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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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Entries in nature (5)


Screaming Trees

A new post on Yale Environment 360 reports on the large-scale dying off of the world's forests at an extraordinary rate. Much of the death has been attributed by entomologists to the mountain pine beetle, which due to warming winters is enabling their lifecycle to decrease from two to one year, able to produce more larvae in pines of the west. Colder temperatures had once kept the beetle out of higher altitudes, but a slight warming is now bringing devastation to mountaintop forests.

Since 2000, a forest area the size of Washington state has been killed and attributed to insects. But scientists see this as a sympton of an even larger problem of a warming climate. North America has not been the only continent affected, as forests in Australia, Russia, China, and France have been lost to drought, high temperatures, or both. Drought and higher temperatures leave forests ecologies weaker and more susceptable to pests and wildfires.

So the forests across the West are dying, in such large numbers that U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar called it the West’s Hurricane Katrina. In Colorado and southern Wyoming, the U.S. Forest Service has created an emergency management team to cut down dead trees around towns and along roads and power lines. Forest Service campgrounds and trails have been closed because of the hazard from dead trees, and communities surrounded by dead forests have drawn up emergency evacuation plans for residents.

[Dying pine forests, said to be caused by the mountain pine beetle]

But what to do? Many of the reasons are still definitively undetermined, and the topic is grossly understudied with large information gaps and uncertainties. The forest deaths are naturally having effects on certain wildlife habits and food sources. But can anykind of human intervention (other then carbon reduction) be done to prevent this widespread forest destruction? As devastating as it may be, perhaps a transition from live to dead forests will manifest into a faster-paced evolution of forest, in which no intervention is necessary. Some species will be lost, while others thrive using the dying material for habitats. Non-native birds will carry non-native seeds more adaptive to the changing climate. New plant material will bring new consumers and predators to these areas.

[Dead trees aren't a total waste, in fact they contribute vital habitats like for these Acorn Woodpeckers]

It’s not surprising that most of us tend to view dead things as undesirable. We impose this cultural bias about dead things to our forests as well. Public land management agencies spend billions annually trying to contain wildfire and insect outbreaks based upon the presumption that these natural processes are destroying the forest by killing trees. Even though there is now some grudging acceptance by land managers that wildfires and insect attacks may be potentially beneficial if they do not kill too many trees, stand-replacement fires, ice storms and large beetle outbreaks are still viewed as unnatural and abnormal—something to suppress, slow and control.

Stated beautifully by Forest Policy Research:

A new perspective is slowly taking root among forest managers, based on growing evidence that forest ecosystems have no waste or harvestable surplus. Rather, it seems that forests reinvest their biological capital back into the ecosystem, and removal of wood—whether dead or alive—can lead to biological impoverishment. Large stand-replacement blazes and major insect outbreaks may be the ecological analogue to the forest ecosystem as the hundred-year flood is to a river.

Such natural events are critical to shaping ecosystem function and processes. Scientists are discovering that dead trees and downed wood play an important role in ecosystems by providing wildlife habitat, cycling nutrients, aiding plant regeneration, decreasing erosion and influencing drainage, soil moisture and carbon storage. “When you start to look at western forests outside of wildernesses and parks, you notice right away that they lack large quantities of downed wood—dead trees,” says Jon Rhodes, an independent consulting hydrologist in Oregon.

Eventually forests, perhaps vastly different in character then their ancestors will form again, a natural part of Earth's longterm cycle of heating and cooling.

I think we're quick to overlook the resiliency of nature, and should take inspiration in it for our own design adaptation. This isn't to say that certain actions should not be taken to subdue man's part in a changing climate, but a design adaptability is necessary nonetheless.

[Related] Natural Pollution


Would Her Perfection Withstand the Provocation of Nature?

[Forested Guggenheim. Image via West 8]

I find that there are few Landscape Architecture studios practicing on the cusp of boundries. So, those that are advancing and changing the profession (or at least in my humble opinion) I try to shed light on them here at DUS. West 8, is an office few would argue as a beacon for LA's to seek the extraordinary.

A new conceptual projects addresses Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim, asking: "Would her perfection withstand the provocation of nature?" From West 8's site:

Since its opening in 1959, the Frank Lloyd Wright–designed Guggenheim building has served as an inspiration for invention, challenging artists and architects to react to its eccentric, organic design. The central void of the rotunda has elicited many unique responses over the years, which have been manifested in both site-specific solo shows and memorable exhibition designs. For the building’s 50th anniversary, the Guggenheim Museum invited West 8 and a variety of artists, architects, and designers to imagine their dream interventions in the space for the exhibition.

West 8's submittal is based on the assertion that Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum is the ultimate prototype of the sublime in modern architecture. Genuinely iconic, it is a harmonious resolution of material, geometry and space with performance and context. When completed it immediately became sterile, victimized by its own perfection: a sacred virgin in perpetuity. Would her perfection withstand the provocation of nature? Or is this perfection derived from her dialogue with the neutral Manhattan grid?

