Author Archives: Christine

The Shock of the New – Freeway

The freeway for the electric and hybrid car need not be the highway we are used to.There is no reason why it might not be encased in landscape when the view out is less than appealing: concrete noise barriers or the back of suburban areas or some of the more hostile industrial areas of our large cities.There is no reason why the drive to work need be monotonous…and why the landscape views might not be considered in the same way as a promenade through a garden. We should take advantage of what nature provides and the cultural landscapes we have created.

Space and place

Famous Danish Urbanist Jan Gehl after a nine month study of central Sydney in 2007 called for the addition of three new public squares along George Street:

“His report paints a picture of a city at war with itself – car against pedestrian, high-rise against public space. “The inevitable result is public space with an absence of public life,” he concludes.

His nine-month investigation found a city in distress. A walk down Market Street involved as much waiting at traffic lights as it did walking. In winter, 39 per cent of people in the city spend their lunchtimes underground, put off by a hostile environment at street level: noise, traffic, wind, a lack of sunlight and too few options for eating.”

If the City of Sydney was to implement his vision how would the addition of public space improve the perception of place in Sydney?

The City of Miami is also feeling the lack of a public centre. In considering the attributes of good public squares they describe a few of the most successful spaces in the US, including Union Square and Madison Square.

Feel free to nominate your favourite public square and tell us why it is so good!

Concepts of sacredness and beauty

It is likely that the history of Japanese gardens finds its origins in Shinto traditions. In particular the sacred nature of rocks: “from the ancient remains of rock arrangement” of the fifth century AD, we find a resemblance to existing Japanese gardens. “However it appears they were used for the spiritual rituals and not designed as a stone arrangement for the beauty of gardens.”

The earliest known Japanese gardening texts are a medieval text, Sakuteiki, and an illustrated text dating from the Muromachi period (1333-1573). The origins of Japanese garden design principles are said to be traceable back to these two texts. The location of Shinto shrines were near striking natural formations, waterfalls, caves, rock formations, mountain tops or forrest glens reflecting the idea that kami spirits were located in nature. The earliest shrines were mounds, caves or groves. Kami occur in two categories (object kami) and mythical and historical persons (active kami). Illustrated is off-shore rock kami.

The following story is related of an off-shore rock just off Oshima:
“The kami enshrined here is Ichikishimahime, daughter of Susano, and eldest of the three Munakata princesses. Just off Oshima is a large rock protuding from the sea. The story is when Ichikishimahime heard she was going to be enshrined on Oshima, she was really excited and proud because Oshima means ‘Great Island’, but when she got here and saw just how small it really was, her tears formed the rock.”

With the introduction of Buddhism into Japan the earliest interaction saw local kami asking to be saved from their kami-state by means of Buddhist ritual.

Make it extraordinary

What makes the setting of a town extraordinary? What makes a development extraordinary? What makes a garden extraordinary?

Is it the subtlety of colour? Is it the unexpected? Strong formal qualities? A sense of fun? Or a location to die for?

Or the delight of the whimsical? Or recognition of the familiar?

Just what is the X-factor that makes a design extraordinary?

Healing hurts: past

The big picture of the London Riots is very disturbing. The burnt out shell of the 140 year old Reeves furniture store is symbolic of the losses London has suffered. “It is now likely that the damage which was ‘worse than the blitz’ would force the ravaged building to be demolished and rebuilt.” How to explain the mindless and pointless destruction and the reckless endangering of life supposedly by a twentyone year old?

So is it social division, or a bizarre new form of recreation to relieve ennui, the result of political correctness, a new phenomenon of virtual gangs or some other cause?

More importantly, how should London rebuilt to heal hurts past and with a renewed confidence as the Olympic city? And what lessons does the experiences in London hold for the sustainable urban design and planning of other complex global cities?

The future is blossoming

The stained glass windows of Josef Albers (1920-33) demonstrate the remarkable advances that were made in glass art in the period between 1885 (with the Tiffany glass Company) and 1933 (with students from the Bauhaus), and the increasing links between emerging art movements and gardens (hinted at by Filoli ).

Art Nouveau began a remarkable period in the history of art, when designers inspired by nature and natural forms, began a creative transformation which would lead to the pure abstraction of Modernism, perhaps most typified in the work of Gustav Klimt.

Louis Comfort Tiffany, was the third generation of successful American entrepreneurs. His father founded the jewelry company, Tiffany & Co, while his grandfather had been a leading cloth manufacturer.

Mirroring the emerging emancipation of women which typifies the age, the daffodil lamp, designed by one the ‘Tiffany Girls’ Clara Discoll, is considered among the most famous of the studio’s designs.

