Urbanism and the Landscape Architect

A thoughtful and seemingly realistic appraisal of the influence and position of Landscape Architects, although based in USA I think it would be fair to say that this would apply in many other places, definitely here in South Africa – it would be interesting to have others voice their opinion and views. I certainly agree with his views that the Landscape Urbanism formalism and rhetoric has caused more confusion and  hype than real results – I mean Landscape Urbanists never speak of the City in integral terms of people and built places and spaces – the actor-networks of humans and non-humans it is composed of, but only its green spaces! From Planitzen  by MARK HOUGH

Landscape architects are not given nearly enough recognition for being urbanists.

This is not because we don’t get enough work in cities but, rather, it is the types of projects we get or, more importantly, don’t get. We have always been the go-to designers for parks, waterfronts and streetscapes, but have had a tougher time finding seats at the table alongside (or instead of) planners and architects when broader planning decisions are being made. Because of this, we are usually forced to respond to change orchestrated by others rather than direct it ourselves. Exceptions to this certainly exist, but aside from landscape architects working as planners in public offices, there aren’t many.

I’m not whining. I’m just trying to establish a benchmark in relation to the more optimistic direction I see things headed. Urban design is changing, and it is changing fast. Due in large part to environmental and climatological crises that are translating directly into quality of life issues, cities are focused on their urban landscapes as perhaps never before. This is not groundbreaking news, and I’m not the first person tobring it up, but it is still a worthy discussion.

Urban landscape is a tricky term that is often misunderstood and incorrectly used by people who don’t really know what to do with it. Architects, for instance, whose preference for a top-down, figure-ground approach to urban design that lets buildings alone dictate urban form, relegates the landscape to a series of insertions fitting within the pattern of buildings. Planners, whose sensibilities are typically more in line with landscape architects, don’t really get it either. Their habit of treating landscape as generic green shapes on land use maps or as elements to standardize within form-based codes isn’t much better.

The problem with these approaches (both of which I, of course, grossly generalize) is that they address landscape as just one of many components that make up a larger urban whole, an additive piece that may be needed, but is not required to make things work. Landscape architects, on the other hand, don’t see it as a stand-alone thing; we understand that it is the underlying and unifying framework upon which everything is built. It is not about buildings and landscape, but buildings within landscape – an important distinction to recognize.

The urban landscape is essentially the overlay between a city’s natural systems – the water, trees, air quality, open space, and biodiversity – and its human systems – the sidewalks, bike lanes, fields, transit systems, infrastructure, etc. The two systems are intertwined to the point they are inseparable, and combine to make up what we commonly refer to as the public realm. Even if you disagree with my definition, it is hard to argue that the public realm is the main arena in which cities are competing against one another these days in order to attract rent-paying residents and businesses. The demand has been made very apparent in New York CityChicago,St. LouisLos Angeles, and many other cities, where parks and open spaces – not the skyscrapers – have become the main attractions.

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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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Going With the Flow

With Climate Change and sea level rise a motivated topic of concern (or yawns- depending who you talk to!)  I found this article on the Netherlands approach to Sea level rise edifying. From the New York TImes via Archinect By 

Dick Sellenraad/Aeroview, the Netherlands..

Overdiepse Polder, an infrastructure project in the southeastern province of Brabant south of Amsterdam, will have eight elevated farms.  More Photos »

OVERDIEPSE POLDER, WASPIK, THE NETHERLANDS — When Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York proposed the other day to spend up to $400 million to buy and raze homes in the floodplains damaged by Hurricane Sandy, I thought of Nol Hooijmaijers.

Some dozen years ago the Dutch government ordered Mr. Hooijmaijers to vacate the farmland that he and his family shared with 16 other farmers so it could be turned into a river spillway for occasional floods. I visited Mr. Hooijmaijers recently. He and his wife, Wil, served coffee in their new farmhouse and showed off the new stall for their cows.

How they and their neighbors responded to that government order, and how in turn the government dealt with their response, is a story that might now interest Mr. Cuomo and other New Yorkers.

It has been to the Netherlands, not surprisingly, that some American officials, planners, engineers, architects and others have been looking lately. New York is not Rotterdam (or Venice or New Orleans, for that matter); it’s not mostly below or barely above sea level. But it’s not adapted to what seems likely to be increasingly frequent extreme storm surges, either, and the Netherlands has successfully held back the sea for centuries and thrived. After the North Sea flooded in 1953, devastating the southwest of this country and killing 1,835 people in a single night, Dutch officials devised an ingenious network of dams, sluices and barriers called the Deltaworks.

