Artificial grass is not the answer

Artificial Grass - Nature Fighting back | Flickr User  jonsson

Artificial Grass – Nature Fighting back | Flickr User jonsson

“Artificial turf, therefore, is merely the next most obvious step. Now that we greet it with a shrug and a flop, designers need to push things further, finding solutions that aren’t replacements for everything that a lawn does, but for the many individual programs it has been forced to do.” – Alexandra Lange

Recently, Alexandra Lange published an opinion piece, There’s still one more park taboo to be broken at Dezeen that reviewed the role of lawn and in recent times the acceptance that artificial turf has gained in replacing the traditional lawn. Lange, cites various examples where Artificial turf has been used including the new rooftop at the Metropolitan Museum of Art by landscape architect Gunther Vogt and Pier 2 at Brooklyn Bridge Park by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates.

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Reading: San Francisco’s growing pains.

Cities can be seen as a construct of various systems or as an organism with various inputs, outputs that adapts to the environmental conditions. Cities have never-ending ‘growing pains’ (or shrinking pains) with a recent pieces of writing showing that no matter whether your in a developed or developing nation, cities continue to change due to the influence of people. “In the battle between tech and the city, should designers choose a side?” by Mimi Zeiger, “What Tech Hasn’t Learned From Urban Planning” by Allison Arieff.

With both these interesting pieces I found myself thinking about cities and how they change over time. What I kept coming back to is that tech companies change at phenomenal rate of speed, think about how you life has changed due to tech in the last five years – the smart phone, social networks, retail purchases and delivery, photography, and the list goes on. Now, think about how your city has changed in the last five years and you may have noticed small changes with urban renewal (or decay), but what is soon apparent is that cities change over decades and not years.

Tech companies thrive on change, the unknown and the pace of change; whereas cities and residents fear change and often why projects take years to come to fruition. The other reason is that budgets and investment at a private level (tech companies) is often easy to obtain and you only explain the problems and failures to a small group of investors with a large amount invested, whereas a city is large group of people with a small amount invested but demanding large amount from their city government in terms of information, services.  Therefore, tech companies often struggle to understand why San Francisco residents aren’t happy with change especially rapid change that has occurred over the last 5-15 years.


Not every project is a landmark competition winning project

Recently, I have been surveying World Landscape Architecture readers for their feedback on the design, content and user experience. I looked at some of the responses today and overall the feedback was good with some great insights on how to improve WLA. However, I think there are a couple of readers who miss the point of World Landscape Architecture with some reader comments about the level of design and build quality and also less projects from unknown designers.

When I set out to publish projects from across the globe the intention was to publish as many different projects from across the world – varying scales, qualities, and from different types of firms (landscape, urbanist, engineering, mega-firms to single designer shops). I feel that whether a small garden or large regional park or a urban masterplan that there is a need for landscape projects especially conceptual designs to published rather than linger on a shelf or hard drive somewhere never to see the light of day. Of course, there are some submissions that are of very poor quality and they are rejected, however I feel that we all need to see projects from across the globe to understand the profession and see how it is developing. Developing countries and design firms often don’t have the same finish as projects in developed countries(this is due to the skills of the builders) however, sometimes the designs and finished project give an insight into the culture and landscape of that place and nation.

Publishing work of various qualities allows the public and profession to see landscape architecture at it best and worst. I don’t make editorial comment or critique on projects as I feel that the text should be written by the designer or design firm. Should there be more project critique…of course, but there also needs to be a platform for work to be published by the designer unhindered by journalists, and editors. Although, I have made mistakes in the past by publishing text that was not of high-quality, often this was due to the text being written by the designer in their second or third language. I have also published text that was too much like a PR announcement, I am endeavouring to curtail these types of posts.

World Landscape Architecture will continue to publish projects that are not to everyone’s liking and expectations, but that is the beauty of the web and my publication; not all the projects are beautifully photographed places, some are raw places that we all experience on a daily basis.

Landscape architecture needs a voice that shows projects from not just the well-known design firms but also designers who are creating places across the world of varying scale and quality.

