Sands Bethworks: Reinventing A Bethlehem Steel Mill

Project: Sands Bethworks
Location: Bethlehem, PA
Firm: SWA Group
Year: 2008
Firm website:

Project Description: While the US industrial revolution of the 1800s slowly recedes into the depths of national consciousness, the collective memory of rustbelt towns refuses to fade. Massive physical remnants of US industrialization, once considered fantastic achievements in manufacturing and engineering, lay in-situ, slowly decaying, overshadowed by current technological advancements, and given the acknowledgement equivalent to the weeds that now surround these relics. 

Sands Bethworks stands as an exemplary model of what landscape architects can bring to our nation’s post-industrial sites. The former home of Bethlehem Steel, this remediated brownfield illustrates how historic investigation can lead to salient features celebrated within a design. Most importantly, this adaptive re-use project has shown catalytic performance through its revival of South Bethlehem and the ensuing developments Sands Bethworks has engendered.

One of the most prominent examples of re-directing the environmental legacy of a post-industrial landscape can be traced to the south banks of the Lehigh Canal, in the city of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Comprising approximately 1,800 acres (20 acres of which were used for this project), or 20% of Bethlehem’s total land mass, is the former headquarters of Bethlehem Steel Corporation (BSC). Founded in 1904, Bethlehem Steel’s role during the industrial revolution was critical to the economic growth and prosperity of the United States and region. The headquarters in Bethlehem continued to operate until 1998 when US manufacturing divestment, foreign competition, and short-term profit goals finally led to its demise. After almost a century of operation, the effects of Bethlehem Steel’s closure on the city were heartbreaking as thousands of jobs disappeared instantly, along with 20% of Bethlehem’s total tax base. All that remained was a city facing impending bankruptcy, and the largest Brownfield site in the country.

The primary intent of the design was to preserve and elevate the historic industrial setting while capitalizing on the site’s current potential as an engine for economic growth. Following the closure of operations in 1998 and before the design team approached the project, Bethlehem Steel Corporation, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the US Environmental Protection Agency enacted a cleanup agreement to begin the largest Brownfield conversion plan in the nation. Approximately 375 tons of soil contaminated with heavy metals and toxic compounds was excavated and transported to a permitted landfill, then backfilled with clean fill. Along with the excavation and removal of soil, removal of petroleum products and pathway elimination were implemented.

Project Team Members: Ying-Yu Hung, Gerdo Aquino, Alex Robinson, Michael Hee, Trent Okumura, David Gal.

Architect: RTKL Associates Inc.

Civil Engineering and Geotechnical: French & Parrello Associates, PA
Lighting: LDC – Lighting Design Collaborative
Interior Design: Walsh Bishop Associates, Inc.
Structural Engineer: Desimone Consulting Engineers, PLLC
Signage Design: Redmond Schwartz Mark Design
MEP Engineer: R.G. Vanderweil Engineers, LLP
Traffic Engineer: Lublanecki Engineering
Cost Consultant: VJ Associates, Inc.

Re-Cultivating The Forest City

Project: Re-Cultivating the Forest City
Location: Cleveland, OH
Firm: PORT Architecture + Urbanism
Firm website:

Project Description: At its economic and political height during the mid-20th century, the city of Cleveland proper had a population of nearly 1 million people. The city was building and investing in infrastructural and civic projects for a projected growth that would double the city’s population before the turn of the century. Instead, the industrial economy quickly evaporated and the population declined by more than half its 1950s high (est. 430,000 in 2009), leaving a vast swath of post-industrial land at the geographic center of the city.

This vacant territory is directly tied to Cleveland’s two most significant natural features – its Lake (Erie) and its River (Cuyahoga). The well-known environmental degradation of these two water bodies was the direct result of the now lost industrial vitality of the City and Region. And while both of these water bodies are notorious for significant environmental issues in their recent history, both have stabilized and by most accounts have significantly improved from an ecological and environmental perspective. However, in an ironic twist of fate, the improvement in the ecological health of the Lake and River has occurred just as the City’s economic and social health has commensurately deteriorated. Our project proposes to correct this relationship, by advancing the City’s economy through the active enhancement of its ecology and its urban infrastructure by modifying and managing the lower Cuyahoga River Valley.

