The Architect’s Newspaper (AN)’s inaugural 2013Best of Design Awards featured six categories. Since then, it’s grown to 26 exciting categories. As in years past, jury members (Erik Verboon, Claire Weisz, Karen Stonely, Christopher Leong, Adrianne Weremchuk, and AN’s Matt Shaw) were picked for their expertise and high regard in the design community. They based their judgments on evidence of innovation, creative use of new technology, sustainability, strength of presentation, and, most importantly, great design. We want to thank everyone for their continued support and eagerness to submit their work to the Best of Design Awards. We are already looking forward to growing next year’s coverage for you.2016 Best of Design Award for Landscape > Public: Lower Rainier Vista & Pedestrian Land Bridge
Architect:GGNLocation: Seattle, WA
With the Lower Rainier Vista Project, GGN extends and completes the Olmsted Brothers’ historic vision for a monumental campus axis at the University of Washington. The project’s defining feature is the lowering of the roadway that isolated the last portion of the historic axis, reconnecting it with an elegant land bridge. This new connection allows pedestrians, cyclists, buses, and automobiles to move easily between the UW Husky Stadium light rail station and the campus heart. By creating a more generous, people-focused feel to the campus, the Vista Project reenvisions a disconnected landscape as a place to linger.
Structural Engineer and Civil Engineer
Electrical Engineer and Lighting Designer
AEI/Pivotal Lighting DesignIrrigation Design
Jeffrey L. Bruce & CompanyGabion Basket Walls
Hilfiker Retaining WallsLinear LED Lighting
Honorable Mention, Landscape > Public: Governors Island Park & Public Space
With an extraordinary 360-degree panoramic experience of the New York Harbor, the sculpted topography, winding pathways, and carefully planted trees of Governors Island Park create a beautifully choreographed celebration of nature while improving resilience for rising sea levels.
Honorable Mention, Landscape > Public:Newark Riverfront Park
Using a participatory design process with input from over 6,000 residents, this project transformed a brownfield adjacent to a Superfund site into an oasis meant to reflect
its ethnically diverse working class community, while benefitting it socially, economically, and environmentally.
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.
The Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA) has presented this year's National Landscape Architecture Awards. The winners span an eclectic mix of typologies ranging from penguin viewing platforms to waterfall trails and healing gardens. The AILA chose 40 state-level finalists from ten categories: Civic Landscape; Parks and Open Space; Infrastructure; Cultural Heritage; Land Conservation; Tourism; Urban Design; Research, Policy and Communication; Communities; Gardens and International.
"The winners range in focus and theme, but all have appreciated the merit of urban green spaces and sustainably minded infrastructure to promote health, social and economic prosperity for urban and regional communities," the AILA said in a press release.
AILA National Civic Landscape Award of Excellence
Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital, Brisbane
Landscape architecture firm Conrad Gargett were duly rewarded for their inclusion of a "Healing Garden" at the Brisbane hospital. With the design based around the concept of a living tree, 11 gardens—primarily used for therapy and recreation—can be found on the rooftops. 23,000 plants can also be found on the building's green extensive roof.
AILA International Award of Excellence
Nanjing Tangshan Geopark Museum
According to the AILA, the project is an "experiential and immersive gateway and forecourt" for the Nanjing Tangshan Geopark Museum, which was designed by Parisian architect Odile Decq. Multidisciplinary firm Hassell integrated a network of pathways and gardens into a 15-hectare park that includes a 300 million-year-old Paleozoic quarry.
AILA National Award for Parks and Open Space
McCulloch Avenue Boardwalk
Completed on a "modest" budget, the McCulloch Avenue Boardwalk sets travellers within the diverse topography and landscape of the site. "What could have been a simple boardwalk through a dune has become an experiential journey that rewards the user with a sense of pride and enjoyment," said the AILA. "No longer will be the destination be the focus."
AILA National Parks and Open Space Award of Excellence
MacKenzie Falls Gorge Trail
Creating new routes through Grampians National Park, urban design, planning, and landscape architecture firm Hansen Partnership were able to cast MacKenzie Falls Gorge (one of Australia's largest waterfalls) in a new light. Bolted steel bridges and mesh pathways are able to endure flooding and fires (but can't protect you from spiders).
