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Design Under Sky discusses landscape architecture, the utilitarian but leaning towards the conceptual, thinking on modern occurrences and peripheral boundaries.  

DUS is the blog and personal design studio of Adam E. Anderson, a designer based out of the East Coast, currently a Critic at the Rhode Island School of Design, and a designer at Landworks Studio.

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December 2011
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Additions to the Kindred Crowd

I've recently updated my blogroll with some fantastic new reads I've been following. Most of them with one foot in the landscape realm, and the other in various peripheral reaches. I'd recommend adding all of these to your RSS feed to expand your idea of how the landscape affects our world in so many different ways:

Edible Geography

Authored by Nicola Twilley, longtime contributor to BLDG BLOG and wife to its author, Geoff Manaugh, Edible Geography tailors the common thread between food, landscape, architecture, geography, planning, and urbanism, among others. With titles such as Cupcake Gentrification, Cow Tunnels, and The Towns that Chocolate Built, Twilley reveals the extents to which food affects our infrastructure and cities.

Friends of the Pleistocene

FOP is a project of Smudge, a collaboration between Elizabeth Ellsworth and Jamie Kruse. Described as a dedication to exploring the conjuncture between landscape and contemporary human activity at sites shaped by the geologic epoch of the Pleistocene (2.588 million to 10000 years BP). Posts such as Subterranean Imagination and the Aesthetics of Nuclear Voids and The Desertification of New York City often draw massive scale depictions of earth processes and their relation to human activities.

Pathological Geomorphology

Or what I like to call landform porn, this posterous blog is a contribution by a makeup of several Geopathologists describing itself as "images of extreme landscapes, landforms and processes." Flocked full of various river delta satellite imagery from around the globe, the site is a beautiful resource for studying the earth's greatest sculptor, water, in action.

Quiet Babylon

Quiet Babylon asks you to take a look if you like "cyborgs, or architecture, or thoughtful futurism" (which we do) and "about sifting through the debris of the past and present to try to answer “What comes next?” Written by Tim Maly, we've found The Architects and Cyborgs series and Woven Spaces particularly fascinating.


A spinoff of Where, polis is a collaborative blog on urbanism with a global focus. It is a space for our regular contributors and readers to share ideas and information about anything and everything urban from multiple lenses. We've enjoyed reading Cities for Children and the Public Parks in Moscow series, which provides an alternate view of Moscow, often viewed as a stark and bleak environment, and 96 parks, 18 public gardens, and 100 square kilometers of forest existing in and around the city.

Below are a few other mentionable blogs, some younger then others, but worth keeping an eye on as they develop:

Plan and Section

What Were the Skies Like

Landscape Invocation




[Icelandic Eyjafjallajokull volcano. Image via Vizworld]

Storms, earthquakes, floods, and more recently volcanoes, show that geologic force, as Friends of the Pleistocene have put it, has become vividly contemporary again.

FOP presents a comparison to geologic erratics, displaced rock left behind by glaciers, and in many cases like the Doane Rock of Eastham MA, quite large, to the displacement of humans due to environmentally caused flight disruptions. The eruption of Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland grounded thousands of flights in Europe leaving human erratics stranded and strewn about their airports. Its as though the volcano had little concern with our schedules and travel arrangements, and as volcanic heat continues to combine with glacial ice, more eruptions are likely. After finding out that they to would be stranded in Spain FOP wrote:

At that point, we began to suspect that erratic was taking on a broader, more experiential definition for contemporary life for thousands of people. Might erratic aptly describe the current status of human / geologic relationality?  Given that our fragile infrastructures rely increasingly on a need for geologic forces to remain stable and oddly unchanging–perhaps erratic becoming the new norm.  Air travel, one of the most monumental achievements and inventions of humankind,  had transported us easily 3600 miles across the ocean just a few days before.  Now, suddenly, it was rendered useless.

