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Returning to Métis/Reford
Jardins de Métis

Exactly four years ago today, in one of our very early posts, we noted the start of the latest edition of the International Garden Festival at Jardins de Métis/Reford Gardens. We would like to tip our readers again the start over the weekend of this year's festival, which will last until 4 October. Below are some photographs of the gardens to temp you to make a trek to Quebec.

While the gardens look rather inventive, something you'd expect when the designers are given absolute creative freedom, however, you can be sure that there will always be some sort Picturesque-esque visualary:

Jardins de Métis

And hyper-modern geomet-o-rama:

Jardins de Métis

And everyday objects given post-modern cooptery for high designery:

Jardins de Métis

And algorithmic computerary:

Jardins de Métis

And volup-terra-ry (see this one with bouncing, infectiously joyful kids):

Jardins de Métis

And green-goism (though this one isn't overtly treebuggery):

Jardins de Métis

And pushing-it-with-the-project-statement:

Jardins de Métis

And rhythmametry:

Jardins de Métis

It's interesting to note briefly that not one of the gardens are peddling in what Piet Oudolf, the avant-gardener of the High Line, would call “the soft pornography of the flower.” The installations are less about botany and almost singularly about sculpting spaces and programming them with melodrama.

Go see (and play).

In trying to absolve themselves of their litany of environmental sins, some golf courses have started using treated effluent water to maintain their unnatural lushness.

According to The New York Times, “Golf courses are all but weaned from municipal fresh-water systems, with 86 percent now using some other source, like recycled effluent water, surface water or water treated by reverse osmosis. Significantly, 70 percent of [golf club] superintendents surveyed said they were keeping their turf drier.”

Additionally, those that can afford it have been experimenting with “subterranean wireless sensors” to better manage and monitor their water use. In terms of water conservation, they're turning out to be quite a success. One club superintendent is quoted as saying that they have cut the amount of water they use in half.

The implication here, of course, is that giving high-tech intelligence to other landscapes — to athletic fields, farms, parks and home gardens — could mean a reduction in resource consumption there as well.

Now if only some of these golf clubs try to absolve themselves of their racist, sexist and other socio-exclusionary policies.


Of golf courses, filtration plants, and green roofs
We ♥ Irish Handball Alleys
Some photos of Irish handball alleys taken from a research blog devoted to cataloguing them and studying their histories. They're not something we were specifically searching for. In fact, we can't now remember how we came upon them, but we're glad we did. Somehow, in all that time-devouring sonic cloud of nighttime mouse clicks, we managed to discover something marvelous.

Make Use, the research group coordinating the project, writes:

The handball alley was built wherever a site was available, on parish or donated private lands, institutional lands, and often attached to lime kilns and religious ruins. The later 60x30 feet alley tended to be free standing and typically unroofed. Referred to as the ‘big’ alley, this form seems to be indigenous to Ireland and continued to be built until the introduction of the international 40x20 feet standard in 1969.

These alleys now dot the landscape. In the countryside, freestanding alleys appear like the remnants of houses and buildings abandoned by emigrants to the New World and subsequently truncated wall by wall in the years and decades ahead by those left behind: a Brutalist void-sculpture commemorating the lost generation and a nostalgic reminder of a mythic happier time before the diaspora. In cases where they are attached to buildings, they look like the remains of a former church, specifically its jutting buttressed walls, a victim of Henry VIII's Catholic pogroms, now ivy covered. Or they look like blast protection walls of an abandoned military base, a magnet for explorers of post-industrial landscapes. Or a fake ruin in a folly garden. Of course, many are actually true ruins, overgrown with shrubbery, disintegrating and inundated by the earth.

Things only get more interesting in urban areas where many of the alleys seem to have been absorbed, or accidentally adaptively reused, as the city grew around them. That side of that building or that wall or that parking lot or that space sculpted by three buildings in the back — all are actually the artifacts of codified game-spaces. Strikingly devoid of decoration, these alleys now adorn façades as archaeological ornaments.

Irish Handball Alleys

Irish Handball Alleys

Irish Handball Alleys

Irish Handball Alleys

Irish Handball Alleys

Irish Handball Alleys

Grain Elevators
Exit Oil

Exit Art is a little gallery in New York that's been putting together some incredibly fascinating exhibitions. Like Storefront for Art and Architecture, it always seems to be beckoning us with thematically enticing programs.

A recent exhibition, for example, tackled the controversial field of bioart. We featured several projects from this show, called Corpus Extremus (LIFE+), including Richard Pell's Center for PostNatural History.

Another recent installation featured vertical farms, urban gardens and green roofs. If you follow much this trendy landscape genre, no doubt you've seen most, if not all, of the projects, but sometimes it's nice to see what previously has been just a disparate and rather messy jumble of bookmarks littering your hard drive now collected into one, easily surveyed room.