AILA National Gardens Award of Excellence
Forest Edge Garden
Jane Irwin Landscape Architecture
Jane Irwin Landscape Architecture approached this project with the view to blend the garden into the terrain. The result was a subtle and elegant series of interventions that kept the existing landscape in harmony with the dwelling through careful design, plant species selection, and water management.
AILA National Tourism Award of Excellence
Penguin Plus Viewing Area
Tract Consultants with Wood Marsh Architecture
On Phillip Island, tourists can catch glimpses of penguins both inside and outside this curvaceous, topographic timber structure by planning and design firm Tract Consultants with Wood Marsh Architecture. "The work is beautifully detailed and provides a replicable prototype for the development of other components of this fragile landscape into the future," said the AILA.
AILA National Award for Communities
OUTR Research Lab, RMIT University
Get Sunflowered saw new life come to the Latrobe Valley in Victoria, Australia. Community events include cleaning, planting, weeding, watering, and "harvesting"—all accompanied by local live music, food, and entertainment. The AILA praised Get Sunflowered for making use of a forgotten place which has been subject to a population and economic shift.
AILA National Award for Civic Landscape
Glenorchy Art and Sculpture Park (GASP!) Stage 2
Multidisciplinary firm McGregor Coxall's work the second stage of the Glenorchy Art and Sculpture Park pays extensive tribute and homage to the dramatic landscape of Wilkinson’s Point. The "build it and they will come" approach has paid dividends and is, according to the AILA, a well-used civic and cultural space. "It has captured the imagination of locals and visitors as well as being recognized nationally and abroad."
AILA National Award for Infrastructure
Sydney Park Water Re-Use Project Stage 2
Turf Design Studio and Environmental Partnership
Juggling numerous constraints, Turf Design Studio and Environmental Partnership educate visitors to Sydney Park on environmental issues and the value of inner city green space. Integrating ecology, play, stakeholder management, engineering and sustainable water management requirements within an existing and well-loved inner city park is a difficult brief in any context," the AILA said. "The project beautifully expresses the forms, shapes, context, ecology and management of water, while also focussing on people, place, habitat and ecology."
AILA National Award for Land Conservation
Shipwreck Coast Master Plan
Shipwreck Coast in South Victoria is a popular tourist destination on the Australian southeast coast. Tourists, however, are the issue at hand with their presence threatening the site they flock to. Tackling this challenge, McGregor Coxall (in their 4th mention in the full list of 40) tie in habitat preservation with investment opportunities while maintaining and amplifying the sight-seeing experience–something which is a must for the economic prosperity of the area.
Reyner Banham, in his 1971 Los Angeles: The Architecture of the Four Ecologies, chose to view L.A. as an interwoven network of ecological systems: freeways, suburbs, mountains, and beaches. This urban expanse, even in the 1970s, was not only a landscape radically different than what people of Banham’s time had seen before, but more importantly, presaged the prevailing type of urban geography that would become a defining characteristic of the late 20th century and beyond. This new type of urban region, where the lines between and among the city, its suburbs, and nature are increasingly blurred, defines the so-called “megalopolises” of today.
With Banham’s Los Angeles in mind, landscape architects, geographers, and researchers came together at University of Southern California (USC), under the direction of Kelly Shannon, director of the USC School of Architecture's Landscape Architecture Program, and USC assistant professor Alison Hirsch, for the Landscape as Necessity conference September 22–24 to focus on issues relating to the connections among megalopolis, nature, and the future of both on a rapidly warming planet.
The three-day-long conference was 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.” It was organized around six prevailing themes: “Preemptive Territorial Design,” “Cultural Agency,” “Water Urbanism,” “Landscapes of Infrastructure,” “Productive Landscapes and Food Security,” and “Energy Fields.” These topics point to the ever-expanding mantle the landscape architecture discipline has increasingly embraced in recent years. This positioning has enabled landscape architects to achieve a new level of prominence in society, both in the rapidly urbanizing areas of the world and in legacy cities, where urban renewal, post-industrial society, and climate change mitigation are being harnessed in an effort to make cities more equitable and sustainable.
