All posts in Sustainability
Feel the Learn
Miami’s Frost Museum of Science by Grimshaw aims to be paragon of sustainable architecture
The La Kretz Innovation Campus (LKIC), designed by John Friedman Alice Kimm Architects (JFAK), is a new business incubation center in Los Angeles developed by the Department of Water and Power (LADWP), the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles, and Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI), a nonprofit tasked to transform the city into a green-collar hub.
The 61,000-square-foot “sustainability factory” is located in a collection of single-story, masonry-and-bow-truss warehouses from 1923 in L.A.’s Arts District. The neighborhood, home to the Southern California Institute of Architecture and a growing number of creative industries, is well-suited to benefit from a “Cleantech Corridor” specifically zoned to support the green economy-related development now running through it.
The complex is meant to be a place where, as JFAK founder and principal Alice Kimm said, “Ideas for new goods and services can be birthed, researched, developed, prototyped, and pushed out to market from under one roof.”
The complex, measuring 290- by 200-feet, is carved into eight similarly sized warehouse bays mirrored about a central axis. The eastern four bays are dedicated to business incubation services: office spaces, meeting rooms, and lounge areas. The western half of the building contains maker spaces: state-of-the-art fabrication rooms with robots and wood shop tools.
While the exterior of the building has been left mostly untouched, the whole of the structure has been seismically retrofitted and its interiors upgraded with new surfaces and partitions. Upon entering the building, one discovers a waiting lounge demarcated by an abstracted triumphal arch. The area is wrapped on two sides by a luscious indoor green wall while white prisms—actually, light cannons designed to reflect sunlight indoors—descend from the ceiling above the adjacent reception desk. Spaces beyond contain an arrangement of single-height partitions and fully-enclosed meeting rooms, all sandwiched between polished concrete floors and the soaring, lumber arches of the bow-trusses distinctive to L.A.’s industrial architecture.
Kimm explained that daylighting strategies guided the design: “We staggered the placement of enclosed spaces so light could penetrate all the way through the building.”
The following bays provide more offices and lead to a semi-formal, wood-paneled amphitheater and cafe lounge. The lounge overlooks the new Arts District Park, designed by staff landscape architects from the Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering with JFAK, who designed a shade structure for it. The half-acre park features a playground and landscaping fed by a gray water–reclamation system designed by LADWP. BuroHappold was the mechanical and sustainability engineer.
The western portion of the building contains utilitarian conference rooms, laboratories, and fabrication spaces. Generously proportioned gypsum and glass partition–lined hallways snake along the main party wall at the center of the complex, connecting the business and fabrication spaces along a social core. These routes connect physically discrete spaces, giving the building’s interiors a sense relative impermanence that contrasts with the solid masonry walls and the elaborate truss ceiling above, now bedazzled with all manner of mechanical and electrical systems.
Kimm explained: “[With LKIC] ‘adaptive reuse’ meant that we had to make a building that had enough identity on its own, as a unifying architectural framework, but that would still allow the individuals to have their own voices. The project revolved around finding a balance and knowing when to stop.”
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Keeping environmentalism alive during a Trump presidency
A new must-read book explores the divides within landscape architecture and urban design
Questions of environment, ecology, and climate have never more intensely occupied the cultural zeitgeist. According to editors Christophe Girot and Dora Imhof of the ETH Zurich, as scarcity, ruin, and a siege mentality drove the functionalism that dominated architecture of the post-war period, the profession of landscape architecture is still in the midst of responding to a decades-long environmental crisis, and has produced similarly functionalist design. They suggest (as Elizabeth Meyer has for years in her Sustaining Beauty writings) that recent landscape architectural production is too highly conditioned by analytics, abstracted from site, and producing works that don’t rise above functionalist responses to an environment in peril.
Thinking the Contemporary Landscape, a 17-essay collection, attempts to set up a discourse between opposing ideologies, such as science and memory, power and territory, fact and myth, in order to present an all-encompassing theory of contemporary landscape practice. While this endeavor ultimately frays, revealing the unlikelihood (or frankly, undesirability) of such unification, the book itself is a must-read for landscape architects and urbanists. The editors wittingly construct a discourse about a schism in modes of practice, a reaction perhaps to the dominance in recent years of landscape urbanism and its hybrids. Despite the foregrounding of an environment in peril, they react to scientific positivism by advocating for a return to aesthetics, poetics, myth, and meaning. The current volume suggests other new identities. If we are to believe Charles Waldheim, landscape architect equals urbanist. Waldheim and James Corner in particular are intent on fomenting this shift in perception; beseeching practitioners to take control of urban design territory (presumably, before the architects and urban planners beat them to it).
