Search results for "Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects "

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Leaving the Big City

Goodbye New York: AN picks the best projects outside the Big Three
The Architect's Newspaper (AN) has editors in New York, Chicago, and L.A., but we're not city snobs. With a network of regional writers from Baltimore to Dallas, Seattle to Phoenix, our mission is to cover projects everywhere in North America—and in 2016, we printed far-flung stories that usually fly under the radar. Check out our 15 favorite projects below. (See the rest of our Year in Review 2016 articles here.) WORKac Arizona House revives the Earthship typology “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.” The Memphis Movement A slew of new developments suggest Memphis, long plagued by high rates of poverty and unemployment, is on the up-and-up, but is the city really rebounding? Gensler designs a new vision for the unloved Milwaukee Post Office The long, low-slung Milwaukee Post Office is not a popular building, but Gensler's forthcoming revamp will inject much-needed vitality into the more-or-less dead space. Basket builders vacate Ohio’s famous basket building After nearly twenty years, the Longaberger Company, maker of wooden baskets, will be moving out of its trademark Longaberger Medium Market Basket–shaped building in Newark, Ohio. What will happen to the building? $1.9 billion Las Vegas Raiders stadium clears penultimate hurdle The odds for the Oakland Raiders football team’s relocation to Las Vegas are looking very good right about now. Not OKC See what's happening to John Johansen’s Mummers Theater in Oklahoma City. Ford begins work on new $1.2 billion campus in Michigan When Ford Motor Company took stock of its current 60-year-old Dearborn, Michigan, facilities, it became clear that the only way forward would be to take a big leap into two new high-tech campuses. Spearheading the master plans is the Detroit office of SmithGroupJJR. When completed, the estimated $1.2 billon, ten-year project will involve moving 30,000 employees from 70 buildings into a Product Campus and a Headquarters Campus. Throughout the project, the entire campus will also have to stay 100 percent operational. New renderings revealed for ambitious, highway-capping park in Atlanta Buckhead Park Over GA400 is a new park typology for the city. Like most great public places, it’s about creating a series of scaled experiences” for visitors, explained Rob Rogers, principal at Rogers Partners and one of the park's lead designers. The Mexico City designers forging a new path beyond modernism By combining high-design references with homespun folk art, the city's designers are able to create works that are contemporary, but also contextual and artisanal, and that speak to the contested and refined realities of their home city. With a grab bag of contemporary stylistic influences coupled with the methodical pedagogy of their elders, the current generation of designers is quickly moving past the orthodoxy of the city’s Modernismo traditions toward new enterprises that blend design, architecture, and furniture. This year the city hosted Design Week Mexico, and it will be the WorldDesign Capital in 2018—the sixth in the program and the first North American city to be named as such. Shelburne Farms Old Dairy Barn, a Vermont landmark, destroyed by fire Sadly, Vermont lost one of its agrarian and architectural landmarks in September when the historic Old Dairy Barn at Shelburne Farms was destroyed by fire. Saving the Columbus Occupational Health Association Columbus, Indiana is small Midwestern city filled with buildings designed by Eliel Saarinen, Eero Saarinen, I.M. Pei, Kevin Roche, Richard Meier, Harry Weese, César Pelli, Gunnar Birkerts, Robert Venturi, Robert Stern, and many others. Now, its 1973 health center, designed by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates (HHPA) is for sale. Despite its wealth of modern architecture and a forthcoming biennale, the town has no formal preservation laws, so a sale could mean the destruction or thoughtless modification of this important building. Jean Nouvel eyeing North Adams The home of MassMoCA and the future home of Gluckman Tang's Extreme Model Railroad Museum may be getting a master plan by none other than Jean Nouvel. Residents say Celebration, FL is ruined by mold and shoddy construction Although the Walt Disney Company hired a cadre of leading architects to design Celebration, Florida, the sloppy construction of homes in the theme town is driving residents to grief and financial trouble.
Dallas–Fort Worth Branch Waters Network dovetails with rapid development Architect Kevin Sloan thinks American conceptions of planning and notions of “nature” need to be challenged. His Branch Waters Network project in Dallas aims to do just that. 
A torrent of new projects are reshaping Staten Island Okay, okay—Staten Island is part of New York City, but even in a city of islands, the borough gets no love. Islanders voted to secede in 1993, and city officials say it's too far for nice things like bikeshares. Nevertheless, AN visited this spring to check out some new developments shaping the Forgotten Borough.
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Go Go Gowanus

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

Thinking of a quick dip in the Gowanus? Perhaps not. After 150 years of industrial pollution, combined with sewage overflows and stormwater run-off, the canal is generally seen to be an undesirable place. However, one team comprising of three New York practices—Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, community bio-laboratory GenSpace, and the Gowanus Canal Conservancy—views it in a different light.

