Has Landscape Architecture Failed? Reflections on the Occasion of LAF’s 50th Anniversary

By Richard Weller and Billy Fleming, University of Pennsylvania on LAF Blog

In 1966, Campbell Miller, Grady Clay, Ian McHarg, Charles Hammond, George Patton and John Simonds marched to the steps of Independence Hall in Philadelphia and declared that an age of environmental crisis was upon us and that the profession of landscape architecture was a key to solving it. Their Declaration of Concern launched, and to this day underpins the workings of, the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF).

To mark its 50th anniversary, LAF will hold a summit titled The New Landscape Declaration at the University of Pennsylvania involving over 65 leading landscape architects from around the world. Delegates are being asked to deliver new declarations (manifestos, if you will) about the profession’s future. Drawing upon these statements and the dialogue at the summit, LAF will then redraft the original 1966 Declaration of Concern so that it serves to guide the profession into the 21st century.

On one level, redrafting the declaration is relatively straightforward: it would simply need to stress the twinned global phenomena of climate change and global urbanization — issues that were less well understood in 1966. On another level however, the redrafting of the declaration is profoundly complicated because if it is to be taken seriously, then a prerequisite is to ask why, after 50 years of asserting landscape architecture as “a key” to “solving the environmental crisis” does that crisis continue largely unabated? Seen in this light the declaration can be read as an admission of failure. Consequently, we must ask:

If McHarg and his colleagues were justified in placing such a tremendous responsibility on the shoulders of landscape architects, why have we failed so spectacularly to live up to their challenge?

In our defense, we might argue that landscape architecture is a very young and very small profession and an even smaller academy. We can also protest, as many do, that other more established disciplines — such as engineering and architecture — have restrained our rise to environmental leadership. We can argue that the status quo of political decision-making makes it impossible for us to meaningfully scale up our operations and work in the territory where our services are needed most. These justifications (or excuses) all contain aspects of the truth, but we argue that landscape architecture over the last 50 years is less a story of abject failure and more one of a discipline taking the time that has been needed to prepare for a more significant role in this, the 21st century.

From the last 50 years of landscape architecture we have three models of professional identity and scope: the landscape architect as artist (for example, Peter Walker), the landscape architect as regional planner (for example, Ian McHarg), and the landscape architect as urban designer (for example, Charles Waldheim). Rather than see these as competing models cancelling each other out, perhaps what we have really learned from the last 50 years is that each is somewhat incomplete without the other. If however we make a concerted effort to combine these three models, then perhaps we begin to really give credence to the notion of landscape architecture as a uniquely holistic discipline, one especially well-suited to engage with the contemporary landscape of planetary urbanization and climate change.

Read More

Biomimicry Tools to Inspire Designers

While many are sceptical of the idea that we can use the complexity of natural systems to design man-made systems , here is evidence that the process can in fact provide valuable design inspirations and alternative strategies . From the Dirt by Jared Green

 

Rainforest epiphyte leaf formation / Reforestation.me

“Biomimicry is about learning from nature to inspire design solutions for human problems,” said Gretchen Hooker with the Biomimicry Institute at SXSW Eco in Austin, Texas. To enable the spread of these exciting solutions, Hooker, along with Cas Smith, Terrapin Bright Green, and Marjan Eggermont, Zygote Quarterly (ZQ), gave a tour of some of the best resources available for designers and engineers of all stripes:

AskNature.org

Hooker walked us through AskNature.org, a web site with thousands of biomimicry strategies, set up by the Biomimicry Institute. The site organizes biological information by function. “Everything nature does fits into a function. And these functions enable us to connect biology to design.”

