Eelco Hooftman: How Landscapes Echo Their Histories

Posted in Vol 13 No 3 by bsaab on December 16, 2010

In November 2010 at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, landscape architect Eelco Hooftman described how landscape paintings have influenced our built landscapes throughout history and, in turn, how constructed landscapes influence art. His firm, GROSS.MAX, uses collage-like images that avoid looking real yet curiously convey a sense of suspense. Hooftman gave an eye-candy presentation filled with both playful and artful graphics depicting thoughtful concepts, and built-work photos.

In “Old Town, New Town, No Town,” an exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, Scotland, Hooftman cleverly overlaid wolves and other beasts in an urban context, noting the similarities between the wilderness and our own cities. The one image that stands out in my mind was a collage of an urban fox hunt, showing hunters on horseback crossing a highway with the prized fox escaping off the page. He described how collectively these images were bound in a red book, hinting back to Humphry Repton’s Red Books—which helped to popularize and inform the Picturesque landscape for his clients—an excellent example of how landscapes influence paintings and drawings, and how art informs the landscape.

Hooftman showed many GROSS.MAX–built projects, including Potters Fields Park in London, formerly a pottery site that produced English Delftware, on the south bank of the Thames. A park gateway and a long concrete seatwall use interesting stencil-styled patterning. The pattern’s bluish color appears to reference the patina on the background bridge cables (just as a landscape painting might). Plantsman Piet Oudolf designed the delightful and ethereal perennial plantings.

Another particularly interesting project is the firm’s Rottenrow Gardens in Glasgow, Scotland. The park occupies the dramatically sloping and terraced site of a former hospital. Hooftman revealed his process of discovering which historic elements were to be kept and how the landscape has been layered to reference the historic land use. Some of the existing limestone façades were reinvented as gabion walls, and other salvaged follies were tucked into the landscape.

He went on to illustrate and describe several other noteworthy projects, including Kew Gardens Master Plan—Royal Botanic Gardens in London, BMW’s Leipzig factory and London’s Royal Festival Hall.

Singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle, echoing Hooftman, was recently quoted in Garden & Gun magazine saying, “This is an old world, and we’re working inside existing forms, with things that have been repeated over and over again.” Earle’s reference to music could just as easily have been a reference to how landscapes echo their own unique histories.

Check the museum’s website for the next lecture in the Landscape Visions series.

A Scuffle Over Urban Design at the GSD

Posted in Vol 13 No 3 by bsaab on December 9, 2010

By Meera Deean

“Territories of Urbanism: Urban Design at 50,” a recent symposium at Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD), drew a crowd of several hundred alumni, students and interested spectators purportedly for a scholarly discussion of the history and future of urban design. In truth, the real attraction was the promise of a rumble. The week before, a founding principal of Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, Andres Duany, never one to shy from conflict, fired the first volley. In Metropolis, he suggested that landscape architecture department chair Charles Waldheim and the new chair of the urban design and planning program, Rahul Mehrotra, orchestrated a “coup” at the GSD in which urban design had been subsumed by landscape urbanism and developing world initiatives. With the GSD ceding any “urbane, urban design sensibility,” Duany argued that the only viable urban design approach remaining is New Urbanism and drew a clear battle line between landscape urbanism and New Urbanism.

Alex Krieger, the outgoing chair of the urban design department, quickly fired back and argued that “addressing urbanism wisely in its many contemporary guises, we now know, requires a multiplicity of arrows in our intellectual quivers—ecological considerations being among the ‘sharpest’ of these.” He further suggested that Duany’s postulation of a coup at Harvard was “a cover for a personal worry that the term landscape urbanism will soon supplant New Urbanism amongst the purveyors of design sloganeering.”

“Let’s make humane, equitable, sustainable and beautiful cities. Enough said? Any disagreements? We really can’t screw around.” Michael Sorkin

Despite Duany’s attempts at provoking Harvard and the landscape urbanists to fisticuffs, a fierce debate never materialized, perhaps because the battle lines are not as clear as Duany would like us to believe. During the final discussion of the two-day symposium, ecological urbanism, landscape urbanism, landscape infrastructure and New Urbanism were among the popular catchphrases discussed among the panel (on which Duany served). But Michael Sorkin, distinguished professor of architecture and director of the graduate program in urban design at the City College of New York, suggested that such turf wars distracted from pressing problems: “Let’s make humane, equitable, sustainable and beautiful cities. Enough said? Any disagreements? We really can’t screw around.” Georgeen Theodore of Interboro Partners, one of the younger alumni among the panelists, spoke of her own, more-pragmatic approach: to cherry-pick what is most appropriate for a given project from the various “–isms” without strictly adhering to any single school of thought. This opportunistic, less-dogmatic approach to urban design was refreshing and perhaps more honest than all the taglines and buzzwords otherwise deployed on the academic battlefield.


Posted in Vol 13 No 3 by bsaab on November 30, 2010

We want to hear from you. Letters may be posted online, e-mailed or sent to ArchitectureBoston, 52 Broad Street, Boston, MA 02109. Letters may be edited for clarity and length, and must include your name, address, and daytime telephone number. Length should not exceed 300 words.

Download article as PDF

Water — the water of the Charles River and my desire to swim in it — was one of the main reasons I started the Charles River Conservancy 10 years ago. I love swimming in city rivers; for me it embodies urban livability. When I arrived here from Switzerland 30 years ago, I envisioned swimming in the Charles. To support a cleaner Charles, I started by becoming a volunteer water-tester.

Thanks to the hard work of the EPA, MWRA, municipalities, the non-profit CRWA, and more than $500 million of public funds, the water of the Charles is now fit for swimming most days. But it is not legal yet, except during sanctioned swim events such as the one-mile race sponsored by the Charles River Swimming Club.

With initial funding from the Boston Foundation, the Conservancy has been advocating for the return of public swimming and now staffs the governorappointed commission that is exploring potential swimming sites. This summer, with funding from the Cabot Family Charitable Trust, the Conservancy, with Northeastern University, is conducting daily water quality monitoring at five locations.

Under the leadership of Northeastern University professor Ferdi Hellweger, student teams designed platforms that would make access to deep water possible, while avoiding polluted sediments. In the future, we hope to design bathhouses for swimmers, similar to those in Basel, Geneva, and Zurich. SwissNex developed an exhibit on urban river bathhouses in order to inspire thinking along the Charles.

The "Water" issue [Summer 2010] addresses larger environmental issues concerning the future of Boston and its most valuable assets: the harbor, the Charles River basin, Fort Point Channel, the Fens, and the Mystic River. It is interesting to note that Boston’s proportion of water to landmass is twice that of Amsterdam, a city in which public activity thoroughly engages the water beyond pricey water taxis and outdated harbor tours and dinner cruises.