Even some of the ancillary events sound interesting, such as a lecture once given by Oleg Mavromatti, the co-founder of the art collective ULTRAFUTURO. His talk was on Russian Cosmism, which was a “philosophical and cultural movement that emerged in Russia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries,” and how this mystical philosophy “affected the development of Soviet science and space research.”

A quick wiki-research on Russian Cosmism brought up Nikolai Fyodorovich Fyodorov, a “representative” of the movement and who was “an advocate of radical life extension by means of scientific methods, human immortality and resurrection of dead people,” and Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, who we read “believed that colonizing space would lead to the perfection of the human race, with immortality and a carefree existence.”

One wonders if the early development of space exploration in America and by extension the nation's popular imaginings of the landscapes of other worlds have similarly interesting antecedents, or does everything trace back to a bunch of Nazi rocket scientists and not to some deep philosophical inquiry into the human condition?

In any case, opening today at Exit Art is The End of Oil, “an exhibition of photography, prints, videos, installations and new media that addresses human dependence on oil and other fossil fuels; the ramifications that this dependency has on the future of the environment and of global geopolitics; and the recent push towards viable alternative energy resources.”

The works in this exhibition draw attention to and investigate the violent conflicts (such as in Nigeria, Burma and Sudan) and negative environmental effects that result from mining and drilling; the politicization of the oil industry; carbon-footprinting; and renewable energy options, such as vegetable and electric-powered cars, geothermal energy, and solar power. The End of Oil does not prophesize a dystopian future, but looks critically at the way in which we use and generate energy, encouraging a dialogue on this issue for the benefit of future generations.

This exhibition is a project of SEA (Social-Environmental Aesthetics).

SEA is a unique endeavor that presents a diverse multimedia exhibition program and permanent archive of artworks that address social and environmental concerns. SEA will assemble artists, activists, scientists and scholars to address environmental issues through presentations of visual art, performances, panels and lecture series that will communicate international activities concerning environmental and social activism.

So many good things piled up on top of one another.

If you're in town, consider stopping by.
A Zoo in Vienna
Christoph Steinbrener and Rainer Dempf

Schönbrunn Zoo in Vienna is host to a fascinating series of temporary art installations by Christoph Steinbrener and Rainer Dempf. In one animal enclosure, the German duo have half-submerged a car in a watering hole used by the resident rhinos. In another enclosure, penguins frolic in the shadow of an oil pump, and in yet another, alligators must share their modest bayou with a bathtub and a monster truck tire.

According to the artists, these scenes of ecological nightmares are “experimental set-up[s]” in which “the viewer is forced to reconsider traditional modes of animal presentation and simultaneously to question the authenticity of concepts which are restaging 'natural' environments while they are increasingly endangered.”

Christoph Steinbrener and Rainer Dempf

Quoting further: “Present-day conceptions of zoological gardens aim at the presentation of animals in an idyllic and apparently natural environment, untouched by civilization. But this is a contemporary conception, since courtly menageries and kennels were adapted to the exposure of animals as decorative objects. Until the early years of the 20th century, animals were part of a preferably spectacular and exotic staging, to the entertainment and amazement of the public. The artificial and the sensational were foregrounded, without creating a realistic setting of the natural environment of the animals.”

Christoph Steinbrener and Rainer Dempf

Christoph Steinbrener and Rainer Dempf

The installations will last until October 18, 2009.

Other Simulated Worlds
Some Freshly Fallen Hills
More Spatial High Jinks 4: Arbor-veillance

PROPOSAL: Harvest the metabolic energy of trees to power a maintenance-free, mesh-networked sensing system to predict and detect forest wildfires.


COUNTERPROPOSAL #1: Harvest the metabolic energy of trees to power a remote arboreal border homeland security system.

COUNTERPROPOSAL #2: Harvest the metabolic energy of trees to power an apparatus which acclimatizes a parcel from its present northern climes to conditions last seen when the area was straddling the equator, thus enabling the survival of formerly native tropical flora and fauna.

COUNTERPROPOSAL #3: Harvest the metabolic energy of trees to power concealed speakers sculpting the extinct sonic landscapes of a former ecosystem.

COUNTERPROPOSAL #4: Harvest the metabolic energy of trees to power mobile telecommunication devices long enough for passing hikers, park rangers and loggers to send a couple of tweets.

COUNTERPROPOSAL #5: Harvest the metabolic energy of trees to power fog machines which can be used, depending on your artistic persuasion, to render non-classically the very much classical scene of an aerosolized Jupiter raping Io, or equally classical scenes of wars and heroes, for instance, napalm defoliation during the Vietnam War.


