Posts by tamarcotler

The General Sherman footprint, the Giant Forest, Sequoia National Park. All photos by Tamar Cotler

I’ve recently been working on a project requiring the use of a special paving concept. The paving pattern I’ve been using communicates a sense of place, and even time. The experience with the material sparked thoughts about exploring other opportunities where the paving could be used as a medium for communicating information to the user or to make a smart and playful experience.

A month ago, I visited The Giant Forest, a section of Sequoia National Park famed for its giant sequoia trees. There, I came face to trunk with the General Sherman, a tree reaching 275 feet in height and with a diameter of 36.5 feet maximum at its base. But these are just numbers that do not communicate the full experience! The General Sherman tree is so out of proportion in comparison to everything else around it, that it’s difficult to comprehend its actual enormity, even when in physical proximity to this mammoth.

It was at the entrance plaza at the trailhead where I realized after a minute or so that I was standing on top of an example of a brilliant paving detail. The diameter of the central plaza matched the diameter of General Sherman, with a pattern mirroring the exact footprint of the tree represented in granite paving. The detail communicates a very good sense of space and size, enhancing the visit even before General Sherman is fully visible (the tree is still hidden from this vantage point). This paving feature is especially engaging for children who visit the park, inviting them to jump between the curves of the trunk’s footprint. I don’t think it’s the most beautiful or gentle detail I’ve seen in my life, but it’s definitely an ingenious enhancement – one that earned the National Park Service an ASLA Honor Award in 2007.

The solar system, Griffith Park.

Last week during a visit to Griffith Park I was very excited to see another creative paving detail with a playfully executed feature. The planetary cycles of our solar system are stamped across pavers, with their scaled trajectory imprinted outward and across the perimeter of the park. The scale of the solar system was probably determined by the space between the parking lot – its limits demarcated by the furthest reaches of Pluto, emanating outward from the main entrance of the observatory marked by the sun. Visitors are invited to travel space and time with every footstep.

A dance diagram in Capitol Hill, Seattle illustrating the movements of the cha-cha-chá, designed by Jack Mackie.

Another paver detail I love because of its engaging contribution to the streetscape is found in Seattle – a dance diagram of the cha-cha-chá created by artist, Jack Mackie. I’ve since learned there are numerous other diagrams located all around Capitol Hill representing different kinds of dances in similar fashion.

Each of these examples illustrate there opportunities for designers to imagine similar engaging and creative details across our streetscapes, walkways, sidewalks, and trails. We have such a great surface to work with. Even if it’s just the stamped distance at the beginning of a trail, a map of the city, or a sundial, imaginative features like these can result in a more memorable and interactive experience that reward pedestrians with facts, engagement, and even occasionally a few new dance moves.

 

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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.

About 30 years, from the early 60s into early 90s, downtown Haifa was the vibrant center of the city. Back then, the Architecture school of the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology was located in downtown and responsible for the annual Jewish Carnival (“Purim” פורים in Hebrew, the Jewish version of Halloween). The  event was known as Archi-Parchi-Tura, and every year the architecture students of the Technion participated in special classes and workshops where they’d build art installations over cars and floats in celebration of the holiday event.

On the day of the Carnival, thousands of people would our to celebrate and watch these decorated cars drive across the streets of downtown. The Carnival was well known across the country, and became the biggest event in Israel during the holiday. However, by the early 90s, downtown Haifa had become neglected and dangerous. The architecture school eventually was moved to a suburban area of the city, and with this move, brought the end of Archi-Parchi-Tura.

 

The carnival in the 60’s. Photos used with permission: Professor Shamay Asif

When I was in my second year in landscape architecture school in 2011, a new wind of activism began blowing around the world, including across Israel. There were many new activist movements, including urbanism movements that arose from the big cities within Israel. It was during this atmosphere of activism that my roommate and studio member came up with the idea of reviving Archi-Parchi-Tura in the very same streets it used to happen twenty years ago.

I have to admit I wasn’t very optimistic about this plan. I was sure that no one would permit us do it, that funds would be impossible to organize, and the chances of the celebration being allowed to happen again in downtown unlikely. Surprisingly the city was very receptive, alongside some professors from the Technicon who still remembered the annual event from their own days as students.

During the work in the studio. Photos used with permission: Adi Baum-Tamir

After about a month into this project our numbers had grown already to a group of 20 people managing more than 150 volunteers from the architecture and landscape architecture schools. By then, many other groups of artist and other design schools studios decided to join us. We were divided into groups of about 20 students, and every group was responsible for one truck to decorate. The concept was to create designs representing the city of Haifa and architecture. My group took a humorous angle of a monumental granary and the masses of birds that can be seen flying around it daily (shown above).

