Texting prunes our language, while Twitter compartmentalizes our thoughts. The working dialectic is a leafless tree – pollarded, with inadequate adjectives, resulting in smooth grey bark. Modern language does us a disservice, when you tell me of your workplace woes – the meaning spans a library of potential, from gently anxious to freaking out. … Read more »
Over the past few months, a team of designers in Sausalito worked on a tiny landscape measuring just six square meters as part of a competition entry. With nowhere to go but up, we quickly identified verticality as our primary design move. By freeing the ground plane, we aimed to take full advantage of precious… Read more »
Over the past few months, a team of designers in Sausalito worked on a tiny landscape measuring just six square meters as part of a competition entry.
With nowhere to go but up, we quickly identified verticality as our primary design move. By freeing the ground plane, we aimed to take full advantage of precious outdoor space to create a flexible extension of traditional living quarters.
In designing this vertical landscape, we took cues from our own backyard, the cliff-dwelling ecological communities that dot the rugged coastline of Northern California. Here, mutually beneficial plants grow together in vertical pockets or “niches,” fostering productive micro-habitats hundreds of feet in the air. Many of the plants found in these areas are especially adapted for dramatic fluctuations in temperature and water availability. They are low-maintenance and long-lived; they are resilient.
For our project, we installed a modular system that mimics these cliff-dwelling communities. Our system is comprised of man-made pockets filled with soil and resilient plant material. When hung in clusters, the pockets form a continuous vertical landscape, teeming with life.
Earlier this month, we finished construction on our prototype and the “Niche” project received the silver medal in the Balcony category at the 7th annual 2016 World Flower Garden Show in Nagasaki, Japan. Piet Oudolf, the renowned horticulturalist responsible for the High Line planting, created a special exhibition for the show. It is anticipated that the event will attract around 80,000 people during the month of October.
While our project was small and discrete, our team is starting to think about the potential of interventions like “Niche” in the larger urban landscape. Using the popular Parklet Program as a precedent, can we extract value out of tiny spaces, and in doing so, improve the overall health of our urban ecosystem? Is it possible for these types of prototypes to become consequential? Can tiny interventions change a city?
We envision a future full of living niches. Wedged between buildings, under highways, and attached to skyscrapers, these niches could leverage underutilized, undervalued spaces that typically go unnoticed in the large urban landscape. Individually, they are small and seemingly insignificant. Collectively, they may have the power to be transformative.
Shuntaro Yahiro (Hiro), Ayaka Matthews, and Emily Schlickman are designers in the Sausalito office. Sponsors of the “Niche” project include: Woolly Pocket, Blue Bottle, Heath Ceramics, Edyn, Bon Chic Bon Gout, Ten Company, Ueno Tile, Nagoya Mosaic-Tile, Ryokukaen, IIkide and Seibu.
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It makes sense that President Obama considers his contributions to ease climate change his greatest legacy. The potentially catastrophic effects on our planet’s ecosystems, and especially on the Greenland and Antarctic icecaps—a rise in sea levels measured not in inches but in tens of feet—might well be the biggest challenge to face mankind. Consider the… Read more »
It makes sense that President Obama considers his contributions to ease climate change his greatest legacy. The potentially catastrophic effects on our planet’s ecosystems, and especially on the Greenland and Antarctic icecaps—a rise in sea levels measured not in inches but in tens of feet—might well be the biggest challenge to face mankind.
Consider the stress that wartime refugees are currently placing on European countries; now imagine the social and economic chaos that will occur if tens of millions are displaced around the world’s littoral cities, where first, second, and third world coastal cities could find themselves submerged, along with all the infrastructure that supports those cities! How many of you have NOT worked in a large sea-level city?
How can a landscape architect reduce CO2 (Carbon Dioxide), CH4 (Methane) and other even more potent greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere? There are three basic things to do: Learn, Advocate, and Act Professionally. (The following list of ideas is only intended to prime the pump for discussion, research, refinement, expansion, and implementation.)
LEARN: Becoming deeply knowledgeable about how climate change will affect your career for better and for worse; figuring out where you can find good information, and engaging in critical dialog about climate change because this is an emerging science and there will be competing theories and competing solutions and you will called upon by your clients and your communities to have answers.
1. What is YOUR OWN personal carbon footprint?
i. What tools are available to determine your footprint?
ii. What are the elements in your lifestyle that produce the most CO2?
iii. What are the steps you can take to most reduce your production of CO2?
