Image of the (Leap Year) Day
The anxious terrain of Drangagil Neskaupstaður in the east fjords of Iceland — where catching dams, braking mounds, deflection earthen walls, diversionary canals and other tectonic reconfigurations of the earth's surface lay waiting in the summer for winter's snow.
They're avalanche protection structures, but they may as well be MOUT facilities where landscape architects are trained to deal with future disasters that may or may not come; a new subgenre of public art; or the shooting location for Guy Maddin's sequel to Careful.
Wearable Anti-Avalanche Homes
Sites of Managed Anxiety
“It silted up”
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
We've been blogging for nearly 3 years now, and this is the first we've ever been tagged. The culprit is Jacky Bowring, of Passages, whose Park of the Lost Object was featured here last year.
We're only too glad to keep this going. Here are the rules:
1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.
From the Penguin Books 1993 revised and updated edition of Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water by Marc Reisner:
Another bypass was cut; it too silted up. Finally, after much negotiation, the developers persuaded the Mexican government to let them cut still another channel below the border. Because it was meant as a temporary expedient while the original channel was cleaned out in advance of the spring floods, the Mexican channel had the flimsiest of control gates. As luck would have it, the spring floods arrived two months early. In February, a great surge of snowmelt and warm rain spilled out of the Gila River, just above the Mexican channel, and made off with the control gate.
We fiddled with the rules a bit. We're not supposed to include the fifth (complete) sentence; we did. And we're only supposed to post the three after it; we included the fourth, because it sounds as though it's the perfect punch line to a hilarious joke about hydroengineering. So there's a total of five...or six if you count this post's title, which is actually the fourth (complete) sentence on the page.
And Cadillac Desert wasn't even the nearest book. Reisner's volume was underneath that book, which was the 2000 paperback edition of Annals of the Former World by John McPhee. However, on p. 123, this is what we found:
Because we're having fun, the third book in that pile is In Touch: The Letters of Paul Bowles, edited by Jeffrey Miller. On page 123, the 3 sentences after the fifth are as follows:
How far is it from there? Or to somewhere nearer than that. But do be specific as to time, day period, week.
Taken out of context, this could be an instruction for a well-designed landscape architecture project.
But onward it goes. We're tagging Archidose, BLDGBLOG, Subtopia, Super Colossal and Where.
POSTSCRIPT #1: Where's page 123.
POSTSCRIPT #2: Archidose's page 123.
POSTSCRIPT #3: Subtopia's page 123.
POSTSCRIPT #4: Super Colossal's page 123.
Dredging the bottom of our archives brought up an interesting project by Edinburgh-based landscape architects Gross. Max. to counter the effect of global warming.
Submitted as part of the 6000 Miles exibition organized by Glasgow's The Lighthouse in early 2005, they proposed to use the Torness Nuclear Power Station to create a nuclear-powered iceberg and park it nearby on some stretch of Scotland's 6,000-mile coast.
This is called “local freezing.”
Of course, our immediately response is — why only one iceberg?
If we are to believe Gross. Max. that “the only way to reduce the levels of CO2 emissions is to rely on nuclear power,” then the next logical iteration of their proposal is to build dozens more — a radioactive necklace of giant refrigerators — and then turn all those firths and lochs into glacier fields, maintaining Scotland's national climate as it awaits atmospheric conditions to return to pre-modern levels.
Historic preservation for the climate-changed future.
But whether or not you believe that nuclear power stations should have a role in combatting climate change or even whether or not this concept would alleviate the local effects of ungeographically high temperatures, this will surely be a popular destination.
In Berlin a tropical indoor beach has just been opened while even in Scotland we now see the first indoor ski slopes with real snow. As a matter of fact people can't resist climate change; they actually hold a deep desire for it. Change of climate is the most important factor in selecting holiday destinations!
And in case you get tired of all that ice, “the actual heat generated to cool the iceberg is utilised to create hot water lagoons in the nearby cement works quarry. The limestone of the actual rock formation will generate amazing dazzling blue lagoons.”
For UK residents at least, it'll be a cheap alternative to Iceland.