The Carnival, downtown Haifa. Photos used with permission: Ira Khalistonov

In the end, the event turned out to be a great success. Many people came to witness and participate in the celebration with us, coming from all over the country. Former students came back with their children and grandchildren. The art installation wasn’t very professional or too impressive, but the atmosphere definitely honored the history of downtown. It was amazing to witness this idea turn into a reality in only a few month. Reviving Archi-Parchi-Tura turned into an unforgettable experience for all of us – one marked by the impressive teamwork of all those who came together to make it happen. We revived a historic event for downtown Haifa, a celebration which continues annually today.

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A business front on Lake Street, Pasadena. Photos by Tamar Cotler,

I’ve been living in Pasadena for almost a year now. Even now I can still remember the first time I walked across Green Street. I recognized it as a street very different from most every other street I had visited in Southern California. Besides the amazing ficus trees and all of the fancy restaurants, I noticed Green Street’s landscape design in front of almost every store and restaurant. The street showcases unique expressions of landscaping along its entire length. With property lines easy to distinguish and varying in width, even the thinnest band of property exhibits signs of thoughtful design.

Noticing these details, it sparked thoughts about city renovation and development – specifically the strict guidelines about signage, paving, planting, and other landscape components that I have to follow professionally.

I was curious to see whether Pasadena’s guidelines differ from other cities. When I searched for Pasadena’s design principles I found out the city’s unique style is actually part of an encoded policy. In other words, Pasadena doesn’t look the way it does by chance. An example:

“Measurements and proportions need to relate to and reflect the importance of people, often referred to as “human scale” design… The City will benefit most from creative designs that show individual expression, richness, and variety. It is imperative that the City continues to support this diversity of creative and cultural expression. Likewise, each designer and developer needs to recognize that they are making a lasting contribution to the community. At its best, their work will collectively add interest, variety and distinction to the community.” – an excerpt from Pasadena’s Design Guidelines.

Illustration from the Pasadena Citywide Design Principles guide book, adopted by the City Council, October 21, 2002

When I searched other city design guidelines, I discovered similar ideas in a few of the documents, with similar references to “human scale”, “creative design”, “cultural expression”. Los Angeles neighborhoods like Highland Park have their own civic guidelines. Similarly, further north, Santa Barbara has a city design guideline that shapes the city’s cohesive aesthetic; so does London. But none of them had such a specific description of how unique, varied, and interesting the city should look like as Pasadena.

Here are some example of how this policy works between the businesses and property lines  in Pasadena:

Interesting tiles and paving on Colorado Street.

Thin linear planting areas.

A few small and rich planting areas, as discovered on Green Street.

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There are a few challenges a person faces when moving to a new city. The first is not to incessantly talk about the fact that you just moved. The second is to shed certain habits that are acceptable in your culture, but are not exactly welcome at your new address (like talking all the time…about your move). And the third one is to avoid constant comparisons.

Yet, here I am, taking the opportunity to indulge in some guilty pleasures and compare my new home with my previous address.

All photos: Tamar Cotler

Landscape design and structural regulations can tell us a lot about the culture of a place. I was very surprised to discover United States codes and regulations – at least those that shaped the landscape in the past – are/were more permissive than requirements I was used to dealing with in Israel.

It was back in 2013 while visiting Dolores Park in San Francisco when I first saw the slide above. It blew my mind: a real slide built into a slope anyone can actually climb up and ride down.  When I got back home, I couldn’t stop talking about the slide. I showed colleagues photos from this park, recognizing current Israeli regulations prevent anyone from building a playground onto a slope. In fact, designers aren’t permitted to design anything higher than 2 feet without a fence.

A kindergarten yard in Albany, CA without guard or hand rails. Every stair is a different shape and size, stones are not connected to the ground and ground cover isn’t flattened.

A few days after visiting Dolores Park, I found myself at the Burning Man festival in Nevada where I ended up watching some of my closest friends climb onto one of the many temporary structures built for the desert festival. The worry they were only a slip away from falling to their death grew with each minute. I was suffering from a novel feeling: recognizing the inherent and clear dangers of a design.

I was amazed by the fact that such a creative construction could even exist – the impossibility of its existence in my home country clearly a contrast between “here” and “there”. It was at that moment I figured out I had missed a crucial concept about American culture and its related economy: the ideal of self-responsibility. I was also very confused. On one hand, they say the United States is the “Land of the Free”, while on the other hand, the threat of being sued is a genuine possibility.

A bridge crossing a water and a turtle pond located at the Caltech campus, neither area with guard rails or a fence. Visitors are responsible for keeping themselves from falling.

I’m really not an expert of American history or politics, but as a recent transplant I can identify how the value of self-responsibility could adversely affect safety of public spaces, especially in comparison to social democracies. But as the giant slide in San Francisco and the imaginative Burning Man structures both illustrate, there is definitely a bright side of a “use it at your own risk” society – imaginative pleasures  that could never exist in Israel today.

 

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