These considerations come heavily into play in the work presented at the conference, which was broadly based and featured research and projects from around the world. One panel discussion, called “Resource and Risk,” mined the generative potential of “resource-strained geographies” and featured the work of Miho Mazereeuw, director of the MIT Urban Risk Lab, Eduardo T. De Mesa, chief of the Planning Division at the Los Angeles District of the United States Army Corps of Engineers, Kristina Hill, associate professor at University of California, Berkeley, and Gerdo Aquino of Los Angeles–based SWA landscape architects. Mazereeuw presented research from her project “Risk Ecologies– Haiti Evacuation System,” a complex and multivalent study of the currently practiced strategies deployed in Haiti to adapt to the region’s many climatic and social struggles. Aquino presented his firm’s work for the Sava Promenada in Belgrade, Serbia, a project that introduces a one-kilometer long, variable urban waterfront that accommodates seasonal river flooding the Sava River.
Aside from panels, the conference featured paper presentations, such as “Preemptive Territorial Design, Energy fields, Infrastructures,” and showcased work from experts such as, Barry Lehrman, assistant professor of Landscape Architecture at California State Polytechnic University Pomona, who presented a substantive hydrological analysis of his Los Angeles River research. It also featured work by Bradley Cantrell, a Harvard-based researcher who presented the robotic modeling techniques his team uses to create abstracted sediment simulations for riparian landscapes and that of Yusuf Zoheb Nazerali, an architect, landscape designer, and educator who presented his urban design project “Basha Wolde Chilot” for the city of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, that seeks to stitch together old and new parts of the city through landscape infrastructure and economic re-orientation.
The lengthy and impressive grouping of presenters, which ran the gamut from heroes of the field to rising researchers and visionary thinkers, lent a sense of urgency to the
conference’s major themes, reinforcing Shannon’s notion for the meeting, that, “More than ever, there is a fundamental necessity for landscape architects to continually expand the public realm, creatively repair polluted sites, and develop innovative hybrid programs.” As conference attendee Kelly Majewski, principal at Los Angeles–based landscape architecture firm Superjacent said: “There was overall feeling from the conference of a call to action for landscape architects from Los Angeles and around the globe to get involved at all levels of the process from design to politics to funding.”
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.
A production of DeepRoot Green Infrastructure, Remarkable Objects is a new podcast series focused at the intersection of nature and urban design, and is interested in how nature and the built environment engage with each other, as well as the potential for resilient and sustainable architecture through research and innovative practice.In its first full episode, producer and creative director at DeepRoot Leda Marritz chatted with Barbara Deutsch, executive director of the Landscape Architecture Foundation, about the Landscape Performance Series—an online resource to “help designers, agencies, and advocates evaluate performance, show value, and make the case for sustainable landscape solutions,” according to their website. The project also works to demystify the actual work of landscape architects by making their findings a public and accessible resource, and in the process, seeking to bridge the gap between academia and practice.The Landscape Performance Series is six years in the making and consists of over 100 case studies of projects across the United States. After gathering research, each project is quantified, and an analysis is composed of its successes and failures. As Deutsch explains on Remarkable Objects, “sometimes [the architecture] doesn’t perform the way you wanted it to,” and this outcome could be “a result of the design solution, a change in the process, that something wasn’t implemented as designed, or something was value engineered out that made a critical difference.”The Landscape Performance Series has noble goals but is not without its own set of constraints. Sometimes there isn’t enough time, the data collection tools are not available to practitioners, and, of course, the environment is always changing and evolving. Still, Deutsch argues that the very act of evaluating and documenting performance creates a mindset around sustainability and resilience, leaving practitioners in a position where they can understand more fully “how to do it better the next time,” Deutsch said. The Remarkable Objects podcast airs every other Wednesday over the course of the eight-episode season.
The new What’s Out There Cultural Landscapes Guide for New York City will be revealed tonight at the AIA Center for Architecture. It’s the second in a series of interactive maps The Cultural Landscape Foundation produced in partnership with The National Parks Service in recognition of the 100th anniversary of their founding. The interactive guide for New York City assembles a rich history of 78 landmarks and public spaces, such as Roosevelt Island, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, the African Burial Ground National Monument, and New York Botanical Garden, pictured above. The project also features profiles of 72 designers who have helped shape the urban landscape and surrounding areas. It was preceded by an edition for Philadelphia and will be followed up by editions for Boston, Baltimore, and Richmond, VA.As a live document, it will continue to grow in its virtual home on The Cultural Landscape Foundation’s website. While the formal reveal will take place at the Center for Architecture tonight at 6:30 p.m., you can check out the finished product here.
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.