The industrial valley’s position at the center of the municipal territory, rather than at its periphery, is a distinguishing characteristic that allows any transformation of the area to have a direct reciprocal impact on the core of the city. Additionally, what makes this territory fertile ground for intervention is that just south of the burnt-out landscape of the lower valley lays the equally spectacular, lush, green canopy of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park which is home to the deep forests, rolling hills, and open farmlands that comprise the upland areas of the Cuyahoga River, as well as other landscapes of cultural and historic significance such as the Ohio-Erie Canal.

Re-Cultivating the Forest City looks to reclaim and re-imagine the entirety of the 8,200-acre lower Cuyahoga River Valley, from the terminus of the National Park at the territory’s southern edge, north to the river’s mouth near downtown Cleveland at the shores of Lake Erie. Our approach utilizes a strategy of productive re-colonization, combining economic, ecological and social initiatives to transform the lower Cuyahoga River Valley into a new River Landscape Infrastructure that enhances and expands the ecological value of the river corridor, while simultaneously serving to reorient the economy and urban form of the City of Cleveland.

Project Team Members: Christopher Marcinkoski, Andrew Moddrell, Kyle Reynolds, Richie Gelles, Bradford Goetz, Maren Allen and Jeff Mikolajewski

Line | Point | Field – Reimagining Shougang

Project: Line | Point | Field – Reimagining Shougang
Location: Beijing, China
Designer: Max Gerthel
Year: 2011
Program: Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture
Faculty Advisor: Niels Grønbæk

Project Description: A park that incorporates change

Beijing is a city of axes. Originally, the main axis in Beijing appeared not in the form of wide tree-line boulevards as in Paris, but as a cosmological system around which the city was organized. Throughout the 20th century, the traditional Buddhist north-south axis that once dominated Beijing lost its significance to the new economic east-west highway, Chang’an avenue, constructed by Mao in the 1950’s. Symbolic of China’s entry into the industrial age, the giant Shougang steelworks was placed at the avenue’s west terminus alongside one of Beijing’s major waterways, the Yongding River.

As we now are entering a new age of transition in China, the steelworks is being moved to the coast and the vast site and surrounding peri-urban landscape will soon lie vacant. This thesis project is a strategy for how to redevelop Shougang using the ancient logic of the axis – as an organizational tool rather than simply connecting dots with infrastructure. The area along the axis is transformed into a public park through a gradual process of reconfiguring the site and refurbishing its main industrial structures.

On the ground, a new layer of vegetation is created: Phytoremediating plants which extract heavy metals and pollution from the soil, rotated every year allowing new patterns in the landscape to emerge. The plants vary in height, colour and texture, creating a complex weave for the visitor to discover. In between the islands of green are pathways that allow slow movements through the mass.

Along the axis stand towers as points of orientation and viewing platforms. From there, the visitor can observe the transforming landscape and its relation with the cosmic space – the mountains, the Yongding river and the axis connecting it all with the rest of the city.
A number of existing structures are refurbished to accommodate the park’s functions: A large hall is transformed into a greenhouse becoming a multistory food production facility; A gas holder is opened up to become a space for food market, where the local community can meet and thrive on its new organic produce; The neighboring village is developed by allowing new residents to lease land and implementing building codes for controlled construction. Finally, the dried riverbed is preserved and carefully redesigned as a grass/marshland, a space left to nature to procure itself in its own pace.

Reclaiming The Shoreline: Redefining Indiana’s Lake Michigan Coast

Project: Reclaiming the Shoreline:  Redefining Indiana’s Lake Michigan Coast
Location: Michigan City, IN
Designer: Dane Carlson 
Year: 2011
Program: Ball State University, Undergraduate

Project Description: The NIPSCO coal generating station in Michigan City, Indiana is one of a series of industrial complexes which have dominated the shoreline of Lake Michigan for decades, bringing with them pollution of ground and water and crippled shorelines. This design solution utilizes the framework of industrial infrastructure to return the site to ecological and community function; as ecological processes develop through a series of phases, human inhabitation brings the site to life.

