positive signage

In the ASLA policy committee discussion this morning, we had a rousing discussion about how to update the billboards policy, especially with the proliferation of electronic signage and supergraphics.

Our consensus was that signs (of all sorts) should reinforce a sense of place. Banners, bus shelters, other street furniture, bus wraps, sidewalk stickers, and billboards all add to visual clutter of cities (and highways). There are notorious examples of billboards causing a public nuisance, such as the traffic jams in Chicago at the Dennis Rodman billboard.

There is a place in the built environment for graphics and signs, but the status quo in which outdoor advertisers do what they please, and regularly flaunt the law, should not be tolerated. I certainly see a stark distinction between commercial speech and what the first amendment protects. I’m glad that there are folks mobilized to fight billboards and even studies providing solid justification for the removal of all billboards.

Up in the Owens Valley, I’ve been struck by the saturation of bill boards on the Piute-Shoshone Reservation in contrast with the billboard free remainder of the Valley. While I applaud the entrepreneurial spirit of the tribe, I really question if their gains outweigh the blight? This is a clear example of the social and environmental justice aspect of outdoor advertising exploiting lower income and politically disenfranchised areas.

To finish with a good example of environmental graphics, below is the Greenpix Zero Energy Media Wall in Beijing.

Re-Mix urban form studio

Inspired by Geoff Manaugh’s fantastical description of his studio, I figured that it was worth sharing details about the MLA studio that I’m co-teaching with Kristine Miller (who has a new book on Gertrude Jekyll going to press as I write this post). Okay, this studio isn’t up in the clouds like Geoff’s, but we have a chance to do good. We’re partnered with Juxtaposition Arts, who’s founders – Roger & Deanne – just returned from a year at the GSD thanks to a Loeb Fellowship. That means they will be hosting an upcoming Brunner Loeb Forum, and our studio will be part of the process of getting that event off the ground.

Here it is:

Re-Mix Urban Form Studio


In this challenge based, service-learning urban design studio, students will investigate the role of the street (as defined not just the gap between buildings or between destinations but as a place in itself) and it’s role in shaping the urban experience. This course will take as its special focus the West Broadway neighborhood in North Minneapolis. We will collaborate with our community partner, Juxtaposition Arts to develop proposals for public and private spaces, streets, pedestrian systems, and public infrastructure. Our studio is timely: the West Broadway Alive! planning study has been adopted by the City of Minneapolis as the official plan to initiate the revitalization of North Minneapolis. In this context, the studio will critically explore what additional urban design opportunities are available in North Minneapolis.

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Klobuchar MN Energy Summit – PART II

12:30 continuing the live blogging. part I is here

Panel II: Made in MN

Prof Paul Vaaler – Carlson School- moderator. Gotta have a compelling narrative/be cool to get traction

Michael Roman – 3m: better living through chemistry and material science – wind films, reflective materials, LEDs, ethanol osmosis membranes, glass bubbles to save weight on cars, high capacity transmission lines.

Steve Tourek – Marvin Windows: stories that connect people with new windows (family owned, 100-years, HQ in warwick MN employs 75% of folks in that town) half of all employees in MN. Jobs are mostly in small businesses.

Most architects and customers don’t want to pay extra $$ to get better performance and so spec clear glass single-pane windows. Opportunity to retrofit older buildings with new products. We don’t need to wait for new technology – the existing

Durability is an ignored factor in the sustainability discussion. new window tech include high performance frames/sashes, switchable glazing and new films. As a private company, they managed to not lay off any staff, by accepting lower profits and salaries and energy efficiency programs.

One criteria doesn’t fit all climates for tax credits and a big flaw with current tax rebates versus energy star.

Steve Van Tassel – packet power. Interpreting energy bills for consumers. wireless smart power cords to track usage. now deploying to data centers – a huge energy user 1 1/2% of energy in US and waste 1/2 of energy because of poor management.

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Klobuchar MN Energy Summit (part-I)

Blogging live from the UMN Regional Competativeness & Energy Efficiency Summit – updated through out the day. (for a top b-school, you’d expect the auditorium to have outlets – might run out of battery power – nice irony with the topic).


Senator Klobuchar has some great anecdotes about renewable energy enterprises around MN, including jumping on solar panels, and a bed and breakfast in sw mn that features a wind farm tour package. So where are there jobs?

Expanding assistance for rural areas – costs rural folks $300-$400 more a year for their energy and their income is less the us urban folks.

Renewable energy is the new space race with the same potential for spin-off technologies and economic benefits as the race to the moon.

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a pending green civil war is a fallacy

The NYTimes looks at the supposed battle between conservationists and developing renewable energy. This is a none starter, IF, the renewable energy projects get sited on disturbed lands like old mines and fallow agricultural lands. The LandArt Generator Project showed that you could generate more energy on the same footprint of all the existing coal mines with solar power. The other study is from AWEA that looks at the area required for wind to power the US. Both these studies show how little land is required.

In the mojave and other deserts of the southwest, there are lots of fallow agricultural land and former mines that already have the supporting infrastructure and would not generate additional disturbances. But American companies love to build on green field sites as part of the pioneering spirit – it’s harder to clean up somebody’s mess, then to create your own.

