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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Drylands Competition

Image from Drylands Competition.  All Rights Reserved.
A very interesting new competition has been announced this month by the California Architectural Foundation, in partnership with the Arid Lands Institute at Woodbury University and the AIACC Academy for Emerging Professionals.  The competition is is the 2011-2012 William Turnbull Competition: Drylands Design: An Open Ideas Competition for Retrofitting the American West.  The competition asks design teams to generate progressive proposals for creative alternatives for the American West in the form of new architecture or community design prototypes. The competition features a great jury of architects and landscape architects, and final proposals are due in December.  More information is on the website, and part of the competition brief is provided below.

The Challenge

Water scarcity is both the history and the future of the American west. Re-thinking water use, particularly in the face of climate change, will be central to the region’s survival. The work exceeds the grasp of a single discipline, and touches all dimensions of the way people live and work. Sustaining the US West in the face of water scarcity and hydrologic variability brought on by climate change will require strategic architectures, infrastructures, and urbanisms that promote adaptation and resilience. Drylands Design seeks innovation in architecture, urban design, landscape architecture, regional planning, and infrastructure design that addresses water supply, water quality, water access, water treatment, and the water/energy nexus. Drylands Design seeks integrative proposals from multidisciplinary design teams that anticipate science and policy perspectives as necessary dimensions of intelligent design response, and exploit beauty as an instrument of resilience and adaptation.

Competition Objectives + Priorities

The purpose of Drylands Design is to generate a portfolio of long term design strategies for the arid and semi-arid west’s water-scarce future. Proposals must recognize and address:

The Water-Energy Nexus
The relationship between water, energy use, and heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions is intertwined and self-limiting; uncoupling water’s capture, treatment, distribution, and use from energy-intensive delivery systems is critical to a new western drylands design.

Scarcity + Variability
The twin effects of climate change on the American west’s hydrologic cycle are expected to be scarcity (prolonged drought periods and diminished snowpack) and variability (increased intensity of flood events). Design for variability will replace engineering for stationarity.

Localized Resources
Rain water, storm water and single-use municipal supplies, currently treated as waste or flood hazard, form the largest “undeveloped” sector of western water. Converting local liabilities to assets will offset dependence on carbon-intensive imports.

Social Equity
Recognizing that no built environment achieves true vitality without social equity, Drylands Design seeks proposals that actively benefit low- and middle-income communities, urban and rural. More specifically, Drylands Design seeks proposals that promote an active and participatory civic engagement by citizen-users.

Thus, Drylands Design seeks responsive, variable, localized, and low-carbon alternatives to energy-intensive, 20th-century centralized water engineering solutions. Drylands Design seeks a portfolio of strategies for the west that actively remediate the environmental sterility, economic monocultures, and cultural lethargy induced by the West’s dependence on an obsolete engineering paradigm. Drylands Design seeks proposals that tactically promote a place-specific built environment of both ecological and cultural vitality.
Site – Beyond the Hundredth Meridian
Drylands Design seeks proposals for the arid and semi-arid regions of the US West, using John Wesley Powell’s historic, and imprecise, designation—the 100th meridian—as its starting line. The 100th meridian, as Powell pointed out in his 1878 Report on the Lands of Arid Region, is the approximate demarcation line corresponding to a radical shift in US hydrology. Simply put, it is, more or less, where humid East ends and the arid West begins. All proposals must be sited in the United States, west of the 100th meridian.

Design proposals may be for a real or speculative project, for one or more real sites, and must be as yet BE unbuilt by Spring 2012. All design proposals must be sited conceptually within three scales: the local, the regional, and the global.
Local Specificity
All design proposals are required to be sited within a specific location in the U.S. arid or semi-arid west. Locally, even hyper-locally, site-specific design is required.

Regional Relevance
All design proposals are required to identify the ‘typicality’ of particular site conditions, and address or speculate on scalability and replicability of design strategies to other comparable sites throughout the west.

Global Context
All design proposals are required to speculate on scalability and replicability to drylands in other parts of the world. If sprawl is arguably the West’s most enduring global export, could intelligent drylands design be its next?

Although this competition is not site specific, a site in Fresno, California may be used for the project if the team desires. Click here for information regarding this site.

