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INTERVIEW BY TIMOTHY A. SCHULER

Greg Kochanowski documented the loss of his own home in the 2018 Woolsey Fire, which destroyed 110 of 217 houses in Seminole Springs, California. Photo by GK.

 

The Los Angeles-based designer Greg Kochanowski researches wildfire mitigation close to home.

 

Earth is a water planet. It is also, as Stephen J. Pyne has written, a fire planet. The Earth “has held fires as long as plants have lived on land,” Pyne recently wrote in Yale Environment 360. To remove fire from landscapes that have coevolved with it “can be as ruinous as putting fire into landscapes that have no history of it. The fires we don’t see—the fires that should be there and aren’t—are an index of ecological loss, like imposing a drought on a normally lush landscape.”

Greg Kochanowski knows well the losses that fires and their absence bring. As the studio director of the multidisciplinary design firm RIOS, Kochanowski had been investigating the effects of urbanization on the fire-adapted landscapes of Southern California for more than three years when the 2018 Woolsey Fire destroyed his home in Seminole Springs, California.

Now, Kochanowski has collected his research, as well as his experience of the Woolsey Fire, in The Wild, published last fall as part of the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design’s pamphlet series. The book explores the urban periphery of Los Angeles and the economic, cultural, and political pressures that have resulted in the city’s persistent peri-urban expansion and, consequently, the inevitability of ever larger, ever more deadly wildfires. Landscape Architecture Magazine spoke to Kochanowski shortly after the book’s release. His reVISION ASLA 2020 panel, “Fire Across the Pacific: Australia, California, and the Climate Crisis,” is available online.

LAM: What gave birth to the line of inquiry you’re tracing in the book?

Kochanowski: It was really the Rising Currents book that came out of the MoMA exhibition [Rising Currents: Projects for New York’s Waterfront, 2011]. That was the first time that I had seen the global design community using their expertise to solve much broader problems. I was really inspired by it, but I was living in Los Angeles. Los Angeles has issues with sea-level rise, of course, but there was a lack of theorizing about the West. It was a very East Coast discussion. In the West, I was experiencing fires, and then it would rain and you would have floods, and then landslides, and it happened every single year. It was just this cycle. After a few years, I thought, no one’s talking about this. So, I began to look at the fire cycle, and had a session at the ASLA conference in 2018 on some of that initial research. And then my house burned down. Then I got really interested in fire. (more…)

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This fall, LAM will be highlighting winning projects from the 2020 ASLA Awards by asking designers to dive deep into one image from their winning project.

Effecting Change to Avoid Disaster: Communicating Effective Wildfire Planning Strategies, by Design Workshop, Professional Communications Honor Award.

Prepared by Design Workshop, Inc., for CPAW.

“We were in need of a suite of graphics to effectively communicate to decision makers how the choices they make can help their communities mitigate the risks of wildfire. We wanted our audience to learn about different mitigation techniques to reduce wildfire risk to the structure and surrounding landscape.”

“The graphic showing the overlapping home ignition zones further makes the point that mitigation takes a collective response—particularly in areas of more dense development. Research shows that while a holistic, comprehensive approach is important for other aspects of wildfire safety, such as evacuations and response, the home ignition zone is a critical component for reducing structure losses and other property damage. These two scales of mitigation are not at odds; rather [they] work together when coordinated.”

—Carly Klein, Design Workshop, Inc., and Molly Mowery, Wildfire Planning International

 

Since 1970, wildfires have increased 400 percent in the United States, especially across the western states. At the same time, about 60 percent of new residential development is built along what is known as the wildland urban interface—a region particularly susceptible to highly damaging wildfires. Landscape architects increasingly need communication tools to help clients, public officials, and communities understand different wildfire mitigation strategies and include them in the planning and design process. In response to this need, Design Workshop created a series of graphics that underscore the importance of collective land use and wildfire mitigation decisions at the community scale, as well as the house, city, and regional scales. For example, a graphic on home ignition zones illustrates decisions that can be made in concentric circles moving from the house out to the surrounding area, including eliminating combustible material near the house, creating “fuel breaks” such as driveways and walkways, and maintaining a mix of appropriately spaced and pruned trees in the outermost zone around the home. “Armed with this visual toolbox of strategic risk-reduction methods,” the jurors concluded, “landscape architects are empowered to initiate conversations that would trade vulnerability for resilience.”

—Kim O’Connell

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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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BY CHERMAINE LEE

Months of protests leave a mark on Hong Kong’s streetscapes.

