PennDesign Launches New Interdisciplinary Journal

LA+ Logo

Landscape architects often point to the interdisciplinary potential of their work, yet too often talk exclusively to other designers. Now comes a new publication from PennDesign that explicitly takes on the interdisciplinary challenge: LA+, as it will be known, will curate each issue through the multiple lenses of varied disciplines plus landscape architecture, all taking on a common topic.

The inaugural issue, to be published this coming Spring, LA+ WILD, explores the resurgent role of the concept of “wildness”—as wildness moves from a passive romantic ideal to an active process of design, involving “rewilding,” large-scale habitat restoration and species conservation, scientific experiments, the construction of novel ecosystems, and wildness’ effect on aesthetics and the human psyche. The issue includes pieces by ecologists, biologists, artists, bioengineers, landscape architects, climatologists, environmental historians, and philosophers, among others. Having seen the list of contributors, we’re very excited for the WILD issue, published and distributed by ORO Editions.

The bi-annual publication has already queued up a number of subsequent issue topics: LA+ PLEASURE, LA+ TYRANNY, and LA+ IDENTITY. Each one will be seeking submissions from a broad range of disciplines to complement the landscape architecture angle, stimulating cross-pollination and inspiration for designers. As Editor-in-Chief Tatum Hands explains, “We wanted to produce something completely different to the usual landscape design journal—which generally just features designers talking to other designers—and truly embrace the rhetoric that landscape architecture is an interdisciplinary field.”

As Richard Weller, the chair of Landscape Architecture at PennDesign describes it, LA+ was conceived to fill a certain void in landscape architectural publishing. “Whilst we have trade magazines on the one hand and refereed academic journals on the other there isn’t much in between and it’s in that space that the contemporary, thinking professional largely exists. Our sense is that there is a large readership who want information that is neither at the level of superficial promotion nor overly academic. So, LA+ seeks to be a bridge between the academy and practice and, most importantly, to link landscape architecture to other disciplines.”

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Exhibit: Lebbeus Woods at The Drawing Center


Lebbeus Woods, Architect.
April 17, 2014 – June 15, 2004
THE DRAWING CENTER 35 Wooster Street, New York, NY

Lebbeus Woods, Architect, on exhibit at The Drawing Center, traces the career of Lebbeus Woods, a visionary architect whose responses to the sites of trauma have given us haunting designs — intricate, beautiful, full of memory, and ultimately optimistic. The show includes a number of Woods’ projects spanning 40 years of work, from the dynamic tensioned and cantilevered pods of bombed-out Sarajevo, to the “Freespaces” of Berlin during the time of the Wall, to the “ecological utopia” of his Demilitarized Zone in Korea, and to the San Francisco Earthquake houses. Impossibly intricate styrene study models, meticulously annotated sketchbooks, and fragments of writing accompany the powerful drawings in a space that is small yet filled with palpable humanism and love of craft.

While at first glance many of the projects appear futuristic or dystopian, his writing reveals an optimism, compassion, and resilience in the aftermath of trauma. By going to the deep, dark places of war and destruction, Woods tried to understand how to build on and with, these layers of trauma.

The show reveals the work of an architect and urbanist who cared deeply about the memory embedded in the physical apparatus of the city. His work projects a desire to grapple with and make sense of the past, rather than erasing the wounds of war. The work insists that the destruction of war-torn landscapes might create the preconditions of a new, and better, city and society.

Though he did not leave many built projects, Lebbeus Woods’ work and words have left a lasting influence on the many designers for whom he was a teacher, a mentor, a critic and an inspiration. This exhibit at the Drawing Center reminds us of the power of a few well-placed lines on paper.

Draw. Drawing is the tool of the architect on the move, on the run, the architect who is first of all a citizen of the stricken city and the new, dynamic stability. Pen, pencil, and paper are cheap, accessible. They can be used anywhere, and, if necessary, concealed. Drawings, too, can be easily hidden, or can be exhibited, published, filmed, digitized, and therefore widely disseminated, when the architect is ready to place them in the public domain. Until that time, the architect is freed by drawing’s inherent intimacy to explore the unfamiliar and the forbidden, to break the old rules and invent new ones. Drawings can be made anywhere there is light enough to see. They are instruments of spontaneous experimentation, fluidity of thought, mobility of invention. Unlike models, drawings can describe an immense range of scales with subtlety. And, most of all, drawings are fast. This is important because the architect’s work should not, by virtue of too-arduous labor, become an end in itself. All effort in projection aims at realization in building, and thus in living. This aim cannot be compromised by the fact that not all of the architect’s projections will, can, or should be built.”

Lebbeus Woods, Radical Reconstruction 1997


Lebbeus Woods, Architect closes this weekend at the Drawing Center.
Please go and see it if you can.

