Placemaking…is a questionable concept in so many ways.

This critical view by Dean Saitta of the concept placemaking and its narrow implementation in many planners and designers views of what is a relevant version of placemaking, is welcome, especially here in South African cities  and in Africa generally, where racial stereotypes and gentrified views obscure the reality of the majority of users needs and understanding of what contributes to a places reality, beyond its physical attributes and aesthetic considerations. 

An extract form Deans commentary on a presentation to his university on some campus improvements from Plantizen shows  that these stereootypes of  “public space ” are in fact creating an ersatz or quasi  place, that these concepts are are pervasive and as irrelevant in his context of a North American university campus as they are in our cities. 
Hi post elicited a good conversation that is worth reading.
“There’s very little that differentiates proposals by four distinguished planning and design firms to better connect my university to its immediate neighborhood and the wider city. Why is that, and does it have to be that way?”

Differentiators of planning and design philosophy were few and far between. One firm didn’t mention faculty as a key campus constituency, which was a terrible mistake. Another firm celebrated its impressive data base of campus master plans from all over the country, although it wasn’t entirely clear what’s to be learned from these comparisons. A couple of firms channeled the Denver Union Station metaphor that our academic leaders routinely use to envision our future as a crossroads for people on journeys of discovery. However, Union Station is much better known for its Terminal Bar and trendy restaurants than anything else. One firm mentioned that “place grows from context,” but no real examples were provided of what that would look like in this particular case. One bit of context would be the university’s location on Cheyenne and Arapaho ancestral land, but nothing was said that suggested an awareness of that deep indigenous history or the extraordinarily painful period of contact with white settlers, including DU’s founder. Other contexts can be found in the area’s more recent Euro-American history. In the early to mid-20th century DU was known as Tramway Tech, a theme that could be picked up in re-imagining the campus Light Rail station.

Come to think of it, the Denver area has always been a locus of interaction between different cultural groups. An attending staff member at one firm began to get at this point when he suggested, almost inaudibly from the stage’s edge, that “people use space in different ways.” This might have been the most important comment I heard during the entire four hours of public meetings, but it was left unexplored. Absent a substantive engagement with cultural and historical context, the most obvious differentiator between the firms was their style of public presentation. Some firms were much more participatory than others in soliciting opinions from audience members about what they would like to see in a regenerated campus neighborhood.

Campus Green with Adirondack Chairs. (Image by Dean Saitta)

In fairness, the lack of obvious differentiators was understandable. All firms want to be guided by planning ideas offered by the campus and neighboring community. However, none of them gave any real indication that “community” is plural, except for the one staff member’s comment described above. Nor did any indicate that we might want our university neighborhood to draw visitors from other neighborhoods that aren’t populated by white people. None indicated the role that a liberal arts education—as distinct from professional training—could play in producing STEM innovation. Ideas for using culture and the arts as anchor venues for campus edges (e.g., a museum, art gallery, cultural center, or some other kind of learning lab or Idea Store) were not mentioned. None took up the multicultural theme briefly mentioned in passing by ULI, and what this might mean for the quality of public space, green space, public art, signage, historical markers, amenities, and residential housing. The commitment to multiculturalism—or, alternatively, interculturalism—should certainly amount to more than just making signs in Spanish as well as English.

Read the full a post here:

 

MORE THAN TOYS

More on current research on state of the art in digital modeling and tools for Landscape Architects

Landscape Architecture Magazine

BY DANIEL TAL, ASLA

lam_03mar2017_now-morethantoys-cover_resize When it comes to new technologies, small investments can lead to big returns.

FROM THE MARCH 2017 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

As at many small firms, five years ago, the technology in THK Associates’s office mainly consisted of hand-drawn plans, some 3-D modeling, Photoshop, and CAD. Now, the firm is incorporating drones, 3-D printing, and virtual reality into many of its projects. Thanks in large part to Jon Altschuld, ASLA, a landscape architect and project manager at the Denver-based firm, THK is an example of how small firms can integrate new technologies into practice with little overhead.

On a number of recent projects, the firm used drones to collect 3-D terrain data and turn it into high-resolution aerials. Using an application called Maps Made Easy, Altschuld can automate the flight path of the firm’s Phantom 4 drone in as little as 15 minutes. The drone…

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DIGITAL DIVIDENDS

More Digital reverie – reality lags behind the movies it seems

Landscape Architecture Magazine

REVIEWED BY GALE FULTON, ASLA

Landscape Architecture and Digital Technologies: Re-Conceptualising Design and Making

From the October 2016 Issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine

Warning: possible confirmation bias ahead.