2. What is the direct carbon footprint of your office and of your professional activities (travel, etc.)?
i. How can your office reduce their production of CO2.
3. What is the carbon footprint of your city, and how does it measure up against other cities in the US, and against other cities worldwide?
4. What/who are the largest global producers of CO2?
i. Where is the low-hanging fruit to go after first?
ii. What are the tools that could reduce this production of CO2?
5. Who are the largest producers of CO2 in your state, and in your community?
i. What are the tools that could reduce their production of CO2?
ADVOCATE: Take a position and advocate for that position. Heads of State need to make hard decisions, and need the support of large numbers of informed and educated citizens. Here are things that governments might need to do:
1. Introduce a graduated Carbon Tax to discourage production of CO2 and Methane; tax starts low but increases significantly over time to give carbon producers time (short) to adjust
2. Keep all fossil fuels in the ground (no new mining or drilling)
i. No new Federal leases
ii. No renewal of existing Federal leases
iii. Elimination of direct and indirect subsidies for fossil fuels
3. Support and Develop Non-Carbon Energy Sources
i. Conservation (the least cost solution)
ii. Nuclear: Improved Fission
- Fail-safe designs
- Vitrified wastes
- Concentrated, large scale
- Distributed, small scale
- High altitude
- Locations that avoid or minimize:
- Environmental impacts
- Social impacts
- Open loop deep systems
- Closed loop deep systems
- Shallow heat pump systems
- Deep ocean
4. Support and Develop large-scale energy storage methods:
i. Pumped water
ii. Compressed air
iii. Molten salt
5. Rebuild the national electric grid to support far more power and to connect clean energy producers to energy consumers.
i. Redundant circuit capacity
ii. Solid state switching
iii. High voltage direct current transmission
iv. High temperature superconducting trunk lines
6. Develop Carbon-Free transportation options:
i. Cars and Trucks:
- Electric power
- Hydrogen power
iii. Air Traffic
iv. Merchant Marine:
- Reduction or cessation of large scale deforestation:
i. Modify siliculture practices to maximize carbon sequestration
- Modification of agricultural practices:
i. To minimize CO2 and methane production
ii. To maximize CO2 sequestration
ACT PROFESSIONALLY: What are the things landscape architects can do within the realm of their normal professional scope of work and responsibilities?
1. Planning for communities that produce less CO2:
i. Efficient communications
ii. Efficient transportation
iii. Efficient buildings
iv. Efficient logistics
2. Design of large-scale, clean energy-producing landscapes:
i. Solar farms
ii. Wind farms
iii. Energy storage environments
3. Design of small-scale, distributed energy-producing environments:
4. Design of CO2 absorbing landscapes
i. Urban forest canopies
ii. Deep soil carbon
5. Specification of CO2 sequestering materials
i. Heavy timber
ii. Bio-char soil amendments
iii. Carbon adsorbing building and site materials
While there are increasing numbers of people working on solutions to climate change worldwide, far too many people are still completely indifferent or even actively resisting creating solutions to the most severe effects of climate change. Will you, as a landscape architect, be part of the solution, starting today?
Kevin Shanley, now based in Oregon, is former CEO of SWA. Image is courtesy of Andrea Della Adriano via Flickr Creative Commons.
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Although I filled a new legal pad with notes at the LAF Summit last June, I wasn’t exactly reporting. I attended as a designer seeking inspiration. Perhaps some of the highlights I recorded will resonate with you too. The first LAF Declaration of Concern targeted how landscape architecture could help solve environmental issues. The ‘60s… Read more »
Although I filled a new legal pad with notes at the LAF Summit last June, I wasn’t exactly reporting. I attended as a designer seeking inspiration. Perhaps some of the highlights I recorded will resonate with you too.
The first LAF Declaration of Concern targeted how landscape architecture could help solve environmental issues. The ‘60s was the decade when the Cuyahoga River’s surface caught fire and Carson’s Silent Spring was published. While we’ve improved the air, land, and water quality in the U.S. over the past 50 years, the only planet we have is now home to 7.4 billion people and we are currently using the resources of 1.5 planets. It’s a matter of global urgency, to say the least.
The two-day Summit celebrating the LAF’s 50th Anniversary was attended by 700 people and convened 70 landscape architects to chart a viable, desirable future.
An excellent TED talk I watched on the flight to the conference happily foreshadowed my Summit experience: Carl Safina’s “What are Animals Thinking and Feeling?” underscored the messages Grant Jones, of Seattle’s Jones + Jones, summed up during the awards reception: “The Earth is our client” and “Be a steward for all living things.” After all, we are but one of 8.7 million species on this planet by latest estimates.