Behold some 400 “lakes and seas” on Saturn's moon, Titan, as captured by the spacecraft Cassini. Rendered with the auric exuberance of Klimt and the bold angularity of Schiele, through complicated parabolas and hyperbolas, one wonders if NASA astronomers and computer scientists aren't attempting to formulate an official visual style. Instead of sci-fi realism, extraterrestrial landscapes and future colonized worlds will be illustrated in a sort of hyperdecorative post-art nouveau style. Or not.
In any case, as the above resized image does no justice to the original, you should download the full satellite composite image, either the 10MB jpeg version or the 186MB tiff version.
Sugimoto in Titan
Treating Acid Mine Drainage in Vintondale
While writing the post on the Silver Lake reservoir, we were reminded of AMD&ART Park in Vintondale, Pennsylvania.
The two share quite a few in common. For instance, both employ constructed wetlands to detoxify contaminated landscapes. In the case of Silver Lake, it is the Los Angeles River's heady stew of 14 EPA-listed chemical pollutants; AMD&ART, for its part, has targeted acid mine drainage (AMD), hence the name. Additionally, both were conceived as pedagogical landscapes, teaching visitors their respective historical context and technologies. As such, they are occupiable open spaces.
There is one major difference though: AMD&ART Park is actually built and has been in operation for almost 15 years.
Beginning in 1994, a multi-disciplinary team — which consisted of T. Allan Comp, a historian and director of the non-profit AMD&ART; Robert Deason, a hydrogeologist; Stacy Levy, a sculptor; AmeriCorps interns; and landscape architect Julie Bargmann, of D.I.R.T. Studio — were tasked to create “a large-scale, artful public space that directly addresses the problems of AMD and much more.”
AMD in the entire Appalachian Region, we read, is “the most widespread water quality problem, as well as a significant economic and social constraint.” Indeed, the EPA has designated it as the biggest environmental problem in the eastern mountains.
Seeping or surging from abandoned coal mines, AMD is the metals-laden water, often acidic, that coats stream beds with orange sediment, killing the bottom of the food chain. Often desolating entire watersheds, these rust colored streams are the consequence of a proud past filled with hard work and dedication in an era that paid little attention to environmental consequences. Today, AMD is a painful reminder of the poverty and economic abandonment that still exists in coal country, the emblematic orange silent signature of dying communities.
The result of the collaboration is, if not innovative, gloriously inspiring.
Several discrete elements make up the park. Located in the eastern part is a passive water treatment system and the so-called Litmus Garden. On the other side is a wetland habitat zone and in between is a recreational area. Interspersed throughout are several art installations, hence the second part of the name, though one could call the whole site an art installation itself.
The treatment zone is easily distinguished by a series of 7 keystone-shaped treatment ponds. No cutting edge nanotechnology or the latest transgenic organism or even heavy machinery is used. Turning the highly toxic water into one that you can swim in is done with elementary physics, chemistry and biology. Regular limestone, for instance, is applied instead to lower the water's acidity. Plants simply dying off and decaying in the winter and then returning in the spring also helps to change its pH level. Even gravity is utilized to help suspended metals settle out of the ADM.
Meanwhile, the function of each ponds are best explained by the following signs, themselves an important component of the park.
Running along these ponds is the Litmus Garden. It plays no role in the water treatment, but it does act as a “visual representation of [the] changing health of the river.”
Small groves or bands of thirteen native tree species were chosen for their autumn foliage colors. In the fall, the Litmus Garden trees will turn deep red around Pond 1 and grade through orange and yellow to blue-green at the end of the treatment system in Pond 6, creating a visual reflection of enhanced water quality — and a great reason for a Vintondale community fall celebration.
It's a horticultural and hydrological rhyming scheme, in other words.
Once cleaned or “legal”, the water is then diverted to a seven-acre wetland built on what was “once the busy industrial heart of Vintondale.”
Once an industrial wasteland, our History Wetlands now serve as home to a growing number of plants and animals. Over 10,000 native wetlands plants have been planted, providing a habitat for many insect and bird species including wood ducks, geese, and killdeer. Beaver, fox, deer, and other animals have also been spotted in the wetlands. Ten bat boxes complement the landscape of our wetlands in anticipation of attracting native bats to the area.
