Source: What Do Seniors Need in Parks?
Source: Empathize and Then Design
Source: Empathize and Then Design
A current proposal by architect Michael Maltzan Michael Maltzan Envisions the Future of LA’s Infrastructure in Archinect showing copious planting overlaid on the 134 freeway in Los Angeles illustrates what has been a trend with architects c0-operating with engineers , in this case ARUP, to envision what infrastructural interventions in the urban fabric might become in terms of making more use of them and reducing their ecological footprint through green building, carbon reduction interventions and by covering them in photoshop planting, led me to these thoughts that are here combined with excerpts from a recent conference paper I gave at the ILASA Conference 2016 in Pretoria:
View from above of Michael Maltzan’s proposed Arroyo Seco bridge overlay. Image: Michael Maltzan Architecture
Section Perspective. Image: Michael Maltzan Architecture
With impressive design diagrams and pictorial renderings the viewer is challenged to engage with a seeming reality that ignores or subsumes most of the actors emergent realities that these behemoths that they are trying to camouflage, represent: The unsustainable and incoherent consumerism that underpins the way engineering and architectural solutions generally ignore the real environmental pickle that cities are in:
Green cruising: the view of the proposed overlay through a vehicle. Image: Michael Maltzan Architecture
In a lecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Bruno Latour posed the following question:
“When we ponder how the global world could be made habitable – a question especially important for architects and designers – we now mean habitable for billions of humans and trillions of other creatures that no longer form a nature or, of course, a society, but rather, to use my term, a possible collective… But why has the world been made uninhabitable in the first place? More precisely, why has it not been conceived as if the question of its habitability was the only question worth asking? I am more and more convinced that the answer lies in this extremely short formula: lack of space” (Latour, B. 2009. Spheres and Networks: Two Ways to Reinterpret Globalization, Harvard Design Magazine Spring/Summer, 30 pp. 138-144, ).
Maybe this lack of space is why we need to rethink how we live together in the world. As human actors that have so dramatically altered the world, it is said that we have entered the Anthropocene. Latour continues by answering the question posed above:
“As is now well known, the notion of environment began to occupy public consciousness precisely when it was realized that no human action could count on an outside environment anymore: There is no reserve outside which the unwanted consequences of our collective actions could be allowed to linger and disappear from view. Literally there is no outside, no décharge where we could discharge the refuse of our activity” (Latour 2009 p.3).
It is now widely accepted that cities are the primary source of this problem. With more than 50% of the world’s population being urbanised, cities must become resilient in the face of the uncertainties of climate, economy and politics. Various attempts have been made to quantify the resource imbalances of cities’ consumption and waste in the form of: ecological footprints , urban metabolism and urban political ecology . These quantifications are needed so that the extent of the problems become visible. Research may lead to solutions to limit ongoing damage to the environment and may also redress this imbalance by making cities more sustainable and resilient for the survival of all their occupants, human and non-human, both now and in the future.
The smart cities and engineered solutions of architects and engineers fall far short of this goal in their version of “greenscaping” with aesthetically beautiful structures in verdant “nature” with scattered people looking on in wonder at their grand creations.
Rendering for the new Sixth Street Bridge. Image: Michael Maltzan Architecture
Maltzan describes his proposal
“Well, the proposal for the 134 freeway, the reason I got extremely excited about the 134 is the piece of infrastructure that we would take on, it could carry so many different pieces of the larger puzzle—not only in how you change infrastructure’s role in the city but how you change all of the pieces of the environmental portfolio of benefit. In our proposal, we’re dealing with sounds, lessening the negative acoustic impacts that extend way beyond the freeway. We’re talking about miles of effect that any piece of the freeway has because of how far sound travels. We were looking at a collection of water because It’s a little like a menu: you can pick and choose which pieces you useyou have a significant amount of acreage that the top of the bridge or any piece of the highway creates. We were looking at solar and electricity generation for exactly the same reason: it’s very difficult to find large places to put solar farms in a dense urban environment. And one of the most underutilized pieces of land literally are the air rights over any of the highways, whether they’re elevated or sunken or a bridge. And then the greening of the sides of the bridge to work from an environmental standpoint, and just aesthetically for the visual environment of where that bridge goes through. And then finally the catalytic roof that we’re proposing, that takes the emissions from the cars and converts it, because of the way UV reacts to these titanium dioxide crates, and that acts as a catalytic converter.”
