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Posts Tagged ‘LAMcast’

Sandra Albro’s Vacant to Vibrant initiative (detailed in “Lots of Opportunity”) converts vacant lots in struggling Great Lakes cities into rain gardens and bioswales. At an average cost of $18,000 each, they’re a fine-grained and tactical solution for reversing blight and helping beleaguered combined sewer systems from polluting the Great Lakes. As Albro, of Holden Forests & Gardens, observes, these neighborhoods were gradually disinvested from and abandoned, and have limited access to comprehensive public infrastructure improvements. As such, an equally piecemeal and gradual approach allows them to stabilize properties with desirable urban green spaces that can be wrapped into broader redevelopment efforts. An alternative to massive, centralized sewer upgrades that cost billions, this dispersed model of stormwater filtration turns an economic drain into an ecological engine.

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As landscape design coalesces more and more around an infrastructural and regenerative mandate, there’s been less emphasis on what is perhaps the most fundamental (and broadly shared) conception of what landscape architecture is: the aesthetic arrangement of plantings. That’s the view of a recent symposium held at the University of California, Berkeley’s Landscape Architecture + Environmental Planning department, organized by the professor emeritus of architecture Marc Treib. The Aesthetics of Planting Design symposium, held February 17–18, invited landscape architects and historians to lecture on a topic that’s been lately marginalized by sustainability, resilience, and social justice. In his introduction, Treib begins by questioning the notion that “good morals automatically yield good landscapes,” though he emphasizes that all landscapes have a dual responsibility to both art and beauty, as well as resiliency and conservation. While planting aesthetics are most commonly addressed in small gardens, according to Treib, it’s seldom discussed at a civic (or larger) scale—though notable exceptions include the designers invited to lecture at this very event. This international group of presenters includes Peter Walker, FASLA; Christine Ten Eyck, FASLA; Andrea Cochran, FASLA; and Kate Cullity.

You can watch the symposium lectures here.

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University of Virginia Landscape Architecture Chair Bradley Cantrell, ASLA, sees the future of landscape design as a spectrum of interactions between technologies that sense the environment, model and simulate it, and then finally affect the physical world—all without constant human input and monitoring. As argued in his March 13 LAM Lecture (and in his recent book Responsive Landscapes, written with Justine Holzman, ASLA), the future of landscape architecture is one of designing protocols for how natural systems behave, and tuning these algorithms and eventually the land itself, thus loosening the stranglehold static and monofunctional infrastructure has on the planet.  “It’s not about us controlling every aspect,” he says. “It’s about us setting a range of ways those behaviors can act within.”

Cantrell’s research is grounded in the previous century’s cutting-edge modeling and simulation methods, like the Army Corp of Engineers Mississippi River Basin Model in Clinton, Mississippi, which modeled the entire rivershed, scaled down to a mere 200 acres. From there, Cantrell details contemporary research that is equal parts computational and material, honing ever more granular data points toward more accurate models. For example, there’s USC Assistant Professor Alexander Robinson’s Office of Outdoor Research, Landscape Morphologies Lab work, which uses an articulated robot arm to scrape out dust-mitigating landforms at California’s Owens Lake. Cantrell’s own inquiries involve test bed river basin models that deposit sediment via the variable flow of water, which he has been able to manipulate as though it were a geologic 3-D printer, expanding and cutting back sediment deposit “land” where it’s desired. The resulting topographies are scanned and converted into point-cloud maps.

Cantrell’s approach pushes landscape architecture’s prevailing infrastructure fixation until it ricochets out of the physically imposing world of concrete and culverts and into abstract data, underpinning the omnipresent ways we reengineer ecologies with quantitative facts. The biggest challenge for modeling and simulating dynamic environments, Cantrell says, is not gathering all the requisite data, but getting it to interact in a way that matches reality. At its core, it’s a call for new levels of observational rigor: first, to observe all the factors that make an ecosystem function, and then to understand how those factors work together to create a landscape.

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Olana, the estate and landscape designed by Frederic Church–America’s foremost landscape painter of the 19th century–might be the painter’s deepest and richest creative act.

