News & Events

LAF News

Stay up to date on LAF!

Subscribe to RSS Feed

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Delhi in 3 Days

by Lauren Hackney, 2010 National Olmsted Scholar Finalist

In mid-November, I traveled to Delhi, India with UVA professor Peter Waldman to attend a U21-sponsored conference. U21 is an international network of 23 universities who engage in research collaborations, together and with cities and environments around the world, that facilitate several ongoing projects, including the Water Futures for Sustainable Cities Project. Our focus was Theme 2, restoration/rehabilitation of urban river corridors – in this case, the Yamuna River, a tributary of the Ganges. The conference brought together geomorphologists, statisticians, environmental scientists, and students at Delhi University to study the Yamuna through hydrological, quantitative, and qualitative and cultural lenses. As designers, Professor Waldman and I were to address the role of architecture and landscape architecture as agents and products of urbanization, and the opportunity of our disciplines to negotiate the intersection of urbanization processes with ecological and geological processes. For our 72 hours in India, the most succinct observation I have is: India is a place of many, many contrasts.

After arriving in Delhi to a hazy sky and a pre-deplaning dousing of mosquito repellent (sprayed by flight attendants throughout the plane!), Delhi University professors spoke to us about the large spatial spread of this conference, about the issues wrapped up in the concept of Water Futures – food security, energy, public health, biodiversity – and about the feedback mechanism between urbanization and geological processes. The vocabulary resonated between landscape architecture/architecture and the other disciplines in attendance: ideas of geomorphological connectivity operating on a range of temporal and spatial scales; cultural values of water with hygiene and ecosystem health implications; anthropogenic and socioeconomic factors relative to water systems; mediated and abstract quantification of material exchange across river regions. Abstraction felt especially palpable, as I felt entirely unprepared to make sense of an urban condition fluctuating more rapidly than almost any other in the world.

06-lhackneydelhi01Delhi's water supply is extracted from groundwater in this agricultural landscape north of the city, often submerged during flood season.06-lhackneydelhi02The Wazirabad barrage is located at the confluence of two major stormwater drains in northern Delhi.

Our second day took us to two barrages along the Yamuna and to the extraction area for Delhi’s water supply. Our first stop was Wazirabad, the convergence of two stormwater drains flowing into the Yamuna. Nearly invisible from street level at this time of year in northern Delhi, the water’s presence is mostly manifest through smell: strongly sulfuric and overwhelming. Driving further north to Delhi’s water source, a traffic jam (pretty common, we discovered) re-routed our vans through a village more dense than anything I’ve seen – a matrix of mostly dilapidated structures, dirt roads wide enough for one car and two people, open sewers.

06-lhackneydelhi03The ISBT barrage is located in the center of Delhi; this floodplain is submerged up to 8' during flood season.

A Delhi University professor involved in the water supply engineering explained that 35 million gallons per day are extracted from groundwater (replenished during the flood season), which meets only about 20% of the demand; of this, 30% is lost to leakage and pilferage in supply infrastructure. Beyond structural problems, political negotiation is a major factor, regarding drawdown of regional river levels and proposed local regulation of wells, not politically viable until the city guarantees widespread water infrastructure; contamination of local aquifers is also problematic, though limited in scope, and high arsenic concentrations in central Delhi contaminate urban agricultural plots.

Seeing the expansive floodplain in the dry season and imagining its inundation by 8’ of water during flood season, learning more about ongoing research and supply/demand issues, and hearing familiar phrases – shifting floodplains, space for the river – described by scientists and statisticians in their conception of the river’s adaptation, I saw many opportunities for expanded, productive collaborations between these disciplines and design disciplines that I had not anticipated. For me, this day raised the most pressing questions of the trip.  In a place of extreme contrast between wealth and poverty, intermittent infrastructure, and rapid flux of population and density, how might ‘sustainable city’ be defined? Is there a tipping point beyond which sustenance and growth of a city is no longer possible, and what is it? And, as designers, how can we define our role through these questions?

