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The following news articles are geared toward students and other professionals.
Landscape Architecture
The Next Wave of Modernism: Healing Urban Landscapes Print E-mail
Wednesday, 23 November 2011 07:35


“The first wave of modernism was about beauty and sensuality, but the second wave may be about confrontation – confronting the mistakes of the past,” said Brad McKee, Editor, Landscape Architecture Magazine, at The Second Wave of Modernism II: Landscape Complexity and Transformation, a day-long conference organized by the Cultural Landscape Foundation at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. McKee described the changes that have overcome American cities: the rise of global competition and the decline of large-scale manufacturing, the mass number of companies and people who fled industrial waterfronts, leaving toxic wastelands. “This is the industrial legacy designers confront.”

He added that toxic brownfield sites have proliferated over the years with devastating but often undiagnosed effects on families. The idea that human health and the built environment are linked has only been gaining steam in the past 10 years. But now at least, “obesity, diabetes, asthma, depression, anxiety can all be attributed to factors in the environment.” For McKee, the public is also now skeptical about “big ideas”, grand concepts imposed by policymakers and designers. Urban dwellers can see the damage these ideas can cause so the next waves of Modernism in cities may focus more on “places for people,” and integrating public health and ecological sustainability into design.

Some high-profile landscape architects described how they are tackling some of these challenges:

The Beauty of Derelict Landscapes

Julie Bargmann, ASLA, Founding Principal, D.I.R.T. Studio, said Modern architects and landscape architects thought of their starting point as a cleared site or site that was “not a site at all.” All the better to build their idealized forms on top of a blank slate. Now, thinking has changed: site matters. “Site specificity has become important for those not caught in formalism.” 

Bargmann grew up in New Jersey. “The turnpike was my landscape.” Industrial sites form a specific landscape, a landscape shaped by machines. These landscapes are the effects of the “ambitious imprint of labour” as represented by Diego Rivera’s murals of labourers, which exemplify the romance of industrial labour. Because of this, “we can’t clear these embedded histories.” They are important.

With Thomas Woltz, FASLA, Bargmann worked on River Rouge, helping Michigan understand that this industrial riverfront is actually a “cultural landscape, and not a landscape to be wiped clean.” Her team helped “add a layer with restraint, being respectful of the contradictions” in the site. Another well-known project is the Navy Yard in Philadelphia, which she transformed into a new corporate home for Urban Outfitters. The challenge: half of the site is still an active Navy base. Taking cues from the site’s rugged productive history, she said the site had to be “built like a motherf**cker.” Site elements, like the dramatic ship crainways, were unearthed and used to inform the new design, forming a new promenade. The “arabesque” pattern of the old railways helped create the paths. Within the water-filled crainway, she added ecological floating wetlands, spelling out the word “URBAN,” which she noted are viewable by planes flying overhead (see photo above). She stockpiled all debris piled up on the site, all the dug-up asphalt, and reused as pavers she lovingly named “Barney Rubble.” Then, she put “pink flowery trees over the tough stuff, just for fun.”

As many speakers described their early influences, Bargmann said she always admired Eva Hesse, and the post-minimalists. Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA, her teacher at Harvard Graduate School of Design, instilled in her a “passion for the specifics of a landscape.” She also talked about public artist Mel Chin and her work with him on making the problem of toxic soils more transparent. Chin is focused on raising awareness and funds to deal with the massive soil lead problems in New Orleans (see earlier post).

Lastly, Bargmann made a powerful case for the derelict “urban voids” that are a “byproduct of urbanization but are vital to contemporary culture.” She said these “left-over places,” the space abandoned near waterfronts and highways in cities, which are so often featured in Jim Jarmusch films, “can’t be designed with a capital D.” These “orphan, wild landscapes with no author or title” are valuable, as they represent growth and decay. She wondered if a new form of urban park could be created out of these places, basically leaving them as they are, but removing the toxicity.

A Rational, Systems Approach

James Corner, ASLA, founder of Field Operations, designer of the High Line, and professor of landscape architecture at the University of Pennsylvania revealed his influences and inspirations. Growing up in Manchester, an industrial city, “I had a tough environment.” The counter-culture was raging, with bands like The Smiths at center stage. It was a place where “you had to be tough to survive.” But now, as then, it was also a “city of fashion, art, music.” The industrial center was dramatically different from the North lake district Corner went on the weekends. There, he would “mess around in nature,” and was awed by the “weather-bound atmospherics” of the landscape. “It was a very strong pairing with the city, with the scale and weather.”

