Posts by clarencelacy

The Bug_Dome_by_WEAK!_in_Shenzhen. Photo by Movez/(CC BY-SA 3.0)

Biophilia, or the “love of life or living systems”, describes the intimate and innate relationship between humans with nature as deeply rooted within our biology. These connections are attributed to earlier evolutionary origins, but continue to manifest in behaviors today: a physical retreat to nature, formal and informal representations of nature, or an organizational replication of natural systems. The affinity for nature is also a valuable and capable source for informing the design of a built environment. Sites with a connection to nature are not a new concept, noting the Garden Cities, Art Nouveau plant forms, and Olmstead as examples of humanity’s desire for the proximity of nature for respite, beauty, and health, but it seems a resurgence of interest has begun to emerge.

Though Erich Fromm is credited for coining the term biolphilia, the Biophilia hypothesis is the term and idea more commonly known today. Developed and introduced in the 1980s by biologist, theorist, and author E.O. Wilson, the biophilia hypothesis expands upon Fromm’s singular definition, outlining the evolutionary connections between our care and concern for animals and the desire for plants in our personal and professional environments in detail.

Furthermore, design built upon the principles of this hypothesis is referred to as “biophilic design“. According to William Browning, Catherine Ryan, and Joseph Clancy of Terrapin Bright Green – an environmental consulting and strategic planning firm – biophilic design integrates the relationship between nature, human biology and design of the built environment for the physical, psychological, and emotional betterment of the human user. Browning et al define 14 patterns of biophilic design, each fitting into three categories: Nature in Space (a direct connection to nature), Natural Analogues (a formal evocation of nature), and Nature of the Space (spatial configurations found in nature).

Amazon unveiled The Spheres, three glass domes located in Downtown Seattle operating as an escape for their tech employees into a biosphere housing 40,000 plants representing 400 species from around the world.

Of these principles, the one of most personal interest is the natural analogues, which Browning et al describe as:

  • Biomorphism – a formal design principal that seeks to replicate natural forms, those found in nature, or in other life forms. These forms can create a harmony evocative of life without directly imitating them in a recognizable way.
  • Natural Material – connecting to a site’s sense of place or to a larger natural environment through the use of minimally processed local.
  • Complexity and Order – replicating spatial and pattern diversity and hierarchy like that found in nature.

‘Artwall’ installation, made from site remnants, replicating natural forms at Tanner Springs Park. Photo by Jenny Cestnik (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Biophilic design and biomorphism play on our innate connection to nature as humans, seeking to satisfy design harmony and beauty through symbolic references in texture, patterns, contours, and arrangements. Nature is inherently rich and complex through its integrated ecological and geological systems. Replicating this diversity and interconnectedness can yield richly built spaces capable of evoking similar conscious and subconscious reactions.

Bug Dome is a bamboo shelter modeled after mounds created by insects. It was created from site materials as to return to the natural environment when it is no longer needed. Public Domain photo: Härmägeddon.

It should be clear the principles are not simply formal as explored here. Each can be applied to functional systems by designers in realizing sustainable solutions. Natural imitation is a valid and effective strategy within green design and green infrastructure. A holistic approach to applying natural forms and systems into/onto our built environment for building sustainability is well worth investigation.

For the past few years I have been learning music and sound production techniques. One of my goals is to compose highly spatial music capable of transporting the listener to a fictitious place I have created in my mind. Understanding how sound can define and create space has been important for my journey personally, while also offer an indirectly benefit to my process as a landscape architect.

I have previously mentioned music’s connection to landscape and nature, noting a few ways nature and music are intertwined into some popular music references. Diving deeper, I’d like to explore the connection to place or the creation of place utilizing music.

One of my favorite examples is Lana del Rey – specifically her album Honeymoon – a musician who has built a career developed uponan ethereal aesthetic rooted in the glamourous dream of the late Hollywood golden age. This album evokes a feeling of cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway, with the power to conjure up memories that you’ve only witnessed in films.

