Oaxaca Ethnobotanical Garden

New photos of one of my favorite gardens , although I haven’t been there (yet) the ethno- botanical Garden in Oaxaca, Mexico has been an inspiration in both its contemporary form and its cultural/historical aspects to my work here in Cape Town, From Garden Design

Organ pipe cactus (Marginatocereus marginatus), planted here next to the mirror pool and around cochineal-covered nopal cactus, are traditionally used in Mexico as borders, corrals, and fences to keep out foraging livestock or strangers.

This inspiring  and influential garden was created by Mexican artists and activists in the 1990’s

The distinctive walkways parallel a canal flanked by Agave macroacantha on the left and fouquieria on the right.

The botanical garden  illustrates the relationship between plants and culture, with a wide mix of plants, textures, and colors.

Francisco Toledo’s water sculpture, La Sangre de Mitla, is made from slabs of Montezuma cypress.


To read more about the story behind the Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca in Mexico, read Jeff Spurrier’s story, Oaxaca’s Ethnobotanical Garden.

See more inspiring pictures here

Examining Rem Koolhaas’ prologue to Singapore Songlines

A recent post on [polis] led me to reread Rem Koolhaas’ seminal text and a critique of it in QRLS, which reminded me how when we first visited Singapore in 1986 I noticed how compliant and alienated the populace appeared , with the young people withdrawn in their headphones and sequestered in blank blocks of high rise apartments with washing hanging from ropes strung from the balconies and amazed at how, though the city ran smoothly and everything appeared absolutely perfect, there seemed to be an undercurrent of dis-ease, only once we ventured away from the main streets did we find  “real” people  of many nationalities as vendors of  foods and artifacts from the surrounding regions diverse ethnic groups. While buying some cloths and puppets from Indonesia and Sulawesi we chatted to the vendors who still lived in shophouses clustered together in streets by their nationality we discovered that they were soon to loose their homes to upgrading and “theming” – just like we saw had already been done in the Chinese and Indian quarters.

Orchard Road Xmas 2011

The critique of Singapore by Rem Koolhaas in S,ML,XL is directed at this loss, not of a historic district worth saving in itself, but the loss of the roots of the people who make the city what it is, this same erosion taking place in our cities casts a shadow on our modernity, how will we retain our roots yet make space for the ‘now’ and the ‘just now’?. 

From [polis] “Taking Singapore’s Orchard Road as a linear slice of urban fabric, it may be read as representative of both the city-state’s remarkable capacity for economic development and complete disregard for historical strata. In an awkward attempt to impose a blanket of elite market-driven exchange without the frayed edges and individual liberties of Western urban models, Singapore has stirred heated debate over its cultural authenticity. What is the genuine essence of a city that functions in a constant cultural grey zone, importing multinational corporations and citizens from abroad?” 

Singapore’s tabula rasa developmental logic has subtracted any perceivable contextual background, adding only glamorous foreground. The Potemkin Metropolis of Singapore — more harshly described by William Gibson as “Disneyland with the Death Penalty” — is a model for rapid urbanization in a part of the world where priorities diverge from those established in other global cities. Food poverty, defective infrastructure and destructive flash floods continue to shape the reality of countries in the region. Singapore developed by betting on qualities that rarely push cities to greatness in Europe and North America. It implemented a rigid, authoritarian ethos that appealed more to immediate conditions than to the cosmopolitan lifestyles of New Yorkers and Londoners. The city-state renowned for its prosperous economy, the banning of chewing gum and effective strategies against crime remains the odd man out within a broader geographical context accustomed to hardship and scarcity.

“It is shown with pride, not shame. They think there will be no crime. We think there can be no pleasure.” (Rem Koolhaas) Continue reading

Paris Covered Passages and Shopping Arcades

The typology of the covered street and arcade as was made famous in Milan and Paris inteh 19th Century would be a fantastic reintroduction in todays cities – no the artificially controlled one of the shopping mall, but true public urban space, especially in cities such as Cape Town which has many days of inclement weather 

In the early 19th century Paris contained nearly 150 covered passages filled with shops and studios that helped establish Paris as a shopping capital of the world. But after the large department stores came into being, that number dwindled to a precious few. Janet deAcevedo Macdonald here lists passages couverts de Paris worth a visit from Bonjour Paris.

Galerie Vivienne. Photo: DolceDanielle

Passages are pedestrian pass-throughs beneath glass ceilings created to protect shoppers in inclement weather. Shopping today at a passage is an uncommon shopping excursion that combines architecture and pleasures of window shopping; or as the French say faire du lèche-vitrine (literally, window-licking).