Corner fell into landscape architecture. “In the UK, there’s a matrix that tells you what to do.” He said he “didn’t know what he was getting into,” but three years of being at art and design school pushed me into “conceptual thinking, thinking outside the box.” His first project as an intern was with Richard Rogers & Partners, where he worked on the Royal Docks project, a huge urban redevelopment project. He said no one could orchestrate the entire scheme – each discipline was narrowly focused on their own concerns (see an earlier post on these ideas). The result was a project that had no public realm, no one was representing the “environmental, infrastructural point of view.”

At the University of Pennsylvania, he was blown over by Ian McHarg and his Design With Nature. Then, he began to understand that “landscape architects could play a stronger role at a bigger scale and could do regional scale work.” He learned how to nest local landscapes in urban ones and regional ones, a “layering approach.” Corner then became inspired by theories and models that didn’t just view layers analytically, but offered “projective layers” that came from “future programs.” The intelligence of these types of layers could form a “montage.” As an example, he pointed to Peter Eisenman’s work, which deals with “archeologies, not analytic layers or projective layers, but archeological layers – the thick matte network of spaces and milieu.” Other influences and inspirations included Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City, a “fantastic vision,” and Robert Rauschenberg’s “flat-bed canvases,” which were important because they “didn’t represent anything, had no top or bottom; they were just paintings as work” (see image below). Rome, the city, also inspires him because its “fabric grew in an organic way. There was no big city put down.”

Corner then explored the idea of aggregate forms that can be “bottom up or top down, easily grown or replicated.” As an example, he pointed to beads of sweat on skin, arguing that the surface of skin is “biologically living, self-regulating. It’s a surface whose formal properties are limited by its process.” In the same way, a forest is “something that grows up out of small aggregates.” These aggregate forms can come together as different types of systems – some are “super pragmatic engineering monoliths,” while others are “inter-relational layers” that allow for blending and folding and new situations and programs. The big idea: form and process are inter-related, “intrinsically connected.” He added that this isn’t “a sidebar or conceptual; it’s a way to deal with problems.”

For example, FreshKills park, a project Corner has been working on for some time, is four square miles, a “massive project.” To deal with the massive scale of the project, Corner and his team “designed a process, a series of techniques” that can “self-evolve, emerge” to address the difficult ecological restoration challenges within the site. “Then, we make more places within it,” places that can bring people in. For the QianHai Water City, a new city for two million people Corner is designing outside of Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, there are “five streams that serve as a big armature for organizing the site” (see image below). The only problem is that the water is highly polluted so the water is now “retained and processed” before it reaches the central bay. This is green infrastructure at a massive scale – central parks, which also provide aesthetic public spaces, become a key part of the city. Corner is also organizing a city grid with smaller blocks (the Chinese, he said, like mega-blocks), and a schematic for how new mixed-use buildings and density can be layered in over time. But, he said, the “landscape infrastructure is being built first.” Lastly, Corner also sees the High Line park in New York City as a big system. “We were concerned with the organization of systems. Of couse, we pay attention to places, detail, craft, but it’s really about how to build a system.”


Give People a Sense of Discovery

Kathryn Gustafson, ASLA, Founding Partner and Director, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, grew up in Yakoma, Washington, where there are “some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world.” There, the “natural hues of the desert” were contrasted with the canals and water-intensive fruit orchard and agricultural landscapes. Her upbringing gave her a “love of water, channelized water.” Gustafson went to Versaille, France for landscape architecture school, where they “did teach me monumentality.” One of her early influences was “little known French landscape architect Jaques Sgard, who was a master at creating place.” He created contemporary, sculptural, playful spaces for leisure “but they weren’t defined by that.” Isamu Noguchi’s small scupture also inspired her because even within the small shapes, “your imagination soars.”

“I also work in layers,” Gustafson said, refering to Corner’s earlier presentation. She said over the years, more layers have been added for landscape architects to deal with. “Landscape architecture is becoming complex. Just providing the program is not enough. All the layers need to come together.” She added that where all these layers need to come together is in ”urban parks, which are what is important.” She added that “it may sound boring but it’s not all about systems”: it’s all about public health and environmental sustainability. “Parks are key to urban sustainability.”

