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BY MEG CALKINS, FASLA

Promising new alternatives to tropical hardwoods come with caveats.

FROM THE APRIL 2017 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE

The past decade has brought an explosion in the use of tropical hardwood decking and furnishings in public, institutional, and commercial landscapes. Whereas wood decking was once largely the purview of residential landscapes, now it can be found in urban settings from the High Line to West 8’s sculptural Wavedecks. Tropical hardwoods are so durable, hard, and decay-resistant that they appear to be the ideal material, yet the impacts of using even hardwoods certified by the Forest Stewardship Council can be substantial and threaten the most critical ecosystems of our planet.

Wood is a renewable construction material if you compare the amount of time a wood member is in use to the amount of time it takes to grow a tree to yield a comparable piece. But that is not always the case. For example, it takes 90 years to grow a Handroanthus heptaphyllus tree to yield ipe lumber for deck boards, but the deck boards will likely not be in use for 90 years even if they are reclaimed, refinished, and reused.

As concern for the health of tropical forests is increasingly recognized in sustainable design thinking, alternatives to tropical hardwoods (more…)

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BY TIMOTHY A. SCHULER

Milwaukee pilots a new stormwater management tool.

Milwaukee pilots a new stormwater management tool.

From the July 2015 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

By August, the faded yellow house at 3930 North 35th Street in Milwaukee will be gone. In its place, invisible to all but the team that designed it, will be a new tool for stormwater management: the “BaseTern.” Conceived by Erick Shambarger, the deputy director of Milwaukee’s Office of Environmental Sustainability, a BaseTern is a basement that’s been converted into a rainwater or stormwater cistern. Milwaukee is completing what is said to be the world’s first such system this month.

The BaseTern concept, which Shambarger trademarked, is simple. Stormwater will be directed to an abandoned or foreclosed property’s basement, which, after the aboveground structure is demolished, is waterproofed and filled with gravel and stormwater-harvesting cells. According to a feasibility study by engineers at HNTB, the system can hold anywhere from 13,000 to 40,000 gallons of water during storms, reducing flooding in adjacent homes.

It’s a clever riff on adaptive reuse, taking advantage of one urban issue—a surplus of city-owned foreclosures—to solve another: the flooding that is increasingly common in dense, impervious neighborhoods like Milwaukee’s Sherman Park, where the pilot project is located.

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July’s LAM looks at the long-needed rehabilitation of Babi Yar Park, a memorial ground in Denver dedicated to the lives lost in Kiev, Ukraine, during the Holocaust, by Tina Bishop of Mundus Bishop; a rethinking of Chavis Park in Raleigh, North Carolina, by Skeo Solutions, which embraces the park’s African American heritage through public engagement; and the ground-to-crown planting of the One Central Park high-rise in Sydney, designed by Ateliers Jean Nouvel, with Aspect | Oculus and Jeppe Aagaard Andersen, where sprawling green balconies make what is said to be the tallest vertical garden in the world.

In this month’s departments, the Milan Expo 2015 centered on food sustainability seems to draw controversy from every angle; Molly Meyer is leading the charge for affordable, simpler, and greater biodiversity in green roofs; and nature reclaims lands once lost from the demolition of two dams on the Elwha River in Washington State. In The Back, an exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History immerses visitors in the beauty of Iceland through sight and sound. All this plus our regular Now, Species, Goods, and Books columns.

You can read the full table of contents for July 2015 or pick up a free digital issue of the July LAM here and share it with your clients, colleagues, and friends. As always, you can buy this issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine at more than 200 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 July articles as the month rolls out.

Credits: “The Global Cucumber,” Tim Waterman; “Green Roof Gold,” Michael Skiba; “A River Returns,” National Park Service; “Star Witness,” © Scott Dressel-Martin; “The Chavis Conversion,” Skeo Solutions; “Live It Up,” Simon Wood Photography; “Songs of Ice and Fire,” Feo Pitcairn Fine Art.

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The Headland Park at Barangaroo Sydney, designed by PWP Landscape Architecture, is scheduled for its formal opening this summer. It is a total re-visioning of what was once a one-kilometer concrete slab described as the “third runway at Sydney airport” into an organic waterline reminiscent of its original form when Aboriginals inhabited the area. This nearly four-minute video, presented by Barangaroo Sydney, describes the multidisciplinary approach to the project and the separate components, from the sandstone hewn from the site to the native vegetation selection, that create a place unique to Sydney. Separately, an interview with Peter Walker in 2010 goes into detail on the design decisions for the iconic landscape, as well as what the design elements mean for Barangaroo and Sydney. For a more promotional video detailing the history of the site to the present, visit here.