Water management here depends on hard science and meticulous study. Americans throw around phrases like once-in-a-century storm. The Dutch, with a knowledge of water, tides and floods honed by painful experience, can calculate to the centimeter — and the Dutch government legislates accordingly — exactly how high or low to position hundreds of dikes along rivers and other waterways to anticipate storms they estimate will occur once every 25 years, or every 1,000 years, or every 10,000.

And now the evidence is leading them to undertake what may seem, at first blush, a counterintuitive approach, a kind of about-face: The Dutch are starting to let the water in. They are contriving to live with nature, rather than fight (what will inevitably be, they have come to realize) a losing battle.

Why? The reality of rising seas and rivers leaves no choice. Sea barriers sufficed half a century ago; but they’re disruptive to the ecology and are built only so high, while the waters keep rising. American officials who now tout sea gates as the one-stop-shopping solution to protect Lower Manhattan should take notice. In lieu of flood control the new philosophy in the Netherlands is controlled flooding.

Governor Cuomo’s plan would turn properties in Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island into parks, bird sanctuaries and dunes that could act as buffer zones for inland development. The idea is to give homeowners an incentive (perhaps up to $300,000) to move voluntarily out of areas where, in hindsight, single-family houses shouldn’t have been built in the first place. The Dutch have pursued a more aggressive and complex relocation strategy.

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Biomimicry guiding design principle for Lavasa Township

From Land Reader BY DAMIAN HOLMES

HOK worked closely with biologists from Biomimicry 3.8, in undertaking an extensive study of the local ecosystem to develop design strategies that work in harmony with local biome as well as climatology. Lavasa is a private, planned city being built near Pune and expected to have a total population of 200,000. HOK has developed an overall masterplan for the town and including a landscape master plan to minimize deforestation.

Although the above is a short summary of World Architecture News blog post, it doesn’t include how biomimicry was used in the design process. Biomimicry has recently increased in prominence in the design profession including architecture, urban design and landscape architecture. So I thought it best to give a definition and a video that povides more of an idea of what biomimicry is.

The Green Team Part 9: Going Vertical

From Metropolis By Terrie Brightman

Our introductory Green Team blog addressed a common misconception: There is no space left for new landscapes in New York City, the dense urban expanse that is our home turf. In fact, there are available spaces, but they’re likely to come with some complex problems. Finding ourselves wrestling with small, challenging, and limited spaces, we sometimes take an unexpected approach. We look up!

Our initial site analysis for New York projects—and others—entails, in part, identifying ALL available space than can be improved. Crisp, white walls may be de rigueur for the interior artist, but they are far too banal for a vibrant, metropolitan landscape. By using a site’s vertical surfaces, we can expand the benefits of a project to include increased planting areas, aesthetically appealing live or inanimate screens, thoughtfully designed edge conditions, improved views, reduced cooling requirements for adjacent buildings, and the mitigation of urban heat island effect (UHI), thus furthering the definition of “the space.”

The design of exterior vertical surfaces can take on many forms and configurations including green screens, green walls, cable trellis systems, wall-mounted planters, trellises, and planters housingfastigiate (columnar) species, to name a few. The selection of the proper treatment for these surfaces is based on sun/shade conditions, design intent, the structural capacity of the surface to receive the enhancement, available soil volume for plants, and so on. If we propose a woven wire or cable trellis system, we must consider the method of its attachment to the building’s surface as well as whether the receiving wall or support structure can sustain its weight load in addition to the living, twining plants that will grow over the plane. Some factors that influence plant selection, as well as the ultimate success of the installation, are planters, soil volume, irrigation, and solar orientation.

We work with a wide variety of systems and approaches on vertical landscapes throughout the city. At Spring Street Plaza, a 200-foot-long wall abutting the adjacent building was designed and installed to allow us to use a vertical screen system for vines. This wall provided the structural support for the vegetated system while ensuring that no portion of the work was attached to or interfered with the structure of the neighboring property (our post on property lines talks about the consequences of this). Once installed, the green screen, with its dense vine cover comprising six vine species, provided a sense of enclosure for the plaza, acting as a vegetated backdrop to the small “rooms” of the plaza design. The wire grid also provided structure for the installation of custom light tubes into the screen, creating a playful effect of illuminated planting at night. The 10-foot height of the new wall—a pedestrian scale intervention— also helps deemphasize the presence of the adjacent building.