Gustafson introduced her own theoretical approach, “contemporary picturesque,” to describe what she’s trying to accomplish. She said contemporary picturesque landscapes are “places that pull you through the landscape. This is landscape as theatre, creative journey.” Within this are views, scales, principles and hierarchies. She made a point of saying that hierarchy is very important. For her, the forefather of the contemporary picturesque is Frederick Law Olmsted (designer of NYC’s Central Park). Nowadays, Gustafson added “nature is the program. Landscapes are becoming functional; they are cleaning things up.”

One of her new large-scale projects is the 130-acre Centennial Park in Nashville, Tennessee. “Over time, it had become a non-functional park.” There’s a beautiful lake, a replicated Parthenon, and places to go but now it’s filled with cars. “It’s totally stuck in the 1960s.” She said it was politically challenging to get the parking lots out but she managed to do this. Also, her team is creating a new plan for both formal and natural areas, a glass house winter garden, restaurants, and experimental gardens, along with a stormwater management plan. “Some spaces will be very intimate, natural, while others will be formal. It’s about creating a place to be in. Parks can’t just be one thing. Some like flowers and meadows,” while others want sports spaces. She added that “lawn will only be used for programs, for festivals.”

In Valencia, Spain, she’s managing a 125-acre urban redevelopment project (see earlier post). Train tracks are moving underground, freeing up an enormous amount of space. She said the challenge here was “how to create a park that feels like it is of that place.” She can’t “bring in a system from somewhere else.” Using the concept of a bowl, which is about “food, giving, growth,” she aims to connect multiple elements. She wants to create place there “that you want to go to.” There will be six bowls within the park, all providing different functions. Within, there will be “poles of attraction” drawing visitors through the park so there’s a “constant experience.”


Gustafson concluded that “it’s important to have systems but people need to have discovery.” Landscape architects need to “create what people need in cities, need to create poetry.”

Image credits: (1) Urban Outfitters Headquarters / Bloomberg News (2) Urban Outfitters Headquarters “Barney Rubble / D.I.R.T. Studio, (3) Untitled (formerly titled Collage with Horses) by Robert Rauschenberg / Wikipaintings, (4) Qianhai Water City / Field Operations. Shenzhen Daily News, (5) Centennial Park Master Plan / Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, (6) Valencia Parque Central / Gustafson Guthrie Nichol


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MediaCityUK | Salford UK | Gillespies Print E-mail
Wednesday, 23 November 2011 07:29
Creative companies and TV channels moving to MediaCityUK will be inspired by its fresh new public spaces and waterside landscape, designed by Gillespies. MediaCityUK has been developed by The Peel Group and creates a globally significant digital media hub. It is one of the UK’s largest construction projects and has regenerated a former industrial dock [...] → Continue Reading MediaCityUK | Salford UK | Gillespies Add a comment
 
Rethinking Urban Renewal Print E-mail
Wednesday, 23 November 2011 07:27


Landscape architects were implicated in misguided urban renewal schemes, said Thaisa Way, PhD, ASLA, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Washington at The Second Wave of Modernism II: Landscape Complexity and Transformation, a day-long conference organized by the Cultural Landscape Foundation at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. Before Jane Jacobs and the many urban activists she inspired put a stop to the most egregious errors, habitats and landscape were destroyed, leading to the mass alienation of urban residents. Renewal was a horror, but then again, “people love the view of the Coloseum” in Rome (which really was one of the original urban renewal projects). Way said in some cases we still may have to refrain from harsh judgements on big urban renewal projects  because “rarely are these projects all good or all bad.”

Now, with a broad public process, communities are renewing their cities, but this time remaking the urban image in their own form. “There are now broad, complex narratives.” One new approach is to “renew, not replace works of modernism” that still pervade most cities. Old urban renewal projects are now being re-intepreted by today’s dynamic, sustainability-minded landscape architects, creating very different projects in the process.

Raymond Jungles and Herzog + de Meuron Renew Miami

Raymond Jungles, FASLA, said he was “born as a Jungles in Nebraska.” As a kid, he was deeply inspired by nature. Trips to a Sequoia forest “made a huge impact.” Later, he discovered Luis Barragan in an architecture magazine in a doctor’s office. He was so enamoured with the work, he stole the magazine. Attending the landscape architecture program at the University of Florida, he was then awed by Roberto Burle Marx, who would later become his friend and mentor up until that great Brazilian landscape architect’s death.

