Archive for the ‘RESEARCH’ Category


Homes along old Highway A1A in Summer Haven, Florida. Photo courtesy St. Johns Public Works.

The McHarg Center—a new research initiative that will study the intersection of urbanism and ecology—is dedicated to studying how “urban growth and all of its related infrastructure can relate better and be better tuned to ecosystems,” says Richard Weller, ASLA, chair of the landscape architecture department at the University of Pennsylvania. The center is awaiting its formal launch next year with an exhibition, book, and conference timed to the 50th anniversary of Ian McHarg’s seminal book Design with Nature. In the meantime, the center, housed within PennDesign, has invited Jeff Goodell, the author of The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World (Little, Brown, and Company, 2017), to visit for an inaugural lecture on March 29, at 6:00 p.m. in the lower gallery of Meyerson Hall.

In the spirit of McHarg’s research, Weller envisions the McHarg Center as an intensely multidisciplinary place. “When he completely overhauled the curriculum at Penn, he stacked the building with scientists,” Weller says. Likewise, Penn’s McHarg Center will invite scientists, designers, engineers, and public policy experts into an (more…)

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The Lake Michigan coast, on the South Side of Chicago. Photo by Zach Mortice.

In 2014 alone, 22 billion gallons of untreated sewage and stormwater made its way into the Great Lakes, according to the Great Lakes Commission. On its way there, this stormwater degraded the rivers and streams it flowed through and caused flooding in areas where hard surfaces terminally halt its infiltration.

To deal with this regional calamity, the Great Lakes Commission and Lawrence Technological University have launched a new initiative to disseminate technology and techniques that can mitigate untreated stormwater pollution, the Great Lakes Stormwater Technology Transfer Collaborative.

This partnership between the Great Lakes Commission, a Michigan-based nonprofit that works to protect the ecology and economic health of the region in the United States and Canada, and Lawrence Tech’s Great Lakes Stormwater Management Institute will leverage the commission’s widespread industry contacts with the school’s technical expertise.  (more…)

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Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, compiled in 1979 and printed in 1982. Image courtesy of John Davies and Alexander Kent, The Red Atlas.

A map of Vilnius, Lithuania, produced in Russia at the tail end of the Soviet era, details the speed of the Neris River’s flow (1.8 miles per hour), its depth and width, and that it had a sandy riverbed. In addition, it reveals the dimensions of a nearby bridge, what it’s made of (concrete), and how much it can carry (55 tons). Across the Cold War divide, on Western shores, Soviet cartographers still had a grasp of some of the minutiae that made up its sworn rival’s infrastructure. A 1980 map of San Francisco points out that the Oakland Bay Bridge is constructed of metal and rises between 171 and 213 feet above the water. One of perhaps a million maps made by the Soviets to secretly and conclusively chart the surface of the earth, it’s a relic from what might be the largest and most ambitious cartography effort in history.

Though much of this story’s origins and methods are shrouded in secrecy, British authors and map enthusiasts John Davies and Alexander Kent have found a way to break open these mysteries with a beautiful and brief cartographic volume. Their book, The Red Atlas: How the Soviet Union Secretly Mapped the World (University of Chicago Press, 2017), focuses on how these maps (more…)

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In the latest LAM Lecture, Harvard Graduate School of Design landscape architecture professor Gareth Doherty examines the use of color in design through two climatic and ecological opposites: the landscapes of Bahrain and Brazil. The lecture, titled “Landscapes as Chromatic Relationships,” recounts Doherty’s travels through and fascination with the small desert island nation off the coast of the Arabian Peninsula, and Roberto Burle Marx’s observations of the riotous shades of flora in his native Brazil, both the focus of recent books Doherty has penned.

In Bahrain, as explained in his book Paradoxes of Green: Landscapes of a City-State (University of California Press, 2017), the color green, especially when it’s observed as flora, is a prized jewel in the beige desert. Its cannibalization at the hands of encroaching development prompts ever-greater displays of resource-intensive landscaping, which leads to an uncomfortable paradox: The presence of green is often not so “green.” It requires tremendous amounts of energy and irrigation to make the desert bloom. For his book, Doherty took an ethnographic approach, exploring Bahrain’s cities and countryside on foot, all the better to look around and chat with natives. In his lecture he recounts melancholy strolls through neglected date palm fields, and farewell ceremonies for beloved courtyard trees about to be torn from the earth at the behest of residential development.

For Brazil, Doherty recounts Marx’s forays into the Brazilian countryside to collect new horticultural specimens, and his newest book (available this spring), Roberto Burle Marx Lectures: Landscape as Art and Urbanism (Lars Müller Publishers), collects the South American designer’s assorted lectures. It includes this sensual appreciation from Marx for nature’s ad hoc genius for composing in color: “All of this polychrome is seated on a backdrop where form, rhythm, and color are in harmony. Nothing was isolated. It was an orchestra of color. The yellows linked to the blues, the blues to the violets, the violets to the pinks. One could speak, even, of a battle of color in which one color would dominate at a particular season, supported by a background whose forms, rhythms, and colors enhanced those of the plants in a very particular way. This instability is precisely one of the great secrets of nature, which never tires us, and is constantly renewed by the effect of light, wind, rain, and shadows, which shape new forms.”