Earlier this year, urban design advocacy group Gowanus by Design launched the competition, “Axis Civitas,” which asked participants to map conditions relevant to the Gowanus area and use that as a basis to design a publicly accessible Urban Field Station.

The BK BioReactor—a collaboration including core team members Ellen Jorgensen of GenSpace and Ian Quate of Nelson Byrd Woltz, as well as Dr. Elizabeth Hénaff of Weill Cornell Medical College and Matthew Seibert of Landscape Metrics—claimed first prize. Since then, the team has been getting to work and can be found kayaking along the canal’s surface and even wading through its filth, cataloging and mapping the Gowanus’s microbial communities. An interactive microbiological map has been produced (available online), locating all the different microorganisms; the vast majority of which are bacteria. “Many of the species identified in preliminary samplings are also found in the human gut (a result of raw sewage), while other species reveal influence of the canal’s proximity to the ocean,” the group states on its website.

Executive director of Gowanus by Design David Briggs stressed they had no time to lose. Now designated as a Superfund by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the canal will be dredged and then have its waterways sub-aquatically capped over the course of the next decade. This process will involve isolating the canal’s waste by coating it with a layer of soil or similar substance to prevent further contamination of the canal.

Briggs, an architect himself, spoke of the “dearth of community resources” in the Gowanus neighborhood. “If we could help with that and also work with the EPA, then we would really achieve something,” he said. Such a proposal isn’t out of the question either.

Hénaff spoke highly of the study so far: “There are only positives to conclude,” she said. “Nature does fix itself, despite what we inflict on it, and our job now is to see how we can coax this currently optimal bioremediation solution to perform faster.” She outlined two directions that could be taken: Tweaking the bacteria themselves and accelerating the rate of metabolism or “modifying the built environment through choices in materials and structures to provide an environment with which to select for the bioremediating functions in the extant microbiome.”

Turning up the heat on the microbial melting pot that is the Gowanus is no easy task. As a landscape architect, Seibert believes that through “a data-driven understanding of place (via DNA sequencing of sediment samples and responsive environmental sensor installation), community engagement, and bioreactor cultivation prototyping,” the team can begin to “offer site-specific proposals” for how this could be done.

Seibert explained how this would help traditional landscape architects “design and specify an optimized environment for a preferred planting palette (i.e. soil structure, amendments, irrigation, etc.).” Meanwhile a “microbiologically-leaning landscape architect might do the same for a microbiome privileging the populations of bioremediating microbes.”

“I think the canal is a landscape rich in lessons in how we conceive of landscape, particularly landscape within an urban context,” Seibert continued. “For one, it speaks to the dangers of divorcing the built and natural environments. In fact, I think there is sort of a novel bioethic that emerges from this that can encourage a new kind of stewardship. As toxic and ugly and ultimately embarrassing as the Gowanus Canal is to its community, it also provides this layered landscape to catalyze us into re-conceiving nature and our role intimately within and of it.”

