Posts from the Editorial Category

Wild robots could replace vanishing species, says Robotanica curator: “Robots could be released into the countryside to help restore damaged ecosystems, according to the curator of an exhibition held at Dutch Design Week last month.”

6 Cities That Have Transformed Their Highways Into Urban Parks: “Some cities have chosen to remove spaces designated for cars and turn what was once a highway into urban parks and less congested streets. Here we have six examples, some have already been completed, while a few are still under construction. To the surprise of some, most of the projects are in the US, which reflects that American designers are looking into further studying European transport policies.”

Evaluation tool created to test for invasive plants: “The Horticultural Research Institute recently provided funding for a project to test an evaluation tool to help understand a nursery plant’s potential to become invasive. The Horticulture Research Institute say this tool, the “PlantRight Plant Risk Evaluation (PRE) Tool,” could provide the green industry with a protocol that is both practical and accessible for determining the invasiveness of new or existing ornamental plants. This information, the institute says, would be made available to the public.”

People-Mapping Through Google Street View: We readily differentiate between absolute and relative statistics at the city, county, and state level, because the total population is easily available. Yet we consistently neglect this fundamental arithmetic when it comes to streets and public spaces, because their denominators are tough to measure. While Google Street View images are not regularly used in scholarly research, they can be a cost-effective alternative to traditional social-surveying methods, under the right conditions.

LA-Más is building a more equitable Los Angeles: “Small businesses and streetscapes, boulevards and bodegas: These aren’t the typical aspirations of up-and-coming architecture firms. But the self-described “scrappy Angelenos” at the helm of LA-Más, a nonprofit architecture and policy practice, see things differently.”

The small flag banners designed by ATLAS Lab in promotion of “Prototype to Permanent: Short Term Projects for Long Term Change”. Photo: ATLAS Lab Facebook page

The ASLA National Conference and Expo came to Los Angeles this year. It was my second year attending – last year’s event was an incredible opportunity, especially the educational sessions where attendees were invited to sit at the feet of masters of the profession to hear about their processes, muses, successes, as well as their struggles in every aspect of our field.

One particularly inspiring session was “Prototype to Permanent” – a discussion about temporary installations that made an impact on the community, and how they became – or were in the process of becoming – a permanent installation.

“Tactical Urbanism” has been coined to describe the global movement of small scale, short lived installations designed to improve the surrounding community or environment. In some instances these installations point out how a simply constructed solution can bring about a significant change.  Park(ing) Day is an example of such a transformation, altering a small space into a small park, and in doing so, leaving an impact upon the urban environment.

Another example cited happened in South Boston: After years of back and forth between the city and the community – with funds being available, then unavailable – the anticipation of the development of a new community space was palpable. A solution to offer the community a temporary public space at a lower cost than the master planned space was devised by the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority in partnership with a design firm. This temporary space was intended as a short term solution while funds were accruing for the long term project. However, after the Lawn on D was installed, the space took off as one of the most powerful public places in the South Boston area.

The authors of the book Tactical Urbanism presented countless examples of temporary projects that served as advocacy pilot projects – each eliminating meetings, cutting the red tape, and side-stepping bureaucracy to set up a quick inexpensive solution to draw attention, meet approval, and gather funding. An example cited was Manhattan’s Lower East Side community’s desire to develop the safety of roadways for cyclists and to create a comfortable public space through a median. A project began with paint and planters, then later developed into a pilot that evolved into a permanent plaza space.

Tactical Urbanist’s Guide to Materials is available as a free PDF download here.

One of the most powerful responses to these type of temporary sites occurs only after the project has expired and is removed.  When an temporary intervention that meets the needs of a community is created and accepted, a tremendous reaction happens when the installation is removed. The panel during this ASLA National Conference and Expo session noted this reaction is one of the most compelling reasons that cities and communities sought solutions to make these prototypes permanent.

The final thought we were left with at the conclusion of the panel was intended as encouragement for anyone feeling a compulsion to create a tactical urbanism project themselves…advice I believe applicable to most of our work as designers: not to focus on the installation or the project itself while creating, but to focus on the objective. And also to recognize the change a project can produce, no matter its simplicity or complexity. By observing the impact a project can produces upon the street, community, or environment, then comes an appreciation of the “short term action for long-term change” that defines tactical urbanism as a powerful tool to improve the landscape and community, one small section at a time.

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Photos by Jennifer Salazar

We’re well into the month of November, with “Back to School” a forgone conclusion. Nevertheless, I really wanted to share my own thoughts about the topic, looking back to a time before I became a professional landscape architect.

It was twenty years ago when I was an MLA student at the University of Washington (UW pronounced “you dub” for short). I was fortunate at UW to have numerous Landscape Architecture professors guide me through the rigors of learning analysis, design, and construction. Coming from a science background, I remember struggling early on with grasping the “design” aspect of the program. Professors John Koepke, Barbara Swift, and Sally Shauman, amongst others, worked with our class early in the program to teach us about landscape design. Each instructor provided us with various assignments to give us practice and confidence and I can draw a direct connection with the work I do today to two particular professors from this time as a landscape architecture student.