AskNature first organizes strategies into broad functions and then zooms down into the specific. For example, a user could click on the broad function group, “Get / Store / Distribute Resources,” and then navigate to “Capture, Absorb, and Filter,” and then select “Liquids,” which has 52 strategies. One such strategy describes how the nasal surfaces of camels help these desert animals retain water. Another looks at how the horny devil, a desert lizard, uses its grooves to gather water from the atmosphere. There are just as many plant-derived strategies as there are animal ones. One such strategy looks at how the arrangement of epiphytes’ leavesaids in water collection (see image above).

All of these strategies are written in a non-technical way for a general audience. Hooker said they have selected the most “salient examples, backed with credible research citations.” Users can then go explore the citations and pull out excerpts.

Tapping into Nature

Terrapin Bright Green, a sustainable design consultancy, produced Tapping into Nature, a comprehensive online report covering the world of biomimetic design, which includes an amazing interactive graph. Cas Smith, a biological engineer, explained that the report and graph seek to “uncover the landscape of biomimetic innovation, with a roadmap that shows designs and their their stage of development: concept, prototype, development, or in the marketplace.”

“Biomimetic design is now found in almost all industries — power generation, electronics, buildings.” But to make things easier, Terrapin organizes the design strategies into the following sections: water, materials, energy conservation and storage, optics & photonics, thermal regulation, fluid dynamics, data & computing, and systems.

Using the graph, Smith picked out one story: the firm Blue Planet, which is mimicking the bio-mineralization processes of coral reefs, which pull carbon dioxide out of the water to create their unique structures, to create a new type of carbon-based building material. The firm is also creating pigments and powders. Another highlight: early exploration of termite humidity damping devices. Termites create massive mounds, mostly underground, which are equal in scale to a skyscraper for us. Within the mound, temperature and humidity levels are tightly controlled so they can grow the fungi they live on. In some of the mound’s subterranean rooms and chambers are bright yellow objects about the size of a fist. These structures are termite-created sponges that actually pull water from the air. Smith related to this to HVAC systems in human buildings, and how new systems could be created to remove humidity with giant sponges in a more energy efficient way.

Smith said the process of creating biomimetic innovations is similar to that of a typical innovation development process. “There’s just the added layer up front.” While there are risks in any process, biomimetic designs, he argued, will be the source of “breakthrough products for solving our problems.” If the designers and engineers creating these new products and processes follow nature, “they can embed sustainability throughout.”

Read More

Why We Need Design Guidelines for Urban Non-Humans -Beyond the Selfie

Are we really so self centred that we think we need only design for ourselves – yes to seems we are – so when we design urban futures,  we are supposed to consult with its occupants – so who will speak for the birds, foxes and coyotes?

Paul Downton in a post on the Nature of Cities  contend we need rules that include natural systems as having their own needs and we  must take into account  and should have their own rights

‘Alive rather than inert’, Christie Walk in Adelaide, South Australia is a downtown ecocity development in which ‘a profusion of sprouting, breathing, photosynthesising, living things surround and entwine human dwellings’. Image: Paul Downton

Design Table.xlsxBeyond the selfie

Cities are quintessentially human constructions, so it’s hardly surprising that reasons given for having ‘more nature in cities’ are almost invariably anthropocentric (think ‘nature-deficit disorder’ or biophilia). These reasons are typically to do with improving the quality of life for people, or even just their real estate values, but the bottom line for promoting urban nature is more profound; it is about human survival—without healthy natural environments our species cannot survive and cities make or break the natural environment. If cities fail to embrace nature in a demonstrably positive and sustaining way there can be little hope for the environment outside the city walls. Our reasons for valuing nature in cities needs to move beyond the ‘selfie’ view that puts a bit of greenery in the frame of urban portraiture and beyond the very reasonable proposition that integrating nature in our cities is good for livability, resilience, sustainability and human life generally. We need to simply accept that nature has needs of its own, and those needs may or may not be of benefit to human strands in the web of life.

