Under The Surface, Past The Image, and Towards a Conversation: An Interview With TRACE SF: Bay Area Urbanism

“Getting under the surface, past the image, is something words can do well— and should, if we are to broaden how design is valued.” — Brad Leibin, Trace SF.

A common rhetoric of architects, designers, urbanists and connoisseurs of the built environment is that good communication and relevant platforms for consistent conversation don’t exist. Yet the recent increase in recent websites and publications, however–particularly location-based and topic-based sites such as Trace SF: Bay Area Urbanism in San Francisco or Visualizing Systems from Harvard–are demonstrating a willingness to engage and perhaps expand the conversations around the complexity of design.

While the recent essay by Adam Greenfield hints at the fact that the inherent complexity in city undertakings makes them hard to comprehend, let alone communicate–we at Landscape Urbanism are excited by the apparent increase in (digital) places and possibilities for dialogue. This Fall, we had the chance to sit down with the founders and editors of Trace SF to talk about San Francisco’s urban scene and the broader need for communication and dialogue about the future of our rapidly-changing cities.

Landscape Urbanism: What led to the founding of TraceSF?

Yosh Asato: The desire for more critical discussion about the evolution of San Francisco and the greater Bay Area—in all its physical, social and cultural dimensions—has manifested in different publications over the decades. TraceSF is the most recent response. It’s an independent forum for a diverse community of contributors interested in the Bay Area urban environment and the many forces, design included, that shape the region’s culture and future.

LU: What do you think TraceSF has accomplished so far, and how do you hope it will evolve?

Yuki Bowman: Cities are multidisciplinary organisms that require multidisciplinary perspectives in order to be considered in new ways. Our lack of institutional affiliation Continue reading

The City Is Here For You To Use: 100 Easy Pieces [Adam Greenfield]

“We find ourselves at a moment in history in which the nature of cities, as form and experience both, is under pressure from a particular class of emerging technology. The advent of lightweight, scalable, networked information-processing technologies means that urban environments around the world are now provisioned with the ability to gather, process, transmit, display and take physical action on data.” 

So begins Adam Greenfield in a post on December 3rd, with 100 thoughts on the future of the city as we continue to navigate the intersection of technology, form, urban space, and the overwhelming amount of data available about the future of cities. This essay–or rather, not an essay and also not an outline–but a series of 100 major propositions that serve as the basis for Mr. Greenfield’s future work on things he observes “at the intersection of emerging networked information technologies with urban place.”

We’re so intrigued by the essay that we’re reposting (with permission) the one hundred points, in their entirety, on Landscape Urbanism. You can read the original post here–and we must admit that we are certainly looking forward to the book’s creation.

By Adam Greenfield, reprinted with permission for Landscape Urbanism. 

The City Is Here For You To Use: 100 easy pieces

1. We find ourselves at a moment in history in which the nature of cities, as form and experience both, is under pressure from a particular class of emerging technology. The advent of lightweight, scalable, networked information-processing technologies means that urban environments around the world are now provisioned with the ability to gather, process, transmit, display and take physical action on data.

2. As a result, that which primarily conditions choice and action in urban places is no longer physical, but resides in an invisible and intangible overlay of digital information that enfolds the physical city. That is, our experiences in such places are no longer shaped exclusively, or even predominantly, by our physical surroundings, but by the interaction of code and data.

3. While it is impossible to know for certain just how much of the activity going on around us on any given street is there as the explicit result of a network sounding, it is clearly both a nontrivial and a growing percentage. Continue reading

Creative Resolve in Design: GRIT, From Ground Up

The second issue of Berkeley’s Ground Up Journal issued its call for submissions–due January 4th, 2013. Featuring conversations, photographs, essays and ideas about the idea of “Grit,” the issue will look at erosion, accrual, refinement and strategies for gritty landscapes. From the call for submissions:

“Grit is from the ground, abrasive and coarse. Grit erodes and accrues. Like sandpaper, Grit refines. Like the grain of sand that creates a pearl, Grit is an agitator and catalyst. After peering into Landscapes of Uncertainty, the second edition of GROUND UP explores Grit as a quality, material, texture and approach for negotiating change in our landscapes. Continue reading

Imagining Cities That Can Save the Planet: Carbon Zero, by Alex Steffen

Landscape Urbanism recently met up with Alex Steffen to talk about his latest book, “Carbon Zero,” which was just published on November 27th, 2012. The self-proclaimed “little book” looks at the current condition of our growing–and urbanizing, and warming–planet, and calls for a radical re-imagination of what our city futures could look like. It’s a blueprint, a warning, and a strategic call-to-action for our global urban leaders to take (radical, imaginative) steps towards a more resilient future. 