On our third day, one of Professor Waldman’s former students showed us some of the lovelier places in Delhi — Humayun’s tomb, the Red Fort, Lodi Gardens, and the Lodi Estate – and described his burgeoning architecture practice and the differences in building culture between the U.S. and India, where craft traditions are strong and construction and material practices are highly place-specific. One of our conference colleagues observed how people occupy “every square meter of space” – and it was exciting to imagine the potential for incremental and spontaneous landscapes, both permanent and seasonal – adaptation of underpasses, temporary markets and structures in the dry riverbed, interventions in the space of the streets. The intensity of the street felt like a spatial metaphor for the intensity of this trip: navigating the superimposition and weaving of many speeds and modes of moving; cars, rickshaws, trucks, bicycles, motorbikes, walkers, all moving in a self-organizing, if chaotic, choreography –embodied the vast spectrum of experiences and questions we collected over the course of only 72 hours.

The outcome of the U21 conference is a position paper outlining a hypothesis for collaborative research using the Yamuna River + Delhi region as a case study for urban stream adaptation. For my part, I am energized by what we learned, by the discussion with local experts and international researchers, and by the inclusion of design in the conversation. Since the visit, I’ve been torn between a sense of powerlessness (does anything I’ve learned so far apply to densities, scarcities, and fluctuations like those that comprise Delhi?) and a sense of excitement about the emerging role of landscape architecture in imagining futures both for megacities and for shrinking cities.

Lauren Hackney is a Masters candidate in Landscape Architecture and Architecture at the University of Virginia. Her current thesis work is studying issues of public health and energy in shrinking cities,  questioning how the regeneration of industrial sites in these communities reframes and broadens the practice of landscape architecture. She will graduate in May 2011.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Upcoming Research on Infrastructural Regionalism

by Emily Vogler, 2010 National Olmsted Scholar

21st century America operates in a globalized world where interbasin water transfers, mass human migration, international trade, and invasive species create complex relationships between distant geographies. Increasingly, designers are asked to develop proposals that respond to this global context while acting locally to incorporate current approaches to sustainability and design. The region is increasingly important as an intermediate territory that bridges the global and the local scale and serves as a platform from which to address infrastructural networks that are the organizing frameworks for our cities and rural areas.

As the 2010 National Olmsted Scholar, I will conduct research on infrastructural regionalism. I will use the existing networks of Water, Energy, Industry, Transportation, Culture, and Ecology as starting points from which to investigate five city-regions across the United States. Each of these networks links urban, regional, and global issues and is key to making our cities productive ecosystems nested within a sustainable regional framework. In addition, these networks can provide a foundation for the development of a metric that evaluates sustainability at the regional and site scale. This metric should be both quantitative and qualitative; both experimental and theoretical; and should include aesthetics and humanity.

I will document each region through the plotting of existing networks and flows, photographs, interactive community mapping projects, and transects that originate from points of maximum population density and extend to the rural surroundings. Each regional investigation will culminate in a mobile exhibition that will engage the public in a dialogue on the topic of  “the region” and propose a design agenda that bridges the regional and local scales.

Stay tuned to this blog series for updates on my research, including the regions I have chosen to investigate.

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in May with a Masters in Landscape Architecture, Emily began working with Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates in New York City. She is currently working on the ARC Competition to design a wildlife overpass structure in Vail, Colorado. 

Two New Blog Features Coming Soon

Starting in mid-October, the LAF Blog will include two new regular features. 

The first highlights our 2010 Olmsted Scholars and the exciting things that these young leaders are doing. Every Monday, our blog will feature a guest post from an Olmsted Scholar discussing his/her research and activities. This month we’ll hear about National Olmsted Scholar Emily Vogler’s research on infrastructural regionalism, Lauren Lesch’s experience with the Presidential Management Fellows Program, and Finalist Amanda Jeter’s efforts as founder and editor of Root, an annual publication for landscape architecture students and professionals.

