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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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BY MICHAEL DUMIAK

Trees in the landscape around Ypres, in Belgium, mark stubborn boundaries of the first World War.

FROM THE MARCH 2019 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

Off the Menin Road in Flanders, Belgium, there is a lane leading to a working farm and a stand of trees. This copse is called Railway Wood.

On a raw day in early spring, the wind runs through the wood over the adjoining field, rustling the leaves of a slight elm sapling at the side of the lane. The elm is protected by a steel frame, and it is marked with a red-trimmed sign. The tree stands in a spot that looked very different once upon a time, from June 1915 to July 1917. At that point there were no trees, none with leaves, or branches, or tops, anyway, and this place was called the Idiot Trench. (more…)

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BY MEG CALKINS, FASLA

The stone industry adopts a new sustainability standard.

FROM THE FEBRUARY 2018 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

In 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design, Bill Browning, an environmental designer and founder of Terrapin Bright Green, cites “material connection with nature” as a significant principle. In other words, materials from nature, with minimal processing, can be used to construct the built environment—reflecting the local geology and connecting people to a place and natural setting. More than any other material, stone fulfills this “pattern”—often seamlessly settling a built landscape into the larger natural context. Yet in some cases, heavy stone can travel thousands of miles between harvest and use—offering absolutely no connection to the local natural landscape and creating a substantial environmental footprint.

Stone holds great potential to be a highly sustainable construction material for use in paving, stairs, and walls. It can be extremely durable, with relatively low embodied energy (energy used to produce a material), and nontoxic. However, a study from the University of Tennessee estimates that more than half of all dimension stone—defined as any stone that has been cut or shaped for use in construction—is imported, primarily from China, India, and Brazil, owing to far lower labor costs and fewer worker safety regulations, which combine for a lower product cost. Some of this stone might have been harvested in the United States, sent overseas for processing, then returned as “imported stone.” Minimal records of stone harvest, sales, and processing make it challenging to track stone’s path to market. Additionally, environmental impacts from waste and water use in stone quarrying and manufacture are not insignificant. Fortunately, a new standard from the Natural Stone Council (NSC) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) offers criteria for reducing the environmental impacts of stone harvest and processing and requires a chain of custody for stone so consumers can know for sure the path their “local” stone has traveled.

The stone quarrying process is often lumped together with metal mining’s heavy blasting and toxic runoff, but Kathy Spanier, the marketing director at Coldspring in Minnesota and a participant in the development of the new stone standard, emphasizes (more…)

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