[Erratics: A Genealogy of Rock Landscape. Image: Vignette - bedrock on beach, CCAP, January 2008 Courtesy Claude Cormier Architectes Paysagistes]

The discussion of environmentally caused human erratics or affected by, brings to mind some of the Glacier/Island/Storm writings curated by BLDGBLOG and contributions from the likes of Mammoth and Infranet Lab, among others. Human interaction/encroachment/engagement and vice versa is creating an ever evolving dynamic between man and nature. Through architecture and infrastructures, and now atmospheric geo-engineering, we have shown that we can impact earth's processes, but given a long enough time frame, the planet will always end up the victor.

[Contemporary erratics. Image via Friends of the Pleistocene]

But as populations grow, and as extreme natural cataclysmic events continue, the prevalence of human erratics, or environmental refugees would seem to become commonplace in our cultures and thus necessitate future planning schemes for such. Imagine the displaced erratics of Hurricane Katrina reaching a continuous global scale, how would cities prepare?

FOP pointed to Michio Kaku’s words in The Wall Street Journal as a timely reminder:  Humans need to find ways to move in accord with geologic time and force, not in spite of their unpredictability, but because of them – and because of our deep entanglement with them:

“Unfortunately, our institutional memory lasts a few decades at most, while the cycles of mother Earth are usually measured in centuries or millennia. So for the future we have to appreciate that we humans will be pushed around like pawns as the earth slowly but inexorably changes and shifts.

We may think of volcanoes now as villains. But they are also givers of life. Much of the air we breathe and the ground we walk on can be traced back to ancient volcanic eruptions. And the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago (which paved the way for the coming of humans) might be traced back to a one-two punch caused by an asteroid collision and simultaneous volcanic eruptions.

The fact that humans are about 99.9% genetically identical could, according to one theory, be traced back to the Toba eruption in Indonesia roughly 70,000 years ago. That eruption might have killed off most of the human race, leaving only a few hundred of us to populate the planet. We might, therefore, owe our evolution and very existence to volcanoes.”–Michio Kaku



Becoming Aware

One of the greatest impacts the process of becoming a Landscape Architect has had on me is the way in which it's made me "aware" of everything around me, and reminds me of a Boris Pasternak line from Doctor Zhivago:

Lara walked along the tracks following a path worn by pilgrims and then turned into the fields. Here she stopped and, closing her eyes, took a deep breath of the flower-scented air of the broad expanse around her. It was dearer to her than her kin, better than a lover, wiser than a book. For a moment she rediscovered the purpose of her life. She was here on earth to grasp the meaning of its wild enchantment and to call each thing by its right name.

I notice cracks in sidewalks, oddly constructed corners, and all sorts of behavior of the living and built environment. On a recent stroll with a lady friend we walked and I pointed out the different varieties of flowering trees spring has afforded, and found joy in the fact that as she began to learn and "call each thing by its right name," that she too was becoming aware.

That is the beauty of Brett Camper's iphone app Trees Near You, which currently chronicles NYC trees, their locations, and not only environmental contributions, but economic. We've touched on merging factors of tech (here and here) and "nature" and how advancements in technology are becoming ubiquitous, and rather leading us away from nature, are re-introducing us to it.

The app which integrates with geo-location is the perfect, transportable system to not just learn the identification of trees, but better understand their role in an overall urban ecosystem. As the season's turn you'll no longer pass by, acknowledging them only as a spatial object, but they become personified as you notice the ever changing intricate characteristics provided by climate and season.

Currently the app is limited to the NYC area, but would imagine more cities are soon to follow.


Related: Fieldwork | Mobile Tree Identification   We Can Play Our Cities Like Instruments


ASLA Awards 2010 Highlights

[Image via OJB. Site lighting provides a sense of security that encourages students to study and socialize at all hours. The water trays provide drama and depth to the garden at night.]

The annual ASLA awards have been announced and there is a slight relief to the ever expanding trophy cases of the Hargreave's and Peter Walker's with some relatively less profiled shops taking honors. One being Turenscape (can someone explain how they qualify for an American award?) who took away three awards in the General Design Category. One exciting aspect that a majority of the winners seemed to share was an emphasis on ecology integration and sustainable practices. I've highlighted a few below that tickled my fancy:

[Image by Turenscape. Computer rendering bird’s eye view of Zone-2 and Zone-3 showing the recovered wetland on the right, the islets dotting the lake to the upper left, and an educational facility to the middle-right.] The Qinhuangdao Beach Restoration: An Ecological Surgery | Qinhuangdao City, Hebei Province, China 

Studio: Turenscape

I particularly appreciated the heavy emphasis on ecological restoration and impact the design focused on. The project created a regenerative landscape that also serves as a beautiful and usable people space. The project brief from ASLA:

Using various Regenerative Design techniques, a heavily eroded, badly abused and decaying beach has been ecologically recovered and successfully transformed into an aethestically pleasing and well visited place, demonstrating landscape architects can professionally facilitate the initiatives of rebuilding a harmonious relationship between man and nature through ecological design.

