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Archive for the ‘Landscape Urbanism’ Category

Karl Linn

On the planning academic listserv, Planet, a recent string of posts debated the emerging interest in tactical urbanism (also known by several other names including pop-up urbanism and insurgent urbanism). Ellen Shoshkes from Portland State University pointed out that the conceptual forerunners of activist urban design include people like Karl Linn, a landscape architect who worked with communities in the San Francisco Bay area since the early 1960s. Ellen is right to suggest that we all can benefit by knowing more of this history. Karl Linn died at the age of 81 in 2005, but a website lives on in his name at karllinn.org.

A brief description of Karl Linn’s life is found in a SFGate article that announced his death. An excerpt is provided below. A more thorough description of Karl’s long and generous career is found here.

As an 11-year-old Jewish boy in Germany during the rise of the Nazis, Karl Linn knew about persecution when he fled with his family to Palestine.

The conflict he saw in both places launched him on a lifelong quest for social justice and harmony, notably through landscape architecture and community gardens, three of which he established in his adopted city of Berkeley.

“My experience with racism motivated me to devote my life to contribute to the emergence of a humane society,” he said in a 2003 documentary film that focused on him and one of his community gardens. “That’s the way I’ve attempted to live my daily life.”

Very fitting to be thinking of Karl Linn on the weekend of the Martin Luther King holiday.

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In today’s Salon, there’s an interesting article on new projects proposed for subterranean urban spaces. The first one featured is the new “LowLine” park proposal, also known as the Delancey Underground, located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. At the end of November, ArchDaily had a nice feature on this project that is designed by architect James Ramsey and Dan Barasch.

Proposed Manhattan LowLine: Delancey Underground

Salon’s Will Doig cites the proposed LowLine Park, a recent proposal to revisit the Dupont Circle Underground in Washington, D.C., and the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue as examples of a renewed interest in underground urban spaces, but also as an example of landscape infrastructure. Doig elaborates on the idea:

This new desire to reclaim [underused urban spaces] is part of an evolving trend called “landscape infrastructure,” an eat-every-part-of-the-animal approach to city planning. (emphasis added)

Proponents of landscape infrastructure assert that every inch of a city can be used, and sometimes in multiple ways: aqueducts can be boating canals, power-line towers can be viewing platforms, and the little green spaces adjacent to freeway on-ramps can be pocket parks for a game of Frisbee. It’s a school of thought that’s gaining traction — both above the surface and below it.

Given the rather weak track record of underground developments, we’ll have to wait and see how these proposals evolve. Doig thinks that embracing the otherness and surreal quality of being underground, as opposed to trying to obscure it, is a possible key to success.

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A big, big subject that I am tackling in two courses this spring. OpenIDEO and Steelcase are sponsoring a design solutions challenge for Vibrant Cities. Check out the brief here.

 

 

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The new documentary film, Urbanized, by Gary Hustwit premiered in Toronto on September 9. It may be coming to a city near you – check out the list of screenings here. Otherwise, you have to settle for the trailer and wait for it to be televised or become available in DVD format.

Two Norwegian bloggers, Lise Breivik and Kjersti Hagen of buildinghappiness.org, paired the Urbanized trailer with the following clip, and the result is an amazing contrast in the urban design issues/challenges facing cities in our globalized era. Detroit Wild City, by French filmmaker Florent Tillon, has been making the rounds in film festivals this year, and it is said to capture both the haunting images of ruin as well as the human dimension of people living and working in inner city Detroit. There’s an interesting interview with the filmmaker and Detroit locals here.

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On Thursday, around the time I was showing the Waldheim video (mentioned here) to my class, the video that includes the West 8 Dutch “Shell Project” as an example of landscape urbanism, an interesting post was going up on the new Landscape Urbanism website. The author, Laura Tepper, discusses the ephemeral nature of the project, a fact that she says is not mentioned when this project is used as an example today (true of the Waldheim video also). The key graph is this one, in my opinion, but the entire article is definitely worth reading.