How about introducing new public activity to the Boston waterfront? Nicolas Biddle, a 2009 SHIFTboston competition finalist, devised such a solution with his entry "Concept NA: Barging through Boston." Nicolas proposed activating the Boston waterfront by reusing existing local barges for new floating activities. This simple concept already exists in other cities and could be emulated here beautifully.

Progress has been made to transform this idea into reality. Nicolas has secured access to available barges through an alliance with a barge manufacturer in Rhode Island. He has obtained full support from the Boston Redevelopment Authority and is now seeking approval and support from Massport. At the current rate of progress, we may expect to see an "occupied" public barge on the Boston Harbor by next summer.

So, what is the next step with this initiative? The next SHIFTboston competition will be to design and implement this idea. The winner of the competition will be given funding to construct his or her installation on the barge next spring.

Imagine: Next summer, you could be enjoying a floating adult playground with live music, food, and drinks. The barge may incorporate elements such as waterspraying fountains, pools, a jungle gym, hammocks, swings, or lounging spaces. Who knows? You decide!

Since I moved to Cambridge 19 years ago, water has been an ongoing priority in my circles (environmental science) and it amazes me that in such a long time we have made relatively little progress in creating a sustainable water region. It seems that as a species we are good at posing questions, poking at the underlying science, and creating short-term fixes, but we have difficulty coming up with sustainable long-term solutions and plans for implementation.

Yes, there has been change for the better, and kudos to the heroes who have achieved this: the Charles River is cleaner and even occasionally swimmable, the Boston beaches aren’t closed half of the season, plumbing codes are preventing us from flushing more water than necessary, and Cambridge has a brand-new state-of-theart drinking water facility. However, there are plenty of remaining problems. In the last 20 years, what have we done to truly live in sync with our water environment?

The "Water" issue of ArchitectureBoston [Summer 2010] hits the nail on the head. These articles explain the barriers to more sustainable water management, many of which are related to the built environment. There are old building codes that frustrate architects and planners with innovative ideas, and there are improper approaches to stormwater management that result in flooding in some areas and sinking groundwater levels in others. However, the most significant barrier is our culture of consumerism and our craving for luxury and status. As long as people hold to the belief that "bigger is better" and use conventional approaches, we will not achieve sustainability. This is why we need a paradigm shift and why many of us are focusing on education. Programs like the Water: Systems Science and Society Program at Tufts University change the vision of our future practitioners who will enter the workplace with a fresh mindset. We can already see the results of the last 10 years of education in the 155 architectural firms that have become members of the US Green Building Council. Education in sustainable practices needs to be a priority if we want to see real, effectual change in water management.

Thanks so much for raising the question of how we will need to adapt to climate change ["The High Tide of Opportunity," Summer 2010]. The thought leaders in urban planning really need to be focused on this question. As much as we may be doing to cut our dependence on fossil fuels, we should be doing much more. Unfortunately, while we may be able to avoid the worst imaginable consequences, it seems clear that we will not do enough to stave off substantial changes. The conversation about how to respond to those changes needs to start now.

Tom Palmer’s article on the Boston Groundwater Conservation Overlay District ["So, How’d That Work Out?" Summer 2010] outlines some of the positive effects that have flowed from the GCOD’s adoption. Because of the requirement that structures subject to Article 32 do no harm to groundwater, and because of the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s requirement that groundwater impacts be assessed under Article 80 Large Project Reviews, several projects have modified proposed foundation systems. Building design professionals now recognize that groundwater is a resource that must be preserved, not an obstacle to simply be removed. The almost-100 percent compliance with GCOD requirements has been very gratifying.

The article also notes the need to repair leaking underground infrastructure. At the same time that Mayor Menino proposed the GCOD, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the Commonwealth, the City of Boston, agencies that control underground infrastructure in areas with buildings supported by wood-pile foundations, and the Boston Groundwater Trust. The MOU committed the signatories to share information about possible causes of groundwater reductions and to work to remedy any potential causes. It established a City-State Groundwater Working Group that meets quarterly in remarkably useful and collegial sessions that have led to the commitment of significant resources to attack the problems.

The working group was established during the Romney administration and has continued its excellent work during the Patrick administration, an indication of the broad understanding of the need to attack this problem in order to preserve the historic neighborhoods that are such an important part of the history and economy of the city, state, and region. In fact, the recognition of the importance of addressing, rather than hiding from, groundwater issues in recent years is the most critical change that has made all other improvements possible.

Corrections: In the interview with Bob Zimmerman ["Political Science," Summer 2010, page 39], John DeVillars’ name was misspelled. Geoff Weisenberger of the American Institute of Steel Construction provided the following clarifications to the "Virtual Water" chart on page 17 of the Summer 2010 issue: Structural steel produced in the US uses a closed-loop water system that consumes only 60–70 gallons of water per ton of steel, with water reclamation rates greater than 95 percent. Also, structural steel should be compared to structural concrete rather than cement, as cement is only one component of concrete. Comparisons should consider that one ton of concrete is not functionally equivalent to one ton of structural steel in a building project; a conservative estimate is that eight tons of concrete is required to do the job of one ton of steel.

The Visual Raconteurs: Picturing Place in the City

Posted in Vol 13 No 3 by bsaab on October 15, 2010

Zakim Bridge

How do you envision Boston? How has it changed? How can we track and tackle the changing social and physical landscape of a city that millions call home? In recent years, a collaborative effort has been under way to chronicle and explore the ways in which visual imagery creates and preserves the perception of a city. This interdisciplinary research project, funded by the Urban Laboratory at University College London (UCL) and Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, consists of an ever-increasing online catalog of images that fosters and encourages an active dialogue about the role of visuals in the changing scope of a city.

On September 16, 2010, the project, with an interdisciplinary panel, came to Harvard’s Graduate School of Design (GSD). Organized and moderated by Mariana Mogilevich and Rebecca Ross of Harvard GSD, and Ben Campkin from UCL’s Urban Laboratory, the four-person panel explored the ways in which images play an active role in Boston’s development and how they interact with Boston’s people and spaces as a whole. The panelists each brought a particular image that they felt exemplified their work and its relationship to the changing urban landscape.

Here’s a rundown of the panelists:

The Advocate: As the project manager for the Green Line Extension (GLX) program through the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), Kate Fichter offers a functional perspective on how images can influence and incite change within bureaucracies. The GLX logo represents the type of accessibility Fichter and MassDOT wish to provide for residents who will benefit from the line’s expansion to Medford and Somerville, yet it symbolizes community organization and unification. The logo, Fichter said, gives the project a stand-alone identity, breaking a barrier between policy and images, and stabilizing the entire point of the project: to allow more people to frequent and interact with Boston and track its development.