[Image by Turenscape. Site plan and regenerative design strategies for three sections along the shore: to stop soil erosion, renew dying vegetation, rehabilitee the damaged shoreline, and recover a wetland through an integrated education facility.][Image by Turenscape. The boardwalk now (bottom) in comparison with the existing site conditions (top): the regenerative design strategy mitigates beach erosion and helps recover the dying vegetation through careful installation using 'floating' bases made of fiberglass.][Image by Turenscape. The recovered wetland (bottom) in comparison with the previous site conditions (top): The site was an abandoned theme park built on a coastal wetland. Ponds were constructed using building debris to capture storm water runoff.] 

Sonoran Landscape Laboratory | Tuscon, Arizona USA

Studio: Ten Eyck Landscape Architects, Inc.

[Image by Ten Eyck. The Sonoran Landscape Laboratory is a high performance landscape functioning as both an outdoor classroom and entry plaza. Dappled shade draws students outside, strengthening their connection between program studies and the natural environment. ]

In a relatively restricted space Ten Eyck were able to create a functional wildlife habitat, nicely scaled and comfortable space, that gives a sense of being much larger then as truly exists. The project brief from ASLA:

The Sonoran Landscape Laboratory is a high performance landscape functioning as both an outdoor classroom and entry plaza. It exemplifies sustainable strategies of water harvesting, climate regulation, air and water cleansing, recycling, urban wildlife habitat and human well being. The former greyfield is now a thriving habitat that shades the southern exposure of the new building with a vine covered scrim. An 11,600-gallon tank collects water produced by the building to support the native garden.

[Image by Ten Eyck. Steel runnel re-circulating water from the wetland pond.][Image by Ten Eyck. Nestled between water harvesting desert arroyos and beneath a Mesquite Bosque, a sunken court composed of permeable stabilized decomposed granite serves as both classroom and informal gathering space. The constructed wetland is shown in the background.] 

The Brochstein Pavilion at Rice University | Houston, Texas USA

Studio: The Office of James Burnett

[Image by OJB. A bosque of Allee Lacebark Elms organizes the space between the Pavilion and creates a new entry to the Fondren Library. This garden and pavilion has become the new “Heart of the Campus” at Rice.]

OJB is no newbie to the award scene, but we're a fan of their work. The pavilion's simplistic forms, clean lines, and broad planting strokes give an ordered beauty and extremely well defined space that also provide protection from Houston heat. The project brief from ASLA:

Conceived as a landmark destination for Rice University's campus, the Brochstein Pavilion demonstrates the ability of landscape architecture to foster social interaction and improve the human condition. A study in restraint and the purity of form, the Brochstein Pavilion creates a powerful spatial framework that has transformed an unstructured, underutilized quadrangle into the center of student activity on campus.

[Image by OJB. Site Plan]Image by OJB. The west elevation of the Pavilion. Designed to respect the original concept of the Central Quadrangle, the new intervention employs a simple system of paths, lighting and planting to unify the disparate spaces.] 

The Power House | Dallas, Texas USA

Studio: Hocker Design Group

Image by Hocker Design Group. Bird’s eye view close-up of raised steel planter, buffalo grass, and crushed basalt aggregate.]

Two of our favorite residential projects come from a studio I wasn't familiar with, Hocker Design Group, which received two residential awards. The Power House exemplifies a well thought process of modern material selection and spatial structure. The project brief from ASLA:

This neighborhood electrical substation was built in 1923 by Dallas Power and Light Company in a mixed residential and commercial area of town. This urban garden has sprung to life with in the walls of a former industrial compound. The garden fills spaces that directly relate back to its original industrial predecessor.

