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Relational Water Landscapes

From drought to deluge, survival to decadence, water is shaping our cities and landscapes

For landscape architects today, urbanism and water go hand in hand. Whether dealing with issues of sea level rise, groundwater retention, or just plain old water supply infrastructure, landscape architects are working with scientists, engineers, and policy makers on increasingly bigger projects that encompass more external factors and larger networks of physical, biological, environmental, and political networks. We examine some of these water landscapes and how they relate to each other in the broader context of how resources and climate-related changes are being managed.

To put these projects in perspective, we have positioned them on a grid: The x-axis runs from “not enough” to “too much” water and the y-axis posits these projects as either being rooted in necessity or decadence. Within this grid, we found a surprising variety of combinations.

Here we've posted all our water-related articles from this issue. Enjoy!

Feature Stories

Alaska's Relocation — One remote Alaska city is seeking $200 million to flee the rising sea

Lexington's Groundwater — SCAPE turns Lexington, Kentucky’s long-buried water into an asset

L.A.'s River — L.A. River revitalization takes center stage in public eye (and real estate development)

Istanbul's New Islands — A coterie of artificial islands and high-rises planned to rise near Istanbul

Miami's Flooding — Miami battles rising floodwaters even as development booms

Chicago's Runoff — Chicago digs deep to fight flooding, but the city’s geology may provide another solution

Waco's Water Grid — Texas planners envision a county-wide “grid” to provide clean water during droughts

China's Archipelago — This master plan calls for a brand new city to alleviate China’s water issues

UrbanLab is combining water infrastructure with architecture to reimagine how cities work

L.A.'s Reservoir — What will Angelenos do with a decommissioned, 45-foot-deep reservoir?

Milwaukee's Harbor — Studio Gang’s research-based approach to ecological design rethinks the shape of urban waterfronts

Massachusett's Ports — The plan to combine fishing, tourism, and the waterfront to invigorate a New England city

Wisconsin's Lake Straw — A controversial decision will allow a Wisconsin city to draw water out of Lake Michigan

Water-Related News (also from the October issue)

A new proposal would turn a stagnant abandoned Chicago waterway into a community amenity

Seattle’s waterfront transformation by James Corner Field Operations prepares to break ground this year

Chicago and Philadelphia–based PORT Urbanism wants to redesign your city

"Landscape as Necessity" conference aims to broaden the role of landscape architects

Has "resiliency" been hijacked to justify and promote development?

This landscape architecture firm is bringing Dutch water expertise to the U.S.

Detroit engages with its community to solve its raw sewage and storm water problem

A team of landscape architects, geneticists, and bioinformaticians are trawling the Gowanus Canal for science

One landscape architect's plan to fuse Dallas–Fort Worth’s waterways with urban growth

Landscape architects face crossroads to address shrinking ecological resources

A grassroots organization starts an environmental movement in Iowa City

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Not Your Grandad's Passive Design

Passive-Aggressive design: When sustainability radically shapes architecture

This article is part of  The Architect’s Newspaper’s “Passive Aggressive” feature on passive design strategies. Not to be confused with “Passivhaus” or “Passive House” certification, passive design strategies such as solar chimneys, trombe walls, solar orientation, and overhangs, rely on scheme rather than technology to respond to their environmental contexts. Today, architects are more concerned with sustainability than ever, and new takes on old passive techniques are not only responsible, but can produce architecture that expresses sustainable features through formal exuberance. We call it “passive-aggressive.” In this feature, we examine three components—diagram, envelope, and material—where designers are marrying form and performance. We also look back at the unexpected history of passive-aggressive architecture, talk with passive-aggressive architects, and check out a passive-aggressive house. More “Passive Aggressive” articles are listed at the bottom of the page!


The promise of architecturally considered, environmentally conscious buildings that are more than exercises in technological prosthetics is taking shape around the world. Sustainable design can be achieved without subjugating space, form, experience, and aesthetics, concepts that often end up subservient to green concerns. Even offices are moving beyond the often-gauche addition of solar panels and sun shades to typical building typologies. To do so, form is playing an important role in achieving sustainability goals, and a new crop of spatially and formally exuberant projects is being realized. The result is a series of buildings that neither perform—or look—like anything we have seen before.

Perhaps the best test of a project’s sustainability aspirations is an extreme climate. Drastic temperature changes, remote locales, and inhospitable landscapes call for more than technological gadgetry to produce even a habitable project. Deserts in particular present challenges that push conventional designs to their limits. When New York firm WORKac began designing a guesthouse in southern Arizona with the goal of being completely off the grid, it looked to the southwest Earthship typology to start. Earthships are passive solar homes that use a combination of natural and upcycled materials embedded in the earth to create a thermal mass that keeps their interiors cool during the day and warm at night. WORKac took some of these concepts and elevated them into a unique architectural form. A simple diagram, the heart of the project is an adobe brick mass, upon which airy living spaces are cantilevered above the ground.