Girot’s essay laments the modes of visualization epitomized by the “layer-cake” approach of Ian McHarg, author of the 1969 Design with Nature. He suggests that years of design with 2-D maps and collage have effectively broken down landscape thinking into abstract, and ultimately, meaningless, layers. Girot argues that the results of this diagrammatic thinking have stripped design of character, of local connections, and ultimately, of meaning.
As a counterpoint, Corner argues for the preeminence of the plan, composite layers, and collage, suggesting they have the capacity to become “engendering machines” of “rich and unpredictable interactions,” a method that comes from ecology itself. Corner plays both ends of the spectrum, at once advocating for performance and form. In a mediated (and ultimately modest) position, Corner’s conception of “format” is hardly memorable. In the context of design reviews as long as six years ago, Corner declared that the University of Pennsylvania was about form and aesthetics, and Harvard was about performance. This dissonance of Corner’s recent commentary with his earlier writings manifests as some subconscious and uncoordinated id-war, a shift away from the working landscape and toward the “pictorial impulse” he earlier reviled (in New Operations and the Eidetic Landscape).
Recalling David Gissen’s Subnatures, Vittoria Di Palma’s intriguing discussion of aesthetics engages the wasteland as site of primal disgust and ultimately, subversive aesthetics. She revisits the picturesque and its power to give “a new prominence to aversive landscape,” (a topic explored by Robert Smithson in 1973’s Frederick Law Olmsted and the Dialectical Landscape), an apt aesthetic history to sample when theorizing the entropy, asymmetry, and gnarliness of the Anthropocene.
Other contributors reject the editors’ prompt of aesthetics altogether. Notably, Kongjian Yu, a practitioner of ecological design in China, argues powerfully for landschaft or the working landscape, suggesting that “the quality and beauty of the landscape has been detached from the notion of a holistic land system for living and survival, and has now become high art landscape design exclusively for the pleasure of the urban elite.” In a similar vein, Saskia Sassen’s critique eviscerates the blunt hand of capitalism that is currently playing out in the form of global land acquisition.
Rather than a clear way forward, the diversity of this volume evidences a fraught world in need of urban design leadership, solutions for the anxious environment of climate change, and rethinking the future of landscape’s territory and meaning in the 21st century.
Thinking The Contemporary Landscape Christophe Girot, Dora Imhof, Princeton Architectural Press, $45
Ecological urbanism to the rescue? Michael Sorkin Studio and Terreform explore green cities at SCI-Arc
Location, Location, Location
From the Everglades to the Rockaways, this Brooklyn firm works with communities to design for resiliency
Walter Meyer and Jennifer Bolstad, founders of and partners in Local Office Landscape and Urban Design (LOLA), are earning a reputation for their innovative resiliency projects at the edges of civilization—coastlines and islands. With a multipronged approach that they describe as part architecture, part environmental remediation, and part community organization, Meyer and Bolstad are battling the effects of environmental change on cities and their populations. Managing editor Olivia Martin talked with them about LOLA’s approach to resiliency and future-proofing the planet—from working on post-Hurricane Sandy conditions in the Rockaways to remediating coastal areas of Florida.
The Architect’s Newspaper (AN): You say that resiliency is the new sustainability. Why?
Walter Meyer: It’s a new buzzword, so people confuse it and interchange it with sustainability as though they are the same thing. But sustainability is a derivative of Frederic Clements’s climax theory, in which a field, for example, will change each decade, from soil to weeds to shrubs to trees and then climax as a hardwood forest—this is a snapshot of nature in 3-D.
What emerged after World War II was a new theory of the natural cycles of time. Rather than seeking an equilibrium theory of nature, there is a disequilibrium, where nature is trying to balance itself and adapt to change. Those who can anticipate and respond to change quicker are the ones who have the upper hand.
The big difference is that resiliency is dynamic and changing, while sustainability is static. In terms of scale, sustainability is holistic and more big-picture, and resiliency is more local. So I think of sustainability as an old model but still an important tool.
AN: Do you have examples of where sustainability failed us and why it should no longer be considered the gold standard, so to speak?
Jennifer Bolstad: Well, a few years ago, I consulted on One World Trade Center, which is a very sustainable building [LEED Gold]. But when the mechanical system drowned in Hurricane Sandy and couldn’t be used anymore, the firm in charge ultimately decided it was cheaper to abandon it and leave several floors uninhabited rather than fix it.
