Posts by Cristhian Barajas

Not being a native English speaker, I find it difficult sometimes to differentiate concepts that in our day to day conversations we use interchangeably. Most of the time I do so myself without even noticing it. However, recently I recognized a need to seek the true and appropriate meaning of some concepts that we often use in the landscape architecture field when writing documents, or preparing presentations, lectures, etc.

I think the main application of these concepts at their objective denotative meanings takes place at the philosophical intersection of a project’s theory and practice. Many times I find it difficult to describe how to deal with a situation in a structured way, one which requires hierarchy in the deliverance of ideas. In this work-in-progress exercise I made sort of a compilation – a personal glossary of sorts – to understand myself better, determining the main difference between these concepts and what do they entail. Of course, this is just an idea and has no validity as formal classification. But I sure found the process helpful as a self-reflection exercise, especially when planning future projects.

Approach
“A way of dealing with something or arriving at some destination”. It denotes manner and answers the ‘how’. These approaches in our field work better when being pre-formulated; approaches already out there adopted, perhaps modified to suit our needs. A solid and well-defined approach in a project is the best – a safer and smoother way to transition from the theory to the practice.

Examples of theoretical approaches: multidisciplinary, advocacy planning, inclusive urbanism, civic-pedagogy, public engagement.

Philosophy
The philosophy is the link between the entity and the product. If a firm has goals and ideals reflected in their code of ethics, mission, vision, and statement,  then the project’s philosophy has ability to infuse those motivations and expectations into the project itself. That’s why both need to be aligned. It also must represent realistically the intention of the project. It is a broader umbrella term, a sphere that encloses all the mentioned: values, mission, vision, history, area of expertise, trending currents, and so on. It is complex to identify or define because it happens to be the very ethos of the firm’s culture, subject to space and time, and sometimes even reinforced by art movements, individual mindsets, or currents of thinking. While the philosophy is the internal spirit behind a project, the approach is the way external spirit visibly manifested outwards to others.

Example of philosophies: Sustainability, Identity, Aesthetics, Health, Holism, Spirituality.

Line of Action
The elements of a broader field or discipline. It denotes category and answers the ‘which’. Disciplines are fields of study, and their sub-categories are ‘lines’ of study. If a philosophy is a reality, then the lines of action are the dimensions in which that reality takes place. Lines of action define the character of the general goal and the amount of specific goals to achieve, separating them by areas.

Examples of lines of action: Social, economic, ecological, individual, communal, private, public.

General Goals
Derived from the intention of the project, a good general goal would synthetize the overall purpose of the project, and perhaps also the purpose of all of its areas (see line of action) if they all demand equiparable priorities. The definition of goal is “the result of achievement toward which effort is directed”. Serves as an aspiration statement for the project.

Example of a general goal: The conception of a quality recreational space that brings the community together through diverse program elements and activities.

Specific Goals
Purposely isolated goals that will aid the general goal in terms of opportunities. A more specific level are SMART goals, which help even more to determine future strategies and tactics. But some people argue that SMART goals are more of a blend of goals and objectives, for they are not as abstract as conventional goals might be.

Examples of specific goals: The provision of a new urban landmark to the city. The regional recognition of the firm in alike projects.

General Objectives
The measurable and quantifiable steps required to reach a general goal.

Example of general objective: To design and build a neighborhood park in the City of XXXXX with the help of the non-profits and local government over the next six months.

Specific Objectives
Answers in form of actions to particular challenges, chances, or concerns. Each specific goal could have many specific objectives.

Example of specific objectives: To design and build a large-size iconic sculpture in the entrance of the park ensuring clear visibility from the main streets. To achieve certification from a leading sustainability entity during the management phase.

Methodology
The study of how research is done, how we find out about things, and how knowledge is gained. Methodology is about the principles that guide the research practices, and it explains the methods or tools utilized.

When applied to non-research projects, methodology is the connection between the goals and the approach. Methodology diagnoses why we are doing things in the way we are doing them, and how these actions are going to lead us towards the goal. Methodology is not a statement, a phrase, a slogan nor a word; it is a narrative in which you communicate why and how you are planning to carry out the project. But it goes far beyond a justification, since it also talks about the tools and the philosophy being adhering to.

