A recent study by Americans for the Arts reported that each year the government provides four billion dollars to nonprofit arts organizations. In return, the arts industry generates nearly 30 billion dollars in revenue. Undoubtedly, cities are recognizing that public art is a driving force in the economy. Although it’s difficult to isolate the monetary… Read more »
There is one day in particular that I remember clearly from my third year as an undergrad student studying landscape architecture. The department’s career fair saw most of the fourth-year students parading around in ill-fitting suits armed with resumes and portfolios, accessories aimed to secure a future in the profession. In the short time it… Read more »
There is one day in particular that I remember clearly from my third year as an undergrad student studying landscape architecture. The department’s career fair saw most of the fourth-year students parading around in ill-fitting suits armed with resumes and portfolios, accessories aimed to secure a future in the profession. In the short time it took me to walk up an adjacent set of stairs to my studio I felt a mixture of things. The pragmatic aspects of this transition were obvious and I recognized the formalities of the dance. But there was also something that separated this department’s fair from those taking place in other parts of the university. It was the portfolio and its role as a summary of creative abilities and exploratory processes. The students were handing their precious babies off to prospective employers, officially thrusting themselves into a purgatorial space that would ultimately be defined by acceptance and rejection.
I wondered about the strength of the content in those portfolios, and what I would need to accomplish over the course of my final year to match (and hopefully surpass) what was being circulated downstairs. Mostly, I wanted to see the parts of the fair that couldn’t be taken in from the staircase: the dialogues, and specifically whether the firm representatives were using the same terms our professors did, or some new, alien vernacular. I knew that my idealistic romp through experimental studios would soon come to an end, and I would need to find a professional home where I could start to assimilate consequence-laden realities into my design thinking. There were the standard anxieties of simply finding employment, but I worried less about that than finding a firm that still retained at least a remnant of the idealism I had adopted in school.
The work that we produce as students (and often as professionals) emanates from within, and is therefore personal. When done well, it is also evocative. The collaborative process transforms these endeavors into even fuller iterations in the context of a studio project. But it is the documentation of one’s own ideas and processes along the way that a firm needs to properly assess a potential hire. Obviously, the types and needs of hiring firms run the gamut, so tailoring one’s self-promotion is important. When I finally reconfigured my early attempts at composing a portfolio into its then final format, I attempted what I now believe was an overly comprehensive account of too much work: too many images, too much text. It was well constructed, but if someone handed it to me I probably wouldn’t have read it. So I stripped the document down to its essence, retaining some of what I had originally selected, but mostly culling from places I hadn’t considered before: digital doodling I had done when taking a break from studio assignments and cover-page imagery for writing assignments in unrelated classes, things that summed up elaborate ideas in one isolated shot on a screen (or printed page). It ended up as a booklet of singular images and minimal text, typically just titles and years. I had a strong opinion about everything I included and therefore could speak at any length and with genuine passion about my work. And that was what I placed my confidence in–minimal, evocative imagery and the ability to proficiently discuss it.
Ironically, I did not attend the Career Fair when it came around again because I had landed a job prior to graduation. I presented my portfolio when interviewed, but the dialogue was focused on graphic competency more than anything else. I took the offer, and stayed at the job for the six months immediately following graduation. In December of last year, however, I received an unexpected request to come interview with another firm. My choice to accept this second offer was facilitated by many factors, but most decidedly by the interviewing principal’s reception of my portfolio, as well as our discussion about its content.
I acknowledge that there are many more perspectives on this scholastic/professional transition. And sometimes I’m a bit hesitant when asked for advice in these circumstances because I don’t think mine is a universally applicable approach. All I know for certain is that I am now gainfully employed by a company that operates at a scale and velocity that excites me. It would appear that my instincts in editing my portfolio ultimately landed me where I belong. I am now surrounded by people who are so talented in so many ways that it confirms for me what I hoped I would find on “the other side.”
Leave a Reply
Last year the San Francisco Office was excited to offer pro-bono design and documentation services to a halfway-house nonprofit residential treatment center. The plan was to solicit material donations and have a volunteer construction day to build therapy gardens for the facility. We collaborated with the organization’s directors and staff to make a survey, conduct soil… Read more »
Last year the San Francisco Office was excited to offer pro-bono design and documentation services to a halfway-house nonprofit residential treatment center. The plan was to solicit material donations and have a volunteer construction day to build therapy gardens for the facility. We collaborated with the organization’s directors and staff to make a survey, conduct soil tests, do concept designs and begin to develop details.
Unfortunately, the nonprofit didn’t own the property, something our design team was unaware of. When the landlord was shown our plans, they flatly refused any improvements. They no longer wanted the halfway-house as a tenant and had no interest in the grounds being improved for residents. Thus, a couple hundred volunteer hours abruptly culminated in a complete lack of action.