In Lawndale, California, Rudolph Park host a myriad of paths of which feature a range of interactive spaces and landscape elements interspersed on the way. Not long ago, however, the 1.5-acre lot contributed little to the city and the state's South Bay area, which was deemed "park poor" due to its lack of pedestrian access to such park. Two non-profit organizations From Lot to Spot (FLTS) and The Trust for Public Land (TPL) worked with Laguna Beach, CA and Pasadena, CA-based landscape architecture firm EPTDESIGN to rejuvenation Rudolph Park. Upon its re-opening, Lawndale Mayor Robert Pullen-Miles described it as "the crown jewel of the city." The Architect's Newspaper spoke to the firm to discuss their approach and reasoning behind their design decisions.
The Architect's Newspaper: What informed the development of the “intellectual” and unstructured play experiences created for children’s areas? Why was this focused on?
EPTDESIGN: The park’s program was developed through community workshops led by FLTS and TPL. Program elements included green space, an amphitheater, a climbing wall, natural play, a restroom, a walking loop, fitness equipment, play for all ages, a picnic area, and a gently rolling lawn. EPTDESIGN developed a concept narrative to tie the program elements together. A narrative based on the site’s natural history grew from the public’s stated desire to have a “natural” space, and as a way to distinguish the park from others in the general area...that centered on a singularly themed play structure.
Could you explain the thought process behind the various topographical elements that feature throughout?
Lawndale sits where the coastal dunes once met the inland prairie, a land characterized by [a] unique topography of dunes and vernal pools. The park seeks to reintroduce the neighborhood to the dunes and prairie that once formed their landscape and to the ecosystems of the hills that frame the region. The park is divided into three zones: The Dunes, Prairie, and Hills. As a result, this playful topographic design allows the visitor to traverse high and low spots. [It] also highlights the site's low-impact stormwater strategy. To enter the site, one crosses over a vegetated swale and infiltration basin where all stormwater is collected.
With regards to the climbing wall, how does the form and arrangement link to the overall scheme? What material is this and how was the wall constructed?
The concept narrative espoused playful topography as a way to tie the design to the site’s natural history, but the grading was also a very useful design tool to promote safety. The climbing wall and restroom were both grant-funding-contingent program elements that posed site security challenges. Both are large vertical elements that could obstruct sightlines from the street. Through the use of creative grading, the restroom was built into a constructed hillside. The climbing wall was oriented perpendicular to the street, sharing the same earthwork as the restroom structure, thus eliminating hiding spots. Behind and above the restroom and climbing wall, the finish grade slopes away gently, allowing unobstructed sightlines to the back of the park while creating a universally accessible route from the lowest spot in the park up to the highest.
The 50-foot-long climbing wall is an innovative feature, and an expression of horizontal strata, which involved extensive collaboration between the landscape architect, civil and structural engineers, architect, artist, and contractors. The climbing face is built from precast concrete modules that are anchored to a structural retaining wall. To keep cost down, there are only four different modules. Through the use of 3D modeling, the modules were laid out to create a varied and unexpected yet climbable texture while...avoiding the tacked-on look of off-the-shelf climbing wall handholds and integrating artwork.
I would also ask the same thing about the tiles. Are they featured throughout the park or just those pictured?
The tile work was done by artist Frank Bauer. EPTDESIGN worked with Bauer on the subject matter and locations. There are multiple pieces, and they are displayed in each of the three zones. Within the Dunes zone, ceramics were placed in a water runnel, and feature three-dimensional pieces for kids to discover. In the Prairie, tile work can be found in the entry plaza. And in the Hills zone, ceramic flower mosaics were placed in the climbing wall niches.All are intended to be “touched” and not just for visual display.
Brooklyn-based landscape architecture firm Nomad Studio has designed a "kinetic living sculpture" for the Contemporary Art Museum of Saint Louis. The installation—dubbed Green Air—is the second half of a two part exhibition at the museum; this iteration features an array of Tillandsias (an evergreen plant) hanging from slices of repurposed wood. The undulating hanging garden partially diffuses light into an open space within the Museum.
According to a press release, Green Air was "conceived as a living, kinetic sculpture nested within the courtyard of the Contemporary Art Museum of Saint Louis." The work is a reaction to Nomad's previous installation, Green Varnish,which was an equally curvaceous landscape form that rose up from the ground at an angle. Dismantled last fall, the green fabric was made up of thousands of succulents that "symbolically covered all the inconvenient facts of our lifestyle." (Green Varnish won last year's Best of Design Award in the Temporary Installation category.)
