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LIVE AND LEARN

BY MIMI ZEIGER

Algorithms are bringing new kinds of evidence and predictive powers to the shaping of landscapes.

FROM THE FEBRUARY 2019 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

Tree. Person. Bike. Person. Person. Tree. Anya Domlesky, ASLA, an associate at SWA in Sausalito, California, rattles off how she and the firm’s innovation lab team train a computer to recognize the flora and fauna in an urban plaza.

The effort is part of the firm’s mission to apply emergent technologies to landscape architecture. In pursuing the applied use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, the research and innovation lab XL: Experiments in Landscape and Urbanism follows a small but growing number of researchers and practitioners interested in the ways the enigmatic yet ubiquitous culture of algorithms might be deployed in the field.

Examples of AI and machine learning are all around us, from the voice recognition software in your iPhone to the predictive software that drives recommendations for Netflix binges. While the financial and health care industries have quickly adopted AI, and use in construction and agriculture is steadily growing, conversations within landscape architecture as to how such tools translate to the design, management, and conservation of landscapes are still on the periphery for the field. This marginality may be because despite their everyday use, mainstream understandings of AI are clouded by clichés—think self-actualized computers or anthropomorphic robots. In a recent essay on Medium, Molly Wright Steenson, the author of Architectural Intelligence: How Designers and Architects Created the Digital Landscape (The MIT Press, 2017), argued that we need new clichés. “Our pop culture visions of AI are not helping us. In fact, they’re hurting us. They’re decades out of date,” she writes. “[W]e keep using the old clichés in order to talk about emerging technologies today. They make it harder for us to understand AI—what it is, what it isn’t, and what impact it will have on our lives.”

So then, what is a new vision—a vision of AI for landscape? (more…)

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BY TIMOTHY A. SCHULER / PHOTOGRAPHY BY GABRIELLA MARKS

With her one-woman practice, Radicle, Christie Green works to repair our relationship with nature—including the animals and plants we eat.

FROM THE FEBRUARY 2019 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

The stars were still out when Christie Green, ASLA, parked her Tundra and turned off the engine. We were somewhere near Glorieta Mesa, Game Management Unit 45, about 30 minutes southeast of Santa Fe, New Mexico. In the moonlight, I could make out the bristle-brush tops of ponderosa and piñon pine. I grabbed the camouflage gear Green had lent me and got out of the truck. The April air was just a few degrees above freezing, and the only sounds were the howls of coyotes and the quiet murmurs of cattle somewhere in the valley. As the chill began to seep in, I tugged on my gloves and cowl. I had no idea how long we were going to be out there.

Green, who for the past five years has run a one-woman landscape design practice in Santa Fe called Radicle, had agreed to take me turkey hunting. Almost all of her projects, (more…)

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BY TIMOTHY A. SCHULER

Inside the years-long effort to design the world’s least traditional workplace.

FROM THE JANUARY 2019 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

In 1659, Lord Henry Capel, a member of England’s Parliament, inherited a coveted estate along the River Thames near London. Capel and his wife moved into the grand manor house at what was then known as Kew Park and, as was popular at the time, began developing a series of formal gardens. But Capel’s plant collections were unusual. He built greenhouses for species that craved warmer climates, and his gardens burst with exotic flowers, fruit trees, and rare dwarf cultivars. Evergreens, oranges, flowering viburnum, Pistacia lentiscus from the shores of the Mediterranean. It was said that Capel’s gardens were “furnished with the best fruit trees in England.”

In 1772, the estate was joined with the adjacent Richmond Gardens, and in 1840, Kew Gardens, as it was then known, was conveyed to the public. The world-renowned botanic garden and research institute now boasts more than 30,000 types of plants housed in a series of ornate, Victorian-era greenhouses and ornamental gardens. Today, Kew is considered both the “cradle of the English landscape movement” and a locus of cutting-edge botanical knowledge. The gardens draw more than 2.1 million visitors a year.

More than 300 years after Capel planted his first fir, Jeff Bezos found himself meditating on Kew’s legacy. The American CEO of Amazon, and officially the wealthiest person on the planet, found the botanic garden bewitching. It was invigorating, nourishing. He wondered if an office could have the same effect. Was it possible to capture the sense of quiet inspiration? What would it look like? (more…)

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BY LISA OWENS VIANI

Beavers become partners in restoration.

