Author Archives: Christine

How green is my neighbourhood?

One of the unfortuneate consequences of the fight against urban sprawl, which has been largely taken up in the name of Jane Jacobs, is the loss of green space and the urban forests of many communities. They are disappearing in the manner environmentalists call ‘death by a thousand cuts’, that is (sometimes) slowly and incrementally.

Sherwood Forest is one of the old, upscale, districts of Detroit, ‘the city of Neighbourhoods’;

“Developers thought that the area should resemble an English village; thus, they selected appropriate English names and curved and winding streets. You will not find a rectangular street pattern here or in old English villages. There are about 435 homes, most of them built before the Depression terminated housing construction in the city. Many of them are Georgian Colonials or English Tudor homes in keeping with the English theme. Some of the homes are newer, having been constructed after building resumed in 1947. They are large, even by the standards of early 21st-century architecture since they average about 3,600 square feet with four to six bedrooms.”

In the adjacent suburb of Palmer Woods is the Dorothy Turkel House by Frank Lloyd Wright, which undoubtably also relies on its leafy surrounds for its ambience.

British biologist Professor Jeff Sayer in his lecture at James Cook University asked the apt conservation question, ‘Conserving the forests for whom?’

Getting wet: staying on the edge

As we await two expected tropical cyclones in North Queensland the following questions have a particular poignancy. What is the solution to coast inundation? Are there ways in which we can get used to getting wet and enjoy it as part of the experience – akin to playing in the surf?

While the Israeli port project may not offer the solution to the landfall of tropical cyclones, it might inspire ways to accommodate a slightly less defined and changeable boundary between the sea and land.

Mayslits Kassif Architects urban regeneration of the Tel Aviv Port is a landmark project which saw “the suspension of all the area’s rezoning plans” and set a precedent for “transformation not propelled by building rights, but by a unique urban design strategy.” The project received the 2010 Rosa Barba European Landscape Prize.

The geography and topography of place

Urban designers in the port city of Copenhagen are making quite a splash for themselves with the design of several exciting new urban spaces.

Dune city is the latest urban design offering by SLA in Copenhagen. “Like a giant dune of sand or snow it slips in between and clings around the buildings, thereby creating a spatial coherence in the design.”

The foldedplate design enables the visitor (pedestrians, cyclists, skaters and the walking impaired) to tranverse the elevated landscape between the buildings amidst a vegetated space of reedy grasses and trees. The landscape has been designed to appear flat and two dimensional from a distance but to reveal its true three dimensional character as you move through its spaces. The high albredo effect is said to produce a cooler microclimate during the warmer periods by reflecting the incoming heat and radiation.

Can the the world’s model climate citizen lead the way also with climate sensitive urban design and by its example also change the fate of nations like Mongolia?

Viewing the bigger picture

The big question for what happens next for the city of Brisbane and for many cities worldwide is the role of climate change in flood events.

The previous big flood event in the city was in 1974. Since then a dam has been built as flood mitigation and in 2011 it has protected the city from more severe flooding.

However, with climate change, the expected frequency and severity of flooding could be expected to increase. So yes, a competition too – looking at the bigger picture – to design floodable spaces and places for cities would be a great contribution to urban flood defences and urban design.

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Saving the prickly and cute…

…And all creatures great and small.

Having recently experienced the flooding of my city I am keen to help some of the less visible victims as well. Having spotted a dead echidna by a tree next to a usually busy road in a flood affected inner city suburb, and realizing that he was most probably washed there in the flood waters from Toowoomba, I am keen to start an online charity to assist wildlife.

I am proposing an Ark Appeal for Wildlife. Would gardenvisit be happy to sponsor a charity and gardenvisit readers happy to contribute to it?

Tirtagangga water garden: the garden that time forgot

The Tirta (Holy Water) gangga (Ganges) water gardens in Bali are composed of three main elements: water, sculpture and gardens. They were originally built by the
late King of the Karangasem in 1948. However in 1963 with the eruption of the volcano Gunung Agung much of the palace was destroyed leaving only the bathing pools. The garden is said to be designed in a mixture of Balinese, European and Chinese styles and have undergone reconstruction.