The Philosopher: As King Solomon wrote, “A truly wise man uses few words.” Alex MacLean embodied this sentiment with his short but effective presentation. An aerial photographer, MacLean explores the dramatic interplay between the functionality and aesthetic of his work. His photographs are gorgeous and provide breathtaking prospects of the city while operating as tools for development—showing open spaces and sites for infrastructure—and subliminal metaphors for the larger principles in life: MacLean offered photos of creeping urban sprawl to expose Boston’s shifting center and expansion, and how residents put increasingly more value on development rather than stasis.

The “Rebel”: This panelist’s moniker is no mistake. Visual artist Zebbler, born Peter Berdofsky, never imagined his 2007 guerrilla marketing campaign for Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming would land him in jail. In fact, his cartoon LED panels scattered throughout the city were meant to promote the network’s upcoming Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie. Instead, authorities arrested him as a suspect in a “bomb scare.” Zebbler chronicled his installation of these objects, yet his project reminds us of the power of imagery. Although he intended to promote with his art, the panels evoked terror. Zebbler likes the idea of being a rebel, a visual game changer. He declared that his project changed the city because “Boston became funny. Funny, and a little sad.” He just wishes his grand “rebellion” wasn’t directly connected to consumerism.

The Guardian: Ann Whiteside’s occupation as director of Harvard GSD’s Frances Loeb Library makes her uniquely qualified as a guardian and coordinator of image culture—she acts as a historian and a reinterpreter of images from the 1950s to the present day. Whiteside re-creates how the environment of the past “felt” and describes visual sensations to preserve history and act as an executor of urban renewal. Through her comprehensive documentation of urban place and planning, Whiteside facilitates new data that compares old and new cityscapes, making it easy for people to interact with the past, present and future of urbanity.

The interactive nature of this project—in that anyone can upload an image and deconstruct its function and relationship to urban development—brings visual accessibility to a new level, encouraging an open and expressive dialogue on the overarching perception of urbanity in our world. The project will, with any luck, eventually manifest into a conference. For now, visitors can upload images to to participate in the venture.

Hannah Townshend


A Who’s Who of Corner Offices in Boston: A TEDxBoston Review

Posted in Vol 13 No 3 by bsaab on September 3, 2010


TED has made its name by collecting some of the most intelligent minds around the world and having them talk very briefly about their most important ideas. The TEDx events focus on one city, and Boston hosted one on July 29. As I arrived that morning to the buzzing crowd of BlackBerrys, shoulder bags, and business cards, I couldn’t help but feel out of place. It was corporate Boston’s day to play hooky from work—not exactly my crowd. As we shuffled into the amphitheater where all the talks would be happening, it was like being surrounded by a class of Power Nerds: people reveling in their post-collegiate days as the successful upper echelon of various markets and businesses. Indeed, during the opening speech, one of the five moderators said that there were no less than eight dozen CEOs in the audience.

The unexpected wake-up call from the Marcus Santos’ Group, a 10-piece drum crew comprising musicians both young and old, quickly assuaged my fears of falling short to this collection of Boston intelligentsia. Their mix of rhythms and solos captivated and united the audience. Then, the first presenter, Dave McLaughlin, executive director of Boston World Partnerships, set the tone for TEDxBoston. He spoke briefly about the importance of TED talks and how they promoted horizontal and vertical social connections. He reiterated that these events are in fact essential, rather than just nice to have. They are ideas that need to be shared.

The rest of the day was organized into four sections, with about six or seven talks in each one. Here are the highlights:

Round 1: Digital Fabrication of Homes—Lynwood Walker

Given by three of the heads of Difra Inc., this presentation explored the potential for digitally designed and fabricated homes made of low-impact and reusable materials. The crowd was thoroughly impressed with animations of Difra’s computer software breaking down complex, curvilinear designs into basic grids so that they can be easily built. Also, Difra’s software can actually build the pieces of the house by laser-cutting oriented strand board that can be hammered together without the use of nails. Theoretically, you could order a house, have it shipped to you in a pile of pieces with some instructions, and build it yourself. I like this idea for its sustainability, but it has the feel of a large-scale IKEA. Ideas like this need to be combined more with small-scale artisans and design/build firms. I see some great potential there.

Round 2: Learning out of the Box—John Werner, MacCalvin Romain

TEDxBoston boards

This talk was all about changing the face of education in America. MacCalvin Romain, president of Swag Media, started with the all-too-familiar story of being interested in something at a young age (in this case, taking apart and rebuilding electronics), only to be told that what he likes won’t get him anywhere in the real world. Studies show that 30% of ninth graders across the country will drop out of high school, and American students are falling behind students in other countries. John Werner is the managing director and chief mobilizing officer of Citizen Schools, which provides a “network of after-school education programs” to try and solve this problem, and keep kids from becoming bored with school. One program teaches kids how to make an android application, another teaches kids how to hold arguments in court, and another teaches kids to redesign T stations around Boston to make them safer and more sustainable. This all points to a new era of teaching, a new way of teaching, and I think it’s great. I had a lot of issues with boredom in high school, or not being able to do what I was actually interested in, and I know a lot of other people who felt the same.

Round 3: New Life for an Abandoned Tunnel—Sapir Ng

I heard architect Sapir Ng speak at Wentworth Institute of Technology in the spring about the Tremont Underground Theater Space, Ng’s and architect Andrzej Zarzycki’s winning proposal for SHIFTboston’s 2009 design competition. The talk was very informative but it was long, and delved into underground architecture. His TEDxBoston talk was much shorter and used significantly less imagery. The images were more diagrammatic in nature and left the project sounding more ambiguous than it probably is. His presentation style worked well, and he urged the audience to imagine the possibilities of what the project could be, letting us fill in the blanks as to how the space could look. It has a lot of potential, and I think it’s a really great way to reuse existing space in Boston. This is important to do in crowded cities, and should be happening more often. It has a very Archigram feel to it (a good thing in my mind), but I don’t know how people would feel being underground in such a place on an everyday basis. The light shafts up to the Common that Ng mentioned would help immensely with that. But for the most part, the crowd loved Ng’s SHIFTboston idea and responded very well. I hope to see it or some version of it built someday.