FROM THE JANUARY 2019 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

As public support for trapping has waned, beavers are making a comeback in urban waterways around the country. In Seattle, they are now said to be found in every suitable stream and water body, and some project designers now see them as partners in wetland restoration rather than nuisances. They say the benefits beavers bring to an ecosystem outweigh the challenges, and point out that working with them is far less expensive—and more humane—than trapping.

“Beavers construct wetlands that hold back and store water, allowing for groundwater recharge and pollution sequestration, and increasing biodiversity,” says Ben Dittbrenner, the aquatic ecologist and executive director of Beavers Northwest. “We do the same thing for hundreds of thousands of dollars, but they do it for free.” This past October, (more…)

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BY TIMOTHY A. SCHULER

On a tiny, distressed site in South Los Angeles, Hongjoo Kim creates a multilayered landscape.

FROM THE JANUARY 2019 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

South Los Angeles is the last place a person might expect to find a tranquil walkway winding through the canopy of a mixed evergreen and deciduous forest. But 10 or 12 years from now, when the pines and redbud trees of Vermont Miracle Park have grown up past the metal railings of its 11-foot-high elevated walkway, residents of Vermont Knolls will have the chance to disappear into nature—if only for a few minutes.

Occupying just 10,500 square feet, Vermont Miracle Park was designed by Hongjoo Kim Landscape Architects and developed by the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust (LANLT), a nonprofit organization formed in part by then-city council member Eric Garcetti, Honorary ASLA, in 2002 to bring additional green space to underserved neighborhoods like Vermont Knolls, a predominantly African American and Latino community not far from Compton. It’s an area characterized by strip malls, auto body shops, and more than its fair share of vacant lots.

The lot at 81st Street and Vermont Avenue had been vacant since the building there burned down in what Keshia Sexton, the director of organizing at LANLT, refers to as the 1992 Uprising, after the acquittal of Los Angeles police officers in the videotaped beating of Rodney King. Twenty-five years later, the lot has been transformed into much-needed green space, funded through (more…)

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REVIEWED BY AMBER N. WILEY

FROM THE JANUARY 2019 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

New Orleans is ubiquitous in our collective imagination because of its robust sense of place. Tourism brochures and conference programs essentialize the city—its food, music, architecture, and nightlife. In Cityscapes of New Orleans, the geographer Richard Campanella implores the reader to observe the city, mind the details, and ask questions gleaned from tiny clues. He does this by presenting a series of vignettes that span the 300-year history of New Orleans. Campanella argues that there are always new lessons to learn from each discovery, lessons that can guide us about how to exist within the particular cultural geography of New Orleans. (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.

Click above for a full PDF of the translated text, with English text available below.

BY MAGGIE ZACKOWITZ

FROM THE DECEMBER 2018 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

Sam Droege’s lab at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center does not have a street address. To get there, you count the miles down a winding Maryland road, looking for the seventh in a series of gates (#6 is unnumbered) set into the tall wire fence alongside. Punch the code into a keypad for the gate once you find it, drive up the hill, and hang a sharp left. There sits a low building in a yard of waving grass and wildflowers, encircled by another high fence—this one electrified. It’s a remnant of security for the yard’s former occupants: whooping cranes once raised here to repopulate the species.

“The fencing wasn’t to keep the cranes in so much as keep the predators out,” explains Droege, a wildlife biologist. These days the compound’s objects of study aren’t luring the local carnivores. What’s inside, in fact, are stacks and stacks of pizza boxes. They are filled with bees.

First, the bees are drowned. Cup traps filled with soapy water are placed in sunny areas near blooming plants; the bees cooperate by falling in. Their bodies are then gently washed clean of pollen and dust, dried, assigned bar codes, labeled with date and place of collection, and pinned by the dozens to the floor of the protective pizza boxes to await identification. Bees are sent here by bee collectors from all over the world. “We’re up to over half a million specimens,” says Droege, who has run the United States Geological Survey’s Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab (NBIML) for some 20 years. (more…)

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