This partly parallels ways of seeing the world found in a number of cultural forms, like Buddhism and Animism; it is close to the Daoist tradition in its acceptance of the natural world as ‘a self-generating, complex arrangement of elements that are continuously changing and interacting’ in which humans are a crucial component but one that should ‘follow the flow of nature’s rhythms’. It is specifically not about an enchanted view of nature and it is not about the worship of nature, not least because we are ultimately part of nature and any degree of self-reverence is dangerous.

No, it’s simply accepting that for natural systems to function certain requirements have to be met and understanding that conditions and pre-conditions for the successful operation of biological processes are set by the nature of the systems and not by the predilections of the human animal. Where human activities affect those systems there are identifiable areas of contact and interaction where we need clear indications as to how to allow or support natural system (ecosystem) function.

Responsive it may be, but Nature does not negotiate

Nature is fractal. Each part of it is a microcosm of the larger whole. An urbanism that gave priority to the needs of nature and the requirements of non-human species would itself need to be fractal and support and nurture the essential functions of natural systems. To some degree it would need to be codified, just as we codify the expectations we have of our artificial human habitat, and that means establishing appropriate design guidelines, rules and regulations. If this agenda is to be taken seriously (and why shouldn’t it?), every city and town on Earth will need to develop such guidelines—to be acted upon as a result of both sensible persuasion (through the political process) and as a response to non-negotiable demands (of ecological necessity). Nature may be astonishingly responsive and receptive, but it does not negotiate

Read More

The Myths of Alien Species: An Alternate Perspective on “Wild”

Ditya Gopal reviews a new book on of The New Wild: Why Invasive Species Will Be Nature’s Salvation, by Fred Pearce from The Nature of Cities  that will add grits to the dispute between conservationists, landscape architects and the public on what constitutes  an acceptable stance to non-native species and invasive aliens and how we view wilderness and wildness along with the age old debate on how nature is constructed.

“The New Wild is an intriguing book that looks at non-native species and nature in new light, challenging popular notions of ‘nativism,’ ‘wild’ and nature’s ‘fragility.’ Although the author, Fred Pearce, has taken on a controversial topic, his sources show that he is not alone as an increasing number of ecologists and scientists are questioning the “good natives, bad aliens,” narrative. As a seasoned journalist with years of experience reporting environmental and development issues, Pearce strengthens his arguments with plenty of examples—most of which he has personally observed. The book critically reviews the vilification of non-native species, common misconceptions in ecosystem restoration, and pitfalls in conventional conservation”

This topic is of particular relevance here in Cape Town which is situated right in the middle one of the worlds ecological hotspots and with its unique vegetation is the site of frequent conflicts between the ruthless eradication  of all alien plant species including what many see as valuable urban forests. The position that many of us have is that it is preferable to have the large exotic trees and shrubs in the urban environment for their social, aesthetic and habitat benefits for urban birds and other wildlife than to revert to the natural vegetation of the place (mostly sand veld fynbos or renosterveld, that cannot be recreated in a viable dimension within the fragmented urban fabric, nor do these vegetation types support large trees and human scale environments, most of the large deciduous northern hemisphere tree species are  benign and not able to survive as C and are classified as such by the CARA legislation.

“As a unique and extreme form of novel ecosystems, Pearce urges conservationists to see the great potential in urban badlands/brownfields that nurture numerous rare species. The success of brownfields suggests that nature just needs places that are left alone, with little human intervention. Brownfields might not fit the conventional definition of nature, but they have a huge potential for conservation. Pearce quotes the case of the Chernobyl nuclear station as one of the most remarkable brownfields where nature is making a huge comeback, including the return of large mammals, rodents, birds, and so on. Although highly radioactive, Chernobyl is an extreme example of “nature’s salvation and resilience.” He adds, “nature doesn’t care about conservationists’ artificial divide between urban and rural or native and alien species” or pristine and badlands. This is a powerful statement that we, as conservationists, ecologists, and nature enthusiasts, need to bear in mind. Pearce suggests that conservationists should move on from conventional conservation and its two main aims—“saving threatened species” and restoring nature to its pristine state; and adapt to current environmental realities that include changes due to climate change, pollution, habitat loss, and intensive agriculture. Aliens seem to be “rapidly changing from being part of the problem to part of the solution.” And they are the ‘new wild.’