Round 4: Edgar Allan Poe, Fear, and Creativity—Eric Mongeon

Eric Mongeon is a graphic designer, and his talk was mostly about the process of making his senior thesis at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD): a graphic novel-style reinterpretation of work by Edgar Allan Poe. He used his RISD project to talk about creativity in general and all the creative issues he had trying to complete it. The talk spoke to me as a creator, regardless of discipline. He made the point that doing does not equal making, and that if you don’t just get what you’re thinking about into the real, physical world, then you’ll never know how good or bad it really is. What he said was interesting and motivating, and I’m sure spoke to everyone in the room in a different way.

Honorable Mentions


I can’t end this article without mentioning some of the other mind-blowingly awesome talks. Seth Priebatsch taught me about what he called a Game Layer that is being built on top of the world, and how the next Facebook will work in 15 years. Frank Reynolds provided some shock and awe in his talk about how he’s inventing a new way to treat and possibly cure spinal-cord injuries—after having recovered fully from an injury that every doctor said would leave him paralyzed from the waist down. And finally, Ann Christensen provided a heartfelt talk about her father and her family, and separating professional success from personal success.

I may have been intimidated by the amount of brainpower at the event, but I realized that these people are no different from me, maybe (a little) older, but just as interested in learning about groundbreaking new ideas from whoever has them. I would highly suggest that if you have the opportunity to attend a TED event, take it. I can’t wait for the next one I can go to. Hopefully by then I’ll at least have a BlackBerry.


SHIFTboston Future City Tour

Posted in Vol 13 No 3 by bsaab on August 17, 2010

The potential of potential is the leash of technology.

SHIFTboston’s 2009 competition asked architects and designers to dream up wild and inventive ideas for the city. Many intriguing concepts were submitted, and now you have a new way of viewing some of these ideas with any 3G smartphone. The SHIFTboston Future City Tour smartphone app is described as “an augmented reality tour,” which sounds very futuristic indeed. Using your phone, you can see submitted projects located in and around Fort Point Channel, an inlet of water that separates the Financial District and South Boston. Think of it as a personal presentation of the submissions, while you’re at the place where these ideas could become reality.

Fort Point Channel in Future City Layar App

Fort Point Channel in Future City Layar App

This is a very interesting premise and an attempt to solve the age-old problem of the onlookers’ disconnect between a project and its site. Fort Point Channel is in the process of becoming a socially activated space, and using this app is a decent excuse to walk around and experience it firsthand.

The app works like this: You use the camera on your phone like a filter to look at areas of the Channel, and these big black circles appear all over the screen. Each circle is a project that was submitted and is located in the approximate area that the project would be sited. Clicking on these circles brings up the people responsible for the project and about five words of a description, with—confusingly—no way to read the rest of it. Instead, one large rendered image is presented, with little explanation. The user is left to try and decipher what that image is supposed to be showing–and how exactly it’s sited in the Channel (two things the app is supposed to do for you). They are all very ambiguous projects, so this can be a difficult task. Unfortunately, about three out of four projects didn’t load anything but a 401-error page.

To this reviewer, the benefits of this application seem few and far between. It would be a good way to connect with the projects and the site, but that never really happens. Considering that all the projects can be downloaded and viewed in pdf format directly from the SHIFTboston website, people would be better off simply exploring the Channel on their own, rather than being led on the leash of technology.

Experience the future urbanity of Boston.

When wandering Boston’s waterfront, you have to cross busy streets and parking lots flooded with cars. The aggressive shift toward a more pedestrian-friendly edge condition has been discussed for years; however, until now, the renderings and imaginations of this new paradigm have been left hanging on the walls of architectural exhibits or affixed to your computer screen from a static vantage point.

Fort Point Channel in Future City Layar App

Fort Point Channel in Future City Layar App

SHIFTboston’s Future City Tour allows you to tear the renderings from the wall and take them in your hands, onsite. You have the new ability to physically walk around the Fort Point Channel and experience digitally how the area may evolve, in an exciting way that challenges personal design concepts. The mobile application demands a more active role of the viewer, further inviting criticism and participation. While holding the phone ahead of you, you walk the thin line between reality and fantasy, with the ability to flip back and forth in a glance. Real. Fantasy. Real.

The Meta Land is a great project to view through the Future City Tour app. A series of piles are arranged in the channel, creating a unique hydro park-like space with floating pathways for pedestrians to wonder through. It’s easy to imagine yourself standing on one of the pathways, surrounded by a field of piles, looking at the city skyline in the distance. It feels surreal.

Another example, Drift Boston (a series of island parks), challenges us to embrace the area’s relationship to water and shows boardwalks and a floating swimming pool. Using the app, it is easy to project yourself into the scene–and the desire for a unique area like that in the city immediately grows in your heart. Then, looking past the phone at the actual site, you are reminded of the lack of such rich urban spaces.

Future City Tour provides pedestrians with a reason to visit these waterfront areas and experience a unique city atmosphere, even if only in an augmented reality. More importantly, it offers hope for a new, more interactive waterfront.


Paving, Paving Everywhere. Not a Drop Will Sink.

Posted in Vol 13 No 3 by bsaab on August 5, 2010

Potential Green Alleys and Roofs in Boston's Back Bay

The Potential of Green Alleys

I recall standing in awe at the foot of Mount Whitney, the crown of the Sierra Nevada, watching clouds forming off the peaks of Whitney Portal. In the late afternoon sun, its sharp rock formations were analogous to a heat sink using evaporative cooling. Precipitation to the West eventually makes its way into the Pacific Ocean while, to the East, water culminates in the Great Basin. Imagine all the earth traversed, stones tumbled on riverbeds and the water’s slow weave through aquifers. And so, blinded by solar glare from snowy caps and desert browns, I followed the string of mountains, south, to Los Angeles.

Cities, marks of humanity stretching over the epidermis of a planet, are hard, impervious surfaces that disrupt the natural cycle. At the urban scale, in places like Los Angeles, we register notable changes in the microclimate as buildings and streets absorb sunlight throughout the day. They only begin to radiate stored heat into the night sky. Precipitation slips down buildings onto oily and grimy sidewalks and streets. Picking up speed, it seeps through grates, forced into complex stormwater drainage systems. It is then unloaded directly into major bodies of water. As a result, erosion and water contamination are prevalent. The groundwater table lowers and soil no longer slows down and filters out water contaminants.

Porous. Permeable. Pervious. Words that are finally percolating into urban centers as we explore solutions to problems like groundwater recharge and the urban heat-island effect (UHI). Groundwater recharge is the process of water migrating from the surface into the water table. UHI is an abnormal increase in air temperature compared to that of surrounding areas due to retention of heat by urban infrastructure such as buildings and roads.