From wasteland back into Eden, albeit with the marks of its exile. And this isn't so much a restoration or a reclamation as it is redemption.
But in any case, knowing what wetlands can do, the water can only get cleaner than when it had left the treatment ponds.
Once the treatment and wetland sections were completed, attention was then turned to developing a multi-purpose, four-acre recreation area that now hosts soccer, baseball, football, and many other outdoor games. “Closely reflecting the aspirations of the very first design meetings with the community, the park is rapidly becoming the new social center of Vintondale, bringing new pride and new activity to the community,” we read.
Parks nowadays seem to be programmed to the hilt and then some. Tomorrow, they'll be asked to save the world.
Meanwhile, Eric Reece, author of Lost Mountain, wrote an article about the park for Orion Magazine. There, he speculates that “one of the most important elements of Vintondale may not be its water-treatment system or its sculptural installations, but rather its function as a potential model for many other such projects across the country.” He quotes T. Allen Comp, the park's project director:
AMD&ART is now both the name of a park in Vintondale and the name of an idea, a commitment to interdisciplinary work in the service of community aspirations to fix the environment.
Indeed, as Reece adds, “since the completion of the park, Comp has established the Appalachian Coal Country Watershed Team, a group of fifty-five OSM and VISTA volunteers who are working with the AMD&ART model to engage coal field communities in projects that will remediate damaged waterways and rekindle the power of place.”
The future can truly be bright.
Burying the Villa Savoye
The Igualada Levee
The Hanging Cemetery of Babylon
The Cenotaph Machine
Cemeteries as Major Disaster Response Protocol
The geography of displacement
The Kuiper Belt Necropolis
Landscape architects as landscapes
Forever Fernwood, Part III
Posting the Dead
Hill of Crosses
Forever Fernwood, Part II
Nature is dead. Long live Nature.
A Little Columbarium in the Atlantic
A Little Columbarium Forest in the Arctic
A Real Columbarium in the Pacific
Neverending Days of Being Green
Treating Cancer with Landscape Architecture
An Associated Press article published by The New York Times a couple of months ago told us that the Elysian and Silver Lake—the “two reservoirs that supply drinking water” to sections of Los Angeles—were found to contain “high levels of the carcinogen bromate.” When alerted, the city's Department of Water and Power took them both out of service and announced that beginning early this year, they would drain, clean and refill the reservoirs, a process that could last until the summer.
Alternatively, they could consider implementing in parts or in whole a design proposal from out of the Department of Landscape Architecture at the California Polytechnic State University in Pomona.
In this proposal — the product of a collaboration in 2005 between Ken McCown, Andy Wilcox and Kevin Hinders, with research and production assistance from their students — the fenced-off Silver Lake is turned into a public open space hosting one giant bioremediating ecological machine, one that could theoretically render inert the cancer-causing bromate and other pollutants.
The key elements are thus:
1) Presently, the Colorado River and the California Aqueduct supply water to the reservoir, though in the past, the Los Angeles River was the feeder channel. The proposal restores this historical link.
2) A terraced ring canal follows the contour of the reservoir. Installed on the terraces are modular biopods used to bioremediate the 43 pollutants listed by the EPA as present in the Los Angeles River. The cleaned water is then gathered and stored in an underground tank beneath the reservoir before it is put out for use in the city.
It's landscape turned into a therapeutic and preventative medicine, applying natural processes into an artificial apparatus.
3) The inner wall of that canal forms an internal dam that elevates the water level for the purposes of aesthetics.
4) The whole site is turned into a park, the third largest in a city that “suffers from a paucity of recreation and occupiable public space in comparison to other world cities of similar prominence by almost every means you can measure for this!” Instead of jogging along a fenced periphery, people can do so inside, on top of the canal or on designated paths.
5) The park has an unabashedly pedagogical program. There is a water center, water laboratories, a community center, a library, a pythoremediation garden, and a demonstration and research wetland.