With the onset of climate change, which is giving rise to an increasing number of climate refugees, adopting a zero tolerance approach towards migrants seems problematic. Previous ice ages and extreme climatic events are testament to massive migrations of species and evolutionary changes. As Prof. Chris Thomas of the University of York is quoted, “A narrow preservationist agenda will reduce rather than increase the capacity of nature to respond to the environmental changes that we are inflicting on the world.”

In the last paragraphs, Pearce expresses that there is no harm in intervening to protect certain aspects of nature that we cherish, nor is there harm in defending against “pests, diseases and inconvenient invaders.” But, “we are serving our own desires and not nature’s needs.” Nature might organize differently than we would like it to. “Open up to evolutionary changes. Let go and let nature take its course.” “…Nature never goes back, it always moves on. Alien invasions will not always be convenient for us, but nature will re-wild in its own way. That is the new wild.”

“The New Wild is persuasive, with well-supported arguments that make for a good read. The simple language and case studies make it easy for even a non-ecologist to follow. This book should be a must-read at the university level for future scientists, researchers, and conservationists, to develop an open mind towards non-native species.

As an ecologist who works in cultural landscapes, this book is refreshing. ‘Wild,’ to me, means spontaneous and not domesticated or cultivated. In many big European cities that I have visited, the median strip along roadways, the small patches of green at road junctions and other nooks and crannies in the city are beautifully decorated with colourful flowers—almost nearing perfection. It was only when I moved to Berlin that I noticed something different. It is refreshing to see dandelions and daffodils appear and vanish on their own. There seems to be a deliberate attempt to bring back the urban wild and it seems to be popular. Yes, it differs drastically from my notions of ‘wild’ as a child who grew up reading encyclopedias and watching National Geographic Channel and Discovery Channel. But, there is something magical about seeing what nature has to offer. Many of the spontaneously growing plants, often considered weeds elsewhere, add character to the city. Some are natives, some aliens. It doesn’t matter. To me, these spontaneous species are the new wild.”

Divya Gopal
Berlin

Read More

Charles Eames’ Advice for Students

Like many others I love the Eames’ chairs and own a couple of copies (unfortunately I have not committed to paying the price of the originals) – their iconic designs and the ethos of their work  is inspirational – here is a new book and an excerpt of their advice for designers from ARCHDAILY 

Charles & Ray Eames

he forthcoming An Eames Anthology, edited by Daniel Ostroff and published by Yale University Press, chronicles the careers of Ray and  in their pursuits as designers, architects, teachers, artists, filmmakers, and writers. As Ostroff attests, with over 130,000 documents archived in the Library of Congress, the Eameses were nothing if not prolific; this volume, accordingly, is not comprehensive so much as representative, curated to reflect the breadth of interests and accomplishments of the pair.

In preparation for a 1949 lecture at the University of California, Los Angeles on “Advice for Students,” Charles made the following notes on inspiration, methodology, and career strategy. They are excerpted here from An Eames Anthology:

Make a list of books
Develop a curiosity
Look at things as though for the first time
Think of things in relation to each other
Always think of the next larger thing
Avoid the “pat” answer—the formula
Avoid the preconceived idea
Study well objects made past recent and ancient but never without the technological and social conditions responsible
Prepare yourself to search out the true need—physical, psychological
Prepare yourself to intelligently fill that need

The art is not something you apply to your work
The art is the way you do your work, a result of your attitude toward it

Design is a full time job
It is the way you look at politics, funny papers, listen to music, raise children
Art is not a thing in a vacuum—
No personal signature
Economy of material
Avoid the contrived

Apprentice system and why it is impractical for them
No office wants to add another prima donna to its staff
No office is looking for a great creative genius
No office—or at least very few—can train employees from scratch
There is always a need for anyone that can do a simple job thoroughly

There are things you can do to prepare yourself—to be desirable
orderly work habits
ability to bring any job to a conclusion
drawing feasibility
lettering
a presentation that “reads” well
willingness to do outside work and study on a problem . . .