Meyer: Also during Hurricane Sandy, all of the buildings that ran on photovoltaics failed because the city grid was down. So, literally, every single building with solar was down. This is because there is a law that if the grid goes down, you can’t back charge the line with your solar panels, because you’ll zap the workers trying to fix the grid. Since then, they invented a hybrid inverter that “islands” the building into a microgrid, so it can function independently off of the grid. There needs to be a dynamic relationship with nature, and we should be creating multilayered systems.
AN: You have a lot of work in Florida right now that deals with water management. How does resiliency factor into those projects?
Meyer: All of the articles written about Miami focus on the ocean and city. It’s all about the ocean—and that makes for good headlines. But what’s missed is that Miami’s most vulnerable areas are in the Everglades, on the west side of the city, because they have freshwater, five feet higher than the ocean, that can’t become diluted with salt water or else Miami loses its water source.
The area near Everglades National Park is particularly at risk because the main flow of the water runs north–south, down from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay, and a secondary flow of water runs east–west—like a spine and ribs. Originally, the secondary water flow moved through transverse glades and occasionally wet bogs and sloughs. Since the channels weren’t actual rivers, the city filled them in, and now, when it rains, the houses on those streets along these former sloughs flood. The homes are considered Repetitive Loss properties and the owners cannot collect insurance for the damage anymore. The buildings’ foundations are cracking, due to the water infiltrating the alkaline bedrock, literally melting it. We are trying to open up more options to the people who are stuck in these houses but don’t want to leave their community.
Normally, there is a lot of discussion about design activists, but we are more like community organizers—we want to engage the residents themselves. It’s a lot of listening and then designing and showing them what legal options are available, or creating new ones. One option is a CLT, a community land trust—where everyone buys into this idea, and you work with a public–private partnership, such as a developer and the county. For this neighborhood, it’s about creating high density along the edge of the vulnerable corridor, along the slough of the transverse glades, and doing this three blocks at a time.
If you can organize just three blocks—the center of the slough, a transitional, and a bank—then this creates a housing swap, where the residents can continue their normal lives and not have their schedules disrupted. So, for example, you can move out of the home into a temporary housing unit; then the home will be demolished and turned into a flood storage park, and you will have the option of moving or the right of first refusal to a new high-density, 40-percent affordable housing unit nearby. This makes more sense than simply moving everyone to higher ground because, then, those who are already at higher ground could be dislocated due to rising real estate costs—already Florida developers are looking at luxury housing inland—and this creates new levels of climate refugees.
AN: So, resiliency aside, is relocating more responsible than fixing?
Meyer: Well, that is what leads to climate gentrification; the issue of scale is a major one. If you take a holistic approach and just get everyone out of harm’s way, then you aren’t paying attention to the social fabric. For example, Staten Island was a state buyout project; the government essentially said, “We’ll buy your house, and you can take the money and run.” The problem with that is then the people basically had to move out to Newark because the buyout price point doesn’t acknowledge the gentrification, and $200,000 or $300,000 won’t get you another house in the city. In the Edgemere Urban Renewal Area, in Rockaway, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the Office of Recovery and Resiliency offered more options than just a buyout—such as housing swaps and other solutions at the neighborhood scale.
Bolstad: We focus on the built environment in a way that looks at how cultural issues touch the ecological issues. In the Florida project, people very much want out of their houses that are constantly flooding, but they still want to stay within a five-mile radius so they can be near family and keep their routines. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, even if you believe in a long-term retreat from those areas. Otherwise, you end up with people who are not there by choice, like when Robert Moses dislocated people in the Bronx in the 1960s and moved them out to the beach. Economically vulnerable populations ended up in environmentally vulnerable areas.
And it’s not just the built environment. Even if we aren’t preserving the area for housing in the long term, then the environmental situation needs to remain. That barrier [the Rockaway peninsula] is the first line of defense in the city and Lower Manhattan, and, without active management of the environment of that place, it risks the rest of New York City.
Meyer: I like to quote my mentor and city planner Ronald Shiffman when we talk about these issues: “These disturbances don’t discriminate, but our reaction to them can.” We want to make the most just city we can.
For more on LOLA's projects, see their website.
Keeping your cool onstage is no mean feat, but one that students and performers at the Marshall Family Performing Arts Center needn’t worry about, thanks to the implementation of the ice cooling system that Manhattan firm Weiss/Manfredi oversaw. The $26.5 million center, part of the Greenhill School in Addison, Texas, opened this past February. Page designed and installed the system, which involves storing ice and using it in conjunction with an air-cooled chiller as ice melts throughout the day, cold water is pumped through cooling coils in an air-handling unit.
