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LETHAL GLASS LANDSCAPES

BY JEFF LINK

A proposed building and landscape ordinance could shape the future of bird-friendly design in Chicago.

FROM THE FEBRUARY 2020 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

On a mild Friday in early May, Ted Wolff took a personal day and drove to the Ballard Nature Center in Altamont, Illinois, to catch a glimpse of Lewis’s woodpecker, a nearly foot-long, pink- and white-breasted bird native to the western United States. Along with two other Chicago birders, Wolff, the garrulous, white-bearded principal of Wolff Landscape Architecture, was on a “twitch,” an English expression for pursuing a bird in a geographic area where it is rarely seen.

Early that morning, an Illinois Rare Bird Alert reported that the woodpecker—named after the explorer Meriwether Lewis, who first saw the bird on his expedition with William Clark—had been seen at the nature center. It was reason enough for Wolff to clear his docket. Before long, the three birders were driving south to be among the first people to see the bird in Illinois, outside its historic range.

When they entered the nature center’s indoor viewing area, the woodpecker was already perched on a platform feeder—a “walk-up,” in birder’s parlance—eating shelled peanuts in front of a one-way reflective plate glass window. They watched it peck at the platform for several minutes, then fly to a hackberry with a peanut wedged in its bill, pausing before circling back to the feeder.

“At some point, though,” Wolff told me later in his office on the sixth floor of the Old Republic Building on North Michigan Avenue, “it flies over toward the feeder and overshoots and flies into the window. I think it sees its own reflection and it sort of pulls up and touches the window lightly and is able to fly off.”

Many birds are not so lucky. Ornithologists estimate that up to a billion birds, often migratory birds listed as species of conservation concern, die in building collisions in the United States annually—collisions that Wolff says are largely preventable, and deaths that warrant a stronger response from landscape architects as advocates for bird-friendly design. (more…)

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FOREGROUND

Public Space, No Exceptions (Law)
The Supreme Court in December affirmed that people have a right to sleep in public space when no other options are provided, but homeless advocates see worrisome holes in the net.

Mulligans (Planning)
As golf declines in popularity, the office of Ratio helps Indianapolis fix its oversupply of public courses.

FEATURES

Amazon Fire: Who Owns the Amazon?
Issues of sovereignty and colonialism in the Amazon Basin have long hindered efforts to protect its rain forests. The recent destructive push for development has made those conflicts more urgent.

Lethal Glass Landscapes
North American wild bird populations have dropped by almost 30 percent since 1970. Landscape
architects are working with policy makers to avoid the collisions that kill birds in cities.

Editorial Discretion
For a lakeside residential compound in Vermont, Wagner Hodgson weaves together
old and new elements with a few striking moves.

All this plus the regular Now and Goods columns. The full table of contents for February can be found here.

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.

Keep an eye out here on the blog, on the LAM Facebook page, and on our Twitter feed (@landarchmag), as we’ll be posting February articles as the month rolls out.

Credits: “Amazon Fire: Who Owns the Amazon?” AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano; “Lethal Glass Landscapes,” Marek Lipka-Kadaj/Shutterstock.com; “Editorial Discretion,” Jim Westphalen; “Mulligans,” Ratio; “Public Space, No Exceptions,” Brice Maryman, FASLA. 

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WHAT’S IN A NATIVAR?

BY CAROL BECKER

And what isn’t? Designers and pollinators are finding out.

FROM THE JULY 2019 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

Common buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) is a medium-sized shrub that is appealing in sunny areas of the landscape because of its glossy green leaves; unusual fragrant, round, spiky flowers; and rust-red fall color. It’s especially useful in wet areas and rain gardens where it absorbs excess water and even tolerates standing water. Hummingbirds and butterflies favor the plant for its nectar, and 24 species of birds seek it out for its small, round nuts that persist into winter. This native of the Midwest and East Coast is easily grown and little bothered by pests in the garden. Yet it is not commonly used in built landscapes. Although everything else about this shrub is right, its growth pattern and size are not. The straight species can be quite large at 12 feet high or more, and it has an annoying habit of sending branches in all directions, so it looks willy-nilly rather quickly if it’s not pruned regularly and often.