In fact, Nomad said the space was "modeled as the inverse of Green Varnish, both in form and intention," as it switched from an anchored solid to a free-hanging fluid volume. By doing so, the studio aimed to create a "continuity and dialogue between the two pieces and the people who experience them" as well as conjure up "urgent reflection upon the contrast between the dynamic and static in natural and man-made systems."
In a basement laboratory at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, Bradley Cantrell flips a switch, and a river begins to flow. On a table surveilled by movable sensors and a Microsoft Kinect, pulses of water carry bits of colored sand down a model riverbed.
As an associate professor of Landscape Architectural Technology and director of the GSD’s Master in Landscape Architecture Program, Cantrell runs experiments like these to better understand the natural elements that make up his profession’s palette. But by using computational methods to analyze and even redesign nature, he’s also breaking new ground in the field. Cantrell’s work blurs the lines among environmental engineering, landscape architecture, and artificial intelligence. He sat down with The Architect's Newspapercontributor Chris Bentley in April.
The Architect’s Newspaper: Your work has been described as “computational landscape architecture.” How would you define it?
Bradley Cantrell: I like the term “responsive technologies.” I use a slightly more provocative term sometimes and talk about “cyborg ecologies” or “cyborg landscapes.” It’s really that there isn’t this differentiation between natural systems and human constructed systems. Our technologies actually augment and, yes, change these, but we should celebrate that synthesis as opposed to setting up a duality. We think about nature as being bound in this one place, humans being bound in another. My take is that we should celebrate the connections between those two. It’s not my goal to put computation into everything. But my work uses computation to set up this set of interconnected relationships in a more advanced way.
You talk about embedding sensors and computational technology into the physical landscape, so the landscape reacts to its users in a kind of conversation—what are some of the possibilities of that?
We have this fluid modeling table, but we’re not really modeling a known landscape like the Mississippi Delta. What we’re really doing is using the dynamic nature of that fluid flow and looking at the way the sediment behaves within that. And we’re trying to then use ways of sensing the surface morphology so we can get a digital model of that surface. We can also get spot elevations so we understand how high places are; we can understand how fast water is moving. But then using that data, trying to imagine what are the interactions with that data in real time. We could begin to calculate the actual power of the river to build land or erase land. We could use it to stabilize certain portions, allow other portions to be more in flux.
But the idea there is that by using computation we could take on multiple goals. So it could be about building land, but also that land ebbs and flows because there’s another cycle of a bird species or something like that. Right now we’re taking a very naive approach and just saying, “What are the possibilities of how we can manipulate the system?” And then ideally beginning to layer complexity into that. Right now, when we want to change a river system, we dredge or build a levee to hold water over here and make it dry over there. So it’s a much more traditional construction method, and this one speaks to this kind of real-time interaction with the landscape.
That feedback is one that I think is really important. It speaks to the flora and fauna, too. There’s the idea of resistances among all of these different actors, that there is a form of evolution. And that leads to more resilience within that system because in some ways we’re not depending on a single moment that holds everything together.
You want to let natural systems run their full range of behaviors, but it’s risky to engineer unpredictability into our landscapes. What’s the right amount of uncertainty?
This is a really big question that I don’t have an answer to. But I think it’s a really interesting one. If you think of the way we’ve manufactured something like the Mississippi River, the current state of it has all been put into place for human beings. It’s about navigation up and down the river; it’s about protecting human settlements. And then there’s a whole series of effects from that that alter the surrounding ecosystem. But we then build other things to remediate those effects. My take would be that the relationship could just be more advanced between all of those systems. Sure, there’s going to always be these issues that pop up. But ideally the way things are being managed can propagate those changes back out to the system.
It’s not about taking all the levees down. It’s about how we’re interacting and changing the way the flow occurs in one spot, but we aggregate that off of a thousand points and suddenly the whole river system behaves slightly differently. Can we hold the river in place for a certain amount of time with some certainty? And then can we open that up and allow the river to take on a new course?
When you use terms like “cyborg coast” and “synthetic ecologies,” it sounds like you’re the Dr. Frankenstein of landscape architecture. But building responsive landscapes does not mean replacing natural systems with technology, right? What’s the ideal balance between reengineering nature and conserving it?