Primitive spear is not the work of an individual nor is a good tool or utensil.
To be a good designer you must be a good engineer in every sense: curious, inquisitive.
I am interested in course because I have great faith in the engineer, but to those who are serious
(avoid putting on art hat) Boulder Dam all’s great not due engineer
By the nature of his problems the engineer has high percentage of known factors relatively little left to intuition
(the chemical engineer asking if he should call in Sulphur)

Source: Charles Eames, handwritten notes on talks at University of California, Los Angeles, January 1949, Part II: Speeches and Writings series, Charles and Ray Eames Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C

Elements of Venice – Actor Network Theory applied to historical urban design?

Guilio Foscari’s book Element of Venice, while modelled on a process described a being similar to that of Rem Koolhaas’ at the Venice  Biennial , appears to me to be, in the vein of Bruno Labours Actor Network Theory (ANT), an  examination of the city’s history,  in urban design and architecture in terms that show how the city we as tourists see and take of granted as being “real” a 16th century authentic historical  city, is in fact an assemblage and pastiche, not much  different to the shopping centres so popular in the post-modern era of the nineties such as Canal Walk in Cape Town’s Century City.

I remember seeing how the famous Roman churches used faux marble paint effects above the dado rails and real marble below, where it could be touched,  these are the standard  “theming ” techniques of any restaurant or five star hotel establishments decorative chicanery , so denounced by the authentisicm   of contemporary architecture.

From ArchDaily by Guilia Foscari

The following is an excerpt from Giulia Foscari’s Elements of , a book that applies the dissection strategy  explored in “Elements of Architecture” at this year’s Venice Biennale. The book aims to demystify the notion that Venice has remained unchanged throughout its history and addresses contemporary issues along with strictly historical considerations. Read on for a preview of Elements of Venice, including Rem Koolhaas’ introduction to the book. 

FROM THE FAÇADE CHAPTER: Pedestrian Reform.

Courtesy of Lars Müller Publishers 
Courtesy of Lars Müller Publishers 

The new pedestrian streets cut into Venice’s ancient urban fabric (in which the old walkways connected the insulae without guaranteeing the same capillary reach of the current network) would have appeared with brutal evidence had the construction of new buildings along the sides of these streets not acted to “cauterise” the incisions made by the numerous demolitions. The pedestrian reform, put to motion in the early 19th century, was the result of a substantial shift in governance of the city.

New power structures, such as banking and insurance, and new public institutions, such as the chamber of commerce and the postal service – alternatives to those of the mercantile oligarchic Republic of the Serenissima – called for the construction of new representational buildings. New buildings were thus erected facing onto new streets, which, in turn, marked the discovery of “traffic” as a powerful tool of urban control in the hands of a “ruling class interested at once in political and commercial power”. At the expense of a traditionally compact urban fabric, the new government created, with public money, “urban voids” that were to become catalysts for representative buildings,commercial thoroughfares and modern infrastructure (such as electrical wiring).