Contemplative places: watching and listening

Contemplation has been defined as thoughtful or long consideration or observation. In the East, Christian contemplation has been associated with spiritual transformation. “The process of changing from the old man of sin into the new born child of God and into our true nature as good and divine is called theosis.” The process has often been described by the metaphor of a ladder, with the acquisition of the state of hesychia or peace of the soul being the summit where the person is said to reach ‘Heaven on Earth’.

Perhaps the purpose of a public contemplative space might be to give visitor glimpses of ‘Heaven on Earth’? What might such a space look and sound like?

Natural spaces are most often associated with a sense of restfulness and peace. Water can create a sense of calm, while beauty can promote a sense of wonder.

Impressive gardens: revisiting the Golden Age in America

‘The Golden Age of American Gardens’ begins “In the 1880s America’s millionaires were looking for new ways to display their new wealth, and the acquisition of a grand house with an equally grand garden became their passion.”

It is said that the style of architecture and gardens, evidenced in Lila Vanderbilt Webb’s 1886 model agricultural farm Shelburne Farm (among others) “was a mix of eclecticism and the latest advances in artistic and cultural developments as promoted in popular English style books and periodicals of the time.” The tubbed bay trees on the terraces overlooking Lake Champlain, as a consequence, were said to have been climatically challenged!

The Golden Age ended with the Jazz Age in which a distinctly American sensibility in gardens and lifestyle emerged. European influences still dominated design ideas, but new approaches were gradually emerging as is shown in the Chartes Cathedral Window Garden (photograph by Saxon Holt shown above), one of three walled gardens on the estate.

Filoli, the home of shipping heiress Lurline Roth, whose daughter debuted to jazz strains in 1939 at the property, maintains a strong jazz tradition.

Perhaps she danced to the classic‘I wish I could shimmy like my sister Kate’, said to be a charleston/belly dance fusion, and which inspired The Beatles to release a song of the same name in 1962?

And/Or & Both – when more is more.

It would be unfortunate to lose the distinction between [1] garden design and [2] [3] landscape architecture much as the trend towards [4] interior architecture is actually unfortunate for [5] interior designers. The differences of focus and attention to scale provide a variety of design insights which are not replicated.

Why? Because the rich tradition of garden design is the foundation and a source of inspiration to landscape architecture, to urban design and to city design. In the future we may say more as gardens move from the [6] ground plane to vertical surfaces and [7] roofs. Parc Eduardo VII in [8] the city of Lisbon is an example of the axis and hedges of gardens informing the structuring of city vistas.

There is much to be said for the process of abstraction. Landscape architects, arguably coming into being with the [9] English landscape tradition, have evolved a language and way of working of their own, which is continually evolving. Viva la difference!

Image courtesy Artifolio

Shimmering on the water

The floods have done something amazing to the inland Australian landscape that is perhaps only rivalled by the fabulously unique underwater landscapes that are rarely glimpsed by the landbound. It is a rare event that mostly only occurs in La Nina weather patterns: the overflowing of Lake Eyre.

And where is all this additional water coming from? Tropical cyclones, with their destructive winds, which develop over the Pacific Ocean as far away as Fiji. So out of natural disaster (as we call it because of our cities and human settlement patterns) comes a natural wonder.

Is there a better way for us to accommodate the cycles of nature within our human environments?

Gardening on ice: a mammoth project

It is not often that you see a proposal for a substantial indoor garden, still less one located on an ice tundra, however this is what Leeser Architecture, (who also imagined the engaging Helix Hotel in Abu Dhabi) have proposed in their design for the World Mammoth and Permafrost Museum in Yakutsk Siberia. Yakutsk is the world’s largest city built on permafrost with temperatures ranging from -45degF to 90degF.

The extensive and intensive indoor gardens have been designed to “promote a sense of year-round natural life even in the desolate winter months.”

Not much is said of the about the construction of the landscape elements and gardens. This is a competition afterall, so details will undoubtedly be required later.

The exterior gardens are described as “naturally patterned by the effects of shifting permafrost cycles.” Cells will be planted with native grasses. Mosses and trees will be reintroduced to the landscape to reflect the existing topography and improve site hydrology.

While the interior gardens cascade “at the perimeter of the building’s interior with lush thick mats of moss and lichen” grown between a latticework of pathways.” Moss and lichen are the natural insulators of permafrost ground. The gardens have a number of important functions including to 1) add color 2) insulation value 3) filter indoor air and 4) maintain air humidity.

In one of the gardens floats a cafe, while other gardens can only be viewed from above by visitors but are accessible to researchers.

Understanding density?

Density is much more complex than its seems. U-Thant 7 Residences in Malaysia are described as luxury “low density condominiums.” In terms of their built form they would usually be considered a medium density form of living. The context, however, is more typical of low density or even rural or semi-rural settings with a formal park-like foreground setting and a natural background setting.