Section Detail. Image: Michael Maltzan Architecture
While I am sure that their intentions are laudable and their goal is to stimulate large scale public works to counter the past and present environmental and social crisis, it is unlikely that the results of their visions will improve anyone except a select fews lives into city.
“All of these pieces don’t have to be in play for every mile of the highway all combined. It’s a little like a menu: you can pick and choose which pieces you use or you employ depending on what the different characteristics of the freeway are, and if it’s elevated or sunken down or at grade. I think that if you begin to take this and other ideas that could be added to the laundry list, and started to look at the highway network as a real positive and begin to retrofit pieces of it (especially when it goes through and affects different neighborhoods), I think it could be one of the largest transformative urban projects of any city, for any place on the planet.
CalTrans used to dream at that scale. The highways, when they were being built, coming out of post-World War II, were seen as one of the most progressive civic governmental projects that was being done any place on the planet. There were all these positive things that were meant to come from that. And I think it’s possible for an agency like CalTrans to reinvigorate the benefit of the highways. I think they’re going to be under more and more pressure to do that, especially as you start looking at the realities of autonomous cars and other means of transportation. That’s going to start to minimize or reduce traffic on the freeways, or at least the traffic footprint. I think it’s going to open up more and more space for the highways to perform in a very different way.”
The proposal, although on grand scale and while attacking many problems of the inefficient metabolism of cites, largely ignores the underlying causes of this problem: the unsustainable consumerism that architects, engineers and city planners are dependent on for their livelihood – yes folks we have created the problem, through our designs, but designs alone, however smart they are, will not be enough to solve these problems
Overcoming these limitations requires a rethinking of the current development design process both by the relevant authorities, bureaucracies and by the design professions, the two entities who appear to be in cahoots in this process and who benefit the most by the exclusion of significant others from participating in the development agenda. They, the authorities and design professionals, have in, Latour’s terminology, “black-boxed” this process i.e. hidden its working from view and any attempts by politicians or others to disentangle it or make its workings transparent seem doomed to failure . Some local examples of how this process results in urban “white elephants” in our local South African context are the Cape Town Stadium and Green Point Urban Park, built for the Soccer World Cup 2010, the Cape Town BRT system and the Gautrain, all of which are in my opinion examples of vested interests gaining control of huge public budgets to facilitate their own economic or political agendas. While admitting that the large-scale improvements in public spaces related to the stadiums generated an awareness of the importance of public space improvement and management, Edgar Pieterse head of the African Centre for Cities criticises the results of these public space enhancements that were carried out in this process, as not having achieved the potential they might have. He writes;
“It [the design of the public spaces] remains predominately an imaginary infused with middle class café culture expectations, replete with Lavazza cappuccinos and generous pedestrian orientated pavements. To be sure these are elements that greatly enhance the public realm but at the same time reinforce the dramatic bifurcation of public life for the rich and poor.” (Pieterse 2012 ).
Cape Town Stadium Source Wikipedia
I believe that a political engagement is required to ignite a renewed interest in re-imaging the roles of the built environments’ participants, ecological environmentalists, social activists and those seeking a future for themselves and their offspring. It seems we should change from thinking about ourselves alone and think rather, for everyone as a whole, thereby supporting this process of change to more equitable and liveable settlements and cities. This applies especially to the “have-nots” who, if not catered for, will topple the entire structure with their neediness, frightening the “haves” with their greediness.
