Image: Brooks + Scarpa

Image: Brooks + Scarpa

Huge Transformation Plans Unveiled for Flower Market: Plans unveiled for a massive transformation of the 107-year-old Southern California Flower Market. If all goes as intended, the floral business center at 755 Wall St. would be reconfigured, with one of its two structures razed and replaced by a 14-story tower, and the other upgraded. The new project would have dozens of vendors selling their wares on the ground floor of the low-rise building, with office space and parking above it. The housing would be in the neighboring structure.

How to Create a Fire-Wise Landscape: “Firescaping incorporates the design of the landscape and property surrounding a home to lessen its susceptibility to fire. This can be achieved through a well-thought-out landscape design plan that specifies less combustible plants, incorporates fire-resistant materials and follows the advice and guidelines determined by fire-safe organizations.”

Park Erratica’ is a small but mighty green space in the middle of NYC: “Over on west 20th street in new york, just below the highline, maziar behrooz architecture has installed some street furniture with a difference. entitled ‘park erratica’, the urban intervention foregoes the more mundane wooden bench and is instead comprised of an assortment of large stone boulders, placed on the street to create a small but mighty natural park (or ‘parklet’) in the middle of the city.”

The 20-year-old LA River Master Plan is getting an update: “We want to avoid ‘plan-demonium’. This motion is designed to ensure that the LA River Master Plan engages all stakeholders and develops a unified vision that reflects the needs of all communities and includes all voices.”

El Basurero: “The film was created in less than 10 days during the Urbanism Filmmaking Challenge. Joe Shapiro directed this short form documentary about the LA311 App based on a presentation by Joel Epstein during the New Urbanism Film Festival’s NUFF Talks event. The LA311 App is a great way to alert city services to needs in your community such as bulky item pick up, trash pick up, pot holes, broken water pipes, etc.”

Purple pipes. Creative Commons photo by John Loo

~Purple drain, purple drain…I only wanted to see you bathing in the purple drain~. Creative Commons photo by John Loo

Across many recently installed California commercial landscapes, purple pipes snake through planting beds.  Did you ever wonder about their purpose and if they really do keep plants hydrated?  As an urban horticulturalist, I wondered exactly the same thing. Also, why did they choose that particularly unusual color of purple?

Coming from the land of eternal rainfall, Louisiana, there was never a need for an underground landscaping irrigation system. Now here in Los Angeles, in a Mediterranean/near-desert climate, I’ve noticed purple pipes everywhere.

The History

The Irvine Ranch Water District has a fascinating history about the purple pipe program on their website. In the early 1960’s, this district began producing recycled water.  Once wastewater reaches their water treatment plants in Irvine and Los Alisos, California, it takes anywhere from 16 to 18 hours to generate 28 million gallons of non-potable, recycled water.  That’s incredibly fast and an amazing fact!

In the 1980’s when lavender Ralph Lauren polo shirts were all the rage, a head engineer at the IRWD asked another engineer – who happened to be color blind – which color of pipe best stood against the color white.   It wasn’t fashion that drove his decision, but a hue of gray that stood out from the rest according to IRWD Principal Engineer Steve Malloy.  If it looked different to his color blind eyes, others on the job site would recognize those pipes too, even if they were color blind.  The IRWD worked with the American Water Works Association to make “Irvine Purple” the international standard color symbolizing recycled water.

Where do all these purple pipes go? A great deal of irrigation water is necessary to keep California landscape green. You can find these purple pipes at sites such as freeways, industrial processes, flushing toilets in some office buildings, and even in cooling towers.

Photo: CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) / Public Domain Dedication

Photo: CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) / Public Domain Dedication

Can you just tap into these purple pipes to help reduce your impact on our supply of available drinking water?  The answer is unfortunately, ‘no’.  But maybe not for long if Solana Beach’s Dave Ferguson has the final word. He lives just 6 inches from an exposed purple pipe that irrigates the iceplants surrounding his home. City and county officials say it cannot be done for a sundry of different and unclear reasons. Yet, in the City of Irvine a Free Recycled Water station is ready to meet Irvine citizen’s irrigation needs. Bring your jug, your identification, and you are ready to lug that stuff to a thirsty water saving plant. Not quite the straw to your landscape, but definitely one step closer. Pretty cool, huh?  According to the IRWD website, “hundreds of residents have benefitted from the resource.”