Before moving to Los Angeles, I already knew the coastal landscape. Lana had transported me to these places I had never been to, and to a time I had never lived through. I could feel the cool breeze, smell the salt air, and see the orange glow of the California sunset representing an eternal summer. The music sonically and lyrically reflects a dichotomy between expectation and reality: the California dream versus the painful truth.

Reiterating the importance of place (Hollywood and the escape of the Southern California Coast), is seems perfectly fitting how the landscape plays a major role in supporting visuals and music videos.

A more recent example is from another favorite artist, Bjork. Her latest album Utopia, begins with the “Arisen My Senses”, a song capable of transporting the listener to a morning in Eden. Birds chirping, soft winds blowing, the light of the sun rising are all evoked through literal sounds and melodies. Before viewing the visuals, I felt very light, almost as I was arising from the ground from a utopia and flying above. I challenge you clean the canvas in your mind and let the song paint a beautiful landscape in your head.

The true genius of the collaborations between Lana del Rey and Rick Nowels or Bjork and Arca is their ability to create and convey a certain landscape attached to an emotion. These imagined landscapes are so embedded in the music aesthetic, the visuals become a display of that landscape, with the action playing a supporting role to the complex evocative space evoked. In Bjork’s case, the landscape is fictional; a metaphor for an emotion.

There are many other layers to the importance of place and time in these few tracks, with numerous other examples. Next time you listen to a new song that really transport you somewhere else, try to imagine the landscape of this “somewhere else”. It may prove an indirect, yet powerful tool as a landscape architect whose job it is to evoke a response, emotion, and movement.

All images by Clarence Lacy

I recently embarked on a journey, one which took me back to review old studio projects from graduate school. It offered me an opportunity to take inventory of my past work, and identify how those early projects influenced my design philosophy today.

One common thread visible across all of these project was the attempt to understand complex systems beyond the confines of the site. Additionally, two consequential questions arose while working on these graduate school projects:

  • How far out do you make a context map?
  • What is context in the terms of the project?

Understanding complex site systems, diagramming them, and forming a coherent analysis of the site according to the diagram can be as difficult as the design itself. It is an exercise requiring the ability to recognize the scale of the complex web of systems intersecting at the site.

The practice of landscape architecture is inherently tied to site – a very spatial concept. It makes sense we investigate qualitative and quantitative information under the lens of a geographic location. Identifying the exchanges occurring at various scales is imperative to forming a complete understanding of a site. While we will never know everything there is to know, we should attempt to become experts about specific aspects of a site, while remaining a generalist in others. As designers, this context helps us efficiently develop a story.

While working on my thesis, I did a quick mapping about site exchanges based upon multiple mappings I had done. I started by ordering my investigation and analysis based on a multitude of scales: the human user, to the transects, or a conduit on which the site may lie on a greater landscape context. Next, according to the region or network, examining the scale well beyond political boundaries.

The diagram – still nascent in content – helped organize my thoughts about my thesis site. Listing and connecting scales of design with systems on the site was important in developing an understanding about which interventions could occur on the site, and what possible echoes and exchanges are impacted in a larger context. I began to layer my design concept on the diagram where I thought it could be scaled and represented.

In the process of developing this diagram it became apparent that while we may design or represent something at a particular scale, it is a system occurring and impacting across many scales. At first, my understanding of site systems and their overlap was limited to the scale where it was represented most legibly. For example: the scale of the design section (1:96), or the site plan (1:240).

I quickly realized designs share a transaction with multiple systems at multiple scales, creating an exponential combination of exchanges.

This realization impacted not just my thoughts about the diagram, but also how I perceived design as a whole. I began layering multiple scales of information in a logical and methodical manner. My designs were no longer limited within the confines of a specific mode of representation (section, plan and perspective), I was now designing a philosophy of greater urbanism. This urban system theory reified into a small site where I finally applied scaler constraints, developing something legible both in its design and representation. The “map” or “diagram” became a project – a scaled system of principles about urbanism – transforming from a source of investigation into a test of these theories, and also a physical manifestation of my philosophy at human scale.

