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BY JONATHAN LERNER

Parks along New York City’s vulnerable waterfront, like the one recently completed at Hunter’s
Point South, are both amenity and armor.

FROM THE MARCH 2020 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

Even as the tides lapping at its edges rise, New York City is turning eagerly toward the water to relieve both a congested transit system and a shortfall in housing stock. For example, you can now travel among all five boroughs by ferry. Ferries have several advantages over streets and subways. For the passenger, those include wind in your hair and magnificent, alternately thrilling and calming views of the harbor; for the city, minimal fixed infrastructure and the ability to easily alter routes if circumstances—such as the shorelines themselves—should change. And from the new ferries that ply the East River, you can see the city’s most visible effort to address the housing crunch: clusters of enormous apartment towers recently built and under construction along once-industrial waterfronts.

The city mandates that, with redevelopment, the water’s edge be public space. Some of that is the “waterfront public access area” each newly developed riverside property is required to provide. Those areas must at least have landscape and seating; as built, they vary from quite thoughtful to afterthought. There are also a number of city and state parks along the river. So there is beginning to be a continuous public edge. It will probably always have gaps, but they are filling in as the new housing developments rise. Viewed from out on the water, the chain of public spaces resolves into a thin green line, as much of it consists of esplanades and piers or is otherwise flat. Still, discontinuous and varying in design quality as its component pieces are, they are hugely popular—just because they exist, and also because some of them are truly inspired. That would describe one of the newest of the city-developed pieces. In its case, you do begin to glimpse its features from the river, because it has hills and an architectural overlook jutting up and out toward you. This is, in fact, just where the ferry stops in Long Island City, Queens: Hunter’s Point South Park, designed by Thomas Balsley, FASLA, (whose eponymous firm joined SWA in 2016) in collaboration with Weiss/Manfredi Architecture/Landscape/Urbanism. (more…)

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BY ZACH MORTICE

The banks of the Stonycreek, Little Conemaugh, and Conemaugh Rivers were encased in concrete after a 1936 flood. Photo courtesy students of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation.

A Columbia University seminar led by Kate Orff, FASLA, brings fresh eyes and new ideas to western Pennsylvania.

 

On a visit to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, with a group of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP) students in late October, Kate Orff, FASLA, a professor and principal of SCAPE Landscape Architecture, happened upon a landscape metaphor for this section of steel mill country that’s been battered by decades of environmental degradation, an epic history of flooding, and a declining industrial economic base. After a 1936 flood ravaged Johnstown, the three rivers that define the city were excavated and covered in concrete. The moves tamed the river, though Johnstown itself seemed to be as entombed as its riverbanks.

“This seemed to be a metaphor for Johnstown being stuck,” Orff says. “That massive relic [is] not necessarily supporting the needs of the people that are living there now.” (more…)

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BY BRIAN BARTH

A flood-friendly park re-creates a resilient landscape in Calgary’s Bow River.

FROM THE JANUARY 2020 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

In the summer of 2013, catastrophic flooding in southern Alberta killed five people and forced 100,000 to evacuate. With $6 billion in property damage, it was one of the costliest natural disasters in Canadian history. The swollen Bow River, which flows from glacial headwaters in the Rockies to Calgary, left much of the city’s urban core underwater. The inundated area included St. Patrick’s Island, one of several islands in the downtown stretch of the river, where Barbara Wilks, FASLA, and Mark Johnson, FASLA, had just kicked off construction on a new 31-acre park. A new pedestrian bridge to the island, which was partially built at the time, suffered significant damage. But for the park itself, Wilks and Johnson—the founders of W Architecture and Landscape Architecture and Civitas, respectively—say the floodwaters provided positive reinforcement of their design.

This was not the initial reaction, however, of the folks at the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC), their client.

“Our client called and said, ‘Oh, God, you have to get up here; we’re going to have to change the design,’” said Johnson as he, Wilks, and I strolled across the bridge to the completed park on a clear spring day.

“The whole island flooded!’” Wilks recalled members of the CMLC team saying in an urgent and distressed call. “We said, ‘It’s going to be fine; there’s nothing to change. We designed it to flood—this is what’s supposed to happen.’” (more…)

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BY ZACH MORTICE

The nitrate mining town of María Elena in Chile. Photo by Ignacio Infante.

