Can we please stop drawing trees on top of skyscrapers?

From Per Square Mile by Tim De Chant some sense on where trees are needed and not needed!

Editt Tower

Just a couple of years ago, if you wanted to make something look trendier, you put a bird on it. Birds were everywhere. I’m not sure if Twitter was what started all the flutter, but it got so bad that Portlandia performed a skit named, you guessed it, “Put a Bird On It“.¹

It turns out architects have been doing the same thing, just with trees. Want to make a skyscraper look trendy and sustainable? Put a tree on it. Or better yet, dozens. Many high-concept skyscraper proposals are festooned with trees. On the rooftop, on terraces, in nooks and crannies, on absurdly large balconies. Basically anywhere horizontal and high off the ground. Now, I should be saying architects are drawing dozens, because I have yet to see one of these “green” skyscrapers in real life. (There’s one notable exception—BioMilano, which isn’t quite done yet.) If—and it’s a big if—any of these buildings ever get built, odds are they’ll be stripped of their foliage quicker than a developer can say “return on investment”. It’s just not realistic. I get it why architects draw them on their buildings. Really, I do. But can we please stop?

There are plenty of scientific reasons why skyscrapers don’t—and probably won’t—have trees, at least not to the heights which many architects propose. Life sucks up there. For you, for me, for trees, and just about everything else except peregrine falcons. It’s hot, cold, windy, the rain lashes at you, and the snow and sleet pelt you at high velocity. Life for city trees is hard enough on the ground. I can’t imagine what it’s like at 500 feet, where nearly every climate variable is more extreme than at street level.

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Landscape Performance Research: The Economics of Change

From Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) By Jason Twill, LEED AP and Stuart Cowan, PhD

The built environment and building industry together account for about 50% of U.S carbon emissions and contribute to a web of significant, interconnected problems: climate change, persistent toxins in the environment, dwindling supplies of potable water, flooding, ocean acidification, habitat loss and more. Over the past decade, great strides have been made in terms of energy efficiency, water and waste consumption, and sustainable materials, and a critical mass of innovative professionals has emerged.

Yet a major barrier to the broad adoption of advanced green building practices is our 20th century real estate financial system. Current lending approaches, appraisal protocols, and valuation models do not reflect the true externalized costs of doing “business as usual” nor do they fully capture the additional environmental and social benefits created by building green. These barriers affect the perceived financial viability of environmentally sound projects and slow innovation and market growth. To fully realize true sustainability, a shift in assessing and evaluating real estate investment is urgently needed.

The Economics of Change is a groundbreaking effort to do just that.

The overarching goal of The Economics of Change is to shift mainstream real estate practices to document the full value of a built environment that is compatible with healthy, natural systems. Correcting real estate incentives and improving financial models will shift investment toward buildings and infrastructures that are financially rewarding, resilient, socially just and economically restorative.

eoc-shiftA project’s integrated value includes its traditional market value AND the environmental and social value it provides. This research seeks to shift the investment barrier to the right through recognition of integrated value, potentially unlocking a trillion dollars of investment towards restorative building.

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The Emergence of Container Urbanism

A timely essay by  MITCHELL SCHWARZER in Places  on the history of container architecture and urbanism – In South Africa various uses have been made using the ubiquitous shipping container – emblem of the consumer society to shape something different – however they still cost more the what eh local populations of the South can afford so shack-land is unlikely to give way to container-land – but heir use as Spaza shops etc is common in South African shanty towns

Top: Envelope A+D, Proxy, San Francisco. [Photo by Envelope A+D] Bottom four: Proxy tenants facing Linden Alley. [Photo by Trevor Dykstra] Smitten Ice Cream. [Photo by Christopher Bowns] Ritual Coffee. [Photo by Trevor Dykstra] “Off the Grid” food carts. [Photo by Niall Kennedy]
In San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood, the traffic on Octavia Boulevard almost smacks into a small park before being routed west onto Fell Street. In 2005, the tree-lined, four-block-long boulevard opened as a replacement for the double-decker Central Freeway, mortally wounded by the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake; the freeway was a remnant of the San Francisco Trafficways Plan (1948, 1951, 1955), a proposal by transportation planners to ram numerous limited-access highways through the dense 49-square-mile city. Although a citizen-led protest — the Freeway Revolt, begun in 1959 — halted most of the offending expressways, the Central Freeway had just blasted its way a mile or so through this section of the city, in the Western Addition neighborhood, leading to the mass demolition of older buildings. [1] But nowadays, instead of gusting above the neighborhood, vehicles inch along the surface, and contend with narrowed lanes, traffic lights and forced turns. And, since 2010, they may spy a curious new development. On two short blocks north of Fell Street, land where the freeway once ran, an architectural counterpart to the boulevard’s recalibration of transportation infrastructure has risen.
Proxy, designed and developed by Douglas Burnham’s firm, Envelope A+D, repurposes about a dozen shipping containers to house a smaller number of outdoor businesses. With openings selectively punched into their sides, canopies sprouting from the furrows and ridges of their corrugated steel surfaces, and ornaments organically growing as handles, latches and locking bars, the eight-by-twenty-foot containers host a clothing boutique, beer garden, espresso café, ice-cream parlor and bicycle rental business, as well as cooking, cleaning and storage facilities and set of restrooms. Facing each other or juxtaposed at right angles, the boxes carve intimate outdoor spaces that appear as handcrafted as the products sold by Proxy’s businesses. Painted battleship gray, they also evoke the warships that once followed the sea-lanes of the Pacific from their harbor in San Francisco. That’s ironic, because the very idea of container urbanism would seem to be counterposed against monuments of any sort, whether military-industrial or architectural. In Burnham’s words, Proxy has aimed at a “volumetric ghosting of what a real building would be.” [2]

