My fellow landscape designers have likely have seen this mother and child in digital rendering images more than a few times. And, though we don’t know who they are, they are superstars in the digital landscape. I’ve witnessed them in parks, plazas, public markets, playgrounds, streetscapes, waterfront spaces . . .there is no place I don’t expect them to pop up. So what… Read more »
While back in Japan last month, I learned of Houston’s Hurricane Harvey. The breath-taking videos of large-scale flooding were widely broadcasted on the morning and evening news programs there. The images of drowning buildings, highways, and trees under the extensive muddy water were a shocking reminder to the Japanese of their own 2011 Tsunami, in… Read more »
While back in Japan last month, I learned of Houston’s Hurricane Harvey. The breath-taking videos of large-scale flooding were widely broadcasted on the morning and evening news programs there. The images of drowning buildings, highways, and trees under the extensive muddy water were a shocking reminder to the Japanese of their own 2011 Tsunami, in northern Japan.
Tokyo, the nation’s capital, rests on the country largest plain—with a geographical scale about a half of Houston’s area—and is also close to sea level, with five major rivers flowing through. Because of its setting, seasonal storms and pacific typhoons kept putting the cities under water historically. Flood control has been one of the key agenda items for the regional lords and the nation’s governors to tackle over the past 500 years. They tried to manage the rivers with the available technologies in each age. Building levies, dredging channels, and rerouting rivers all worked somehow to disperse the water flows and energy, however, those classical measures never caught up with the rapid, extended, and intensified urbanization of the region and the cities were occasionally submerged.
There is a popular new tourist attraction located on the outskirts of the metropolitan area, with access totally controlled and only a limited number of people allowed each day. Although there is no icon, no seating, and no pipe organ, people call it ‘The Underground Cathedral’. Every visitor who has taken the 116 steps down into the space has been impressed and somewhat overwhelmed by its scale and structure, and especially by its hidden power to ease the challenges of nature.
The formally named Metropolitan Outer Floodway, a series of huge concrete structures built under a major highway, totals six cylinders and subsidiary pressure control cisterns connected by a four-mile-long tunnel, with each unit measuring 230 feet deep and 100 feet in diameter. They store up to 900,000 cubic yards of runoff water during heavy storm events and discharge it in a controlled manner. The complex took 20 years and cost $2 billion to construct and it is estimated that the facility has averted $15 billion of potential economic damage in Tokyo since it began operation 15 years ago.
We will keep experiencing ‘record-breaking’ or ‘unpredicted’ natural disasters related to climate change. Estimates of the economic damage that Harvey and Irma caused have reached $200 billion. It may be worth spending comparatively less money in advance to build mega-scale infrastructures such as those outside Tokyo in order to save a trillion dollars and to protect people’s lives in the future. What’s the alternative? Some of the towns devastated by the Tsunami already moved their settlements to higher grounds; they do not want their children to experience the catastrophic tragedy they endured.
Image courtesy of Edogawa River Office, Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism, Japan. Koichiro Nagamatsu is a designer in the Laguna Beach studio.
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On August 30th SWA’s innovation lab, XL: Experiments in Landscape and Urbanism, opened an exhibition entitled Urban Sensorium: 5 Cities, 5 Senses, 5 Maps at SPUR Urban Center in San Francisco. Over the course of the evening, about 200 people passed through the gallery space, checking out the freshly mounted panels, sipping on beers brewed… Read more »
On August 30th SWA’s innovation lab, XL: Experiments in Landscape and Urbanism, opened an exhibition entitled Urban Sensorium: 5 Cities, 5 Senses, 5 Maps at SPUR Urban Center in San Francisco. Over the course of the evening, about 200 people passed through the gallery space, checking out the freshly mounted panels, sipping on beers brewed in the five featured cities, and discussing future urban scenarios.
The idea for Urban Sensorium emerged in early 2016 as an exercise in foresight to explore and speculate on the built environments of tomorrow. Through the lens of sensory experience, using touch, smell, sight, taste and sound, the project anticipates potential scenarios for five cities where our firm’s designers work in urban design, planning, and landscape architecture. Chosen for their projected growth and international influence, the featured cities include two global giants (New York City and Los Angeles); two knowledge capitals (San Francisco and Houston); and an Asian anchor (Shanghai).
In each city, we isolated potential drivers of change—drivers gleaned from our own design work or that of our colleagues, on site fieldwork, and mapping. Drivers involved a policy change, a transformation in urban material or technology, or altered environmental conditions. We then extended the implications of each driver’s relevance to the body and its sensory experience; and finally viewed each as physical object that contributes to a sensory change.