Outside of graphic design and fashion, color is generally stigmatized as a field of inquiry across most design fields. But as Doherty’s lecture and books argue, its mutability of meaning across various cultural contexts makes color a vital artifact in unlocking what a society or community values.

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Seattle works to reconcile the inherent clash between goods delivery and Complete Streets.


The sight of a bike lane blocked by a delivery truck is so common that it has birthed Tumblrs and Twitter hashtags, often as a way to either shame drivers or encourage city officials to better enforce traffic laws. What those Twitter users may not have considered is that every box from Amazon or Blue Apron requires a trip from a warehouse to their door. And as online sales continue to grow (by roughly 15 percent per year), the increasing volume and frequency of home deliveries has cities like Seattle searching for solutions. “For us, it means curb use is changing, and it’s changing fast,” says Christopher Eaves, a civil engineer with Seattle’s Department of Transportation.

The increase in deliveries has major implications for Complete Streets programs, which seek to accommodate the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders, and vehicular traffic within existing corridors. Like many cities, Seattle has a Complete Streets ordinance, adopted in 2007. At the same time, the city is working to expand its urban canopy and curbside green stormwater infrastructure. “So there’s a whole lot of things competing,” says Peg Staeheli, FASLA, a principal at MIG | SVR in Seattle who thought a lot about freight during her time on Seattle’s Urban Forestry Commission.

Recently, the City of Seattle partnered with the University of Washington (UW) and several major retailers to launch the Urban Freight Lab, a three-year research effort to better understand (more…)

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Working in a multidisciplinary firm means every day is different.


You certainly never get bored in a multidisciplinary office. A landscape architect might find herself reviewing federal endangered species listings, hydrology maps, or legal frameworks for land use planning in the daily shuffle, and these are just some of the diverse types of work likely to be present. Industrial mining methods, vernal pool construction, and high-rise plumbing systems could also come into play. The number of landscape architects working in these professional environments is growing as businesses find a competitive edge providing full, in-house services for site development projects that require expertise from designers but also from scientists, legal teams, and engineers. Four landscape architects at the center of these integrated office types share insights about collaboration, isolation, and the willingness to learn something new each day.

Interviews have been edited and condensed.

Weston & Sampson, Boston

Gene Bolinger, ASLA, Vice President

What are lessons learned from working in a multidisciplinary office for more than 25 years?

Staff at Weston & Sampson (clockwise from left): Elise Bluell, Associate ASLA; Cassidy Chroust, ASLA; Desmond Fang; Brandon Kunkel; and Farah Dakkak, Associate ASLA. Image courtesy of Weston & Sampson.

I came to Weston & Sampson through an acquisition, and I’ve been here since the fall of 1991. Weston & Sampson is an environmental and infrastructure engineering firm, and it’s one of those old, legacy northeastern firms. It’s been around since 1899. One of our larger clients is the City of Boston Parks and Recreation Department, and at any given time, we have  eight to 10 projects under way with the City of Boston. We’re pushing up against 500 people in our organization and, again, we’re mostly in the Northeast, with the largest projects in Massachusetts, for sure. Just recently the firm went to a discipline-based structure—we’re actually six disciplines. One of the disciplines is the design discipline, and I manage the design discipline. I’ve become accustomed to working within a multidisciplinary realm, and I celebrate what’s great about it and try to take advantage of what’s great about it.

If you’re sitting back on your hands and you’re assuming that people are going to be delivering exactly what you want at the exact moment you want it, you’re so mistaken. So, that’s why you can’t let things (more…)

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A 360-degree photo of Santa Marta. Photo by José Duarte.

Renowned for their ad hoc flexibility, material economy, and compositional resourcefulness, Rio de Janeiro’s favelas can be treasure troves for urbanists. Unplanned, unsanctioned, and often unmapped, they mutate (adding a story, turning a ground floor into a shop, switching from sheet metal to concrete as soon as owners come into a few more Brazilian reals) at a pace unseen in the affluent global north. But these communities are located far away from most of the world’s stock of urban design expertise.

Last spring, to bridge this divide, Penn State landscape architecture professor Timothy Baird and architecture professor José Duarte taught a new studio that engaged students in the study of one Brazilian favela via virtual reality (VR) technology. The studio, which paired architecture students with landscape architecture students, posited VR as a proxy for expensive site visits. “Developing countries can’t always afford consultants because of the distance and difficulty to travel,” says Baird, who recently became chair of the landscape architecture department at Cornell University.

The virtual reality environment in which these students designed was constructed after Duarte and a crew of Brazilian students traveled to Rio de Janeiro’s Santa Marta favela before the semester began. They took thousands of still images, 360-degree videos and photos, and collected (more…)

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