Undoubtably there are many more examples of this kind. The Cultural Centre design by Paul Eluard in Cugnaux, France attempts to address the contemporary needs of an historical low density city within the landscape.

Dublin is considered to be a low density city. The economic challenges it faces and the resulting contemporary waves of youth emigration suggests that Dublin may remain low density for some time into the future.

So, are we really viewing a population redistribution in global terms with some areas de-populating and others re-populating or increasing in population? What does this trend suggest for the future of our cities, for greenspaces and for wilderness?

Forest architecture: work, play, live?

Working, living and playing in a forest environment: is it possible?Selgas Cano’s architectural office near Madrid suggests so. Although critiques of the scheme suggest the ‘look but don’t touch’ approach of the sealed glazing is a limitation of the scheme. Natural ventilation is provided by a hinged pulley system at one end of the building.

Singapore’s Telok Blangah Hill Park’s forest walk constructed 60 feet above the ground demonstrates the ‘gem’ like qualities of a highly urbanised rainforest. Forest green space is valued and rare. One way to preserve the forest, yet to provide visual and physical recreational access, is to construct a forest walk. New questions arise. Do forests and their inhabitants suffer from noise pollution with large visitor numbers? The forest is home to squirrels, sunbirds, doves, lizards and white-crested laughing thrushes.

And then there is Zaha Hadid’s Capital Hill residence located in Barvikha Forest, Russia – taking forest dwelling to new heights.

Food glorious food

Modern life presents numerous paradoxes. Perhaps the first is the widespread trade in food produce and the convenience of supermarket shopping, that has somehow alienated society from the concept that all food is land or sea based. And this means – land area & sea area – must be used, managed and preserved for this purpose, generally in some direct relationship with the population that must be feed.

Can all nations feed their own populations within the bounds of their own land and sea resources?

“Some countries just do not have the land to feed their year-2000 populations even at high yields. They include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Algeria, Somalia, Lesotho, Haiti, and much of the Middle East. Some of these countries have resources they can trade for food; others do not. After the year 2000, if populations go on growing, other countries come onto the critical list, including Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria.”

How is sustainable agriculture and aquaculture to be understood?

Clean, green and responsive: the future of architecture?

Lumenhaus inspired by Mies Van der Rohe’s Fansworth House is described by Virginia Tech students as responsive architecture. Responsive architecture according to Nicholas Negroponte’s definition is “a class of architecture or building that demonstrates an ability to alter its form, to continually reflect the environmental conditions which surround it.”

The aim of Lumenhaus designers was to “maximise user comfort with environmental protection” to make the user’s life “simpler, more energy efficient and less expensive.” They say the goal was to balance design quality, resource conservation and energy efficiency to produce architecture which achieves “beautiful enduring sustainability.”

One of the most significant benefits of the Lumenhaus construction concept is that it is off-grid (with options for feeding energy to the grid where appropriate), prefabricated and transportable making it an ideal solution for remote housing (increasing production standards, optimizing costs and providing improved accessibility to remote locations), temporary housing (mining and student communities) and emergency housing (after natural disasters).

Landscape architects could contribute significantly to the concept by, among other strategies, incorporating green wall technology on the wall cladding and designing a compatible site responsive green roof space beneath a solar panel shaded umbrella roof.

Much ado about zero energy buildings

With the European Parliament mandating under the amended ‘Energy Performance of Buildings Directive’ that all new buildings are to be ‘zero energy’ by 2019 the heat is on to produce architecture and environments that contribute to more sustainable energy equations with a zero or positive bottom line.

According to 2006 figures from the US Department of Energy, energy use in the building sector in the US continues to increase “primarily because new buildings are constructed faster than old buildings are retired.” Essentially the net building stock in the US is increasing. The government is not predicting any reduction in demand for new buildings and so is pursuing a Zero Energy agenda. The authors of the report ‘Zero Energy Buildings: A Critical Look at the Definition’ say “because design goals are so important to achieving high performance buildings, the way a ZEB goal is defined is crucial to understanding the combination of applicable efficiency measures and renewable energy supply options.”

Under the (Zero Energy Building) ZEB definition four aspects of energy are considered: 1) net-zero site energy 2) net-zero source energy 3) net-zero energy costs and 4) net-zero energy emissions.

Chicago architect Zoka Zola has designed a zero energy urban home with a green roof for passionate gardeners. The green roof is designated as the zone for the home to extend in the future and for the installation of renewable energy infrastructure. The accessible green roofs encourage “bio-diversity and absorb water runoff, while insulating the interior and protecting the roof from thermal shock and ultra violet deterioration.” The tree in the south facing garden provides both beauty and summer shade. The garden also provides the outlook from the rooms with large south facing windows.