In other words, it's like a Museum of Science and Industry. One wonders if every elementary school kids in the Greater Los Angeles area will be forced to go on field trips there, creating indelible childhood memories that will either be positive or negative ones.
One kid in particular will accidentally get pricked by an irradiated transgenic post-plant. The following morning, he tells his perplexed aunt and uncle that he wants to become a landscape architect when he grows up. That or he mysteriously mutates overnight into a Phytoremediating Superhero. Exactly who or what he will be fighting for and fighting against will be the so-called hero's dilemma. Our awesome screenplay for his story will be turned into a blockbuster movie. The Superfund Trilogy.
In any case, we're anticipating that questions will be asked about the viability of the proposal to detoxify the water and about what actual plants and organisms will the biopods have.
We have this suggestion: to brush up on the scientific literature and perhaps create a plant list of your own in process, browse through this website by John W. Cross (last update: September 27, 2007) on all things phytoremediation. Primarily bibliographical, it only lists books, journals, peer reviewed articles and links to other sites on the topic, but what a list! And though its listings may not be exhaustive, compared to this site and this EPA site, the quantity shouldn't be very intimidating to non-scientists.
Larger versions of the images can be viewed in Ken McCown's Flickr photoset, which also contains other images of the proposal.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
The latest in a series of competitions sponsored by Urban Revision has begun. Previously, each competition had focused on an aspect of the urban block: energy in Re:Volt; transportation in Re:Route; and commerce in Re:Store.
In Re:Connect, participants are asked to focus on community.
The character of a neighborhood is a reflection of the people who live there. When people feel connected to a place, they feel more connected to one another. The community becomes an extended family and life more meaningful. Thus, we're looking for urban planning approaches where revamped environments bring current residents together, particularly families. This is a chance to repair the essential relationships between social work, nature and urban infill with ideas that value humanistic thinking and imagination over bulldozers. Ponder the kinds of structures and landscapes that typically exist in run-down areas and transform them into eco-wise spaces that make life better. How might you overcome the inevitable resistance to change, and harness the community's human resources? Introducing eldercare and childcare programs or sustainable landscaping with useable harvests might be just what's needed. The best plans, no matter their originality or scale, will aim to positively affect neighboring blocks as well.
If you're planning to approach this via landscape design, for inspiration, there's Kevin Robert Perry's stormwater management systems, the East Saint Louis Action Research Project and projects by the phenomenally great Walter Hood, specifically Courtland Creek, Lafayette Square Park and downtown Macon, Georgia's Poplar Street.
And since the last line in the competition brief quoted above did say that entries needn't be completely original, perhaps you can reinterpret Edible Estates or spatialize these John Pfahl photographs.
Would forming a militia of mechanized guerilla gardeners and then carrying out scouting patrols for and nighttime sabotage missions against barren patches of landscape around your city block make “people feel connected to a place?”
In any case, the registration deadline is June 1, and the submission deadline is June 15. However, these dates may change.
Hyperlocalizing Hydrology in the Post-Industrial Urban Landscape
Last year, Kevin Robert Perry won an ASLA Professional Award for a truly innovative stormwater management system he designed for the city of Portland, Oregon. Referred to as the “first of its kind anywhere,” Perry's project replaced the city's combined storm/sewer pipe system with a landscaped curb extension carved out of a portion of the street's parking zone.
In other words, instead of using expensive and high maintenance system to funnel urban runoffs to distant, equally expensive and high maintenance treatment facilities and discharge points, they are instead managed on-site with simple, cost-effective, attractive and environmentally sustainable infrastructure.
And here's how it works:
Stormwater runoff from 10,000 square feet of NE Siskiyou Street and neighboring driveways flows downhill along the existing curb until it reaches the 7-foot wide, 50-foot long curb extensions. An 18-inch wide curb cut allows this water to enter each curb extension. Once water is within the landscape area, the water is retained to a depth of 7 inches by a series of checkdams. Depending on the intensity of a rain event, water will cascade from one "cell" to another until plants and soil absorb the runoff or until the curb extensions reach their storage capacity. The landscape system in place infiltrates water at a rate of 3 inches per hour. If a storm is intense enough, water will exit the landscape area through another curb cut at the end of each curb extension and will flow into the existing street inlets. With the new stormwater curb extensions now in place, nearly all of NE Siskiyou’s annual street runoff, estimated at 225,000 gallons, is managed by its landscape system.