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Yard Bird's Eye View

Building of the Day: Hudson Yards
This is the twenty-fifth in a series of guests posts that feature Archtober Building of the Day tours! When approaching Hudson Yards from Pennsylvania Station, seeing parked buses and queues of travelers along 31st Street, it’s difficult to imagine that this 28-acre campus could shed its transitory reputation to become a final destination point for more than just Long Island Railroad cars. But by reclaiming square-footage currently lost to train exhaust, the architects and developers believe Hudson Yards will quickly emerge as a major retail and cultural hub in Manhattan. Today’s tour started on the 41st floor of 10 Hudson Yards (also known as the Coach Building for its primary tenant) and was led by Mark Boekenheide, AIA, and Sherry Tobak of Related Companies, Marianne Kwok of Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates (KPF), and Serena Nelson of Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects. Designed by KPF, the 895 foot-tall reinforced concrete tower boasts 1.8 million square feet of office and retail space and is currently home to a number of high-profile tenants. According to Boekenheide, concrete was an unusual material to use for a project of this size in New York City, but was chosen in order to meet Coach’s timeline for move-in. He also noted that many tenants in the building are now opting to keep the material exposed to add a loft-like atmosphere their offices. 10 Hudson Yards and its twin still under construction across the way carry the tradition of twin office towers that stretch down Manhattan avenues ending at the World Trade Center. Although the towers are not identical, Kwok said, both are oriented in such a way to direct energy down to the 14-acres of public space below, reinforcing the complex’s relationship to the city as a whole. Once 30 Hudson Yards is completed in 2018, visitors will be able to take in views of Manhattan from the tallest open air observatory deck. Half of the Hudson Yards’ acreage will remain open space, and will support the creation of interlocking green spaces intended to draw tenants and visitors into the campus. When designing the elliptical gardens, Nelson said, accounting for the heat generated by the trains parked below on the west campus was a unique challenge; on a summer day, when the trains are stalled with their ACs running, temperatures could rise up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit, and would effectively scorch much of the existing plant life. However, gardens will soon grow at Hudson Yards thanks to the design of a glycol cooling system suspended within concrete beneath the soil. As confirmed by a 360-virtual reality rendering of the five orbital gardens, the Trafalgar Square-like space will serve as an exceptional northern terminus to the High Line once completed. About the author: Kelly Felsberg is the Program Committees Coordinator at AIA New York.
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Vessel

Heatherwick Studio unveils design for new device at Hudson Yards
Over the din of construction on nearby towers, today Anderson Cooper moderated a panel discussion and design unveiling of Vessel, Heatherwick Studio's new public work at Hudson Yards
Stephen M. Ross, president of Related Companies, Thomas Woltz, founding principal of Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects (NBW), and Thomas Heatherwick of Heatherwick Studios spoke with Cooper about the value of public space in New York and the opportunities that designing a park and plaza ab ova present. The project's cost was previously reported as $200 million, though there's been no update on whether that's changed with the just-unveiled design.
"Vessel was really unlike anything I've ever seen in New York. We wanted something great. The city is about having great public places," gushed Ross, whose real estate firm is a co-developer of Hudson Yards, the 365-acre mixed-used development on Manhattan's Far West Side. Heatherwick's design, he said, "was love at first sight.”

In a see-and-be-seen city where even the ultra-rich schlep in and out of the subway, Vessel elevates the time-honored art of flânerie to civic priority. Its 154 vertiginous steel-and-concrete staircases are meant to help visitors experience Hudson Yards and surrounding people from as many angles as desired (or, perhaps, angles unintended). The stairs and viewing platforms converge in a lattice that suggests a panopticon with the geometry of an inverted beehive. When complete, the 16-story structure will be the tallest freestanding observation platform in the city (at least until the New York Wheel starts rolling).

"So often, historic public spaces are commemorating kings, or battles, or tragedies. But this is a new public space. It would be a fake duty to look back," Heatherwick told The Architect's Newspaper. Instead, the project reacts to a 21st-century urban condition: "Buildings are getting bigger and bigger—that mega-scale, it's something new. But 2,000 years ago, humans were mostly the same size we are now. The human scale stays true. This project was not driven by fitness or health alone, but more by how we could nurture the human scale."

Hudson Yards, Cooper maintained, needed an attraction for those humans—a Christmas tree 365 days per year but also something the public could interact with. “It was an extraordinary thing, to make a new public square, in the center of the city," Heatherwick said, comparing Hudson Yards to Trafalgar Square and Bryant Park. "We felt enormous pressure to not make gardens but to make an urban square, an extension of New York."

The design blends a key cue from the High Line—elevation—and reacts to the city’s fire escapes, stoops, and the countless staircases that facilitate the flow of people in the city. “We wanted to make a project out of just stairs, an ultimate body thing,” Heatherwick explained. Visitors can hit their FitBit goals twice over by climbing 250 flights to the structure's top.

