Monday, May 21, 2007

Watching Cemetery Movements

I write frequently about cemeteries. I think they are a significant cultural marker. How we bury and honor our dead reveals a little bit of insight in how we percieve our place in the cycle of life.

Garden Rant has an intersting blog entry about a new funeral movement.

Here are some more interesting links on that movement:
Green Springs Natural Cemetery

Friday, May 18, 2007

Ferruccio Vitale's Bryant Park


According to R. Terry Schnadelbach in "Ferruccio Vitale Landscape Architect of the Country Place Era", Vitale wrote an article for House and Garden titled "Village Greens for Town Betterment". In it he touted two park types. The village green of Bryant Park and the smaller neighborhood park. The village green was a new prototype for parks.

It wasn't Vitale who actually designed the park, but it is quite clear that his village greens park prototype was the seed for the design. Bryant Park, designed in 1934, wasn't designed until after Vitale's death in 1933. It was designed by his colleague Gilmore Clarke and Lusby Simpson

This scan is from Schnadelbach's "Ferruccio Vitale Landscape Architect of the Country Place Era"
Village greens, plan for a large urban park. A new prototype of an urban park for American cities features a raised, multipurpose grass terrace surrounded by a double rows of trees. Separation from traffic and street noise is provided by low plantings and balustrades. Flagpoles and fountains are used to articulate the entry plazas from the street. A civic building is meant as an urban backdrop. House and Garden, June 1926

Village greens, perspective of a large park. Vitale pictured the civic buildings typical of the traditional New England village as surrounding his new urban green.

Beaux-Arts formality is very evident in this design. Bryant Park today is a highly successful park. It went through some years of decline, locally called 'Needle Park', but it has been embraced by the community and is a very usable and enjoyed park.

Some great links and pictures of the park:

Listen to Bryant Park

It is at Dust and Rust where I found my favorite picture of the park.

PPS is a great site to read about successful parks and Bryant park is in their top favorites.
Bryant Park Success Story (80% of the credit is given to good management.)
Bryant Park Hall of Shame (Over management story)
PPS Bryant Park

Bryant Park Official Website
Bryant Park Map

Great City Parks by Alan Tate includes Bryant Park in his book of 20 "well-planned, well-designed and well-managed parks". Bryant Park, 'Needle Park', had become an unusable space because of its over-protection and isolation from the street prior to its rehabilitation in the 90s.

The history of Bryant Park tells us to make park space very accessible and friendly from the street. The test of success is measured by the amount of women using the space. This requires safety and security. People want to feel the green space. They want to get away from the crush of pavement and cars. But they need that visible link to the street and the safety of people. High use provides a safer place for the vulnerable. It is hidden spaces and low use spaces that provide congregating spaces for those on the edge.

Again Bryant Park becomes a prototype and model of success through private funding and management of the park which is somewhat controversial because of the amount of privatization. Check out the Bryant Park Hall of Shame Link.

Vitale's park was simple and powerful. A village green for public gatherings surrounded by shade and strolling space. Beaux-Arts in style and a product of the City Beautiful Movement, the village green has great possibilities still today. My favorite aspects of the village green park is the protected edge that allows permeable access and interaction between the street and the promenade area. The center of the park becomes its own entity and space surrounded by a wall of trees. This becomes a stadium, a platform, a parade, a show, an event.

ABC at Bryant Park

I was up early this morning to see the kids off to school, and I was watching this mornings headline news. As usual it is a continual drumbeat of bad news coming out of Iraq that was especially hard on the ABC News family this moring. Terry McCarthy was especially moved this morning as he had to report the death of two of his Iraqi team. I have a few favorite reporters that I feel I can trust. Mr. McCarthy is one of those reporters that I believe implicitly. This morning it was especially hard for him to report and his voice was halted and emotional as he reported the death of his friends. My heart goes out to him and the many others affected each day by war.

Sam Champion, my favorite weatherman, was at Bryant Park this morning with the GMA Concert series, and that is really where my blog is starting this morning.

Bryant Park.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Ferruccio Vitale and the Century of Progress Exposition

Century of Progress

Ferruccio Vitale and Joseph Urban's cheap and dramatic Avenue of Flags. Unfortunately the photos are almost all in black and white.

Planetarium Today
(It is amazing what we will settle for today when it comes to urban spaces.)

Color Picture of Planetarium

Planetarium then and now. Notice the similarity in the fountains of the Planetarium and Exhibition Garden and Meridian Hill Park fountain.

Century of Progress Exposition
Chicago, Illinois, 1930-1934

Vitale was chosen to represent the ASLA in the development of the second Chicago's Worlds Fair. Vitale would die before finishing this work and Alfred Geiffert, Jr. stepped in to complete the commission. The fair was on the same site that Fredrick Law Olmsted had chosen for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition.