Program: The program consists of three primary components: ecological development, creation of a public realm and spatial network, and community development. Rather than creating the site as a destination, the program intends to extend all surrounding elements directly into the site design.

Ecology: Reestablishment of tiered dune ecosystems is the primary component of ecological restoration. The introduction of new sediment flows through littoral drift and longshore current, in addition to the creation of a semi-permeable jetty, allows for the accretion of sand along the shoreline, and this process is accelerated by the staggered formations of sheet pilings driven into the lakebed. As a new layer of dunes form here, landward sand becomes stabilized by pioneer vegetation, allowing it to host new and varied plant communities.

Four intradunal wetlands, also known as pannes, and one coastal wetland replace the series of ash settling ponds along the shoreline. The remaining layer of sheet piling, together with a sub-grade sheet of clay, forms a waterproof barrier leading to the accumulation of water at the bottom of each depression. The wet feet of each depression make them uniquely suitable to host rushes and sedges which form the basis of panne plant communities.

The creation of dune forests inland of the shoreline mimics the natural progression of successional dune ecologies. The ini­tial layer of dunes begins organic matter accumulation with cottonwood and dunegrass. Jack pine forest and oak savannah inhabit the layers of dune beyond this, and oak/hickory forests beyond these. Introduction of these tiers of dune evolution creates the basis for a permanently evolving, functional ecological system which mimics that of the national lakeshore to the south.

Community: Introduction of dense residential development allows the site to be a place of inhabitation as well as a destination. Located directly north of an existing neighborhood, this new community provides pedestrian connections to existing streets and al­lows residents from surrounding communities to access pedestrian circulation routes into the heart of the site. Community development lies on the site’s southern portion, maintaining the northern reaches as a place for ecological growth, ecotour­ism, and education. All homes front on open space and residents can easily access woodland canopies or recreational hotspots through aerial circulation systems. A central node makes basic services, such as daycare and grocery, within walking distance of homes.

Public Realm: The most iconic features of the generating station, in addition to most of the auxiliary structures, are adapted into public amenities. In the west, the cooling tower becomes a hotel, providing a viewing platform for the public and creating an anchor for the aerial circulation system. This system extends eastward through the community, carving a path for the creation of a green avenue defined by woodland plantings. To the east, both boiler houses host sport courts and adventure recreation due to their proximity to the creek’s waterfront. Here, an extension of the Franklin Street corridor forms the primary com­mercial and open public space on site. Access extends northward, connecting this attraction to the public beach through a series of woodland and waterside pathways open only to pedestrians.

The High Line: Section 1

Project: The High Line, Section 1
Location: New York, NY
Firm: James Corner Field Operations
Year: 2009

Project Description:  The High Line is a 1.2-mile long abandoned elevated freight rail line along the west side of lower Manhattan. This 5.9 acre stretch of open space spans twenty city blocks in between and through buildings from Gansevoort Street through the meat packing district and West Chelsea, up to 30th Street, and ending at the Hudson Rail Yards. The High Line was built in the 1930s as part of the larger West Side Improvement Project, funded by the City and State of New Yorkand the New York Central Railroad, to eliminate dangerous street-level railroad crossings. The existing substrate consists primarily of rock ballast, railroad ties, steel rails, and reinforced concrete. Over the past twenty-four years since the last train ran on the High Line in 1980, a thin layer of soil has formed in some areas and an opportunistic landscape of early successional species began to grow inspiring its current design.

The High Line is now recognized as an important and distinctive asset to the city: an urban event operating on many scales—leveraging a new way of seeing the city, connecting distinct neighborhoods, providing an important green space for the immediate neighborhoods, and modeling a new kind of urban “greening.” The re-imagination of this industrial relic was a unique opportunity, and the High Line has transformed into an exceptional public open space.

