Physical Ideas – By Todd Gilens

I love the physical qualities of just about everything but there is a special tension in language as printed or sculpted letters and words. It’s as if thought, which feels so internal, is taking place among plants and sidewalks, canyons and roadways. Through writing, something as fluid as speech becomes durable, sometimes for millennia. My ambitions aren’t so grand but I do wish to be part of the art of writing and language, exploring ways to make and to place texts so that new relationships emerge in the reading. (Photo: Konah Zebert)

Last week I had the opportunity to try out some material on a curb-top in Downtown Reno.  ATM200 is a temporary traffic-striping tape with reflective glass beads and a sticky back. Clovermill Graphics in Southern California cut a twenty-three foot phrase I’d written using a cursive font made from the handwriting of WR Rodgers (more on that in a future newsletter). Assisting with the installation, Mahedi Anjuman plucks the centers out of the letters’ loops.

Myself, along with Depaul Vera, Mahedi Anjuman, and Konah Zebert (photographer), young artists and students in the UNR MFA program, applied the text in about an hour and a half.

The first step was to choose how the phrasing would break at the concrete joints in the curb (top photo). A blue plastic backing was then peeled away from behind the letters; the strip was flipped and pressed against the concrete using a roller cart and two-hundred pounds of weights (this image). Then the material around the letters was removed. Photo: Konah Zebert

The whole text reads:
If sidewalks are riverbeds for feet we may feel all the shapes and experiences of stream life as we tread the water’s channel downhill.

But it is not possible to read the twenty-three-foot-long sentence on the sidewalk without moving your body, or as you’re now doing, scanning back and forth with your eyes while sitting quietly with a screen or page. Walking and reading, thinking in motion, alone or with companions, alongside traffic and with the sound of the Truckee river rushing by behind you, a statement about feet and streams may fragment and combine into new connections between people and materials, places and ideas.

All images are by Todd Gilens unless noted otherwise.

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When someone tells you, “The climate is always changing,” show them this cartoon

We’ve all heard it before: “Yeah, but the climate has ALWAYS changed.”

Oh, really? Well, this timeline of Earth’s average temperature shows just how much we’ve influenced the climate. This epic webcomic was created by Randall Munroe, the artist behind xkcd, one of our favorite places for simplifying complicated scientific concepts.

It’s pretty long, but bear with us.


You made it! Of course the climate has always changed, but we’re now seeing temperatures never experienced before. File away under: Things To Show Climate Denying Relatives on Thanksgiving.

When someone tells you, “The climate is always changing,” show them this cartoon

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ASLA Launches Guide to Resilient Design


Resilient design / ASLA

A new online guide launched today by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) explains how communities can better protect themselves from natural disasters through resilient landscape planning and design.

According to the guide, the goal of resilient landscape planning and design is to retrofit communities to recover more quickly from extreme events, now and in the future. In an era when disasters can cause traditional, built systems to fail, adaptive, multilayered systems can maintain their vital functions and are often the more cost-effective and practical solutions.

The guide is organized around disruptive events that communities now experience: drought, extreme heat, fire, flooding, and landslides. Biodiversity loss is an underlying threat also explored.

The guide includes hundreds of case studies and resources demonstrating multi-benefit systems as well as small-scale solutions. It also explains landscape architects’ role in the planning and design teams helping to make communities more resilient.

Resilient design involves working with nature—instead of in opposition to it. It provides value to communities, including:

Risk reduction: As events become more frequent and intense due to climate change, communities must adapt and redevelop to reduce potential risks and improve ecological and human health. It’s also time to stop putting communities and infrastructure in high-risk places. And communities must reduce sprawl, which further exacerbates the risks.

Scalability and Diversity: Resilient landscape planning and design offers a multi-layered system of protection, with diverse, scalable elements, any one of which can fail safely in the event of a catastrophe.

