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Olmsted Scholar Feature: Illuminating the Intangible - Projects in Experimentation and Risk-taking

By Tera Hatfield, 2012 National Olmsted Scholar Finalist

While preparing to apply to graduate school, I dog-eared well-worn works by Raymond Carver, T. S. Eliot, John McPhee, John Cage and Robert Smithson. Carver and McPhee illuminated intersections between obscure processes and marginalized places. Eliot, Cage, and Smithson introduced me to the poetics of entropy and the possibility of directed, open-ended designs that might serve as catalysts for future change. Much like the landscape architect, such artists grapple with communicating intangible processes and experiences, exploring new configurations and forms derived from underutilized and unseen conditions in language and the environment.

I believe the landscape is both a place of experimentation and risk-taking. Since being recognized as a National Olmsted Scholar Finalist, I’ve designed two projects that provided the opportunity for such experimentation. The projects book-ended my final year of graduate school, and fell on disparate sides of the design spectrum. (“Decoding the Tiber” is a highly conceptual competition entry, while the “Supershed” is a fully constructed dwelling.) However, both strive to visualize the unimagined, to interpret ecological and social changes via transformative landscape design.

hatfield01Last fall, I was the recipient of a fellowship to study the Tiber River. The Tiber, caged by 20-ft travertine embankments, is rejected as a social space by most Romans. My work was based on a competition to design a museum, traditionally a static entity, dedicated to the river, a system that is constantly in flux. The design specifically responds to a significant lack of environmental data on the Tiber and its heavily bounded site conditions. “Decoding the Tiber” situates post-industrial sites as data collection and decoding points, as well as newly productive space.

An urban river research center decodes the uncertain ecologies of the Tiber — a testing space for researchers to connect in the lab and on the water to provocatively engage the river and its urban narrative. This decoding is illustrated in designed stormwater data pools, their radical colors linked to water quality at other testing sites along the Tiber, changing temporally based on the health of the river. Opportunities for active physical exploration of the Tiber by Romans is a ways off; therefore, the design presents a digital iPhone application entitled “Tiber Decoder Ring” in which the dots and data between upstream and downstream are connected digitally (forecasts and real-time feeds). Users also have the ability to map their own intersections and investigations of the Tiber, graphically connecting users to their contextual surroundings.

This past spring, I participated in the award-winning Howard S. Wright Neighborhood Design/Build Studio taught by Professor Steve Badanes. The NBD team designed and built two tool sheds, a solar greenhouse and a community classroom space, that served the varied needs of the University of Washington Farm, Seattle Youth Garden Works and the Hardy Plant Society of Seattle. The project is located on the perimeter of the Union Bay Natural Area, a 74-acre center (and former county dump) dedicated to the study of urban agriculture, ecological restoration and sustainability.

hatfield02After an initial client meeting and feedback period, the integrated design process unfolded quickly with the decision to combine the varied client programs into a unified and cohesive structure in order to preserve space for outdoor education and habitat. This decision, in conjunction with a high degree of responsiveness to site conditions, became the foundation for the studio’s design strategy. With the nickname “Supershed,” the combined structure became the NBD studio’s most unique project to date, with a total area of 459 sf despite a budget of just under $11,000.

The design strategy utilizes a technically ambitious articulated king post truss system (and modular wall panels) that serve to address the client’s security and program needs while maximizing important site opportunities regarding light/sun exposure (solar greenhouse and daylit tool sheds), natural ventilation, rain (roof-water capture devices) and southern views of restored wetlands and Union Bay (classroom). All of the structure’s cladding is either salvaged from on-site materials (e.g., doors constructed from used concrete forms, twig fence organic material sourced from discarded university ground cuttings) or locally-sourced and donated, reclaimed cedar (for the classroom). The 12-week project was recently nominated for an AIA Student Award.

This spring, Tera Hatfield finished a clerkship with Gustafson Guthrie Nichol and received her Masters Degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Washington. Her collaborative capstone project, focusing on entropic systems and mapping indeterminacy, was selected for the International Exhibition at the European Biennial of Landscape Architecture in Barcelona in September 2012. Upon completing a summer internship at ADX Portland as a fabrication assistant, Tera moved to Boston where she intends to find a position with a local design studio.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Landscape-Oriented Zoning for Rosario, Argentina

By Fadi Masoud, 2012 National Olmsted Scholar Finalist

masoud03The subdivision and transformation of agricultural lands to suburban decentralized developments is a symptomatic condition of the territorial edge of cities worldwide. By appropriating a micro-watershed landscape approach to the creation of subdivisions at the peripheral edges of cities, the hydrodynamic agrarian condition is envisioned to become the driver for a novel, resilient, and flexible landscape-oriented type of zoning and land use provision.