Architectural Proposals With the above water issues in mind, design a building on a specific drylands site in the American West as defined in “Site” above. Architectural proposals may include, but are not limited to:

  • Single Family or Multi Family Dwellings
  • Commercial/Industrial Complexes
  • Mixed Use or Hybrid programs
  • Civic/Educational Buildings
  • Community Design Proposals
    With the above water issues in mind, develop a community design proposal on a specific drylands site or region in the American West as defined in “Site” above. Community design proposals may include, but are not limited to:

  • Civic infrastructures
  • Urban Landscapes
  • Regional Planning
  • Friday, May 6, 2011

    Playa Vista Central Park: A Park Waiting for People

    View to the performance shell that functions as the visual icon for the park.
    Recently I had posted an article from The Architect's Newspaper about innovative design projects in which Architecture and Landscape Architecture combined in new and innovative ways.  One of the interesting projects in the article was Central Park by the Office of James Burnett in Playa Vista, and, as promised, here are some photos and thoughts on the unique and engaging park.
    (Editor's note:  As I was crafting my write-up, Archinet published a nice review of the park, including some great images.  Interestingly, we had some similar feelings about the public-private nature of the park.)
    The verdict?  Central Park is a new, contemporary park full of promise and dynamic design moves, but suffering right now from something (mostly) out of its control:  It is a park without people.  The feeling after visiting it three or four times is akin to an empty house or a high-design piece of furniture placed behind glass - it is beautiful, striking, but incomplete without its use and users.

    Completed in the summer of 2010, the park sits at the eastern end of the Playa Vista development, bordered on the north by a new contemporary commercial development, but surrounded on all other sides by graded, empty plots waiting for eventual completion of the far-reaching Playa Vista Development.  The park itself is comprised of both bold and subtle design moves that create a rich experience for those that are able to find it. The park is broken into three primary activity sectors: active recreation facilities such as a soccer field, basketball court, and Noguchi-esque play areas comprise the western third of the site; an amphitheater flanked by Oak allee strolling gardens and bocce ball courts sit in the center of the park; and a naturalistic stream and reflection pond bookend a playful garden composed of large, angular berms planted with drifts of accents plants on the eastern third of the site.  Geometric bands of trees and pathways run across and diagonally through the site, creating strong circulation and site lines on the site, eventually extruding into the series of angular, engineered berms on the eastern edge of the park. 

    Beyond the groundplane geometries and bold berms, the designers spent a lot of consideration on massaging grades on the site to not only manage topography and drainage but separate functions in small, but meaningful ways.  The most noticeable is the sloping amphitheater with the bisecting circulation path (akin to a romantic haha wall) that allows people to traverse the park without being seen.  However, gestures such as lowering the synthetic turf soccer field to help contain activities and retain water, and elevating a sand play area for small children away from foot traffic also create significant experiential gains in the park.

    Environmentally, the park also showcases a contemporary ethos.  The drought-tolerant, largely native or near-native plant palette is entirely irrigated with graywater (as is all of Playa Vista), and the amenities double as habitat providers.  Some birds from the nearby Pacific Ocean and Ballona Wetlands are already beginning to colonize the water features.

    As is true of all new open spaces in park-starved Los Angeles, early colonizers are soccer players both during the week and weekends.  However, passive users, and casual visitors to the park are either absent or few and far between.  In part, this is a result of the hidden nature of the park (it is not visible from any nearby streets, nor highly publicized), but also from the tenuous nature of privately developed, public access parks such as Central Park.  While the park is open to the public, it was developed by private owners and sits on private land, dictating a different set of concerns and liabilities.  The result is a long list of rules restricting use of the park and a highly-present group of security guards tasked with protecting the park.  While undoubtedly this security has prevented the park from disuse, graffiti, and other forms of human entropy, it clearly engenders a feeling that you are not welcome at this park, especially in larger groups (On visits by myself  I had no problems, but on a visit taking 15 students from a landscape architecture program to see the park's design I was questioned extensively by security before we could tour the park.) The result is a park that wants to be used, but isn't being used yet, despite the carefully designed spaces found within.