Pieterse suggests that in order to realise more dynamic and original public spaces, we need a more inclusive approach, one that encompasses and incorporates more of who we really are as a South African public:
“….such sensibility calls for a [landscape?] architectural agenda, design approach, urban aesthetic and built fabric that opens up opportunities for frank engagements across lines of difference and privilege in order to induce the necessary discomfort and untidiness that can lead to the thorny conversations about who we are, and how we represent ourselves in space and where we may be going as cities and distinctive cultures” (Pieterse 2012 p.87).
The situation that ~Pieterse criticizes in the context of the South Africa is equally relevant to LA as was highlighted at the ILASA conference by landscape architect Astrid Sykes from Mia Lehrer Associates who are based in LA right next toto the river, in presenting their work of the last 20 years on the LA River and a 2007 study done by a large multidisciplinary team for the city of Los Angeles on the future of the river that MLA were part of. While very positive in achieving consultation and buy-in from residents and the Mayor, it seems that this has been subverted by the City now 8 years later in appointing Frank Gehry’s office to do a project on the future of the river that teemingly ignores the previous work and as yet shows no signs of the public participation and co-design the earlier project was tasked with. It remains to be seen if this is an extension earlier work or more “green sky” City Brand building that Gehry is famous for with his Bilboa Effect.
ARMY CORPS APPROVES $1.3-BILLION LOS ANGELES RIVER RESTORATION PROPOSAL
In the same newsletter of Archinect that the Michael Maltzan project featured above comes from is a post Archinect presents Next Up: The L.A. River, at the A+D Museum on Saturday, October 29! Quoting from the newsletter
“For the latest installment of Archinect’s live podcasting series, Next Up, we’re focusing on the L.A. River, and the wide swath of urbanist concerns within its ongoing master planning efforts.
It could be the project that makes, or breaks, Los Angeles. With a complex historical legacy and an often-misunderstood ecology, the L.A. River’s 51-mile stretch is at once a huge urban opportunity, and to many, an even bigger eyesore. Thirty years ago, nonprofit Friends of the Los Angeles River was founded to protect and advocate for the river, and shortly after, the City of L.A. began looking at ways to take better advantage of the immense resource. Since then, many more communities and stakeholders have joined the conversation, raising concerns of ecology, sustainability, gentrification, public space, affordable housing, social equity—a wealth of complexities that testifies to what a lightning rod of urbanist discourse the River has become.
While conversations about the L.A. River’s future have been percolating for decades, not until only a few years ago did the plans become a divisive topic for the general public—in no small part due to the appointment of Frank Gehry’s office as a leader in the city’s master planning initiative. Reporting on the public’s first peek at the firm’s plans, Christopher Hawthorne, architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times, wrote, “as the river takes on new shades of economic and political meaning—becoming a magnet for attention and investment after decades of near invisibility—the race to reimagine it is growing more crowded.”
This engagement with the physical infrastructure, social dynamics and politics of the city might seem far from Landscape Architectures usual verdant concerns. To paraphrase the words of Brenner, Latour, Pieterse and Swyngedouw, “everything is political now” and if we wish our discipline to survive in this sea of change, we must become political and design and proselytize our own future place in this new cyborg or assemblage. Research is needed on how to create a transdisciplinary environment that can facilitate higher levels of engagement, participation and co-learning by politicians, publics, professionals and authorities alike, and is something that seems to be lacking in much of the current design process.
From the examples quoted above, it seems that large scale infrastructure is the very place to focus this engagement and to get out of the office, away from the computer and to get involved in a river, freeway proposal or public space project near you now!
With my apologies to Michael Maltzan Architecture, Frank Gehry and ARUP .
19 October 2016
Source: Playing with Topography
Excavation is usually a bane for real estate developers. To make way for new buildings, truckloads of excavated waste are removed from site in a noisy, time-consuming and gas-guzzling process. Exploring a more sustainable solution, the California-based company Watershed Materials have developed an onsite pop-up plant which repurposes excavated material right at the job site to create concrete masonry units (CMUs) used in the development. By eliminating truck traffic, reusing waste and reducing imported materials, the result is a win for the environment.
