Infrastructural Ecology’s Value in Conceptual Design


An illustration from On Distributed Communication Networks by Paul Baran (1962) shows a schematic that could be applied to understanding the topological relationships between many infrastructural elements, and different systems of infrastructure, and infrastructure and the environment.

The late historian of technology Thomas P. Hughes was the first to identify the seemingly autonomous nature of the growth of infrastructural systems. Infrastructural ecology is a useful conceptual framework that builds upon the Hughesian conceptualization of infrastructure as both contextual and “autonomous.” Although Hughes never described his large technical systems as ecological organisms, the incorporation of ecological concepts that relate the built environment to the natural environment has the potential to aid in the conceptual design of sustainable infrastructure. The term “infrastructural ecology” expresses that built large technical systems — such as water distribution systems, transportation networks, and power transmission and distribution networks — function at many different scales, have metabolisms that require social and natural resource inputs and outputs at those diverse scales, interact with their surroundings, and can adapt, die and be succeeded, in a similar way to natural ecological systems.

There is no shortage of overused terminology from the sciences making its way into contemporary design jargon.  However, ecological concepts such as succession, adaptation, and resilience, are useful because they effectively express a normative value system that the design of built systems needs in order to be coordinated with ecological conditions. Ecological thinking is a specific type of systems thinking, which can be applied to both natural and constructed environments. Rather than being imposed as a system of total control over nature, infrastructure needs to be recognized as the connective tissue between nature and the built environment, and designed accordingly.

This mindset is particularly helpful for designers– whether they be engineers, landscape architects, planners, or urban designers — to think specifically about the site’s proposed infrastructural elements during the conceptual phase of design. No longer is the design always carried out by architects and landscape architects and then handed off to engineers to perform due diligence and implementation in a disjointed manner (inevitably, only to be told that the conceptual design is “impossible!” and to have to return to the proverbial drawing board). The trend is toward the time and money-saving integrated site design process — where all parties communicate site constraints, opportunities, and client goals as early as possible in the process.

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DredgeFest Louisiana: January 11-17 in New Orleans & Baton Rouge

NOAA_dredge_LouisianaFrom January 11th to 17th, the Dredge Research Collaborative will convene its second symposium on all things dredge: DredgeFest Louisiana. Building on the foundation laid down with DredgeFest NYC, DredgeFest Louisiana will bring together government agencies, designers, theorists, academics, corporate practitioners, industry experts, students, and the public, in the place that is ground zero for human-assisted sediment transport, land building, and land loss. With a symposium, speculative design workshops, an exhibition, film screenings, and a dredge tour, this event will offer an interactive and thorough examination of this often-overlooked yet incredibly captivating anthropological geomorphic phenomenon.

In design circles, there has been increasing attention paid to the generative potential and dynamics of dredge, beginning with the infrastructurists of the Landscape Urbanism Reader and accelerating in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. The Dredge Research Collaborative has played a big part in exploring the interconnected nature of dredge landscapes and the larger system of infrastructural projects and economic flows, from upstream development, to the US Army Corps of Engineers’ coastal defense works, to the imminent expansion of the Panama Canal and global shipping.


The Dredge Research Collaborative has argued, both in the recent issue of Bracket [goes soft] and in their piece for the previous issue of Scenario Journal, that dredge offers a lens for understanding a larger network of anthropogenic influences on the coastal landscape. Rather than focusing on the individual objects of infrastructure, the DRC brings us back to the complexity of a hybrid social, ecology and political network that has profoundly shaped our coastal landscape.

“The dredge cycle is the time-warped anthropogenic sibling to geologic and hydrologic cycles…The dredge cycle describes a circle of emergent feedback loops. Through the forces of anthropogenic erosive entropy — the proliferation of impermeable surfaces, the intensification of storm events due to climate change, the digging of deeper and deeper shipping channels, the loosening of vast tracts of soil for development — ever more material comes under the influence of accelerated erosion.” 

Stephen Becker, Rob Holmes, Tim Maly, Brett Milligan. “Dredge” in Bracket [goes soft]

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Call For Submissions: Scenario 4, Building the Urban Forest

Building the Urban Forest

Scenario 4: Building the Urban Forest

The forest carries deep cultural significance. Within the urban landscape, this ecologically complex, spatially layered, dynamic system is also understood to perform a wide range of essential ecosystem services, from increasing property values to mitigating climate change. Reforesting cities is one of the defining trends of twenty first century urbanism, but there is little agreement about how our urban forests are to be designed, planned and managed.

As arborists, parks departments, landscape architects, planners and community groups engage in the reforesting of cities, how are they collectively shaping the urban landscape? How do we quantify the benefits of urban forests? Where should we focus our attention and effort — streetscapes, backyards, vacant lots, woodlots, parks, highway medians or large remnant tracts? What hybrid ecosystems are yet to be designed? How many trees are enough? A million? What makes a forest urban?