FROM THE JUNE 2020 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

Until recently, gray metal railings have been a ubiquitous element of Hong Kong’s streetscape. Installed to delineate spaces for cars and pedestrians and enhance safety, the railings have multiplied over the past decade. In 2010, the government reported 435 miles of these roadside barriers. By 2018, the number had more than doubled to 1,087 miles, according to Hong Kong’s Transport Department.

But in the wake of the recent antigovernment protest that first erupted in response to a bill that would have permitted extradition of criminals to mainland China, the metal railings have been torn apart by thousands of black-shirted protesters to use as roadblocks, and bricks have been dug up from the road for use as weapons. Along with changing political and social dynamics, Hong Kong’s urban fabric has experienced dramatic changes. What has long separated pedestrians from the roadway is suddenly gone, and the definitions of public space have become more flexible. As the government has been slow in replacing the railings, perhaps for fear of the metal bars being again used by protesters, urban designers in the city are wondering if the interim streetscape is an opportunity. (more…)

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The things our art director, Chris McGee, hated to leave out of the current issue of LAM.

Photo by G. Lyon Photography.

From “Extreme Sports, Extreme Storms” in the February 2020 issue by Allyn West, about a BMX park in Houston by OJB Landscape Architecture that’s designed to absorb hordes of biking enthusiasts, as well as floodwaters.

“Air and water.”

–CHRIS MCGEE, LAM ART DIRECTOR

As always, you can buy this issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine at more than 250 bookstores, including many university stores and independents, as well as at Barnes & Noble. You can also buy single digital issues for only $5.25 at Zinio or order single copies of the print issue from ASLA. Annual subscriptions for LAM are a thrifty $59 for print and $44.25 for digital. Our subscription page has more information on subscription options.

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BY SARAH COWLES

Designers find new ways to tell communities about climate change.

FROM THE DECEMBER 2018 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

In the early 1920s, leaders of the Soviet Union had a communication problem: how to relay the abstract and complex communist ideology and economy to their scattered constituents across several nations, languages, and varying literacy levels. Enter the agit-train, a multimedia spectacle covered with constructivist supergraphics that drew crowds at every stop. The agit-trains carried agitprop (agitation propaganda) acting troupes, movie theaters, printing presses, pamphlets, and posters.

Today, leaders of coastal cities are facing an urgent communication issue: how to draw public attention to the looming threats of climate change and sea-level rise. Last winter, 10 teams in the San Francisco Bay area were selected to participate in the Resilient by Design Bay Area Challenge, “a yearlong collaborative design challenge bringing together local residents, public officials, and local, national, and international experts to develop innovative, community-based solutions that will strengthen our region’s resilience to sea-level rise, severe storms, flooding, and earthquakes.” Resilient by Design, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, built on the success of the Rebuild by Design initiative, which focused on the post-Hurricane Sandy landscape of New York and New Jersey. Each team was assigned to a swath of bay lands, where a confection of urbanization, predevelopment remnants, and infrastructure collide. A significant component of the initiative was public outreach, to address the issues germane to the most vulnerable communities that are already facing pressure from gentrification.

A significant, and perhaps unexpected, outcome within the Resilient by Design process was a revolution in public outreach, one that echoes Soviet agitprop methods. Three teams, Field Operations, Bionic, and HASSELL+, designed new physical devices, events, or spaces that kick-started public participation in the design process and informed residents on methods of climate change adaptation. Bionic and Field Operations wrapped vehicles with supergraphics to create a striking visual presence at community events, while the HASSELL+ team repurposed a former bank as an info shop. Their agitprop works were especially suited to the constraints of Instagram. The supergraphics make striking backgrounds for selfies, and all teams made liberal use of hashtags. These bold environments prompted action in real and virtual communities.

The Field Operations concept for urban resilience is simple: (more…)

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The things our art director, Chris McGee, hated to leave out of the current issue of LAM.

Photo by Benson Russell.

From “You Are Here” in the July 2019 issue by Katharine Logan, about how landscape architects are using traffic roundabouts in Ireland as unique and contextual venues for landscape design.

“Winter in the round.”

–CHRIS MCGEE, LAM ART DIRECTOR

As always, you can buy this issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine at more than 250 bookstores, including many university stores and independents, as well as at Barnes & Noble. You can also buy single digital issues for only $5.25 at Zinio or order single copies of the print issue from ASLA. Annual subscriptions for LAM are a thrifty $59 for print and $44.25 for digital. Our subscription page has more information on subscription options.

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