New York–based MOS Architects engaged the desert climate in its Museum of Outdoor Arts Element House. A guesthouse and visitor center for the Star Axis land art project by the artist Charles Ross, the project hovers just above the New Mexico desert on stout concrete piers. The house, designed to be off the grid, is built out of prefabricated structural insulated panels. By distilling the project down to its basic architectural components, a theme among many MOS projects, a clear yet expressive geometric system governs its overall shape. Rather than a central hearth, a series of modules each has its own solar chimney. The result is a naturally lit interior without excessive glazing to increase solar gain. A reflective aluminum shingle cladding counters even more of the sun’s intense rays while also playing visual games with the overall form. Views out of the project are captured through deeply inset operable glass walls at the ends of each module. The only typical sustainable technology visible is a solar array folly, situated just a few yards from the building.

On the other side of the world in another desert climate, Zaha Hadid Architects supersized its sustainable efforts. The King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center (KAPSARC) was founded in 2010 by its namesake as an independent, nonprofit research institution to investigate the future of energy economics and technology. KAPSARC will bring together researchers and scientists from 20 nations into one planned community in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Currently under construction, KAPSARC will become the main building of the campus, while formally being a campus within itself. An aggregation of six-sided plant-cell-shaped spaces, the project is a series of conditioned and unconditioned laboratories, conference rooms, lecture halls, and courtyards. Thanks to the office’s mastery of parametricism, angles, openings, and surfaces are cleverly utilized to manipulate sunlight, blocking it or allowing it into the advantage of the occupants. The modules also permit future expansion while maintaining the overall form and performance. The complex interlocking forms, and green-water-filled courtyards passively cooling surrounding spaces, echo traditional Arab courtyards buildings.

While designers strive to capture and control sunlight in the desert, in more northern climates it can be a scarce resource that is protected by code. In a city like Toronto, which averages six months of regular snowfall, new buildings can be required to allow sunlight to hit the sidewalk for portions of the day. For large projects like Bjarke Ingels Group’s (BIG) King Street development, sunlight, views, and greenspace were calculated using the latest in super-computer simulation modeling. Though the pixelated project will resemble the early diagram-driven ones from Ingels’s days with PLOT, such as the Mountain Dwelling project, King Street will be undeniably more complex. Within BIG, a smaller studio called BIG Ideas works in collaboration with Microsoft to develop predictive modeling tools for direct use by the designers. “All of the hill heights are determined by the sun and site,” Jakob Lange, BIG partner, explained. “Big Ideas created a tool for the design team to use to generate the formation of the hills. On the sidewalk, you need at least a certain amount of sunlight. The only way you can do that is to have a machine that can test every point.” The result is a seemingly haphazard stack of blocks that allow copious light and air into each unit and terrace, as well to streets and public courtyards. 

Whether through high-tech computer modeling or low-tech desert vernacular, passive sustainable design is turning a corner. No longer an afterthought, environmental considerations have stopped holding projects visually captive. With improved agency, architects are striking a delicate balance between formal, spatial experience and sustainable considerations.

—Matthew Messner


Be aggressive and show off your passive sustainability strategy facade first.

Bates Masi Architects’ Amagansett Dunes home, a modest cottage a few hundred feet from the ocean on the South Shore of Long Island, is covered on its east and west sides with operable glass. Different-sized adjustable openings create a pressure differential that promotes natural ventilation. To modulate light through these surfaces, the firm installed canvas louvers that admit cool breezes in the summer and block cold winds in the winter.

Each tapered louver is cut from one piece of canvas and wrapped around a powdered aluminum frame, its riveted strips slightly twisted to increase their transparency. The canvas pattern, which was developed through several digital and physical models, casts dappled light and dramatic shadows throughout the house and creates a lantern effect at night.

Another dramatic facade is located at Carrier Johnson + Culture’s Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. The concrete project has achieved LEED Gold certification through a number of sustainable solutions—from drought-resistant landscaping to smart solar orientation—and is lined with a curved, south-facing stainless-steel screen that reflects solar heat while allowing in natural light. A concrete roof overhang provides additional shading for the building and an adjacent outdoor walkway serves both as a pedestrian connector and a sort of double-layered facade. A new public plaza fronts the other side of the wall.

The wall’s staggered, water-jet-cut steel panels are unique: Each one contains a gap to allow air and views and is connected to a series of steel posts. The screen’s design makes subtle references to the religious campus, employing alpha and omega symbols, images from the cosmos, and other abstract references. “It’s both an art piece and an environmental wall,” Carrier Johnson + Culture’s design principal Ray Varela said.

Halfway around the world in Tehran, Iran, Admun Design and Construction created a memorable brick facade that shields the hot sun, encourages natural ventilation, and provides privacy while allowing limited, interesting patterns of light. Inspired by the surrounding neighborhood buildings and the city’s chaotic skyline, the facade is composed of variously rotated bricks with varied apertures. The openings change size based on the views, sun angles, and external distractions. Mortar was removed by punching the bricks, and the scheme was designed using parametric software. The process was carried out by the builders through a simple coding system. A ledge was placed in the gap between the brick membrane and the outer edge to provide space for flower boxes and to give cleaning access to the windows from outside. Balconies were placed behind the brick facade.

Indeed, low-tech solutions are becoming new again, but with a clever technological twist.