Project Team Members: Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro

Project Detailed Credits: 

Field Operations, Team Lead, Landscape Architecture / Urban Design
James Corner
Tom Jost
Lisa Switkin
Nahyun Hwang
Lara Shihab-Eldin
Sierra Bainbridge

Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Architecture
Elizabeth Diller
Ricardo Scofidio
Matthew Johnson
Charles Renfro
Gaspar Libedinsky
Hayley Eber

Piet Oudolf, Horticulture
Olafur Eliasson, Artist
L’Observatoire, Lighting Design
Buro Happold, Structural Engineering / Sustainable Engineering
Robert Sillman Associates, Structural Engineering / Historic Preservation
Philip Habib Associates, Traffic Planning
GRB, Environmental Engineering
VJ Associates, Capital and Operating Cost Estimating
ETM, Public Space Management
DVS Associates, Site Security
Applied Ecological Services, Inc., Ecology
Code Consultants,ADA/ NYC Code / Regulations
Creative Time, Public Art Programming
Control Point, Site Surveyor

Image Captions and Credits: Images courtesy of Jim Corner Field Operations.

1. Gansevoort End, Plaza, and Stairs, Gansevoort and Washington Streets
2. The Tenth Avenue Square, from street level, with windows onto Tenth Avenue
3. Gansevoort Woodland at Night, Aerial View from Gansevoort Street to West 13th Street, looking South
4. Gansevoort Plaza and Stair, Gansevoort Street and Washington Street, looking North
5. Gansevoort Woodland, Gansevoort Street to Little West 12th Street, looking South
6. Washington Grasslands, between Little West 12th Street and West 13th Street, looking South
7. Sundeck Water Feature and Preserve, between West 14th Street and West 15th Street, looking South
8. The Sundeck, one of the High Line’s most popular gathering spots, between 14th and 15th Streets
9. Northern Spur Preserve, between West 16th Street and West 17th Street, looking South towards the Statue of Liberty
10. Chelsea Grasslands, between West 19th Street and West 20th Street, looking North
11. Sundeck Water Feature and Preserve, between West 14th Street and West 15th Street, looking South
12. Washington Grasslands, aerial view of the High Line over Little West 12th Street

Brooklyn Bridge Park

Project: Brooklyn Bridge Park
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Firm: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.
Year: 2010 – Piers 1, Pier 6;
2012—Pier 5;
2013—Pier 2, Pier 3/4 Uplands.
Firm website:

Project Description: Currently under construction, Brooklyn Bridge Park will eventually encompass approximately eighty-five acres and 1.3 miles of waterfront. The park’s goals are both ambitious and straightforward: to preserve the dramatic experience and monumental character of the industrial waterfront while reintroducing self-sustaining ecosystems to the site and investing it with new social and recreational possibilities.

MVVA took a broad mandate of sustainability and applied it across a range of spheres—ecological, structural, cultural, and economic. Sociological diversity, programmatic flexibility, and a robust post-industrial nature are threaded together to create a park that can function both as a metropolitan park on the scale of Olmsted’s landscape infrastructures and as a collection of smaller, nested neighborhood parks.

Brooklyn Bridge Park’s design took on a site with limited access points, a narrow overall width, extreme noise pollution from the adjacent elevated highway, a complex structural waterline condition, and a goal of capturing and recycling stormwater. Excess stormwater is collected from buildings, paved areas, lawns, and planting areas, conveyed into underground tanks, and then cycled and cleansed through rain gardens, supporting a lush swath of rain garden plantings. This runoff collection system, in conjunction with the increased use of water-absorbing lawn and planted areas, dramatically curtails the discharge of stormwater runoff into city systems and lowers the likelihood of combined sewer overflow.

Pier One and Pier Six function as “urban junctions,” entrances to the park that will attract families and individuals on a daily and year-round basis with programs such as playgrounds, picnic tables, benches, areas of accessible natural plantings, a dog run with water, and park concession buildings with restrooms. This first phase of Brooklyn Bridge Park provides vital new social spaces and urban programs while bookending the site and laying the foundation for a continuous waterfront park to grow in between. The salt marsh landscape on Pier 6, sports fields and courts on Piers 2 and 5, a community lawn space on Pier 3, a beach, and other park amenities will come with future phases of park construction.