With designers giving functional, structural and aesthetic consideration to the zero energy buildings the green future is looking bright.

Clean: but is it green?

Vermont’s thirty eight year old Yankee Nuclear Reaction is scheduled to be shut down in 2012. The main cause of concern is the leaking of tritium which is linked to cancer.

The life expectancy of nuclear power plants is forty years. Seventy five percent of all current nuclear power plants are in the second half of their expected life span.

After a plant is decommissioned there are a series of steps that must be taken including “removal and disposal of all radioactive components and materials, and cleanups of any radioactivity that may remain in the buildings and on the site.”

Machinery breakdown in the differing reactor designs is the major cause of nuclear insurance losses. Loses due to fire most frequently occur around six years of age.

The Convention on Nuclear Safety was adopted in 1994. “Its aim is to legally commit participating States operating land-based nuclear power plants to maintain a high level of safety by setting international benchmarks to which States would subscribe.”

Beyond the design of nuclear power plants and their landscape surrounds is the question of the disposal of nuclear waste.
How confident are designers, engineers and geologists of the long term safety of nuclear waste storage strategies?

From the ground up, the sky is the limit…

Turned upside down land-scape becomes sky-scape. So what happens when the city meets the sky? 56 Leonard Street by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron disrupts the orderly rhythm of both the street-scape and of the skyline of New York with its jagged form from base to crown.

The base of 56 Leonard Street is firmly part of the city, while the crown of the building challenges the city limits: the blue space. Another blue space on the edge of cities is the coastal edge. The NSW government have included guidelines for protecting coastal edges near settlements.

At the limits of the green space of southern Californian cities according to biologist Paul Beier is cougar territory. While in Lincoln County efforts have been made to have developers include tree plans in their development applications (with fines for non-compliance).

In Germany there has been a conversation since the end of last millennium about ‘quality growth’ and ‘optimal growth’ at the edge of cities. In this paradigm according to Bruns and Schmidt in their paper ‘City Edges in Germany: Quality Growth and Urban Design’ “Land is valued for its own right, as landscape, as having character, contours, and limits. ‘Green walls’ instead of built walls are to be designed to border the city.”

Is new urbanism old?

The 10 principles of New Urbanism are:

1. Walkability
2. Connectivity
3. Mixed use and diversity
4. Mixed housing
5. Quality architecture and urban design
6. Traditional neighbourhood structure
7. Increased density
8. Smart transportation
9. Sustainability
10. Quality of life

According the wikipedia entry “This new system of development, with its rigorous separation of uses, became known as “conventional suburban development” or pejoratively as urban sprawl, arose after World War II. The majority of U.S. citizens now live in suburban communities built in the last fifty years, and automobile use per capita has soared.

Although New Urbanism as an organized movement would only arise later, a number of activists and thinkers soon began to criticize the modernist planning techniques being put into practice. Social philosopher and historian Lewis Mumford criticized the “anti-urban” development of post-war America. The Death and Life of Great American Cities, written by Jane Jacobs in the early 1960s, called for planners to reconsider the single-use housing projects, large car-dependent thoroughfares, and segregated commercial centers that had become the “norm.”

Rooted in these early dissenters, New Urbanism emerged in the 1970s and 80s with the urban visions and theoretical models for the reconstruction of the “European” city proposed by architect Leon Krier, and the “pattern language” theories of Christopher Alexander.”

New urbanism was fundamentally a social planning movement although it has morphed more recently to include at least a minimalist environmental agenda. Wendy Morris says new urbanism was “….Initially A Reaction to Sprawl…..Now A Basis for Sustainable Urban Growth/Smart Growth…….and a response to Climate Change and Peak Oil…and a Basis for Addressing Physical Health and
Social Well-being.”

Can the old theory of New Urbanism be adapted to adequately address new environmental concerns?

Panda pandemonium

China’s number one mascot the giant panda (ailuropoda melanoleuca) are only found in the bamboo forests of south western China. “They occupy 6 small forest fragments in the provinces of Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi. (5,400 square miles).”

The panda is well travelled in popular culture, as well as being a local hero. With the recent release of Kung Fu Panda, the panda Po looks set to win over another generation of children to panda love.

Habitat fragmentation (by roads and railroads) and destruction and poaching (for their pelts) are still major threats to the Giant Panda, even though poachers and smugglers have received death penalties or long prison terms. Pandas are often injured in traps and snares set for other animals.

Emerging threats to the panda populations are mining, hydropower and tourism. A giant panda may consume 26-83 pounds of bamboo a day to meet its energy requirements.