Recycled Water vs. Gray Water 

The purple pipe keeps recycled water separate from other types of water delivery systems, such as drinking water and waste water infrastructures.  Besides cities and home owner associations, some large tree and shrub nurseries recapture, treat, and reuse their recycled water on their crops and landscape plantings.  So, is recycled water the same as gray water?

Water from the purple pipe is different than gray water.  Both are not potable, but recycled water is cleaner and safer than gray water, which comes with more restrictions on its usage according to cities using recycled water.  The City of Palo Alto determined that recycled water is much saltier than drinkable water. When residents started irrigation with water from purple pipes, it clearly damaged the sensitive roots of Azaleas, Buxus, Taxus, Liquidamber, Citrus, Camellias, and Rhododendron. Do you see a pattern here?

All of the affected are acid loving plants, and salt-laden water tends to be alkaline. So the obvious question you might ask is, “Can you use seacoast appropriate plants and apply water that comes from the purple pipes onto any of them?” The answer is ‘yes’…but only if their roots like it.  Not all plants that enjoy salty environments are tolerant of highly alkaline water.  Here are a few that are:  Pittosporum tobira, Plumbago auriculata, Euonymus japonica, Rosmarinus, and Dietes.


Lessons Learned

AHBE Landscape Architects chipped in at a volunteer service day known as Green Apple Day at Playa Vista Elementary in late September.  Lots of clean up needed to be completed prior to the national meeting of US Green Building Council Greenbuild and a tour filled with a bus load of sustainability experts, which was scheduled that following week.  We needed to conduct site check with the principal and an architect from NAC. It gave us a perfect opportunity to explore and research a landscape project designed by AHBE Landscape Architects over 5 years ago.  I saw how plants were affected by the salty water from the purple pipes.

We carefully took soil samples from around the areas where plants were clearly underperforming to confirm salt damage. We patiently waited for the results, and one of the project managers even volunteered to hunt inside boxes of stored documentation to find the original soil samples. The areas tested also had a faulty irrigation system, but where it was somewhat working the soil report showed very high salinity. Since it is close to the beach, the salt water table is higher. But these statistics were off the chart. That said, the purple pipe contributes to a higher than normal alkalinity


It’s already a challenge to limit water usage as a Los Angeles resident. Now we’re aware that the water delivered through these purple pipes must be carefully considered too, making creativity even more challenging (though much more rewarding when a solution/application is reached). Recycled water is available to irrigate our residential landscapes, yet we’re unable to tap into that delivery system to keep our landscapes healthy and productive is disturbing.

I am very happy to have recycled water to rely on at most California commercial sites, but the water delivery infrastructure and enhanced water quality definitely should be taking precedent to help ease the drought. Until then, I will just enjoy my glass of water from the tap, and continue paying a premium to use it on my residential landscape.

Additional Resources:


Post-industrial landscapes have caught the attention of the public by providing a great mix of experiences and reflections. All over the world these abandoned places that could only be used for recreation in the UrbEX context are now accessible to the community. Reclaiming sites have become a statement of post-modernity, where nature and community coexists with rusty machines and metal structures.

In postmodernism, ‘memory’ constitutes a concept that characterize these landscape interventions as unique and informative, endorsing it with a higher and deeper level of experiences. Bright minds like Sebastien Marot, Frances Yates, Robert Smithson and Peter Latz associate memory as an important aspect of design.

Having previously participated in a project where industrial infrastructure and landscape had to be connected, AHBE Lab explores worldwide a specific type of post-industrial intervention of derelict facilities: production plants. In this category we can find old mining stations, power and water stations, coal mines, steel mills, construction factories, assembly yards, etc. Here are some of the best examples:

Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord / Latz + Partner
A public park in Germany born from an abandoned coal and steel production plant. The site remained heavily contaminated after these activities and the actual landscaping is an attempt to heal and to communicate the industrial past of the site. The existing infrastructure like concrete bunkers, old gas tanks, concrete walls and the courtyard of the factory were reused to bring forth a unique program, rich of experiences.