Jungles relayed a set of inspirational ideas that have guided him: “Study nature, stay close to nature, it will never fail you” (Frank Lloyd Wright). “Always do what you say you are going to do” (his mother). Also, “do right, fear not.” For him, another inspiration is nature in Florida. Even in his urban, man-made projects, he tries to project this view of nature, adding that “gardens are for man, they are not natural, but should be complimentary to nature.”

In Miami, Jungles collaborated with Herzog + de Meuron on their 1111 Lincoln Road project, creating a new streetscape, plaza, and two lush interior courtyards inspired by Modern sidewalk designs planned but unrealized in Miami (see image at top and below). For his new streetscape, Jungles created combined platforms that serve as benches, house bioinfiltration and silva cell system to keep the islands of rich vegetation healthy, and feature plants from the Everglades, bringing native Floridian landscape back to the city.


He called the project “bringing back the mangroves.” He added that “kids love it” and he’s really happy about that.


Charles Renfro on the Role of Glass in Contemporary Urban Renewal  

Charles Renfro, Diller, Scofidio + Renfro, largely veered away from Modern landscape architecture, instead talking about glass. He said it’s a material that has “transformed cities,” creating a “new level of engagement,” so perhaps we need to “rethink what glass is about.” He said glass can be used to frame a new relationship with the city, just as James Corner Field Operations and his firm have done to great effect in segments of the High Line park.

“Glass performs best when you least understand its presence,” said Renfro. In the case of Philip Johnson’s Glass House, the absence of structural elements – just walls of glass – bring nature right into the house.

Unfortunately, he added, with post-modernism, “glass, minimalism, functionalism had fallen off the map.” Post-modernism grew up because many architects thought “architecture had lost its meaning.” Modern buildings were no longer embodied with meaning but dull and characterless.

Rem Koolhaas then brought a focus on “seeing,” making the process of seeing “layered and complex.” One of his preoccupations then became “looking at looking.” For Renfro, glass could become about “manipulation, turning things on its head.” As an example, in the High Line, glass holes in the girders provide views. The 10th avenue overlook turns the city into a theatre. Glass helps accomplish this.


In their revamp of Lincoln Center, Diller Scofidio + Renfro also used glass to try to “undo much of the damage” of that massive urban renewal project. In that case, “a thriving neighborhood was turned into a stark, unfriendly place.” The great modern architects who worked on Lincoln Center didn’t see the dense brownstone-filled streets as a neighborhood, merely a slum ready for a new concept. To remedy their errors, his firm “stripped the base from the buildings” of Alice Tully Hall, creating a new sense of “inside/outside” urban appeal. By blurring inside and out, he hopes they helped “correct urban wrongs.” One important piece of the project was the Illumination Lawn, a new slanted public green roof park on top of one of the area’s most pricey restaurants.


In contrast with the rave reviews of the new Alice Tully Hall and their work on the High Line park, The New York Times didn’t give the firm’s landscape work in Lincoln Center a positive review, arguing that famed Modern landscape architect Dan Kiley had done a better job with some of the original, challenging plaza spaces.

In addition, in a rare public rebuke from a conference organizer, Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, President and Founder, The Cultural Landscape Foundation, found Renfro’s reference to the Lincoln Center lawns, which he said “were for all you landscape architects,” “offensive.” Birnbaum clearly wanted Renfro to focus on how architects and landscape architects work together on urban projects, and said “we need to stop playing the game” that pits different design fields against each other.

Elizabeth Meyer and Michael Van Valkenburgh Use Nature to Renew the Arch Grounds in St. Louis

Elizabeth Meyer, FASLA, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Virginia, and Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA, Principal, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, teamed up to discuss the St. Louis Arch grounds restoration and redesign project now underway. Van Valkenburgh beat out many firms to win that competition (see earlier interview).

Meyer said the public focus has always been on Eero Saarinen‘s great arch, with little attention paid to the important work of his key partner, Modern landscape architect Dan Kiley, who designed the grounds. Perhaps this is because the grounds took so long to complete: While the design for the grounds were completed in 1965, the design wasn’t fully implemented until 1981.

Stepping back for a moment, Meyer said many urban renewal projects were “biophysical wastelands,” featuring compacted soils, low oxygen levels, heavy runoff, and other complex ecological problems. “Parks and gardens were grafted onto guilty urban renewal sites” but little there was little thought to the biotic health of the systems. She said the sustainable re-design effort is a challenge, because “remaking some of these original elements makes no sense.” Since the park was designed, concepts of environmental sustainability have dramatically changed. “Sustainable design would remove key aspects like lawns.” On the other side, there are those who argue for the preservation of all materials to ensure the integrity of the design.