The analysis phase became as enlightening as the exploration of design interventions. To this day, I reflect upon the lessons learned through this exercise, challenging myself to think through the impact all projects have across the multitude of contexts. In carving out my own methodology, and from experience, I recognize now there is no “right” or “wrong” answer when it comes the analysis of a site.

The global blockbuster Black Panther reveals an unexpected and uncredited star – Birnin Zana – the film’s fictional capital city of African nation,  Wakanda. Organic and dense, the city of Birnin Zana exhibits a preference for street life flowing through a medley of architecture constituting a wondrous and energetic cityscape – an imaginary example of a “traditional city” (a term coined by urbanist Andrew Alexander Price in reference to urban development that emerges organically over a span of time “by people colonizing and building close together”).–s_kHQ1A

The government of Wakanda does not wield technology, economics, architecture, or planning as a means of control. Nor does capitalism manifest as sterilizing culture. Instead, the capital of Black Panther is portrayed as a colorful and vibrant metropolis, one manifested in people with their own distinct music, language, fashion, dance, all surrounded by a dazzling polychromatic palette of patterns representing the numerous tribes unified under the singular banner of a country. Wakanda illustrates an ideal of technological supremacy, but not one antithetical to strong ties to ancient traditions and cultures.

Black Panther’s artists and designers undoubtedly looked to real world architecture like the Reunification Monument in Yaounde, Cameroon (top) and the National Museum of African American History & Culture, Smithsonian Institution, Washington,  (bottom) for real world inspiration for their imaginative depiction of Afro-futuristic urbanism. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 photos by Mark Fischer and  Adam Fagen).

Cities are living beings; they consume, respire, and excrete. What makes each city unique is how culture and history manifest in their planning, open space, and architecture. But in modern times, cities now reflect a sterile landscapes devoid of the identifiable unique characteristics traditional cities exhibit – a reflection of the influences of imperialism, capitalism, and globalism erasing regional and human-scale developments. This is not a fault of cities, but instead express the eventuality of a Western notion shaped by mechanized culture and easily replicable architecture. The city of Black Panther diverges away from this notion noticeably.

As someone obsessed with exploring ideas about experiencing urban form, watching Black Panther inspired numerous thoughts related to design, urbanism, and culture. The following are reasons why Black Panther depicts an urban ideal worth aspiring toward:

Technology strengthens tradition: In typical depictions of the future, highly advanced technology coupled with trans-national economies results in a homogenized global culture, one where clothing, architecture, vehicles, and people adopt uniformity. Diversity in culture has given way to globalism and the ‘design’ of new technologies. Everything is sleek, colors are muted, and the city is building upon building, connected through flying cars, transport tubes, and transport pods. Machines, infrastructure, and technology are in the forefront of urban form, and life occurs inside. In Black Panther, Wakandan culture and tradition plays ever prominent. Coupled with the efficiency and power of technology is the expression of culture through color, pattern, and form.

Urban form targets human-scaled interaction: One critique of the modern city is it focuses architecture over its inhabitants. Modern cities have lost touch with human scale, trading in human interaction for mechanical and technological transactions. Commerce was once local, and life was centered on the street. One of most memorable scenes of the film unfolds within the capital city of Birnin Zana, on its streets, where people are shown in relation to the surrounding urban form. Even in technologically advanced Wakanda, the street remains the place for social interaction,  shopping, dining, and play.

Culture expressed through architecture: Instead of a city of shiny glass towers, Wakanda’s architecture is shown spanning various ages with numerous traditional motifs applied across buildings. Old one-story buildings stand proudly next to 10-story buildings, with skyscrapers reminiscent of the real-life La Pyraminde in Abidjan or Kigali International Airport interspersed. This futuristic marriage between old and new architecture parallels the aforementioned merging of technology with tradition characterizing Wakanda as a nation and culture.