Galeries VivienneColbert and Véro-Dodat are among the most magnificent of the Paris passages and all are located in the first and second arrondissements.

Passage Colbert. Photo: couscouschocolatVéro-Dodat. Photo: NOV-A-KA-IINN

Galerie de la Madeleine in the Paris 9th is a tinier location, just 173 feet in length, but earlier this year it served as a backdrop for haute couture runway shows. The early 19th century setting has a blend of antique shops, fashion boutiques and librairies anciennes.

The popular Passages Jouffroy and Panoramas by the Grands Boulevards retain centuries-old charm with shops for collectors of stamps, books, old postcards and vintage toys.

Passage Jouffroy. Photo: Interzone00Passage Panoramas. Photo: Interzone00

To find these places and more visit

Some passages are devoted entirely to a theme, such as the Passage du Grand Cerf (Big Deer Passage) located in the quartier Montorgueil, Paris 2nd. Passage du Caire, built in 1798, is popular with contemporary artists, craftsmen, artisans and designers. The busy Arcades des Champs-Elyséespassages in the Paris 8th offer the world’s finest in luxury shopping.

Enjoy discovering these mystical, ancient places filled with old-fashioned charm from Paris past.

PHOTO CREDITS: Galerie Vivienne. ©DolceDanielle; Passage Colbert. ©couscouschocolat; Véro-Dodat. ©NOV-A-KA-IINN; Passage Jouffroy and Panoramas. ©Interzone00

To find where they are read more here

No Quick Fix – Cultural Districts

Contrary to many local authorities, urban designers and developers there is no quick fix in creating a cultural district or in revamping a potential cultural district in a city, but succesful ones are the result of many often small and incremental pieces by many players over often log periods of time, as can be attested in the more successful areas of Cape Town’s Long Street or more commercially V&A Waterfront development, Cape Quarter and often such active  larger scale interventions are less succesful than theri original small scale precursors or might fail outright. 

Long Street, Cape Town

This article from Urban Land by Nancy Egan :

Cultural and entertainment districts are not a quick fix, but the slow weaving together of smart, sometimes big, often small, urban solutions.

“American cities are always looking for quick fixes to revive their moribund downtowns,” Witold Rybczynski, professor of urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote in a May 15 New York Times op-ed article, a review of the High Line, New York City’s popular elevated park. “Sadly, the dismal record of failed urban design strategies is long: downtown shopping malls, pedestrianized streets, underground passages, skyways, monorails, festival marketplaces, downtown stadiums—and that most elusive fix of all: iconic cultural buildings. It appears likely that we will soon be adding elevated parks to the list.”

“Districts are where it is happening, especially as tourism becomes as important as goods and services to urban economies,” says Michael S. Rubin, head of Baltimore-based MRA International and one of the leading thinkers in the urban entertainment field. “Offering visitors choices about where to go and what to see allows people to create their own personal itineraries. This sense of possibility helps to bridge the gap between generations and cultures, even when the choices are embedded in well-planned and programmed entertainment districts.”

Part of the big crowd which nearly every afternoon and early evening packs the Cape Town Waterfront, a center for dining, shopping and entertainment.

“The best districts build on a classic formula—small blocks, pedestrian scale, active uses at the corners, business that spills out on the sidewalks, and outdoor gathering spaces,” says Nate Cherry, vice president/director of planning and urban design in the Los Angeles office of RTKL. “At L.A. Live, we didn’t have the benefit of an existing urban context. Instead we had the Staples Center arena and the convention center, so it was important that the design provide the scale, the pathways, and plazas to encourage people coming for a game or a concert to stay and explore the restaurants and shops or to make plans to come back.”

Read More

BIG to Design Major Cultural Center in Albania

This seems an unsurprising commercial collaboration between BIG architects, Martha Scwhartz  Landscape, both who have tackled the issue of being contemporary, exiting, outrageous  and of advancing environmentally responsible design , with a Global ASset Management who  in their website opening statement are upfront about their aims: “GCAM is a global cultural asset management company that pursues a cluster of overlapping lines of business related to the expansion of art, culture, and art museums in a global economy.” The surprise is the clients embracing this view , again showing how the economic needs of cities are served by both protecting and advancing cultural capital.

BIGMartha Schwartz LandscapeBuro HappoldSpeirs & MajorLutzenberger & Lutzenberger, and Global Cultural Asset Management were today announced as the winning team of the international design competition for a new 27,000 m2 cultural complex in Albania, consisting of a Mosque, an Islamic Center, and a Museum of Religious Harmony.