—Sam Lubell


Is it possible for sustainable systems to be both high- and low-tech at the same time? That’s the question architects are answering with a resounding “Yes,” thanks to advanced, but somehow simple, passive strategies that rely on new materials. One of the most publicized solutions is New York–based raad studio’s Lowline Lab, a heavily planted public space—still early in development—that will be located in a historic trolley terminal under the streets of Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

In order to bring natural light into the space, the team is using what they call a “remote skylight,” in which sunlight passes through a glass shield to a parabolic collector, where it’s reflected and gathered at one focal point, then transmitted onto a “solar canopy,” a reflective surface underground. The technology transmits the necessary light wavelengths to enable plants and trees to grow in the underground space. A motorized optical system (likely to be powered by photovoltaics) tracks maximum sunlight throughout the day, and the solar canopy carefully distributes light evenly throughout the space.

Raad principal James Ramsey likened the system, which uses a series of relay lenses and mirrors, to both a telescope and a plumbing system. “You’ve almost treated the light as if you’ve turned it into a liquid,” he said. “It’s only geometry. That kind of simplicity is very efficient, and there’s something elegant about that.” All these technologies, added Ramsey, are still in development, so a specific system has not been finalized. He hopes to have it nailed down in the next couple of years.

French firm studioMilou’s reimagining of the National Gallery in Singapore consists of a roof and “veil” that unite two renovated historic buildings while creating a new courtyard. It’s another passive wonder that draws even, dappled light and keeps the buildings and their new public space cool. It mimics one of the oldest systems in the universe: a tree, with its thousands of branches stemming outward. The veil starts above the existing buildings and swoops down around them, filtering and softening natural light through thousands of laminated fritted glass and perforated aluminum panels, creating a filigree structure that also marks the new main entrance. All is supported by large aluminum columns, which effectively serve as tree trunks.

The goal, the French architects said, is for the roof and veil to resemble a handcrafted rattan tapestry. To execute the simple but complex form, the firm scanned the entire space and created a detailed 3-D model, working the roof and veil into the complex geometries of the space and even adjusting panels to fit and avoid the existing facade cornices. Each aluminum panel (chosen for its light weight and rust resistance) can be removed if maintenance is needed.

Meanwhile, Phoenix-based Wendell Burnette Architects’ (WBA) Desert Courtyard House uses a simple, reductive system to create a memorable space in a Sonoran Desert community near Phoenix while also being naturally sustainable. The house, which wraps around a courtyard containing volcanic rock, Saguaro cacti, and desert trees, is located in a low-lying area. It consists of about eight percent locally sourced cement (constituting the raised base) and 92 percent rammed earth excavated from the site. All of the extracted soil was used for the thick walls—none was taken away from the site and none was imported from elsewhere. The peripheral walls range from 3.5 to 18 inches thick, their high thermal mass keeping the home cool—although air conditioning can be used on particularly hot days. Another natural cooling system is the folded, wood-framed Cor-ten steel roof, which conducts heat up and out, creating a chimney effect.

The heavy, almost cave-like palette continues throughout the house, creating a unique aesthetic that Burnette said “feels ancient, primal, and modern at the same time.” He added, “You experience this as a shelter in a very elemental way.”

—Sam Lubell

For more “Passive Aggressive” articles, explore: Bjarke Ingels Group’s own tech-driven think tank, how WORKac’s Arizona House revives the super sustainable Earthship typologyMOS Architects' Michael Meredith on sustainability, and our brief, unofficial history of recent passive-aggressive design.

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Farmers Only

$1 billion agriculture-focused community approved outside Orlando
After Orlando County commissioners approved a new $1 billion development plan—dubbed “The Grow”—in a 4-2 vote last week, the project will move into its design and permitting phase, with construction scheduled to start next summer. The Grow follows a new development style trend, commonly known as an ‘agrihood,’ that champions farm-to-table living in a cooperative community. The Grow will be situated on 1,189 acres behind the University of Central Florida campus. It will feature 2,078 homes, a community garden, a 20-acre community park, an elementary school, 12 miles of bike trails, and 172,000 square feet of commercial development, including retail spaces and a restaurant that incorporates food grown in the community garden, according to Builder Magazine. Spearheaded by Project Finance & Development LLC (PFD), the project has been praised for its approach to sustainability and thoughtfulness in addressing the growth of east Orlando. However, critics of the project argue that it’s simply the next iteration of ‘urban sprawl’ slowly encroaching on the Econlockhatchee River and Lake Pickett, which have remained rural in the context of hyper-development, according to Orlando Business Journal. The development will require new roadwork, but PFD has agreed to foot the bill for a roundabout on South Tanner Road to ease the flow of traffic. According to the Urban Land Institute, there are about 200 agrihoods nationwide and in states such as California, Idaho, Virginia, Hawaii, Colorado, Texas, Illinois, and Vermont. Though the agrihood trend has been 20 years in the making, it’s beginning to gain traction with the growing interest in how food is being grown and produced. Senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute told the Associated Press that these spaces have “fundamentally changed the relationship” between residents and the land. “It’s a lot more than growing vegetables; it’s really about growing community.”
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Fresh Perspective