Thankyou to the readers who have given feedback for our annual World Landscape Architecture survey. If you would like to give feedback please fill out the survey or send me an email with your suggestions.

China | more thought needed about urbanisation

Rapid urbanisation of millions of Chinese has occurred and will continue to occur over the next 25-30 years. There is a change in focus from mega-cities to smaller cities and towns as the country transitions from exports to consumerism based economy. What has changed in a urban design focus have to do with economy? In short, everything. China for the last 30 years has been focused on developing big cities and as we can see from the 10 mega cities developing in China that the increased density and hyper density are two different things. There is a limit to the a liveable population density and city size that can support without major environmental impact. Hyper-density is where we start to reaching over 5,000-10,000 people per square kilometre, once you get beyond this there is an environmental and sociological impact on the city. How do we change this?

The rural areas of China are being transformed into new cities, fast trains, inter-city roads and the push for urbanisation as a form of efficient way of providing work, housing, and food. But the question is the current model going to work – that is creating mega-cities (10+ million) and regional cities (5+ million) really the solution. They may be successful in terms of financial growth and GDP but fail in terms environment and liveability. Thankfully, it was announced recently that local officials will also have their success measured by level of pollution in their city. This is a step in the right-direction, however more could be undertaken for officials to be accountable for the liveability of the city.

Liveability includes not only GDP and housing, it includes access to services(health, education, transport), the amount and quality of green open space, pollution levels(air, water, soil). Green open space is on the increase but the quality of the space is often poor. With the spaces often large ‘beautiful green’ areas with little programming. They maybe successful from a environmental

I think China would benefit from allowing for more townisation rather than large urbanisation of rural areas. Building mega and smaller cities will in the long run create a shortfall in rural workers and continue the inefficient use of land with plot farming. Building towns with technical skill training centres in towns will allow for a smooth transition from small family plot farming to more efficient farming with higher quality, higher yield and high-revenue crops. More efficient land use is key to providing the fast growing middle class with the amount of food they will demand. Also changing land use and farming practices is one of the quickest ways to reduce pollution (air, water and soil).

Also hukou reform will occur over time and I see that the changes may occur in bigger cities first and then trickle down to 2nd, 3rd and 4th tier cities. I think that the biggest need is for a re-evaluation of how cities are created in China and whether mega-cities are the answer for the remaining 750 million chinese or is there hybrid model that can occur. I think the planning system would benefit from more flexibility and also more research and analysis of recent new cities.

Interesting things I read this week
China’s next chapter: The infrastructure and environmental challenge | McKinsey & Co
Urban planners eye China’s cities | People’s Daily
China to hold local leaders responsible for air quality | Channel News Asia
Hutong Vs. Highrise: A Photo Essay On China’s Radical Urban Changes | Gizmodo
Techno-utopias are wrapped up in their own visions of nature” | Dezeen

I have started reading China Greentech Report 2013: China at a Crossroads 中国绿色科技报告 2013:站在十字路口的中国 and will make a blog post later.

Public and Private Space

This week the protests continued in Turkey which began with the outrage at the privisation of Gezi Park, it is becoming clear that public open space is an issue that will always spark citizens to go into action to save their cities spaces.

The Gezi Park example is a extreme case but all over the world as state and city governments attempt to raise revenue they are turning to development of public open space as it is one of the only assets that many cities have remaining due to privitisation of services (utilities, education, health, transport).

There are some successful situations of private developments providing public open space in cities such as Hong Kong, there will always be a need for public open space for recreation and civic or cultural events. These whoever are usually small in scale to the large cultural spaces such as squares, local and regional parks. However, it seems many governments are overstepping the line by turning public space into private space whether this is leasing a local park or garden for a wedding or the extreme of developing a whole park or square for private use.

Public open space (parks, gardens, squares, etc) provide space for citizens and visitors to relax, recreate, meet and communicate and also to experience nature, culture and human connections. A lack of programmed and unprogrammed public open space creates soulless cities as landscape architects we need to push for public open space and rally against the push for privitisation of public spaces.

Footage from the RC drone that was shot down by police [HD] from Jenk K on Vimeo.