On the ground, NBW collaborated with Heatherwick to create the Public Square and Gardens at Hudson Yards, a six-acre public space that links Hudson Yards with Hudson River Park and the High Line, which will get a new on-site entrance at Tenth Avenue and 30th Street.

Like Heatherwick, who designed Vessel's teacup form with upper-story office workers in mind, Woltz wanted "to create a site that was quite graphic" for the square and gardens. The firm consulted 400-year-old maps to determine the site's original environmental conditions (it was a wet meadow) and captured a snapshot of native flora from that time, Woltz told AN.

This is one of NBW's two active commissions for landscapes over infrastructure: The platform the park sits on is the ventilation cover for the rail yard below, and the platform had to be engineered to support 200 mature trees. “The landscape operates in a seven-foot-thick sandwich of structure. I will never in my life take for granted being on real earth, because everything here is constructed,” Woltz said.

Amid exhalations on Twitter, some raised concerns about the accessibility of the public spaces, especially Vessel, whose stair-fixation seemed to exclude parents with strollers and people who use wheelchairs.

A model depicted elevators on a fixed track—hardly the expansive views and exuberant movement promised by the architects. The project is inclusive, Heatherwick maintained. He told AN that the model is outdated; new renderings, including the bird's eye view, below, were captured from elevators that snake around Vessel's insides on curving tracks.

The High Line, with the new perspectives it gives people on public (and private) space, was key to Heatherwick's approach to Vessel, which he calls "a device, not a sculpture." In the most successful public spaces, there's a chemistry to seeing that's aided by human interaction, he said. A good public space, too, should offer an element of play. "I asked, 'Why are playgrounds only made for children?' We're creating a vertical structure for all of us."

Vessel will be complete in 2018.

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Buckhead Park Over GA400

New renderings revealed for ambitious, highway-capping park in Atlanta
Atlanta is planning a cap-and-trade of the best kind: Today, ROGERS PARTNERS Architects+Urban Designers (Rogers Partners) and Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects released more details of a proposal to cover a stretch of highway in the city's Buckhead neighborhood and convert it to a lush nine-acre park. "Buckhead Park Over GA400 is a new park typology for the city. Most Atlanta parts are historic, or like Centennial Park, built for a special purpose [such as the Olympics]. This park will create quality public space where you already have density. Like most great public places, it's about creating a series of scaled experiences" for visitors, explained Rob Rogers, principal at Rogers Partners. Thomas Woltz, principal at Nelson Byrd Woltz, added that the park, which straddles an eight-lane highway, "is connected to existing infrastructure and is being built in found space, much like New York's Hudson Yards and Millennium Park in Chicago." The pair presented their design this morning for Buckhead Park Over GA400 to the board of the project's sponsors, the Buckhead Community Improvement District (BCID). Buckhead, an affluent neighborhood in northern Atlanta that's crisscrossed by interstate and local highways, is one of the city's primary commercial districts, with dense development clustered along its main corridor, Peachtree Road. As car-oriented Atlanta grows, the city is looking to enhance the quality of its green spaces and encourage walkable environments. Buckhead Park Over GA400 is born out of that ambition, and designed as a local park with regional pull, Rogers and Woltz agreed. A series of public spaces—the plaza, the commons, and the gardens—will be complemented by MARTA stations that bring commuters into the neighborhood and by connections to the Atlanta Beltline, and Path 400, a state-funded recreational trails initiative.
"When we started the project, one of the things we thought was most exciting was taking this void in the middle of the neighborhood, and turning that into the heart of Buckhead as a public space. When you're making this major public space, we thought, 'How do you ground that? How do you make this part of Atlanta?'" Woltz said. The design team looked to nature: the Appalachian foothills are one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet, so he and Rogers decided to ground the design of the ab ovo park in the region's bio-heritage. The curving lawns, stepped seating, and sweeping overhead paths that will guide visitors over sunken lanes of traffic are manifestations of the region's ecology, abstracted through form, material choices, and horticulture, especially. The plaza's high canopies evoke the native savannah, while upland ecology is represented in the park's commons, which is scaled to host large events. The gardens off of Peachtree Road buffer visitors from that busy, car-oriented thoroughfare. Even at the conceptual level, the design choices reflect structural considerations, Woltz explained. A half-mile-long allée linking the plaza, the commons, and the gardens will be planted over the structure of the train tracks, so the designers know they will have enough stability to support mature trees. "This approach is the opposite of decorating the outdoors with plants," Woltz added. "We're selecting the most resilient plants that are still iconic for this ecology." Woltz and Rogers are hopeful that the next part of concept study, which includes community outreach and deeper financial analysis, will move forward soon.
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Gulf Green

At interdisciplinary conference, Houston highlights its new relationship to the natural landscape

Houston’s green renaissance set the stage for a recent conference of landscape architects, designers, planners, institutional leaders, and policy makers who convened at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston on March 11.