Recognizing the ineffectiveness of dated jurisdictional and normative planning tools in dealing with contemporary urbanization concerns, “landscape-oriented zoning” represents an alternative model for suburban developments on greenfields. With the micro-watershed as the unit of subdivision, landscape-oriented zoning promotes integrated and responsive built-form typologies as well as decentralized infrastructure on operative open space provisions.

As part of an option studio at Harvard Univeristy’s Graduate School of Design, I collaborated with Mariusz Klemens on a project to deal with the territorial front and agrarian front of the City of Rosario in Argentina. Bracketed by two small rivers marking the north and south limits of the city, the site for this project has been defined by the Urban Plan Rosario 2007-2017 as the New Strategic Territorial Front. The flatness of the Argentine Pampas, much like many greenfield zones in any expanding city, is subject to dated artificial and jurisdictional land use separation, zoning, and subdivision. This practice of parcelization of land for the building of new suburban subdivisions does not take into account the extreme hydrodynamics of these seemingly flat agricultural lands.

Our project uses the site’s existing micro-watersheds as a land subdivision mechanism and planning tool for these types of suburban fringes. Analysis showed that the current regional and local infrastructure does not respond to any of the existing environmental and social conditions. Its centralized configuration provides ineffective water and waste management, especially in high depravation zones. To address this, the project uses the natural drainage patterns to clearly demarcate micro-watersheds that run along and through the site. Rather than following a normative planning approach to land subdivision and land use, the project appropriated these flow lines as potential units for a landscape-driven zoning and parcelization regime.

masoud01

Since the site is currently not serviced by the centralized waste and water municipal network, the project proposed a new decentralized configuration of infrastructure by utilizing existing topographic and hydrologic conditions to allow for a new typology of fully adaptive and flexible built form and open space system.

masoud02Super-imposing this new micro-watershed-driven regime on top of a suitability zoning plan led to a type of a symbiotic land use zoning that protected the most arable land from development, and allowed for the most floodable areas to become points of collection and treatment. The integrated rapport between new land subdivision mechanisms, suitability land use designations, a decentralized wastewater infrastructure, and responsive and adaptable built form typologies creates the ingredients for novel forms and patterns of urbanization on the suburban edge.

Fadi Masoud was appointed as a Visiting Fellow (2012-13) at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design where he just completed his Post-Professional MLAII degee. Fadi will continue his design and research work on the cross-section of landscape and planning, especially in places of extreme hydrological regimes and transboundary conditions.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Adaptation and Renewal in the Brazilian Drylands

By Jack Ohly, 2012 National Olmsted Scholar

Between 1999 and 2006, I spent a cumulative two years with a small collective of young farmers in the drylands of Northeastern Brazil. We worked to adapt models of sustainable agriculture to a semi-arid climate. While developing resilient agro-forestry systems to counter 50 years of devastating monoculture and deforestation, we came to realize how the same transformations that had degraded the environment had also eroded the region’s vibrant and deep-rooted culture.

ohly01Reaching out to community leaders, farmers, envi- ronmentalists, musicians and school teachers, we embarked on a broad, collaborative effort to revitalize cultural practices, organizing inter-generational workshops, seminars, work parties and an annual festival of traditional music that continues to this day. Raising appreciation of the endangered native scrub forest, demonstrating new rain harvesting systems and facilitating older singers teaching their songs to a new generation all contributed to a positive feedback loop in which we engaged the past to open people to new ideas and possibilities.

I was drawn to landscape architecture for its potential to address these kinds of intersections in a wide spectrum of contexts, integrating social needs, ecology and cultural dynamics into robust systems. At this time of great environmental and cultural loss, landscape architecture is poised to take a leading role in creating new ground, physical and imaginative, on which our natural and cultural heritage will thrive. While most of my student work focused on urban and post-industrial contexts, I see enormous potential in flexible, low-cost strategies that can help rural communities grow through profound and potentially destructive shifts in climate, culture and identity.