Example of a methodology narrative fragment: “[…] Previous cited works and articles have shown how projects using Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) design principles are lacking the community participation and engagement elements, since the experts rarely show an interest in delegating planning tasks to the residents. The crime rates in this community seem to suggest to us that in order to deter further criminal activity it is also important to give the community quality infrastructure that they truly own. Just as the ‘Parques-Bibliotecas’ case study we discussed in the previous section, we also consider vital for this project to reinforce the sense of identity and ownership in the community. Thus, we would like to inject into our CPTED design principles the Placemaking approach and we pretend to implement design charrettes, visual preference surveys, joint site visits, and other participatory activities.”

Practice
The actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method, as opposed to theories about such application or use. It is a process, an activity and a goal that encompasses many other diverse sub-processes and sub-activities to ultimate achieve its very form as goal. Confusing enough? Of course. It’s hard to put in perfect words a practice into a theory in the same way it’s hard to put into perfect words a theory into practice. But practices constitute those activities that projects, fields of work or fields of study involve.

Examples of practices: planning, research, design, communication, construction, management.


Please note the definitions above have been heavily adapted and are only proposed, still undergoing development. I find a need in our field to properly define, classify, and most importantly, exemplify these concepts with tangible scenarios so we can improve familiarity. If you have comments or suggestions to enrich these, I welcome any submissions about your understanding or resources that could further help clarify their meaning. A future second part in this series will aim to discuss the Praxis System diagram, defining concepts like policy, strategies, tactics, roles, methods, tools, techniques, technologies, systems, tasks, processes, procedures, and more.

As a supplemental to my ongoing Drosscapes series for AHBE Lab, I have compiled a comprehensive list of books and readings that I believe provides substantial and innovative insight related to the topic of adaptive reuse of once defunct economic and industrial sections of the city. My search was inspired by artistic, adventurous, academic, and professional perspectives connected with drosscapes.

The following resources are divided in six categories, each exploring a wide variety of topics: theories, concepts, guidelines, design principles, case studies for city-wide economic rehabilitation, site remediation, lessons learned, urban exploration showcases, environmental art photography, and more.

Graphic from Alan Berger’s Drosscape: Wasting in Urban America

Theory & Design Principles
• Alan Berger’s (2007 & 2008) Drosscape: Wasting in Urban America & Designing the Reclaimed Landscape
• Niall Kirkwood’s (2010 & 2015), Principles of Brownfield Regeneration: Cleanup, Design, and Reuse of Derelict Land & Phyto: Principles and Resources for Site Remediation and Landscape Design

Decay Case Studies
• Alice Mah’s (2012) Industrial Ruination, Community and Place: Landscapes and Legacies of Urban Decline.
• Hilary Orange’s (2014) Reanimating Industrial Spaces: Conducting Memory Work in Post-industrial Societies
• Anna Storm’s (2014) Post-Industrial Landscape Scars (Palgrave Studies in the History of Science and Technology)

Site Restoration Case Studies
• Ellen Braae’s (2015) Beauty Redeemed
• Peter Latz’ (2017) Rust Red: The Landscape Park Duisburg-Nord & Bad Places and Oases
• Richard Marshall’s (2001) Waterfronts in Post-Industrial Cities
• Nial Kirkwood’s (2001) Manufactured Sites: Rethinking the Post-Industrial Landscape
• MIT Center for Advanced Urbanism’s (2016) Infrastructural Monument & Scaling Infrastructure
• Heather Moore’s & Howard Fox’s (2003) Land Reclamation: Extending the Boundaries
• Roxi Thoren’s (2014) Landscapes of Change: Innovative Designs for Reinvented Sites
• Udo Weilacher’s (2007) Syntax of Landscape: The Landscape Architecture of Peter Latz and Partners

Urban Rehabilitation Case Studies
• Donald Carter’s (2016) Remaking Post-Industrial Cities: Lessons from North America and Europe
• Allen Dieterich-Ward’s (2015) Beyond Rust: Metropolitan Pittsburgh and the Fate of Industrial America (Politics and Culture in Modern America)
• Christopher Marcinkoski’s (2016) The City That Never Was
• Tracy Neumann’s (2016) Remaking the Rust Belt: The Postindustrial Transformation of North America
• Shahid Yusuf’s (2006) Post-Industrial East Asian Cities: Innovation for Growth

