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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.

Fire
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.

Water
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.

Earth
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”.

Food
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.

 

Toyon photo by Katherine Montgomery

I find it comforting to meditate upon the subtle evidence of life buzzing all around us: the mundane movements of ants, the funny chattering of birds, and the slow growth of plants. Even in the urban setting of Los Angeles, wildlife finds a way to nestle into the smallest cracks. Lately during the morning, I’ve observed a mating pair of red-whiskered bulbuls grooming one another while perched on the electric line outside my kitchen window. An introduced species brought from Southeast Asia as pets, the bulbul was once prized for its beautiful song.

In the evenings, I notice my Epiphyllum has grown new buds that will bloom while I sleep. The iridescent green Japanese beetles have arrived, and the pomegranate tree has large, unripe fruit growing already. Recognizing these signals of life has given me a deeper understanding of the layered ecosystem of Los Angeles.

Cercis photo by Katherine Montgomery

One detail of the landscape that always catches my eye is the perfectly notched leaves left by leaf cutter bees. Often mistaken for caterpillar bites, these notches look more like deliberately decorative edging, as if a hole-puncher was taken to the leaf. The bees cut these semi-circles from leaves with their mouths, adding the plant matter into their nests to protect their eggs. Numerous leaf cutter bees are native to North America, and they rarely sting.

Bee hotel photo by Linda Daley

A solitary species, they can sometimes be found nesting near one another in existing tree cavities. Gathering pollen on their bellies instead of their legs, leaf cutter bees are an efficient and important pollinator that should be encouraged in any open space. One way to invite them into your garden is to build a bee hotel (or mixed-use development) by stacking hollow bamboo or drilling holes in wood. They are difficult to spot in action, but you can keep an eye out for the evidence of their delicate handiwork on nearby greenery.

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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This is the second part of Experimenting with Concepts Related to Theoria and Praxis, focusing this week upon the definition of Praxis System. See part one with an emphasis upon Theoria definitions here

System
A set of connected things, or parts forming a complex whole in particular. Sometimes these sets will be comprised of other subsystems.

Examples of systems: This praxis diagram is a system. A SWOT analysis is a system. A bubble diagram is a system.

Method
A method is a process of doing something systematically through an orderly arrangement of specific techniques. Each method has a process. They are concerned with the “how”, defining “when” things happen, and describe the desired order. Design methods, research methods, and planning methods may have little or nothing to do with each other due to their very distinct natures.

Examples of methods: Interviews, Direct Behavior Rating (DBR), Geospatial Analysis, Visual Preference Surveys (VPS), Cluster Analysis, Post Occupancy Evaluations / Case Studies, Community Facilitation, Focus Groups, SWOT Analysis.

Policy
“A course or principle of action”, but usually one officially approved by a consensus or a body in charge or influential to the decision-making process. Policies are usually externally imposed over the project either by the firm, a client or a reviewing agency. Unlike design and planning guidelines, these are mandatory in the design practice, and must be met in order for the project to move on.

Examples of policies: All construction documents will be subject to a QA/QC review by the project manager and lead designer. All streetscape vegetation should be maintenance-free in terms of watering and pruning.

Principle
A proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief, behavior, or a chain of reasoning. Principles are self-imposed “policies” derived from research, and the approach that the project is taking. Principles are helpful to establish because they help during the decision-making process towards better results.

Examples of principles: Use clear and culturally-inclusive graphic design. Maintain neutral and objective stance language while composing of the document.

Process
A naturally occurring or designed sequence of operations or events over time which produce desired outcomes. Processes contain a series of actions, events, mechanism, or steps containing methods. Processes are everywhere before, during, and after the development of the project, but they become primarily important during the execution of a task. A process is influenced by principles,  techniques, and by technology.

Examples of processes: Rendering, post-production, modeling, data-building.

Procedure
An established or official way of doing something. Procedures are external imposition, rigid with little flexibility.

Examples of procedures: Submitting documents to project box in proper format to a specific folder, using special log-in credentials. Reviewing and redlining plans digitally using Adobe Acrobat, sending them via e-mail, always cc’ing project managers.

Strategies
A plan formulated towards the achievement of a major end, directly related and subordinated to the approach. It is usually written in the form of particular actions.

Examples of strategies: Obtain public approval and a positive perception of the project from the community. Treat the project as a regional pilot case by documenting research and design decisions.

