLES / PHOTOGRAPHY BY DINA OGANOVA

The hidden dimensions of a city during the COVID-19 pandemic.

FROM THE JULY 2020 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

In the middle of March, I join a friend for a trip to Tbilisi National Park, one of Georgia’s 15 national parks, and a dense and parallactic forest of mossy Fagus orientalis, Ilex colchica, and Taxus baccata. We search the red-brown carpet for spring flowers: purple Primula vulgaris, chartreuse Helleborus caucasicus, and Petasites albus. We drive through rain showers to the town of Tianeti; we observe highway workers gather under marshrutka (bus) shelters for birzha, the ritual sharing of strong spirits and snacks.

“That does not look like social distancing,” I tell my friend.

We stop at the café in Tianeti village. “Can we get dambal khacho?” I ask. It’s a local mountain blue cheese, served warm on hot bread with ghee. “Shansi ara, axali kanoni!” (No chance, new law!) She brings takeaway instant coffee and cream puffs to the sidewalk.

As we descend the congested Georgian Military Highway in the Aragvi valley toward Tbilisi, hundreds of trucks straddle the verge and pavement, idled cargoes of produce and mineral water from Turkey, Armenia, and Georgia. Drivers sleep, piss, pace, and make repairs; the normal delays at the alpine Georgian–Russian border, now exacerbated by the crisis. I dodge the oncoming cars and curse. On this highway, there’s no margin of error, no guardrails; driving is all wit, no wisdom.

“Don’t go out unless absolutely necessary. If you have a high fever and cough, consult a doctor. We wish you health!” reads an SMS from Mtavroba (the Georgian government). The streets are already empty of cars; only the buzz of mopeds prevails.

In Tbilisi, it is Gizhi Marti (crazy March); the lion and the lamb are fighting every day. Cold Caucasus winds slice the plateaus at night. I wake to silence and snow. Had the city cooled in the slowdown? With fewer cars and a decrease in air pollution, is there now new space in the atmosphere for precipitation? On the news, bearded monks in black Ford F-350s and Toyota Land Cruiser Prados circle Republic Square, scattering holy water in the slush to combat the virus; the first salvo in a split-screen battle over containment and cure, between faith and science, the church and the state. (more…)

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Landscape architects answer the call to define our post-pandemic future.

FROM THE JUNE 2020 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE

 

In late April, the magazine staff put out a call to landscape architects to tell us the intentions they are setting now for the future, and what they’ve learned working under the pandemic’s constraints that they might want to build on afterward.

We heard back quickly, with nearly 100 landscape architects weighing in within a few days, and a range of the responses fill the next several pages. While there were many different opinions about the experience of teaching, working, and learning remotely, several things poked up over and over. The need for enhanced communication and clarity—with colleagues and clients—was one of the most frequently cited lessons. Working from home has yielded seismic changes to design processes, with many landscape architects vowing to incorporate more geographical flexibility into their future practice and, notably, into hiring. Across the board, students expressed real anxiety about their employment prospects, underscoring an urgency already felt to find ways to retain early career designers and new graduates. Fewer cars, lower carbon emissions, less paper, and more time outside and with family were cited by nearly everyone as eye-opening, unexpected benefits. But for most respondents, the pandemic is a call to action. Sona Greenberg, ASLA, a midcareer professional from Seattle, put it like this: “We’ve worked within a flawed system for a long time. COVID-19 and adjacent world events have exposed these flaws to more of the world and thereby have offered us an opportunity to build something better, locally and globally.”

(more…)

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BY BRIAN BARTH

Claude Cormier cracks a smile.

 

FROM THE APRIL 2020 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

When Claude Cormier, ASLA, and I pull up to Dorchester Square in Montreal, a man is leaning against the grand fountain, with its three Victorian bowls, all painted a very Victorian shade of green, smoking a cigarette. When we get out of the car, I realize it’s not a cigarette, but a joint. “If you want to buy pot in Montreal, this is where you do it,” says Cormier, in heavily accented English—and he begins to tell me the story of how his firm transformed this historic park into a place that winks at the past, while winking in a few other directions as well.

