Posts by Cristhian Barajas

I realize I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable when commercial and institutional projects describe themselves as an ‘ecosystem restoration’ project. Such undertakings often emphasize the importance of native flora, while attempting to control the overall flow of its fauna because it might endanger the public and also drive their maintenance staff crazy.

Human interests have long been a hindrance to the cycles of nature. Even the resilient design mantra “working with nature” suggests we choose which aspects of nature to collaborate with and which should be controlled for our own purposes and interests.

Though I don’t agree with most of his worldview, the late 90s comedian George Carlin found an effective way of criticizing and exposing cultural mindsets harmful to the environment. Carlin’s humor used exaggeration to fashion crude, yet eloquent stories criticizing irrational human behavior.

Inspired by Carlin, the following is my take about stereotypical speciesism:

“I love taking a walk around the neighborhood with Pesky, my wolfdog; quite a beautiful dog but sometimes he misbehaves. That has changed since he’s now wearing a shock collar during the day. He’s great protecting the new barn from foxes and coyotes, though I can’t say much about chasing rabbits…those creatures.They creep under the bear fence just to eat from my garden – good thing I’m switching now to rabbit and deer-resistant plants. Oh, and mosquito-repellent plants, of course!

That’s another ordeal: bugs. I had to install those bulb-like refracting spheres to scare the flies away from the premises. Looks pretty when they catch the light, but it’s a pain when they fall and break. [Dog barking in the background]

I guess spraying pesticides isn’t enough nowadays, they’re growing more and more resilient every time. I have about three different sprays just for june bugs, bees, and mosquitos. Butterflies are fine, I guess, since I am protecting most of plants with netting. But moths are a different story. I’ve been hoping that some birds would just land on my property to get rid of them, but birds represent an even more troublesome deal! I had to install bird spikes all over my house because it seems to me those doves love nesting around here. [Dog barking in the background]

I’m afraid I will have to get rid of my collection of Purple Martins too, those Starling-Resistant Entrance Holes did work for a while, but now I just don’t want any kind of bird around my house – I’m sick of them. Good thing my friend Rob got me that sweet solar-powered sonic bird repeller, since the bird reflector mirrors were not doing much about it, so we’ll see. [Dog barking in the background. Rob uses dog dazer to stop Pesky’s barking] All my neighbors are doing the same, that’s what I like about it here: we’re all on the same page.»

All I want to do is to raise the question: When, how much, and to what extent should we keep denying the fauna of a place for refuge in our future developments?

As 2017 year comes to a close, the AHBE LAB contributors are taking time to look back at our year’s worth of posts. We are each identifying the most memorable post and sharing what we found interesting, informative, and inspiring. Enjoy the flashback, and let us know which post you thought was most memorable.

Photography that reconciles poetry and minimalism with the natural landscape is unusual. Calvin’s exploration of the snowy Japanese landscape of Biei captures what happens when you successfully compose with these concepts in mind – stunning photographs reminding us the landscape does not always need to be fully grown, alive, colorful, nor complex to visually trigger catharsis.

The photographs are a visual documentation of life struggling in harsh conditions, each photograph of the beautiful landscape carrying a weight and deeper layer of meaning, evoking hope and perseverance. I believe everyone – perhaps unconsciously – can grasp and identify with this feeling: no matter how cold or difficult the situation around us, we can still aspire toward simplicity and beauty.

The original post here: Biei – “A Silent Landscape”

A traditional two-step altar with a modern touch.Creative Commons Photo:Luis Rojas (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Tomorrow, November 2nd, marks Dia de los Muertos – the Day of the Dead – a long observed Mesoamerican tradition born from a marriage of indigenous folklore and the pre-existing All Soul’s Day Catholic festivities. The holiday began as syncretic practice, later evolving into a clear example of enculturation. Its celebration has long been a recognizable part of the Mexican-American experience and woven into the Los Angeles cultural landscape.