Charles Platt: Pools of inspiration and transformation

The swimming pool and bathhouse at Manhassat Long Island by architect and landscape architect Charles Platt demonstrates the transformation in design thinking from European ideas that slowly began to characterise the design approach in the United States. The Manor House garden is remarkable for illustrating the genesis of this transformation in thinking with the ‘before’ garden centred on a fountain and the ‘after’ garden centred on the pool.

Gwinn, for which Platt contributed the architecture and collaborated with Ellen Biddle Shipman Warren Manning on the landscape contributes to the transformation of the Italian villa as inspiration to an American sensibility. There are particular elements of the garden design on the shores of lake Erie which introduce a genius for place into the American oeuvre, and are more suggestive of the quintessentially casual out-of-doors leisure lifestyle.

What is beauty?

Many things.

The mirror art left is by Russian artist Francisco Infante-Arana who formed the Russian movement group in 1964. His simple gestures, while a subtle visual disruption to nature, reflects back to the viewer the essence of the invisible beauty which is accentuated in the visual perception of the artist when he contemplates nature.

Modern definitions of Western beauty have been given as ‘the unification of variety’, ‘the sensual manifestation of the idea’, ‘freedom in appearance’ and ‘the infinite expressed in the form of the finite.’ For Onishi, modern Western aesthetics in founded on the congruence of opposites (coincidenta oppositorum.) See ‘A History of Modern Japanese Aesthetics.’ ed Michael Marra 2001.

Is the planet in dire straits?

The Berring Straits Project asked designers to imagine an element to connect the Russia and the United States. A peace bridge perhaps? Off Architecture were awarded second place for this imagining of a sometimes occupied space between two parallel 10 metre walls.

As architects contemplate the perils of global warming marine architecture is emerging as a serious discipline. However the genesis of this architectural discipline can be found in iconic structures such as the Miami Marine Stadium designed by Candela in the early 1960s. The stadium is expected to achieve landmark listing status.

Obviously, marine architecture presents a new challenge to the land-scape profession because imagining a sea-scape and the propogation of corals and algae in the enclosed gardens – hortus conclusus – of the ocean is conceptually different.

In the petrified seagarden, Richie Park, we are challenged to rethink our ideas about the natural boundaries between land and sea.

Yet, in explorations of the seaside, are potentially the sparks of inspiration for seagarden designers.

What makes travel a great experience?

Design schools are starting to tackle questions of urban scale city design in their masters programs. The key to future transit systems is to make that form of travel the best it can possibly be. Ask, what would make people choose this form of transport over other alternatives if they had many equally accessible and affordable options? Why might they want to travel this way? What would be unique, good or special about the experience?

The beginning or the end of the car?

Is peak oil, sustainability and climate change the beginning or the end of the car as we know it? With the advent of modernism carparks became first part of a highrise building to be constructed and were considered as part of the foundation system. There are a number of concerns with parking in urban areas. Will pollution and noise issues be meet by electric cars? Will innovative greened multistacking carparking arrangements be proposed for multi-density dwellings? How will congestion be addressed?

How will car supply and demand issues be thought about? Should urban residences be carfree with the possibility of outer-urban garaging accessible beyond the urban core area? Should urban work and commuting also be limited to the periphery of the inner-core? If so, who should be able to access this inner centre by car? Why?

Will eco-traffic engineers be engaged to design flow throughs and do capacity modelling for all new development sites so that designers can innovate and demonstrate best practice? Who will dream of the transit and traffic organisational schemas of our new cities?

More questions than answers!

Re: cycling It is Cost Effective

What is needed to induce the die-hard city commuters to leave behind their cars and adopt cycling as a mode of transport? Should the cost of using the car in central city areas be so cost prohibitive that only the those willing to part with large sums for the privilege persist? Or should urban designer adopt a range of innovative measures to entice inner city commuters to adopt what is afterall a healthier lifestyle alternative?

The McDonalds Cycle Centre in Chicago’s Millenium Park is leading the way in rethinking what it means to cycle and the sort of facilities which may transform the way commuting and recreational cycling is viewed. Philip Modest Schamberlan and + Anton Fromm’s Bicycle Hotel intends to entice the cyclist into the mountains in pursuit of a recreational touring lifestyle by providing an intriguing Fractal experience perched above Lake Garda.