Artificial drainage methods, once thought to be ideal, interrupt groundwater recharge that once contributed to a given microclimate’s evaporative cycle. The earliest of these—dating back to 3100 BC in the Indus Valley Civilization (now Pakistan and North India)—directed wastewater into drains beneath the civilization’s major streets. Ironically, this ancient system was more effective than many found in modern cities in the same region. Modern methods incorporate geotextiles and perforated plastic pipes into otherwise traditional pipe systems, improving the filtering of soil particles found in runoff.

Seattle's Street Edge Alternative

Seattle's Street Edge Alternative project. Click to enlarge.

However, we can reduce or completely eliminate the demand on stormwater systems through use of permeable paving and water-detention methods such as bioswales. With these, we mimic and reestablish the natural process of filtration and end up with cleaner groundwater.

The first of its kind in major U.S. cities—begun in 1999—Seattle’s Street Edge Alternative project exemplifies these methods. By reducing street widths and offering non-curbed sidewalks on one edge, the project reduces impervious surfaces by 18 percent while directing runoff into bioswales and back into the ground. Studies conducted by the University of Washington have shown that the design successfully reduced 98 percent of stormwater runoff during the wet season.

Chicago Green Alley Program

Chicago Green Alley Program. Click to enlarge.

In 2006, Chicago’s Department of Transportation, with its 1,900 miles of impermeable alleyways, spearheaded an effort to reactivate this neglected urban fabric through the Chicago Green Alley Program. The program implements recycled permeable paving, re-graded properly into detention areas through use of bioswales. Appropriately enough, paving consists of recycled concrete aggregate, slag, and tire rubber. (View the Chicago Green Alley Handbook.)

Los Angeles started its own Green Alley Program on 900 miles of alleys in late 2008, inspired by the work of Jennifer Wolch, a professor of geography and director of the Center for Sustainable Cities at the University of Southern California. Similarly, Green Garage of Detroit, an organization led by Tom and Peggy Brennan, began work on a 220-foot section of an alley that will eventually flow into the two-mile Midtown Greenway Project.

Boston Architectural College’s (BAC) Green Alley Project puts Boston on the map alongside other major cities. Don Hunsicker, head of the BAC’s School of Design Studies and the Green Alley project manager, explains why the BAC is pursuing this project. "The BAC is committed not only to teaching sustainable design practices to our students, but also to making our campus more sustainable. The Green Alley Project is one example of that commitment."

The BAC’s Green Alley, a demonstration project of modest proportion sited on the college’s backyard, improves a section of Alley #444, between Boylston Street and Newbury Street. Interestingly, the project’s roots reside on the roof of the main campus building located on 320 Newbury Street. Initial studies of a green roof design for student use and education led Pat Loheed, head of Landscape Architecture, to suggest incorporating a green alley as a holistic top-down approach to stormwater management. The Green Alley Project took off from there with a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection for Phase I.

Phase I of the project is scheduled to break ground sometime in spring/summer 2011 on 1,600 square feet of alley space abutting the college’s Boylston Street building. Phase II will take on the complexity of 3,600 square feet of the alley’s thoroughfare, coordinating with neighboring businesses as well as meeting the requirements of city agencies and organizations such as the Architectural Access Board, Public Improvements Commission, the Back Bay Architectural Commission, and the Neighborhood Association of Back Bay.

Boston Architectural College's Green Alley Project. Image by Jovan Tanasijevic.

Boston Architectural College's Green Alley Project. Image by Jovan Tanasijevic. Click to enlarge.

Improvements will be similar to those found in previous projects throughout the country—replacing the traditional use of asphalt and concrete with a four-foot deep layering of permeable surfaces. These will eventually mediate runoff from future green roofs, ultimately offsetting stormwater loads by replenishing the groundwater table directly. A monitoring well is also in place from which the Groundwater Trust can track changes as a result of these improvements. To showcase these methods and educate the community, informational components will be integrated into the project. The Green Alley and future green-roof projects reflect the BAC’s commitment to improving the future of Boston and its neighborhoods.

The benefits of using recycled permeable paving, with a high albedo (reflectivity), in conjunction with bioswales are numerous. Groundwater recharge is reestablished, cleaner water results, erosion and heat absorption are reduced, and construction and industrial waste find a new purpose. The long-term cost of installing and maintaining a permeable paving system is comparable to that of traditional stormwater drainage.

In concert, these methods have the potential to eliminate the load of stormwater on existing drainage systems while reducing UHI due to asphalt paving that interrupts the natural evapotranspiration cycle. If we reduce the heat stored by paving, we can carry the same effort onto vertical surfaces of buildings and their roofs. This ultimately lowers the peak demands for cooling buildings and reflects a more energy-conscious city plan.

The BAC’s Green Alley Project hopes to persuade us to take larger stock of our underutilized urban fabric, reimagining its purpose and value in the city’s fabric. If we apply this kind of thinking to areas such as alleys and large swaths of parking, we can create a more vibrant and useful resource for our community.

Jovan Tanasijevic

Tectonic Shift

Posted in Vol 13 No 3 by bsaab on August 4, 2010

The High Line, Manhattan.

By tackling some of the most daunting problems of the city, landscape architects are rising to new prominence.

Download article as PDF

Elizabeth Padjen: The last time ArchitectureBoston devoted an entire issue to landscape architecture was in 2003; our roundtable discussion was titled “Burying Olmsted.” At that time, much of the buzz in the profession was focused on what might be called the artful landscape: landscape cum art installation. But the participants in that roundtable also mentioned Millennium Park in West Roxbury — where soil from the Big Dig was used to cap an old landfill — as an example of cutting-edge thinking about ecological landscapes, and they bemoaned the lack of attention such projects were receiving. It’s astonishing to see how the profession has changed in just seven years — not only in terms of the kinds of projects that are gaining wide recognition, but also in terms of a new focus and a new energy. Terms such as landscape urbanism, ecological urbanism, and agricultural urbanism are now commonplace and are even leaking into the public lexicon. One of our editorial board members recently stated, “Landscape is suddenly the most relevant player.” Let’s start by talking about this new excitement. Where does it come from?

David Gamble: More and more, the public recognizes the fragility of the environment — look at the recent floods in Nashville and the oil spill in the Gulf. Part of the landscape profession’s rise to the top is due to the general recognition by the public that landscapes are living organisms and that we need to think very carefully about how we inhabit our environment. This increase in consciousness has helped landscape architecture play a much larger role in the public’s eye than it might have otherwise.