Traditional altars are set up during Dia de los Muertos to honor and prayer for the souls of the dead, each equipped with an arrangement of necessary spiritual and physical accessories to aid the deads’ transition to the afterlife. Below is a list of the most common components of a Dia de los Muertos altar.

Photo by Lemad.resaeva (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Fragrances, plants and flowers

The infusion of some flowers and herbs like bay leaf, thymus vulgaris, rosemary, and chamomile in a pot covered by a prickly-pear cactus leaf is said to produce a pleasing fragrance that helps guide souls back to Earth. Other aromas like copal resin and incense are also used.

The key component of a Day of the Dead altar is the floristic color, prominently characterized by the Mexican/Aztec Marigold (Targetes erecta). Their colors may vary, ranging from white, pink, yellow, or orange. Its flowers are used to form shapes and platters to make the altar more attractive; the flowers are often combined with other plants like the Chenille Plant (Acalypha hispida) and Baby’s Breath (Gypsophila paniculata). Other flowers not native to Mexico, like birds of paradise and tulips are also used to add to the color themes of the altar arrangements.

Another element is the inclusion of an ‘arched portal’ at the top level made out of vegetation using reeds, ferns or ferns. The portal symbolizes the entrance or gateway to the netherworld.

Here is the Targes erecta, the characteristic flower that surrounds all ‘Dia de Muertos’ representations of altars. Creative Commons photo: Ana Rodriguez Carrington (CC BY 2.0)

Sugar skulls
With the importation of sugar into the New World, the indigenous people of Mexico began sculpting sugar in the shape of skulls to portray their beloved departed.

Steps or Levels
Steps are used to represent the dualist perspective of the physical world, both sky and ground. When three levels are used, each level represents a plane of the spiritual world: Heaven, Earth & Purgatory (or the netherworld = Hades or Sheol in Hebrew [שְׁאוֹל]). Seven levels references the Seven Deadly Sins faced and overcome during a lifetime.

Papel Picado
The Aztecs used amate bark paper for carving or painting figures, deities, and sceneries as a codex. With the introduction of other paper types by the Spaniards, the indigenous population began using other colors and patterns. Yellow and purple symbolize purity and grief respectively, but other colors are used commonly as well.

The element of fire is represented using candles, their flame believed to be essential to guide the souls toward their afterlife journey. Some people arrange candles in the shape of the cross or to point out the four cardinal directions.

A glass of water is meant to satiate the thirst of the souls. Mayans believed cenotes (sinkholes) were sacred entries to the netherworld, therefore some altars include a larger receptacle of water symbolizing cenotes.

The earthly plane is represened with fruits, seeds, spices, and other objects extracted from nature. Usually, corn kernel and cocoa beans are used to form artistic patterns at the foot of the altar. The arrangement also connotates a connection with the Book of Genesis/Bereshit (בְּרֵאשִׁית) and its devotion, “for you are dust, and to dust you shall return”.

Since the journey of the dead is deemed long and difficult, the family of the deceased usually cooks his/her favorite meal, offering it as pleasing sustenance for their journey. Traditional food like mole, pozole, tacos, and tamales are often depicted, representative of Mexican cuisine. Pan de muertos (“bread of the dead”) is another important and characteristic component on its own, representing the bones and the tears of those souls seeking rest.

Some candles, sugar skulls, pottery and food are placed surrounded by flowers. Creative Commons photo: Angelica Portales (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Other elements
Families may also place personal items of the deceased like clothing, favorite objects, etc. at the altar. Some even quietly play the deceased’s favorite music while the altar is up.

Religious items may include imagery, rosaries, crucifixes, etc. while others add sculptures like the traditional black Itzcuintli Dog believed to guide souls across the Itzcuintlan River in the netherworld. For the same reason, coins supposedly made out of gold are placed at the altar – the fee to pay the boatman Caronte to sail his/her soul to the other side of the river.

