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Posts Tagged ‘architecture’

Second Phase of The High Line

Suspended animation, with some promising stirrings of change. That is my assessment of the past year. Expectant waiting, but little change overall in the U.S. economy. In the coming year, there will be a U.S. presidential election, meaning that any significant new action (economic, environmental) is at least a year away. New economic uncertainties have arisen in countries around the globe. The planning and design professions do not exist apart from these circumstances. Four years into the Great Recession, what does seem to be changing is interest in activism, highlighted in the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) demonstrations this past fall. Activism in planning and design circles means community empowerment, innovative, insurgent urban design, and continued attention to all things local, including food systems, infrastructure, and alternative transportation. These stirrings of change portend exciting developments in 2012, I think, but not the scale of excitement seen in the bubble years. That could be a very good thing, really.

The short 160-year or so history of landscape architecture doesn’t appear to be much of a guide to the present, although there are some parallels. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, some landscape architects continued to plan gardens for the owners of great estates (the 1% of that time), while others planned and carried out New Deal programs, finding employment with the federal government. To date, there have been no new New Deal initiatives in the U.S., although our aging infrastructure begs for investment. Perhaps after the election…  Meanwhile, some landscape architects and land planners serve the global elite, while others serve local communities in a host of ways, often with nonprofit organizations as government jobs at all levels continue to be cut.

An emerging trend is the latter – design that serves the public good (admittedly, a loaded phrase) – an impulse that is closely aligned with the fall’s significant uprising, OWS. The website, Archinect, reflects this in its top 10 design milestones of 2011 and top 10 design initiatives to watch in 2012. Local is big, and getting bigger. The New York Times made the case this week, as it tracked major changes in environmental organizations, many of which are shifting their activism toward local issues as a means of survival. People have little faith in the big aims these days, like cap-and-trade or new New Deals, so they are focusing more on creating change in their own communities, something that seems much more tangible. Urban agriculture and tactical urbanism are manifestations of this urge to take matters into one’s own hands (individually and collectively) and make change happen.

A scan of other top 10 lists and year-in-review posts reveals the following causes for optimism: (more…)

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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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Nice catch by Donovan Gillman of Urban Choreography – an extensive post on urban design, the Strelka Institute, and the revitalization of Gorky Park from the polis blog. Many images of the park and the new institute as well as a video of a presentation by Rem Koolhass accompany the post, which you can view here.

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And you get an article in the New York Times. (The shooting stick reference is found in this earlier post.) The Times featured a proposal by the architectural firm, Taller 13 Regenerative Architecture, to daylight three rivers in Mexico City and turn the now-buried rivers into urban amenities. If you read between the lines, the article reveals both the promise of this landscape urbanist vision (a bold re-imagining of the cityscape that is intoxicating in its sweep) and the pitfalls if the proposal is totally unrealistic. At some point, bold vision has to meet scientific knowledge, technical expertise, and implementation savvy. From the article, “Prophets and young dreamers are rarely very good at diagnosis.” Where is the balance found between dreamy proposals and practical issues of implementation?

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Ever since the Boston Globe published an article on the “smackdown” between Landscape Urbanism and New Urbanism in January, landscape urbanism and Harvard’s Landscape Architecture Chair, architect and urban theorist Charles Waldheim, have been the subject of a surprising amount of national news coverage. Nothing like a good fight, I suppose. The latest installment is Waldheim’s plenary address to the Congress for the New Urbanism meeting (CNU 19) earlier this month. Waldheim was interviewed by Duany at the end of his talk, and the video has just been released. Waldheim’s introduction is at the 27-minute mark, and he speaks for 50 minutes.

Where this takes landscape architecture is an open question. It is interesting to see how news organizations portray landscape architecture when they discuss landscape urbanism. Waldheim has been the Chair at Harvard since July of 2009, so landscape architecture does get mentioned in that context, but the emphasis is on architecture. I cringed when I read this paragraph in the now notorious Boston Globe article:

As the New Urbanism was growing in influence, another movement concerned with city-making was quietly beginning in an unlikely corner of the academy: landscape architecture. The field had spent most of the 20th century being seen as something of a backwater, an ornamental craft whose practitioners were responsible for making things pretty once the work of designing buildings was complete. But landscape architects had expertise in something that most planners and urban designers were not trained to think about: ecology. Starting at the University of Pennsylvania in the ’80s, landscape architects started to argue that their training meant they shouldn’t just be consigned to “putting parsley on the pig,” in the words of Australian landscape urbanist Richard Weller.

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Two dots, anyway. One dot concerns general workforce needs. 3 basic skills needed in a knowledge economy, according to Tony Wagner, Harvard education expert and author of The Global Achievement Gap, summarized in a NY Times column (Nov. 21, 2010) by Thomas Friedman: “the ability to do critical thinking and problem-solving; the ability to communicate effectively; and the ability to collaborate.” This is good news for landscape architecture because the studio model of instruction does this – or at least it has the potential to do this. Can the studio model be pushed further to do this better?

Another dot concerns present opportunities for landscape architects – opportunities that are perhaps unique to the present moment. An unusual source for this dot – a YouTube video from the Future of Design conference held at Taubman College, University of Michigan in late 2009. It’s unusual because conference organizers videotaped the tables of conference attendees during a small group discussion session and posted the videos online. And it is unusual because the attendees are architects talking about landscape architecture. I think it’s helpful to see how others view us, especially those in allied fields. (Presumably, the people speaking in the video are architecture faculty members – if you recognize them, let me know.)  Some lines that caught my attention: (more…)

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What was and what next. Architectural Record published this review, What Was… 2000-2010 – Features – Architectural Record, of 2000-2010 that considers the impact of change on architecture. There are numerous articles on what next? too. To what extent are these ideas applicable to landscape architecture?

The money quote from Clifford A. Pearson: “After a period of wealth creation on a scale never before seen, what do we have to show for it all?”

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