Scenario Journal welcomes the submission of critical essays, provocations, and design projects that explore the topic of building the urban forest.


Submission Requirements:

  • We accept pieces in a range of formats including academic essays, op-eds and built or unbuilt projects.
  • Article-based submissions should range in length from 2500 to 4000 words and be formatted in the Chicago Manual of Style with all sources clearly documented.
  • Design projects should have a clear and focused text no longer than 1000 words, accompanied by 6-10 images.
  • Send submissions to, with ‘ISSUE 4′ in the subject line. Submissions will be reviewed on a rolling basis.
  • DEADLINE: Submissions are due November 1, 2013. All submissions after that date will be accepted on a rolling basis. If you have an idea or project in process, please submit your intention or outline as early as possible.


New Exhibit: Aerial Arts at Studio-X in New York City

Aerial Arts: Defense Discourses, Cartographic Critiques opens Friday, October 11th at Studio-X NYC.

As landscape architects, we have largely inherited the regionalist and realist use of aerial cartography, whether as McHarg-ian underlays or GIS and Google Earth rasters. Instead of dismissing those maps, this show excavates the original, cultural context of post-war aerial imagery, its forgotten geographies and distant debates.


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Landscape Strategies for Informal Settlements: Creating Armatures to Shape Urban Form

What are the best strategies to deal with informal settlements and the growing populations of urban poor? Previous research on post-informal settlements focused on retroactive strategies that upgrade existing conditions akin to a “small scale urban acupuncture.” Yet little emphasis has been given to pre-emptive strategies that address future growth. Landscape urbanism as an urban strategy, advocates for flexibility, continual re-arrangement, and flux:it thus has a strong potential for improving the lives of the urban poor through a nuanced understanding of how informal areas adapt and grow. The following is an interview with David Gouverneur, professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Landscape Architecture program, who has devoted his research to the study of landscape armatures as pre-emptive systems for the upgrading of the informal city. His insights provide a better idea of what these armatures are, how they perform, and how they can contribute to furthering the post-informal landscape urbanism discourse.

Leo Robleto Costante (LRC): In an increasingly urbanized world, why is it important to study landscape within the context of informal settlements? 

David Gouverneur (DG): The gap between the developed and the developing world is widening and the disparities are clearly manifested in the places in which people live and how these sites perform. In Asia, Africa and Latin America almost a billion people—one sixth of the world population and one third of urban dwellers—live in informal settlements, unplanned environments constructed by their own residents. According to the United Nations Human Settlements Program, it is expected that by 2030 this number will double. These staggering figures demand innovative approaches for dealing with this new scale of territorial occupation if we want to narrow down the disparities and therefore ameliorate social tension, resentment and violence, in a globalized world.

Different international organizations and authors have written extensively about the consequences of such demographic explosion and the nature of informal occupation, but little has been done in terms of envisioning how to deal effectively with the consequences of these demographic pressures and how to foster the growth of the predominantly informal city. This is the reason why I became interested in researching this topic and what motivated me to develop the notion of “Informal Armatures.”

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Informal armatures promote an ecology of relations (natural and social) which make the system resilient, focusing on aspects that the community cannot address on their own. Continue reading

Behind the Scenes: Designing Jackson Hill Bridge, The Next Pedestrian Bridge for Buffalo Bayou in Houston


What does it take to create a new link within an existing community? For SWA’s Houston designers, they have been hard at work for more than the past decade in creating a city-wide green system of Bayous and pedestrian trails for environmental—as well as social—good. And now, the famed Buffalo Bayou is getting another pedestrian bridge. In addition to creating ways to mitigate the wet landscape of this urban area, the park features a series of five bridges that cross the Bayou and connect neighborhoods together. The first pedestrian bridge over Buffalo Bayou was built at the Hobby Convention Center back in 2005 as part of the Buffalo Bayou Promenade. The Rosemont Bridge was built next in 2009 and opened in 2010 to great success.

Today, we spoke with Tim Peterson, Kevin Shanley, Josh Lock, and Scott McCready as they take us behind-the-scenes of the next bridge as it goes up between the Houston Heights and Montrose neighborhoods in Houston.

What’s the name of this next bridge and where is it located? 

The Jackson Hill Bridge spans Buffalo Bayou just west of Waugh Drive. Construction is slated to be finished by Fall 2013 and the bridge will be open to the public at that time.

How big is it? Continue reading

Now Open: Composite Landscapes at the Gardner Museum


On Thursday, June 27th, the Gardner Museum in Boston opened it’s latest exhibit: Composite Landscapes: Photomontage and Landscape Architecture, hosted in the Hostetter Gallery. With contributions from Richard Weller, James Corner, Yves Brunier, Gary Hilderbrand, Adriaan Geuze and many, many more, the exhibit focuses on landscape architecture’s use of photomontage as one of our key representational forms.