Respect of Nature and Organicism: Wakanda portrays an imbued respect for the natural environment. The city is shown embedded within a beautiful natural environment, and throughout the film, the power and awe of the surrounding vast and pristine natural landscape is alluded to. Here, the landscape is not merely a backdrop, but the actual stage on which the capital city sits.

The city is not a machine: Contemporary urbanism and planning tends to focus upon creating machines for living. Capitalism fed this notion as a form of public process and urban culture. Conversely, the traditionalist would say a city should serve the people, citing human interaction as the defining attribute of urbanism. Cultural nuance and variety physically expressed in urban architecture is important in establishing a city as purposefully human, and not a machine. Wakanda follows this standard.

This is only a quick list of observations and thoughts after watching Black Panther. Someday I’d love to dive deeper and explore the influence of urban form in shaping the landscape of the city and their effects upon urban behavior. For now, Wakanda can serve as an imaginative ideal, one melding culture, nature, and architecture.

Wakanda Forever.

Photo: Creative Commons

Uber began in 2009, offering what seemed then like a nicer alternative to traditional taxis. The ride sharing service took over cities around the world quickly, with many other ridesharing services springing forth soon after. Most major cities today are served by some app-based rideshare service(s).

With rideshare services now ubiquitous, new developments are beginning to incorporate Uber and Lyft drop-off areas in site planning. Rideshares are now part of the discussion of planners, designers, and policy-makers globally. Recent research has undertaken the task of understanding the impacts of these services on planning, urbanism/urban sociology, and our environment.

Source: Clewlow, R.R. & Mishra, G.S. UC Davis Report

Rideshare services differ from traditional ridesharing or carpooling, because the destination for a passenger is not necessarily the destination for the driver. These services don’t aim to get more cars off the road. Instead, Uber, Lyft, and similar services are a convenient alternative form of transportation, each depending upon a driver being mobile, driving within the vicinity of passengers, or making a drop-off nearby. Quite often these drivers spend a certain amount of time driving around without passengers, waiting for a new route to pop-up on their phones.

A recent CityLab post investigated habits of rideshare app users and overall transportation trends in 10 major US cities. The article is based on emerging research from UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies.

‘Ride-hailing’, as the article calls it, has been leading to a “substitutive versus complementary nature of ride-hailing varies greatly based on the type of transit service”. While increases in walking and heavy-rail commuter trains (3%) are noteworthy, so are decreases in the use of light rail (3%) and buses (6%). The study also found that between 49-61% of trips made by “ride-hailing” wouldn’t have been made at all, or made by walking.

The largest takeaway from the CityLab post is these services are likely to contribute to the growth of vehicular miles travelled in major US cities like Los Angeles. Not only are these miles travelled with a passenger, but also the in-between ‘idle miles’.

In addition to added congestion, these added miles contribute to air quality and water quality issues resulting from personal vehicular use. “Avoiding drinking and driving” and “parking difficulties” are often cited as the most important factors for using these rideshare services, but what steps can be taken to eliminate the idle-miles associated with the popularity of ridesharing?

Source: Clewlow, R.R. & Mishra, G.S. UC Davis Report

Are micro-transit systems such as Leap Transit or Via – both which are modeled after carpool – the answer? Is it designated parking station electric car sharing services like BlueLA offer a way to eliminate the parking issue surrounding personal vehicle use? Or will it be a new form of ride-hailing incorporating dispatch centers, stations, and autonomous vehicles that will eventually decrease idle miles? The challenge ultimately will be to make transit options more appealing to as many commuters as possible, in turn decreasing user demand for vehicular travel altogether.

Ridesharing and ride-hailing will unlikely go away any time soon. So as technology advances and cities become more congested, we will need to conceive new planning strategies and alternatives to our existing models to incorporate ridesharing into our cities without the negatives associated with a city of idle drivers waiting for their next rider.