Year 5
Pictorial Stones
Ghost Houses
Marcus Buck
Flemish Island Constellation
Flemish Island Constellation

On the coast, in a landscape of instabilities and ambiguities, there are surprisingly three things that are constant. Firstly, sea level is rising. Secondly, a huge percentage of the global population live along the coast, a number that's steadily rising. Even if hurricanes after hurricanes after hurricanes kept pummeling their cities of ramshackled hovels, they will not budge. So rather than retreating, they will dig themselves deeper and deeper. And thirdly, they will entrench themselves by basically building walls.

One of these future walls may be the Flemish Island Constellation, a proposal by the Office of Permanent Modernity for a chain of artificial islands shielding the entire Belgian coast.

Flemish Island Constellation

Unlike a similar project further up north, the Tulip Island in the Netherlands, and even the Palms of Dubai, this archipelago will be “based on morphological logic.” Instead of plopping down “arbitrary geometries,” the islands will be “built up from existing banks in the North Sea, using the current morphology to determine their placement.” Instead of isolating themselves, they will be opened up to the dynamic flows of the landscape. They will be “North Sea-specific.”

Once divined out of the sea, these extended coastlines will host natural reserves and sanctuaries for migrating wildlife, windmills and “dune villages.”

Flemish Island Constellation

Flemish Island Constellation

Flemish Island Constellation

Meanwhile, we are of the persuasion that managed retreat is the best of possible solutions to coastal erosion and future inundation by sea level rise. What possible benefits local businesses and the heritage preservation police get from fortifying themselves in concrete are offset by the massive infrastructural cost needed, a multi-decade investment now even more unsustainable in the current financial crisis. And if past projects are anything to go by, what gets built will create more problems than it's supposed to solve.

But we're thinking of the eastern seaboard and the gulf coast of the United States. We don't know much about the coastal geology of Belgium. Sea level rise by climate change may be global, but hyperlocally, it will manifest itself in ways as myriad as the varying geomorphological conditions at every stretch of every coastlines. So maybe this artificial archipelago will work. It's already been conceptualized as anti-Dubai, so it rests on a good footing.

On the coast
More Spatial High Jinks 3: The Forests of Isratine and Palesrael
Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin

Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin

“Around Jerusalem,” write Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin in Chicago, “acres of pine forest are used as popular family picnic spots. On the weekends they fill up with cars, people, pets, barbecues. But in the early mornings, just after dawn, the forests are completely silent, serene and untainted, giving the impression of timeless landscapes in which trees have been standing forever.”

But this apparent natural wilderness is a carefully constructed scene, as “many of these forests have been systematically planted on the expropriated land of Arab villages, which were forcibly evacuated and deliberately destroyed in 1948. It was not only sandy desert that was forested, but also cultivated olive groves and rural villages, the underlying intention being to obscure the locations of these villages so as to prevent any further cultivaton or re-settlement of the land by non-Jews.”

“These are places of erasure and amnesia.”

Bloggers with a Twin Conjoined at the Belly, Standing in the Landscape

Because sometimes we think bloggers, particularly those on the built environment, are a monstrous sub-breed of humanity: preening, humorless, fringe feeding, attention whoring polemicist and apologists who take too many things too seriously too many times.

But these ones aren't.

arch-peace news and articles: blog of Architects for Peace.

By Design: by Allison Arieff.

High Line Blog: if you're one of the most famous post-2000 designed landscapes, you gotta have a blog.

Hungry City, the blog: by Carolyn Steel, author of Hungry City, the book.

People and Place: a tumbleblog by @a_me1, we think.

rory hyde dot com blog: via @roryhyde.

Society of Fellows of the American Academy in Rome Weblog: so far just a smattering of posts that interest us, but the few that do, such as those on Alan Berger and the academy's Rome Sustainable Food Project, make subscribing to its feed worthwhile. And then there are the photos of boozy jamborees of the Veuve clique and the culturati and arrivistes greasing Last-Tango-in-Paris-like around the canapé trays.

Sustainable Stormwater Management: they must be after our hearts.

Veg.itecture: an off-shoot of Landscape+Urbanism.

Water in the Sustainable Environment: blog of Natural Systems International, specialists in alternative wastewater/stormwater management, and part of the design team of the Sidwell Friends Middle School project.

For our public blogroll, see our list of RSS feeds [good links] on Bloglines. Which of these you are going to subscribe to (or whether or not you are going to follow even one of them) will be up to you.
The Wetland Machine of Sidwell
Sidwell Friends School

Reading an ASLA interview of Jose Alminana, a principal at Andropogon Associates, we were reminded that Sidwell Friends School, the Quaker school of choice for the Obamas, the Clintons, the Gores, the Bidens, the Nixons — practically every member of Washington's politocracy, except for the Carters, of course — has in the courtyard of a recently renovated building an artificial wetland.