As for the design, Kiley’s “matrix of abstracted woods” and allees, boscs, and groves were set within Saarinen’s curved forms and planes. Guided by Kiley’s design, Meyer (who is a consultant to Van Valkenburgh on this project) found that there were different spatial and natural types that could be defined. These in turn can be used to create “landscape maintenance zones.” She said this will help Van Valkenburgh and the team’s environmental consultants work in zones now, which is “easier than dealing with materiality.” The lessons from her research: the site has a “complex landscape matrix,” there can be a ”working urban ecosystem,” and the project was a “historical collaboration” between a great architect and landscape architect.  

Van Valkenburgh said it’s an “extremely complicated project.” His team focused on the theme of nature, naturalism, and the woods. Exploring the site, they found that “the further you go from the Arch, the less the design follows Saarinen and Kiley’s original ideas.” So they focused in on the edges and how to “hotwire this Modern masterpiece into the city.” For Van Valkenburgh, it’s critical that visitors “experience the city as part of the grounds.”

The team will remove parking lots and create “at grade” connections to make pedestrian access a lot easier. New entry ways will deepen the connection between the city and park. While nothing can be done about the train tracks framing one edge of the site (which Saarinen failed to get the railroad companies to divert), walkable pathways cut underneath the train lines will move visitors into the park. Dishing “large meadows of land,” which were the “biomorphic preoccupations of the era,” will, of course, be preserved given how central they are to the overall design. Furthermore, the park will now meet “contemporary disabilities standards.”


The landscape, which will be remade with sustainable design best practices, will put and end to the “mow, blow, and go” approach used so often. The National Park Service is eager to apply more sustainable landscape maintenance approaches, asking for new ecological management approaches for the lawns and woods. To get rid of the algae, which is due to excessive runoff, Van Valkenburgh will separate the pond from the lawns, building in intermediary wetland systems and changing the chemical balance of the water bodies.


For Van Valkenburgh and many other landscape architects during the conference, many of these projects represent literal re-makings of their idols’ works. Early on, Van Valkenburgh was inspired by Kiley’s gardens, including the Miller Garden. He said Kiley represents a “controlling idea of nature, which is very different from how we dance with nature now.” When asked what happens when one of the trees in his carefully set grids die, Kiley responded that “that’s when the bosc gets good, when chance comes in, it becomes better.” Nowadays, as a result, Van Valkenburgh said, “we are more comfortable with things we can’t control.”

Read the next post in this series on the conference: The Next Wave of Modernism: Healing Urban Landscapes.

Image credits: (1-3) 1111 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach, Florida / Raymond Jungles, (4) 10th Avenue Overlook, The High Line, NYC / Broccoli Designs, (5-6) St. Louis Arch Grounds Redesign / Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates   


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Rethinking Urban Renewal Print E-mail
Wednesday, 23 November 2011 07:27


Landscape architects were implicated in misguided urban renewal schemes, said Thaisa Way, PhD, ASLA, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Washington at The Second Wave of Modernism II: Landscape Complexity and Transformation, a day-long conference organized by the Cultural Landscape Foundation at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. Before Jane Jacobs and the many urban activists she inspired put a stop to the most egregious errors, habitats and landscape were destroyed, leading to the mass alienation of urban residents. Renewal was a horror, but then again, “people love the view of the Coloseum” in Rome (which really was one of the original urban renewal projects). Way said in some cases we still may have to refrain from harsh judgements on big urban renewal projects  because “rarely are these projects all good or all bad.”

Now, with a broad public process, communities are renewing their cities, but this time remaking the urban image in their own form. “There are now broad, complex narratives.” One new approach is to “renew, not replace works of modernism” that still pervade most cities. Old urban renewal projects are now being re-intepreted by today’s dynamic, sustainability-minded landscape architects, creating very different projects in the process.

Raymond Jungles and Herzog + de Meuron Renew Miami

Raymond Jungles, FASLA, said he was “born as a Jungles in Nebraska.” As a kid, he was deeply inspired by nature. Trips to a Sequoia forest “made a huge impact.” Later, he discovered Luis Barragan in an architecture magazine in a doctor’s office. He was so enamoured with the work, he stole the magazine. Attending the landscape architecture program at the University of Florida, he was then awed by Roberto Burle Marx, who would later become his friend and mentor up until that great Brazilian landscape architect’s death.