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A view south across one of the seating “rooms” of the plaza showing the vine-covered green screen along the western edge of the site. Photo courtesy Elizabeth Felicella

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Light tubes inserted into pockets in the wire grid screen accent the vines and illuminate the site. Photo courtesy Elizabeth Felicella

 

A similar type of installation was completed at Ennead Architects’ new Staten Island Courthouse, where vines and custom screen panels span the four stories of a new parking structure on the building’s east and west facades. A mixture of five plant species was used to provide seasonal interest and texture to its surface.

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A wire mesh screen system and vines were used to enhance the facade of the Staten Island Courthouse on Central Avenue.  Photo courtesy Elizabeth Felicella

Wall mounted planters provide an alternative to mesh and cable systems that are typically enhanced by vine planting. The planters allow for a greater variety of plant species and types, but they come with their own constraints. At Time Warner Center, we installed a series of metal planters along the sidewalk and at the building entry. In addition to structural concerns, these planters required a complex irrigation system and lighting installation. Plant selection was determined based on limited soil volume (which restricts the growth potential of a plant), and the largely south-facing aspect of the planters (hot! hot! hot!). The planters required insulation to moderate heat from the sun and from the lighting elements integrated into the design. Due to irrigation and the small soil volume, effective drainage was also a concern. Through careful detailing and consultant coordination, this vertical landscape continues to thrive nine years later, enhancing the experience of the area for passersby.

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The wall mounted planters at Time Warner Center enhance the pedestrian level facade by incorporating landscaping on the vertical building surface. Photo courtesy Mathews Nielsen

Vertical landscape interventions are clearly advantageous in providing urban denizens with lush, living surroundings. Such applications proved beneficial to us when we were working on a series ofPrivately Owned Public Spaces (POPS). These are subject to approval by the New York City Department of City Planning, which works with private developers to provide them. The abundant amenities required by the NYCDCP’s regulations often require highly creative uses of available space; we will discuss this in our next post.

Terrie Brightman, RLA, ASLA is a practicing landscape architect at Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects in New York City with over eight years of professional experience. Since receiving her BLA from the Pennsylvania State University, she has worked on riverfronts in Pittsburgh, private residences in California and Florida, a sustainable community in Turkey, and multiple public parks, plaza and waterfronts throughout New York City.

Green Infrastructure

The Landscape Institute has an informative page and information on Green Infrastructure and its value in urban design, which not only informs related design professions, potential developers and the public at large but includes a useful suite of visual documentation for download.

Green Infrastructure (GI) is an approach to land use that emphasises multifunctional and connected green spaces and ecosystem services.
This two-minute video introduces GI and the local benefits it can bring.


 

local green infrastructureLocal Green Infrastructure:
helping communities make the most of their landscape (2011)

Building on our 2009 statement on Green infrastructure, this guidance is aimed at inspiring local decision-makers and communities to make the most of their land, while helping wildlife to flourish, reducing flood risk, providing green open space for all, and delivering a wide range of economic, health and community benefits.

Download booklet (pdf)
Request print copies

Case studies

The booklet features eight case studies from across the UK where GI has been woven into the fabric of local communities, bringing a wide range of benefits:Eastern Curve, Dalston, London | Leeds City Region GI Strategy
Manor Fields Park, Sheffield| | Phoenix Park Gateway Gallery, Cheshire
Dalzell Estate, North Lanarkshire | Betjeman Millenium Park, OxfordshireGreening for Growth in Victoria, London | Bury Mount, Northamptonshire

To see more GI projects, go to the full list of all GI schemes in the case studies library

Animation

Click on the illustration for an animated example showing key GI elements 

GI illustration


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Citizen Science – Enabling Urbanism – Common Science

From Common Science more on moving technology and live sensing into the real world… what if we are able to use our ubiquitous onboard computers to do more than increase the electromagnetic noise – but literally enable our survival in our increasingly hostile an poisoned world  – while a bit old (2008) still a good description of a world still to come –  the future that seed are now – for more up to date info see the website .

In this research we highlight an important new shift in mobile phone usage – from communication tool to “networked mobile personal measurement instrument”. We explore how these new “personal measurement instruments” enable an entirely novel and empowering genre of mobile computing usage called citizen science.  Through the use of sensors paired with personal mobile phones, everyday people are invited to participate in collecting and sharing measurements of their everyday environment that matter to them.

Our research hypothesis is that this new usage model for mobile phones will:

  1. improve the science literacy of everyday citizens through active participation in basic scientific principles
  2. provide professional scientists with access to richer, finer-grain data sets for modeling and analysis
  3. create new experiences and usage models for the mobile phone as a tool for grassroots participation in government and policy making
  4. by choice of sensors and software create a deeper and more informed understanding and concern for our climate and environment – hopefully effecting positive societal change

Mobile phones are rapidly becoming the computer platform of choice in developed and developing nations.  These mobile phones already shape our culture – collapsing space and time by enabling us to reach out to contact others at a distance, to perform just-in-time coordination of events, and to purchase, play, and game “on-the-go”.  While there is a growing research space around sensor based activity inferencing and a wealth of existing location applications in the market, we claim that our mobile phones still fall short in their ability to enable us to measure and understand the real world around us.