In New York, for example, we identified the driver of urban change to be a municipal concern with lowering energy and maintenance costs. New technologies in lighting allow for smaller, longer life bulbs, with lower energy requirements. In 2009, New York began a test changing out older high-pressure sodium streetlamps for new light-emitting diode fixtures. In pilot neighborhoods, the visual effect has been startling. The shift in color temperature and perceived brightness from one lighting type to the next has provoked strong backlash. The nocturnal landscape in public streets, parks, and bridges could look brighter and colder if a streetlight retrofit is carried through all five boroughs. Starry skies may not be perceptible and sleep could be disrupted, but crime may reduce, and pedestrian traffic increase.
Visitors to the exhibition will see the areas that could be brighter in New York mapped as hotspots onto the existing street grid. They are laser-etched onto Plexiglas in reverse, and then mounted onto black panels. A description of a scenario where New York appears brighter, and a counter scenario where, in fact, it could be the opposite—a darker New York—appears mounted below. In addition, a clear display box shows examples of the object creating the sensory change. In this case, about 500 30 watt diffused white superbright 10mm light emitting diodes, or LEDs, fill the box.
Why did we take this approach to thinking about urban futures? As designers, it helped us to think toward possible constructions of the built environment and changed economies, not only the ones we know today, but those that are forming, and those we do not yet know. Infrastructure, transit, food systems, ecology, energy, economy, and climate—the things that affect the built environment—are enormous in scale, and require abstract thinking and planning for the long term in order not to be purely reactive to systemic shocks. Grounding these issues in the bodily senses, in human experience, and in particular objects, made the abstract tangible for us. In this way, we followed familiar things into multiple, unfamiliar futures and scenarios—scenarios that we have agency in shaping the direction of. Urban Sensorium is a testing ground that enables us to become more intimately “in touch” with the near future.
The exhibition was supported by SWA Group and SPUR and is open to the public through from 9am-5pm on weekdays. Want to see more? Check out the exhibition website: http://bit.ly/2wV5nXs or a recent Atlantic CityLab article: http://bit.ly/2w206iK
Emily Schlickman and Anya Domlesky are Associates at SWA Group in the Sausalito studio, where they design and co-lead XL. Photo courtesy of Bill Tatham/SWA.
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Recent advancements in technology have sparked an emergence of motion-graphics, 3D visualization, and virtual and augmented reality tools in the architecture, engineering, and construction industries. Alongside the challenges of this new reality come tremendous opportunities, as designers gain access to the same technology used by Hollywood filmmakers and game developers. Such breakthroughs have immense potential… Read more »
Recent advancements in technology have sparked an emergence of motion-graphics, 3D visualization, and virtual and augmented reality tools in the architecture, engineering, and construction industries. Alongside the challenges of this new reality come tremendous opportunities, as designers gain access to the same technology used by Hollywood filmmakers and game developers. Such breakthroughs have immense potential for designers’ ability to accurately represent and effectively communicate their visions on projects of all scales. These technological leaps allow for the creation of scenes that are exceedingly realistic and expressive, capturing the imaginations of designers and developers in forms that are easy for broader audiences to understand and relate to, in record time. In a recent article in The Economist, “Engines of Creation”, Unity Technologies’ chief marketing officer, Clive Downie, explains that “the main advantage game engines give organizations is the ability to do instantaneously what used to take minutes or even hours.
Before the introduction of computer-generated graphics, most design presentations relied on two-dimensional plans and sections to convey ideas. These drawings could lead to misunderstandings between design experts trained to interpret these graphics, and clients and stakeholders who often struggled to translate the lines on the page into their vision. Perspective renderings improved matters, but could only represent a single angle or moment in time from any given vantage point. Today, we have the ability to invite our clients and collaborators to immerse themselves in our digitally conceived environments before they have even obtained the financing to realize them.
At SWA’s Laguna Beach studio, we have begun to integrate various new visualization strategies throughout our workflow, both as front-end design tools and back-end communications methods ranging in multiple scales and phases—from animated “fly-throughs” of 3,000-acre conceptual master plans down to construction details for custom structures and site furnishings. While building a digital site model can be a labor-intensive and time-consuming effort (costly), we have found it to be a worthwhile investment. Just about all projects on the boards this year have generated at least one model, if not multiple iterations, that have effectively informed major design decisions, instantly clarified a project’s scale into a tangible construct for all (this is especially effective with large projects), and conveyed a vision for the confluence of form, function, and pro-forma.