Style Conscious

In 1730 Queen Charlotte ordered the damming of the Westbourne River as part of a general redevelopment of Hyde Park and Kennsington Gardens by Charles Bridgeman. The Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park is the remnant of the Westbourne River which since 1850 has been diverted into a culvert and runs into the Thames near Chelsea. “The Serpentine Lake was one of the earliest artificial lakes designed to appear natural” and was widely imitated. The Long Water because of its relatively undisturbed nature is a significant wildlife habitat.

Hyde Park and its surrounds has changed considerably since its inception. Contextualising the statute of Achilles by Richard Westmacott which was said to have originated in the classical taste of the Countess Spencer, demonstrates the remarkable changes that have taken place both in the use of the park and in the urban environment which surrounds it. The Queen and Prince Albert are drawn taking air in their carriage as they pass by the statute c1840.

Achilles meanwhile remains a most admired archetypical hero.

Museum Quality Gardens

A interesting garden typology which seems to be given more attention in recent times is the museum garden, such as the garden at Giverny ‘The Museum of Impressions’. The garden museum was conceived to give visitors an experience of the Seine valley on the impressionists trail and to complement the art gallery experience of viewing impressionist paintings. The museum building is described as “topped by roofs landscaped in heather…inscribed into the natural slope of the land, allowing the minimum of opague walls.”

For the garden traditionalist there is the Musee Rodin in Paris which captures something of the atmosphere of the outdoors indoors and has a an inspiring sculpture garden.

Perhaps an even more interesting possibility with this trend is the potential for the museum-in-the-garden. The museum of life and science in North Carolina demonstrates the potential of the museum outdoors.

Where better to experience and learn about art, physics and the natural world?

Cities in their landscape setting

The landscape setting of cities is a vital component of their character which can often be overlooked. This is particularly so for designers when they are considering contributions to the design of the skyline. Hong Kong with its harbour and mountainous surrounds benefits from the scenic amenity of its setting. And because of the physical and visual strength of these geographic characteristics the setting is able to support a dense tall city.

The relationship between building and landscape is worthy of considerable design attention. The name Hong Kong literally means ‘fragrant harbour’. Victoria harbour is one of the deepest natural maritime ports in the world. Reclamation projects dating from the late 1842 (1890, 1930, 1960, 1980 and 1990) have progressively advanced Hong Kong’s shoreline.

In Hong Kong they recognise some of the benefits of landscape saying that the landscape is an asset which contributes to well-being, helps define the identity of the city, provides habitats for wildlife and is part of their culture and heritage.

Fitting into tight spaces

The question of urban density seems to keep being asked anew every five years or so. It is said that in 1800 only three percent of the world’s population lived in cities.
That means many of us have become used to tighter spaces very quickly in evolutionary terms. Do we need to tie ourselves in knots to fit into designed spaces? What does this mean for the design of our cities? What is the relationship between green spaces and built spaces?

The London Tower: Home and Away.

Designing a city is a complex business. There are commercial and development pressures to be considered. But a city is more
than just a continual investment of capital and occupation of new space. It has an identity. Sometimes only a local one. But sometimes
a global one.

Sometimes a remembered one.

What gives a city its identity? Consider how much of your city can you change and still have your city recognised for the qualities that others
currently value. Ask yourself what attributes are different to other cities and what are the same.

Is going higher the best option? How should it be done? Why should it be done? And when should it be done?

If the skyline was to change which buildings would you miss?

Why?

Paris goes green

The French farmer’s protested their financial plight in a charmingly French manner by greening the Champ-Elysee.

Another unusual example of the trend towards green is the Lost House of Paris. The occupants literally live within a greenery covered house. To travel green in the city of romance you simply phone a ‘Vectrix’ taxi.

As Pierre Patel’s 1688 painting of Versailles (below)  shows, axes can be green and they can be canals. And canals can be used for transport.  Civic leaders need courage, imagination, wisdom – and a wealth of ideas from the design professions.