Thursday, September 27, 2007

Urban Design Theory

Thursday is theory day. I have a research methods class that meets once a week after lunch for about 3 hours and then an Urban Theory Class that meets once a week around dinner time. It is a mentally exhausting day.

Right now we are discussing Modern Architecture and Post Modern Architecture and how it has shaped our current urban fabric. I am really surprised at the amount of people that seem to support Modern Architecture. I guess in my personal quest for "place" I have realized the absolute destruction that Modern Architecture has done to "place". International Style or Modern Architecture has washed white cultural imprint, regional identity and most anything human. It is not even to human scale.

I was watching a piece on Post Modern Architecture by Prince Charles. I was struck by his mention of the church as the living, beating heart of a medieval city in Italy still to this day. It seems the current trend here in Oklahoma is to use steel constructed churches with metal cladding. The closest we get to the beating heart of a city is at its edges with strip malls and big box stores that morph into churches when their retail life is over.

It is hard for me not to be passionate about this subject. I really believe that Modern Architecture and the whole stylistic philosophy that followed help destroy our downtowns and main streets. I'm not saying that it is solely responsible, but it is responsible for many of the repugnant spaces in our cities. I am not an advocate for another revival of Classical or Gothic architecture, but I am an advocate of architecture that responds to people.

This is a subject that I am continually drawn too. I confess I love Louis Sullivan's work. Look a the Guaranty building and the Wainwright building. Look at Sullivan's attention to craftsmen ship and detail which are important for the character and interest of the building. Notice how he addresses the sidewalk . These buildings build a human scale relationship with the street. They are bringing a ten story plus building down to the scale that we can understand and relate too.

I'm not sure that this is where we should be going in architectural design, but I do believe that there is great value in these buildings and other Sullivan work that we should be studying more. I'm not sure that Sullivan really addresses "place" in this, but he does reach out with spirituality and nature. Organic forms and more human forms are woven into a very square, efficient money making box.

Well, I need to go to bed. I just couldn't sleep without getting this off my chest. The world needs to know and be passionate about bad design. I encourage all to speak out against it. It is not a time to be polite and hesitant. Ask the pertinent questions. "Is it meaningful?" "Is it beautiful?" "Does it fit in my neighborhood?" "Does it speak of my community?" "Does it provide a better life for the user?"

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Cultural Landscape Foundation

A reader ( I assume) brought this website to my attention. I had visited TCLF before, but it is worth commenting on. I try to focus on issues of Oklahoma, but it seems that many of the famous park designers bypassed the state on the way to either of the two coasts. OKC metro area does not have a great tradition of public parks. I think, and I'm still thinking, reading and studying about this, that part of the problem is the scale of the city. Priority has something to do with it also. There has been some great parks in our past, but they are gone along with many of the historic buildings of OKC. OKC is so horizontal that there is never enough density to justify large expenditure in a small localized place. So the park money's get spent over a much larger area than say a much denser city. I've not done a lot of homework on this, so it is just an assumption.

I had not read about the changes that could happen to the Washington Arboretum until I found it at the The Cultural Landscape Foundation site. The Washington Park Arboretum is one of my favorite places to visit. I took my children this summer and we spent an afternoon of it waiting on my wifes plane to arrive. It is a very active and used space. It is a treasure and I can't imagine a city allowing what is proposed to actually take place. It was 101 degrees in Seattle while I was there and people were sunbathing, walking, running, canoing and even swimming while I was at the park. It is a very successful social place that deserves our attention.

Landscapes speak of the people and the culture of the times. By understanding a landscape we understand a people. I really believe this. I really believe that looking back through Cleveland, Mann, Biddle, Olmstead, Church, Eckbo, Kiley and Halprin's work that we get a sense, a snapshot of the zietgeist. I am really excited about some of the parks that have recently gained a higher degree of appreciation and are being restored or preserved because of their history and their designers. I have not found any parks designed by famous LA's in the Metro, I'm not saying that they are not here. However, their are some great CCC projects that deserve attention, and speak to a time, a place, a people and culture. Check out Charles' essay on historical landscapes and be inspired.


Monday, September 24, 2007

Library of American Landscape History

I got my View, Summer 2007 edition in the mail this week. It is from the Library of American Landscape History. It is a great read and I recommend it.

Some of the books in my collection available through LALH are:

Midwestern Landscape Architecture
Edited by William H. Tishler

An easy read that you will want to go through several times.

The Muses of Gwinn: Art and Nature in a Garden Designed by Warren H. Manning, Charles A. Platt, and Ellen Biddle Shipman
Robin Karson

I've not had a chance to read this one yet. I just received it.

Pioneers of American Landscape Design
Charles A. Birnbaum and Robin Karson, Editors

A must for anyone interested in LA History. I can't believe it is out of print.

The Prairie Spirit in Landscape Gardening
Wilhelm Miller

I have read this book and referred back to it on numerous occasions. It is really the theory of prairie landscapes as done by Jensen and Caldwell. I find some of it directed at a more agrarian society of the past. However, there are many clear and simple truths that I find easy to read and understand that Jensen and other Prairie writers didn't write as clear.

Jord's Trophy Wall:

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Ruby Grant Park

Tonight was a great night. I won a Merit Award from the Oklahoma Chapter of ASLA for my Ruby Grant project. Here was my presentation:

Cross Park is a nature park for the soul and an activities park for the body.
The project encourages active play and regional awareness through a matrix of integrated syste
Cross Park provides the activity space for the community while embracing the vital environmental corridors of the site. It layers the needs of the community, the arts and the environment by celebrating the history and identity unique to its place.

Cross Park/ Ruby Grant Park is located on the Northern edge of Norman.

Cross Park is a nature park for the soul and an activities park for the body.

The project encourages active play and regional awareness through a matrix of integrated systems.

Cross Park provides the activity space for the community while embracing the vital environmental corridors of the site. It layers the needs of the community, the arts and the environment by celebrating the history and identity unique to its place.

In designing Cross Park I used the dynamics of the environment to engage, direct and mold the geometries of the two major systems

These two major systems are the guiding matrix of the project.

The natural dynamics identified here as


Bottomland forest

Upland prairie

Riparian corridor

Old farm fields

dictate the geometries and layout of the design. They are the guiding framework and structure.

The activity circuits guide the flows of the design

James Corner wrote, “…the meaning of landscaft comprises a deep and intimate mode of relationship not only among buildings and fields but also among patterns of occupation, activity, and space, each often bound into calendrical time.” Activity and human occupation ebb and flow with the time, the day and the season, and the natural dynamics of the site are the foundation of the human experience. Cross Park is not covered in a seductive veil of contrived beauty. It is an expression of spiritual beauty of the raw and regional dynamics of the native cross timber, prairie/forest edge systems. Cross Park is not an idealized picture of the past. It is an engagement in the present. The occupation and activity of Cross Park is the life of the park. The natural dynamics of the park are the spirit.

Environmental impacts and education are at the core of the design. The design establishes a sustainable and healthy framework for present and future water flows. The design preserves healthy plant communities, and uses these communities as the structure of the habitat and educational zones. By protecting and improving the environmental corridors the negative impacts of intense use are reduced.

The design encourages the reintroduction of managed fire to enhance the quality of prairie habitat adapted to fire. The habitat communities including the “farm forest” of the agriculture zones provide specific habitat to local wildlife and environmental education. The environmental solutions proposed in Cross Park teach and raise awareness through demonstration. This awareness is improved by identifying historical agriculture land, and maximizing human use with active play zones of park lawn and trees.