Urbex & Photography
• Matthew Christopher’s (2014 & 2016) Abandoned America: The Age of Consequences & Abandoned America: Dismantling the Dream
• Kieron Connolly’s (2016) Abandoned Places: A photographic exploration of more than 100 worlds we have left behind
• Andre Govia’s (2014) Abandoned Planet
• Eric Holubow’s (2014) Abandoned: America’s Vanishing Landscape
• Seph Lawless’ (2017) Autopsy of America: The Death of a Nation
• Jonglez Publishing’s (2016) Forgotten Heritage
• Theresa Welsh’s (2012) A Guide to Post-Industrial Detroit: Unconventional Tours of an Urban Landscape

Environmental Art
• Dora Apel’s (2015) Beautiful Terrible Ruins: Detroit and the Anxiety of Decline
• Edward Burtynsky’s et al (2003 & 2008) Manufactured Landscapes: The Photographs of Edward Burtynsky & Vanishing Landscapes (Movie)
• J Henry Fair’s (2011 & 2017) The Day After Tomorrow: Images of Our Earth in Crisis & Industrial Scars: The Hidden Costs of Consumption

Visual representation has catapulted to an entire new level with the introduction of virtual reality technology. Virtual Reality (VR) technology propelled dedicated headset hardware and smartphones, especially the Samsung Galaxy line, to the forefront of user interaction and experience.

On the other hand, when it comes to software, apps like Pokémon GO introduced Augmented Reality (AR) – the combination of real world imagery with a layer of added imagery for a ‘holographic’ effects – to the masses. Both are examples of mass-market technological pioneers in the realm of VR and AR.

It’s not only individual users around the globe enjoying and using these technologies; private entities are also beginning to introduce these tools as a way to incorporate innovation and education in the firm-to-client relationship. The architectural design disciplines are no exception.

Today we live in a time of great change, and it’s imperative to be aware of emerging technologies. Just a couple of years ago, I wrote about the trend of incorporating gaming platforms to enhance the field of visual representation as part of my master’s degree. At that time, CryEngine 3, Unreal Engine 4, Unity 5, Frostbite 3 and Source were all promising platforms vying for leadership for architectural design applications. However, no firm was truly paying attention to these platforms since each requires hiring professional game developers or people fluent in gaming programming language in order to achieve the desired effects.

Photos by Cristhian Barajas

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Following up our introduction to virtual representation in the field of landscape architecture, today we move on to focus upon the various recognized 3D-rendering visualization types of our practice, each serving different purposes utilizing a variety of different styles: plan views, elevations, perspectives, and even sections. The following list compiles various types of illustrations and their applications used today.

Visualization Modes (listed by function):

All images by Cristhian Barajas unless otherwise attributed.

Sketch: Done either by hand or using digital tools, the messy line work of a sketch is its primary component. A sketch can be black and white, grayscale, or even rendered in color as shown above.

Image by WangWang using Piranesi; BuyPiranesi.co.uk

Painting: A representation in the style of a watercolor, realistic, or an impressionistic painting. The main characteristic is a hand-drawn effect that characterizes the composition. Piranesi is an example software used to digitally achieve this effect.

Technical Drawing: Characterized by straight lines and clear edges, a technical drawing lands somewhere between the sketch and the wireframe modes. When combined with other visualization techniques like clay (below), a technical drawing can reflect great character, and can be used as a study model. [Example]


Wireframe: A wireframe offers many advantages by only displaying the model’s edges and profiles. It not only permits faster rendering display (requiring less memory, sans surface textures or color), it also facilitates the study of elevations and the alignment of elements, representing the skeleton of the design.


Clay: A step further from wireframe is the monochromatic visualization mode known as clay. Limited to grayscale gradients, clay is a great tool for studying the design and indirect lighting. When using V-Ray or other rendering engines, sometimes an independent clay model is rendered apart from the colored image to achieve the ambient occlusion effect, enhancing highlights and shadows to add realism to the image. No linework is shown in this mode, but it can be combined with a wireframe or technical drawing to achieve an even greater level of model accuracy.


Architectural Photomontage: Composed using photographs or a 3D model as its base (or created from scratch), this composited visualization is a workflow-oriented solution relying heavily upon photo manipulation techniques rather than 3D modeling to achieve its intended effect. [Example 1, Example 2].