It is inevitable that the building should be confronted with the raw, chaotic vitality of nature. Will she keep her beauty, enhancing visitor’s experiences? This can be tested by importing a forest, a 1:1 scale mockup, consisting of two key elements: a mossy fern meadow stretching from the base to the top of the rotunda - a linear interior park, and 100 upended logs the height of the atrium. Visitors may respond appreciatively to light qualities, lovely fragrances and tactilities, or they may be critical: ‘Were the logs sustainably harvested? Will plants do well in such an environment?’ Until now, it appears that maximum adaptation has been be defined by curators’ efforts to minimize the impact of installations. Will the Guggenheim remain a sleeping beauty in a glass box, where nature cannot touch her?

'Contemplating the Void: Interventions in the Guggenheim Museum' was organized by Nancy Spector, Chief Curator, and David van der Leer, Assistant Curator for Architecture and Design. The exhibition will feature renderings of these visionary projects in a salon-style installation that will emphasize the rich and diverse range of the proposals received. Contemplating the Void: Interventions in the Guggenheim Museum will be on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum from February 12 to April 28, 2010.


Stoned Landscape

Richard Weston's images of crystals and minerals reveal the intricacies of their structures in unprecedented detail.  An ode to natural design and perhaps shows our own abilities of design as a process of replicating what seems to be chaotic order.  It's these type of images that we can envision the spectrum of infinities, both small and larger then our own scale.  The markings we leave on the landscape don't stray from the patterns of natural geology or fractals. Our cities merely Tourmalines to larger beings looking under a microscope, our oceans agates.  We've yet to detect it, but as we discover space through new lenses, the same "design" patterns will appear in similar form at continuous grander scales.  

Why do these design consistencies exist?  Hell if I know.  But by chance, if you were to intimately understand your scale level, the principles of how shapes and lines are formed, then possibly you gain insight at any reach.

{(Above Image) Paesina stone comes from Tuscany in Italy, particularly from Florence. It is a silty limestone, formed during the Cretaceous period. The stone is marked by a 3D network of fine cracks. Groundwater diffuses through these cracks, bringing with it oxides of various minerals. These create the intricate patterns and colours, which often look like landscapes, as in this example.}

{These are a form of limestone, but enriched by dendrites. The dendrites are formed from water-borne minerals, most commonly manganese. These are carried into the stone in solution, between the bedding planes.}

{Agate is a type of chalcedony; that is, it is made of two minerals, quartz andmoganite, that have interleaved together. 

Quartz is formed of crystals of silica, SiO
2. The crystals can come in different sizes: in the case of agate, they are so small they can only be seen under microscopes. 

Moganite is also formed of silica, but the atoms are in a different crystal structure. 

In this banded agate, most of the rock void in which it formed was filled by a later infusion of gel. This crystallised as horizontal bands. Various elements are responsible for the colours in agates, but the blazing red and oranges are most likely due - as in artists' pigments - to cobalt.}

{Most agates occur as nodules in volcanic rocks or ancient lavas. Originally, volatile gases in the molten lava formed small cavities. Afterwards, silica (or similar compounds) formed in layers on the walls, eventually filling the space. Because the silica is deposited in layers, the agate has a banded or striped appearance.}

{Tourmaline is another silicate mineral, like quartz and agate, but it is laced with many other chemicals. 

These chemicals may include aluminium, iron, magnesium, sodium, lithium, or potassium. Depending on which ones are present, the crystals can be many different colours. 

Usually, iron-rich tourmalines are black, shading to bluish-black and deep brown. By contrast, magnesium-rich varieties are brown to yellow, and lithium-rich tourmalines can be almost any colour. Colourless tourmalines are also sometimes found. This image was taken from a jet-black specimen.}

{Jasper is another form of silica. It is opaque and can be almost any colour, though red, yellow and brown are common. 

Ocean jasper is a particular type of 
orbicular jasper, a variety containing many small spheres or "orbs". The term "ocean jasper" refers to orbicular jasper obtained from the shores of northeast Madagascar: it is a trade name. 

Like many gemstones, ocean jasper has been seized upon by mystical types who believe it has magical powers: one website claims it "lifts negativity so one can fully appreciate blessings".}

{Sandstone is a sedimentary rock, composed mainly of sand-sized mineral or rock grains. The grains are typically quartz and/or feldspar - the most common minerals in the Earth's crust.}

{Rhodochrosite is made of crystals of magnesium carbonate. The pure form is rose red, but this is rare. Impure varieties are pink or brown. This specimen is from a stalactite, of a kind found uniquely in an old Inca silver mine in Catamarca, Argentina. It has been cut in cross-section, revealing concentric bands of light and dark rose-coloured layers.}

{Malachite is another carbonate mineral, like rhodochrosite; specifically, it is copper carbonate.  It is often formed by when copper ores, found around limestones, are weathered. It often forms stalacmites. 

Like many copper compounds, it is green. As a result, it was used as an artist's pigment until around 1800. It has been mined for over 3,000 years at the so-called "
King Solomon's Mines" in Israel.}

{All images: EarthUK}

+Via New Scientist


Element Seeking Botanical Mobility

{Image by D.U.S.}

Plants are living creatures.  There's even been debates as to their protection and rights as living creatures, and in some cases, they've been granted those protections by governing law.  Minus that I think it makes for an interesting late night conversation, I'm not extremely interested in exploring the potential emotions of plants.