Instead of the Beaux's Arts fair of 1893 the Progress Exposition was "to have a new architecture born out of new technologies, materials, and construction methods, new lifestyles, and a new economy, one that called for sparseness and frugrality..." (Ferruccio Vitale by R. Terry Schnadelbach.) Interestingly the fair was to be about new American Architecture and the Prairie school architects were passed over. Ferruccio Vitale is the Landscape Architect added to the Commission.

It is too bad that Vitale's poor health, untimely death and the great depression hindered his work on the Progress Exposition. The license the fair gave the designers to design at will in this new Modern style was a place for creativity to grow.

I still find some great examples of Landscape Architecture stretching out and adapting to Modern Architecture. Ferruccio Vitale seemed very comfortable expanding out into this world.

A Century of Progress Exposition

Post cards from "Offical View Book". Photographs by Kaufmann and Fabry Co. The Reuben H. Donnelley Corporation, Chicago

Landon K. Thorn residence and Honey Creek in Davis

After putting the two pictures side by side, there is less in common than I thought. However, The top picture is a constructed landscape of Innocenti and Webel and the bottom is of Honey Creek at the Turner Falls campground in Davis Oklahoma.

The top landscape is a landscape that can easily be done here and it relates well to the prairie river of Jensen.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Ferruccio Vitale leads me back to Art Nouveau

I had an study-skills professor when I very first went back to school that insisted that learning was about relationships. So I have this very strange way of learning. I am always searching for the relationships between what I have already learned and what I need to be learning. It is quite compulsive actually.

So I do not wade through the stack of books from the library in a straight line. Many of my topics seem unrelated, but I think that it makes for a much richer tapestry of thought process when layering with many different subjects. Some books I read cover to cover and others I power-read. Invariably I get side tracked on tangents, and I always keep this on-going list of words to look up, and subjects I need to explore more. Every now and then I am reminded of something I have learned and I have to lay down what I am reading and go back to re-inspect a subject.

It is at this point I am reading “Ferruccio Vitale Landscape Architect of the Country Place Era” By R. Terry Schnadelbach that I need to go back into my architecture history and read more about the beginnings of Modern Architecture.

This is triggered by Vitale’s transition from classic or Beaux’s Arts style to abstract or sometimes called stripped-down classical style. The Modern movement is really this transition from a craftsmanship heavy architecture to architecture with new materials like steel that can be mass produced. Buildings like department stores have no precedent.

I think this is a rich era of innovation and imagination. It is fraught with a searching and grasping generation trying to blend the modern machine age with the classical era that is so opposed to it. It would be a very different world if the likes of Le Corbusier, Gropius and Mies van der Rohe hadn’t settled it so decisively.

There is not a straight-line correlation between Architecture and Landscape Architecture at this juncture in history. It seems like many different things are going on at the same time and LA's are still getting their wings.

So back I go, starting with “Art Nouveau Architecture” by Keiichi Tahara. The following pictures are scans and inspiration from the book. This book has beautiful pictures but not a whole lot into the thought processes I find relating to Landscape Architecture.

It is at this juncture in history that LA's and Architects take diverging paths. It seems previously that Architects designed out door spaces. It seems that after the onslaught of Modern Architecture LA's and Architects are on different paths.

Was there an LA that could be considered of the Art Nouveau persuasion? Was Modern Landscape Architecture significantly behind Modern Architecture?


I have some more reading to do to tie things up in a neat little package.

American Cemetery at Ardennes

More exploration spurred by "Making a Landscape of Continuity The Practice of Innocenti and Webel", ed. by Gary R. Hilderbrand

Photo by Ernst van Loon

Photos by Mr. Robert Mary

Description of park by American Battle Monuments Commission
Webel understands the power of trees in this design. The soft soldiers of the allee foreshadow the precision of the memorial field. The natural woodland framing the austere field of marble memorials provides a resting place for the eyes. Evergreens symbolically protect and flank the American flag.

It is a simple and powerful memorial.

Evelyn Marshall Field Residence

Thoughts inspired by "Making a Landscape of continuity The Practice of Innocenti and Webel", ed. by Gary R. Hilderbrand.

The Evelyn Marshall Field Residence and its trees:

"Making a Landscape of Continuity The Practice of Innocenti and Webel" ed. by Gary R. Hilderbrand

It is the field Residence that I find the use of trees precisely articulated. It is with the plan that I start to understand the great vocabulary in trees. Their placement, their rhythm, their edges and their mass speak decisively of space, rhythm and harmony. It is this rhythm and harmony that evoke emotion and set tone.