And here's the plant list, which unfortunately makes no mention of genetically modified super-phytoremediating neo-plants:
The plants selected for the NE Siskiyou Green Street are primarily Pacific Northwest natives, such as Oregon grape, sword fern, and grooved rush. Adaptable ornamental species such as blue oat grass, boxleaf euonymus, and New Zealand sedge, were also planted because these species are low-maintenance and fit very well in the neighborhood context. All of the selected plant species are low-growing evergreen varieties with varying colors and textures which always provide year-round interest.
This program, of course, required the participation of the local residents to help realize and, once built, maintain it. As it says in the project statement, “the aesthetic appeal and intrigue of the new stormwater facilities creates a community asset that promotes both environmental stewardship and education at the neighborhood level.”
In looking at the pictures and getting glimpses of context, one could mistake that this sort of project can only be successfully implemented in neighborhoods such as NE Siskkiyou Green Street — fairly well-off parts where residents can exert political influence on street renovations or on anything that can affect property values.
But what we find absolutely wonderful about Perry's designs is that they can be applied to economically depressed areas, in inner cities or blighted post-industrial towns, whose local governments find themselves unable to maintain basic infrastructural services.
Either due to a federal administration siphoning away public works money into boyish adventures; an erosion of its tax base as a result of the subprime mortgage crisis; industries closing or moving as demanded by globalization; or even post-oil and post-water realities making current stormwater management practices unsustainable — these same local governments see their public works budget depleted and running in the red, resulting in their neighborhoods taken off the grid.
The expected response of residents would be to move. Some do just that but it's often the case that many would be financially unable and so must then contend with a pestilential landscape of failed sewers, stagnant pools and unappealing vegetation.
It is in this context, we believe, that Perry's designs seem most suited for and are critically needed.
We can even now think of one specific place: East Saint Louis, Illinois.
In any case, Perry also won an ASLA Professional Award the previous year for a similar stormwater project, also for the city of Portland, Oregon.
It definitely deserves a look.
And these before and after photos are worth noting.
So congratulations to Kevin Robert Perry.
Sustainable Stormwater Management Program, Portland, Oregon
Dispatches from a Post-Water Chicago
Winged Mobile Domicile
A WMD has finally been found!
In 2004, it was sighted en route to an undisclosed location.
Here's a lo-res but nevertheless incontrovertible video proof of its existence.
Mildly hilarious and would have been more so if it had been directed to this abandoned Atlas missile silo.
Something about the two on a head on collision, domestic spaces of unconventional provenance fulfilling what they were designed to but could not.
In any case, this WMD was meant to address a range of issues “from Homecoming to Homeland Security, from nomadic, American lifestyle to space travel, from military defense budgets to rural poverty. It combines the concerns of the most serious threat to national security and celebrates the distinct and original nature of American humor and invention.”
We rather liked collecting our posts on agricultural landscapes into one, so we'd like to do the same with our posts on fountains, in reverse chronological order.
On Charles Goldman's Public Fountain, 2006.
On Nicolas de Larmessin's hydro-couture.
On the Trevi Fountain as a bloodied protest canvas.
On the gushing wounds in the geological bowels of extraterrestrial landscapes.
On Diller + Scofidio's Fountain, 1997.
On Michael Cross' Bridge, a sort of interactive reflecting pool from which an outbreak of messianic prophecies, marian visions and apocalyptic auguries will precipitate.
On trailing suction hopper dredgers, perhaps our favorite machines.
On the interactive kicking fountain.
On some selections from the Visual Images Database of the Mississippi Valley Division of the US Army Corps of Engineers. Because is not the heavily controlled Mississippi River really just a fountain writ-large?
On the leidenfrost fountain.
On the centerpiece of Landscape Architecture: The Musical.