One of the most perplexing aspects of landscape architecture education and practice that I’ve encountered is what I’ll grossly refer to here as representation. In the nearly two decades that I’ve been a student, professional, or involved in some capacity with teaching at the university level, I can think of no other domain as consistently polarizing than the critically important area of how landscape architects generate and communicate their ideas. Perhaps the most pernicious aspect of this issue is the ongoing divide between digital and analog processes—using the computer versus hand drawing. At first glance, one may likely assume this issue to simply be generational—older generations of designers were not educated in the use of the computer and so are less accepting of it than of those techniques and media with…

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THE LIMITS OF BIM

More on BIM for Landscape Architecture and Site Design

Landscape Architecture Magazine

BY BRIAN BARTH

Landscape architects feel the push of architecture-centric software. Landscape architects feel the push of architecture-centric software.

From the February 2016 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

Building information modeling, or BIM, has become the default digital format for designing buildings, bridges, and other infrastructure the world over, though in theory it is just as applicable to landscape design. You are not likely to find an architecture or engineering firm that does not employ BIM software, but there are surprisingly few landscape architecture firms that do. It’s not that landscape architects don’t appreciate the information-rich approach of BIM—quite the contrary—but many loathe its building-centric nature.

“Landscape architecture as a profession is kind of down on BIM,” says James Sipes, a landscape architect based in Atlanta who was an early proponent of adapting the technology for landscape architecture purposes. “It seemed to be exactly what we were looking for—that combination of CAD and 3-D modeling and smart software…

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The New Landscape Declaration

This renewal of a half century old landscape document in many ways echoes the feelings of frustration many of us feel over the  seemingly mindless pursuit of self interest and greed that continually threatens to overwhelm us, yet unless we are able to get more politically engaged within our communities of interest and beyond; into the other professional and public domains, we are preaching to the converted and our words are unheard by those who are crying for creative steps towards overcoming the myriad challenges awe face in our cities, towns and rural environments.  If you feel this to be true and worthwhile then I urge you to head on over to LAF  , sign the declaration and decide how you can let it be heard more widely than the jus the community of landscape architecture.

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On June 10-11, 2016, over 700 landscape architects with a shared concern for the future were assembled by the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Inspired by LAF’s 1966 Declaration of Concern, we crafted a new vision for landscape architecture for the 21st century. This is our call to action.
Across borders and beyond walls, from city centers to the last wilderness, humanity’s common ground is the landscape itself. Food, water, oxygen – everything that sustains us comes from and returns to the landscape. What we do to our landscapes we ultimately do to ourselves. The profession charged with designing this common ground is landscape architecture.

After centuries of mistakenly believing we could exploit nature without consequence, we have now entered an age of extreme climate change marked by rising seas, resource depletion, desertification and unprecedented rates of species extinction. Set against the global phenomena of accelerating consumption, urbanization and inequity, these influences disproportionately affect the poor and will impact everyone, everywhere.

Simultaneously, there is profound hope for the future. As we begin to understand the true complexity and holistic nature of the earth system and as we begin to appreciate humanity’s role as integral to its stability and productivity, we can build a new identity for society as a constructive part of nature.

The urgent challenge before us is to redesign our communities in the context of their bioregional landscapes enabling them to adapt to climate change and mitigate its root causes. As designers versed in both environmental and cultural systems, landscape architects are uniquely positioned to bring related professions together into new alliances to address complex social and ecological problems. Landscape architects bring different and often competing interests together so as to give artistic physical form and integrated function to the ideals of equity, sustainability, resiliency and democracy.

As landscape architects we vow to create places that serve the higher purpose of social and ecological justice for all peoples and all species. We vow to create places that nourish our deepest needs for communion with the natural world and with one another. We vow to serve the health and well-being of all communities.

To fulfill these promises, we will work to strengthen and diversify our global capacity as a profession. We will work to cultivate a bold culture of inclusive leadership, advocacy and activism in our ranks. We will work to raise awareness of landscape architecture’s vital contribution. We will work to support research and champion new practices that result in design innovation and policy transformation.

We pledge our services. We seek commitment and action from those who share our concern.

Voice of Warning…..pictures and drawings of things are not the things they represent .