AN interviews Michael Meredith of MOS Architects on sustainability

 This article is part of  The Architect’s Newspaper’s “Passive Aggressive” feature on passive design strategies. Not to be confused with “Passivhaus” or “Passive House” certification, passive design strategies such as solar chimneys, trombe walls, solar orientation, and overhangs, rely on scheme rather than technology to respond to their environmental contexts. Today, architects are more concerned with sustainability than ever, and new takes on old passive techniques are not only responsible, but can produce architecture that expresses sustainable features through formal exuberance. We call it “passive-aggressive.” In this feature, we examine three components—diagram, envelope, and material—where designers are marrying form and performance. We also look back at the unexpected history of passive-aggressive architecture, talk with passive-aggressive architects, and check out a passive-aggressive house. More “Passive Aggressive” articles are listed at the bottom of the page!

Michael Meredith is a founding co-principal of MOS Architects, whose work connects the rigor of American formalism with 21st-century biopolitics.

The Architect’s Newspaper: How does sustainability affect form?

Michael Meredith: I would say that in the last few years, formalism went from geometry-as-god to performance-as-god. If Eisenman would say, “The logic of geometry made me do it,” today people would say, “The sun angles made me do it.” It’s a narrative that played out in schools, at least.

What kind of passive design strategies do you use?

Well, a lot of our projects use the chimney effect. We love chimneys, we even gave a lecture on it. The Element House is maybe the most explicit. It is totally off the grid and has about 12 inches of insulation.

But we also implemented it in the Ordos house in 2005, as well as After Party, our MoMA/PS1 Young Architects Program installation in 2008, and some of our other more recent house proposals. It’s one of the most basic units of architecture and acts as a catalyst for both performance and form without a lot of effort, and to great effect.

How do you see sustainability today?

Sustainability has become the new default. It is hard to find anyone who says they aren’t sustainable, although that would be interesting. Nobody would say they’re not sustainable, it’s like saying they’re against ADA. It’s just a requirement nowadays. Maybe we should make a bigger deal about it, we don’t really sell the sustainability thing like some other offices would, but we do use it.

For more “Passive Aggressive” articles, explore: our feature article that features projects from across the world, Bjarke Ingels Group’s own tech-driven think tank, how WORKac’s Arizona House revives the super sustainable Earthship typology, and our brief, unofficial history of recent passive-aggressive design.

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Before Thermostats

A brief, unofficial history of recent passive-aggressive design

This article is part of  The Architect’s Newspaper’s “Passive Aggressive” feature on passive design strategies. Not to be confused with “Passivhaus” or “Passive House” certification, passive design strategies such as solar chimneys, trombe walls, solar orientation, and overhangs, rely on scheme rather than technology to respond to their environmental contexts. Today, architects are more concerned with sustainability than ever, and new takes on old passive techniques are not only responsible, but can produce architecture that expresses sustainable features through formal exuberance. We call it “passive-aggressive.” In this feature, we examine three components—diagram, envelope, and material—where designers are marrying form and performance. We also look back at the unexpected history of passive-aggressive architecture, talk with passive-aggressive architects, and check out a passive-aggressive house. More “Passive Aggressive” articles are listed at the bottom of the page!

Is it possible to look to the past to see the future of passive-aggressive architectures?

The answer is yes. The roles of architectural form and technological advancement dance across the eras, with passive design moving from being fundamental in pre- and early modern architecture to being subverted by mechanical ventilation and artificial climate control. That does not mean, however, that passivity ever disappeared completely. Though called by different names and evoked for a variety of reasons, environmental contextualism remained a hallmark of design throughout the 20th century and we would be ill-advised to consider it only as something ancient and ideal or new and novel.

We can look to early American skyscraper designs for a precedent that formally translated competing programmatic functional considerations and without an overwhelming reliance on forced air or artificial light. Structures like the 1891 Wainwright Building by Adler & Sullivan in St. Louis, Missouri, the 1913 Woolworth Building by Cass Gilbert in New York City, and the 1892 Bradbury Building by George Wyman and Sumner Hunt in Los Angeles were shaped most directly by considerations of light and air. Because air conditioning and electric lighting were nonexistent, structures during this era were drawn with U-, E-, and H-shaped plans to facilitate comfortable use. The resulting narrow floor plates, large, operable openings, and tall ceilings necessary to accommodate the physical properties of these considerations define this era’s architecture directly.

A generation later, structures like Richard Neutra’s 1929 Lovell Health House in Los Angeles and Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1939 Johnson Wax Headquarters in Racine, Wisconsin, also considered climate and light in regionally conscious configurations. Neutra’s Lovell House used innovative insulation and construction materials to comply with its seismically active, semi-arid environment, while Wright’s Headquarters made pioneering use of glass blocks, pairing transparent glass cubes with opaque thermal mass to arrive at new forms of daylit office space in a much colder region.