Along with the park and its revolving art exhibits (many from the Burning Man Festival), along with the gentrified storefronts and renovated and surrogate Victorians, Proxy seems at first glance guided by the pastiche urbanism associated with postmodernity. More than elsewhere in the city, the area around it feels layered with time. The mix of locals and tourists, the foreign languages wafting across the playground and beer garden, reinforce this cosmopolitan dimension. More to the point, a thick sense of urbanity emerges fromProxy’s staging of activities in liminal zones: amid transport boxes initially manufactured to move goods and now reworked to sell them; astride the intimacy of a residential neighborhood and the circuitry of metropolitan transportation. At Proxy, people swill beer and munch pretzels and pickles atop cracked macadam only steps from an anxious stream of cars and trucks. Akin to the parts of old-world cities rebuilt over pre-modern walls or modern bombing campaigns, Proxy builds atop San Francisco’s former traumas; a row of pollarded fruit trees grows up the blank side walls of an apartment exposed half a century ago by the elevated freeway; the shipping containers themselves both recall the city’s illustrious history as a port and alert us to the innovation that led to the cargo port’s demise.

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MIT launches new research center on advanced urbanism

A great deal of effort is being put into research that could lead to new urbanists – of interest here is the emphasis on the role of projects rather than utopian design ideals and a seeming leaning towards Transdisciplinarity – this involves greater level of involvement with end users – rather than purely Interdisciplinary and multi disciplinary approaches that are the typical state of academia and praxis present:

From Archinect

Interdisciplinary teams will focus on the planning, design, construction and retrofitting of urban environments for the 21st century. —

Already, the world is becoming predominantly urban. However, the dominant form of urban living will be very similar to our older suburban regions in the U.S. This places substantial pressure on American suburban models, the dominant model of urban development copied worldwide, to set a better example of sustainability. This is even more critical as economic development grows robust middle classes in developing countries who expect more from their living environments.

To address the urgent need for better models of urban growth, the MIT School of Architecture + Planning is launching a major new research center focused on the planning, design, construction and retrofitting of urban environments for the 21st century.

Under the leadership of center director Alexander D’Hooghe and research director Alan Berger – professors of architecture and of urban design and landscape architecture, respectively – the Center for Advanced Urbanism will coordinate collaborations among existing efforts in the School and with other MIT groups, as well as undertaking new projects at the Institute and with sponsors in practice.

For the first two years, the center’s research program will focus on the particular challenges of infrastructure. Traditionally, infrastructure design has been based on a single function – a bridge for auto use, for instance, a lake and dam for electricity, a coastal barrier for storm surge protection.  But two new trends will soon alter that model – the increasing intensity of development in our suburban regions, putting capacity pressures on existing infrastructures; and the need for a broader systemic view of infrastructure’s multiple roles.

“We need to continue studying and modeling new scenarios for suburban forms and infrastructures, with special attention to the design performance and programmatic adaptability,” says Berger.

Fundamental to the center’s approach is the notion that research will be most effective when it is focused on specific projects as elements of the larger system, with a constant eye toward how that project can provide extra services beyond its primary function. By limiting intervention to individual projects, rather than trying to rewire entire regional systems all at once, infrastructure investment should, over several growth cycles, result in a reconfigured and durable new urban order.

As part of its commitment to building a new collaborative approach to the challenges of urbanization, CAU will offer subjects to general student populations in all the School’s degree programs and will contribute to a new, one-year integrated studio experience in which students will work on a complex urban problem from the combined perspectives of architecture, ecology, energy, housing, landscape, policy, real estate and technology.

With its distinguished history in urbanism, reaching all the way back to the work of pioneering urbanist Kevin Lynch, the MIT School of Architecture + Planning is well positioned to lead this effort, drawing faculty from both the department of architecture and of urban studies and planning.