A common fallacy of the design professions is that the objects we design such as buildings, parks , chairs etc. can be adequately represented by our drawings and computer renderings of these designs and that these will suffice to create the objects themselves by means of the usual contracting mechanisms. Alberto Perez-Gomez calls attention to the origins and problems of this idea in his recent book. In revue of the book in Environmental & Architectural Phenomenology Vol .28 No.1 the following excerpts  from the book review illustrate the authors ” critical  (view) of the two dominant approaches to architectural design today: on one hand, functionalism, including sustainable architecture; on the other hand, a purely aesthetic approach to architecture, including parametric design. He writes that, for the past two centuries, architecture has suffered “from either the banality of functionalism (an architecture that attests to its own process) or from the limitations of potential solipsism and near nonsense, the syndrome of ‘architecture made for archi-tects’.”

The need, Pérez-Gómez concludes, is “for continuing formal exploration in a fluid and changing world” but also returning attention to “the fundamental existential questions to which architecture traditionally answered—the profound necessity for humans to inhabit a resonant world they may call home, even when separated by global technological civ-ilization from an innate sense of place.” The excerpts, below, present two passages from Attunement.

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Alberto Pérez-Gómez, 2016. Attunement: Architectural Meaning after the Crisis of Modern Science. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 

“A dangerous misunderstanding”

Since the beginning of the nineteenth century, the assumption has been that architectural space (subsuming all aspects of real place) is easily represented through the geometric systems of descriptive geometry and axonometric projection, which translates seamlessly today into the digital space of the computer screen through standard architectural software. Thus, it seems obvious that architectural meanings would have to be created from scratch, through ingenious formal manipulation of the architect-artist, assumed to be relevant merely through their novel, shocking, or seductive character.

Whenever the physical context is invoked as an argument for design decisions, it is mostly through its visual attributes, imagining the site as a picture or objective site plan that merely provides some formal or functional cues.

This is a dangerous misunderstanding. The deep emotional and narrative aspects that articulate places in a particular natural or cultural milieu are usually marginalized by a desire to produce fashionable innovations. These narrative qualities, however, are crucial considerations as we seek the appropriateness of a given project for its intended purpose in a particular culture: framing a “focalized action” (Heidegger) or event that may bring people together and allow for a sense of orientation and belonging….

We can obviously perceive the qualities of places, particularly when cities have deep histories and their layers are present to our experience. Yet these are still obvious if we compare the “spaces” of newer urban centers, such as Toronto and Sydney (both with similar colonial pasts), which, indeed, ultimately appear as qualitatively different; despite their Anglo-Saxon character, the two cities have a different light and a feel, a different aroma, stemming from such features as the lake or the sea and the “air” of their respective climates.

We can also realize that we think different thoughts in different places, necessarily accompanied and enabled by diverse emotions, albeit usually unintended by the generic architecture of modern development; location affects us deeply, as does more generally the geographical environment (pp. 108-09).

“Architecture as attunement”

Architecture is not what appears in a glossy magazine: buildings rendered as two-dimensional or three-dimensional pictures on the computer screen, or comprehensive sets of precise working drawings.

The most significant architecture is not necessarily photogenic. In fact, often the opposite is true. Its meanings are conveyed through sound and eloquent silence, the tactility and poetic resonance of materials, smell and the sense of humidity, among infinite other factors that appear through the motility of embodied perception and are given across the senses.

Furthermore, because good architecture fundamentally offers a possibility of attunement, atmospheres appropriate to focal actions that allow for dwelling in the world, it is very problematic to reduce its effect (and critical import) to the aesthetic experience of an object, as is often customary. Strictly speaking, architecture first conveys its meanings as a situation or event; it partakes of the ephemeral quality of music for example, as it addresses the living body, and only secondly does it become an object for tourist visits or expert critical judgments (pp. 148-149).

About the Author

Alberto Pérez Gómez directs the History and Theory of Architecture Program at McGill University, where he is Saidye Rosner Bronfman Professor of the History of Architecture. He is the author of Architecture and the Crisis of Modern ScienceBuilt upon Love: Architectural Longing after Ethics and Aesthetics (both published by the MIT Press), and other books.

“A real tour de force, this is the work of an intellectual craftsman in full possession of the materials and tools of his trade: a broad sweep of historical material, from the present day to remote antiquity, and then back again, sized and shaped with the precision instruments of his art: philology, philosophical hermeneutics, and poetic reformulation. The workplace is contemporary culture; his task, nothing less than reshaping the way architecture is understood today. Architecture is shown to endow experience with attunements that are equally material, spatial, and linguistic, apprehended by both the body and the mind, through emotions and ideas, providing us with the kind of architectural atmospheres we would not only love to inhabit but dream of designing. For that last purpose there will be no better guide than this book”
David Leatherbarrow, Professor of Architecture, University of Pennsylvania

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