Hosted by Washington, D.C.–based non-profit The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), Leading with Landscape II: The Houston Transformation focused on how landscape architecture is changing the city at a scale not seen in the U.S. in a century.

Charles Birnbaum, founder and executive director of TCLF, posited Houston’s built heritage in three sections: The linear hardscape and engineering of freeways, the iconic architectural monuments connected by said infrastructure, and today’s emerging landscape architecture that is stitching together the natural and built environments.

“The story of zoning and planning in Houston is a fascinating study, one that lies at the very center of the conference and tours. It is a story characterized by political wrangling, economic boom and bust cycles, hurricane and flooding, the influence of the automobile in infrastructure and housing development, public-private partnerships, and the presence of the many bayous that traverse the city,” Birnbaum wrote in the conference guide. “Houston provokes the question, ‘Can a city that has developed largely without a plan also be one that is leading with landscape?’”

Conference discussions looked ahead to the ambitious new plans for Bayou Greenways, Memorial Park, the Menil’s Campus, and the Houston Botanic Garden, while examining the successes of Discovery Green and Hermann Park. Issues of street-level design for pedestrian experiences, equity, inclusion, and funding were also brought to the forefront to improve upon the city’s connectivity and accessibility.

The daylong panel discussions included the voices of leading landscape architecture firms and various institutions: SWA, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, West 8, Hargreaves Associates, the Office of James Burnett, Reed Hilderbrand, Design Workshop, Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, Asakura Robinson, Clark Condon, the Hermann Park Conservancy, the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University, the Houston Chronicle, the Kinder Foundation, Chilton Capital Management, Clean Line Energy, the School of Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin, the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, Rice University, the University of Houston, and the Anchorage Foundation of Texas. San Antonio mayor Ivy Taylor and former Houston mayor Annise Parker also spoke during the final session titled, “An Appraisal.”

Taylor, an urban planner originally from Queens, spoke about parks as potential anchors for neighborhoods, including San Antonio’s redevelopment of the Riverwalk, Pearl Brewery, and drainage improvements, as well as matters of park equity. She cited having grown up near Central Park in New York, “the granddaddy of them all.”

“As a little girl, I didn’t go to those parks. We had a square patch of grass. How do we reach out to folks to experience the natural environment?” Taylor asked. Her presentation led to the question: How are we to be stewards for the next generation?

The foundation also hosted expert-led free tours March 12–13 at more than 30 iconic sites that demonstrate Houston’s legacy of green and public spaces, including Buffalo Bayou Park, Sesquicentennial Park, the Menil’s Campus, Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park, Sabine Promenade, and Discovery Green.

“This is my city. I love this city,” Parker said. “This is a city of big ideas and we tackle big things in big ways.” She continued to discuss the importance of the Port of Houston, the Astrodome, “Houston” as the first word on the moon, and issues including infrastructure, parks, preservation, and public art. She also elaborated on the Bayou Greenways Initiative and how it touches every community in Houston by creating an interconnected green web. As great cities attract intellectual capital, it also needs amenities and attractions for its citizens.