Area required to power the world with solar

Area required to power the world with solar

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mapping our world

Treehugger just posted ‘22 Most Amazing Maps Changing How We See The World’ which is very timely as I’ve been writing a mapping assignment for my 8205 studio. I’ve been thinking a lot about the act of mapping and creating indexes to sites in trying to figure out how to teach transcending the typical McHargian analysis.

Since McHarg brought site inventories and analysis into the 20th century, mapping has gained a central place in the profession of landscape architecture. For many large-scale projects, the act of mapping the constraints and opportunities has become the entire design process.

But I’m interested in using maps to reveal the latent forces that influence a place – this enters into a world of poetics that breaks from the scientific ‘just the facts’ branch of McHargian geographies that most of us know. I have to credit Dilip Da Cunha & Anu Mather, David Turnbull, and even Chris Reed with providing my foundation in transcending the banality of information and finding the poetry in diagramming complex systems.

There are many types of maps and indexes that can be made to describe and explore these hidden relationships through maps.

  • Literal: what is where (i.e. road maps, topographics map);
  • Analytic: why are things where they are (i.e. plant communities);
  • Temporal: diagrams charting changes and development of process or place.
  • Hybrid: a combination of analysis techniques to reveal a specific aspect

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What’s next for 2010?

On this New Year’s day, I visited the writings of my mentor in networked urbanism, Kazys Varnelis. Thanks to the interview in triplecanopy and his blog post 2009 in review, I’m feeling very dystopic and nihilistic about our future. But the academic pursuit of investigating our civilization’s pending collapse is a dead end. I’d rather pour my efforts into staving off this eventuality and originalgreen’s the Green Top 10 for 2010 lifted my spirits.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been immersed in developing my spring semester classes. So figuring out the emerging ideas/memes that are worth exploring in design studio has been very much on my mind. Okay, my perspective is as biased towards landscape architecture and sustainable urbanism, so feel free to disagree (in no particular order):

  • parametrics & scripting are almost dead and should have died 5 years ago. (you can’t design a building/city in flash, no mater what Winka says).
  • building simulation has some legs left, but only when symbiotic with bigger questions.
  • informal urbanism has it’s proponents but needs to be less about poverty voyeurism and more about ecological justice.
  • disaster urbanism/post-collapse/post-war urbanism is very apropos.
  • biomimicry seems pre-bubble, but might have some life left.
  • urban infometrics/networked urbanism has some juice, but Kazys has his doubts.
  • blobs are dead (hopefully) and should be buried 6 feet under – just witness the breakup of FOA.
  • living architecture, maybe. but only if this means exploring more about eco-technical systems then just grafting trees into the building’s skin or genetically modifying trees to become buildings.
  • vertical farms are still just an utopian pipe dream (but I’d love to be proven wrong).
  • agricultural urbanism is still fresh.
  • shrinking cities/dead malls/foreclosed suburbia will still be with us for another few decades and haven’t gotten enough attention.
  • housing for the next 3.5 billion isn’t getting enough attention.
  • media skins/cinematic facades seems very 90s tschumi, even as the technology is finally mature.
  • green buildings, well you better define what sort of green you’re into and don’t even bother greenwashing yourself.
  • metrics and benchmarks are the future, but I hope that nobody bothers to form a studio around LEED or the SSI ever again. leave this for something to pick up in practice, not school. those benchmarks grow obsolete and irrelevant as quickly as modeling software, so please don’t waste the students tuition on something they can only use for a year or two.
  • infrastructure is a dead end according to Kazys, but I still think that students need to be understand all these pipes and wires that are the life support of our cities.
  • landscape urbanism has been kicking around for over a decade, but I’m starting to see LUas a updated version of McHargian ecological planning driven design and just a chance to use big words.
  • industrial ecology seems to be off the radar, but worth exploring from a cultural perspective.
  • ruralism has been ignored by many schools, but many of the solutions to our urban issues are out in the hinterland
  • suburbanism should be blindfolded and shot, but to many folks like the status quo so we need to find a better approach.
  • eco-cities, something close to my heart, but Masdar & Dongtan are bust and seem to have just been a Potemkin Village or smoke and mirrors. There is real potential in figuring out optimal urban morphology for specific bioclimatic zones, but there isn’t any scientific justification or methods to go about validating the design/planning choices – this remains my current focus.
  • 2nd life architecture is dead.
  • facebook architecture ???? I hope not.
  • video game architecture – what’s the point of studying architecture/landscape if you want to play games – get a degree in animation or computer science.
  • starchitecture is dead, but hero worship has never died. studios by famous architects/’scapers (and their minions) will continue to be popular.
  • post-water urbanism and architecture is a topic that is urgently, urgently needed.
  • post-carbon/post-oil is a tasty flavor of pragmatic green architecture/urbanism that is growing in popularity (several symposiums on this topic have already fertilized the field).
  • sea level rise is another topic that I’ve seen several fascinating thesis projects explore and expect to become more common (especially in schools located on the coasts).

Overall, exploring/learning how to find pragmatic solutions to environmental/social challenges versus form-making is where I’ll place my money for the hot topics in design schools. If architecture and landscape architecture wish to stay relevant for the future, then this is where we all need to push the environmental design professions (and the AIA/ASLA/NCARB/CLARB/et al).

[related posts: 2009 in review, & fleeting memes of the fall]