As the informal project manager for this effort, I felt both disappointed and guilty for wasting my team’s time. I should have thought to ask if the organization we were working for owned the facility. Based on the confidence the program director had about the grounds, it never occurred to me that this would be an issue. A hard lesson learned.
Reflecting on this experience, I remembered a document developed by DesignConnect, a volunteer community design organization at Cornell University. Each semester, cities and towns in Upstate New York apply for student teams to study local issues and produce vision documents. Over a number of projects, DesignConnect has gained institutional experience as to what volunteer opportunities are likely to be most productive for the communities and the student teams, and has developed questions to evaluate them. Ask yourself the following three key questions before committing to a pro-bono service so you can avoid traps like the one we encountered in our experience:
Who are you working for, and what is their interest in and capacity for the project?
The “client,” whether a nonprofit organization, community advocate, city agency, or individual, should be clearly identified before dedicating time to a project. As a design firm, many of our pro-bono efforts focus on making physical interventions in the world, although sometimes we are also educators and advocates. For those projects that require physical interventions, it’s vital to have a client who will take ownership of the project and maintain or operate it after the volunteer effort is over. Some clients will request volunteer services for projects they are not particularly passionate about or dedicated to because the services are free. A simple strategy to filter out opportunistic pro-bono clients is to request a nominal fee. In addition to passion, can your client handle their part of the project? With volunteer efforts, your commitment can sometimes extend into developing the social capital behind a program, whether you’re ready for that role or not.
Who are the decision makers for the project?
This was the key question that I should have investigated for the halfway house. Sometimes your client will say they are the only decision maker. You should push them for more information. Who has to provide approvals for the project? Is it a school district, neighborhood group? Who has jurisdiction over the land in question, and who are the owners? Once you determine the decision makers, then you can better understand the scope of your commitment. Engaging all the decision makers at the beginning of the project is important to avoid being blindsided later in the process.
Who will use the project, and why do they merit volunteer work?
As landscape architects and planners, much of our effort is already in the realm of social impact design. But there are many reasons to volunteer: a particular progressive issue that we typically don’t get to work on, a human need in an unfunded situation, an interesting design challenge. There is also strategic volunteerism, where we do pro-bono work for a client or project we are interested in developing a professional relationship with. It is important to identify why you and your team are committing to this project, and who will benefit from the work.
At SWA, our volunteer work is just as valuable as our paid work, and we want to make the most impact with our dedicated time. There are opportunities in pro-bono work for deeply fulfilling work that benefits society, and I encourage everyone to participate in SWA’s commitment to the 1% program. Asking these questions should help other teams avoid pitfalls and be more effective in their volunteer efforts.
Leave a Reply
SWA leads an option studio at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Fall Semester 2013 “Essayons!” meaning “Let us try” in French, was the motto first used by the United States Army Corps of Engineers in 1775. The motto has since evolved to “Building Strong,” reflecting its mission to “strengthen the nation’s security,… Read more »
SWA leads an option studio at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Fall Semester 2013
“Essayons!” meaning “Let us try” in French, was the motto first used by the United States Army Corps of Engineers in 1775. The motto has since evolved to “Building Strong,” reflecting its mission to “strengthen the nation’s security, energize the economy, and reduce risks from disasters.” The notion of “Building Soft” presents a new paradigm, arguing that the parameters presented by the Corps could be achieved through a more integrated approach, one which takes into consideration the social, economic, and ecological priorities playing an equal part in the conception and reconstruction of our infrastructural systems.
“Building Soft” was the focus of an immersive Harvard Design Studio led by SWA principals Ying-Yu Hung and Gerdo Aquino. Students were challenged to envision the Los Angeles River playing a pivotal role in transforming the City of Los Angeles, where ecological systems are synchronous with development, infrastructure, and popular culture. As an extension of their recently published book, Landscape Infrastructure: case studies by SWA, Hung and Aquino positioned the studio as an ongoing investigation into the potential of existing and new infrastructure as polyfunctional systems supported by ecological, social, and cultural phenomena. Fourteen disparate sites inextricably linked to the L.A. River infrastructures—flood control channels, power lines, freeways, and rails—were identified by the City of Los Angeles as areas ripe for exploration and research. Through a series of fieldtrips, workshops, and lectures in Los Angeles, students sought opportunities to redefine new open-space typologies, including river-specific recreation venues, habitats for avian and aquatic species, air pollution filtration machines, development scenarios, and infrastructure as spectacle.
