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BY BRADFORD MCKEE

FROM THE OCTOBER 2016 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

“It’s happening again.” That was a repeated phrase May 27 on Twitter as a deluge of water came downhill on Main Street in Ellicott City, Maryland, carrying cars and garbage and ruining businesses that had rebuilt after a similar flood in 2016. This time, the historic town received more than seven inches of rain within a few hours; a Maryland National Guardsman was killed as he tried to help a woman rescue her cat.

Ellicott City has known flooding since its founding, though it now comes from above the town rather than creeping up from the Patapsco River below. Our editorial in October 2016 explains the problem, which officials still, apparently, have not been able to fix.

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Main Street in Ellicott City, Maryland, has reopened, its historic storefronts repaired for the moment but its bigger problems unsolved. On July 30, almost six inches of rain fell in two hours right atop the 244-year-old former mill town—now a shopping and dining destination—which is built into a tight granite valley atop a network of streams that flow into the Patapsco River. The flood was a surprise. The water came not from the river but from upland, where suburban development in recent decades has hardened the ground. Main Street turned into a torrent within minutes. Dozens of people who had gone out to shop or eat had to be rescued, and two people died. The water shoved around a couple hundred cars and gouged out the streetscape, baring the infrastructure beneath about 100 ruined businesses. (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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Hurricane Harvey flooding and damage. Image by Jill Carlson (jillcarlson.org) from Roman Forest, Texas, USA [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

BY BRADFORD MCKEE

FROM THE OCTOBER 2017 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

Michael D. Talbott wasn’t shy in showing his hand about climate change. For 18 years, Talbott, an engineer, served as the head of the Harris County Flood Control District in Texas until his retirement in 2016. He flatly dismissed any links between climate change and the frequent extreme storms—four of them now since 2015—to hit Harris County, the nation’s third most populated county, and its seat, Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city. The month he retired, Talbott told a team of reporters with ProPublica and the Texas Tribune that the flood control district did not plan to look at ways climate may be driving the extreme weather that affected Harris County. “I don’t think it’s the new normal,” he said of these weather extremes. (The person to follow him in the job of executive director, Russell A. Poppe, “shares his views,” according to the report.) People who are saying it’s the new normal, Talbott said, have “an agenda” to fight development.

Just as remarkable as Talbott’s denial of climate breakdown was his acquittal of the role that urban development patterns play in worsening or relieving floods. When Hurricane Harvey sat on the region for days in late August, many indignant arguments arose online that Houston’s development habits either most certainly or in absolutely no way helped create the hazards that flooded Texas Gulf Coast neighborhoods from Katy in the west (31 inches of rain) to Beaumont and Port Arthur in the east (47 inches), with Cedar Bayou (more…)

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BY ZACH MORTICE

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The linear art installation SWA designed for Houston’s Highway 59/Interstate 69 bridges came with two important traffic safety stipulations: no words, and no faces (so as not to distract the drivers zipping by).

Natalia Beard, the lead designer, came up with a pixelated vision of bright colors splashing across several 300-foot sections of chain-link fence along the sidewalk of the elevated freeway. The linear imagery (called “Houston Bridges”) tracks the velocity and movement of the freeway. It gives you enough depth to ponder when stuck in traffic. The images came from photos by Houston schoolchildren, digitally turned into jubilant checkerboards of neon color.

This smoke-stained stretch of highway, which connects Houston’s downtown to its primary airport, is (more…)

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You can almost watch it come to life on the page: In the sprawl of Bangkok, an illegal dump the size of a large city block was scraped clean, sculpted, and planted thickly with 60,000 trees, many of them quite small. It now looks thick as a rain forest, with an elegant skywalk overhead and cobras on the ground (which is why you’d use the skywalk). This remarkable reforestation project, called the Metro-Forest, by Landscape Architects of Bangkok, repatriates more than 275 species once common enough locally, as James Trulove reports, that sections of the city around it bear their names. Thick as it appears, it’s only getting started. The plan is for the trees to engulf the skywalk in their canopy.

