Central to the master plan, Granary Square is the largest public space created at King’s Cross Central, roughly equal in size to Trafalgar Square. This open space is adjacent to the historically listed Granary building, originally designed by Lewis Cubitt in 1852 ...
all photos: Fengming Mountain park / Martha Schwartz Partners
Martha Schwartz, FASLA, now works mostly outside the U.S., having moved to London and taken up shop there some years ago. Now a perma-expat, she has done many big master plans and parks in the Middle East and is now taking on projects in China. In Chongqiing, a massive metropolis in western China, Schwartz and her team just created the 16,000-square-meter Fengming Mountain Park, a place where visitors can be taken on a “dynamic journey via a series of iconic mountain-shaped follies, plazas, greenery and water features,” right up to the sales office for a new development. This is a bold, modern park rooted in Chinese culture, but also a place meant to encourage you to buy a new apartment.
The park helps create an identify for a new urban development, Vanke Golden City. Like some developers in the U.S., this group seems to be working on the landscape first in order to create some sense of “there” there, before the buildings come in. In Washington, D.C., developer Forest City used this approach with their winning Navy Yard redevelopment on the Anacostia riverfront, which Witold Rybczynski called one of the most successful redevelopment projects in the U.S. Schwartz Partners say the park is meant to stimulate sales at first, but will evolve with the new development as it takes shape. The park is then also a permanent amenity for this community.
Schwartz’s firm tells us that the “extreme topography” was both a challenge and opportunity. The steep slope made it tricky to get people from the upper car park to the sales center. On the other hand, the place gave them a chance to create a distinctive park that speaks to the surrounding mountainous landscape.
“The vision was to create a strong connection between the setting of the site and the surrounding backdrop of the mountainous peaks, valleys of the Sichuan Basin; the agrarian patterning of rice paddy terraces; the Chang Jiang river; and the mysterious white, grey misty sky of Chongqing. These elements provide the inspiration for the mountain pavilions, zigzag patterns, orchestrated terrain and the use of vivid colors (to contrast against the sky).”
As for the visitor’s experience, the park is designed to provide a “triumphant journey.” As visitors come in off Fengxi Road, there are a series of bright orange and red triangular pavilions that speak to the surrounding mountains.
The pavilions offer shade during the day and are lit from within at night.
The path zig zags to ensure the deep slope is accessible for all visitors. Schwartz’s firm tells us that “the path also becomes a geological pattern language, as if one is a walking on trails winding up a steep mountain.” At each zag, there’s a spot to sit and check out the view.
Water also flows through, from the arrival spot all the way to the sales area. “Channels, pools and jets to assist with cooling, provide sounds and atmosphere to what is a captivating landscape.” A local Feng Shui master must have approved.
Global Forest Watch, a new $25 million dollar, web-based tool — which was created through a partnership of the World Resources Institute (WRI), ESRI, United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Google, and a slew of other environmental groups — aims to provide a “near-real time” view of deforestation (and reforestation) around the world. According to data from Google and the University of Maryland, the world has lost 2.3 million square kilometers of trees from 2000 to 2012 from logging, diseases, and storms. BBC News tells us this is the equivalent to 50 football fields of trees being lost “every minute of every day over the past 12 years.” But during the same time frame, about 800,000 square kilometers of new forest were also planted. Still, this means the world has lost forest cover equal to the size of Mongolia in little more than a decade. The world can’t keep going at this rate given only about 15 percent of the planet’s original forest cover now remains.
Since the late 1990s, WRI has led the development of the forest watch service, which “unites satellite technology, open data, and crowdsourcing to guarantee access to timely and reliable information about forests.” The program uses more than half a billion high-res images from NASA’s Landsat program, which are organized with new algorithms created by the University of Maryland, and then made available for easy online access thanks to the cloud computing power of Google’s Earth and Maps engines. BBC News writes that high-res images of global tree loss and gain are updated annually while data on tropical forests is updated monthly.
The program’s ability to crowdsource information is particularly interesting. Campaigners and local communities can also submit data, pictures, and video on the ground. This picks up on an existing trend: “In Brazil, the Paiter Surui people are already using smart phones and GPS software to monitor illegal logging.”
The watch service will visualize protected areas, as well as concessions for logging, mining, and palm oil. For example, any user can look up whether a given area is protected or whether a company has the right to take down the trees there. Policymakers and regulators can now point to the map to see if laws are being followed on logging in vulnerable areas. Multinational companies like Nestle say it will enable them to better track where they supply palm oil and other ingredients. And sustainable forestry companies can better prove their products are coming from sanctioned places. Dr. Andrew Steer at WRI said: “Global Forest Watch is a near-real time monitoring platform that will fundamentally change the way people and businesses manage forests. From now on, the bad guys cannot hide and the good guys will be recognized for their stewardship.”
The world no longer has to rely on guesstimates. As Rebecca Moore, engineering manager with Google Earth, explained to Reuters: “With the exception of Brazil, none of the tropical forest countries have been able to report the state of their forests. Now it will be possible to have near real-time updates of the state of the world’s forests, open to anyone to use.”
The trick will be getting out some final kinks, writes The Christian Science Monitor. Critics of the program say it currently can’t distinguish between forests and industrial plantations, a major problem given rows of palm trees shouldn’t really be counted as a forest, given these mono-cultures provide very few ecosystem services.
Also worth reading is “Networking Nature: How Technology Is Transforming Conservation,” a phenomenal article in the past issue of Foreign Affairs magazine. Conservation scientist Jon Hoekstra gives us many reasons to be optimistic about the power of new technologies. “Conservation is for the first time beginning to operate at the pace and on the scale necessary to keep up with, and even get ahead of, the planet’s most intractable environmental challenges. New technologies have given conservationists abilities that would have seemed like super powers just a few years ago.”
Bourbon street scenes from the late 1930s (left column) paired with 2013 views (right). Image credits: The WPA, courtesy of the Library of Congress and the Louisiana State Museum; and Richard Campanella, LSU
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Hating Bourbon Street – The Design Observer Group, 3/3/14
“Hundreds of millions. That’s how many people, over the past two generations, have crammed themselves into a minor and rather middling artery in a secondary city on America’s Third Coast.”
Soil as Carbon Storehouse: New Weapon in Climate Fight? – Yale e360, 3/4/14
“Today, just three percent of North America’s tallgrass prairie remains. Its disappearance has had a dramatic impact on the landscape and ecology of the U.S., but a key consequence of that transformation has largely been overlooked: a massive loss of soil carbon into the atmosphere.”
Five Teams in the Running for London’s Natural History Museum Civic Realm Competition – The Architect’s Newspaper, 3/10/14
“Deeming them to be not ‘appropriate to a world-class institution nor effective in accommodating day-to-day use,’ trustees of London’s Museum of Natural History put out a call for redesigns to the grounds surrounding the building. The competition has now reached its second stage, with five firms selected as finalists for the project, though who is responsible for which proposal has yet to be revealed. The winning selection will have to ease access for the museum’s growing number of visitors and create a new civic ground for the city of London.”