We carry mobile phones with us nearly everywhere we go; yet they sense and tell us little of the world we live in.

 

Look around you right now.

 

How hot is it? Which direction am I facing? Which direction is the wind blowing and how fast? How healthy is the air I’m breathing?  What is the pollen count right now?  How long can I stay outside without getting sunburned? Is the noise level safe here?  Were pesticides used on these fruits? Is this water safe to drink? Are my children’s toys free of lead and other toxins? Is my new indoor carpeting emitting volatile organic compounds (VOCs)? Now look to your phone for answers about the environment around you.  What is it telling you? For all of its computational power and sophistication it provides us with very little insight into the actual conditions of the atmospheres we traverse with it.  In fact the only real-time environmental data it measures onboard and reports to you is a signal to noise value for a narrow slice of the electromagnetic spectrum (i.e. “how many bars do you have?

 

Certainly, one could imagine accessing the web or other online resource from their mobile phone to find an answer to some of these questions.  But much of that online data is calculated and published for general usage, not for you specifically.  For example, the official weather station for a city may report that the temperature is currently 23ºC by taking one measurement at the center of the city or averaging several values from multiple sites across town.  But what if you’re in the shade by the wind swept waterfront where it is actually 17ºC or waiting underground for the subway where it is a muggy 33ºC. The measurement that means the most to you is likely to be the one that captures the actual conditions you are currently experiencing, not citywide averages.

Imagine you are deciding between walking to one of two subway stations and could gather live data from the passengers waiting on the platform at each stop about the temperature and humidity of each station at that very moment?  What if you were one of the 300 million people who suffer from asthma and could breath easily as you navigated your city with real-time pollen counts collected by your fellow citizens?  What if you could not just be told the level of noise pollution in your city but measure and publish your own actual decibel measurements taken in front of your home?  What if you were one of the more than 3 billion people, nearly half the world’s population, that burned solid fuels, including biomass fuels (wood, dung, agricultural residues) and coal, for their energy, heating, and cooking needs indoors and yet had no way to monitor the health effects of the resulting pollutants on yourself and your family even though nearly 2 million people die annually from indoor air pollution?

Mobile phones are allowing us to communicate, buy, sell, connect, and do miraculous things.  However, we claim that this mobile technology, coupled with new sensing and software, can enable us to go beyond finding friends, chatting with colleagues, locating hip bars, and buying music. Our research aims to expand our perceptions of mobile phones as simply a communication tool and to research our envisioned understanding of them as personal measurement instruments capable of sensing our natural environment and empowering collective action through everyday grassroots citizen scienceacross blocks, neighborhoods, cities, and nations.

Our near term goal is to build and study a series of mobile devices outfitted with novel sensors along with an infrastructure that provides public sharing and remixing of these personal sensor measurements by experts and non-experts alike.  The overall long-term goal is to develop new communication paradigms that empower communities to produce credible information that can be understood by non-experts, in order to effect positive societal change.

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Updated Guide: Climate Change and Landscape Architecture (via The Dirt)

Again it is necessary to take cognizance of all interventions and strategies that might assist in dealing with Climate Change, but how these ideas apply in African situations is yet to be seen

Updated Guide: Climate Change and Landscape Architecture A recent report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal.” According to the IPCC, average global temperatures are increasing at an alarming rate. In just the past 50 years, northern hemisphere temperatures were higher than during any other 50-year period in the last 500 years, perhaps even the past 1,300 years. The IPCC projects that the Earth’s surface temp … Read More

via The Dirt

The Long Road to Sustainable Cities (via The Dirt)

It seems that even with fragmented and partial approaches to sustainability it is possible for cities to achieve results that might contribute to long term resilience and it is encouraging to get published news of this, culture changes slowly and politicians who control the funds need proof that what is proposed will yield results as well as what not to do.

The Long Road to Sustainable Cities "Sustainability in America’s Cities: Creating the Green Metropolis," edited by Matthew Slavin, founder and Principal of Sustaingrϋp, is a collection of case studies that chart the progress of sustainable urban development in eight cities across the United States. The case studies explain how these cities have applied innovative strategies and invested in climate change mitigation and adaptation, clean energy, green buildings, sustainable transpor … Read More

via The Dirt