Laura Solano: Landscape architects are especially skilled in understanding systems, and that’s why we are deeply involved in this search for an ecologically responsible life. It’s easy to say that this focus has suddenly boiled up, but in fact, it’s been a long time coming. Frederick Law Olmsted, in the 19th century, understood systems perfectly; his talents were multivalent: he was a civil engineer, a surveyor, and an author, as well as a landscape architect. In the early to mid-20th century, Jens Jensen and Aldo Leopold were writing about these issues, but there wasn’t an audience. And then Ian McHarg blew the doors open in 1969 by introducing the idea of ecological planning.

Wendi Goldsmith: Olmsted espoused the merit of Central Park long before other people ever imagined today’s development pressures. Yet he rallied people behind a vision and was very clear about doing it for reasons of air quality, exercise, civic interaction, and creating a shared space that would reinforce community. His design of Boston’s Emerald Necklace was intended to solve some very practical stormwater flooding management problems. Both projects place landscape architecture at the foundation of what we now call sustainable community design.

Shauna Gillies-Smith: The public has long understood that landscape architects work with living elements. But a recent and significant shift is that we are starting to realize that cities are also living organisms, so the systematic thinking that has been part of the landscape discipline is now being translated to new strategies for the urban condition as well.

Jill Desimini: And of course, landscape architects bring an understanding of people and the designed experience. That means they are skilled at making spaces that work for their inhabitants that also address the complexities of urban, ecological, and infrastructural systems.


Simcoe and Rees WaveDecks, Toronto.

Simcoe and Rees WaveDecks, Toronto, part of a series of three multifunctional public walkways along the waterfront. Designer: West 8 + DTAH. Photos © West 8 urban design & landscape architecture.

Architecture and Landscape Architecture

Elizabeth Padjen: The tectonic plates of the design professions seem to be shifting. I wonder if the rise of landscape architecture means that something has changed in the ligatures that tie the professions together or if it’s evidence of fundamental differences in the ways that the disciplines respond to the challenges of the world today.

David Gamble: It’s partly because of the vacuum created by the departure of the architects. Architects haven’t been thinking about larger-scale connections and about relationships to key topographic and environmental conditions or special places in cities in which the landscape is really what’s most valued. Landscape architects have found a way to take over much of that territory by engaging themselves directly in those issues.

Jill Desimini: We like to think of projects as functioning in many ways — socially, economically, environmentally — apart from how they look. Of course, many architects do, too. But, having been trained in both architecture and landscape architecture, I would say there is a real difference in the complexity of the landscape medium and the ways in which landscape architects think about how various systems might come together. A good example is the project by Stoss for the Lower Don River in Toronto. A traditional urban-design approach might have considered the river as an entity to be squeezed into an urban fabric. Instead, Stoss asked, What does this kind of river need in order to function? The designers weren’t trying to adapt it to the city fabric and then figure out how to deal with the flooding that comes later. The challenge became how to structure the city and the neighborhood around the river. If you give the river the kind of mouth that it needs, if you understand that you’ll have fluctuating water levels, then you start to think in terms of different types of land use and you can start to develop a set of performance criteria both for the river and for the neighborhood and open spaces. Various elements start to work on multiple levels but also together in a unified, sustainable whole.

Laura Solano: The example of designing for fluctuating water levels underscores an important distinction between architecture and landscape architecture, which is that architecture usually doesn’t have to deal with something that is inherent to landscape: change, which is the driver for all natural systems, for better or worse. The arc of time and change are fundamentally different factors in the landscape design process.

The emphasis in landscape urbanism should be on the urbanism. Jill Desimini

Shauna Gillies-Smith: Something that makes landscape architecture particularly resonant right now is its verb-like quality, in comparison with some earlier, more architecture-oriented urban models, like New Urbanism — all very intelligent, but really about organizing a city or town around a more static structure. Contemporary landscape architecture is much more interested in the systems and the forces and the flows, so it is a more active approach toward designing landscapes and urban systems. As we start to re-recognize that we are connected to the larger ecological world, we realize we need a model that can respond to an ever-changing world, not just one in crisis.

Wendi Goldsmith: I think that’s right. The whole green design movement started with a focus on energy systems within the building: insulation and the efficiency of HVAC systems. And then, bit by bit, it grew to include water use, glazing, building positioning, which then evolved into new ideas about things like light and lighting, water conservation and reuse, and integrating graywater management with building plumbing. Fairly quickly, sustainable design started to bleed into the landscape and to encompass infrastructure, including power generation, and people began to understand that it’s not just about the building and what goes on inside it: We need to look at what goes on outside, on site, and what goes on beyond the site. Now we’re thinking about buildings in relation to the grid, to watersheds, and to water supplies. What I am observing is a new relationship, maybe eventually a new field, where science and engineering and landscape design all merge. Our society is just beginning to recognize the value in such an approach.


The Connecticut Water Treatment Facility in New Haven, Connecticut.

The Connecticut Water Treatment Facility in New Haven, Connecticut, contributes to a larger ecological and open-space system. Steven Holl Architects. Photo by Paul Warchol.

Urban Design and Landscape Architecture

Shauna Gillies-Smith: Landscape typologies have evolved to a fair degree, and landscape architects today feel that they can take on a much larger territory than was their traditional purview: designs for entire regions or decommissioned airports or large post-industrial sites or whole infrastructure projects. That’s by necessity, because landscape systems don’t end at the property line. I always have a hard time making the distinction between landscape architecture and urban design, probably because I’ve been trained in both fields, but I think that is one area where they are different: It’s very hard to put a circle around what defines a landscape.

Elizabeth Padjen: Is the landscape architect encroaching on the traditional turf of the urban designer? Do you envision the end of urban design as a discipline, perhaps being absorbed by landscape architecture?

Shauna Gillies-Smith: That could be a very politically dangerous idea to agree or disagree with, depending on your perspective. Clearly, both disciplines will continue to evolve. I just finished teaching what turned out to be a very exciting studio. It was called an urban design project, but it addressed landscape, ecology, and environmental dynamics. The project site was on a floodplain with a daily tidal fluctuation of about six feet; we also projected an additional rising water level of six feet over 100 years. So the students had to think simultaneously about accommodating fluctuating water levels and about creating urbanism. Typically, when we think of zoning, we think of it in a horizontal way, or as vertical envelopes of height limits. But the most critical aspect of this project was the first 10 feet of the city. The challenge was to design that sectional relationship intelligently, to foster a vibrant urban life on a ground plain that must accommodate so much natural variation.