Millions of tourists reaching San Marco from the Accademia or Rialto Bridge are thus deceived. The urban landscape they see as a striking testimony of ancient Venice is actually a particular collection of façades designed by 19th-century (academic and eclectic) architects, each responsible for designing a cluster of buildings along new circulation axes. Among these are projects by Giovan Battista Meduna near the ponte del Lovo in San Fantin, by the architect Pividor near Campo San Vio, by engineers Fuin and Balduin near San Moisé and on the Riva degli Schiavoni, by engineer Calzavara in the Frezzeria, and by Berchet and then Ludovico Cadorin at San Trovaso. All devoted to the notion of “revival” and “reusing of architectural styles” (Bellavitis, Romanelli, 1985) these architects could be grouped according to two separate tendencies: “the party using terracotta, emphasising on polychrome solutions with reference to late central-Italy and Lombard Renaissance style (practised by Cadorin, engineers Calzavara and Romano, for example); and the party referencing to severe Lombard architecture of the quattrocento, featuring Istrian stone and scarce use of ornament – Meduna, Fuin, Trevisanato” (Giandomenico Romanelli,1998).

There are no longer banks or institutions in the buildings flanking these pedestrian thoroughfares, which are now described as “Venetian bottlenecks”, given the density of persons found in these very streets at any given time. Fashion boutiques from the world’s most famous brands have taken their place. This is yet another example of how Venice has gone from being the capital of the mainland area of Padania, as it was still at the end of the 19th century, to being a capital of global tourism.

Reciprocal Contamination. Icons.

Our contemporary world, in which forms quickly dissolve into one other, is thirsty for icons. Each tourist – the common denominator of a mass phenomenon – is hunting for images, travelling the world without letting go of his camera, his smartphone, his iPad. Icons are not histories or phenomena. Thus a tourist does not know, is not interested in knowing, the history behind the city’s pedestrian reform, or distinguishing an ancient building from a 19th-century construction. He does not wonder whether tourism helps or harms the city. He is searching for images. One such icon could easily be the Doge’s Palace, or St Mark’s bell tower, or the Rialto Bridge. Even lesser things suffice: gondolas, winged lions, pigeons walking, horses held high in the air. Even masks. By propagating her symbols, Venice has reached the entire world and has become a commoditised image. Enterprising managers – perhaps better than intellectuals – have understood and seized the (conceptual) reality of this contamination, reproducing Venetian icons on a vast scale, as if they were masks of their own identity, to use on their casinos and on customers visiting shopping centres, the special fascination created by the allure of entering an imaginary world (a “fantastic mutation of normal reality”, as Thomas Mann would write in Death in Venice) and leaving – if for a while – the at times oppressive contingency of reality.

Read More

Pop Cultitecture: The Genius of David Byrne

Combining two obsessions:  music and archi-culture David Byrne sits in the middle as a self appointed commentator on our lives and lifetimes, we have heard of our paranoia ash our obsessive lives since the seventies with Talking Heads, I remember “Life during Wartime”as especially poignant and his  collaborations with Brain Eno, “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” spoke mysteriously of a strange in-between world and predated the mix-uped shift to Remix. In his Bicycle Diaries he explored a first person view of urbanism and in How Music Really Works gave us an insiders view of music and the music industry now  in Archinect Julia Ingalls sets forth..

"It's a multi-purpose shape – a box." Byrne as "The Deadpan Docent" in "True Stories".

“It’s a multi-purpose shape – a box.” Byrne as “The Deadpan Docent” in “True Stories”.

Unlike those architects who long to be thought of as artists, Byrne is an artist who loves to thinks about architecture. Like the deadpan docent of the infrastructural realm, David Byrne’s work has inadvertently helped make architecture into a pop culture staple. While his commentary may not be mind-blowing to an architect, the method of his commentary – the diversity and size of his audience, the innovative visual and aural techniques in which he conveys highly abstract concepts – is a major contribution to architectural discourse.

Very few popular songwriters have as many instantly hummable, building-oriented tunes in their catalogues as David Byrne. It’s way beyond “Burning Down the House”; take a closer look at the entirety of Byrne’s 38-year output, working with Talking Heads, Brian Eno or any of a dozen other musical collaborators. Instead of writing love songs that focus on interpersonal rapture, Byrne tends to frame his romanticism in potentially isolating structures: dry ice factories, wartime brownstones, shotgun shacks. Byrne’s lyricism is usually never content to celebrate love between people; it’s a celebration of love between people and structures. Notably, the way structures and spaces influence relationships isn’t a tract in an out-of-print textbook but a danceable groove.