Not merely an eco-ornament, it's a machine that “manages all the wastewater generated by the building, as well as all the rain water that falls on the site.”

Sidwell Friends School

Typically, wastewater is drained away via a complex network of tunnels that requires vast financial resources just for its maintenance, an infrastructure that's undoubtedly deteriorating just as fast as tax revenues get siphoned off away from public works budgets to General Motors and Bank of America. Miles and miles away from its point of origin, the water then gets treated in an energy intensive process. But it still isn't entirely clean afterwards. Thus, when discharged, it still poses a risk to bodies of water, contributing in many instances to elevated bacterial count and eutrophication.

At Sidwell, wastewater is treated on-site, somewhat off-the-grid and using comparatively minimal infrastructure. The treatment cycle begins inside the building in a tank filled with anaerobic bacteria. Among other things, these bacteria help break down solids. The effluent is then pumped outside to a trickle filter before continuing on by gravity to a series of tiered wetlands. To lessen the health risk of contact with students and to mitigate any odor problems, water flows through beneath layers of pea gravel; there's no surface flow, in other words. This planting medium contains phytoremediating plants which, together with the microorganisms attached to their root hairs and to the gravel stones, extract contaminants from the water. After slowly trickling its way outside for about a couple of days or so, the water then re-enters the building and gets collected in storage tanks as greywater ready for reuse, for instance, to flush toilets.

Sidwell Friends School

Just as with wastewater, managing urban stormwater typically involves massive infrastructure to dispose runoffs as efficiently and as quickly as possible. In addition to being a drain on municipal coffers, such a method is known to increase the probability and the intensity of a flood event during major storms, endangering human life and property. Moreover, since stormwater isn't allowed to remain where it falls, (1) water doesn't have enough time to infiltrate the soil and seep into waiting, possibly depleted groundwater aquifers, and (2) what may have been clean at first contact with the surface undoubtedly will not remain so as it moves through sidewalks, roads, parking lots and sewers before going on to pollute rivers, lakes and other sources of our drinking water.

Sidwell Friends School

At Sidwell, we get a hint of an alternative system for stormwater management: hyperlocal, lo-fi, modular (i.e., implementations at multiple sites would be needed to bring about an appreciable effect on urban hydrology), soft and comparatively cheap.

Sidwell Friends School

Runoff is directed to a rain garden and a permanent biology pond located downslope from the tiered wetlands used for wastewater treatment.

Sidwell Friends School

Some of the runoff gets in an underground cistern. During dry weather, this storage tank provides water to the pond. During heavy rains, excess water flows from the pond into the rain garden, simulating the hydrological dynamics of a floodplain environment. Water seeps through the soil and gets naturally filtered.

Sidwell Friends School

Andropogon describes this project as a “working landscape” but we might prefer calling it an “event landscape,” wherein natural processes are co-opted into a cybernetic amalgam of landscape, architecture, geology, biology and institutional pedagogy. Rather than in the inaccessible subterranean voids and in scientific abstractions, this eco-machine is made to perform out in the open for the edification of the elite who, in their dirty, smelly, real-world engagement with the landscape, will hopefully turn into great stewards of the earth.

On constructed wetlands
Pole Farm
Telephone Pole Farm

Another testing ground is this field of telephone poles located in Chester Township, New Jersey. It's an arboretum of sorts, “planted” with several hundred tree trunks, the total of which may have peaked close to a thousand, carved out of different arboreal species and preserved using various methods. All are arranged in a formal grid and tagged with data-rich metal plates.

Here, AT&T and then other telecommunication companies subjected their lifeless midget forest to the elements of time. A menagerie of woodpeckers and pocket gophers were brought in to attack the poles. Humans and their spiked boots, too, ran rampant about the place in a balletic dance of ascents and descents, empirically choreographed.

All that just to create the perfect telephone pole.

Once a research center partly turned into a weird kind of aviary or a petting zoo or an even weirder sort of artificial ecology, the site is now part of a recreational area and an archive of our infrastructural past.

Arrangement of Test Specimens at Treat Island Natural Weathering Exposure Station
Treat Island

To register once more our fascination with testing grounds, or sites of experimentation and simulations, here is the rack map of concrete slabs at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' materials testing facility at Treat Island, Maine.

On the island, material specimens are exposed to natural severe environmental conditions to test for durability. They are subjected to between 100 and 160 freeze-thaw cycles, cyclic inundation of saltwater and air-drying, chloride intrusion, wetting and drying, and abrasion-erosion. There and in many other testing grounds, arranged in museological, Donald Judd-like intervals of solids and negatives, these perfect geometries are coming undone. The building blocks of future cities and monuments fracture and decay in a way that belies their solidity and intended permanence. Bit by bit, atom by atom, structures get nullified and give way.
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