This hillside on the banks of the Hudson River in Upstate New York was a work of art that became Church’s own studio for painting the landscapes that made him a national celebrity—a mutually reinforcing circle that tied this land to his fantastical, but finely grained, depictions of it. “I can make more and better landscapes in this way than by tampering with canvas and paint in the studio,” Church wrote of his stewardship of Olana.

As detailed in this summary of what led Church to the Hudson Valley and what kept him there, Church’s landscape accentuated the stunning beauty of one of the Hudson River Valley’s most dramatic sites. To accompany the Persian-themed house he built for his family starting in 1872, Church planted trees to frame views, added a system of carriage roads to ferry visitors from one to another, and installed a lake that echoed the shape of the river. For his house, he mixed colors he would use to paint its rooms on his own palette.

A new plan for Olana by Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects won a 2017 ASLA Professional Award for Analysis and Planning for its sensitive approach to encouraging greater public engagement and its deep research into the site’s soil, hydrology, land use, and topography. The jury praised the plan for allowing the estate’s essential beauty to shine through, free of overwrought design and unnecessary flourishes.

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Martha Schwartz, FASLA, began her lecture last fall at the University of Southern California School of Architecture with a dire warning, and an invitation to play.

In “Beyond Practice” (her comments start at 13:08), she began by outlining the ecological imperative that climate change and carbon emissions place on landscape designers and the rest of the world: the exceptionally long tail of ocean warming, and methane bubbles released from melting permafrost that clog the atmosphere.

From there, it’s a quick exposition of Schwartz’s carefree straddling of the art and landscape architecture worlds. She recounts her 1979 Bagel Garden, when she designed the garden at her Boston home with only materials she could purchase on her block: bagels, purple flowers, and purple aquarium gravel. That act of strident whimsy prompted LAM editor Grady Clay to put this project on his magazine’s cover, bordered in neon pink and hand-drawn bagels. It was an early curation of “native” landscape materials combined with boundary-pushing art installations. “It’s a Dada piece. It’s Duchamp’s toilet,” she says. And it also made her name in landscape architecture.

A survey of Schwartz’s contemporary work (detailed further in this month’s cover story) demonstrates her continued emphasis on offering users quirky art objects to interact with, such as the train-cart seating at Manchester’s Exchange Square, and the gawking polygonal pavilions at Fengming Mountain Park in the Chinese city of Chongqing. This narrow slice of her work shows off a wild range of cultural conditions and aesthetic treatments. There are gritty, postindustral reuses, razor-sharp Libeskind-esque angles, and meditative contemplations of vernacular materials and forms.

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The artist and landscape designer Patricia Johanson sees her ecologically driven, site-specific artworks as a way to weave together two disciplines that seemed to have parted ways a long time ago: science and art. She imagines them to be “parallel explorations” that share the same goal (exploring and interpreting the world), gone about in different ways. “In a way, we’re like inchworms,” she says in an interview from 2010. “We’re out on a twig, feeling around, testing the air. Where do we go from here? What can we learn? And you begin to look at these things, and you begin to discover the world. I think that’s what scientists do, and I think that’s what artists do.”

Johanson grants herself the opportunity to try it both ways. Her Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility in Petaluma, California, clocks in to perform all the progressive landscape-as-infrastructure functions asked of it. It’s a sewage treatment plant, and a park with three miles of trails whose wetlands help filter and clean Petaluma’s water. It’s also a wetland wildlife habitat where visitors set up easels and sketch the landscape, part of which playfully resembles a mouse (with two beady little eyes that are islands in a pond) from above.

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Filmed over 18 months by Jim Richards Productions of Reston, Virginia, this time-lapse look into the construction of ASLA’s new home begins with a few swings of the sledgehammer by ASLA executive committee members and staff. Builders Coakley & Williams Construction installed green walls, opened up the roof for a three-story atrium, and dug into the earth to bury a stormwater collection cistern. The design by Gensler, with a lower-level garden by landscape architects Oehme, van Sweden, sets the Center for Landscape Architecture up to act as a leader in workplace design and ecological stewardship for decades to come.

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