“The system—even in a place like Texas—makes sense,” said Michael Manfredi, partner alongside Marion Weiss at the firm. “At night, when the outside temperature drops, the system can be replenished.” Weiss noted that the production of ice at night is more cost effective due to energy prices being lower at that time. “It’s a hybrid in some ways,” she said.
Thermal regulation for the performing arts center, which includes an expansive triple-height lobby, a 2,600-square-foot studio theater, a 2,500-square-foot rehearsal space, and a 21,000-square-foot proscenium theater, requires careful planning. Each space has its own schedule and has to be calibrated, with adjustments made in advance. “The building is designed with a high level of flexibility,” said Manfredi. “Each space can experience surges of 200 to 300 people at a time, and then just 20 at another.”
Weiss explained that “in performance spaces such as the proscenium theater, thermal ducts are located at lower levels so that they can be insulated by the earth and emerge around people's feet. Here, air is released very slowly so as to avoid noise pollution during production.” The proscenium theater seats 600 people: 450 at orchestra level and 150 in the balcony. Underneath these seats, an under-slab air plenum and diffuser grilles form a displacement ventilation system,which releases cool air as needed. Meanwhile, multicolored upholstery creates the illusion of a full venue, even when crowd numbers are low, ensuring that the performers never break a sweat.Resources — Ice Cooling System: Mechanical Electrical Plumbing and Fire Protection: Page Resources: Glazing System: YKK AP Glass Supplier: Viracon Structural Engineer: Magnusson Klemencic Associates Acoustical/Audio-Visual Consultant: Jaffe Holden Lighting Designer: Tillotson Design Associates Civil Engineer / Landscape: Pacheco Koch Consulting Engineers
Theatre Consultant: Fisher Dachs Associates
Associate Architect: Page
When the Levee Breaks
A grassroots organization starts an environmental movement in Iowa City
One might not expect Iowa City, a midsize heartland town of 70,000, to be on the forefront of urban sustainability issues. But Iowa City has everything to lose if climate change isn’t addressed. In 2008, a massive flood caused an estimated $64 billion in damage to the state, roughly equivalent to that caused by Hurricane Sandy. That flood was preceded by 239 tornados, which hit the Midwest over a nine-day period.
Iowa City, a UNESCO City of Literature, has a strong, culturally active citizenry, and now it is working to channel that energy into securing its environmental future. After the flood waters subsided, and the tornado damage was clear (damage from both of those events is still evident eight years later), a group of Iowa City residents began to seriously think about how design could be used to achieve a more sustainable urban center. “Ecopolis Iowa City” was organized to brainstorm urban restoration, biodiversity, local food, inclusionary and urban designs, renewable energy, and transportation initiatives for the future of the city. Initially holding informal meetings, Ecopolis Iowa City eventually started to sponsor forums that would use storytelling, music, and conversation to identify and generate ideas. From 2014 to 2016, the events eventually turned into a movement.
The city’s 2015 fall election saw a progressive council majority win for the first time in nearly 50 years. In spring 2016, Mayor Jim Throgmorton issued a “Regenerative City” proclamation. The proclamation set goals to “replant native prairies and trees to store carbon in the soils; expand urban agriculture; to power our city and neighborhoods efficiently through green building designs and renewable energy; to expand citywide recycling and composting through a zero waste ordinance; to make low-carbon transportation choices; to grow green jobs and support companies actively greening their operations.” By summer, the ideas from the Ecopolis Forums were worked into a proposed Iowa City Climate Action Plan.
The plan aims to expand and guide the regenerative city initiatives. Iowa City is already investing $60 million into raising a major route into the city above the 100-year flood level, but the plan calls for many more actions at different scales. From establishing protected “ecodistricts” to enforcing new sustainable building requirements, the plan may greatly affect the city’s future fabric. The plan sets greenhouse gas emission and transit diversity goals through 2030, with an eye on changing the way average citizens understand their impact on the environment.
Though the Iowa City Action Plan has not been formally adopted by the city, Ecopolis points out that the six million sandbags Iowa City residents filled to try and save their city in 2008 is a sign they are ready and able to make major changes. And with Ecopolis founders now on the city council, the time is better than ever.
This article was part of our Oct. 12 issue which focused on how water is shaping today’s landscape architecture and urbanism. Communities face deluges and droughts—for some, the stakes can be survival itself, but others see opportunities for decadence. To explore these stories from around the U.S. and the world, click here.