Some key points and common threads of the global focus on Day One:
Climate change was perhaps the hottest topic (forgive me), followed by the problems facing emerging economies.
Urbanism – We are becoming an urban species: from informal settlements to revitalizing cores, landscape architects can improve the function and beauty of cities. Cities help us utilize resources more efficiently.
Nature – We can’t continue thinking that we are outside of, or separate from, nature. Environments that have not been impacted to some extent by humans no longer exist.
Wild – At the same time, we are not “the wild.” We have a responsibility to maintain environments that other species need for survival. “So that every child has an equal opportunity to be eaten by a mountain lion,” explained Project for Public Spaces’ Randy Hester.
Collaboration – We can’t be experts in everything, but need to be able to understand what other disciplines are talking about. We can lead by asking the right questions and by listening, and we play an important role in synthesizing the various disciplines and communicating clearly to the public. Collaboration extends to the community.
Community – Involve the local community, respect their values, and design for their needs and desires using our expertise. Recognize the importance of building community – not just physical design.
Beauty & Performance – Berkeley Professor Marc Treib’s priceless wisdom – “if the food tastes like crap, we don’t care if it’s organic.” Landscapes should be both sustainable and beautiful.
Multiple Scales – Landscape architects can design both a site element and a city, and develop a vision for a region. We need to continue to be educated, and prepared to work at, all scales.
The second day featured panel discussions addressing Friday’s presentations.
Aesthetics – The importance of intuition, experimentation, and cultural relevance.
Ecology – The need for scientific rigor in our profession; the difficulty of separating ecological issues from socio-cultural, political, and economic systems; and the importance of being able to accommodate change in our designs.
Society – Diversity in the profession by race, ethnicity, and educational backgrounds will lead to innovation; we need diverse minds to take on diverse problems. If you don’t understand the nuances of your projects’ contexts, landscape architecture becomes a form of Colonialism that assumes uniform solutions. Get out of your comfort zone, interact with the community, be self-critical.
Innovation – Experimentation can be difficult because it’s rare to be commissioned to fail. New forms of economy will trigger new design practices. Keep communication simple and clear, avoiding jargon, to bring our way of thinking into other fields.
Academic Practice – Universities serve as idea incubators, and can pursue difficult or controversial topics that we can’t professionally; fostering academic collaboration can expand what we do. There is also a need to train more landscape architects from under-represented countries.
Private Practice – Leading a multi-disciplinary team, and building stewardship to increase resiliency.
Public Practice – Landscape architects who move into public service often become clients and help to create new projects for landscape architects; they can also shape the values of the broader public. Metrics are important in persuasion, but storytelling is what resonates most with politicians and the public. Advocacy – we have to join the conversation and effect policy to realize the landscape architecture we envision.
The Summit was just the first step in drafting a new Declaration. In addition to producing an informative documentary, “The New Landscape Declaration,” the LAF has been seeking public comments and plans to present the new declaration at the ASLA Meeting & Expo in New Orleans. Stay tuned…
One of my co-workers asked me why I would spend money and vacation hours to listen to people pat themselves on the back. Honestly, I was seeking to expand my vision and reconnect with the reasons I went into landscape architecture. While there was no shortage of challenges discussed at the Summit, the big picture message was this: It’s up to each of us to set our priorities, find our inspiration, and get involved to be part of the solution.
Jana Wehby is a designer in the Los Angeles studio. Since returning from the Summit she is frequently struck by how small our profession is.
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The 2016 Olympic Games on TV drew my attention to Brazil’s Copacabana Beach, where three miles of colorfully designed promenade renewed my interest in the works of the late native designer Roberto Burle Marx, one of the world’s great landscape architects. While in Rio de Janeiro on a trip to see his projects in April… Read more »
The 2016 Olympic Games on TV drew my attention to Brazil’s Copacabana Beach, where three miles of colorfully designed promenade renewed my interest in the works of the late native designer Roberto Burle Marx, one of the world’s great landscape architects. While in Rio de Janeiro on a trip to see his projects in April 2015, I was especially impressed by two extensive gardens: Sítio Roberto Burle Marx and the Edmundo Cavanellas Residence. These spaces represent remarkable instances of his thinking about landscape design.