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Book Review: The Petropolis of Tomorrow

Petropolis of TomorowThe Petropolis of Tomorrow, edited by Neeraj Bhatia and Mary Casper

Off the coast of Brazil, dozens of floating oil rigs mark the first wave of an enormous boom in offshore oil extraction, with 45,000 workers already deployed offshore and more on the way. 70,000 helicopter trips every month ferry workers to and from the mainland. In the coming years, in order to service the drilling operations, the oil industry is expecting to build up to 50 new deep-water platforms, floating far beyond helicopter range. With this expansion, Brazil’s latent offshore oil industry is poised to shake up the region’s laws, economies and geopolitics, and to once again radically reshape the urban form of South America’s biggest nation and its capital city.

The Petropolis of Tomorrow focuses on the technologies, logics, logistics, and architectural possibilities of the floating mechanical islands that will serve this emerging oil boom. Edited by Neeraj Bhatia and Mary Casper, this ambitious book brings together critical essays by a number of architects and theorists, along with architectural projects, which are the products of design studios that Bhatia, now an Assistant Professor at California College of the Arts (CCA), ran at both Rice University and Cornell. Petropolis takes us on a historical and speculative exploration of oil frontiers, outposts, company towns, port cities, and artificial islands — as well as the lines of infrastructure, logistics, and capital that tie them together.

Bhatia is no stranger to infrastructure: as co-director of the research collective InfraNet Lab, founder of The Open Workshop, and co-editor of Bracket [goes soft], his work has revolved around the larger speculative agenda of territory and infrastructure as it relates to architecture.

Can networks and logistics of extraction engender city making? And what does design offer to such places (and presumably the people who live and work there)?

Petropolis explores three main ideas — first, how the idea of floating cities opens up a way to think about architecture that moves beyond objects and towards networks; second, how the geography and use of vast territories take shape around the infrastructures of extraction and production; and third, how the logistics and technical realities of extraction and transmission imprint themselves on cities and landscapes, shaping land use and subsequent urban development.  While the concepts may be heavy, the book explores them through a lush combination of photography, rich narrative, design provocations and critical theory and history — striving at once to introduce the reader to these striking landscapes, and to treat the critical topics with depth.

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Design Business

ScaleScope Introduction

The years of the competition-driven, unpurchased idea-giving, and endless anticipation for the phone to ring deserves to be a page in history.

It often seems that for the last decade, tech firms have done a better job of advocating for design than more traditional design disciplines of architecture, landscape and graphic design. Large companies like Apple and smaller start-ups like Fitbit have distinguished themselves and succeeded by keeping design at the core of their business model. Wells Riley, a business writer and consultant, advocates for the hand-in-hand relationship of design and entrepreneurship. His sleek infographic-filled website discusses how design is more than a logo or website—“it’s a state of mind. It’s an approach to a problem. It’s how you’re going to kick your competitor’s ass”. If the business sector has fully embraced the power of design thinking, it should open up doors for the design field to join the conversation and learn from the creative financing and market networking of the twenty-first century start-up.

Scale/Scope, a symposium at PennDesign, brought together a diverse group of designers who are all attempting to expand the scope of their design practice. Collectively, they have come to call themselves “proactive practitioners,” often proposing projects rather than solely responding to clients. Presenters shared work on a variety of scales that collectively begin to reimagine design culture and explore this generative term. Here are some of the ideas that came out of the event.

The proactive practitioner comes in all shapes and sizes. From small, young, two-person practices to giant firms like West 8 and Gensler, many are focused on bringing social and ecological issues to the forefront of their projects. In this setting, the designers argue, social impact and ecological justice are legitimate benchmarks for design, presenting an opportunity for architects who strive to create better communities and ecological consciousness through ethical, rather than purely market-driven work. The proactive practice stems from an interest in issue-based design that may not have a direct client base to foot the bill.

Heavy Trash_gate stairs

Heavy Trash, an anonymous design group, built a staircase over the locked gate of a public park. This project shows how suggestive design can call attention to the problems of our built environment. Image via gray_matter(s).

Proactive projects work on many scales. Many of the projects shown at the conference were small, one-off, guerilla-style projects that land into the public realm to highlight contradiction, spur conversation, and respond to the climate. These projects typically represent a way for young designers to speak, as much as they provide meaningful change for communities or users. Many are creative, lean and strategic.  Examples include the highly regarded Park-ing Day Parklet by Rebar in the Bay, and lesser known projects like the PPlanter by Hyphae Design Lab. The PPlanter is a response to the health and public facility condition, or lack thereof, in the impoverished Tenderloin area. This public toilet module, filtered and made private by large plastic planters and bamboo shoots, intendeds to be deployed on streets with no public facilities.  Rebar and Hyphae Design Lab designed not just small installation projects but polemics. With Park-ing Day, Rebar took a guerrilla installation project—a modest deployment of public space utilizing a clever legal loophole—and found ways to scale it. Rebar recognized the opportunity to extend the conversation around their hijacked parking spot into a global initiative. For them, the answer was not to invest in the isolated event, but build a larger network that extended through a relational icon, the omnipresent parking spot.

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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.”

IMAGE-1_Armatures Sketch_640

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.

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