As air conditioning eliminated the requirements for natural ventilation and daylighting, fewer architects continued to design examples of climactically conscious buildings. Neutra’s 1946 Kaufmann Desert House in Palm Springs, California, however, is an exception to the rule: The designer utilized deep overhangs and pivoting louver assemblies to control the desert-bound building’s solar exposure. In 1953, Paul Rudolph’s Walker Beach House tackled a beachside locale, duplicating the home’s wooden structural frame beyond its exterior walls and creating an armature for retractable shading devices. In 1954, Charles Colbert designed the Phillis Wheatley School in New Orleans, a modernist box lifted on stilts and capped with a large overhanging roof.

By the 1960s, regional modernism had given way to corporate modernism as a complete reliance on mechanical ventilation had become a fundamental orthodoxy in architectural discourse. Artificial technologies proliferated, causing formal considerations of local climate to go underground, as they were replaced by the lure of high technology.

The development of Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes—contextual structures that were designed and outfitted to operate as self-sustaining worlds—married sustainable technology with nihilistic self-determination. Publications like The Dome Cookbook compelled recalcitrant youth of the 1960s to stake a claim in the countryside, where they built communes composed of geodesic domes and attempted to live off the land. The mostly amateur, counterculture movement was integral to establishing contextual and environmentally guided design as a legitimate architectural concern during the deeply entrenched corporatism and artificiality of the atomic and Cold War eras. As corporate modernism and its attendant ideologies coursed through the academy, hippie-led contextualism took root and blossomed, feeding off rising environmental and social awareness. As a result, contextually conscious architectural experiments sought to reinvent architectural formal expression literally from the ground up.

These concerns were institutionalized as key figures as these new movements gained prominence and authority.

For example, Sim Van der Ryn’s work as California State Architect in the 1970s was marked by an emphasis on solar design. Plans for his state office building in Sacramento, California, utilized two 600-ton subterranean sunlit rock beds to heat and cool incoming air received by a courtyard capped with a saw-toothed roof and north-facing skylights. The building’s articulated, béton brut exposures feature treatments appropriate for mitigating solar heat gain along the envelope that results in substantially lower levels of energy use for the overall building. Paolo Soleri’s proposals for an experimental, ecologically driven “arcology” in the Arizona desert also pioneered solar design, but at the urban scale. His designs for a utopian, self-sustaining desert acropolis took the form of massive landships that would use a huge, terraced, and south-facing greenhouse as an agricultural, thermal, and social engine for each settlement. Soleri’s super-scaled structures utilize natural phenomena like the chimney and greenhouse effects to drive their formal attributes.

Simultaneously, New Mexico–based architect Michael Reynolds utilized the principles of solar design in his Earthship prototypes, developing contextual, experimental approaches to self-sufficiency at the scale of the single-family house. Designs for Earthship houses use thermal mass to store and repel heat. Trombe walls frame openings calibrated to the local sun path, and when combined with the masonry walls, keep Earthships at roughly 70 degrees, year-round. And on the East Coast, New Jersey architect Douglas Kelbaugh utilized the principles of solar design to design in a cold, snowy climate. Kelbaugh’s Solar House of 1973 is oriented in concert with the sun: A wide, glass-sheathed enclosure along the southern wall illuminates a heavy masonry Trombe wall that moderates the home’s seasonally variable temperature.

While not considered high architecture at the time, the gradual adoption of sustainable design principles and emphasis on high-tech solutions through the 1980s and 1990s—when coupled with the formal promiscuity and emphasis on human, cultural, and experiential scale of the 1960s and 1970s—ultimately provided a firm foundation for contemporary passive-aggressive experiments. As the principles of overt sustainable design have become more firmly grounded in scientific analysis and computer modeling, sustainable features like thermally efficient and glare-reducing glazing, energy-efficient structural materials, and renewable energy generation have become common aspects of architectural design. But these measures are only part of the story.

As the effects of climate change become ever more apparent and our society moves closer toward collective action, architects will naturally be required to incorporate local climate considerations into their designs. The wide use of digital technologies like parametric climate modeling have integrated sustainable design into the overall design process, raising another question: Are architects finally properly positioned, in terms of technological capabilities, cultural awareness, and popular opinion, to fully hybridize technology and climate through architectural form?

The answer, again, is yes.

For more “Passive Aggressive” articles, explore: our feature article that features projects from across the world, Bjarke Ingels Group’s own tech-driven think tank, how WORKac’s Arizona House revives the super sustainable Earthship typology, and MOS Architects' Michael Meredith on sustainability.