First developed in the 1860s, Dorchester Square is an oasis of ornate statuary (Queen Victoria; a military horse; and Wilfrid Laurier, Canada’s first Francophone prime minister, are all commemorated) and manicured flower beds set amid regal edifices that testify to the city’s railroad-era wealth. Claude Cormier + Associés has been working on improvements to the park (as well as an adjacent green space, Place du Canada) since 2000. In 2015, the firm was selected to restore the northern end of Dorchester Square, a section of which had been lopped off long ago and repurposed for parking. There had not been a fountain in the park previously, but Cormier thought it would make a fitting focal point. Dorchester Square sits on top of an underground garage, and there was a load-bearing column positioned in just the right place to support a 30-foot-high steel fountain at the end of the park’s long axis. There was only one problem: The city said it needed a few extra feet to accommodate the tourist buses that embark from the adjacent block. Those few feet nixed the alignment with the supporting column.

“The city said, get rid of your fountain and design something else,” Cormier tells me, patting the fountain. “And I thought, no, I’m not taking out the fountain.” (more…)

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As part of an ongoing effort to make content more accessible, LAM will be making select stories available to readers in Spanish. For a full list of translated articles, please click here.

BY JENNIFER REUT

FROM THE MAY 2020 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

There are a lot of different kinds of roads in Texas. There are state and federal highways that pull truckers through long stretches of the state from one town to another. They tangle up briefly in urban and suburban streets before heading west. There are farm-to-market roads and ranch-to-market roads, so named because they connect rural people to towns where they sell their products, find education, and maybe find jobs. Roads in Texas, especially in sparsely populated areas of the state, were more than a way to get from point A to point B. They brought progress, change, newcomers, but also a way for people to leave for good. Texas was slow to adopt paved roads, and many of the farm- and ranch-to-market roads weren’t paved until after World War II. Today these roads make up just over half of the 80,444 miles of roads managed by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).

In Texas, US 67 is a highway that runs from Texarkana to the border with Mexico at Presidio. It passes through Dallas and San Angelo, intermingling with other, bigger federal highways along the way, and finally gets loose on its own around Fort Stockton (population 8,356). From there it’s a sometimes rolling, sometimes clear shot through Alpine (pop. 6,065) and Marfa (pop. 1,772) to Presidio (pop. 4,099) and the border with Mexico.

For much of the ride, especially south of Marfa, US 67 is a two-lane road with narrow shoulders, hemmed in by ranchlands or rocky buttes on each side. Ranch roads peel off occasionally but not often, so there’s no predictable place to pull over and turn around. Once you’re on, you’re on.

Fortunately, it’s a jaw-droppingly beautiful drive through the northeast corner of the Chihuahuan Desert, (more…)

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BY TIMOTHY A. SCHULER

Landscape architects can do more than talk about diversity—they can act.

FROM THE MAY 2020 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

The high school students were pretending to be plants. They crouched in front of giant, wall-sized pieces of parachute cloth, china markers in hand, and slowly grew, black lines following suit. Recalling the movement of the prairie grasses just outside, they waved and swayed and curled in on themselves, a collective interpretive dance that evoked the native grasses and wildflowers that they had been studying all morning. Quickly a mass of black lines became a monochromatic prairie, a temporary mural inspired by the small patch of native grassland visible from the hallway window.

Leading the drawing exercise was Erin Wiersma, an artist and associate professor in the art department at Kansas State University. Wiersma is best known for her massive biochar “drawings,” which she makes by dragging huge sheets of paper across freshly burned prairie. The exercise at J.C. Harmon High School, located in the largely Hispanic Kansas City, Kansas, neighborhood of Argentine, was part of Grassland Interview, an interdisciplinary art and ethnography project created in collaboration with the landscape architect Katie Kingery-Page, ASLA, the associate dean of Kansas State’s College of Architecture, Planning, and Design. (more…)

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