More than 100 teams from across Europe, Asia and North America submitted expressions of interest to create two new distinctive areas that will bring together a vibrant mix of cultural events, beautiful spaces and recreational uses for the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The centrepiece will be a major public space that will welcome crowds to [...] → Continue Reading Shortlist for London Olympic Park Legacy Design Competitions announced
StudioOutside is leading a comprehensive team in the redevelopment master planning for Galveston Island State Park. Ravaged by Hurricane Ike, the park is a dynamic environmental remnant of the Texas barrier island system that offers the full “bay to beach” experience. The master plan infuses a holistic approach to habitat restoration, visitor experience, recreation, and [...] → Continue Reading Galveston Island State Park | studioOutside
The Solar Decathlon, a design competition and public education program run by the U.S. Department of Energy, returns to the National Mall this year, where it will be open September 23 – October 2. Like the competition two years ago (see earlier post), teams of architecture and landscape architecture students from universities around the world compete to design, build, and then operate the most “cost-efficient, energy-efficient, and attractive” solar-powered home. The team that reaches optimal energy production, maximizes all efficiencies, and combines design excellence with affordability, takes home the top prize.
In 2009, Team Germany beat out all the top talent from the U.S. and Asia with their innovative cube home entirely covered in solar panels. Given all the fundraising needed to create these projects (some of these model homes cost hundreds of thousands to create), not many of the schools from 2009 appear again this year. A whole new set of competitors are in play.
All projects have the requisite solar photovoltaic or solar thermal systems installed in various places on or around the home, but in terms of integrated site design, the University of Maryland’s WaterShed was the most innovative project this year. An attempt to create a “micro-scale ecosystem,” the project truly integrates building and landscape and uses “living systems,” or constructed wetlands to recycle and reuse greywater from sinks and showers. In combination with the wetland, exterior native plantings, edible gardens and walls, and a green roof mean the site will not only be highly energy efficient but will also be extremely water efficient and have zero stormwater run-off.
Using plants native to this region, which creates habitat for local birds and insects, architecture and landscape architecture students at UMD constructed the wetland right outside the home’s floor-to-ceiling bathroom window so it’s clear that water from the sinks and shower flow outside to the wetlands, where the water is then cleaned and reused to irrigate the landscape.
However, their landscape also does more than clean and recycle wastewater, it also produces food. Veronika Zhiteneva, a student with the UMD team, explained that a garden plot with vegetables can help a family in their model home “live more sustainably and with greater self-reliance.” Near the garden plot, there’s also an edible wall made of twisting grape vines.
The building’s green roof, which was grown by LiveRoof, is comprised of 150 2.5-inch deep trays, which feature six different types of sedum. Placed on the north side, the green roof not only reduces energy use by 25 percent, but also slows down and absorbs any stormwater. Any excess rainwater not captured by the roof is then soaked up by the surrounding native plants.
In fact, the entire project, from the wetlands and native plantings to the garden and edible wall to the green roof, are designed to ensure the home only offers positive impacts on the surrounding environment. Scott Tjaden, another team member, said “our inspiration is the Chesapeake Bay,” which has suffered major impacts from agriculture and stormwater run-off. Indeed, of all the projects in this year’s Decathlon, WaterShed seemed to offer the more thoughtful approach – it places high value not only on energy efficiency, but stormwater management, water efficiency, and biodiversity too.
Among the other 19 model homes on the Mall, a theme this year was edible landscapes. A student from the Middlebury College team (see below) said these homes “offer an opportunity to produce your own food.” Their project had an indoor “greenhouse wall shelter” for growing herbs and seedlings that could be moved outside to the garden plot once they grow larger. “The local food movement is part of living sustainably.” The team from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign also added an edible garden around the exterior of their home.
Parsons The New School of Design and Stevens Institute of Technology worked with Habitat for Humanity to create a real home that will be turned over to a family in the Deanwood neighborhood of Washington, D.C. once the competition is over. Parsons said the family was actually brought into the design process early on and they requested a rooftop food garden, which will be accessible via the second floor of the home. One fun element was a Parsons-designed cookbook offering recipes for the foods grown in the home. In addition, their home is designed to have zero stormwater runoff: a rain “spigot,” which funnels water into a rain garden, captures any stormwater coming off the roof. Any excess runoff will be stored in a 2,000 gallon tank buried under the house and then reused for irrigating the landscape. Eventually, when the home is put in place in Deanwood, two bioswales will be installed at either ends of the house to capture stormwater. Their project is also designed using PassiveHaus technologies, including extra thick walls and glazed windows.
Victoria University of Wellington, which is representing New Zealand in the competition, elegantly integrated a range of New Zealand landscapes into the form of their home. As visitors enter the house, they “begin at the beach,” with a landscape of grasses and sand-binding plants that “mimics the New Zealand coastal landscape.” Further in, around the home, there are a “mosaic of shrub land,” here innovatively incorporated into plots around bench seating. Behind the house, there’s a “forest edge” that replicates the “conifer-broadleaf forest which the most complex and diverse in New Zealand.”
Lastly, there are alpine zones featuring “unique flora” and another productive landscape offering opportunities for growing herbs, veggies, and fruits. The landscape provides water efficiency and stormwater management value.
Team New York from the City College of New York came up with another unique approach that uses 30 percent less water than the conventional home: Shower and sink wastewater is recycled and reused. Also, some 30,000 gallons of rainwater will be captured via external banks of native plants that a landscape architecture faculty advisor helped select and install. New York’s project is designed to be placed on top of the roof of an existing New York City building in an effort to “increase density and encourage car-free living.” This approach is made possible by a “dunnage” system that distributes load through steel beams. The idea is to then plant a green roof around the rooftop home that will function as a yard and garden.