The School’s participating labs include City Science, the Civic Data Design Lab, the Housing and Community Lab, Locus-Lab, the Mobility Systems Lab, the New Century Cities Lab, the P-REX Lab, the Platform for Permanent Modernity, the Resilient Cities Housing Initiative, the Sustainable Design Lab and the Urban Risk Lab.

Arup Proposes Radical Building of the Near Future

Do we need this future here? From Archinect  – ARUPs “vision” can be downloaded from the post – is this a vision for future  humans or androids – you decide:

The global engineering firm envisions a “smart” building that will plug into “smart” urban infrastructure and cater to an increasingly dense and technology-savvy urban population. —

Download Arup’s January 2013 issue of Foresight [PDF]

Movie: Chris Wilkinson on Gardens by the Bay


World Architecture Festival 2012: ”No one’s ever seen anything like it before,” director of Wilkinson Eyre Architects Chris Wilkinson tells Dezeen in this movie we filmed overlooking the Gardens by the Bay tropical garden in Singapore, which wasnamed World Building of the Year at the World Architecture Festival earlier this month.

Gardens by the Bay

Wilkinson Eyre Architects collaborated with landscape architects Grant Associates and engineers Atelier One and Atelier Ten on the design of the project, which features eighteen of the tree-like towers and two “cooled conservatories” containing Mediterranean and tropical plants.

Gardens by the Bay

As a British architect Wilkinson discusses Kew Gardens in London, which was constructed in the Victorian era to bring tropical gardens to a colder climate, and he describes how the “flower-dome” does the opposite, by housing Mediterranean plants within the tropical climate of Singapore.

Gardens by the Bay

“What I find interesting is the experiment of changing the climate but doing it in an economical way in terms of energy,” he says, and explains that a biomass boiler powered by clippings from plants all over Singapore generates most of the energy needed to control the temperatures inside the conservatories.

Gardens by the Bay

Visitors can walk around the gardens using bridges raised 20 metres above the ground, which lead to a cafe on the top of the tallest  tower. ”I don’t think its fair to call it a theme park, but it’s designed to attract people of all ages and all nationalities as a leisure facility,” says Wilkinson.

Gardens by the Bay

You can see more images of the project in our earlier story, or watch another movie we filmed with Wilkinson Eyre’s Paul Baker just after the World Building of the Year Award was announced.

Toyo Ito: Home-for-All

Along with Shigeru Ban  and other famous Architects  there is growing concern for social projects her is an interview from domuswith Toyo Ito at the  Venice Architecture  Biennial

After the dreadful 3/11 Earthquake, some of Japan’s most renowned architects came together creating the kisyn-no-kai, a group includingRiken YamamotoHiroshi NaitoKengo KumaKazuyo Sejima and Toyo Ito. The architects talked with the affected people from Sendai, trying to find a way to help with the reconstruction of the city and to improve the community’s daily life. The result was the “Home-for-All” (Minna no Ie), a place where people could feel like at home, meet, relax and talk about the future of their city. The first “Home-for-All” was finished in Sendai last autumn: a small traditional timber structure that allows people to look to the future once again. Commonly the Venice Biennale has been a think-tank for architecture, a window for most inspiring practices abroad, but this edition has focused on showing many star-architects without giving too much room to fresh and innovative proposals. What are your thoughts on this?

Traditionally every architect must be rooted to a particular land or country, and that is something that could be enjoyed by the people, as it was supposed to create a common space. But the problem is that all of this has been lost over the last years and the past Biennales, because now you can go to Tokyo, Beijing, Hong Kong or Venice and you will see that architecture is just used as an instrument of economics, completely losing its original meaning. After the big earthquake in Japan we had to make a lot of sacrifices, many victims came out of that and so we went back to zero, we went back to the idea of architecture as a place to make people gather, a place that everybody can use. This is what we have done, restarting the city once again as it has happened so many times in our history. It is a way to make architecture that can be applicable all over the world, thinking architecture as a social tool, as a way of creating spaces to make people stay together. From my point of view, Chipperfield thought the Common Ground like this, as a ground for everybody, a ground on common, and our project is a reflection of this.

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Toyo Ito, curator of the Japan Pavilion at the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale. Photo by María Carmona. Above: Architecture. Possible here? Home-for-All installation view at the Japan Pavilion. Photo by Naoya Hatakeyama

The Olympics and the urban DNA of London

Is or isn’t the London olympics good for the city? It may be OK according to Deyan Sudjic  the director of the Design Museum in London from domus

Despite the city’s apparent aversion to making grand plans and big gestures, London as a whole has been strengthened in its claims to be Europe’s only real world city. It’s not the Olympics that have done that; it’s the British capital’s 2000 years of urban DNA.