Architects haven’t been thinking about larger-scale connections and relationships to topographic and environmental conditions. Landscape architects have found a way to take over much of that territory. David Gamble AIA, AICP

David Gamble: The design professions in general have done themselves a disservice in trying to delineate distinct territories and in believing that a project needs to begin with the urban planner, then go to the urban designer, then the architect, then the landscape architect, and so on. That type of linear thinking is one reason why we haven’t been able to foster strong interdisciplinary collaborations. Major design competitions around the world now tend to be dominated by teams including very diverse disciplines, such as landscape architects, planners, economists, and historic preservation architects, because there is so much interdisciplinary discussion that needs to occur when you look at complex urban areas. I do think that the architecture profession today has much greater respect for a landscape architect’s sense of process than it did a generation ago. The work I’m doing in China now as an architect is entirely in the service of a landscape-architecture firm that is planning large regions of the country. It’s a scenario that stems in part from the client’s intuitive understanding of the nature of their ecosystems and the desire to work with their natural settings, which requires the landscape architect’s understanding of geography and place.

Laura Solano: And that’s not an unusual scenario anymore. Clients are unbelievably sophisticated now, and they do their homework in terms of the composition of the teams they hire. In my office, we are the prime for about 80 percent of our work, big and small. Many of our teams have 12 or 15 consultants, often representing narrow areas of expertise: planners, architects, historians, ecologists, soil scientists, hydrologists, and biologists. Strong collaborations offer tremendous educational opportunities.


Teardrop Park at Battery Park City, Manhattan.

Teardrop Park at Battery Park City, Manhattan, incorporates organic soils and uses graywater and stormwater for irrigation. Landscape architect: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. Photo by Paul Warchol.

Landscape Urbanism

Elizabeth Padjen: Landscape urbanism is at least partly responsible for the profession’s new energy. What exactly does it mean?

Laura Solano: Charles Waldheim, who is now the chair of the department of landscape architecture at Harvard, coined the term. He has said: “Landscape urbanism describes a disciplinary realignment currently underway, in which landscape replaces architecture as the basic building block of contemporary urbanism.”

Elizabeth Padjen: That’s a shot across the bow. What are some examples?

Jill Desimini: I’d like to respond first by saying that at the core of landscape urbanism is the idea that looking at, understanding, and designing urban processes will lead to making a new kind of city that is capable both of self-regenerating and of changing the way we experience the place we live. The emphasis in landscape urbanism should be on the urbanism. With that in mind, I would point to Toronto, which has hired a number of landscape architects as leads for very big projects that are changing that city, especially the waterfront. These include West 8’s reconfiguration of the central waterfront, work by Field Operations on Lake Ontario Park, and the design by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates for the Lower Don Lands as a new metropolitan precinct. Landscape architects are also working on large projects in other cities. New York’s Freshkills Park project — the transformation of 2,200 acres of landfill on Staten Island into a new public park and urban habitat by Field Operations — is another example of an innovative approach to revitalizing and repurposing a piece of the urban fabric. The key now is to focus even more on the design of the city itself. Landscape urbanism positions landscape and landscape methods as a driver for urban infrastructural change.

David Gamble: Part of the momentum also comes from the shifting economics of cities. More and more cities over the last generation have been looking to old industrial sites or waterfronts as places to grow; large parks become the catalysts that drive economic redevelopment.

Elizabeth Padjen: But the idea of landscape, particularly in the form of public parks and open spaces, as a catalyst for development isn’t new. You can even find it codified in the 16th-century Spanish Laws of the Indies that was the basis for town planning in the Spanish colonies: put the square in the middle of the town and build out around it. What’s different?

Shauna Gillies-Smith: Landscape urbanism takes another approach — more profound in some ways — and looks at a larger force, a river, for example, as a generator of urban form and urban typology.

Jill Desimini: David is right that many cities are revitalizing industrial sites, and a lot of them are on waterfronts and thus have an ecological component. The difference is that landscape urbanism starts with looking at these sites in terms of the environmental systems that can serve as generators for the project.

Laura Solano: It’s about healing: taking derelict or brownfield sites and making them useful. We take a piece of land that nobody cares about any more, and turn it into something that people can identify as a place that has personal meaning and community value.

Shauna Gillies-Smith: I think it’s important to not conflate landscape and parks. It’s true that the idea of building a public park that is a catalyst for development is an old trick. But only part of landscape is parks. Part of it is plazas. Part of it is open space. And part of it is the system of stormwater management that gets built into our streets, into our yards, into our housing units. What is exciting about landscape urbanism is that it can define new types of space that not only accommodate ecological systems, but also define ways that we as individuals can relate to landscape and to ourselves in different ways.

Wendi Goldsmith: Not long ago, the words “landscape urbanism” would have sounded like an oxymoron. We worked on a project recently with Laura’s firm and with the architect Steve Holl that is a perfect example of this change in thinking. This project involves brownfields restoration, a large public-works facility including a major green-roof project, the preservation of some public open space, and programming that includes a significant public education and events component — all while making very tangible contributions to natural habitats in the south-central Connecticut region. It completely merges architecture and engineering and landscape architecture. I can’t think of any earlier examples in the US with the same level of interdisciplinary entanglement. The hydrology of the site accommodates these major functional components, but reverts the site back to its pre-development “water budget” in terms of its hydrological performance. So there’s this incredible melding of function and beauty and education that also transforms a stigmatized landscape into something that sets the stage for a new pattern of development in the region.


The Schools

David Gamble: A number of design schools have been very strategic about raising the profile of landscape architecture within the school, which is reverberating within the field itself. More landscape-architecture programs are opening up, in part because some leaders in the profession are finding ways to excite a new generation of students who want to shape the physical environment. They’re raising the profile of the profession from within the academic community.

Elizabeth Padjen: Conversely, the schools must also be responding to a market interest.

Shauna Gillies-Smith: All of us who are in academia know that it’s the students who are really driving the sustainability agenda. No question about it. And that generation’s interest in the environment is one of the really big pushes behind recognizing, first of all, that our world isn’t static and, second, that we need to find a different way of working with it instead of against it.

Laura Solano: One of my students gave a presentation on a recent project in Korea that turned 600 acres of landfill into a park. The park ended up as a reflection of the trash pile: it was essentially a pyramid with the top cut off. This student’s discussion centered around what might have happened instead if a landscape architect had been involved from the beginning: there would have been a grading plan for placing trash, there would have been systems to promote decomposition, and the nearby wetlands would have been engineered to support a river watershed. These kinds of issues capture the attention of students; they know that there are huge problems to solve, and they know the answers lie in innovation.


Rose Kennedy Greenway

Elizabeth Padjen: Let’s say that, instead of having just been completed, the Greenway project is just now in the concept phase and the initial planning has been undertaken by a team of landscape urbanists. What are some of the substantive changes we’d be seeing?