The second regular blog feature will highlight innovative research and initiatives related to landscape performance and quantifying the benefits of landscape. We’ll start with a guest post from Texas A&M Adjunct Professor Dennis Jerke, who is leading a new multi-disciplinary Land Development class, in which teams of students visit projects and gather data to assess social/cultural, economic, environmental, and visual value. We hope to make this a monthly or bimonthly feature, so if you know of other initiatives that are advancing our knowledge related to landscape performance or would like to contribute a post, please let us know.

Olmsted Scholar Events in Washington, DC

2010olmstedscholarsThe 2010 Olmsted Scholars at the LAF Annual Benefit.

Twenty of this year’s 38 Olmsted Scholars attended a series of LAF events in Washington, DC Sept 10-12. The highlight was the LAF Annual Benefit, where the Olmsted Scholars were recognized during a special ceremony. Outgoing LAF Board President Chip Crawford presented certificates to each scholar and said the experience  was completely energizing. “It was really moving to be in a position to recognize some of the brightest people entering into our profession.”

LAF staff, Board Members, and program sponsors had the opportunity to meet and interact with the Olmsted Scholars beforehand during a special luncheon. “I was delighted to finally meet this impressive group,” remarked LAF Executive Director Barbara Deutsch. “The Olmsted Scholars are truly inspiring; they will get a lot done — wherever they go!”

Following the luncheon, the scholars participated in a strategy session and shared their thoughts on how to further build the community of Olmsted Scholars, who now number 90 with the program in its third year.

Many of the Olmsted Scholars were also onhand at LAF’s booth in the ASLA Expo Hall. They helped promote LAF programs, and most braved the camera to be filmed for our Conversations with Leaders in Landscape series. We hope to use the footage to produce a video on the 2010 Olmsted Scholars, to be released later this fall.

Additional photos from the Benefit (now posted) and other Olmsted Scholar events (coming soon) can be found on LAF’s Flickr Photostream.

 

LAF Events at the ASLA Annual Meeting

This year, LAF has a number of activities planned to increase awareness about our programs and their impact. Our 25th Annual Benefit atop the NEWSEUM promises to be a one-of-a-kind event. We’re offering a number of ways you can learn about our new Landscape Performance Series and how it can help you show the value of sustainable landscape solutions. And we’re debuting a new website and our Conversations with Leaders in Landscape videos, including a chance to participate by visiting our Expo Hall Booth. If you’ll be in town for the conference, we hope that you’ll join us for one, some, or all of these events.benefit-2009people434x358

Top Story! LAF 25th Annual Benefit
Fri, Sept 10, 7:00-10:30pm
Join us for an unforgettable evening atop the NEWSEUM, where we’ll recognize the 2010 Olmsted Scholars, launch the Landscape Performance Series, and debut LAF’s new website and Conversations with Leaders in Landscape videos. Proceeds support LAF’s research and scholarship programs.

LAF Booth at ASLA Expo Hall (#2155)
Sat, Sept 11, 9:30-5:00pm
Sun, Sept 12, 9:30-5:00pm
Stop by our booth to learn more about LAF, see our new Landscape Performance Series and website, meet the 2010 Olmsted Scholars, and register for our Sustainable Destination Sweepstakes. If you choose, come prepared to share your thoughts on camera for potential inclusion in LAF’s new Conversations with Leaders in Landscape videos.

Landscape Performance Tools Education Sessionexpobooth
Sat, Sept 11, 11:00-12:30pm
Don’t miss this session, which provides tools and ideas to help you quantify the benefits of projects and increase your impact. LAF’s Barbara Deutsch and Heather Whitlow, Deb Guenther of Mithun, and Beth Meyers of the University of Virginia present Landscape Performance Tools: Metrics for Culture and Environment. Panelists will use case studies to illustrate the value of metrics in showing environmental, social, economic, and aesthetic benefits of high performing landscapes.

Sustainable Destination Sweepstakes
Sun, Sept 12, 4:30pm
Join us in the ASLA Expo Hall as we announce the winner of the week-long trip for two to the unique Anvaya Cove community in the Philippines, valued at over $8,000. Entrants need not be present to win.