A review in Land Forum by Dean Cardasis says,
In almost all of these projects we find orthogonal, pictorial compositions on large sites; single species of trees planted regularly on center in straight rows, forming powerful spacial allees; and a clear appreciation for craftsmanship in design.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Making a Landscape of Continuity The Practice of Innocenti and Webel

An inspirational paragarph from "Making a Landscape of Continuity The Practice of Innocenti and Webel" edited by Gary R. Hilderbrand.

There is one abiding, resounding physical characteristic that is evident in the entire body of work of Innocenti & Webel, a characteristic that is classical and also not classical; it is both modern and timeless. It is the structuring of physical space with trees—trees in rows, closely spaced, often repeating as far into the distance as we can see. For landscape architecture, an activity that always deals with our constructed relation to the natural world, the simple ordering of trees is an extraordinary act, one not to be underestimated. Trees in measured arrangements give expression to a thought about the world, about the human need for measure, for articulation, for clarification. With trees in space, we can sense the horizon, we can understand distance, we can measure the scale and size of objects in our sight. With a canopy overhead, we may sense the ground not as a surface but as a space, a site of inhabitation, a place to move or to rest. With trees in parallel lines, we may perceive a space for movement, a pointing, a suggestion of speed, a path toward a destination. And when we are close to trees, we find a new measure for ourselves, smaller, or larger, but real and physical. With trees we know space.

Reading of Innocenti & Webel I get a sense that they were masters of articulating the tree. Trees are not man-made. But we corral them and turn them into soldiers of the landscape. The spacing and the rhythm contrasts with their organic shape and our inability to control the shape of every last branch. They stand as sentinels to our longing of order.

Trees offer much more than their fundamental characteristic of shape. Trees can speak to region. They can talk of water or the lack there of. They can touch our emotion through scent and texture.

Walking through a grove of cottonwood and willow can transport you to a mountain stream. The chattering water is heard in the cottonwood and the low whisper of the willow masks the sounds of the present.

It only takes a view of a copse of cypress and black marshy water framed with the knees of the oxygen deprived tree comes to mind. If you have experienced the cypress up close and personal, then its fragrant needles, unique pitchy cones and auburn fall color creep into your senses.

It is the pine that touches me with a longing for home. I am immediately taken to a high mountain lake that I use to swim in as a boy. The rushing of wind thru the canopy of needles speaks only of a mountain breeze. But it is the fragrance. The intense fresh smell that only the pine can express. It is the scent of rusty, dry needles under my feet. It is the scent of rough and furrowed bark. It is the scent of cool deep water waiting to be dove into. It is the scent of laying on my back and gazing up through the wispy needles.

Combining the use of form and rhythm with the memory that the tree evokes in each of us is a powerful tool to put in my toolbox (as my friend Brent would say.)

It seems that there is so much that goes into design. I see my designs getting cluttered and incoherent. The designs of Innocenti and Webel seem clear and pure. They are soft and calm. They are delightful and yet restful to the eye.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Ken Smith Landscape Architect

Book 2 of my summer reading frenzy:

Ken Smith Landscape Architect Urban Project

Source Books in Landscape Architecture

Edited by Nicola Bednarek

Ken Smith has to be a lesson in creative problem solving. The projects presented in the book have a very rigid list of parameters. Smith solves these in creative and vibrant ways.

The graphics and photo montages are beautifully executed and are to be aspired to. Smith’s play with form and color is intriguing. They are very architectural but have the sensitivity of a Landscape Architect.


My favorite of the three projects is not the East River Ferry Landings with the environmental overtones, but the children’s temporary school yard, P.S. 19 in Queens, New York.

Seemingly inexpensive materials are used to create unique, usable and exciting spaces for children. Vibrant dots and a cloudy blue sky change pavement and fence into what must be a surreal world for a child. The space itself is not altered very much; it is the experience of the space and the way the space is changed to be used that is the genius and lesson. In architecture school I learned to not see color. If you build it and it has to be a specific color then someone will come along behind you and paint it. Smith admits to the temporary qualities of his projects. The school buildings the design is built for is for temporary class rooms twenty years old.

The butterfly and bird garden is beautiful, although not the focus of the garden. It has to be the escape-from-the-pavement and the resting space from the severity of the activity space. Colorful trash bins are changed into plant containers. Growing plants is an important interaction for children. Container gardening requires commitment and responsibility, and there are many lessons that can be taught through it. Cycles, growth, stewardship and science. The whole design becomes a learning extension from the inside to the outside.