    Other implementation issues of lesser, and perhaps more typical, degree of a large-scale, recently completed project are also present.  At my last visit in March, at least 4 or 5 Oak trees had failed on the site, potentially due to issues with standing water or drainage.  Also, as a park exploring new design ideas, some are destined to work great, while it appears others may potentially prove short-lived.  For instance, low groundcovers were planted beneath the Oaks in organic geometries to promote a circuituous, modern strolling garden, but are already struggling to establish  properly, and will likely fail due to trampling.  Also, the long-term health and stability of the berms will be interesting to observe, if nothing else because their form seems so dependent upon engineering that may degrade over time.

    Overall, Central Park is an impressive project, both in its scope and execution, and is full of rich ideas for designers and visitors.  Not only does it create a number of distinct and carefully constructed spaces, but an obvious financial commitment and dedication to customization by the client and project team has a created a park with a unique and compelling identity.  Now all it needs are the people the project deserves.
    Concept Rendering of Park.  Image from Archinect  All Rights Reserved.
    View own circulation spine towards berm garden.
    View down circulation spine from the playful berm garden.
    Redwood allee and horseshoe area
    Western entry plaza with depression and extrusion
    Oak Allee
    View to the sunken soccer field
    Contemporary play area recalls a Noguchi playground
    View of the reflecting pond and seating.

    Stepping stone path across riparian feature.
    Stepping stone detail across riparian feature
    Geometric strolling garden that may not survive use
    One of the dead oaks on site.

    View to sports facilities across pond with island tree plantings.
    Custom Ipe seating elements provide vantage points for the geometrically planted berms.
    Detailed view of Berms planted with succulent and grass mix
    Custom seating element echos the topographic moves on site
    Custom seating and planter
    Star Jasmine covers a custom fence surrounding the performance space.
    Integrated signage detailing

    Monday, May 2, 2011

    Venice Garden and Home Tour -this Saturday

    Image from Venice Garden and Home Tour.  All Rights Reserved.
    This weekend brings another installment of the annual Venice Garden and Home Tour.  Running from 10am to 5pm on Saturday, May 7th, the walking tour will feature over 30 gardens and homes throughout Venice for people to ogle and muse over.  Should be another interesting installment, especially with the continuing onslaught of contemporary homes being designed and built in Venice.  More on this year's tour is shown below, as well as some pictures from previous years:
    This annual self-guided walking tour will feature 30 gardens and homes in the charming, secluded Walk Streets neighborhood and streets south of Venice Boulevard. The tour is a showcase of how architects, landscape designers, and homeowners have crafted gardens and homes to make lovely living oases. These private spaces, sequestered behind carved wooden doors, contemporary metal gates and imaginative fences, are open to the public this one day of every year when tour-goers can walk the streets, meet and enjoy the community, and be inspired by the inventive design, surprising spirit and whimsy that is uniquely Venice.

    The Walk Streets through tranquil neighborhoods where the homes face one another are actually pedestrian paths that bring people together. When Venice was being developed, workers lived in modest bungalows that later became summer beach homes for Angelinos; many of the remaining old bungalows are reworked now to meet today’s standards and tastes, and sit side by side sleek contemporary cubes. Local architects Barbara Bestor, Tom Carson, Talbot McLanahan, Tim Petersen and Robert Thibodeau, along with local landscape designers such as Jay Griffith, Pamela Burton, Naomi Sanders and Di Zock, have influenced the constantly evolving development of these distinctive neighborhoods.

    The gardens and homes on this tour exemplify Venice's creative energy: the homeowner’s love of living inside or outside with nature, the use of lanterns and crystal chandeliers found hanging from trees or cleverly placed antique neon signs and sculptures in just the right places to enhance gardens. In these rustic enclaves, rooftop gardens and solar panels pop up into the trees, and tiny vegetable gardens thrive next to shady children’s play yards.

    Now in its 18th year, the Venice Garden and Home Tour is the much anticipated annual fundraising event that draws visitors from all over California. The tour gives financial support for NYA’s Las Doradas Children’s Center, a licensed child care facility that provides full-time, education-based child care to low-income working families.
    Image from Venice Garden and Home Tour.  All Rights Reserved.
    Image from Venice Garden and Home Tour.  All Rights Reserved.