[Image by Hocker Design Group. Site Plan.][Image by Hocker Design Group. Detail view of raised steel plinth, buffalo grass, and lone mesquite trees beyond] 

The Pool House | Dallas, Texas USA

Studio: Hocker Design Group

[Image by Hocker Design Group. View looking North of pool and ipe deck.]

Another winner from Hocker, the division and spatial sequencing seems well maticulated, and I am particularly fond of the contrasting material selection. The project brief from ASLA:

The Pool House serves as an urban retreat for an artist and car enthusiast who live next door. The project was an intense collaboration of architect, client, and landscape architect. The central spine of the site is a 6' ht. glass slag privacy wall. Seamless transitions between the inside and out were extremely important. A minimal plant palette creates mass plantings used for large textural impact and screening for privacy.

[Image by Hocker Design Group. View of lower stone terrace and fire pit][Image by Hocker Design Group. Dusk view looking North of entry path and glass slag wall.]

Of course there are several other winning works viewable from the ASLA site. Enjoy, and would like to hear any discussion of criticism on the selected works.



Fostering Modern Johnny Appleseeds

[Greenaid dispersal machine, image via Fletcher Studio]

While cartoonish depictions of ol' Johnny Appleseed aren't particularlly accurate (he was more real estate mogul and bootlegger then selfless seed(plant not human) spreader) the notion of unruly citizen powered rewilding through guerilla seed dispersal is a fun thought.

Local Ecologist pointed us to the collaborated efforts of Fletcher Studio and Common Studio to create 'Greenaid', a gumball machine type seed bomb dispenser and:

They can be thrown anonymously into these derelict urban sites to temporarily reclaim and transform them into places worth looking at and caring for. The Greenaid dispensary simply makes these guerilla gardening efforts more accessible to all by appropriating the existing distribution system of the quarter operated candy machine.

Its this paragraph taken from Common's site that bothered me a bit, and let me preface with I like the idea, but playing devil's advocate. The pre-made seed bombs takes all the mystery and power away from the Guerilla Gardener. I no longer envision garden militants in dungy basements, crafting their own specific mixes and divising planned attacks for specified locations. The seed material has already been decided and contained through these machines dispersed through out cities. The bombing effort is thus less guerilla and more modern warfare gardening with, in this case, David Fletcher the Commanding General of potentially hundreds of seed dispersing infantry. This type of garden warfare is in contrast to the landscape architect manned drone guerilla gardening warfare we discussed previously.

[Greenaid packaging and product, image via Fletcher studio]

The other comment that troubled me about this approach is "reclaim and transform them into places worth looking at and caring for." This points to one of the many complications with Guerilla Gardening, that it is very subjective to consider what areas are "worth looking at." To some, an abandoned parking lot holds special value, local kids use it for baseball, kickball, etc., then some asshole comes by and plants trees and grasses everywhere, shifting the value, creating it for some, while destroying it for others.

Regardless, if I were to walk by one of these machines and had a quarter on me, I'd definitely buy a Greenaid and chuck it in an odd place. And I think that is the beauty of the idea, accessibility, just keep them out of my sandlot.

In a slightly unrelated topic, Common Studio also has another modular urban remediation project on their site worth checking out titled '[C]Urban Ecology', from their site:

(C)urban Ecology is a modular micro-remediation infrastructure that integrates seamlessly within our existing streets, supplanting the mundane utilitarian curb-and-gutter system to offer new levels of amenity. A versatile and performative design provides opportunities for water permeation and street vegetation, while sequestering small scale debris before it reaches the urban watershed.

Identifying the typical urban street as both the source of the problem as well as the site of the solution, (C)urban Ecology targets the issues of polluted urban drainage at the most feasible scale of intervention, and achieves maximum positive impact on the built and natural environment with minimal material and energy inputs.

Because it can be deployed and aggregated at various intensities, (C)urban Ecology can be effective from the scale of a single unit installed near a storm drain, to an array of 100 units that fringe the sidewalks of an entire city block.

Related: Ludic Guerrilla Gardening Drone Warfare | Genetic Necessities of Wilderness

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