Project Websites: Brooklyn Bridge Park NYC 
An interview with Matthew Urbanski (Places Journal) 

Project Team: MVVA, Team Lead, Landscape Architecture / Urban Design
AECOM, Marine & Site Infrastructure
Ysrael A. Seinuk, P.C., Structural Engineering
Nitsch Engineering, Stormwater Reuse Consultant
Maryann Thompson Architect, Architecture for Pier 2 and Warming Hut
Richmond So Engineers , Pier 2 Park Building & Warming Hut Structural Engineering
Domingo Gonzales Associates , Lighting Design
Open , Graphic Design
Pine & Swallow Associates , Soil Science
R.J. Van Seters Company , Water Feature Consultant
Paulus, Sokolowski and Sartor, Park Buildings Architect & MEP

Palmisano Park

Project: Henry Palmisano (Stearns Quarry) Park
Location: Chicago, IL
Firm: Site Design Group, Ltd.
Year: 2009
Firm website:

Project Description: Henry Palmisano Park holds in its history an evolution of uses and values. Long operated as a quarry from 1830 through 1969, the site later became a landfill for the City of Chicago’s construction waste. Located in the neighborhood of Bridgeport, it is now a twenty-seven-acre environmental park designed to engage residents and support native eco-systems. As a joint project involving three Chicago agencies, the park exemplifies the city’s commitment to sustainability by the reuse of a post-industrial site as a place for exploration and discovery of natural systems.

Palmisano Park provides several native ecosystems, including prairie plant communities, simulated wetlands, and a large two-acre pond. These native ecosystems with bird and fish habitats have become a popular destination for thousands of Chicagoans. Tours and even overnight campouts are conducted by the city, universities, and organizations and draws the interest of sustainability activists throughout the United States. All stormwater on site, including from the massive hill—dubbed “Mount Bridgeport” by locals—is directed toward the pond and wetlands instead of the city’s sewers. The water flows through tiered educational wetlands that connect the community with nature and allows children and adults alike to walk amidst native plantings.

Exposed quarry walls, recycled materials, reclaimed limestone boulders, concrete outcropping, and remnants of abandoned infrastructure are as much a part of the park experience as the natural systems the site supports. With unusual terrain for the Chicago area, the central mound reaches a height of almost forty feet where visitors can view an impressive view of the Chicago skyline among native grasses and flora. This combination of experiences—natural, industrial, urban, residential—anchors the surrounding community to this new destination park, providing a local identity of urban sustainability.

Project Team Members:
Client/Owner: Chicago Park District
Photography Credit: Ron Gordon Photography and Site Design Group, Ltd.
Site Design Group Ltd. – Architect of Record, Landscape Architecture and Project Management
Ernest C. Wong, Principal-in-Charge; Michelle M. Inouye, Project Manager and Designer; Hana Ishikawa, Associate Project Manager;
Weston Solutions, Inc. – Civil and Environmental Engineering
Applied Ecological Systems, Inc. – Wetland Engineering
Kowalenko & Bilotti, Inc. – Environmental Engineering
Continental Associates – Electrical Engineering
Gagarin Farruggia Gibisch Reis, Inc. – Structural Engineering
Clauss Brothers, Inc. – General Contractor
Midwest Fence Corporation – Metalwork

[Dis]assemble Detroit

Project: [Dis]assemble Detroit
Location: Detroit, MI
Designers: Alamira Noor, Bani Hashim
Year: 2011
Program: Harvard University Graduate School of Design
Faculty Advisors: Toni Griffin, Andrea Hansen

Project description: It goes without saying that unprecedented levels of vacancy have taken a social and economic toll on Detroit. However, the proliferation of unmaintained vacant lots also has potentially transformative repercussions in the form of emergent landscapes that can be collectively harnessed into a new open space system to improve Detroit’s ecological performance and its communities.But first, a change in perception and ideals is required. We must let go of what we know as Detroit, unthink it, interrupt it, and reexamine the pieces to build a better, healthier city. [Dis]assemble Detroit examines Detroit’s ecological health and suggests a series of interventions aimed at improving it. These interventions are tied together by the theme of disassembly: symbolically, through efforts to change the perception of traditional urbanism, but also procedurally, through the identification of sites and intervention typologies as the outcome of a metaphorical “puzzle game” of city. In Detroit today, parcels are scattered into tiny, unusable pieces. In order to operate systemically and connect individual parcels into an ecological network, parcels must be filtered for their potential. The puzzle game sets the tone for reshaping the city by re-sorting vacant parcels independently of their location so they can be evaluated by metrics of parcel size, shape, land use or vacancy.