As the 2012 National Olmsted Scholar, I will return to Irece, Brazil to develop a set of regionally appropriate models for more ecologically and culturally vibrant public space. These models will be grounded in a survey study of dryland design techniques, regional conditions and history. They will emerge in dialogue with communities and local institutions, addressing the need for versatile social platforms, productive land and healthy, self-sustaining forest. Based on community interest , I hope to develop one or more pilot projects that explore and demonstrate how these potential uses might be layered together in mutually reinforcing ways.

I leave for Bahia tomorrow, August 7, to reconnect with old friends, initiate conversations, document conditions and seek out collaborators. It is my hope that the work will evolve over years, fostering imagination and agency, enriching civic life and contributing to a broader set of strategies for an increasingly culturally-homogenized and water-strained planet.

Jack Ohly just graduated from the University of Pennsylvania 3 year MLA program, where he received the Faculty Medal. He will begin work at Michael Van Valkenburgh’s office in Brooklyn later this month.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: The Los Angeles Riverscape - An Urban Estuary

By Tina Chee, 2012 National Olmsted Scholar Finalist

Urban Rivers. With only concentrated periods of rainfall during limited times of the year in cities such as Los Angeles, how might we reconceive of and reutilize our now concrete and channelized urban rivers with multiplicity as we reconsider issues of lack of open green space and connectivity within post-industrial cities while still providing essential services and responding to environmental and ecological systems? This is the challenge that we must respond to.

This past spring, my studio examined the relationship between landscape and infrastructure, and the potential to transform single-purposed infrastructure into part recreational parkscape, part infrastructural urbanism, part ecological machine, and part water management and flood mitigation engineering. This design proposal seeks to express the state of landscape as a multi-purposed and multi-faceted experiential and infrastructural network; a landscape that creates urban connectivity, that is spatially experiential, that restores our connection to nature in the city, and that creates a multitude of habitat types while serving functional requirements for essential services such as flood mitigation, temporal water detention, and the treatment of urban runoff.

The Los Angeles River is re-envisioned as an urban estuary — the confluence of people and natural systems into a cohesive network that unites neighborhoods and ultimately the entire city. Our connection to nature is re-established by making access to this hidden resource as permeable as feasible, and by creating a network of meandering experiential pathways within the river itself. Neighborhood pocket parks reclaim adjacent vacant parcels along the existing bike path and further integrate the river with its existing fabric. The existing concrete banks are replaced with tiered upper and lower park zones, which create intimate opportunities to inhabit and engage the river edge as well as public spaces to gather along the river bank with protected troughs for vegetation.

chee01-riverviewA variety of natural habitats are created for land and aquatic life through a cluster of islands and pools of varying elevations and depths that treat water as the living organism above, beneath, and within its surface matter. The islands are part concrete, part porous concrete, part custom concrete block revetement system and serve multiple functions. They direct water into separate channels to create habitat, create opportunities for active and passive recreation, and assist in the mitigation of flood waters. The upper portions are made of open-celled concrete blocks of various sized apertures, which allow vegetation to nest in and can receive rising flood water, temporarily detaining the additional water until the flood water level subsides. The bottom portions are made of porous concrete, and through gravity, the detained water is slowly released to support the surrounding aquatic habitat and serve as additional water supply for the various planted ecotones. Through the development of a three channel system, rapid, meandering, and placid water velocities further encourage various habitat environments. The three channel system also allows for a variable flood plain, which increases the effective channel width as needed.

chee02-diagramThe configuration and treat- ment of urban edges are conceived of as curvilinear and convoluted compressed zones which foster habitat diversity in plant and wildlife. Ecological processes are incorporated to treat urban stormwater runoff through a series of phytoremediation filtration terraces, basins, and runnels. Natural phenomena such as erosion, scouring, and sand deposition are explored as dynamic processes which inform the morphology of a new channel configuration.

The islands, pools, and barrier reefs serve as sculptural armatures which engage these powerful processes and provide the framework that allows nature to re-establish, take hold, and self evolve in this harsh urban environment while assisting in the redirection and mediation of flood waters during storms. Sand and sediment deposition are encouraged as means of natural succession to this man-made intervention. The design itself evolves beyond its initial framework through the forces of nature. 