But here come Sputnik, Sugar Shack, and Fiber Optics, cultivars of buttonbush that represent a tamed C. occidentalis. Cultivars are plants produced by selective breeding or vegetative propagation to achieve better traits for the landscape. Fiber Optics is a species mutation discovered by an inventory employee in the bare-root fields of Bailey Nurseries, says the company’s public relations and communications specialist, Ryan McEnaney. Bailey trialed the plant, a process that takes several years, and brought it to market in 2017. It has a reliably smaller size at five to six feet high and a branching habit that keeps it compact and rounded, while retaining all the desired features of the straight species.

The Fiber Optics buttonbush is what is known as a nativar. The term is not scientific but has value to the industry in (more…)

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BY ZACH MORTICE

University of Illinois at Chicago students’ birdhouse designs for the Chicago River. Photo courtesy Lendlease.

While working with a group of University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) industrial design students on their birdhouse design studio, Ted Wolff had a few pointers on how they should approach interior dimensions and ventilation. There should be enough room at its base for eggs, but not much extra. A slit that allows crosscurrent air circulation is good, but much bigger and cold winds might howl through the birdhouse in the winter.

“You want them to feel snug, if you will,” says Wolff, of Wolff Landscape Architecture. “That’s probably anthropomorphizing them a bit much.” (more…)

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BY ZACH MORTICE

Fred Anderson Dog Park in Chicago. Photo courtesy Chicago Park District.

“Dog-friendly areas,” known as DFAs in Chicago Park District parlance, don’t come about easily in Chicago. But, says Nicole Machuca, the director of environmental education and neighborhood parks for Chicago’s Friends of the Parks (FOTP), “There is no doubt in my mind that communities all across the city want dog parks.”

But not all communities have them. A recent FOTP State of the Parks Report points out that the city’s wealthier, whiter North Side had 23 park district dog parks; the poorer, largely African American and Latinx South and West Sides had, until very recently, none. One dog park was added in the South Side’s Calumet Park last fall. There is also a completely independent dog park that’s not run by the city located in Jackson Park called Jackson Bark.

Currently, the park district’s process to establish new dog areas requires considerable grassroots community effort for support, organization, and funding. The park district’s 17-page manual  (more…)

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BY ZACH MORTICE

Alfred Caldwell. Image courtesy Deborah and Richard Polansky.

“The house is not a machine for living—it is the man’s sense of himself,” Alfred Caldwell once said. And in designing his own home and farm compound in rural Wisconsin, Caldwell forged a bridge between Jens Jensen’s Prairie style and International style modernism, an intersection of design currents that never solidified as much as its forebears. His most cherished project might be Chicago’s Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool, where whorls of meandering paths orbit and shield views around a pond and an earthy, horizontal pavilion. But he was also one of the first American faculty members hired by Mies van der Rohe at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), and his lush landscape at the architect’s austere Lafayette Park neighborhood in Detroit provides a poetic counterpoint to van der Rohe’s crystalline rationality.

The landscape architecture school of the IIT is offering a multidisciplinary slate of programming through winter, “Alfred Caldwell and the Performance of Democracy,” which will harness the midcentury landscape architect’s legacy and character into a series of performances and archive workshops the school hopes will bring both greater public appreciation and study within the discipline. (more…)

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BY ZACH MORTICE

Morgan Vickers at Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas. Photo by David Kafer.

Route 66, the nation’s first all-paved national highway connecting the Midwest to California, is best read as the first draft of contemporary America. Its establishment in 1926 definitively ended any notions of an untamed Western frontier, and it signaled the beginning of America’s total transition to a nation defined by settlement, landscape, and automobile obsession.

So much of Route 66’s cultural resources and history are dedicated and scaled to the car: motels, highways, bridges, gas stations, drive-in theaters, and oddball curios that read well from a speeding Ford. Its 2,400 miles cut through eight states and 300 towns, from Chicago to Los Angeles. It channeled migrants to the fertile coast during the Great Depression and soldiers and equipment to the Asian front during World War II.

But Route 66 eventually fell victim to the car’s success. In 1945, 65,000 cars were manufactured in America. Three years later that number had grown to 3.9 million. Cars became so omnipresent that this two-lane road was soon superseded by four-lane interstate highways. By the time it was decommissioned in 1985, Route 66 had been replaced by sections of I-55, I-44, I-40, I-15, and I-10. Overshadowed by the interstate system, the communities that had sprung up around the route were cut off from the lifeblood of commerce that it supplied them.

Earlier this summer, the National Trust for Historic Preservation began a campaign (more…)

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