David with bike and organ at Aria, Minneapolis, MN 2012. Image via davidbyrne.com.

David with bike and organ at Aria, Minneapolis, MN 2012. Image via davidbyrne.com.

In tracks “Don’t Worry About the Government”, “Cities”, and “Strange Overtones”, Byrne explores the buoyant (if misguided) expansionist mindset of late capitalism, the suburban isolation resulting from utopian mid-century urban planning, and the Great Recession-era social retrenching. “Don’t Worry About the Government” places the joy of work and life firmly in the hands of expanding infrastructure; Byrne makes comparisons between civil servants and his loved ones, although his main focus is the inherent power of the building itself: “my building has every convenience / its gonna make life easy for me.”

My building has every convenience

It’s gonna make life easy for me

It’s gonna be easy to get things done

I will relax alone with my loved ones

– Don’t Worry About the Government, Talking Heads, Talking Heads: 77 (1977)

Read More

HOW TO STUDY PUBLIC LIFE -Jan Gehl & Birgitte Svarre

Looks like another great manual form the city life specialist Gehl Architects

How-To-Study-Public-Life-Cover2

“For decades, the public space, public life studies developed by Jan Gehl and his team have been a great inspiration for professionals, academics and city planners in all parts of the world. Now their secret tools are available to everyone in “How to Study Public Life”. It is just a matter now of getting out there and putting them to use.”

— Peter Newman, Professor of Sustainability,
Curtin University, Australia
 

How do we accommodate a growing urban population in a way that is sustainable, equitable, and inviting? This question is becoming increasingly urgent to answer as we face diminishing fossil-fuel resources and the effects of a changing climate while global cities continue to compete to be the most vibrant centers of culture, knowledge, and finance.

Jan Gehl has been examining this question since the 1960s, when few urban designers or planners were thinking about designing cities for people. But given the unpredictable, complex and ephemeral nature of life in cities, how can we best design public infrastructure—vital to cities for getting from place to place, or staying in place—for human use? Studying city life and understanding the factors that encourage or discourage use is the key to designing inviting public space.

In “How to Study Public Life” Jan Gehl and Birgitte Svarre draw from their combined experience of over 50 years to provide a history of public?life study as well as methods and tools necessary to recapture city life as an important planning dimension.

This type of systematic study began in earnest in the 1960s, when several researchers and journalists on different continents criticized urban planning for having forgotten life in the city. City life studies provide knowledge about human behaviour in the built environment in an attempt to put it on an equal footing with knowledge about urban elements such as buildings and transport systems. Studies can be used as input in the decision?making process, as part of overall planning, or in designing individual projects such as streets, squares or parks. The original goal is still the goal today: to recapture city life as an important planning dimension. Anyone interested in improving city life will find inspiration, tools, and examples in this invaluable guide.

How-to-Study-Public-Life-Spread2

 

Read Reviews Here:

Experiencing Streets, Parks, and Plazas: A Review for “How to Study Public Life”

Book Talk and Review: How to Study Public Life

Oculus Book Review: “How to Study Public Life” by Jan Gehl and Birgitte Svarre

Ecology and Design: Parallel Genealogies

In this essay in Design Observer, adapted from “Ecology and Design: Parallel Genealogies” in  Projective Ecologies, edited by Chris Reed and Nina-Marie Lister, to be published this month by Actar and the Harvard Graduate School of Design, the authors revue the changing values attached to the term ‘ecology’, its history and impact on landscape and urban design and point to how these might be the focus of applied research and practice in the future.


Andrea Hansen, Tokyo Bay Marine Fields, 2009. Click image to enlarge.