Landscape Architecture needs to be that connection from the inside to the outside. It needs to be the human interpretation and transition zone between the built (the decaying) and the nature (life and growth). What better transition than garbage dumpsters becoming locations of growth?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

6 am OKC May 13th Morning Pictures

I had hoped for a more startling sunrise. However, you shoot the sunrise you've got, not the sunrise you want. The Oklahoma sunrise this morning was minutes long. Pinks and lavenders evolved briefly to soft blues and ended abruptly in bright white. For being such an ugly mucky color, the Oklahoma river is a beautiful asset to downtown. It has great reflective qualities in the relatively calm of the morning hours.

Summer Reading--The Granite Garden, by Anne Whiston Spirn

Summer break is the time for me to do a catch up on reading. It seems the first couple of weeks of summer and the first couple of weeks of a new semester I am really fired up about reading.

I have shelves of books on my to-read list. First up is the Granite Garden, Urban Nature and Human Design by Anne Whiston Spirn.

I found this book to be a pretty quick read. I have read a lot of other books that really covered this same information, so I found it as a broad over view to the city, nature and human activities.

There were several really good points of design I would like to take away and explore. The first is trees in the urban landscape. I know that trees have a very short life span, Spirn says 10 years, in class we learned 7 years. This is a problem. After driving around and looking at trees in this new light, I really believe we have a problem. I don’t think that stunted and dwarf trees are performing the tasks we need them to. We need more from them. They cannot exchange the amount of carbon dioxide for oxygen and absorb the large amounts of pollutants, or increase the amount of shaded surfaces if we mummify them through starvation of vital needs.

What I really wonder, is how come some neighborhoods have trees that cover the streets and some neighborhood trees never get to size? Why? Is it compacted roots? Smaller growing space for roots? Is our building and construction techniques destroying the ground?

Spirn suggests planting trees in groves in plazas and along streets. This gives them more root space. Larger root and canopy provide more shade, a cooler root zone and less temperature fluctuation. Some thought and design needs to be put into this for parking lots, side walks, streetscapes and plazas. I see single trees planted in parking lots struggling to survive. Their thick flaking bark is an indication they are stressed and resorting to survival mode in attempts to reduce the amount of heat baking the cambium layer. Leaves are small and few in attempt to reduce the amount of water transpiring and escaping. Their root zones are circled in molten asphalt and exposed to drying winds. There has to be a better solution. A more aesthetic solution. A solution that is humane to the living organism that cannot escape our prison of pavement and impoundment of persecution.

The urban forest is much more important that I previously had thought about. It should be treated as a membrane to temper incoming solar radiation. To capture and absorb pollution. To make a much more aesthetically pleasing and desirable environment to live and breath in.

I need to explore this more.

After reading Spirn’s book, I would have completely changed my last studio project. My project was a wild and natural park in downtown OKC. I don’t think that it is appropriate. The grid and formality of the urban fabric is too intense and doesn’t relate enough to a complete wild garden. We need more order and measure to the intensely ordered and measured downtown area. I love formal gardens and natural gardens with formal characteristics. There has to be a place that is appropriate to put them, and the downtown area is.

In researching some of the pioneers of the Landscape Architecture during the Country Place Era, I identified with the truly American idea of formality close to the house and less formality as you get further from the house. The city should work in this same manner. Formal and modern gardens towards the core of the city and the outskirts of the city should be natural links like greenbelts and wild gardens that bridge and transition from city to country. The further from the core the more native plants should be used.

Now I just have to reconcile exotic plants within the core of the city with regional identity, which I think is very important. So I will need to explore how the exotics I chose for the core correspond and relate to the genus loci of the place.

The city is of human invention. It is a machine and ecosystem of its own. We control much of the dynamics of the city. Water runoff, heat island effect, vegetation, wildlife and human activity are driven by human activity and only guided by the laws of nature. Our roofs are designed impermeable. We control the amount of urban forest covering our parking lots. So we should use all the tools at our disposal to influence nature in a positive manner in our cities. That means we should plant an exotic species if it will reduce heat island effect better than any native can.

This is kind of a break through for me in justifying the planting of exotics. I so want to be a purist. However, complex problems require complex solutions that are rarely in black and white.

Spirn’s book definitely has helped me resolve and clarify some issues. Modern landscape architecture and a deeper look into the Country Place Era are my next destinations. So much to learn and formulate in my mind--so little time.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Planting Design with Steve Hill

Planting design pictures:

I have always thought that planting design would be my favorite part of Landscape Architecture. I am finding that it is not. I really prefer master planning and large conceptual planning. I enjoy native plant projects and stream and habitat restoration projects. I like parks and campus planning projects. Residential is really not for me.

I'm counting down the days to end of semester. Good luck out there to all those LA's in progress. Summer is coming.