Posts tagged landscape architecture

It Takes More Than Bollards to Build a Bike Paradise: “Some cycling capitals are less well known. Take Nijmegen, a mid-sized Dutch city near the German border, where bikes boast an inner-city modal share of 60 percent. Last year, the Cyclists’ Union of the Netherlands voted it the best bike city in the country (and thus probably the universe)—toppling other towns that regularly garner international praise. What’s the city’s secret? A new documentary by Streetfilms shot during Velo-City, an international biking conference recently held in Nijmegen, hits on key points.”

Atlas for the End of the World: “Coming almost 450 years after the world’s first Atlas, this Atlas for the End of the World audits the status of land use and urbanization in the most critically endangered bioregions on Earth. It does so, firstly, by measuring the quantity of protected area across the world’s 36 biodiversity hotspots in comparison to United Nation’s 2020 targets; and secondly, by identifying where future urban growth in these territories is on a collision course with endangered species.”

LANDSCAPE: All Night Menu Stirs the Plot: “Here’s how Sam Sweet describes his All Night Menu project: “A periodic index of lost heroes and miniature histories. Its only objective is to make the invisible equal to the visible.” The series of five handmade booklets explores Los Angeles’ sprawl with gritty elegance. Each story unveils multilayered narratives from otherwise overlooked corners. On this episode of LAndscape, Sweet joins Frosty on a jaunt around Los Angeles to flip some stones. Hear about the extraordinary, unsung characters who’ve roamed these streets and the music that moved them.”

California Plant Communities by Zipcode:
These lists are an attempt to define what plant community(ies) exist for every city, town and zipcode in California. Although we’ve traversed most of California, it seems humanly impossible to track every road and village in one lifetime. Works like Munz’s California Flora, McMinn’s Shrubs of California, Abram’s Illustrated Flora of the Pacific States, or the original Jepson Manual (Manual of the Flowering Plants of California, by Willis Linn Jepson) continually amaze me with how few hillsides they missed. They didn’t have zipcodes then.”

The Last House On Mulholland – HOME: Stories from LA: How will we live in 20 years? Or 50? Or 100? A one-of-a-kind, only-in-LA plot at the very end of Mulholland Highway inspired some of the world’s best designers to think hard about the home of the future, in Los Angeles and beyond.

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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All photos: Jessica Roberts

It is always eye opening to play tourist in the city you call home. My mom – a long-time lover of all things Art Deco  – came to town and signed us up for an architectural Art Deco walking tour of Downtown organized by the Los Angeles Conservancy. Although I work Downtown, time for exploration and lingering to take in views can be limited, so the opportunity to play urban tourist with my mom was a welcome occasion.

From a landscape designer’s perspective the tour was a lot of looking up at object-oriented architecture. During the 20s and 30s architectural styles were changing in the United States, transitioning from the favored Beaux-Arts neoclassical style to what was then considered a more modern style, Art Deco, a pastiche of many styles from all over the world. Our tour began in Pershing Square, a place of controversial style in and of itself. The historic Biltmore Hotel across the street was used as a Beaux-Art foil to the more modern styles of the surrounding Art Deco buildings.

The former headquarters of the Southern California Edison building is an interesting example of the evolving urban environment. As we stepped in to view its beauty you could tell the workers there took pride in the architecture. Our tour guide showed our group an image of the Victorian homes that once inhabited Bunker Hill, all eventually torn down. Bunker Hill itself had been slightly leveled to accommodate new construction. In the 1980s the interior of the Edison building was “modernized” with drop ceilings and carpets, covering up the ornate details original to the building. Thankfully the current owners are now removing those alterations and taking steps to restore the building to its original glory.

As we continued on our walk, we looked up at the towers that had replaced the Richfield Tower, an Art Deco landmark of 1929 that was demolished in 1969 to make room for the construction of newer and more modern construction. It was interesting to see such strong opinions of style come from the tour group. One woman shouted “What a shame!”.

Other buildings were described as “Disco”. I couldn’t tell if the group reaction was favorable or not. Our tour guide mentioned that she saw some public opinions starting to shift in favor of Disco Era architecture. I myself couldn’t help but feel a certain affection for them.

Some buildings represented a transition in style, such as the Los Angeles Public Library. To get the full story you’ll have to go on the tour, but my favorite takeaway was that architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue had allegedly switched out the neoclassical dome he depicted in his drawings – a style he knew would sell – for the Egyptian-inspired pyramid you see today. Apparently the cultural influence that led to this switch was the discovery of King Tut’s tomb in 1922.