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Required Reading

Our AIA Convention 2016 reader
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Rogers Partners selected to create nine-acre park over highway in Atlanta
Atlanta's Buckhead Community Improvement District (BCID) has chosen New York City-based Rogers Partners Architects+Urban Designers (Rogers Partners) to execute a vision plan and design for phase one of the Park over GA400. Buckhead is an affluent but automobile-dominated neighborhood in northern Atlanta. GA400 would cap a section of GA Highway 400 and convert it into a nine-acre park with a MARTA (rail) station: Phase one planning will work primarily on developing a schematic plan, funding, and engineering. BCID and Rogers Partners will develop project costs, analyze the site, and pursue funding. GA400's first phase is expected to cost $250,000. “This idea began several years ago during the same planning exercise that gave rise to the PATH400 Greenway, currently under construction," explained Jim Durrett, executive director of BCID, in a statement. "It took shape with the exceptional concept plan developed by Jacobs and Greenrock Partners. A signature Park over GA400 will significantly enhance and expand on-going efforts in Buckhead to add open space and public gathering opportunities.” Rogers Partners will collaborate with Charlottesville, Virginia– and New York City–based Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects (NBW) on the project, as well as design firm ASD | Sky; engineers WSP | Parson Brinckerhoff and Guy Nordenson and Associates; Perez Planning and Design; lighting designers Renfro Design Group; and sustainability experts Sherwood Design Engineers. Rogers Partners has a few major projects in the pipeline at the moment: A new pier in St. Petersburg, Florida, a redesign of both Constitution Gardens and President’s Park in Washington, D.C., and the third most popular park in Minneapolis.  
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Explore this interactive map of the Gowanus Canal’s slightly scary microbiology
The Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn is notorious for its filth. Normally a sure fire way to contract dysentery, cancer and arsenic poisoning, the canal is now the subject of study from a diverse collaborative effort: Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, biotech nonprofit GenSpace, the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, and data visualizers Landscape Metrics. Called the BK BioReactor, the undertaking employs a small autonomous watercraft that samples waters throughout the infamous canal (an U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Superfund site). The researchers set out to catalog its microbial communities before the canal undergoes dredging and sub-aquatically capping as part of the Superfund cleanup later this year. https://vimeo.com/156573571 Why the Gowanus? The team aims to discover new microorganisms "unique to the urban realm." With many urban areas facing similar pollution challenges, there may be important lessons to be learned. "The Gowanus Canal is an incubator for the evolution of such bioremediating functions, attesting to its industrial past and its capacity for self-renewal," they stated. To carry out the task, the group are using the BK BioReactor: a mobile watercraft that takes samples and stops at 14 "Smart Docks" throughout the canal. The craft measures "water temperature, pH, salinity, and dissolved oxygen; and most importantly grant researchers and citizen scientists access to the microbiome below the cleanup cap. Subsequently, an interactive microbiological map has been produced, locating all the different microorganisms, the vast majority of which are bacteria. However, in some parts of the canal, large quantities of the siphoviridae virus family can be found. For those wondering, this is not linked to syphilis (which the canal has been associated with). That's not to say the findings were in any way healthy however. "Many of the species identified in preliminary samplings are also found in the human gut (a result of raw sewage) while other species reveal influence of the canal’s proximity to the ocean," the group said. "Regardless of their source, the microbial melting pot of the canal has fine-tuned its metabolism, swapping genes with neighboring communities and evolving novel functions to develop real-time strategies for the unique state of the canal." https://vimeo.com/156590188 Other substances discovered included:
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How architects are building a “soil sandwich” to keep plants from cooking at Hudson Yards’ rail-yard-topping Public Square
Building America’s largest private real estate development in history would be a tricky proposition whether or not it was taking shape over an active rail yard in the middle of the densest city in the country. But, of course, that is exactly where Hudson Yards—the mega development with those superlative bragging rights—is taking shape. To support the 17-million-square-foot project, Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF), alongside Thornton Tomasetti, designed a massive steel platform (video below) that caps the rail yard allowing trains to move below and towers to rise into the Manhattan skyline. After years of failed attempts to build at the site, the project finally broke ground in 2012. Today, the platform is expanding horizontally and the first glass tower, also designed by KPF, is nearing completion. https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=35&v=PuxMfQ8UTG4 Planting a forest of skyscrapers above the rail yard has obviously required some engineering ingenuity, but planting an actual forest—or at least 200 trees—at Hudson Yards is no easy task task, either. To ensure that all of the trees, flowers, and plantings in Hudson Yards’ 4.5-acre “Public Square” flourish, landscape architecture firm Nelson Byrd Woltz had to solve a tricky equation of its own. Since the green space sits atop the new platform, the firm created a special soil to provide necessary drainage and nutrients for the plantings. There is also a “soil sandwich” of sand, gravel, and concrete slab to help trees’ roots expand horizontally. In the mix, plans also call for a rainwater collection system that will irrigate the space by pooling “every drop of rainwater that falls on the Hudson Yards Public Square". Er, maybe not every rain drop will be collected but we get the idea. There's another hidden challenge for sustaining plant life in the Public Square lurking just beneath the surface, as well: the heat rising from train tracks below. That heat, if left alone, would essentially cook the roots of any plants sitting above it. To keep the trees and plants comfortable, coolant is being pumped into the concrete slab. There are also 15 jet-engine-sized fans to further dissipate the heat. The site’s developers—Related and Oxford Properties Group—are celebrating the space as a great new public amenity (it’s right there in the name: Public Square). But while the space is open to the public and can be used for cultural events and movie screenings, it’s pretty clear that it is designed to be a money-maker for the development. The Hudson Yards’ website boasts that the Public Square can be used for “marquee events” like “signature product launches” and “brand installations.” You can also expect plenty of models during Fashion Week, which will relocate to the complex's Culture Shed. Speaking of money, the day after the Public Square plan was revealed by the developer, the Independent Budget Office projected that Hudson Yards will cost the city an additional $368 million through 2019, bringing the price tag for the entire project to $947 million, as reported by DNAinfo. The city has provided $3 billion in bonds for the project along with the 7 train extension that will service the site. Revenue from residential and commercial tenants at Hudson yards was supposed to offset the cost, but that hasn't happened just yet.
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Control the Message
Houston skyline viewed from Eleanor Tinsley Park.
Robert Blackie / Flickr