These composite views reveal practices of photomontage depicting the conceptual, experiential, and temporal dimensions of landscape. The first exhibition of its kind in North America, Composite Landscapes illustrates the analog origins of a method now rendered ubiquitous through digital means. In revisiting the composite landscape view as a cultural form, Composite Landscapes illuminates the contemporary status of the photographically constructed image for the design disciplines, and beyond.”

How is it that designers render ideas and show them to clients? What are the best tools for communication, visualization, and imagination? Andrea Hansen, assistant curator, shared a few previews of the exhibit’s pieces with Landscape Urbanism:

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Yves Brunier. Museumpark Rotterdam. Three men and a dog walking (1989-1993) Continue reading

A Walk to the End of the Line: The (Almost) Untouched Third Section of the High Line


The terminus of the High Line at the West Side Rail Yards, part of the third and final section of the elevated rail line to be added to New York’s favorite, not-quite-new-anymore public park and the site of new art installation. Photos and Text by Laura Tepper, except as noted.

A Walk to the End of the Line:  The (Almost) Untouched, Third Section of the High Line Is Open for Previews

The northernmost and last unfinished section of New York’s acclaimed High Line park won’t open to the public in earnest for at least another year, but this summer small groups of lucky ticketholders have the opportunity to experience the 300-yard stretch of urban wilderness in the raw. High Line park rangers are leading visitors on a series of sold-out walks along the yet-undeveloped site known as the “High Line at the Rail Yards,” or simply as “Section 3.” The tours occur under the premise of previewing “Caterpillar” a site-specific sculpture installation created by Brooklyn-based artist Carol Bove. However, the landscape itself steals the show. 

The High Line, of course, is a wildly successfully public park built atop a 1.2 mile-long decommissioned elevated freight rail structure that runs along Manhattan’s west side. Sections 1 and 2 of the park weave through the Meatpacking District and Chelsea between Gansevoort and 30th streets and attract so many visitors, both locals and tourists, that it can be hard to move through the more narrow sections of the park.

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A crowd herds slowly through a tapered part of Section 2

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Sunbathers vie for seats on the custom rolling lounge chairs of Section 1 (Image courtesy of James Corner Field Operations)

Section 3 begins at 30th Street where the completed sections of the park end. Continue reading

Scenario 3: Rethinking Infrastructure. Latest Issue Now published!


Image credit: “Delving deep: a ganat system in an Iranian desert tunnels deep into the mountain profile,” from The Humanity of Infrastructure by Dane Carlson. NASA image created by Jesse Allen, using data from NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and the U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team.

We are excited to announce the launch of the latest issue of the Landscape Urbanism Journal – Scenario 3: Rethinking Infrastructure! Crafted by Editors-in-Chief Stephanie Carlisle and Nicholas Pevzner of the the newly-named Scenario Journal, Issue 4 looks at the pressing questions of how infrastructure of the next century will be imagined and built. As the co-editors write,

“Infrastructure underlies and shapes urban growth, yet for the most part exists outside the realm of design discussions, tucked below ground or hiding in plain sight. Long fascinated with complex, dynamic powerful systems, designers are finally turning their attention to the potential of infrastructure as fertile conceptual territory.With the pressing issues of climate change, financial malaise, unemployment and failures of governance, it is clear that the old approach to infrastructure — heroic but expensive, brittle, and difficult to maintain — will not be possible for too much longer. How do we ensure that the urgent conversation about the design and conception of infrastructure is a multidisciplinary project? How do we move beyond the buzzwords of green infrastructure, soft systems, and eco-engineering, in order to create a landscape infrastructure that is robust enough for the challenging times ahead?”

These questions framed the past six months of research and work by Stephanie Carlisle and Nicholas Pevzner in the latest issue of the Landscape Urbanism Journal, Scenario 4: Rethinking Infrastructure. Continue reading

50 Ideas For The New City

“Support the arts through asset-building. Capture the energy of people going about their day. Make a difference in a community you know. Map everything. Design for generational diversity. Listen to your ecosystem.”

These ideas and others are part of 50 Ideas for the New City by Urban Omnibus and the Architecture League of New York. An open event and a “showcase for good ideas for the future of cities.” Do you have a project that captures (or executes) one of these ideas? As they write in their manifesto, “We hope, in some small way, we can help re-enchant the urban environment as a landscape of possibility, a realm of action and intention, and a place that represents — and deserves — a long and evolving history of creative ideas.” Check out the posters, below, also created by Urban Omnibus.

How will you participate?

5-Energy-500 Continue reading