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Well-Grounded Design

"Landscape Architecture as Necessity" conference at USC aims to "counter the onslaught of politically-correct eco-speak"
The University of Southern California (USC) School of Architecture will be holding a three-day long conference this week focused on issues of landscape urbanism. The conference, titled Landscape as Necessity, is built around the idea that the landscape architecture discipline is, as stated on the conference website, “uniquely able to synthesize ecological systems, scientific data, engineering methods, social practices, and cultural values, integrating them into the design of the built environment.” As such, the three-day symposium will feature a vast array of practitioners, researchers, artists, and luminaries who will discuss their work.   One of the conference headliners is Gerdo Aquino, CEO of Los Angeles–based SWA, designers of the revamped San Jacinto Plaza in El Paso, Texas that has been reimagined to appeal to Millennials. Another top billing is Hadley Arnold of the Arid Lands Institute, one of the many firms currently studying the Los Angeles River and planning for its redevelopment. Arnold will lead a paper presentation covering the topic of “water urbanism” with practitioner, professor, and author Anuradha Mathur of the University of Pennsylvania. Explanatory text on the conference website describes the mission of the conference as charting new territories: “The overuse and debasement of the words ‘sustainable’, ‘resilient,’ and ‘adaptable’ mean that now more than ever, real flesh and blood projects must rise to the fore and counter the onslaught of politically-correct eco-speak.” Because the conference aims to ground itself with real world projects, many practicing landscape architects will participate in discussion panels, lecture on their work, and review writings. These practitioners include Los Angeles–based Mia Lehrer of Mia Lehrer Associates, who was recently selected to design the new First and Broadway Park in Downtown Los Angeles with OMA; Elizabeth Mossop of Spackman Mossop + Michaels landscape architects, based in Sydney and New Orleans; Bradley Cantrell, a Harvard-based researcher and 2014 Rome Prize Fellow in landscape architecture; and Mark Rios of Rios Clementi Hale Studios, landscape architects for the Martin Expo Town Center in West Los Angeles. Among the many others joining will be Henri Bava Founder of Paris-based landscape architecture firm Agence Ter, recently selected as the winners of an international design competition aimed at redesigning Los Angeles’s Pershing Square. Landscape as Necessity is being organized by Assistant Professor Alison Hirsch and Professor and Director Kelly Shannon of the USC landscape architecture program. Shannon spearheaded the Mekong Delta Regional Plan 2030 and Vision 2050 plan, a multi-disciplinary, multi-year study aimed at preserving and modernizing Vietnam’s major agricultural region. In an interview earlier this month with Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Designs, Shannon described her team’s intentions behind holding the conference, saying “Ultimately, it should become clear that landscape architecture will be a major game changer in the coming decades in Los Angeles and beyond. However, there must be strong political will and a chance for paradigmatic projects to lead transformative policy.” The conference runs from Wednesday, September 21, 2016 to Saturday, September 24, 2016. To learn more, see the Landscape as Necessity website.
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Earthship Landing

WORKac’s Arizona House revives the super sustainable Earthship typology

This article is part of  The Architect's Newspaper's "Passive Aggressive" feature on passive design strategies. Not to be confused with “Passivhaus” or “Passive House” certification, passive design strategies such as solar chimneys, trombe walls, solar orientation, and overhangs, rely on scheme rather than technology to respond to their environmental contexts. Today, architects are more concerned with sustainability than ever, and new takes on old passive techniques are not only responsible, but can produce architecture that expresses sustainable features through formal exuberance. We call it “passive-aggressive.” In this feature, we examine three components—diagram, envelope, and material—where designers are marrying form and performance. We also look back at the unexpected history of passive-aggressive architecture, talk with passive-aggressive architects, and check out a passive-aggressive house. More “Passive Aggressive” articles are listed at the bottom of the page!

“The desert house typology reached an ending point where it became all about overhangs and metal—a common vocabulary of what a desert house should be,” said Dan Wood, principal of WORKac. “We felt like that needed to be renewed.” For their typological update, Wood and his wife and partner Amale Andraos conceived an off-the-grid guesthouse in Tubac, Arizona, about 45 minutes out of Tucson. The approximately 1,500-square-foot structure will balance on a single column (a pilotos, joked Wood) with an extreme cantilever to create a shaded yard and a triangular frame.

The resulting form cites Arcosanti, Taliesin West, Earthships, and Spanish missions.

“There is a culture of embedding the architecture in the landscape that has this very environmental sort of aspect—the desert has this immediate effect of asking you to respect it because it’s so striking and beautiful,” said Andraos.

Starting with the concept of a classic Earthship (a passive house made of natural and recycled materials), Wood and Andraos experimented with thermal and structural mass. Rather than embed the building in the ground like an Earthship, they elevated it, using a weighty mass of adobe bricks to insulate the home. Orienting this thermal mass to the north, a slanted glass wall with photovoltaic panels faces south, its 35-degree angle running parallel to the stairs inside. An outdoor fire pit and garden atop the fireplace conveniently occupies the incongruous space created by the building’s two masses coming together.

Inside, the layout is organized with the private rooms—two bedrooms and a bathroom—embedded into the adobe brick mass, and the public spaces—including a kitchen, living-and-dining area, and greenhouse—in the glass-enclosed portion. The triangular shape and a series of screens and shades will help to circulate air and provideheating and cooling. “We’ve always been interested in systems and architecture that we can play and engage with,” Andraos said. “This ties all of it together in a microcosm: heat and cooling, air movement, water collection, and growing food and plants.” The division of space also allows the architects to play with compression, expanding from eight-foot-high ceilings in the bedrooms and bathroom to 18-foot-ceilings at the apex of the home.

Under the main house, parking spaces will be dug into the ground to further facilitate cool air circulation, and a workshop-toolshed will inhabit the column. The rest of the area is meant to be used as a deck. “It’s a very different kind of space under the house, but it still resonates with the traditional typology,” Wood said. “We’re trying to see how much we can float, so all of the furniture is suspended.”