Want to know more? The Chicago Tribune just shared a great post about the Anatomy of a Day of the Dead altar we highly recommend checking out.


Summer has come to an end here in Los Angeles. Despite the unabated high temperatures, the days are becoming shorter. Gardeners are already planning the transition from the growing cycle of warm weather into the cooler autumn months in preparation to plant next year’s bounty. Vacation season has come to a close too, with students returning to school. In recognition of this seasonal transition, we’ll be focusing on a Back-to-School theme for September, specifically one from the perspective of the landscape architecture education and profession. We hope you’ll learn something from their lessons.

Looking back at my favorite memories during landscape architecture studies at Cal Poly Pomona, I realize they all happened outdoors – field trips that help further reinforce my understanding of design through context, content, and intent. During this period I found an opportunity to take part in a few courses that at their very core encouraged students to really understand the site, its surroundings, and the regional ecosystem that provide us with landscape resources.

Here are a few memories from these field trips that helped me grow as a landscape designer.

This photo was taken at Mt. Baldy’s chaparral and coniferous vegetation for our plant ecology class. During another field trip I also had the opportunity to go to Evey Canyon and compare both ecosystems, admiring how much the landscape can change in such short distance.

A couple of pictures from my visit to the Huntington Library, where I came to learn more about world gardens. I was especially captivated by the Japanese and Chinese gardens because of their beauty.

In another class, alongside learning about landscape design techniques, we were given the opportunity to visit real life examples of successful interventions as reference for future projects like the Audubon Center shown above. The Audubon Center illustrates how to create a wildlife-friendly garden.

A pair of fun photographic memories captured during a trip to the Bay Area as part of an urban residential development. The resulting product happened to be featured in Nadia Amoroso’s recent book “Representing Landscapes: Hybrid” (p. 295) as an example of a large scale illustrative plan.

This final photo was taken during a camping trip to Owens Lake, where we came face to face with a shocking lesson about the real cost of comfort and its consequences upon the landscape. The Los Angeles Aqueduct literally dried this once pristine lake, and now landscape architecture firms like AHBE alongside civil engineering companies are dedicated to dust mitigation tasks through site interventions.



Summer has come to an end here in Los Angeles. Despite the unabated high temperatures, the days are becoming shorter. Gardeners are already planning the transition from the growing cycle of warm weather into the cooler autumn months in preparation to plant next year’s bounty. Vacation season has come to a close too, with students returning to school. In recognition of this seasonal transition, we’ll be focusing on a Back-to-School theme for September, specifically one from the perspective of the landscape architecture education and profession. We hope you’ll learn something from their lessons.

It’s ‘Back to School’ season, an opportune time to upgrade and improve your computer workstation for optimal productivity and highest quality graphics and CAD documents. Which system should you purchase? That all depends upon three major factors: your discipline, your role, and your workflow.

The most important components worth considering:

GPU – Graphics/Video Card
CPU – Processor
RAM – Memory
HD – Hard Drive
Other ports

Storage Capacity: Solid State Disk (SSD) vs. Serial Advance Technology Attachment (SATA)
Let’s begin from the bottom to the top. Nowadays, when it comes to hard drives you can choose from two options: SSDs and SATAs. SSDs are the newer, faster, and better performing option. On the other hand, platter-based SATAs are the standard, cheaper and more commonly available. A 1TB SATA drive costs around $50, while a 1TB SSD may cost around $300. Obviously price is a major drawback with an SSD drive, but they’re also noticeably faster. Please note SSDs are only faster when it comes to reading files from the hard drive; they are not directly responsible in the execution of programs or rendering faster per se (though they will launch faster), since these tasks are handled by the CPU and the GPU. Therefore, the hard drive’s role in executing production tasks is only minor.