Jungles relayed a set of inspirational ideas that have guided him: “Study nature, stay close to nature, it will never fail you” (Frank Lloyd Wright). “Always do what you say you are going to do” (his mother). Also, “do right, fear not.” For him, another inspiration is nature in Florida. Even in his urban, man-made projects, he tries to project this view of nature, adding that “gardens are for man, they are not natural, but should be complimentary to nature.”

In Miami, Jungles collaborated with Herzog + de Meuron on their 1111 Lincoln Road project, creating a new streetscape, plaza, and two lush interior courtyards inspired by Modern sidewalk designs planned but unrealized in Miami (see image at top and below). For his new streetscape, Jungles created combined platforms that serve as benches, house bioinfiltration and silva cell system to keep the islands of rich vegetation healthy, and feature plants from the Everglades, bringing native Floridian landscape back to the city.


He called the project “bringing back the mangroves.” He added that “kids love it” and he’s really happy about that.


Charles Renfro on the Role of Glass in Contemporary Urban Renewal  

Charles Renfro, Diller, Scofidio + Renfro, largely veered away from Modern landscape architecture, instead talking about glass. He said it’s a material that has “transformed cities,” creating a “new level of engagement,” so perhaps we need to “rethink what glass is about.” He said glass can be used to frame a new relationship with the city, just as James Corner Field Operations and his firm have done to great effect in segments of the High Line park.

“Glass performs best when you least understand its presence,” said Renfro. In the case of Philip Johnson’s Glass House, the absence of structural elements – just walls of glass – bring nature right into the house.

Unfortunately, he added, with post-modernism, “glass, minimalism, functionalism had fallen off the map.” Post-modernism grew up because many architects thought “architecture had lost its meaning.” Modern buildings were no longer embodied with meaning but dull and characterless.

Rem Koolhaas then brought a focus on “seeing,” making the process of seeing “layered and complex.” One of his preoccupations then became “looking at looking.” For Renfro, glass could become about “manipulation, turning things on its head.” As an example, in the High Line, glass holes in the girders provide views. The 10th avenue overlook turns the city into a theatre. Glass helps accomplish this.


In their revamp of Lincoln Center, Diller Scofidio + Renfro also used glass to try to “undo much of the damage” of that massive urban renewal project. In that case, “a thriving neighborhood was turned into a stark, unfriendly place.” The great modern architects who worked on Lincoln Center didn’t see the dense brownstone-filled streets as a neighborhood, merely a slum ready for a new concept. To remedy their errors, his firm “stripped the base from the buildings” of Alice Tully Hall, creating a new sense of “inside/outside” urban appeal. By blurring inside and out, he hopes they helped “correct urban wrongs.” One important piece of the project was the Illumination Lawn, a new slanted public green roof park on top of one of the area’s most pricey restaurants.


In contrast with the rave reviews of the new Alice Tully Hall and their work on the High Line park, The New York Times didn’t give the firm’s landscape work in Lincoln Center a positive review, arguing that famed Modern landscape architect Dan Kiley had done a better job with some of the original, challenging plaza spaces.

In addition, in a rare public rebuke from a conference organizer, Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, President and Founder, The Cultural Landscape Foundation, found Renfro’s reference to the Lincoln Center lawns, which he said “were for all you landscape architects,” “offensive.” Birnbaum clearly wanted Renfro to focus on how architects and landscape architects work together on urban projects, and said “we need to stop playing the game” that pits different design fields against each other.

Elizabeth Meyer and Michael Van Valkenburgh Use Nature to Renew the Arch Grounds in St. Louis

Elizabeth Meyer, FASLA, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Virginia, and Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA, Principal, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, teamed up to discuss the St. Louis Arch grounds restoration and redesign project now underway. Van Valkenburgh beat out many firms to win that competition (see earlier interview).

Meyer said the public focus has always been on Eero Saarinen‘s great arch, with little attention paid to the important work of his key partner, Modern landscape architect Dan Kiley, who designed the grounds. Perhaps this is because the grounds took so long to complete: While the design for the grounds were completed in 1965, the design wasn’t fully implemented until 1981.

Stepping back for a moment, Meyer said many urban renewal projects were “biophysical wastelands,” featuring compacted soils, low oxygen levels, heavy runoff, and other complex ecological problems. “Parks and gardens were grafted onto guilty urban renewal sites” but little there was little thought to the biotic health of the systems. She said the sustainable re-design effort is a challenge, because “remaking some of these original elements makes no sense.” Since the park was designed, concepts of environmental sustainability have dramatically changed. “Sustainable design would remove key aspects like lawns.” On the other side, there are those who argue for the preservation of all materials to ensure the integrity of the design.