But, plants are living creatures, and will adapt and adjust their forms to accommodate to their environment. We've discussed this on D.U.S. before, diving into theories of mixing solar technology to create a fusion of botanical robotized organisms, de-shackled from ground and root structure and provided with greater mobility to seek out elemental necessities.  But mostly to promote healthier plant growth, and create urban space with dynamic qualities.

This mixing of nature and technology, whether through genetic manipulation or mechanical empowerment paints a spectrum of the wildest possibilities, from playful interaction and color, to haunting Sci-fi like imageries.

Researchers at New York University's interactive telecommunications program have come up with a device that allows plants to tell owners when they need water or if they've had too much via the social network blogging service Twitter.

The device is made of soil-moisture sensors that are connected to a circuit board. They measure the level of moisture, and then communicate the information to a microcontroller.  So it would seem that if we have the ability to control a computer from these sensors, then we could indeed incorporate these sensor controls into a mechanized, mobile system, then wa-la, plants are programmed to detect and move to water and sun sources when needed.

{"Roving Forest" image by Tomorrow's Thoughts Today}

This actually in a way occurs naturally.  For centuries in North America boreal forests have been migrating north following the retreat of glaciers and escaping a gradually warming climate.  Of course this migration occurred over thousands of years and took vast amounts of scientific research to uncover.

But what if we enabled plants with the robotized mobility discussed above.  While climates remained relatively calm their patterns of movement easily designed and controlled.  But what happens when resources become scarce and the necessity of life overpowers our control.  In the same way we can envision water, land, energy, and food wars in the future, what if trees with mechanic mobility were added to the mix.  Entire forests of water starved Elms, Oaks, and Maples march across the landscape in search of replenishment. Programmed to detect reserves, they seek and destroy satellite cities living off grid and there own water supplies.  Once designed for dynamic space in the urban setting, and to adapt to altered urban microclimates, the trees become just one other species desperately trying to survive a climate changing planet.

You can actually follow the Twittering plant mentioned above at:

Apple iTunes

Locally Available World Unseen Networks


An exhibition at the Architectural Association presenting a series of newly commissioned models of former Archigram member David Greene has me revisiting and reading their works.  I’m curious as to how the experimental architecture group’s work was received at the time.  It would seem to be perceived by outside architectural thinkers to be of ridiculous thought, seeing that the work even by today’s standards is somewhat progressive. Their concepts however, while a little off target have been relevant for predicting and addressing urban issues.  

David Greene foreshadows in his audio visual piece entitled ‘The World’s Last Hardware Event’ (1967) and imagines a world where man can wander, carrying his architecture in his pocket (preempting the arrival of mobile phones and memory sticks).  Ron Herron’s Walking City envisions whole cities gliding across the landscape, pausing to plug into utilities and information networks at chosen locations.  David Greene described Walking City as a “frightening expression of the current cultural condition of restlessness” or as an eager anticipation of a mobile world with a global information network in which political boundaries and cultural differences would melt away.  In know way as austere as Herron’s walking robotic imagery, but the rise in popularity and availability of prefab architecture and grid free systems allows for a mobility and lighter hand on the land, lending to a theoretical assumption that perhaps the walking city might one day in some form materialize. 

{Walking City and Instant City (Ron Herron 1964-70}

Something we’ve briefly touched on here at D.U.S. is the vision of a seamless integration of technology and nature.  We weren’t the first to think of such an idea.  In David Green's 1969 L.A.W.U.N. project he speculated that eventually it would be possible to create a 'fully serviced natural landscape', or Bottery, in which the natural world looks just as it should but is serviced by unseen networks, otherwise known as L.A.W.U.N. - Locally Available World Unseen Networks.  

Discreetly installed all across the world, Logplugs could be located by the traveller using a mobile dashboard and homing device.  Having plugged into the log and selected the required services, the traveller would pay for them using an attached credit card machine.  “The whole London or New York will be available in the world’s leafy hollows, deserts and flowered meadows”.

Greene’s vision of a fully integrated technological environment seems to foretell of the modern day invisible informational architecture known as WI-FI.  Could his “homing device” be construed as an iphone, with the inherent ability to locate signal?  A traveler, stripped from the shackles of an abundance of infrastructure can now roam freely through nature.  Could the increased development of metamaterials mask objects never intended for invisibility?  It would seem so.  Using WI-FI and personal solar packs we're able to evade miles of underground electrical lines to accommodate Greene's vision of technological connectivity in nature.

I'm currently re-reading Ian McHargs Design with Nature, and as he writes of the healing power of natural elements, the idea that nature is here, we're a part of it, we come from it, and it's positive effects can maintain psychological stability, I'm curious if our access to mobile technology negates the serenity of the wild?  Is it "nature" if unnatural objects are still present but invisible?  Are we in nature if we can be reached by our iphones?

I actually think this is a serious question if its believed or not, or to what level nature plays as a human necessity.  The way we situate are lives, design towns and cities around this belief could have lasting effects.