LUX Stahlhof Belval-Ouest / AllesWirdGut Architektur
This famous promenade-square is located in a steelyard which was once populated by pioneer plants such as moss and birch. The island incorporates sitting areas and vegetation, leaving plenty of open spaces as restorative landscapes. The project incorporates natural looking materials that are able to portray an atemporal aesthetic, such as concrete, wood, and untreated steel.


C-Mine Square / Hosper
This public square is located on a former coal mine in Belgium. It is the central space of the new cultural center of the city of Genk. Not only is the square reclaimed, but a lot of the program elements are located in the surrounding buildings, which used to be mining buildings. The project incorporates a theater, a cinema, restaurants, and a design academy.


Fonderies Garden / Doazan-Hirschberger
Stored under the canopy of the former Atlantic Foundries, this garden located in the island of Nantes, France, houses exotic species like rhododendrons, azaleas, hydrangeas, magnolias, camellias, etc. The whole site is covered by a polycarbonate crystal canopy and pre-existing steel roofing. The garden is divided in two parts: the ‘furnace garden’ and the ‘voyage garden’.


Sustainable Evergreen Headquarters / Diamond Schmitt Architects + du Toit Architects Ltd
Once a brick factory in Toronto, Canada, this new space has become a community environmental center; the site plays host to commercial, educational, and cultural activities. The Evergreen Brick Works project is accredited as LEED-Platinum in sustainability.


MFO-Park / Burckhardt + Partner & Raderschallpartner
Located in Zurich, Switzerland, the Manschinefabrik Oerlikon Park is housed under a steel trellis that used to be part of a factory belonging to the same company. Vertical green columns, a set of terraces and viewpoints, a large semi-covered central space and a fun play of lights versus shadows have already granted this project seven awards.


Levitt Pavilion, SteelStacks, Bethlehem Works, Sands Bethworks and the Arts Quest Center / Wallace Roberts and Todd, SWA Group, Spillman Farmer Architects.
This site’s program is comprehensive, starting with the conversion of an old steel mill into a venue for concerts, performance, and cultural activities known as the SteelStack Arts and Cultural Campus. The Levitt Pavilion is a unique architectural centerpiece and refuge for these events. Across the street, the ArtsQuest Center is edified in the heart of the industrial park for indoor events like festivals, visual arts, education and outreach, and other performing arts. Less than a mile to the east, a thrilling landscape design furnishes the main intersections of the road networks in the area.

Gas Works Park / Richard Haag
Opened in 1975, this reclaimed urban park contains part of the infrastructure of the former coal gasification plant. A part of the old plant now functions as a children’s play barn. It has become an icon for peace rallies, concerts, anti-war protests, and a civic symbol as well, hosting Fourth of July fireworks events for the city and becoming a landmark for local cyclists.


Fundidora Park / Grimshaw Architects
By far one of the most successful projects in Mexico showcasing the re-adaptation of existing industrial architecture for civic use. The project’s ‘Horno3’ used to be a steel mill and is now a steel museum which adds a restaurant and terraces. This urban-scale park is the core for recreation and social life in the city of Monterrey, hosting world-class events such as the UN and OEA summits, the Champ Car World Series Grand Prix, the A1 Grand Prix race series, and the 2007 Universal Forum of Cultures. The urban park incorporates as icons other elements, such as the Monterrey Arena, the Sesame Plaza playgrounds, an artificial lake, and the Santa Lucia Riverwalk.


Burbank Water and Power EcoCampus / AHBE Landscape Architects
Being included as one of the original Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) pilot program, the BWP’s EcoCampus reclaims a substation, turning the structure into a giant metal trellis for the new Centennial Park. This repurposed canopy is covered with vines that turn the original structure into a real green habitat. Sustainable techniques such as rooftop gardens, water reclamation and filtration systems and solar power are present all over the site, making the project worthy of three awards in the last 4 years.