[Dis]assemble Detroit’s methodology classifies vacant land based on its general characteristics, geographical condition, and the severity of its situation. Based on the resultant classification, the land is assigned one or more of four functions: 1) stormwater mitigation, 2) soil remediation, 3) recreation, or 4) urban development. These functions are implemented across two geographies. The first geography is a series of new performative green bands across Detroit that aid in stormwater mitigation and soil remediation. The second geography consists of three consolidated development areas that are centered around existing healthy cores, where vacant parcels are incentivized for investment.

The Culture Now Project: Productive Landscapes

Project: The Culture Now Project: Productive Landscapes
Location: Flint, MI
Designer: Layton Petersen
Year: 2011
Program: University of California, Los Angeles
Faculty Advisors: Thom Mayne, Karen Lohrmann

Project Description: Converting blight into a city wide productive landscape.

The city has the highest crime rate in the United States. It has lost half of its population since 1960. The automotive manufacturing industry that once supported the city is all but gone. The city has six police officers for every 100,000 people. One-third of the city has been abandoned. However, Flint has a number of large foundations with over five billion dollars in combined assets committed to helping the local population. It has major educational institutions. It has an excess of vacant urban land. It has well-connected highway and rail infrastructure. It is in the center of Michigan, the second most agriculturally diverse state in the nation, with an agro-industry that generates sixty billion dollars for the state economy. Flint’s social, economic, and cultural assets lie in its agricultural potential and the recycling of post-industrial wasteland into productive landscapes.

The territory Flint occupies is too large, with too little population to fill it. The city is transforming into a town, but the urban spaces opened up by de-population have the potential to be the most valuable. Flint’s new empty spaces range in size from quarter-acre suburban lots to the two hundred acre Buick City automotive manufacturing site, creating a complex fabric of urban vacancy. The Genesee County Land Bank, one of the first in the nation, manages over ten thousand foreclosed homes and vacant lots around Flint, tearing down empty houses and selling under-utilized lots for private and public use at a fraction of their original cost.

Flint’s new agricultural economy is developed over three distinct phases: Ecological Remediation, Agricultural Education, and Agricultural Production. Phase one, Remediation, uses modified Poplar trees to clean polluted soil. Phase two, Education, trains a qualified agricultural workforce, and phase three, Production, transforms Flint’s surplus of space into an economic asset by developing micro- and macro-scaled agriculture on Flint’s empty land.

Flint’s value lies at the regional scale. Its new Productive Landscapes can feed over five million people, easily meeting the food demand of central Michigan while developing local economies of production and distribution.

Project Background: This project is one of eight proposals presented under the 2010-2011 UCLA MArch II Suprastudio. From August 2010 to June 2011, Thom Mayne, Design Director of Morphosis, Karen Lohrmann, and a group of advisors have been leading fourteen post graduate architecture and urban design graduate students in an inquiry about the dynamics of culture now. The project is going forward next year to include thirteen other universities with the hope of creating an extensive discussion about contemporary culture and the nature of American cities. Additional work and information is available for download on the suprastudio website.

Image Captions:
Image 1: City Analysis: Analysis of the geography, city image, cultural climate, and local leadership forms a strange network of possibilities.

Image 2: Vacancy Types: Flint has an abundance of vacant land categorized as park, residential, and industrial properties.
Image 3: Filling the void: Each vacancy type is associated with an appropriate type of agricultural production. City parks become dense forest, residential properties become low-yield urban gardens, and industrial lots become high-yield green houses.
Image 4: Forests, Farms, Greenhouses: The three types of agriculture transform the image of Flint.
Image 5: 21st Century Arcadia: Void spaces mapped throughout Flint fill with agriculture.
Image 6: Residential production: A house converted into a productive field.
Image 7: Regional production: Flint’s vacancy becomes a productive food hub capable of feeding neighboring cities within the region.