As for the design, Kiley’s “matrix of abstracted woods” and allees, boscs, and groves were set within Saarinen’s curved forms and planes. Guided by Kiley’s design, Meyer (who is a consultant to Van Valkenburgh on this project) found that there were different spatial and natural types that could be defined. These in turn can be used to create “landscape maintenance zones.” She said this will help Van Valkenburgh and the team’s environmental consultants work in zones now, which is “easier than dealing with materiality.” The lessons from her research: the site has a “complex landscape matrix,” there can be a ”working urban ecosystem,” and the project was a “historical collaboration” between a great architect and landscape architect.  

Van Valkenburgh said it’s an “extremely complicated project.” His team focused on the theme of nature, naturalism, and the woods. Exploring the site, they found that “the further you go from the Arch, the less the design follows Saarinen and Kiley’s original ideas.” So they focused in on the edges and how to “hotwire this Modern masterpiece into the city.” For Van Valkenburgh, it’s critical that visitors “experience the city as part of the grounds.”

The team will remove parking lots and create “at grade” connections to make pedestrian access a lot easier. New entry ways will deepen the connection between the city and park. While nothing can be done about the train tracks framing one edge of the site (which Saarinen failed to get the railroad companies to divert), walkable pathways cut underneath the train lines will move visitors into the park. Dishing “large meadows of land,” which were the “biomorphic preoccupations of the era,” will, of course, be preserved given how central they are to the overall design. Furthermore, the park will now meet “contemporary disabilities standards.”


The landscape, which will be remade with sustainable design best practices, will put and end to the “mow, blow, and go” approach used so often. The National Park Service is eager to apply more sustainable landscape maintenance approaches, asking for new ecological management approaches for the lawns and woods. To get rid of the algae, which is due to excessive runoff, Van Valkenburgh will separate the pond from the lawns, building in intermediary wetland systems and changing the chemical balance of the water bodies.


For Van Valkenburgh and many other landscape architects during the conference, many of these projects represent literal re-makings of their idols’ works. Early on, Van Valkenburgh was inspired by Kiley’s gardens, including the Miller Garden. He said Kiley represents a “controlling idea of nature, which is very different from how we dance with nature now.” When asked what happens when one of the trees in his carefully set grids die, Kiley responded that “that’s when the bosc gets good, when chance comes in, it becomes better.” Nowadays, as a result, Van Valkenburgh said, “we are more comfortable with things we can’t control.”

Read the next post in this series on the conference: The Next Wave of Modernism: Healing Urban Landscapes.

Image credits: (1-3) 1111 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach, Florida / Raymond Jungles, (4) 10th Avenue Overlook, The High Line, NYC / Broccoli Designs, (5-6) St. Louis Arch Grounds Redesign / Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates   


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The New Wave of Modern Landscapes Print E-mail
Wednesday, 23 November 2011 07:25


The Second Wave of Modernism II: Landscape Complexity and Transformation, a day-long conference organized by the Cultural Landscape Foundation at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City, argued that Modern landscape architects no longer start projects with the idea of a site as blank slate, ready be transformed by an artist’s vision. Now, it’s about “complexity and transformation.” Landscape architects must now work with complex systems, including cultural and ecological systems, and have been transforming early modernist sites into more functional, people-friendly spaces that also enhance the natural environment.

Moving from small-scale residential and urban projects up through large-scale urban redevelopment projects, the conference sought to explore the “legacy of Modernism and how it drives landscapes types today,” and how “this generation of landscape architects are responding to sites with modern histories,” said Jane Amidon, ASLA, Professor and Director, Urban Landscape, Northeastern University, School of Architecture. For her, the demands of public health and new information and communication technologies, along with changing social morays, are changing how landscapes are created and used.

Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, President and Founder, of the Cultural Landscape Foundation, added that it was important that the conference, which is a follow-up to a 2008 conference in Chicago, was held at MoMA in New York City, where innovative parks projects are “propelling landscape architecture in this city and worldwide.”