Cloud-oriented users (e.g. Google Photos, Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, etc.) may not even need a large capacity hard drive; with constant and reliable connection via wi-fi or Ethernet, the extra local storage space may be actually unnecessary. If your workflow relies upon cloud storage, a moderate capacity SSD somewhere in the range of 256 GB minimum and 500 GB might be more than sufficient. Even if you prefer to carry most of your stuff on a separate portable HD – let’s say a 1 TB USB 3.0 external hard drive – you may want to stick to a moderate capacity SSD.

It’s a different story if you work from a desktop workstation, where files are primarily kept locally, with little or no cloud integration (sometimes necessary for security purposes). In this case I’d recommend at least 1 TB of storage. The choice between a SATA or SSD drive may be determined by your budget, but upgrading capacity on a desktop is much easier than with a laptop. And this doesn’t mean that you have to dispense the use of cloud or external hard drives if the option is open; you can still use these online-accessible services to sync files remotely. It’s the best of both worlds and helps in practicing the recommended habit of backing up files.

Modern desktop machines like the Alienware Area-51 are outfitted with Gigabit Ethernet Ports, USB 3.1, and media card readers.

Other things to consider
Depending upon your workflow and work environment, there’s a multitude of options worth considering when purchasing a computer: a fast network network card, Ethernet port, USB ports (3.0+ preferably), Bluetooth, HDMI port, CD/DVD optical drive, audio/mic jacks, SD card, and a 3½-inch floppy drive (just kidding!).

Apple Mac users might also require a Mini DisplayPort (MiniDP or mDP) and Thunderbolt ports. But if you’re like me – terrible with Apple products – you won’t likely need to worry about either. In my next follow-up I’ll explore further details about Mac-oriented workflows and solutions.

How much RAM do I need?
As a rule of thumb, your system should have at least 8 GB. Minimum. Adobe Photoshop and Sketchup recommend 8 GB, but in reality I’d recommend 12 GB as a starting off point for serious work. If your work revolves around graphic production tasks, bump up to 16 GB of system memory. Computers use RAM to buffer files into the software, so it plays a central part in handling large files, whether they’re 2D or 3D. However, the role of RAM memory in conventional projects is relatively less important than the CPU and the GPU. Nonetheless, let’s not underestimate RAM’s role. Because you can have the best CPU available and the most killer graphic card in the entire world, but if you are trying to open a 300MB, high-poly 3D model of Downtown Manhattan with only 1 GB of RAM, your system will crash before even opening the file.

Which processor should I get?
This is where things start to get tricky. Some programs operate noticeably better with specific CPUs, while other programs simply aren’t as affected. That said, if graphic design is a large component of the workflow, the Intel Core i7 processor is highly recommended. But recommending the Intel Core i7 processor isn’t really specific enough, as there are numerous iterations of this CPU with the “i7” moniker available today. That said, I’d recommend an Intel i7 processor at 3.0 GHz+ or the AMD equivalent; go Xeon if your workflow requires it (a topic we’ll go into detail in a future follow-up).

The ASUS ROG Rampage IV Black Edition X79 Motherboard

A note about upgrading: it’s worth spending the time to research about hardware compatibility. I’ll share a little story illustrating this point. I recently upgraded my Alienware Area-51’s motherboard to an Asus Rampage IV Black Edition. The system was originally powered by a factory-installed Intel Core 980x processor (pretty decent at the time when I purchased the machine). Only while attempting to install the new CPU onto the new motherboard did I realize they weren’t compatible! I had to buy a newer CPU (an Intel i7-3960x) to fit onto the new X79 motherboard’s socket (LGA Intel 2011). The moral of this story is parts evolve and change. The killer CPU of today may be an incompatible part for the computer of tomorrow. So be sure to invest in relatively recent components that can be easily replaced and repaired, if necessary.

In next month’s follow-up, I’ll investigate the topic of choosing the right processor and video card, and answer questions like, “When to choose a Xeon CPU over i7?”, “What’s multi-core and hyper-threading?”, “NVIDIA or ATI?”, “Quadro or GeForce?”, “What about Mac workflows?”, and the best workstations optimized for specific software. Stay tuned!