For an exhibit focused on extractive industries, Beyond the City: The South American Hinterland in the Soils of the 21st Century is mercifully short on aerial photos of strip mines and oil derricks. Instead, the installation by Somatic Collaborative now at the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial focuses on the human settlements that serve resource extraction industries.

Beyond the City catalogs five South American cities established or expanded because of the growth of heavy industry from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century. The five case studies are spread across three nations and several extraction, or at least exceptionally invasive, industries: gold mines in Belo Horizonte, Brazil; nitrate mines in María Elena, Chile; oil drilling in Judibana, Venezuela; iron mining in Ciudad Guayana, Venezuela; and the production of hydropower in Vila Piloto, Brazil. Each of the cities shares “a very strong national or state government that was pushing forward a project that they believed would advance a larger greater good,” says Somatic Collaborative cofounder Felipe Correa, the chair of the architecture school at the University of Virginia (UVA). These public–private partnerships sought to develop housing and working environments for a white-collar managerial class that would guide populist infrastructure expansions harvested from this land. “Industry had a social project,” Correa says. “If you look at what oil companies are doing in the middle of the Amazon today, they’re completely devoid of a social project.” Beyond the City presents historical evidence on how this mandate was introduced, but the exhibition trails off once each town left its designers’ hands. (more…)

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BY NATE BERG

A landscape architect and a biologist team up to counter urban biodiversity loss.

FROM THE JUNE 2019 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

A hawk glides overhead. An egret perches alongside a pedestrian walkway. Butterflies flutter in the foreground. From across the spectrum of the animal kingdom they appear in the drawings and renderings of modern architecture and landscape projects, hinting at a harmony between the designed space and the natural world. The projects, these animal cameos suggest, are not just urban developments, but healthy and diverse habitats.

“I won’t say it’s a lie, but these are big promises,” says Thomas Hauck, a Berlin-based landscape architect and a professor at the University of Kassel, in Germany. Hauck understands these images are meant to be aspirational, to show an idealized version of the designs they represent. But, he argues, sometimes too many illustrative liberties are taken “without evidence,” especially when urban development is more likely to destroy animal habitat than create it.

Hauck isn’t saying the animals should be taken out of the renderings. Rather, he wants to ensure animals actually show up once the project is built. To make that happen, Hauck has teamed up with a biologist from the Technical University of Munich named Wolfgang Weisser. Together, they’ve developed a theoretical design approach called Animal-Aided Design that seeks to counteract the ways development harms urban biodiversity by deliberately designing projects to accommodate animal species from the start. Through the careful targeting of species most likely to inhabit a given area, their approach provides the habitat requirements those species need to thrive throughout their life cycle.

“People hang up nest boxes and wonder why they’re empty,” Weisser says. “It’s because everything else is missing.” (more…)

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THE RIVER BENEATH THE RIVER

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 JENNIFER REUT

FROM THE NOVEMBER 2018 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

For a long time, the Anacostia River didn’t even have a name. It was just the Eastern Branch, the other, less promising section of Washington, D.C.’s better known and more distinguished river, the Potomac. But it was always known as a fortunate course to the Nacotchtank, the Native Americans who used it as a trading post, and later to the European colonists who relied on the river’s deep port at Bladensburg, Maryland, to carry tobacco, and to the generations of farmers, tradesmen, and laborers who never seemed to run out of fish, fowl, and game to hunt. For nearly nine miles, the Anacostia eased in and out with the tide, with no particular urgency, toward its confluence with the Potomac, tracing an unhurried flow through thousands of acres of tidal wetlands.

Of course, that was before the port and the shipping channels silted up in the 19th century from agricultural misuse; before the river was (more…)

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BY ZACH MORTICE

Aerial photo of damaged homes along the New Jersey shore after Hurricane Sandy. Photo credit: Greg Thompson/USFWS, Wikimedia Commons.

The Union of Concerned Scientists’ recent report on the economic damage and displacement that sea-level rise flooding will unleash called for investments “in a range of coastal adaptive measures,” such as “the protection of wetlands, and barrier islands, and other natural flood risk reduction methods” and other “natural infrastructure.” That puts the onus of surviving sea-level rise very clearly on landscape architects.

The report, Underwater: Rising Seas, Chronic Floods, and the Implications for US Coastal Real Estate, which the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) compiled with help from the real estate website Zillow, shows the consequences of sea-level rise in the short and long term, down to the state, city, and zip code levels of granularity. Released in June, it estimates lost houses, lost home value, lost tax base, and lost population by the years 2035 and 2100. (more…)

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