The contrast between the barrier’s austere utility and West 8’s erstwhile shell installation force us to confront challenges beyond the project’s early acclaims. The storm surge barrier—with its complex programmatic functions, sophisticated engineering, and costs—illustrates what landscape architects and urbanists face with ambitious infrastructural projects. Generally speaking, when infrastructure washes away unintentionally, it is considered a failure. The integration of infrastructural and public programming can impel social, ecological, and practical transformations. However, we must take on the seemingly contradictory synthesis of permanent armatures and dynamic cycles. We must modify our objectives against empirical evidence and clarify our intentions, lest the works of the landscape urbanist discussion become decorative and slip away unnoticed.

As it turns out, stripes of white and black shells on a surge barrier are not sustainable. Perhaps they washed away; it is unclear what happened to them. Of course, there are ways to explain this as being the original intent of the project, but that fact is omitted when this project is referenced. This is where theory and concept meet praxis. Can the ambitious ideas of landscape urbanism, especially those that suggest that ecological systems can be effectively harnessed to meet design goals, become realities in the sense that we usually ascribe to landscape architecture, or is the emphasis on temporality and long-term dynamics a mask for pure speculation?

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Image of McHarg on this 2007 book by Margulis, Corner, and Hawthorne

It’s a curious thing, the haunting, and conflicting, influence of Ian L. McHarg on landscape architecture. He is certainly one of a very small number of widely acclaimed, internationally recognized, landscape architects of the 20th century, and his influence extended well beyond the discipline. He’s been called “legendary.” Nevertheless, landscape architecture academics (perhaps others, but that’s the group I know) have been tied in knots over McHarg for the better part of the past few decades now.

Last week, I asked a group of 30 3rd-year landscape architecture undergraduates if they had ever heard of McHarg or the book Design With Nature. I have been asking this question for several years now, but this year is the first in which no one in the class raised their hand. This result did not come as a total surprise since the number of hands raised has been very small over the last couple of years, but it still startles me. I think there’s a very good chance that students in programs across the U.S. today graduate without ever hearing about this prominent, however polarizing, figure in the profession.

My first encounter to vehement …dislike??… of McHarg among my academic colleagues came when I started teaching 12 years ago. I was photocopying an excerpt from Design With Nature to use in class when a fellow professor said something to the effect of “Argh, what a misanthrope that guy was!”  I have tread cautiously ever since, mindful of what seemed to be a mounting volume of journal articles and book chapters that have dissected McHarg’s legacy in the profession, much of which casts it in an unfavorable light. Contrasting this with what is written about McHarg from those outside of landscape architecture, and how many times his writing continues to be cited favorably today, reveals a paradox, in my opinion.

So it is with great curiosity that I observe a number of landscape urbanists prominently featuring images of McHarg and the book, Design With Nature, in their public presentations. For example, in this video of Charles Waldheim‘s November 2010 address to architecture and urban design students at the University of North Carolina, Waldheim discusses McHarg’s ideas of ecological planning, drawing a line between landscape planning of McHarg’s generation and the newer ideas of landscape urbanism. And Waldheim’s perspective is critical too, referring to the “failed McHargian project.” But the failure that Waldheim cites has nothing to do with a schism between art-based and science-based perspectives, often the root of conflict among LA academics to date, but instead is about the reliance of the “McHargian project” on planning bureaucracy. (That’s another story – the demonization of planners who are a weak force in the U.S., at least, in the face of the moneyed interests of the Growth Machine.)

When McHarg attended Harvard in the late 1940s, he found that the works of Olmsted and Charles Eliot were barely acknowledged (according the McHarg’s biography A Quest for Life). Olmsted was essentially rediscovered in the 1960s (it’s hard for current students to believe he was ever forgotten), while Eliot remains obscure for most. As the academics of the 1980s and 90s retire and what has seemed like personal baggage among some becomes irrelevant, will McHarg be rediscovered? Is that already happening?

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The roots of landscape planning and design extend into many disciplines. Just communicating what this knowledge domain entails is complicated, and new terminology seems to arise almost yearly. It is interesting to compare the rise and fall of these terms over time, and Google Ngram Viewer makes it easy, thanks to Google’s 5 million+ scanned books. Here are two comparisons I explored (click on images to enlarge):

Google Ngram Viewer

Google Ngram Viewer

Response to a reader’s question about what these graphs show: Google has digitized over 5 million books that cover a long expanse of time. All the words in those 5 million books are now searchable. The key to the graphs would be the specific books that were scanned. I have searched for some pretty unique phrases, like carrying capacity, and found that the graphs reflect my personal observations/familiarity with the literature pretty well.

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