Search results for "Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects "
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.”
Yard Bird's Eye View
Building of the Day: Hudson Yards
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.
Buckhead Park Over GA400
New renderings revealed for ambitious, highway-capping park in Atlanta
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.
Our AIA Convention 2016 reader
- Denise Scott Brown on the unknown history of architecture and planning at the University of Pennsylvania
- The challenge of preserving architectural heritage in Philadephia
- (Re)Working Architecture (May 20) at the AIA Convention 2016
- A new future for Old City: Vision2026 puts Philadelphians, not tourists, first
- Vanna Venturi House to be preserved by new buyer
- The National Park Service releases guide to the cultural landscapes of Philadelphia
- SHoP and West 8 reveal plans for Philadelphia “Innovation Neighbrhood” at Drexel University
- Does Snøhetta’s design for a new library at Temple University spell the end of books?
- Neri Oxman, the Architecture League of New York Emerging Voices Winner
- The American Institute of Architects has chosen ten firms for the 2016 Housing Awards -
- Here’s how Morris Adjmi’s ghostly aluminum carbon copy of a warehouse in Tribeca is shaping up -
- How landscape architects Nelson Byrd Woltz are building a “soil sandwich” to keep plants from cooking at Hudson Yards’ rail-yard-topping Public Square -
- SILO AR+D, the Architecture League of New York Emerging Voices Winner
- Cresol, a toxic substance that in humans can damage the respiratory system, gastrointestinal system, blood, liver, kidney, and central nervous system.
- Arsenic, known to cause kidney damage and failure anemia and low blood pressure
- Toluene, can cause insomnia and liver and kidney damage
- Atrazine, a herbicide known to damage endocrine system in amphibians
- Aniline, probably the most scary, is used in dyes and plastics production. It is "classified as very toxic in humans", with a probable oral lethal dose in humans at a very low level.
How architects are building a "soil sandwich" to keep plants from cooking at Hudson Yards' rail-yard-topping Public Square
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!”
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.