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TEXT BY SARAH COWLES / PHOTOGRAPHY BY DINA OGANOVA

The hidden dimensions of a city during the COVID-19 pandemic.

FROM THE JULY 2020 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

In the middle of March, I join a friend for a trip to Tbilisi National Park, one of Georgia’s 15 national parks, and a dense and parallactic forest of mossy Fagus orientalis, Ilex colchica, and Taxus baccata. We search the red-brown carpet for spring flowers: purple Primula vulgaris, chartreuse Helleborus caucasicus, and Petasites albus. We drive through rain showers to the town of Tianeti; we observe highway workers gather under marshrutka (bus) shelters for birzha, the ritual sharing of strong spirits and snacks.

“That does not look like social distancing,” I tell my friend.

We stop at the café in Tianeti village. “Can we get dambal khacho?” I ask. It’s a local mountain blue cheese, served warm on hot bread with ghee. “Shansi ara, axali kanoni!” (No chance, new law!) She brings takeaway instant coffee and cream puffs to the sidewalk.

As we descend the congested Georgian Military Highway in the Aragvi valley toward Tbilisi, hundreds of trucks straddle the verge and pavement, idled cargoes of produce and mineral water from Turkey, Armenia, and Georgia. Drivers sleep, piss, pace, and make repairs; the normal delays at the alpine Georgian–Russian border, now exacerbated by the crisis. I dodge the oncoming cars and curse. On this highway, there’s no margin of error, no guardrails; driving is all wit, no wisdom.

“Don’t go out unless absolutely necessary. If you have a high fever and cough, consult a doctor. We wish you health!” reads an SMS from Mtavroba (the Georgian government). The streets are already empty of cars; only the buzz of mopeds prevails.

In Tbilisi, it is Gizhi Marti (crazy March); the lion and the lamb are fighting every day. Cold Caucasus winds slice the plateaus at night. I wake to silence and snow. Had the city cooled in the slowdown? With fewer cars and a decrease in air pollution, is there now new space in the atmosphere for precipitation? On the news, bearded monks in black Ford F-350s and Toyota Land Cruiser Prados circle Republic Square, scattering holy water in the slush to combat the virus; the first salvo in a split-screen battle over containment and cure, between faith and science, the church and the state. (more…)

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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 JONATHAN LERNER / PHOTOGRAPHY BY ADAM WISEMAN

From the June 2018 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

One bright December day, Mario Schjetnan, FASLA, was ushering a visitor around Mexico City’s historic Chapultepec Park, where his firm, Grupo de Diseño Urbano (GDU), has been enacting subtle renovations for nearly a decade and a half. He detoured, though, to show something that has not required the firm’s intervention. It was a concrete sump, perhaps five meters square, three meters deep, and open on top. It is the terminus of an aqueduct, completed in 1951, that brings water from 60 kilometers away through a tunnel under a mountain range. At the time, the city’s population had more than doubled in two decades, to three million thirsty souls. This new aqueduct must have seemed like deliverance. (Today, the population of the Metropolitan Area of the Valley of Mexico, comprising the city proper plus 41 contiguous municipalities, numbers more than 21 million.)

The sump, whose function was really just to hold water before it was piped into four enormous tanks buried nearby, was treated reverentially. Sheltered within a temple-form building, the depression’s walls and floor were painted by Diego Rivera in a fantastical narrative called Water, Origin of Life. The inlet seems to pour through the hands of Tlaloc, the Aztec god of floods and droughts. Swirling around the floor and up the walls are life forms of increasing complexity. There are an ur-man and ur-woman, and depictions of everyday people using water (swimming, sipping, irrigating gardens), of workers jackhammering rock, and of giant pipes and valves. When the sump was actually used, the view through water surely added a vitalizing shimmer, but water was destroying the mural. Eventually the flow was rerouted and the painting restored.

Now Schjetnan pointed to where Rivera had portrayed a gathering of two dozen men in modern dress, some in hard hats, some in suits; on a table before them is a sheaf of blueprints. “The engineers who built the aqueduct,” he said respectfully, (more…)

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