As design tools, our models are essentially feasibility studies. Design flaws are quickly revealed along with misconceptions about the project or site, and informative data unapparent in analog plans or sectional views can be easily extracted. We typically build several alternatives of the same element(s) as a testing ground to ensure constructability as we enter the detailed design phases of a project. In smaller-scale applications, these are often built down to the fastening hardware for amenities as a method to reverse engineer complex structures or abstract ideas. These exploded prototypes visualize the construction methodology and facilitate a level of documentation that in many instances exceeds contractor shop drawings and parallels Ikea-style assembly instructions. Parametric modeling can also play a role to rapidly prototype patterning and subtle variations of a particular object or component. The ability to leverage these tools can provide a substantial advantage in improving designers’ collective understanding of how ideas translate to realistic outcomes, which will likely lead to plentiful opportunities and more interesting work for the studio. Watch an example here.
As a vehicle for communication, our models offer a diverse range of possibilities for presenting design ideas that engages our audiences and immerses them into the project. For clients and stakeholders, we do often employ traditional two-dimensional renderings for printed documents but focus on building comprehensive models (in lieu of individual objects or portions of sites) that offer the advantage of near endless angles readily available to export. The next-level application is to compose an animated fly-through that showcases how various design components or segments of the project interact with one another, how they fit together, and what they offer in terms of value to the end-user. Integrating narrative and storytelling within the composition can sell your vision effortlessly as the motion-graphics converge on screen. Finally, virtual reality panoramas are decisively the most effective readily available communication and sales tool available to designers today (assuming you can convince your clients to put on a headset). The user can interact and engage with the digital environment distraction free, and focus on the tailored aspects of the model from the selected vantage point of the designer. As we continue to chase the next wave of innovation, these strides will certainly expand. Soon we may be plugging our designs into systems of motion-tracked virtual reality, augmented reality (projecting digital compositions over reality, as in Pokemon Go), and eventually immersive sense simulated reality (at which point we’re basically in “The Matrix”).
While the prospect of creating worlds beyond our own space or time is exciting in its own right, at the cores these technologies are tools to improve the environments that already surround us. From design exploration to client approval and construction proficiency, these technologies not only help showcase our ideas, but are integral to realizing them. The long hours and back-and-forth invested in developing each model can seem superfluous, but ultimately provides enormous value in facilitating efficient design explorations and effective processes of communication and decision-making. Through 3D visualization, moving images, and virtual environments, we can bringing our visions to life in relatable ways that help our clients, collaborators and end users see the possibilities, and believe in the appealing futures we’re working to help realize.
Associate Pavel Petrov is a designer in the Laguna Beach studio.
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I made my first digital drawing in Microsoft Paint on my dad’s computer when I was in primary school. It was so exciting then to be able to draw without a pencil, and paint with shades unconstrained by my color sets. Although the drawing tools were very primitive, I was enthusiastic about creating simple images on a monitor. Since university, where… Read more »
I made my first digital drawing in Microsoft Paint on my dad’s computer when I was in primary school. It was so exciting then to be able to draw without a pencil, and paint with shades unconstrained by my color sets. Although the drawing tools were very primitive, I was enthusiastic about creating simple images on a monitor. Since university, where most assignments were done on computers, my pencils and paints have been collecting dust on the shelf.
Computer-produced images have become the accepted standard in the landscape architecture profession. Perhaps the convenience for quick production and ability to edit quickly were the primary attractions in the first place; being able to demonstrate design ideas in seemingly photorealistic images is certainly one of the key motivations for digital graphics. However, I sometimes wonder, whether the advancement of digital graphic tools makes us overemphasize the picturesque quality of a built environment, rather that the fundamentals of public space, such as people, function and management.
I resumed my passion for drawing during a trip to Istanbul in 2009, when my camera broke. Hesitating to buy a new camera, I began sketching interesting scenes (the Hagia Sophia) in a notebook. Although they were as simple as black- and-white cartoons, the details related to their production are still vividly alive in my mind: buildings, streets, shop windows, the brightness of the sky, the temperature of the wind, the people coming around to chat, and so on. Since then, I have not traveled without my sketchbook, and I remain captivated by what drawing has brought to my life.
Drawing is like a lens that magnifies the details of everyday objects at different scales. Our fast-paced lives mean that we typically see things at one scale, while drawing offers me a chance to slow down and devote time to the things often unnoticed: the shades and textures on the two sides of a single leaf, the woven patterns on a couch cover, the glints on a glass bottle, reflections in a coffee mug, the variety of stones embedded in a concrete path, the composition of displaced chairs in a park, the social interactions between pigeons and sparrows near a little bin…Drawing these things feels like capturing glimpses of a hidden world, which offers abondant inspiration for design.