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After barely a decade, Chatham University’s landscape architecture program gets the ax.

After barely a decade, Chatham University’s landscape architecture program gets the ax.

From the March 2015 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

The decision, announced in a posting on the web page for Chatham University’s Master of Landscape Architecture (MLA) program, was rather sudden: “As of June 2014, Landscape Architecture degree programs at Chatham have been closed.” David Wilson, Associate ASLA, a 2014 graduate of the MLA program and a past ASLA student president, says there had been rumors the closure would happen, so it wasn’t a total surprise, though the speed with which a decision was made “did come as a bit of a shock.”

The MLA program at Chatham, located in the heart of Pittsburgh, is relatively new, having first been accredited by the Landscape Architectural Accreditation Board (LAAB) in 2007. Many people considered it fitting, even inevitable, to have a landscape architecture program at a school that headlines its environmental ethos and that, when it was the Pennsylvania College for Women, had counted Rachel Carson, the environmentalist and author of Silent Spring, among its graduates.

Chatham had long offered a master’s degree in landscape studies, and in 2000, members of ASLA’s Pennsylvania–Delaware Chapter began talking to administrators of Chatham College (the school achieved university status in 2007) to see whether they would be interested in hosting a landscape architecture program, recalls Lisa Kunst Vavro, ASLA, the current trustee for the chapter. The program won approval in 2003; Michael Leigh, who was faculty at the landscape studies program at the time, worked with the college to develop the program. Shortly afterward, in January 2004, Kunst Vavro became the acting director and won accreditation in 2007 after three years of what she describes as “blood, sweat, and tears.”

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From the December 2014 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

The modest announcement about the appointment of Liza Gilbert, ASLA, to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) in October registered lightly in the media, despite its being a milestone for landscape architecture that hasn’t been in reach since the commission was established by an act of Congress in 1910.

With the appointment of Gilbert, the commission now includes Mia Lehrer, FASLA, who was appointed in June, and Elizabeth K. Meyer, FASLA, who was appointed in 2012. For the first time, three of the seven commission members are landscape designers.

Although there has been a landscape designer on the commission for most of its 100-plus-year history (Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. was a member for the first eight years), according to CFA Secretary Thomas Luebke’s book, Civic Art: A Centennial History of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, having two landscape designers serve simultaneously is rare—three is unprecedented. But what does it mean?

For those unfamiliar with its workings, the CFA is a presidentially appointed body whose charge is to review all federal and District of Columbia government projects as well as those in the Georgetown Historic District and, significantly, those falling within the Shipstead-Luce Act’s area. The Shipstead-Luce project area contains many important national landscapes including the National Mall, the grounds of the White House, Rock Creek Park, and the National Zoo, among others. The CFA review is just one of many hurdles that projects in D.C. must surmount before approval, but it provides a critical platform for high-level design review for projects with both national and local impact. This review authority extends beyond buildings and landscape and includes medals and coins produced by the U.S. Mint, images that act as national symbols.

With the establishment of sustainability goals for federal properties in 2009, the necessity for landscape expertise on the CFA became only more exigent. The appointment of three landscape professionals confirms that landscape architecture’s contributions are fully recognized at the highest levels of government.

The CFA convenes once a month at public meetings to review medal and coin designs, memorials, buildings, and alterations to the built landscapes large and small. Meyer welcomes the addition of Gilbert and Lehrer to the commission and the impact it will have on how projects are conceived from the beginning. “More voices calling for conceptual landscape ideas at first review,” and exemplary work at final review, she says, will help strengthen the overall design. “Those ideas have to be clear at the beginning. They don’t follow from the architecture.”

As one of the only commission members living full-time in Washington, Gilbert can bring the local understanding of how the projects fit together within the city’s unique urban plan. Though still new to the CFA, Gilbert is enthusiastic about the dynamic at her first meeting, a mix of architecture, urban planning, and landscape. “The level of discussion is going to be fascinating. There are a lot of different brains in the room,” she says.

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