The pop-up plant itself works by applying ultra-high compression to loose excavation spoils, transforming it into a sustainable CMU. The pressure turns the mineral grains into a sort of sedimentary rock, mimicking the natural geological process of lithification. This unique manufacturing technology is the brainchild of Watershed Materials, who previously developed the compression technique in order to reduce the amount of cement used in concrete blocks by 50%.
As the founder of the sustainable building materials startup David Easton points out: “There’s absolutely nothing new about building masonry structures from local materials. Some of the oldest and best-known architecture in the world has been constructed from stone and clay sourced directly on site.” But according to Easton, “what is new and absolutely groundbreaking is that with upgraded technology and improved material science, a construction waste product the developer had to pay to dispose of can now become an asset and provides environmental benefits as well.”
The pop-up plant was born when Naomi Porat, development manager of Alpha Group and part of the team working on the Kirkham Project, approached the startup to bring their technology straight to the construction site. The Kirkham Project is an urban infill redevelopment in San Francisco spanning across 445 new housing units, community plazas and gardens. While addressing the city’s need for additional housing, neighbors expressed concern over construction traffic, making it the perfect place to explore this onsite approach.
Making a difference and letting people know what landscape architecture is
The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) just celebrated World Landscape Architecture Month (WLAM). In an effort to help the public better understand what landscape architecture is this past month, ASLA launched a social media campaign: #WLAM2016. The goal of campaign was to connect the term “landscape architecture” with the actual work of landscape architects in communities. We asked our members, colleagues, and friends to take pictures with cards that read “This Is Landscape Architecture” in front of their favorite designed spaces and post them on social media with #WLAM2016.
In total, 5,000 posts using #WLAM2016 reached nearly 4.25 million people around the world. People posted images that showed all phases of design and illustrated the breadth of the profession.
Pictures included preliminary sketches and project plans (see image above and below).
Project plan / Louis Johnson
While some featured iconic designed spaces.
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The role of landscape architects ad planetary environmental engineers proposed by many landscape architects and urbanists is examined in the writing of these authors – is their view realistic in the face o of global capitialism ?
BY GALE FULTON, ASLA
Several conditions of the contemporary world present serious challenges to traditional or conventional ways of thinking and making in landscape architecture. Some of these, such as the continuing analog versus digital debates, are tiresome, rarely well-argued (by at least one side if not both), and counterproductive to an advance in the cultural efficacy of the discipline. Others are more complex and unwieldy, but also likely have much greater capacity to expand the scale and scope of landscape architecture in the future. In this category I would place the interrelated questions of “planetary urbanization,” “Nature,” and the effects of the Anthropocene among the most perplexing and fecund for the future of the discipline. As Jedediah Purdy writes in After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene, “As climate change shifts ecological boundaries, problems like habitat preservation come to resemble…
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Two recent articles I posted comments on, one from Land8 and the other from The Dirt , on the need for landscape architects to engage with the political process in order to further the goals of a small profession that sees itself as stewards of the environment, makers of urban places and guardians of cultural heritage, reflect the hubris that the many built environment professionals, not just landscape architects, are prone to indulge in. The unstated belief behind these ideas is that we as educated and trained professionals know what’s best for the design of the public places that all of us inhabit together, including the uneducated poor and needy, the educated and avaricious rich and greedy as well as all the rest of us enmeshed in the consumerist world we find ourselves part of.