On the “45.5 Meteorite Craters Made by Humans on Their 45.5 Hundred Million Year Old Planet” Fountain.
On the WTC Memorial, or at least ¼ of it.
On Geoff's Earth-Fountain: Part I and Part II.
On the Machine de Marly, the greatest engineering marvel of its era.
On the datafountain.
“rising like alien plants on the terraformed lakebed”
Friday, February 15, 2008
Some civil engineers from Purdue University apparently believe that the best way for Istanbul to lessen the humanitarian crisis and economic impact of a catastrophic earthquake striking the ancient city is to build a second Istanbul.
Istanbul v1.0, these engineers point out, won't be able to withstand a major seismic event as “many of the city's buildings were constructed with little regard for modern building standards.”
The city itself is not well designed for earthquakes. Many streets are narrow and winding and would quickly fill with debris after an earthquake, preventing aid from reaching those who are trapped or injured.
And if Istanbul goes, so goes the nation.
Istanbul v2.0, on the other hand, will be “earthquake resistant, with strong buildings and wide streets. The city would be designed to take advantage of building techniques used to minimize earthquake damage and incorporate modern technologies such as electronic locks and security, video communication and environmentally friendly technologies.”
More importantly, this “satellite city” would serve as a refugee camp and guarantee continuity of the nation's economic activity, 80 percent of which occurs in Istanbul.
Of course, the new city will not lay empty, gathering dust and weeds as it waits for the first influx of seismic refugees to arrive. It is “designed to be an economic hub,” with a business, residential and entertainment districts ready to be utilized in the meantime.
Oddly enough, we are reminded of the Japanese tradition of building exact copies of Shinto's holiest shrines at Ise every 20 years and then completely dismantling the current temples save for a central wooden pole. In another 20 years, a new set of replicas will be erected around this pole, thus completing and restarting the cycle over again.
Consequently, we are left to wonder what if a similar phenomenon were to happen to cities?
Let's say a new city is built, a fully functioning metropolis complete with homes, businesses, museums and infrastructure. For twenty years, people would live there, going about their lives, going to work, raising their children, tending to their gardens. Everyday they would hear news of another city under construction at an adjacent site. In fact, they will be reminded of this at every hour of the day, if not from the news, then from the distant but incessant machine noise and dust plumes emanating from the horizon. It becomes a major aspect of daily life, settling in nicely or not so nicely into the background, like radiation or an impending major earthquake or a Hurricane Katrina, oscillating between states of ambience and immediate critical concern.
When the new city is finished, everyone will have to migrate there, as the now older city will torn down, the sewers excavated and upturned. Everything else will be burnt to the ground. But in another 20 years, they will again be exiled, forced to a newer city constructed on the very same site from where they had fled from decades ago.
And so on and so on.
At each new city, then, will people replicate an exact copy of the old? Will their gardens, high rises and even the paintings in the museums be perfect reproductions of the originals, which are themselves copies of reproductions? Will the layout of the streets be an exact mirror image of the one they had walked on and driven through not too long ago?
Or will they gradually come to develop new cultural traditions favoring the values of impermanence, of continual change? Will their society be based on a culture of experimentation and radical innovation? In other words, will they stop designing buildings and landscapes exactly the same way as before, even if it's been proven to work time and time again, when failure can and will be erased in no more than 20 years' time?
For that matter, will there be such a thing as historic preservation when everything is understood to be temporary and concepts such as icons and authenticity are illusory?
What will the built environment look like when everything is conceived as planned waste?
How will you live your life in tenuous circumstances?
In any case, there is a 3D animation of Istanbul v2.0 for you to look at. You'll see, among other things, a cluster of earthquake-resistant buildings arranged in the shape of a star. This shape, we are told, is that of a Selcuk star, a classical Turkish symbol.
More importantly, you will see its overly segregated design and the absence of what some may describe as “charm,” that urban quality accumulated through centuries of successively being a Greek polis, a Roman outpost, the imperial seat of Byzantine emperors and Ottoman sultans, and the uncontested premier city of the modern Turkish state. Some urban planners and romantics will no doubt lambast it.
In which case, they'll design Istanbul v3.0.