I think a lot of people have issues with the idea that we’re actually extending even more control over the landscape. I think there is a fear of that we’re constantly in discussion about how we relinquish control. I think it’s an open question. I would say that you do run the possibility of basically manufacturing everything. As our technologies have gotten more advanced, what we’ve seen is really having more and more control over deeper and deeper levels of biological life. Commercial agriculture is a good example of how we’ve extended that control in a way. But one of the issues there is that it all hinges on basically one variable, and that’s productivity. When everything is hinged on that, then we get a very homogenous situation across commercial agriculture. And that’s where I think this idea that there are competing goals and that humanity might not always be at the center of all of those goals—that takes somewhat of an enlightened viewpoint, but it also is one that is necessary for us to have.
Where do digital representations of the environment still come up short? Is it impossible to model a natural system without oversimplifying it?
I think there’s a kind of clarity in terms of the actual changes we’re making. It’s very difficult for me to say that when I perform this operation, it propagates up through the system in this way. It’s not all about us having better models and better simulations. Part of that is about having a clear understanding of what we’re modeling and the relationships in those models. I think that part is one that’s somewhat missing. Some of these get ironed out just by convincing someone in a small plot of land that this might be an interesting idea and going out and starting to test it.
Even an art project that takes the sediment diversion and uses it as a way to kind of print or paint the landscape—that isn’t all about exactly how the ecological system performs—may sound silly, but it’s a step in that direction. Then people start to see the potential. Building the system and letting people see how it operates is an important step—even if it’s art first.
What’s the next step in actually implementing these ideas?
All the work now is in the lab. I try to make the work a bit more robust by actually working with civil engineers, computer scientists, and ecologists to make sure that they understand that this work exists, because those conversations are the ones that become the most interesting. When an ecologist says, “I never really thought of the idea that you would create basically a robot that would create an ecological system that was outside of human construction.” Suddenly there’s a new place where, is that wilderness? Is that commercial agriculture? Is that design, when you’ve made a robot that thinks for itself and is actually changing the world around us? If we haven’t really manufactured it and it’s a place that we don’t actually understand how it completely works, because it’s this other thing making it, it’s almost wilderness on one hand. The genesis is human construction, but the actual actions are computational logics.
We’ve tried our hardest throughout time to make sure we’re not part of nature. In some ways we’re realizing that there is no separation. We’re actually remanufacturing the Earth similar to any other species that has the same capabilities we might have. That’s something for us to come to grips with. When we do, we suddenly have a new responsibility in the world. It’s not about us doing something and nature responding. What we’re doing is possibly just wrong. It’s not about responding. It’s that we need to be the ones that rethink our processes.
The global landscape architecture and urban planning firm, West 8, is designing a masterplan for New Holland Island, an island in the center of Saint Petersburg, Russia. The first phase is set to open this August 2016.
The triangular artificial island dates back to the early 1700s when the city created two canals. The island originally served as a naval port, naval testing ground, and also hosted a naval radio station. Much of the original historic buildings were abandoned after the 1915 Russian Revolution. In 2000, city officials gained control of the island, opening it to the public for a public art exhibit. (One leading artist was the Philadelphia-based Roxane Permar.)
In 2010, Saint Petersburg officials gave New Holland Development redevelopment rights to the island. In 2011, the IRIS Foundation started hosting a summer program on the island to help activate non-historic spaces, bringing in gallery-organized temporary exhibitions.
The West 8 masterplan covers 2.2 hectares (that's a little over 5.4 acres) and features over 200 mature trees (a linden-flanked alley, willows, oaks, among others) as well as a central green and an herb garden. In winter, the central green will hold an ice skating rink.
Other parts of the design opening this summer include a children's playground shaped like the hull of the ship Petr and Pavel, and locally-designed temporary pavilions (a stage, gallery, and visitor's center) by architects Sergey Bukin and Lyubov Leontieva. Three restored historic buildings that were once a naval prison, a blacksmith's building, and a naval officers house will also open by the end of this year, converted into a variety of programs—shops, a bookstore, cafes, exercise studios, a children's creative makerspace, and more.
The second, third, and fourth phases are expected to open in 2019, 2021, and 2025. These subsequent renovations will finish the historic warehouse renovations and add just over 3.7 acres of landscaping near Labor Square and Kryukov Canal.
The Saint Petersburg Investment Committee and the Council for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage approved the West 8 plan in 2014.
(Originally WORKac won an earlier competition in 2011 to design the site and create a cultural center, but their proposal was abandoned in 2013 in favor of a more landscape-centric focus, spurred by the success of the New Holland Island summer programs.)