What I read that was interesting this week
Building Hyperdensity and Civic Delight | Design Observer | Vishaan Chakrabarti
“Sound urban development is the lynchpin of the hyperdense environment. Yet public advocacy for high-density development is extraordinarily low, primarily because its merits are misunderstood.”

Five Robotic Bike Parking Systems That Solve an Urban Dilemma | Gizmodo
Maybe New York should have looked at these first for citibike?

Atkins to develop Eco-Low Carbon Urban Planning Guidance in China
Funnily enough I was contacted by another group of companies to join this commission but they didn’t get it. Be interesting to see what Atkins develops and if its published publicly. I hope its more ‘practical’ for governments and developers rather that another dust collector.

5 Ideas Apple Gleefully Stole From Google, Twitter, and Microsoft | Fast Co Design

When I saw iOS 7’s new icons and features, I instantly thought they had Android and Windows features came straight mind. As for the new Mac Pro it is a disappointment and I think that they will have to develop a rack option for digital studios and heavy users as a cyclinder is not really an efficient use of space. I have used used desktop macs back in Australia including a G4 and G5 Macs including the ‘cube’ which cracked and overheated. There will always be discussion about Apple’s designs but I hope Apple continues to innovate.

Asian universities are leaping up the league tables, but China is getting left behind
Personally, I think there is a shortage of qualified and experienced staff to join the many new universities opening in China. This problem will be solved over time but there will a period of transition. There is transition occuring in every industry in China as the national focus turns from looking out to to looking in. Interesting times ahead.

Dreaming – Compendium and Elon Musk

This week has been an interesting week. I just finished reading Compendium for the Civic Economy – which shows what 25 ideas and communities can do to transform their local economies and I also watched a couple of videos from D11 conference including the one with Elon Musk. The Compendium show cases projects solving problems within communities – local problems. Some of the case studies went on to have a greater impact and be used on a wider scale like Jayride – rideshare program that expanded from NZ to Australia, Ireland and the UK. The lesson from the book was that small ideas and people can have greater wider impact. This is not a new lesson but one we often forget when trying to solve a problem.

Elon Musk is someone who has big ideas (electric cars, space travel and internet) but what struck a cord and seemed more interesting to me was the revelation that their are too many talented and high-educated people spending time on small ideas. I’m not talking about community ideas or social entrepreneurship, its more that there seems to be a large number of people spending time to build apps,or social media websites/networks to go on an IPO or be acquired. They only have one aim – to make money; I think this is why there is growing number of failing startups. The idea is too small or its a slight twist on previous idea and lacks the passion and conviction to make the idea something big enough to change an industry or change the world. It seems as though there are too many MBA’s, PHd’s and talented people wasting time on ideas that will eventuate to little more than a blip in time. The impact of their app or website will be small, especially if its another networking or marketing tool.

There is a need for small and  big ideas – they may not eventuate but dreaming big is what pushes communities and the world forward whether your living in a village dreaming of education or a multi-billionaire who wants to change intercity travel with a ‘hyperloop’. We all have dreams but the key is to dream bigger than ourselves.

Interesting Things I read this week
We All Spend Too Much Time On Small Ideas. Let’s Follow Elon Musk – Loic Le meur – Linkedin
One of the posts I read this week that inspired this post about dreaming big.

The Risk Not Taken – Andy Dunn – Medium
Andy talks about how it is better to take the risk and go for it, than play it safe.

Why Gary Vaynerchuk’s New Social Media Strategy Should Change The Way You Do Business. – Dorie Clark – Forbes
Gary Vaynerchuk is having someone follow him to write down his ideas. This caused a bit of a “storm in a teacup” as people thought it was 24/7 but in fact its only during the day or a wrap up at the end of the day. I think the noise about this lost the essence of the idea – recording ideas whether big or small. We have all been there, we have a great idea on the bus, in the car or during a meeting but we forget to write it down. Having someone to record ideas is a little extreme but I think that creating a habit of idea recording is good idea – so carry a notebook or your phone and take down those ideas – big or small and recap at the end of the day to see which idea reaches out to you for further development.