Competition-winning design for the new Tirana Mosque, Islamic Center, and Museum of Religious Harmony

Competition-winning design for the new Tirana Mosque, Islamic Center, and Museum of Religious Harmony

Visualization with large gathering

Visualization with large gathering Continue reading

The Conscientizacao of the Landscape: An Interview with Kongjian Yu

Like faslanyc I was engaged by the original article in The Harvard Design Revue and its inclusion in Ecological Urbanism, where it resonates with the article by Rem Koolhaas whose CNNT building is critiqued inthe article .. I am very pleased to have found this interview with Dr. Yu

Last year about this time we were paging through the saucy Harvard Design Magazine issue on pleasure and we came across an article by Dr. Kongjian Yu titled “Big Beautiful Feet”.  He is the principal of the Chinese landscape architecture firm Turenscape, an incredibly prolific group that has gained wide recognition for design excellence in the last decade.  To be properly understood, the work of Turenscape must be contextualized as part of the rapid and ongoing urbanization of China, and situated within the contemporary China-United States cultural/capital exchange.
Unfortunately, we are not capable or qualified to do that properly.  Fortunately, their work is rich enough to offer many veins for mining and given our concern with landscapes of labor, fun, and hedonism and our interest in the development of a new landscape aesthetic through an expandedunderstanding of recreation, we were thrilled to have the chance to speak with him in person.  We discussed the effort and strategy behind creating the first modern Chinese landscape architecture firm, the idea of labor as related to the “Big, Beautiful Feet” aesthetic, and understanding the practice of landscape architecture as a cultural-environmental framework.

The infamous red ribbon of the Tanghe River Park, in Qinhuangdao City, China, by Turenscape

FASLANYC:  The name of your firm, what does it mean?
Konjian Yu:  Turenscape has a couple of meanings.  “Tu” in Chinese means earth- native dirt.  “Ren” means people, so it’s literally “people of the native dirt”.  When you combine them it means “land and people.”  And it also has a pejorative connotation to the urban elite in Chinese; something like “lowly pumpkin.”
FN:  Almost like redneck, or country boy, or jibaro?
YK:  Yes, that’s interesting.  I like it like that.  I chose the name based on my perspective of the profession during the course of my life.  In 1997 after two years at SWA, i decided to go back to China.  The reason i wanted to go back was the massive change happening in China.  I saw all the rivers being channelized, the cultural heritage disappearing, the landscape being dominated by urban sprawl.  This was in 1996 when I was visiting in China.  When i came back to the States i decided I needed to move to China to get involved and push for things to be done in what I considered the “right way”.  And I chose the name because i think we will eventually return to the earth, for living and survival. Continue reading

We must engage the public in discussions about possible geoengineering solutions

On the topic of public dialogue, surprising insights are possible from the public and professionals approach that they are the experts and the the views expressed in the media are not always held by the public

We must engage the public in discussions about possible geoengineering solutions, says Peter Hurrell at greenfutures

Geoengineering could change weather patterns, alter our local environment or, in worst case scenarios, irreversibly damage the ecosystems on which we all depend. So before researchers and policy makers go ahead with it, shouldn’t we ask the people who would be affected by these changes what they think?
In early 2010 the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) did just that. We ran a public dialogue to help us understand what a small, broadly representative group of members of the public thought about geoengineering, and how they reached those views.

We found that people did not object to geoengineering in principle, but did have specific concerns that they would like scientists and others to address before attempting to put it into practice. Continue reading

Book Review: Jo’burg for secret agents

Paul Ash of TImes Live reviews Gerald Garner’s book Space & Places Johannesburg; this is an account of a passionate lover of the city and an ardent supporter of it’s regeneration.

While you were sleeping, somebody chopped down the Top Star drive-in screen. Can you believe it? Somebody also took the mine headgear at City Deep with its orange winding wheels – it was one of Johannesburg’s nicer landmarks, which you would see from the M2 highway. The big mine dump at Cleveland has also gone, carried off in trucks for reprocessing to extract the gold left behind the first time.

I noticed all this driving out to Rand Airport in December. Whole pieces of the city’s skyline – which meant a lot to some of us – have disappeared in the night.

Gerald Garner’s book, Spaces & Places Johannesburg, has landed at just the right time. Garner, a landscape architect, says he felt compelled to write a guidebook to the city’s “hidden gems” after a French journalist, here for the World Cup and marooned at some soulless hotel out in the boonies, came looking for a guide.

As Garner rightly observes, Jo’burg is a city tripped-up by other people’s misconceptions and night terrors. We who live here have our own stories and no-go zones – and not all of them are right, either.

Continue reading