Although the house will feature composting toilets and other sustainable systems, it is meant to be largely manual and will require the residents to interact with it. “We want to engage with that history of Earthship systems with an aesthetic that’s very ad-hoc, anti-architectural, and DIY, but bring a contemporary take to it.”

For more “Passive Aggressive” articles, explore: our feature article that features projects from across the world, Bjarke Ingels Group’s own tech-driven think tankour brief, unofficial history of recent passive-aggressive design, and MOS Architects' Michael Meredith on sustainability.

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Chicago architects to launch environmental advocacy organization
September 1st will mark the official launch of Architects Advocate Action on Climate Change. The group, composed of nearly 80 Chicago firms, has a mission of advocating for legislative action on climate change. Firms of all sizes have signed on as supporters, including Studio Gang Architects, John Ronan Architects, JGMA, Design with Company, Goettsch Partners, and UrbanLab, to name a few. Firms from related fields, such as engineers, architectural photographers, and videographers have also joined. The genesis of the project was initiated in the office of Chicago-based Krueck + Sexton Architects. The group positions itself between practice and policy: it will help shape legislative action with a united front. An Architects Advocate statement reads, “As architects dedicated to healthy and livable communities, and guided by scientific consensus and reason, we advocate for action on Climate Change.” The group will push for a healthy environment as a civil right. Though Architects Advocate's exact plan of action has not yet been released, supporters are encouraged to mark their participation with banners embedded in their websites. The group's web page also includes links to environmental advocacy resources including AIA Advocacy, Architecture 2030, and NASA. The launch of Architects Advocate coincides with the federal Council on Environmental Quality’s new guidelines for evaluating federal projects. These rules ask that any federal agency starting a project should quantify climate impact and consider alternative design solutions. “Indirect” emissions will also be included in understanding any project’s environmental impact. For example, building a new road may encourage more people to drive while replanting trees can reduce airborne carbon and erosion as well as provide wildlife habitat. The new guidelines are built on previous directives, including the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Though some federal agencies have already been providing “Climate Impact Reports,” these new rules will help standardize and clarify a framework for climate action.
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Under Pressure

Watch SOM test its latest in timber tower technology
Working with Oregon State University (OSU), Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) has been busy testing its design for a timber tower. The time-lapse video below shows a section of the wood tower being submitted to 82,000 pounds of pressure. SOM has been working on the Timber Tower Research Project, funded by the Softwood Lumber Board (SLB) since 2013. The goal of the project is to develop safe, sustainable building technologies using mass-timber. Using timber may reduce a building’s embedded carbon footprint by as much as 60% to 70% compared to benchmark concrete building. The Timber Tower Research Project has developed a structural system called the Concrete Jointed Timber Frame that employs mass-timber elements with reinforced concrete connections. Since 2014, SOM and OSU have developed a comprehensive physical testing program, which recently completed a full-scale test to prove the system’s ability to satisfy code requirements. The 36-foot by 8-foot specimen is comprised of a Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) deck topped with a thin layer of reinforced concrete. The concrete is used to improve structural, acoustic, and fire performance. The composite allows for long spans with a relatively thin cross-section. The 82,000 pounds tested is roughly eight times the required design load. Forty-eight sensors recorded stresses as a hydraulic actuator loaded the specimen over two hours. Timber Tower Research Project: Successful Test at Oregon State University from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP on Vimeo.
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Studio 804

The University of Kansas's Paola Sanguinetti on the role of the user in facade performance
Image credit: James Ewing/OTTO When it comes to using computational tools to predict the energy and cost savings associated with high performance facade design, explained Paola Sanguinetti, Professor of Architecture at The University of Kansas (KU), AEC industry professionals often leave out a critical factor: the user. "My recent research explores how we can model the relationship between the comfort of the users and their perception of the space, and how that affects [environmental performance]," said Sanguinetti, who will participate in a presentation block on "Parametric Facade Optimization at All Scales" at September’s Facades+AM Kansas City symposium. "Depending on the kind of facade utilized, the way the user modifies the space really impacts the envelope and thus the overall performance of the building." Another research priority at KU, said Sanguinetti, has to do with modeling building performance at different scales, "from thermal bridges to how the facade [as a whole] aids in energy reduction." The focus on scale, she said, is part of "a more holistic view of building environments," which considers individual buildings as components of a broader network, such as a university campus or neighborhood. "How you can look at metrics for evaluating performance on the urban scale is very relevant for Kansas City," given its smart city aims, said Sanguinetti. According to Sanguinetti, Kansas City’s design and building communities exemplify an integrated approach to modeling and fabrication. "Zahner has pioneered the collaborative approach to design specification and manufacturing," she said. The city’s sports architecture firms, too, "have a very strong collaboration with consultants." At KU, the architecture program emphasizes "sustainability, but also understanding the entire process, and the importance of collaboration," explained Sanguinetti. In 2014, for instance, the design/build program Studio 804 created The Forum, an addition to the university’s historical School of Architecture building Marvin Hall. Graduate students worked with Transsolar to evaluate the addition’s double skinned facade, including performing a survey of student use. There is, of course, always room for improvement, said Sanguinetti. The local AEC industry could do a better job of sharing data on projects. In addition, "embedding risk analysis is important to help have a good conversation about building envelopes," she said. "Any simulation is an estimation; again, the human variable is critical to understanding building performance." Meet Sanguinetti and other leading lights of Kansas City’s facades scene at Facades+AM September 15. Seating is extremely limited; register today!
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Big Green Apple