This bias on the part of landscape architects is again clear in many of the statements by the keynote speakers at the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF)‘s New Landscape Declaration: Summit on Landscape Architecture and the Future in Philadelphia on June 10-11, 2016, which was attended by over 700 landscape architects, here are some extracts form a post on The Dirt. Many of these speakers held out lofty environmental goals and ideals: Nina-Marie Lister, Hon. ASLA, professor at Ryerson University argued that “A central part of achieving that just landscape planning and design approach is to better respect the other 2.5 million known species on the planet, “We must think of the quality of being for them, too.” To protect their homes, landscape architects must lead the charge in “re-establishing the role of the wild.” There are also some social goals: Kate Orff, ASLA, founder of SCAPE, explained how her community-centric approach “creates a scaffolding for meaningful participation that is an active generator of social life.” For her, it’s all about “linking the social to the ecological and scaling that up for communities.” On the apparent need for many more landscape architects Mario Schjetnan, FASLA, Mexico’s leading landscape architect, said that the existing numbers may not be enough and more numbers are needed. For example, while there are more than 150,000 architects in Mexico, there are only 1,000 landscape architects.
He said: “There are not enough landscape architects in the developing world. And we need a global perspective. The U.S. and Euro-centric perspective must change. More landscape architects from the developing world studying in the U.S. and Europe need to return to their countries and help.” Political engagement and advocacy: Kongjian Yu, FASLA, founder of Turenscape, may be the epitome of the political landscape architect. His work spans planning and design across mainland China, but he spends a good amount of his time and energy on persuading thousands of local mayors and senior governmental leaders alike on the value of “planning for ecological security.” He called for landscape architects to “think big — at the local, regional, and national scales” — and to influence decision-makers. and of course the role of design: Marc Treib, professor of architecture emeritus, University of California, Berkeley, added that “the sustainable is not antithetical to the beautiful. We can elevate the pragmatic to the level of poetry.”
My enthusiasm for these ideals and goals was seriously tempered by a response to the post by RANTING LANDSCAPE PHILOSOPHER
“I am calling Bull-shit (please excuse my language), what we need is planners and policy makers to have a design education.Do we need to train more Landscape architects or students in public policy? It seems that Landscape needs policy to stay relevant (though policy would benefit from an influx of design thinking) Do we really need more landscape architects? Most won’t go into the political system? Is it really fair to draw students in with promises of “changing the world” when the reality of these EXPENSIVE programs turns out to be a debt ridden individual that works horrible hours for scraps (usually under an emotionally abusive boss).Don’t you think it’s a bad sign that it is always is the same 10 names on repeat? James, Laurie, Martha, Kongjian….etc If we want new ideas then we need to start hearing from other voices and get out of this annoyingly incestuous family.”
This is not to say that these articles are wrong, I do believe that as a design profession we need to engage politically, without political engagement very little is possible, especially here in Africa where there are very few landscape architects and we are continually sidelined by economic and social pressures that undermine our ability to perform real service to those who need it most. As we see in the landscape and architectural design press, the big projects are mostly for the rich or for the reinstatement of large environmental disasters funded by governments who are ill-equipped to manage the implementation of these grand schemes or unable to stop similar resource extraction disasters in the future. Many of the projects of this kind, outside of a few rich countries, become hamstrung by the time-scales of their implementation, bureaucracy, corruption and are seldom able to become a reality.
To my way of thinking landscape architecture and the other design professions need to be able to show its worth by real projects that make a difference to people and the environment and by their success in generating community or local scale interventions that have a broader impact, as John Thakera is quoted in a recent interview in Domus “Thackara is one of those rare people who can open up huge intellectual vistas, but who can also give a very practical idea of the tools to use to realise them. To do that, he points to projects from around the world that interweave design, urban and rural planning, energy efficiency, and new ways of sharing resources, and in which communication technologies play a key role, but always in the service of the real needs of the people who live in a specific place with well-defined – and resolvable – problems. It is through these myriad small solutions, conceptualised and then put into practice, that the world will change. Thackara mentions here the theory of complexity: tiny changes can accumulate over time until one final alteration, apparently irrelevant in itself, provokes a radical transformation across the whole system”
For the landscape profession to make the difference it believes is needed, will require more than the limited advocacy landscape architects on their own can achieve, I believe it is way past bedtime now and we will need to put aside academic and professional egos, get out of the silos that we have built so arduously and actively solicit and engage with the professions that have the greatest numbers, budgets and political clout i.e. Engineering, Quantity Surveying and Architecture. Many practitioners and firms in these professions have rapidly moved to embrace new technologies and have made sustainability, albeit in the limited versions of LEED and Greenstar, central to their practices, engineering has literally taken over the entire sustainable water systems and energy fields and most acknowledge the need for landscape architects to make their projects “fit or be more natural.”