We all struggle to understand the world around us, and these struggles often manifest in what we create. Style is political, personal, reactionary, and unpredictable. Style reveals priorities, views on nature, and technology, and is far from passive or innocent. When we got back to Pershing Square I couldn’t help but feel a certain empathy for the park, with its funky and seemingly outdated style, and wondered how opinions of it might change after it’s gone.

A city could be imagined as the sum of its various architectural pasts. If so, then our city’s historical and evolving urban environment are inherently the roadmap to Los Angeles’ future.

All photos: Katherine Montgomery

The next few months in Southern California are going to be hot, dry, and smoggy. The summer air turns a muddy hue, with the hillsides covered with dry plants that glow warmly gold. It even feels like late summer weather has arrived early, with triple digit temps that usually start in September already here. It’s only going to get hotter.

In the extreme hot and dry conditions of a SoCal summer, many plants can’t survive without our help and extra water, especially those that are arguably not suitable for our climate such as old-fashioned favorites like impatiens, hydrangea, and traditional turf. California native plants – a more suitable landscaping choice – have adapted to these conditions over time, and some cope by going dormant until fall arrives. Without water, they look dead, but will spring back to life at the first hint of rains.

One native plant that thrives in these conditions is the genus Eriogonum, aka buckwheat. Dotting the hillsides, this plant bursts into flower in mid to late summer. Depending on the species, its leaves range from feathery deep green to silver. The flowers are most often white puffs – clusters of tiny flowers – that turn a shade of pink and then rust as they age. By fall, the florescence turn to deep-red seed heads.

When I first moved to Los Angeles in September 2007, it was a buckwheat that tempted me into exploring the world of California plants. Hiking the hillsides of Mount Washington, I spotted the 6 foot tall airy stems of Eriogonum elongatum, Long-Stem Buckwheat, clumped against the dry hillsides. It was the only thing blooming that time of year, and its gentle movement and cheerful blossoms were different than anything else I’d seen before.

Now, ten years later, my home garden has five different kinds of buckwheat blooming or preparing to bloom, including Eriogonum elongatum, E. x blissianum, E. fasciculatum, E. fasciculatum ‘Bruce Dickinson’, and E. arborescens. The flowers will carry through the end of summer, feeding pollinators and providing texture and color to my dry garden.

All photos by Clarence Lacy

When I moved to Southern California, I arrived with an understanding of some of the challenges related to landscape design in a semi-arid and arid climate. Prior to my relocation, I had experiences with turf renovation projects and low water landscape projects in the California Central Valley, another region facing similar water scarcity issues as Southern California. With these projects, I became fascinated with the desert and desert plants, specifically the harsh environments that host unique ecosystems of flora and fauna, life easily missed if one doesn’t recognize their subtleties underfoot.

My fascination with the desert has inspired me to make a list of arid destinations in Southern California, all with the purpose of documenting one of my favorite ecologies. On that list is the Salton Sea, a curious large body of water with an interesting past and present hydrology (a curiosity shared by others here at AHBE).

The Salton Sea is a 343 square mile saline lake located in the Coachella Valley. Inflows include the Alamo River, New River, and Whitewater. The wild part is? There are no outflows.

The lake is actually a historically dry bed that only filled after a catastrophic canal flooding and overtopping after a late storm. The storm caused unprecedented peak flows from the Colorado River into the lake bed, forming what we know as the Salton Sea in 1905. This landscape is another great example of nature’s adaptability after human intervention.

Over time the Salton Sea has become a stopover for migrating birds. Various small wildlife can be found taking advantage of the landscaped spaces and the created water body.

While a new ecology has existed since the lake’s unforeseen creation, the lake is continually shrinking with every passing year due to surface evaporation and decreased inlet flows related to drought and lower volumes of irrigation runoff. Salinity and boron concentrations continue to increase, decreasing the chances of a habitable environment for the various aquatic plants and animals that currently call the Salton Sea home.

The Salton Sea – once a popular freshwater lake used for recreation – has continuously become more and more polluted, its increasing salinity unideal for most recreation. Eutrophication and alageblooms from concentrated runoff have caused fish populations to decline among all introduced stock fish, with only the Mozambique Tilapia, Oreochromis mossambicus, eking out an existence. Dead fish litter the shores of the lake, the results of fish kills, their life cycle, and the fact there are no outlets from the lake.

As the lake shrinks in size, the landscape will begin to take another form. The dry lake basin and its salt deposits will become an ever-changing dynamic landscape. The birds that have used the space along their migration paths will (have to) find a new place to stop. Fish will continue to scatter the shores, and the place will take on a new ecological form.

What was a heavy-handed anthropologic destruction of a natural ecology became something new. How will nature’s resilience continue to adapt to these changing conditions? Is this a temporal landscape, nature’s way of healing a wound. Or is the Salton Sea just another example of a failing ecology?

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