Local public agencies and nonprofit groups were also invited to participate in the studio, providing the students with substantial background data and statistics, community input, and historical points of view. In addition, the preferred “Alternative 20,” outlined in the recent Army Corps’ “Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration Integrated Feasibility Report,” suggested projects to be undertaken, which provided the students with further proof that the path towards transforming the LA River is close at hand. Estimated to cost in excess of $800 million, “Alternative 20” will provide the City of Los Angeles with the most comprehensive approach toward habitat restoration and will fulfill the city’s need for open space.
To further deepen the students understanding of the river’s potential, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority provided the students with lectures and a rare opportunity to kayak the river and experience its more natural section (soft bottom), known as the Glendale Narrows.
As a repository of creative ideas, the studio environment calls for speculation, risk taking, and challenge against conventional thinking. As a result, the river’s potential is revealed through the lens of those who are unencumbered and devoid of pre-conceptions. Considering that none of the 14 students was from the L.A. area, the range of design proposals was incredibly thoughtful and visionary. Some of the ideas proposed included a migrating bird habitat and a gigantic smog vacuum looming over one of the major highway interchanges—the variety and depth of their explorations complemented the scale and the complexity of the issues at hand for a city of nearly nine million people spanning 500 square miles. The final week culminated with a day-long review of the student work, followed by a mini-symposium where invited guests, faculty, and students shared their collective thoughts on design, ecology, and the latent optimism that surrounds the future of the river and the diverse communities it will undoubtedly serve.
Leave a Reply
Public Space is a place for community as well as a topic for discourse between designers and patrons. This duality may be seen in our most recent entrance wall installation, a parametric sculpture inspired by conceptual harmonies between two- and three-dimensional media and reflecting the tension between an evolving community and a static installation in… Read more »
Public Space is a place for community as well as a topic for discourse between designers and patrons. This duality may be seen in our most recent entrance wall installation, a parametric sculpture inspired by conceptual harmonies between two- and three-dimensional media and reflecting the tension between an evolving community and a static installation in its midst.
The SWA San Francisco office regularly curates the entrance wall in the new office space, occasionally rotating installations by teams or individuals. I created this structural, yet fluid, design, the 3-D elements of which are constructed simply by hand folding paper, using methods informed by origami and fashion design. Paper was selected as the representative material because it’s the equivalent of designer’s vernacular: It provides the means for communicating with each other; it’s how we wrestle without plotters.
Origami’s “Glide Reflection of Symmetrical Repeats” technique yields a tessellated curved shape formed from a plane. As one of the most flexible techniques, it has been reinterpreted and utilized by fashion designers with a special interest in geometry, such as Issey Miyake, Alexandra Verschueren, and Yuichi Ozaki.
Unique to this installation is the scale of the handfolding, which required a new process and extra-large (80”x80”) sheets of paper. The installation’s constructed form is modified by how gravity affects each panel, which is anchored individually. Softer interactions like touch, drafts, humidity, and light will also change the shape of this installation over time. A temporal expression of communication and perfected craft, my sculpture will reveal new identities as it transforms.
Leave a Reply
Cities today are mostly car-centric landscapes. Sidewalks place pedestrians directly beside exhaust-spewing vehicles with little to no buffer. High-speed thoroughfares or highways often dissect neighborhoods and lack appropriate pedestrian or bicycle infrastructure. These conditions are seen in cities around the globe; however, some cities are finding opportunities to reintroduce car-free zones that give the streets… Read more »
Cities today are mostly car-centric landscapes. Sidewalks place pedestrians directly beside exhaust-spewing vehicles with little to no buffer. High-speed thoroughfares or highways often dissect neighborhoods and lack appropriate pedestrian or bicycle infrastructure. These conditions are seen in cities around the globe; however, some cities are finding opportunities to reintroduce car-free zones that give the streets back to the people. Strøget in Copenhagen has set a standard as a successful and charming pedestrian-only throughway, and cities like San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles have been taking steps to follow the example.
As designers of urban space, we want to know what makes these inspiring auto-excluding endeavors a success. Here we take a brief look at some examples and offer five tips for city officials, developers, designers and community members to consider when pursuing car-free spaces for their own communities.
Strøget, Copenhagen, Denmark
The Strøget, possibly one of the most well-known examples of a successful zone, originated when Copenhagen experimented with this concept throughout the 1950’s by closing the four-block area to cars for two days during the Christmas holidays. In 1962, without public announcement or input, the road remained closed. Like many movements to eliminate cars, this was controversial, and it took time for people to see the benefits. The original opposition to shutting down this street is the same as the arguments that come up today:
- Shoppers would forget or not go to local stores without the opportunity to drive by them.
- Traffic would become congested on surrounding streets of the car-free zone.
- The local community would not be interested in gathering in these public spaces.