When I interviewed Thomas Woltz of landscape architecture practice Nelson Byrd Woltz about his research and initial design proposals for a rethinking of Houston’s Memorial Park, he mentioned a stinging comment that someone had made during one of the project’s public outreach sessions. It ran something like, “We don’t need your weenie, leftist, green, bicycling unfit-for-print!” A comment left under a story about the project on the Houston Chronicle’s website struck a similar tone: “Leave it alone, Woltz. I don’t need you to ‘tell a story’ with our park. Mother Nature has done a far better job than you ever could.”

While these gripes contain a number of fallacies—design professionals don’t need that pointed out to them—the pervasiveness of this sort of opposition makes it a factor that any architect must face when undertaking a project that is open to public review and input. And though the remarks above may have a certain regional flavor specific to Texas and the Southwest, this brand of misinformed, knee-jerk reaction is common all across our great nation. It seems, in fact, to be endemic in the American Grain.

As such, architects and landscape architects with ambitions to enter the public realm need to be prepared to deal with entrenched positions and prejudiced bloviating just as much as they need to keep their ears peeled for justifiable criticism and the opinions of locals who might know a site and how they want to use it best. Sure, designers should listen carefully to a community’s needs in order to make “careful insertions” that will “heal the public realm” by promoting “connectivity and open exchange,” or whatever, but a good idea is a good idea, and just as often as not too much influence from a divided and querulous populace can spell its death.

What I’m getting at is that, often, in order to protect the integrity of a good design it has to be carried through opposition without distortion. This can require certain actions that may not make the press release—backroom dealing, ardent cajoling, pugilistic obstinacy, etc. Luckily for architects, this dirty work falls mostly within the domain of the politician. But architects should pay attention to how ambitious projects are taken through the public approval process because it can help them craft their presentations to better ensure that the ideas that matter make it to construction.

A couple of examples of figures in Houston who have handled this tricky process well come quickly to mind. One is Judge Roy Hofheinz, who gleefully referred to himself as the Grand Huckster. Even before almost single handedly assembling the land, funding, and county approval for the Astrodome, he was known for swimming against the current to improve the city. As Mayor of Houston and as Harris County Judge, he was able to sell voters on new taxes in order to fund a range of civic improvements, such as paving the roads.

Another, more apropos, example is current Houston Mayor Annise Parker. In order to drum up money to pay for the Memorial Park improvements, rather than propose a bond referendum (which would certainly have been shot down) she approached the Uptown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (or TIRZ, a Texas variety of tax increment financing) and convinced them to redraw their boundaries to include the park. It was an easy enough sell. An improved park will only hike up Uptown real estate prices, thus feeding the TIRZ with increased property taxes.