Tactics
A carefully planned action to achieve a specific end. Altogether, these clear and realistic activities help to accomplish goals, objectives, and strategies.

Examples of tactics: Incorporate input from key stakeholders during the schematic design phases through in-person interviews. Compile design guidelines from pertinent literature such as books, journals, articles and other professional works.

Role
The assumed function or part played by a person/thing in relation to a particular situation.

Examples of roles: Drafter, community facilitator, plan checker, designer, visual artist.

Task
A piece of work to be done or undertaken, usually in the form an activity.

Examples of tasks: Uploading a file, prepare meeting materials, draft a conceptual plan.

Tool
A device or implement used to carry out a particular function. Tools take a neutral stance in the project and they do not necessarily aim to be a key element during its development. A tool can just be a means to complete a task, whereas the method is a mean to fulfill a goal or strategy. These are subordinated to the task, varying in their nature: objects, media, computer programs, etc.

Examples of tools: Markers, websites, social media, presentation slides, boards, posters, invitations, tables, diagrams.

Technology
The knowledge of techniques, processes, and the like or the embed of such in machines

Examples of technologies: Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Real-Time Rendering, Building Information Modeling, Geo-positioning, a total station, a drone, a 3d printer.

Technique
A way of carrying out a particular task, especially the execution/performance of an artistic work or a scientific procedure. Sometimes research and design techniques can be adopted from previous experiments or projects, adopting and/or adapting such workflow into the process.

Examples of techniques: A very ‘visual’ presentation, hand-drawn sketches instead of computer diagrams, parametric modeling, a macro-based workflow as in PowerPoint or Photoshop.

Style
A manner of doing something. Design or make in a particular form.

Examples of styles: Formal formatting, minimalistic graphics, ‘sketchy’ finishing, photo filters and effects, photorealism, themes, color palettes, imitation of artistic currents.

When it comes to styles, Lidija Grozdanic from Architizer, recently published a post identifying seven mainstream rendering styles used in the architectural visualization market. We conclude our three part series (part one and part two) about the field of virtual representation looking at these styles, alongside four additional styles I’ve noted common in the professional vernacular.

Image: Samaranch Memorial Museum by HAO Holm Architecture Office.

Rendering Styles (by fashion):

  • The Mad Max: A fantasy-oriented style of rendering in which context and lighting plays a major role to furnish the architectural object. Often used for aerial shots, this style works best when applied to large-scale project interventions to communicate an idea of innovation and state-of-the-art technology: skyscrapers, stadiums, arenas, large shopping centers, theatres, opera houses, etc.
  • The Whodunit: A cold-toned, conceptual-like render ideal for showcasing parametric design, materials, and shapes. Mostly used for medium to large scale interventions, like multiple-story buildings. Better suitable for projects which incorporate a lot of white-colored surfaces.
  • The David: This photorealistic style is very intimate for showcasing a project’s angles and composition, since it focuses primarily upon details and the quality of execution. Photographic techniques like depth of field and a combination of exposures supplement the effect. The architecture and the landscape play an equal secondary role, best suited to showcase details, furniture, and individual features.
  • Paranormal Activity: The use of transparencies and the emphasis in vegetated areas make this style a good candidate for projects requiring a ‘green’ factor in their imagery. This conceptual style is fuzzy and it is great for those projects which incorporate a lot of vegetation.
  • The Gondry: Named after the filmmaker, The Gondry is a challenging approach to traditional architectural compositions. Artistic, geometric, and intentioned, this technique uses mixed elements using photographs, cutouts, and/or 3D models. It is a great asset for representing art-oriented projects, and by its nature, it offers an extra ability that the other styles lack: the clear communication of private goals into the project, whether it be political, social, or philosophical.
  • The Theodore: A glamourous photorealistic project style often rendered in warm tones where natural light and diffuse materials play a major role in the composition. Works better in interiors, being proficient at promoting comfort and inhabitability of the space; i.e. healthcare, workplace, and institutional projects.
  • The Katherine Heigl: A style named after the actress that focuses upon two things primarily: to show how the design solution adapts to its context, and to highlight the given ‘social acceptance’ of design. The landscape plays a major role as well, serving as a judge for the architectural elements. The composition, as Grozdanic mentioned, seems to play upon nostalgic memories and emotions of the audience.

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