DEP and NRDC partner to expand NYC's Green Infrastructure Program
The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is partnering with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to expand the city’s already extensive Green Infrastructure Program. The City is working under a Clean Water Act consent order to manage the first inch of rainwater on 10 percent of the city’s impervious surfaces by 2030. In order to meet those goals, the DEP is realizing the importance of broadening their scope and finding opportunities on both private and public land. Stormwater management is key to maintaining the health of New York’s waterways, as heavy rains can overburden city sewers and lead to overflows that pollute the city’s canals and rivers. Eliminating overflows is a key step in maintaining the stipulations of the Clean Water Act, which was introduced in 1972 to curb pollution. The program has already been responsible for the installation of more than 1,000 curbside rain gardens (also known as bioswales) throughout Brooklyn and Queens, which have helped to reduce sewage overflows into Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal.On public property the benefits of green infrastructure is obvious. In addition to reducing flooding and sewer overflows, the installation of rain gardens and green roofs improves air quality for residents and beautifies streetscapes. Now, they’re setting their sights on private property in order to manage rainfall that lands places other than city streets. The DEP is collaborating with the NRDC to find the right incentives that will convince private property owners to install green roofs or porous pavements, which means establishing an economic benefit to managing stormwater.“We know [the DEP] can source green infrastructure on private property, and that many of those opportunities are lower-cost than comparable stormwater capture on public land,” says Valderrama. “The puzzle for us is how to structure the program so that it’s a win for private property owners and vendors so that those low-cost retrofit opportunities are brought to the table.” This will be especially important on areas being used for commercial and industrial purposes. “It all comes down to the program structure,” said Alisa Valderrama, senior policy analyst at the NRDC. “What we’re trying to do here is create a market where there is none.” The NRDC has also worked with the cities of Seattle and Philadelphia on green infrastructure programs for managing stormwater. In the case of Philadelphia, the city builds the cost of treating stormwater into residents’ water bill based on the amount of impervious surfaces on the property. In this way, porous pavements and rain gardens provide an immediate economic benefit in the form of a greatly reduced fee. Collected stormwater can be used for green facades and urban farming, providing an additional benefit to reducing stress on water treatment systems. As technology improves and cities like New York establish a market for green infrastructure on private property, initiatives like this will likely continue to evolve and grow with benefit to both residents and the environment.
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SXSW Eco announces 2016 Place by Design finalists
South by Southwest Eco (SXSW Eco), an environmentally- and socially-conscious event occurring alongside the more well-known South By Southwest music and technology gathering in Austin, Texas has released its list of this year’s 36 finalists for its public space design competition, Place by Design. The selected projects represent a diverse collection of emerging design practices, many with humanitarian-based approaches. Several finalists also have ties to the West Coast’s emerging public interest design scene. Applicants compete for funding to realize projects in six categories that aim to “rethink the potential of the places around us.” One of those teams, applying in the “Art + Interaction” category, is San Francisco-based Future Cities Lab, who aims to create a sculptural, interactive facade that translates the sound a light display. In the “Equity + Inclusion” category, MASS Design Group seeks to construct a new tuberculosis hospital to in Port-au-Prince, Haiti to replace a facility destroyed during that 2010 earthquake that devastated that country. Mass Design Group also has an entry in the “Resilience + Health” category: a proposed cholera treatment plant in Port-au-Prince that also serves as a water treatment site. River LA, a Los Angeles-based L.A. River advocacy group, is also vying for funding in the “Resilience + Health” category. Their L.A. River Index project is a Gehry Partners-aligned study of the river’s potential for an equitable and ecological future. In the “Revitalization” category, Olayami Dabl and his African Bead Museum are vying for funding against, among others, two Los Angeles-based design firms. The first is from LA-Más; their project provides urban design and business support services aimed at placemaking, pedestrianism, and economic revitalization along underserved business corridors in Los Angeles. The second is Alexis Rochas who has designed an interactive and tech-savvy public space in an underused scrap of land in Long Beach, California. In the “Speculative + Prototyping” category, San Francisco-based Jennifer Pattee’s Pop Up Fitness Hub proposes installing an brightly colored, outdoor workout space for public use in Hayes Valley atop an unused parking lot. Lastly, Seattle Design Nerds’ proposal in the “Urban Strategy + Civic Engagement” category seeks funding to engage the public in architecture and urban design through interactive inflatable spaces and augmented reality games.  Winners will be announced October 12, 2016, at the end of the SXSW Eco conference, during which finalists will present their proposals to a large panel consisting of design professionals, organizers, creatives, and philanthropists.