Most landscape architects have experienced varying difficulty with multidisciplinary teams that are dominated by project mangers, architects, urban designers or engineers that dominate the show and expect landscape architecture to decorate the spaces left over after design, frustrations with the public participation process and its relative ineffectiveness, true co-design is still long way from becoming a reality, but it is my belief that it is only by engaging side by side with these professions and showing them what we have to offer as discipline and as individuals that we will be able to make the difference we desire and combined with them as a reasonably convergent group, be able to have our say in the planning, and political policy of our towns, cities and countries and from that on the places and people who we profess to serve.
A recent visit to the Venice Architecture Biennial “REPORTING FROM THE FRONT” highlights a proposed realignment of architecture with people’s needs, environmental concerns and grass-roots research and action.
Quoting its organizer Paulo Barrata “We are not interested in architecture as the manifestation of a formal style, but rather as an instrument of self-government, of humanist civilisation, and how it demonstrates the ability of humans to become masters of their own destinies. Architecture in action as an instrument of social and political life, challenges us to assess the public consequences of private actions at a more fundamental level. We need to engage with the public and with all possible stakeholders in the decisions and actions whereby our living spaces are created, both as individuals and as communities. As Architecture is the most political of all the arts, the Architecture Biennale must recognize this.”
And Alejandro Aravena, the curator of this years Biennale , has this to say “REPORTING FROM THE FRONT will be about listening to those that were able to gain some perspective and consequently are in the position to share some knowledge and experiences with those of us standing on the ground. We believe that the advancement of architecture is not a goal in itself but a way to improve people’s quality of life. Given life ranges from very basic physical needs to the most intangible dimensions of the human condition, consequently, improving the quality of the built environment is an endeavor that has to tackle many fronts: from guaranteeing very concrete, down-to-earth living standards to interpreting and fulfilling human desires, from respecting the single individual to taking care of the common good, from efficiently hosting daily activities to expanding the frontiers of civilization. Our curatorial proposal is twofold: on the one hand we would like to widen the range of issues to which architecture is expected to respond, adding explicitly to the cultural and artistic dimensions that already belong to our scope, those that are on the social, political, economical and environmental end of the spectrum. On the other hand, we would like to highlight the fact that architecture is called to respond to more than one dimension at the time, integrating a variety of fields instead of choosing one or another.
REPORTING FROM THE FRONT will be about sharing with a broader audience, the work of people that are scrutinizing the horizon looking for new fields of action, facing issues like segregation, inequalities, peripheries, access to sanitation, natural disasters, housing shortage, migration, informality, crime, traffic, waste, pollution and participation of communities. And simultaneously will be about presenting examples where different dimensions are synthesized, integrating the pragmatic with the existential, pertinence and boldness, creativity and common sense.
Such expansion and synthesis are not easy to achieve; they are battles that need to be fought. The always menacing scarcity of means, the ruthless constraints, the lack of time and urgencies of all kinds are a constant threat that explain why we so often fall short in delivering quality. The forces that shape the built environment are not necessarily amicable either: the greed and impatience of capital or the single mindedness and conservatism of the bureaucracy tend to produce banal, mediocre and dull built environments. These are the frontlines from which we would like different practitioners to report from, sharing success stories and exemplary cases where architecture did, is and will make a difference “
I suggest that it is worthwhile endeavour that is being sought and we as landscape architects would be more able to achieve the ends of stewardship and advocacy for all the causes we believe in, if we are able to combine our skills and insights in the way Aravena is suggesting.