There is an argument that only cities that feel insecure about themselves feel the need to mortgage themselves to the hilt in order to win the privilege of supplying a fleet of at least 500 air-conditioned limousines for the tax-exempt members of what is described without irony as the Olympic family to enjoy driving on dedicated Olympics-only lanes from which even ambulances will be excluded.

London does not, even after last year’s uncomfortable brush with arson and rioting, feel insecure about itself. Prices for houses over 5 million pounds grew another 0,7 per cent in the month of May. All the Greeks who can may already have bought their houses, but there is a growing queue of Italian, Spanish and French money looking for a safe haven in London property.

The more superficially sophisticated the world appears to become, the more its public rituals signal that its underlying preoccupations remain as intoxicatedly atavistic as they have ever been. The Olympic Games, the Grand Prix circuit and the Expo movement are all events that come cocooned with the appearance of a glossy sense of modernity. All are apparently very different from each other, but actually they have converged into a single phenomenon. For all the alibis of urban renewal, their real significance is closer to the motivations of the Easter Island head builders, or the ritual festivals of the Mayans. The calculations of everyday reality do not apply. These events are to be understood as reflecting national prestige or cohesion, or else the rampant pursuit of sheer spectacle for the sake of spectacle. They are celebrations of power and wealth, and distractions from the bleaker aspects of daily life.

When Londoners first heard that their city had been selected for the 2012 Games, one common response was disappointment; if only Paris had won the right to stage the Games. Another was to say that if we must stage them, then lets go back to the austere virtues of 1948, the last time London hosted the Olympics. In those days there was no Olympic Village, and athletes were accommodated in tents, youth hostels and B&Bs. There were no corporate sponsors, and no specially built stadia. The old Wembley football pitch served perfectly well. It’s been seven years since the IOC decision, and while Londoners are bracing themselves for six weeks of disruption that promises to bring gridlock to the city’s traffic, as well as 30-minute delays simply to gain access to Underground stations, the city by and large has become reconciled to the idea of the Olympics.

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From a series on re-evaluating the role of architecture in society  – an in-depth discussion of how Integral Theory might help position the design disciplines in a more sustainable framework – well worth reading Peter Buchanan’s essays on AR,

In the third installment of the AR’s campaign, Peter Buchanan introduces Integral theory, which establishes a new framework for the design of 21st-century buildings and cities

The first two essays in this series merely set the scene, making the case for, rather than initiating The Big Rethink: Towards a Complete Architecture. This now begins in earnest. The second essay discussed some ways in which modernism, including modern architecture, is endemically unsustainable, and some of the most potent forces bringing epochal change. It listed particularly those that might bring enticing benefits as opposed to those, in the first essay, that threaten to bring calamities. It concluded by speculating that several epochs, coexisting simultaneously over different time spans, are now ending, so highlighting just how pivotal are our times.

Here we concentrate on understanding the modern era, its origins some four to five centuries ago, and why it is now waning; the implications of that alone are vast enough. We also look at the transitions from pre-modern to modern and then to postmodern and what they meant for architecture. From these foundations we can start considering the architecture of the future, that of the epoch succeeding the transitional phase of current postmodernism − what, in the table closing last month’s essay, Charlene Spretnak calls Deconstructionist Postmodernism as opposed to the Ecological Postmodernism of the emergent era.

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Investing in the Ground: Reflections on Scarcity, Remediation and Obdurate Form

This “groundwork” takes place within and on the ‘landscape” hence landscape, ground and field have a critical part to play in urbanism and architecture – hence the view of Stan Allen and others from Landscape Architecture and Landscape Urbanism etc. that it is the primary plane of any urban intervention and consideration of any part that takes place on it must consider its impact and contribution to the whole – but I believe not without considering its impact on the people who are there and who will inhabit it – which is usually scarcely considered any of these disciplines.

Critical Grounds

My essay ‘Investing in the Ground: Reflections on Scarcity, Remediation and Obdurate Form’ published in  Architectural Design, ‘Scarcity’, edited by Jon Goodbun. Extract below.

“In design practice, it is the ground, and its articulation, from which form is derived. The ground becomes, as Castro and Ramirez refer to it, a ‘design tool’. Many of the sites with which AALU and Groundlab have been engaged, for example, particularly those in China, suffer from scarcities of land fit for farming, or even inhabitation, due to soil pollution and degradation that require processes such as excavation, cutting, filling and capping in order to facilitate their remediation.  More than a problem-solving exercise, however, this type of ‘groundwork’ also provides an opportunity to generate artificial topographies with the formal capacity to structure relations between environmental, social, cultural and economic factors on a given site. The remediation of scarcity is grasped as an opportunity…

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