Early this year, I worked with three colleagues on ideas for a 30-km-long waterfront design competition in Guicheng, 30 minutes drive from Guangzhou, China. Surrounded by rivers and teeming with canals, the city is traditionally famous for small- scale manufacturing. During recent decades, the local economy has become more diverse, many factories were upgraded, and more emphasis has been given to the quality of civic life.
We proposed a destination park at an old port site for shipping containers, at the confluence of two main rivers. We believe that the landscape should somehow evoke the memory of the city’s shipping industry, which enables a thriving chain of manufacturing-related businesses.
My sketchbook lent me the inspiration. Once I was sketching a boat moored in a lake in China, whenever I was trying to draw the outlines, the breeze on the lake nudged the boat, moving it from side to side. Although I was frustrated about not being able to pin down the frame, it was mesmerizing to watch the gentle and rhythmic motions of the boat. In the end, rather than creating a single frame, I made the drawing as a sequence of snapshots.
This is where the design concept of the headland park came from, a series of overlapping snapshots of a moving ship. The key landscape elements, including display gardens, lookouts over the river, seating terraces, and gathering spaces, were tied into a series of frameworks generated by the motion snapshots. Apparently the client likes the concept as much as we do!
I think drawing is very much alive in design because it is a process of conscious observation that involves capturing transient feelings, making connections between different things, and distilling ideas down to the essentials—a process from which many design ideas arise. From the moment light reaches the retina to the completion of a drawing, there is a whole sequence of analyses of what we see and choices to be made concerning compositions, shapes, colors and textures. This makes drawing a highly personalized tool for individual expression. A good speaker needs to find his or her own voice—not just the vocal sound, but the ability to speak through one’s innate thought process; similarly, drawing can operate as a “voice” for designers.
Lei Zhang is a designer in the Houston studio.
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We should be designing plantings that are as interesting, resilient, and balanced as those in the wild. We can do this by designing with plant communities and not individual plants. As humans, we crave encounters with nature. To become lost in the majesty of the giant redwoods, bask under the filtered light of gnarled oaks,… Read more »
We should be designing plantings that are as interesting, resilient, and balanced as those in the wild. We can do this by designing with plant communities and not individual plants.
As humans, we crave encounters with nature. To become lost in the majesty of the giant redwoods, bask under the filtered light of gnarled oaks, and achieve serenity in the bleakness of the desert captivates our imaginations and inspires us. Yet the pieces of nature we design can be composed of soulless expanses of lawn, sterile clipped evergreens and garish specks of annuals. Plantings are not meant to be static; they’re meant to fascinate us and connect us with nature.
Look closely at a naturalized planting; it doesn’t matter if it’s in the abandoned lot in your neighborhood or the local wilderness/regional park. Notice the intermingling of species, the intricacies of each plant’s adaptation to the site and the lack of bare dirt. Now compare those naturalized plantings to our designed landscapes, with plants being placed far apart over a sea of mulch, and observe the differences. Look at the cracks in the pavement or on the side of a cliff and witness plants thriving in even the most hostile of places. Yet in our designed landscapes we spoil our plantings with richly amended soil, consistent watering, fertilizers, and regular maintenance. While they may thrive after all this care, too often they fail to live up to our expectations.
We should be designing plantings that are as interesting, resilient, and balanced as those in the wild. We can do this by designing with plant communities and not individual plants. Over thousands of years, each plant has developed a specific niche in a symbiotic association of plants. Taking these plants out of context and away from their community creates the fragility that requires them to be dependent upon constant care. Plant communities are immensely complex: Some plants act as rhizomatic colonizers and others as solitary beacons, some add nitrogen and others rapaciously consume nitrogen.
Our goal should not be to simply reproduce wilderness but to utilize the wisdom of plant communities to guide our own stylized versions of them. I don’t advocate for a simplistic view of native plantings as good, and introduced species as bad. Plant diversity and ecological functions are the top priorities. The diverse cosmopolitan associations of plantings that fill the inhospitable cracks, corners and abandoned spaces of our environment are to be revered. Their resilience is admirable and they are performing essential ecological functions. Our challenge is to develop a new stylized and managed nature in our environment that is composed of both native and resilient exotic plants that can perform the vital ecological functions and emotional connections to nature that we need.
Only for the last .001% of human existence have we become so detached from our natural surroundings. Although we may no longer till the soil and gaze at the stars, we cannot escape our yearning for a connection with nature. The incredible popularity of both Chicago’s Lurie Garden and The High Line, in New York City, give credence to idea that people appreciate and cherish natural plantings. With this in mind, we have the choice to lead our profession towards a sustainable future, or be left in the “mulch.”
Patrick Sunbury is a designer in the Laguna beach studio. Image courtesy of brownpau/Flickr.