Hofheinz and Parker both exhibit how to pitch a matter so that the stakeholders involved can see how it benefits them, even against their first inclinations. It is a skill that any architect would want in their quiver, even when dealing with a private client.

As for Woltz, he knows that maintaining the integrity of his firm’s design for Memorial Park is important. “We do need to listen to the public, but we are charged with a high goal. Never again is there going to be a 1,500-acre park in the middle of Houston,” he said. Fortunately, not everyone in the Bayou City stands against him. Other comments left under the same Chronicle story mentioned above include: “I like the plan,” and “It sounds great!” and “Fantastic!”

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Land Without Fences
One of NBW's most significant proposals is the construction of two wide land bridges that will connect the park across Memorial Drive.
Courtesy Nelson Byrd Woltz

Landscape architecture firm Nelson Byrd Woltz (NBW) has released initial ideas for a master plan to refashion Houston’s Memorial Park. At a public meeting in September, members of the firm presented a range of strategies developed over a year-long research effort that are aimed at restoring the drought-ravaged park’s ecology, improving its connectivity, and rearranging its recreational amenities.

Memorial Park lost more than 50 percent of its trees during the 2011 drought. As a result, the Houston Parks and Recreation Department along with the Uptown Houston Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) and the Memorial Park Conservancy hired NBW to conduct a study of the site’s ecology and develop a long-range plan to make it more resilient as well as better functioning.

Working with a local team of soil scientists and ecologists, NBW bored into the ground and discovered that the park was not always the thick-canopy, pine-hardwood-mix forest familiar to Houstonians. Biological matter and multiple layers of charcoal found in the park’s upper strata indicated to the team that, hundreds of years ago, before European settlement, the land on which the park sits was a post oak savannah that was managed with fire by the Karankawa and other Native American tribes who lived there to produce better hunting grounds.

 

Explaining to Houstonians that their park is not what they always thought it was and that restoring it to an essentially pre-historic ecology may be the most sustainable solution has proved challenging for the landscape architects. “We feel we need to understand the past of a piece of land in order to propose to have a great vision for the future of that piece of land,” said Thomas Woltz, principal at NBW. “One of the things that we have come up against is the public perception that Memorial Park is a pristine wilderness, or a last fragment of the Piney Woods; that it was in perfect health before the drought and just needs to be put back as it was. But it was clearly not a resilient ecology.”

Further research into the park’s history uncovered that it was used as grazing land by European settlers, was part of the Reinerman Family homestead, was the site of Camp Logan where soldiers were trained during World War I, and was purchased in 1924 by Will and Mike Hogg. The Hogg brothers sold the land to the city at cost for the purpose of creating a public park. The city named it Memorial Park in commemoration of those who perished in the Great War.

The Hoggs’ sister, Ima Hogg, assumed the role of guardian of the park and protected it from many encroachments over the years. Her efforts, however, did not stop the 1,500-acre tract of wilderness from being subdivided by roads and rail lines. “One of the observations we’ve made during this year of research is that Memorial park is divided into 24 separate parcels by roads and highways,” said Woltz. “They’re a real obstacle.”

The most notable of these obstacles is Memorial Drive, a high-speed thoroughfare that bisects the site from east to west. While in 2004 a narrow pedestrian bridge was erected over the road, NBW is proposing to create a more significant link between the two halves of the park by building two giant land bridges, one 800 feet wide, the other 400 feet wide, with an oculus in the middle. “You can imagine this broad swath of prairie and trees and shrubs going up and over the road,” said Woltz. “It would create nice connectivity and an incredible place from which to look out over the rest of the park.”

Other proposals at this phase of the design process include moving all of the park’s ball fields to the north end of the site, where there is already significant light and noise pollution from I-10, and preserving the southern half of the park, which borders on Buffalo Bayou, as an ecological restoration zone. NBW also plans to improve the park’s horseback riding facilities and provide separate bicycling tracks for high-speed, BMX, and family riding. The Memorial Park Golf Course, which was built as a Works Progress Administration project in 1934, will remain.

Funding for the master plan will come primarily from the Uptown Houston TIRZ, which has committed to spending between $100 and $150 million on the project, as well as some state and city money and fundraising by the Memorial Park Conservancy. The design phase ends in April 2015, at which point NBW will present the master plan to the Houston City Council for approval.