Shauna Gillies-Smith: One obvious answer is that there would be a very clear, probably somewhat artful but potentially also didactic, approach to stormwater, so that one would actually see how water is moved and treated. We would probably also see some form of urban agriculture — not necessarily community gardens, but perhaps some form of urban foraging.

David Gamble: I suspect that the engineering for the tunnels would be done in the service of a much larger vision of connectivity and continuity. Whatever you think about whether or not there should be development along the Greenway, there is still a very painful sense that it is not as robust in its role as it should be.

It is important to recognize the significance of the constructed landscape. Most people think of landscape as the backyard garden or the national parks. Shauna Gillies-Smith ASLA

Jill Desimini: It could perform in so many different ways. It could even have a greater social or economic agenda. Right now, it’s very neutral, and there’s nothing very neutral about a landscape-urbanist vision.

Shauna Gillies-Smith: Thinking of it as a landscape in isolation — what you would do to decorate the top of the tunnel — is fundamentally not a landscape-urbanist approach. Thinking of the whole tunnel and the buildings along each edge in conjunction with the landscape, ecology, and the social program is much more appropriate to a landscape-urbanist approach.

Laura Solano: There have been so many disastrous tries at linking architecture and landscape along the Greenway; it suffers for a lack of integration. But I’m convinced that, over time, it’s going to be redone, because we know it’s not right. The Greenway Conservancy is doing some useful and valuable things, like organic maintenance and developing a tree farm to supply trees for the Greenway, but management can’t fix the things that are inherently wrong with it.

Wendi Goldsmith: This is a case where some of the most important concerns were put last on the list. Lots of people other than landscape architects, let alone landscape urbanists, were calling the shots. And so, many other aspects of the project crystallized before there was actually anything resembling a final program for how the Greenway would operate, or how it would look and function.

David Gamble: The Greenway has served a purpose of sorts. All across the country, cities are facing similar problems of deteriorating highways and infrastructure and are recognizing the value of trying, even at a smaller scale, to take advantage of new opportunities to reconnect their cities. Other cities will learn some lessons from what happened in Boston and try to do it in a more synthetic way.

Elizabeth Padjen: If we were to re-do the Greenway now, I suspect we would keep part of the superstructure of the old Artery and rework it as an artifact or walkway.

Laura Solano: I agree with you. There was something sublime about driving up over the city streets.

Shauna Gillies-Smith: That sublime quality is one of the appeals of New York’s High Line, along with a nostalgia for the big old industrial superstructure as you’re floating through the city. And the elements are beautiful: the furniture is beautiful, the planking is clever and smart, and the planting is rich and a strong contrast to the more controlled environment. There’s no question that the High Line would have influenced thinking about the opportunities for the Greenway.


Burying Olmsted, Again

Shauna Gillies-Smith: I want to re-visit the idea of burying Olmsted, because it is important to recognize the significance of the constructed landscape. Part of the interest for me in the High Line isn’t so much the aesthetic of it, although it’s an amazing place, but that it calls into question what landscape is, and it calls into question the naturalization of landscape. When most people think of landscape, they usually think of the backyard garden or the national-park backgrounds in TV ads for SUVs. But by recognizing that what we are creating in both our green spaces and our hard spaces is a constructed landscape, we are held to a different standard. Our roads are landscape: they are designed landscapes. Our sidewalks, our traffic medians, our rooftops are designed landscapes. We learn to ignore them. But there is a lot of economic and design investment in all of those elements. The importance of burying Olmsted is that we need to recognize that our landscape is completely constructed, and that consequently, both our landscape and our work as designers must be held accountable.

Top: The High Line, the transformation of a 1.45-mile-long elevated freight rail line into a public park on Manhattan’s West Side. Designers: Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Photo by M. Altamura.

Design Biennial Boston 2010

Posted in Vol 13 No 3 by bsaab on August 4, 2010

Allandale House by William O’Brien Jr.

pinkcomma gallery, Boston—April 30–June 10, 2010

Download article as PDF

Mark Pasnik and Chris Grimley are two men on a mission. As the directors of pinkcomma gallery and self-proclaimed guides to Boston’s “design underground,” they are dedicated to showcasing a new generation of talented architects and designers in the city. In more than a dozen small and provocative shows since the gallery’s opening in 2007, they have demonstrated that the design culture of Boston is vibrant and energized beyond the walls of the area architecture schools.

Their ambitious and most recent initiative is the first Design Biennial, curated with Michael Kubo, featuring a juried selection of five emerging practices. Highlights of the exhibition include the serenely beautiful geometric study of an A-frame house by William O’Brien Jr., a spatially and materially ingenious back-lot house by Touloukian Touloukian, and a playful proposal to “graft” a community center onto the roof of a supermarket by Carla Ceruzzi and Ryan Murphy of C&MP. Dan Hisel’s Heavy/Light House makes visible the poetic potential of abandoned infrastructure and Gretchen Schneider’s “Making Time Visible” project, which draws the footprint of Scollay Square onto City Hall Plaza, creates a simultaneous understanding of past and present city structure.

A snapshot of the preoccupations of this generation of Boston architects at this moment in time reveals an interest in “smart design” enabled by digital technology, an innovative exploration of craft and the sensual and tactile qualities of building, and a reflection on history concurrent with an enthusiasm for the future. The exhibition presents images from different architects side-by-side, making it difficult to grasp a coherent view of each author’s work. But the pleasure of unexpected visual connections between projects is worth the experiment, as is the introduction of a welcome new event on the city’s design calendar.

Above: Allandale House by William O’Brien Jr.

Milton Glaser: To Inform and Delight

Posted in Vol 13 No 3 by bsaab on August 4, 2010

Directed by Wendy Keys, DVD (73 minutes), New Video Group, 2010

Download article as PDF

Milton Glaser: To Inform and DelightThis aptly titled documentary offers a portrait of one of the most revered graphic designers of our time. Who hasn’t seen Milton’s “I ♥ NY” campaign or his iconic Dylan poster? As a co-founder of Push Pin Studios in 1954, Glaser, along with his cohorts, provided a truly American counter-point to the prevailing Swiss design ethos by incorporating idea-based illustration into publishing and branding projects.

Clever, articulate, and charming, Glaser is the movie’s greatest asset, and director Wendy Keys doesn’t skimp on his colorful commentary and anecdotes from his 60-year career as a thinking artist, designer, teacher, mentor, and New Yorker. At the heart of Glaser’s appeal is his love of drawing, employed in both his commercial work and fine-art projects.

While the strait-laced moviemaking may not adequately reflect the creativity of Glaser’s impressive output, it’s near-impossible not to be won over by his love and respect for his chosen profession, which is amply returned: Everyone ♥s Milton.

Tagged with: , ,