More and more often, designers and developers are choosing to reclaim abandoned industrial infrastructure to become an active heart of community life. Large-scale projects such as the Battersea Power Station Redevelopment – carried out by Gehry and Foster in London – demonstrate that industrial zones, brownfields, and other once undesirable spots in the city are no longer taboos for developers, planners, architects and landscape architects to work with. The hope is these once neglected spaces will be adopted once more by the community, no longer as centers for industrial production, but for social productivity.

Smithson thought that memory recalls the past, but in a way that applies it to new things. In this matter, Mark Twain wrote once:  “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes”. What can we learn from the past of these sites, and how are we applying this knowledge to our present?


All photos by Wendy Chan

I grew up living in Los Angeles, but I hardly ever ventured into Downtown LA while growing up. I remember visiting the Central Public Library, being in awe by the architecture. I also remember taking the bus with my mom to the Fashion District to get fabric. So when our office moved into Downtown Los Angeles on 7th and Hope over 2 years ago, I was surprised by the walkability and energy that Downtown offered.

I decided to take my camera and walk straight down 7th Street as far as my one hour of lunch allowed to document my experience. I chose 7th Street because it takes you through various neighborhoods and districts within Downtown – from the jewelry, theatre, fashion districts, then finally to the Los Angeles Flower Market before turning back. There are some great finds and artifacts along the way that deserves a double take.
















Making L.A.: Embrace the Lake Tour: “Join us on Sunday, October 23rd as we come together with Silver Lake Forward for a series of walks around the reservoir to celebrate this important community resource. The first tour at 10:00am will focus on the future of Silver Lake, the second tour at 1:00pm will focus on the history, of which there is plenty. Each tour will also serve as an opportunity to discuss the construction currently underway, as well as to think about the tremendous potential to revitalize one of Los Angeles’s most important public spaces.”
When: Sunday, October 23, 2016, 10am-2pm
Where: Silver Lake Recreation Center, 1850 West Silver Lake Drive, Los Angeles, 90026

ASLA Annual Meeting & Expo: A Celebration of Place: New Orleans“Join the largest gathering of landscape architecture professionals and students in the world to gain perspective and establish new connections within the profession … 120 education sessions, 15 field sessions, 4 workshops, and 2 general sessions will be offered throughout the meeting … ASLA 2016 President Chad D. Danos, FASLA, explains how landscape architects create a celebration of place.”
When: Friday, October 21 – Monday, October 24, 2016
Where: New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, 900 Convention Center Blvd, New Orleans, LA, 70130

WestEdge Design Fair: “WestEdge is a three-day event that offers the best in modern design, all in an environment designed to engage, entertain and inspire. The fair offers the opportunity to shop from premium home furnishings brands-many new to the West Coast and meet the designers behind thousands of inspiring products. In addition, attendees gain insight from leading names in the design industry with a full series of educational programs and special events.”
When: Thursday, November 3 – Sunday, November 6, 2016
Where: Barker Hanger, 3021 Airport Avenue, #203, Santa Monica, 90405

Lounge-aholics: The Social Life of Furniture in L.A.’s New Public Spaces: “As Los Angeles becomes more multi-modal and pedestrian-oriented, its neighborhoods are seeing a boom in interest for new parks, civic, and commercial spaces at various urban scales. Across the region, from Tongva Park in Santa Monica to FaB Park, Grand Park, and Pershing Square downtown, exciting and new public spaces are taking shape in the mode of a new and diverse urban era. Hear from L.A.’s leading civic and design leaders about the ways these new urban spaces are contributing to a more vibrant city culture and what they see for the future of public space in L.A.”
When: Friday, November 4, 2016, 4pm-5pm
Where: Barker Hanger, 3021 Airport Avenue, #203, Santa Monica, 90405

Creating Seed BombsMake your own native seed bomb at Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden in Claremont. This botanical garden has one of the largest collection of pressed foliage and flowers in the world, and it has the largest collection of seeds, if anything were to happen to our native resources.
When: Saturday, December 3, 2016, 10 – 11am
Where: Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden, 1500 N College Ave, Claremont, CA, 91711