Innovative use of materials, including non-conventional materials and building waste, was another big theme running through the homes. The best example of this was the team from Appalachia State University, which beautifully reused corrugated iron as siding and internal walls, along with a natural, locally-sourced bark siding that is “soaked, flattened, and then kiln-dried” into sheets that last up to 80 years. One student said the bark is a “by product of the lumber industry.” Very smart reuse of a little-considered material.
Riding high on the announcement of New York City’s bike-share program just a day earlier, NYC Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan gave the keynote lecture at the two-day conference A Roadmap to Sustainable Infrastructure & Green Cities at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. Striding through her talk as briskly as New Yorkers like to move through their streets, Sadik-Khan reviewed the transportation initiatives that have had a substantial impact on New York’s streets and psyche in only a few short years. The visible pace of change in the city is all the more remarkable when we take into account, as Sadik-Khan pointed out, that the streets reflect a planning ethos that is more than fifty years old; the last significant alterations to New York City’s streets was the elimination of two-way avenues in the 1950s and 60s.
Instead of facilitating traffic flow, in New York the rules of the game now focus on “making more space for people” on streets, and making streets safer for everyone. The creation of pedestrian plazas where cars used to go has been the most visible intervention in what was until recently “a city without seats.” Before-and-after photographs of Times Square (see above), where with the help of some paint and tables and chairs, a busy stretch of Broadway has become a vibrant space for tourists and workers alike, elicited oohs and aahs from the audience. Sadik-Khan was quick to point out that such investments pay big economic dividends—in Times Square, “making more space for people has been great for business.” But new plazas and reclaimed parking spots across town are really about sociability; here design is “playing to New York City’s strengths” by facilitating impromptu meetings and social interaction. City streets, said Sadik-Kahn, “are the original social network.”
New York’s bus network has also been seeing changes, with two new bus rapid transit lines meant to expand service and capacity fast. But of late bicycles have been the visible, and sometimes controversial, face of New York City’s new transit strategies. Especially in Manhattan, where journeys are short and traffic is snarly, enhancing safety is the key to getting the city’s less intrepid commuters onto bikes. The protected bike lane, with a row of parked cars isolating cyclists from moving traffic, has been the fundamental design innovation in this regard. Next year a new 10,000 bike, 600 station bike-sharing program will launch, in the hopes of luring even more riders on two wheels.
The new bikeshare program is expected to run at no cost to the city, and with a wireless solar power system, it won’t require digging under city streets. The key to many of the changes Sadik-Kahn discussed is that they’re “inexpensive and fast to implement”—that is to say, fast and cheap. Bike lanes and plazas are “basically done just with paint.” It’s a brilliant strategy to get projects off the ground, but whether they can grow to a city-wide scale remains a question. Big plans for bus rapid transit in the boroughs look great, but what will it take to make them reality?
New York City loves to start (or embrace and blow up) a trend, and even in this economy, the city has significant resources at its disposal. Sadik-Khan concluded with a discussion of the major challenges to making changes in smaller cities, where local agencies with less professionals and resources at their disposal are hamstrung by outmoded guidelines. By providing clear new rules, new guidelines for street design and for the design of dedicated bikelanes, among others, have the ambition of changing policy and city streets nationwide.
The challenges of implementation at the local scale were the focus of a panel of public works officials earlier in the day. For the owners and operators of infrastructure, the fundamental challenge is “making smart investments when we’re investing in the environment,” as panel moderator George Crombie, President of the American Public Works Association, put it. Joanne Massaro, Commissioner of Public Works in Boston, which is in the process of developing its own street design guidelines, spoke of the very real and never-ending need to justify every decision—replacing of old street lights with LEDs or introducing permeable paving—to the budget office. Making the case for green investments is fundamental, and to that end, Massaro argued, effective and practical ratings systems and technological advancement are key. Cities striving to be green can benefit from all sorts of great ideas and new technologies, but when it comes to the ultimate goal of moving “from pilot to norm,” all our utopianism must come to terms with the practical and challenging world of budget-cycle decisions.
Robert Moylan, Commissioner of Public Works for Worcester, Massachusetts, emphasized the “triple bottom line” and argued that economic viability is being overlooked in favor of environmental and social benefits. For public officials responsible for the allocation of the public’s money, “sustainability can’t be achieved if economics are ignored.” Moylan advocated incentives for good behavior, and questioned the validity of legislation that sets absolute demands for improvement at enormous expense, suggesting the public won’t always find this the best use of its money. This was the point made by Sue Hann, who tries to implement sustainable policies in the less receptive community of Palm Bay, FL, where she is City Manager. The local political climate, according to Hann, is the “elephant in the room.” Sustainable infrastructure starts with the “community culture,” and when the idea of sustainability—so exciting for professionals—doesn’t resonate with the community, professionals have to be strategic and communicate value to citizens in a language that resonates with them.
New Yorkers might learn something from Palm Bay. Introducing Commissioner Sadik-Kahn, Aaron Naparstek, the founder of Streetsblog.org, made light of her detractors, who are not insignificant and sometimes quite vehement. Rather than dismiss the naysayers as unenlightened, city officials and design and planning professionals would do better to more carefully listen to and respect their concerns. Finding ways to educate the public and increase dialogue around questions of sustainability, infrastructure, and public expenditures is critical. Increasing alternatives for sustainable streets are coming from inspired planners, designers, engineers, but at the end of the day, getting new practices off the ground is a political process.
This guest post is by Mariana Mogilevich, Ph.D. Candidate, Harvard Graduate School of Design
Image credits: (1-2) Times Square Pedestrian Plaza / NYC Department of Transportation