The first panel dealt with how today’s landscape architects are transforming Modern residential landscapes:

Revitalizing Richard Neutra’s Kun 2 House

Lisa Gimmy, ASLA, Lisa Gimmy Landscape Architecture, explained how she created a new landscape for famed Modern architect Richard Neutra‘s Kun 2 house in Los Angeles. The building, created in 1950, has large windows with unobstructed views. However, oddly, vines were hung down blocking views, which she found “puzzling.” In addition, in 1997, a landslide lead to the failure of one slope, meaning work was needed to shore up the building, which is perched on a steep site.

“Neutra approaches every project from the landscape perspective,” said Gimmy. His more famous projects like the Kaufmann Desert House in Palm Springs almost recede into the landscape. To preserve this effect here, Gimmy applied an elegant, modern, but also ecologically sound approach to ensure that the house was also safe from landslides. A “dry-stacked bolder wall” was created at the base of the house and the side of a re-graded driveway. At the base of the house, the rough granite borders and succulents, which Neutra used to great effect with his partner landscape architects, Lockwood de Forest and Ralph Stephens, were put in place to “contrast with the sleek building.” Korea grasses, rich and lush, look like waves lapping against the house (see image at top and below). An impact wall was put in that will be increasingly hidden as shrubs grow in. Gimmy’s work revitalizes the project while preserving Neutra’s unique Modern vision.


Bringing Ecological Science to Norman Jaffe’s Work

Christopher LaGuardia, ASLA, principal, LaGuardia Design, spoke about Modern architect Norman Jaffe, who designed contemporary residential beach houses in eastern Long Island that included evocative sculptural forms made of wood. An early proponent of using natural materials, he also explored passive design. His porfolio, LaGuardia said, was more varied than people realize, and included a synagogue in the Hamptons, which many architecture critics thought was his greatest work.

According to LaGuardia, Jaffe thought every building “did violence to the landscape” so he used the earth to bring down the scale of the home and make his homes “closer to the ground.” His sleek “barn forms,” which started his career, were the ones he also returned to later in his life.

In one restoration of a degraded landscape around a Jaffe home, LaGuardia quietly re-set the grade moving towards the house so it slightly rises. Meadow grasses “highlight the sculptural qualities of the gradings.” The use of a single native material – beach grassses – is elegant, in keeping with Jaffe’s use of simple forms and woods. In addition, LaGuardia actually created a pond from scratch to the building recede further into the landscape. All native plantings now surround a vital man-made ecosystem.

Renewing Philip Johnson’s Beck House


Gary Hilderbrand, FASLA, of Reed Hilderbrand said the Philip Johnson-designed Beck House in Dallas, Texas, was highly degraded, and the “latent spatial power of the trees” was largely invisible. An aging Mrs. Beck had abandoned the site for two decades. In 2002, the home was sold to a young family of four, who undertook the renewal process the site needed.

Hilderbrand said Johnson and Mrs. Beck got on famously. He “brought his theatricality to Dallas,” which Mrs. Beck loved. The Texas work of his period, which represents a sort of Texas - New York exchange, was a “significant departure from the international style and a move towards more figurative work.” A “faberge glamour” pervades the stairway within the home, but there’s also a “deliberate dettachment” in the procession of landscape views.

The recovery process was “disruptive and require the removal of dozens of trees,” including invader plants. The trees cleared actually helped the canopy, giving space for hearty trees to grow. “There was an amazingly tough crop of trees to work with.” A whole new “drainage regime” was created, addressing soil structure and moisture issues. It took three times for the biological reserve created on the sites’ river banks to take hold.

For the ecological recovery, Hilderbrand also had to get deeply involved in “Johnson’s spatial structure,” and “revive, transform, and tamper with Johnson’s procession of views.” The young family who purchased the site wanted to “make this domestic, but also an outdoor space for sculptural works.” Hilderbrand and his team redid the driveways, created a new garden passageway through one part of the house, and altered the stairs to the landing in the rear of the house. The “larger order to us” was the creek so new plinths were set in parallel to the water. He said the new work simply “added a layer on top of the existing work.” The site is now in a place of “active stewardship, and hopefully will be more enduring and beautiful.”


Learn more about this ASLA award winning project.

Also, learn more about some of the pioneers of American Modern landscape architecture through a recent book by Charles Birnbaum and Stephanie Foell: Shaping the American Landscape: New Profiles from the Pioneers of American Landscape Design Project.

Read the next post in this series on the conference: Rethinking Urban Renewal.

Image credits: (1-2) Kun 2 House, Los Angeles / Deniz Durmus, (3-4) Beck House / Alan Ward


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