The past two decades have witnessed a resurgence of ecological ideas and ecological thinking in discussions of urbanism, society, culture and design. In science, the field of ecology has moved away from classical determinism and a reductionist Newtonian concern with stability, certainty and order, in favor of more contemporary understandings of dynamic systemic change and the related phenomena of adaptability, resilience and flexibility. Increasingly these concepts are seen as useful heuristics for decision-making in many fields, and as models or metaphors for cultural production, particularly in the design arts. This places landscape architecture in a unique disciplinary and practical space — informed by ecological knowledge as an applied science, as a construct for managing change, and as a model of cultural production or design. 

Ecology is, by definition, a transdisciplinary science focused on the relationship between living organisms and their environments. A relatively new science, its modern roots emerged in the early 20th century with the work of Frederic Clements and Henry Gleason, American botanists who studied the interactions between plant communities, and Sir Arthur Tansley, a British botanist and zoologist whose research on the interactions between plant and animal communities and the environment led him to coin the term “ecosystem” in 1935. [1] The interdisciplinary work of these pioneers prompted the development of models of ecological succession that dominated plant biology during the early 20th century and became the basis for the new integrated science of plants, animals and the environment eventually known as ecosystem ecology. 

The implications of this developing work were not limited to the natural sciences; in fact, popularization of these emerging world views was manifest in more widely read writings in the humanities and reverberated in other fields as well, including large-scale project management, governance and planning. Complex adaptive systems thinking made its way into the design arts as landscape was being rediscovered as both model and medium for design, and the environmental movement was becoming mainstream. 

Today “ecology” has been co-opted to refer to almost any set of generalized ideas about environment or process, rendering the term essentially meaningless. To recover a critical sense of ecology as a specific set of ideas that can continue to inform design thinking and practice, we start by identifying three important and parallel genealogies of ecology: in the natural sciences, the humanities and design.

Read More

Rumble in the Urban Jungle – Michael Sorkin vs. “New” Urban-ists & “Landscape Urban”-isms

Heated debate in the riposte’s & the  responses ( read the comments in the original- see link below) from the Architectural Record – Like Michael Sorkin says here – it seems  a pointless debate – one that is particularly irrelevant here in the global South – we can’t really see whats the “new” in New Urbanism or what is really different in the Landscape Urbanism from what Landscape Architects here have always done – stewarded the environment on which we all depend – and try to get their clients to do what’s best for all the actor-networks involved in the city, human & non-humann – wealthy as well as the disenfranchised- not just themselves .

August 2013

A recent book by New Urbanist authors revives an old battle with Landscape Urbanism.

By Michael Sorkin

The High Line in New York, designed by James Corner Field Operations with Diller Scofidio + Renfro, is criticized by Andres Duany for being too expensive and over-designed.
Photo © Iwan Baan
The High Line in New York, designed by James Corner Field Operations with Diller Scofidio + Renfro, is criticized by Andres Duany for being too expensive and over-designed.

It’s hard to keep up with the musical deck chairs in the disciplines these days. The boundaries of architecture, city planning, urban design, landscape architecture, sustainability, computation, and other fields are shifting like crazy, and one result is endless hybridization–green urbanism begets landscape urbanism, which begets ecological urbanism, which begets agrarian urbanism–each “ism” claiming to have gotten things in just the right balance. While this discussion of the possible weighting and bounding of design’s expanded field does keep the juices flowing, it also maintains the fiction that there are still three fixed territories–buildings, cities, and landscapes–that must constantly negotiate their alignment.

Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, one of the leading firms in the New Urbanism movement, designed a master plan in 2012 for Costa Verbena in Brazil. The designers say the plan respects the site's topography and its sensitive ecosystems, while applying a traditional street grid.
Image courtesy DPZ & Company
Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, one of the leading firms in the New Urbanism movement, designed a master plan in 2012 for Costa Verbena in Brazil. The designers say the plan respects the site’s topography and its sensitive ecosystems, while applying a traditional street grid.