Influenced by Surrealist painters Jean Arp and Jean Miro, and also by Cubism, Burle Marx usually referenced art in his landscape plans. He also made paintings of his gardens. The most celebrated features of his works are the elegant, organic lines clearly indicated in his layouts, plant palette, and pavement. In the Edmundo Cavanellas Residence, curved plant beds and simple, clear and well-detailed hardscape elements form the bones of the garden. Planting volumes vary and bold colors and textures are used with intent.
The concepts of contrast and harmony are also vital to his work. He used primary colors to convey an accessible visual language, and rather than rely mainly on flowers, he contrasted the color of plant leaves and texture to create beautiful designs. He extended this reliance on contrast to elements such as gravel, water, and paving. In addition, monochrome blocks of plants were employed, with a species repeated as well as similar kinds of plants grouped to emphasize their common elements.
Walking through the Sítio Roberto Burle Marx, I observed that obeying the rule of nature is also fundamental to his garden design. Burle Marx did not intend that his gardens should copy natural landscapes. Nor did he want them to function as metaphors. His gardens honored nature’s regularity on three-dimensional canvases over time, highlighting vernacular plants and paving materials. In the Sítio, he accumulated more than 3,500 different species, and studied and multiplied the plants he used in his labors. For Burle Marx, native Brazilian plants represented both a natural and a national heritage and was established as a value in this garden.
To truly experience a garden, one needs to walk around it, observing over time and from different angles. Wandering in the Sítio, breathing in the scents of thousands of plants, hearing lovely birdsong, I felt inspired to wonder: Can I paint landscapes? What does art mean to landscape? Finally, is painting a good approach to landscape design?
Landscape design priorities are typically generated by the scale and function of a project, yet it is not productive to read Burle Marx’s gardens isolated from his paintings; there is a perpetual dialogue between his landscape design and his visual art (he was a sculptor, as well), with one form continually feeding the other. From the ground plane to 3-D displays, from formal to ideological expressions, Roberto Burle Marx‘s gardens evolved my understanding about the relationship between painting and landscaping. In both, emotional elements and spiritual symbols are the main pursuit.
For more information about Roberto Burle Marx and his artwork, visit this exhibition announcement from The Jewish Museum, in New York City. Xian Li is a designer in the Laguna Beach studio. The image above is courtesy of The Jewish Museum and Xian Li.
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To address increasingly complex environmental, technical, and cultural issues, new forms of practice in design have emerged, and established practices are evolving. In July of this year, SWA moved to launch XL: Experiments in Landscape and Urbanism. XL is a research and innovation lab unique within the field of landscape architecture and urban design. In… Read more »
To address increasingly complex environmental, technical, and cultural issues, new forms of practice in design have emerged, and established practices are evolving. In July of this year, SWA moved to launch XL: Experiments in Landscape and Urbanism. XL is a research and innovation lab unique within the field of landscape architecture and urban design. In concert with traditional landscape architecture design projects, XL will address these emerging complexities from a think tank-like platform.
Ideas have always been central to SWA’s work. In 2008, the Patrick T. Curran Fellowship began supporting staff-led research projects. In 2010, SWA launched the IDEAS journal, which publishes work from our seven offices. In 2011, I.R.I.S (Infrastructure Research Initiative at SWA) investigated questions related to landscape infrastructure and published a collection of international case studies. In 2013, the Post-occupancy Initiative emerged, inspired by the need to develop rigor in evidence based design. More recently, some designers have been forecasting how autonomous vehicles will reshape the fabric of our urban and suburban environments. SWA states “our work is fueled by knowledge, research, and active debate. We advocate new ideas and innovation in design theory and practice. SWA’s identity is founded on research, experimentation, and risk-taking.”
XL continues this history of innovation by aligning past and current investigations and by initiating and executing new research and innovation projects. XL is currently working on projects in each of four foundational areas: foresight, research, visualization and simulation, and storytelling. Anya Domlesky and Emily Schlickman are leading these efforts. These projects engage the core mission of the lab in anticipation, analysis, experimentation, and thought leadership.
In the face of issues such as extreme weather events, rapid technological advancements and increased urbanization, it is no longer sufficient to make landscapes and urban environments that are solely beautiful and well built. We must consider how to design more effectively. In many ways that means finding ways to research better, develop more collaborative networks, and be at the forefront of changes in the field, the market, and technology. We all must adapt to this increasingly complex design environment. XL hopes to begin a conversation on how we as designers can be more informed, more able to build and evolve for this demanding design environment.
Anya Domlesky and Emily Schlickman are landscape designers and co-leads of XL. They are based in Sausalito.