Why Conservatives Hate Citi Bike So Much, in One Venn Diagram | New York Magazine
I am amazed at the backlash and rise of noise about Citibikes. Mostly coming from the conservatives who own the media outlets so they’ve been giving Citibike a serve in mainstream media including WSJ’s Dorothy Rabinowitz. I thought this diagram was interesting and funny. Also watch John Stewarts Daily Show take on Citibike (NSFW)

Why I chose digital format for WLA quarterly magazine

Last year I launched WLA quarterly landscape architecture magazine and it has had a humble beginning and sold a few copies in print and digital…mostly in digital. The reason I selected digital is for many reasons, the biggest was the ability to transport in 0’s and 1’s in digital across the world. Media is changing and many print magazines are closing their doors as the old model of publishing rely advertising with the cover price often only covering large print run and pulping costs.

The biggest issue with publishing a print magazine is distribution and getting it into stores and then sold. There is no guarantee that it will sell and the outlay for 5,000 to 10,000 copies is out of reach for most small publishers. Therefore, digital format is easily to deliver and there is no worry that you’ll be pulping copies (not very environmentally-friendly). Digital allows me to easily publish the magazine in pdf format.

Many magazines are shifting to digital or web format as they revenues from advertising increase as more and more advertisers and adsellers are willing to buy space on web and in digital magazines. Also digital allows for interactivity and customisation something that is very immature. I think digital will see an increase when tablets, formats and delivery networks (4G LTE, etc) will make it seamless.

Digital allows someone in Cape Town, London, New York, Shanghai, Sydney, Dubai, or Santiago to download WLA in a couple of minutes and start reading. That to me is the biggest incentive to start and stay digital with WLA. I am looking at ways to build upon WLA in the future and looking to publish more digitally in the future.

Why do we accept mediocrity in landscape architecture?

Recently, I have watched videos with Bjarke Ingels, Rem Koolhaus, Fabrio Novembre, Marc Newson, Michael Van Valkenburgh, Karl Lagerfeld and many others to gain more of an understanding of idea generation and design in various industries. What struck me during watching these videos is the willingness of society (and some designers) to accept mediocre design as something that will just occur as part of the marketplace and mainstream design realm. So why is it that we accept this mediocrity in the design profession and its not just architecture or industrial design but it seems that mediocrity is more and more prevalent in recent times in all design industries.

Does it necessarily need to be this way? Personally it seems that many have gone down the ‘path of least resistance’ and that the ‘market’ is influencing the way we design as a shift occurs towards developing markets and away from developed economies. Design standards seem to have been calibrated to the market and aiming at the lower level  to meet the standards of these immature developing markets with iteration after iteration of the same design to the point where is has become ubiquitous.  Where this can be seen more evidently is in the car industry where Porsche, Rolls Royce, BMW, Audi, Lamborghini, Bugatti have produced numerous ‘special editions’ and variations of the same model with very little design development for developing markets such as China.

The same is occurring in landscape architecture where the same design language and style is being used over and over again with little departure from the previous design. Some may see this as a firm/person developing a signature design language, I personally see it as lack of design energy and also a lack respect for the intellect of clients. Landscape architecture should respond to the culture, place, climate, terrain and numerous other elements that influence the design process to develop a unique concept that will create the best design for that site no matter how big or small. I understand that in China there is often little time to analyse, understand and design with the extraordinary short deadlines but I think we owe it the community, client and most of all ourselves as landscape architects to design something to the best of our design ability and to shun mediocrity.

Lower costs increases access to technology

Access to technology and the growing divide between the haves and have nots has reached a turning point with the development of the $100 laptop, the $50 tablet and now the $25 computer. This constant reduction in the cost of technology is allowing governments, schools, charities and businesses to provide access to technology that we all take for granted.

The challenge now is access to information, many of these organisations have to create networks to access the internet, thankfully wireless technology is cheaper as we move from CDMA to 3G to 4G LTE making the previous technology cheaper thus allowing organisations to take advantage of the lowering price of the ‘old’ technology. What is old to us is very new to them and allows for more people to gain access to information (the commodity of the 21st Century).