Conceptual: A 3D model does not always need to be textured. A conceptual model uses transparencies, emphasizing only certain materials like solid surfaces, glass, lights, and vegetation – an effective tool for presenting ideas early in a project. It often portrays the existing context in its surroundings, with a primary object as its main focal point, resembling a physical model of the site. [Example 1, Example 2, Example 3]


Realistic/Shaded: A 3D rendered image – generally unprocessed – showing textures representing intended materials in context of the project. The level of detail in these textures do not always need to be configured to the highest output, foregoing effects like reflection, refractions, etc. This mode is applicable for studying textured materials, lighting, UV mapping, and combination of colors. It does not require high quality vegetation or shadows. [Example 1, Example 2]


Fantasy: A fantasy rendering involves any type of representation in which the ambience, rather than the object itself, is the main focal point. It is often accompanied by color filters to enhance the environment. [Example 1, Example 2]

Image by werner22brigitte; CC0 Public Domain

Digital Art: The emphasis of digital art is placed equally onto the object and also its surrounding environment. However, the main attribute is the composition of abstract/surrealist elements. Digital art relies heavily upon photo manipulation and artistry, often incorporating signature touches of an artist. With digital art, it is often unclear where the objects end and where the context begins, and is most often used for gaming development, storyboards, concept art, and portfolio purposes. Utopian, dystopian, or the ‘cyberpunk’ aesthetic is represented prominently in this genre.


Photorealistic: Perhaps the most common commercial rendition, photorealistic modeling presents a higher level of detail than those listed above, incorporating reflections, refractions, bump mapping, normals, displacement, HDRI lighting, etc. This rendering technique is often utilized for marketing and advertisement, and relies heavily upon 3D-rendered raw images, followed by post-production detailing. [Example 1, Example 2]

Hyperrealistic: Representing the highest degree of visual detail in relation to context and object, hyperrealistic renders eliminate fuzziness or visible brush effects from view. Most of the elements are modeled, with post-production playing only a minor role (depending upon the artist’s workflow). Unlike photorealism, UV mapping is carefully planned and output at very high resolutions. Its main applications are for cinema and for portfolio purposes. [Example 1, Example 2, Example 3]

 

Render of the Keck Medical Center of USC. By AHBE Landscape Architects.

The Keck Medical Center of USC. By AHBE Landscape Architects.

The word ‘render’ comes from its Latin root reddere, meaning ‘to give back’, and is often used to describe either an action or a noun related to a ‘representation’ or ‘performance’. Its origins, however, are more associated with the concept of ‘serving’, ‘helping’, or the ‘providence of a service’. And that is exactly what the design disciplines do when executing these visualization services: they portray what a finished product would be to a client. Sometimes virtual illustrations are also generated for studying the design and composition options, or even for mere portfolio purposes.

An artistic rendition of the Crafton Hills College. By AHBE Landscape Architects.

A traditional, non-software artistic rendition of the Crafton Hills College is used here to show plans in relation to site. By Steinberg Architects.

Although a service, rendering includes a very significant artistic constituent, in which the visual artist imprints their style and sense of aesthetics to the product. Unlike art pieces, these are subject to revisions by the clients and by the supervisors, and its ultimate goal is to display the desires of the stakeholders, rather than the communication of emotions, ideals, and expectations of the artist.

We need to think of rendering as a very unique situation were a double artistic goal is expressed, in which the display of two aesthetical elements are involved:

  1. In the design field, the primary goal most of the time is to showcase a design solution, whether architectural, urban, landscape, interior, industrial or graphic. The design itself becomes the artistic object. Such design intent must be clear at all times.
  2. The secondary goal is to represent this solution in an attractive way. It becomes the frame, media and canvas of the art piece, which could potentially add or subtract interest. The render sells the product and advertises the idea using layout, graphic styles, and composition.
Render of the Taiwan Urban Park. By AHBE Landscape Architects

A overhead site plan render of the Taiwan Urban Park. By AHBE Landscape Architects

This complex conjunction of items leads to the situation where the visual artist, when receiving input, cannot deal with critiques such as “it seems a little bit off”, or “something doesn’t read right”. Critique meant for feedback needs to be objective at all times, clear about which goal-element needs to be addressed, whether it be the design component, the representation component, or both (and how, if possible).

It is important to recognize that software and workflow plays an important role in the artistic execution of the process. As any other digital art, the quality of the product will be directly proportional to the skill level and proficiency of the artist using the software.

In Part 2 we’ll explore the different types of 3D-rendering visualizations and the different purposes they serve in landscape architecture…