Methodology
We took a very unique approach to study natural phenomena of water flow, scouring, and sand deposition. These natural processes were physically explored using a 1”=30’ physical model with 2X vertical distortion. Design models were CNC milled and tested with running water at various water flows with ground walnut shells to simulate the effects of water velocity, water scouring, and sand deposition. Colored dye was used to highlight the actual water effects and flow directions. Kayaking speeds were taken as a measure of water velocity. Water depth measurements were taken at various points at the various water velocities. The results of the water tests were recorded, analyzed, and used to further inform the design.

chee03-model

Tina Chee is a MLA candidate at the University of Southern California and will graduate in May 2013. This project was created as part of instructor Alex Robinson’s spring semester studio. This summer, Tina participated in the SWA internship program which focused on the definition and creation of an Eco District in San Francisco. She is currently working on her thesis which will explore strategies that operate at the juncture of landscape, urbanism, architecture, infrastructure, and social programming for re-envisioning the nature of Los Angeles.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: A Landscape Architect in Coal Country

By Marin Braco, 2012 National Olmsted Scholar Finalist 

As an undergraduate, I studied art history where I became interested in the field of environmental art. While in school, I had no idea that this interest would land me a job that would involve understanding the geologic formation of coal, learning how to read a map of 600 feet of abandoned mines, and knowing terms like ‘culm’ and the difference between anthracite and bituminous. I was serving as an AmeriCorps volunteer working on a coal mine reclamation project with environmental artist Patricia Johanson in Scranton, Pennsylvania. It was during this experience that I decided that my interests lay beyond the confines of museum walls, and soon after the completion of my term, I applied to graduate school for landscape architecture.

Three years later, I returned to the same branch of AmeriCorps, the Appalachian Coal Country Watershed Team (ACCWT), for my capstone project. Living and working directly with a community in northeastern Ohio, I developed a master plan which aims to convert an abandoned iron works into a multi-functioning park. At the heart of this 35-acre site are 4 rows of beehive coke ovens, 205 ovens in total, one of the largest installations of its kind in the United States.

braco01-700wCherry Valley Coke Ovens and the Coke Oven Advisory Commission.

During the summer of 2011, I worked in Leetonia, Ohio doing research, site inventory, meeting with community members and professionals, and drawing as a way to document and synthesize the information I gathered. I was able to see the site through a number of lenses, meeting with hydrologists, engineers, geographers, urban foresters, and local historians. One day I walked around the site with an engineer who was able to zoom in on structural details of the site’s infrastructure. The very next day, I went on a two-hour drive with a geography professor, giving me a ‘regional context tour’. As we drove along the steel corridor of Youngstown, he pointed out abandoned mills and lakes that were created in order to supply water for steel-making processes. I also heard memories and stories from community members. Oral history reports completed in the early 1980s were essential to understanding the site from the viewpoint of the people that worked there. I held community meetings throughout the process to share the information I was gathering and to receive input.

Taking inspiration from the work and process of Johanson, my approach to this master plan is founded in placed-based design, drawing on the character of the site and the community that surrounds it. The design seeks to make both historical and ecological processes visible. Drainage across the site will address issues of contamination from both stormwater and acid mine drainage. Ecological management will maintain different stages of succession. Historic processes tell narratives relevant on a national, regional, and also very local level — from the American story of immigration, to the regional importance of the iron and steel industry and the strong link between Cherry Valley Coke Ovens and the formation of this town. This project aims to weave into the fabric of the community, allowing small interventions to unfold over time, with continued support from the advisory commission, AmeriCorps volunteers, local universities, and professionals. In doing so, this project has the potential to be a catalyst for the revitalization of the downtown.

braco03-700wThe master plan's ecological strategy emphasizes the evolution of ecological systems that have taken over the site since industry left. Similarly, the architectural strategy aims to make visible the element of time by preserving the ovens in varying degrees of restoration and decay.

I am not the first landscape architect to volunteer with the ACCWT, and I certainly hope I am not the last. By working with AmeriCorps, our skills can extend to communities that may not otherwise have access to such services. At the same time, it gives young designers a chance to develop and grow as they gain experience doing meaningful work. I am fully aware that I may never have the chance to know a site, its history and community so intimately ever again, and am very grateful for such an opportunity.

Marin recently graduated with a Master of Landscape Architecture from State University of New York - College of Environmental Science and Forestry. If you are interested in learning more about opportunities for landscape architects in the Appalachian Coal Country Watershed Team, you can contact her at mbbraco@gmail.com or vistit the ACCWT website: www.coalcountryteam.org.