One important figure in my academic development  was Daniel Winterbottom, FASLA. Daniel joined the UW faculty mid-way through my studies, and he proved to be a challenging, yet caring teacher. An energetic, fast talking, direct man from New Jersey via Boston, Daniel  challenged students about construction and design techniques at every turn. He also led a neighborhood-scale master planning studio similar to the large scale open space planning projects AHBE is currently pursuing.

Always engaged and willing to share his knowledge, Daniel is still teaching at the University of Washington, and I always look forward to seeing him at the ASLA conventions, as I did a few weeks ago. Daniel continues leading design-build programs, taking students around the world to provide landscape design and construction services into environments where they’re most needed.

Another source of inspiration at UW – this time, representing the written word – was Iain Robertson, Associate Professor in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, College of the Environment. As someone who enjoyed writing and reading, Iain helped encourage the development of my non-fiction writing skills. Even today, I still remember when he pulled down an expired announcement from a nearby bulletin board to write several references on the backside of the sheet – recommendations that proved extremely valuable. I still have that list.

Iain was also responsible for introducing me to a wide range of non-fiction landscape authors – Michael Pollan, John McPhee and Dylan Thomas. These writers all became personal favorites, and I continue to revisit their writing again and again even after all these years.

I also continue to hold onto Iain’s handwritten critiques of my writing assignments, and also the writing workshop notes we received during his classes. I still find his lessons useful to refer to today while writing for AHBE LAB, and also while reading other contributors’ posts.

This lesson presentation (PDF) Iain designed a few years ago is an example of his ability to foster creativity in design education and other professions.

What was it that made these two personalities such memorable teachers? I think it was that both Daniel and Iain showed their students care and respect, alongside their commitment to offering honest critiques. In the long run, the combination would make us better landscape architects, with both instructors leaving an indelible mark that has continued to help me today as a landscape architect, manager, and writer twenty years later.  

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Detail of Teardrop Park; Creative Commons photo by: PROSalim Virji (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Lately, I’ve been looking to re-immerse myself back into the ideas, places, and people that have inspired me in the past.

Being a designer can mean a lot of things. It’s a bit of a roller coaster. Sometimes it’s a large idea that drives my motivation to create. Other times, it might be a tiny detail of where two materials meet one another that inspires me. As convenient and concise as an elevator pitch might be to describe my voice as a designer, my perspective is admittedly rather shifty and loose. My hope is to gain an understanding about how I might shape and translate this looseness without losing the benefits attributed to it in a way that can inform my designs and guide my overall approach.

An essay that helped me understand this urge to create is Warren Seelig’s, “Discovery through Materials” [Seelig, Warren, January 2000, Surface Design Journal;Winter2000, Vol. 24 Issue 2, p22, Trade Publication, Article]. The article focuses on the definition of constructing surface, specifically within the context of contemporary fiber and textile art. Seelig speaks of “artists who construct surface out of a profound need to materialize, to build and to fabricate a visual and psychological field or atmosphere which is tangible and sensational”. The essay focuses on making surfaces by hand, something that ultimately brings a landscape architect’s ideas to life, but through the hands of others. When it comes down to it, we are creating a set of documents choreographing how materials and life are to be shaped. How our ideas emerge during the in-between state is the pursuit.

Seelig writes about how “the most convincing form which comes to us through constructed surface is not related to rendering a picture or three-dimensional form based on a conscious idea.” For Seelig, and perhaps also myself, “it is a more direct expression , where the intellect is short circuited in favor of allowing instinctive behavior rather than rationality to influence decision making”. When you experience a place it is the materiality that you engage with, and it is the expressiveness of that materiality that makes the place memorable and rich.

“It is a phenomenon by which we are drawn to work in reaction to a culture submerged in a glut of text and images, and to an existence where our use of technology (not technology itself) is further distancing us from materiality, from the physical and the sensual”.

Taking cues from art theory can get sticky. Seelig notes that artists can be criticized or be at risk when making something beautiful or emotionally expressive. I would argue that while designers are expected to make something beautiful, the emotionally expressive can be borderline scary, and an endeavor best left to the world of art.  This challenge and expectation complicates the goals of meeting a client and end user’s needs. Seelig’s inclination that “meaning comes through the potency of the materialized surface” strikes me as true, and evokes a plethora of exemplary landscape architecture works that managed to articulate emotions through materiality.

Creative Commons photo: sharon_k (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A project that comes to mind is Michael Van Valkenburg’s Teardrop Park in New York City. The weight given to the materiality of the stone and the desire to bring rural upstate New York into the city enriches the space in ways that only a sensitivity to materials can.

The most successful projects allow for expression to emerge. Constructed surface and form reveals the idea we’ve promised and hope to deliver – not only as a way to indulge our own desire to create, but to create meaningful and impactful spaces for people to experience. In a way, Seelig describes a way for looseness to guide me as a designer: “It is a survival mode, absolutely necessary in that it allows us to remain in touch with the mystery inherent in the world of the physical”.

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