How to describe the vindication of taking an embarrassed site and bringing back some form of its original dignity? “Strangely exciting,” is how Gwendolyn McGinn, Associate ASLA, puts it to the reporter Anne Raver in this issue. McGinn, of Studio Outside, in Dallas, is working at the Tylee Farm in Texas, not far from Houston. The farm holds what is left of southern post oak savanna that was overturned and grazed nearly to death since the mid-1800s. With Studio Outside’s founder, Tary Arterburn, FASLA, and Amy Bartell, a project manager, she is working to restore the many ecological segues the site once had for newish residential owners who want to live well—as long as their land does, too.

Also in this issue: Staff writer/editor Katarina Katsma, ASLA, writes about the interlocking of plant science and aesthetics in the designs of Sandra Clinton, FASLA, in the mid-Atlantic; Jeff Link looks at the fine points of poured-in-place rubber playground surfacing; Karl Kullmann considers the new heights of drone mapping; and Jane Gillette reviews City of Refuge: Separatists and Utopian Town Planning by Michael J. Lewis, a book that will leave you thinking about squares. The full table of contents for May can be found here.

As always, you can buy this issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine at more than 700 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 ungating May articles as the month rolls out.

Credits: “Control of the Canopy,” Rungkit Charoenwat; “Side Pocket,” By oinonio [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr; “Along for the Ride,” Gwendolyn McGinn, Associate ASLA; “Color and Cushion,” Site Design Group; “The Right Fit,” Huguette Row.

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Launching a design firm is not for the faint of heart. In building a landscape architecture business, mobile tech and shared work spaces have changed the game, but some things remain the same—long hours and total dedication are a given. Kevan Williams talked to more than a dozen young firms about what it takes to take the leap in a postrecession world and what keeps principals up at night. If big demands take time away from design, they also deliver independence and professional growth. Principals talk candidly about finding balance, building on experience, and focusing on a few key elements among other backstage insights.

Steve Durrant, FASLA, is a bike evangelist, and that makes him a bike lane evangelist, too. Fred Bernstein profiles Durrant and his firm, Alta Planning + Design, about the current state of our bicycle infrastructure. Chicago’s Riverwalk is a triumph of patience and public landscape design. The work, by Sasaki, is an insertion into the long-used but somehow underutilized spaces along the channelized Chicago River that runs right through the heart of the city’s iconic Loop.

In the Foreground, Timothy Schuler looks at the emerging questions about aesthetics and renewable energy. Can we—and should we—make wind and solar farms look better and relate more meaningfully to the places where they are increasingly part of the economy? Allyn West looks at the opportunity that drought and tree die-off made in Houston’s urban forest in Ecology. Now has student-creature design collaborations, a park design that enlarged after a social media takeover, and a Baltimore firm using a development requirement in an innovative way to provide a community benefit. The full table of contents for March can be found here.

As always, you can buy this issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine at more than 700 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 ungating March articles as the month rolls out.

Credits: “Start Your Engines,” Brandon Stengel/http://www.farmkidstudios.com; “Walking the Walk,” Christian Phillips Photography; “Pedal Harder,” Michael Hanson; “The Upside of a Die-Off,” Design Workshop, Inc. and Reed Hilderbrand; “The Art of Infrastructure,” Robert Sullivan.

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BY ZACH MORTICE

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Avenida Houston is a 60-foot-wide promenade in front of Houston’s convention center. Image courtesy of Jonnu Singleton/SWA.

Avenida Houston was designed to celebrate the flyway paths of migratory birds and the vibrant energy economy that has made Houston attractive to domestic and international migrants alike. But in early February a new set of visitors will be attracted to this linear plaza: Football fans drawn by the suite of Super Bowl programming unfurled at the nearby (and newly renovated) George R. Brown Convention Center, and Super Bowl LI, to be played a few miles away at NRG Stadium.

Avenida Houston, designed by SWA Group, is a four-acre, 60-foot-wide strip of space that turned a desolate and unforgiving stretch of multilane traffic in front of the city’s convention center into an informal promenade. Two central themes, seemingly opposed, animate this new public event space: Houston’s industry and nature. “The conversation really started as, (more…)

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