The following two excerpts are from the book’s introduction and overview (emphases added); the full book is on Amazon, here.  

Carbon Zero: Imagining Cities That Can Save the Planet, by Alex Steffen (Excerpt)

1. Our Urban Future

Humanity is already an urban species, with more people living in cities than in the countryside. By the middle of the century, we will likely have as many as 9.5 billion people living on the planet, with 70%–75% of us (around 7 billion people), demographers estimate, living in cities themselves, and 95% or more of humanity living within a day’s travel of a city. By the 2050s, the overwhelming majority of humanity will be participating in urban systems of health care, education, communication, commerce, and government that only a few decades ago were limited to the “developed” world. Continue reading

“Looking Inward,” Manifest: Call For Proposals

A new print journal on American architecture and urbanism supported in part by the Graham Foundation is looking for text, project and photographic proposals for their inaugural issue. From the call for submissions:

“MANIFEST, a new annual independent print journal on American architecture and urbanism, is requesting text, project, and photographic proposals for its first issue entitled, “Looking Inward.” Edited by Anthony Acciavatti, Justin Fowler, and Dan Handel, and supported in part by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, MANIFEST was founded to initiate a critical conversation about the state of American architecture, its cities, and its hinterland, tackling head-on what others have abandoned. Continue reading

Architizer Launches A+ Awards

Architizer is launching a new Awards series this fall–The Architizer A+ Awards–with a final deadline of December 21, 2012. They seek to “break architecture out of the echo chamber to celebrate the world’s best structures, spaces and the minds behind them.”

From the coverage on GOOD:

“Architecture is a medium that affects everyone. More and more innovative projects are being created that aren’t getting the recognition they deserve. That’s why we at Architizer, one of the largest architecture websites, launched the A+ Architecture Awards. It’s a totally new contest that opens the floor to individuals and companies who are influencing all of us—whether directly interested in the field or not.


“We’re putting out a call for proposals for people that are not only exploring how to design amazing structures, but also architectural projects that examine the economic crisis, social issues, mobility—even the weather. We want to see how people address these larger social issues and incorporate them into their designs.”

Architecture isn’t just for architects. Architecture is for–and increasingly by–everyone. The problem with many awards programs (in landscape, planning, and architecture) is that the programs are often designed by a discipline, for a discipline, and judged within the discipline. This is referred to as the “echo chamber,”–hence, the call to break from it.

Images and text from Architizer

Call For Submissions: Scenario 3, “Rethinking Infrastructure.”

Scenario 3: Rethinking Infrastructure 

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. Traditional forms of public infrastructure of the last century have proved expensive and difficult to maintain. Green infrastructure, soft systems, decentralized systems, eco-engineering have all been hailed as the solution to the inability of traditional engineering approaches to solve the pressing issues of climate change, financial malaise, unemployment and failures of governance — but are they really up to the task?

As landscape advocates and practitioners argue for a more central role in the design of cities, many are starting to ask, how can a focus on landscape transform traditional conceptions of urban and regional infrastructure? Can we rethink how infrastructure of the next century is imagined and built? Rethinking infrastructure requires new design ideas and technological solutions, but it also requires a conversation about politics, economics, equity and the environment– a combination of big ideas and the details of implementation. What will it take to transform the urban landscape? Continue reading

Visualizing Systems: New Blog (and Harvard GSD Exhibit)

A new blog just launched from Harvard’s first Dan Kiley Fellow, Andrea Hansen, with the intent to build an extensive database of how we map and visualize systems. Aptly titled “Visualizing Systems,” the blog (and forthcoming book, to be published in 2014), looks at the spatial, material, and temporal complexities in mapping the human environment. From the website: Continue reading

Norwegian National Tourist Routes + Abalimi Urban Agriculture Win Topos Jubilee Awards

The 20th Anniversary of Topos brings two special awards for very different projects in planning and design. Both awards were presented at the landscape Biennial in Barcelona, September 29th: The first goes to Per Ritzler from the National Tourist Routes Agency in Oslo; the second went to Christine Kaba and Bridget Impey from the voluntary association Abalimi Bezekhaya (“Farmers of Home”), an urban agriculture and environmental action project.

From the Topos editors:

The Norwegian National Tourist Routes

Recognized in order to highlight the Norway (a state “actively promoting and commissioning architecture on a significant scale”), as well as question whether or not it is responsible to encourage more car-based tourism, Continue reading