Copenhagen’s worries were assuaged as the car-free area became one of the top destinations for shoppers and tourists. Local businesses found their sales rising by 25-40%. It catalyzed the economy of surrounding areas and helped define the walking and biking culture that has helped earn Copenhagen the title of 2013’s most livable city.
San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles
Going “car-free” isn’t solely reliant on adjacent retail spaces. Since 1967, San Francisco has made the eastern half of JFK Drive car-free on Sundays. This street, which goes through Golden Gate Park attracts droves of cyclists, runners, stroller-pushing parents, rollerbladers and dog walkers to the park and greatly increases park use.
Similarly, in New York City, Mayor Bloomberg temporarily shut down vehicular access to a street extending through Central Park. It experienced such a success that after six months, the pedestrian- and bike-only mandate was extended indefinitely. In another example, on three separate Saturdays, seven miles of streets—stretching from the Brooklyn Bridge up to Central Park along Park Avenue—were closed to cars and opened to the public. A reported 250,000 people enjoyed live music, fitness classes, rock climbing, and an interactive sound and light installation in the Park Avenue tunnel.
Cities have become urban-design testing grounds for new types of public space and planning. Pop-up car-free zones range from small scale parklets (San Francisco’s parklet program) to a one to two-block interventions like the Sunset Triangle in Los Angeles. Temporary street closures like farmer’s markets, neighborhood concerts and CicLAvia have helped Los Angeles prove that car-free zones work. CicLAvia originated from the “Ciclovia,” event in Bogota, Columbia, during which major city streets are closed temporarily and opened to cyclists and the public. Los Angeles has held five CicLAvia events in the last three years. With each iteration participation from street vendors, performers and the public increases. It is also experimenting with different scaled street closures – in April 2013, CicLAvia closed approximately 15 miles of streets, from City Hall to the ocean, and attracted more than 100,000 cyclists.
5 Tips for Going Car-Free
Permanent or temporary, success in car-free zones is hardly a guarantee. In our view, going car free requires a delicate balance of five essential ingredients:
- Pedestrians are already there –
If people aren’t already using the area for shopping, recreation or other needs, they aren’t going to start just because it’s free of exhaust. Cities can’t rely on “car-free” kitsch to be the draw. In China’s Gubei district there are 937 persons per hectare – making it ideal for a project like Gubei Pedestrian Promenade, a large scale pedestrian-only throughway. Three blocks were closed to vehicular traffic to create three distinct zones that attracted recreation, socializing, shopping and dining for the surrounding residents. While density can help drive a need, it is important to look at whether there is a lack of surrounding open space for people to gather, as was also the case in Gubei.
- The street is not currently essential to the city’s street grid –
Diverting cars from formerly congested areas can actually improve the flow of traffic in the surrounding areas. New York’s Times Square, was one of the most congested places in the world and successfully went car-free in 2010. When closed off the surrounding streets absorbed the flow and people made different decisions about how they got to Times Square whether it be walking, biking or taking public transit.
- Community Input to programming the site –
Local residents, businesses, employees, and the surrounding community members are instrumental to any car-free event or development. Street food vendors, kiosks, street performers, artists and more are needed to bring the spaces to life. Temporary closures are no different. The one-day CicLAvia events have food trucks, a Korean BBQ cook offs, film screenings, and other activities along the route.
- The latest CicLAvia event in Los Angeles engaged more than 100,000 cyclists and other participants.
- A unique regional presence/destination –The place itself needs to be a destination, whether it’s a throughway in a major city park or a desirable retail development in a unique environment. Lewis Avenue Corridor in Las Vegas, Nevada took an underutilized alley and parking lot and transformed it into a linear urban park. The design is derived from the natural pattern that desert washes create in the landscape after years of seasonal rainfall. It connects the new Regional Justice Center and U.S. Federal Courhouse in the downtown core and gives a continuous canopy of shade. For people north of the Las Vegas Strip who work and live in the city, it acts as a hub for gathering and events and has carved out an identity based on pedestrian sensibilities.
- Scale matters –
In the 1970’s, Chicago turned nine downtown blocks of State Street into a pedestrian and bus only zone. While being highly trafficked, thewide street left pedestrians feeling isolated and vulnerable. The negative effects of these poor proportions were compounded by exhaust from passing buses and a downturn in the economy. In 1996, Mayor Daley reintroduced vehicular traffic. This example shows that the volume of pedestrian traffic needs to be in line with how the space interacts with the surrounding context. This begins with an adjustment to sidewalk widths by adding benches or plantings to tighten the space. The right proportion not only puts the pedestrian at ease, it allows the place to buzz with activity.
As cities continue to evolve, we are seeing how car-free spaces can help provide economic, social and health benefits alongside traditional street infrastructure. Learning from past and present examples, we can successfully use these five tips to reorient our neighborhoods towards people as opposed to their cars.