Multiple Co-Benefits: Resilient landscape design solutions offers multiple benefits at once. For example, designed coastal buffers can also provide wildlife habitat and recreation opportunities; urban forests made up of diverse species clean the air while reducing the urban heat island effect; and green infrastructure designed to control flooding also provides needed community space and creates jobs.

Regeneration: Disruptive natural events that are now occurring more frequently worldwide harm people and property. Resilient design helps communities come back stronger after these events. Long-term resilience is about continuously bouncing back and regenerating. It’s about learning how to cope with the ever-changing “new normal.”

In an era when disasters can cause traditional, built systems to fail, adaptive, multi-layered systems can maintain their vital functions and are often more cost-effective and practical solutions. In an age of rising waters and temperatures and diminishing budgets, the best defenses are adaptive, like nature.

The guide to resilient design has been strengthened through the expert guidance of Alexander Felson, ASLA, assistant professor, School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale School of Architecture; Kristina Hill, Affiliate ASLA, associate professor of landscape architecture and environmental planning and urban design, University of California at Berkeley; Nina-Marie Lister, Hon. ASLA, graduate program director and associate professor, Ryerson University School of Urban and Regional Planning; Nate Wooten, Associate ASLA, landscape designer, OLIN; and Kongjian Yu, FASLA, founder and dean, Peking University College of Architecture and Landscape and Turenscape.

Explore the guide.

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From Parking to Patio!


The pocket patio at 804 Congress in Austin, Texas, transforms four side-angled, city-owned parking spaces into a dynamic patio and social gathering area. Created to serve customers of the Café Medici coffee window and tenants of the adjacent office building, the patio is a lively destination, brimming with activity throughout the day. dwg. worked with the building owner Gone to Texas, to successfully reimagine the typical office building entry experience into a front porch style setting, expanding the lobby into the right of way.


The space features two separate patios, connected by movable seating and tree island decking. The south patio has an elevated countertop along its edge, connected to a large raised planter and movable café tables and chairs. The north patio has several custom, built-in tables with a bench integrated into the planter. The custom planters are crafted from steel and were built on-site. The seating and counters are made of sealed composite beam. Furniture selections offer a variety of seating options and the varying counter heights allow for leaning, standing and sitting. The rocking chairs have proven to be the most popular seating options, and can generally be found filled with people looking for a break in their work day. Native and adaptive planting throughout the deck offers respite from the surrounding sidewalk and pavement. Existing trees offer ample shade for the patio visitors.


Find out more about this project here!

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Expanding Public Transportation

The role of public transportation is expanding.

Find out more here!

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PARK(ING) DAY 2016!!!!!

Happy Fall Everyone!!! PARK(ing) Day was TODAY September 16th, 2016.

Our wonderful students at Landscape Architecture put together a fantastic display right outside the Cannery where they invited the public to participate by learning how to fold paper cranes!

Thank you again to everyone who volunteered and went the extra mile to make this PARK(ing) Day extra special!

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3 Green Infrastructure Projects to Save the World

Traditionally, the management of stormwater has relied upon the use of underground pipes, pumps, and other devices used to control the direction and flow of water. However, these gray infrastructure systems require a large capital investment, costly maintenance, and can fail.

Green infrastructure, on the other hand, offers a low-cost, adaptable solution that encompasses innovative design strategies used to manage stormwater and flooding while minimizing the impact of development. Strategies are diverse, and can range from permeable paving systems to green roofs to strategically planted street trees.

To find out what these projects are, read the full article here!

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Panel Discussion TOMORROW, SEPTEMBER 15, 2016!!!

Business Development Panel Discussion Thursday, September 15th AIA in San Francisco

Thrive, don’t just Survive

Thinking about ways to make your business grow? Wondering how to thrive in a crowded field? Ever wonder how to stay viable in a changing environment? ASLA-NCC presents a panel discussion on business development. Local ASLA members James Lord, Surfacedesign; Jeanette Hill, DES Architects & Hill/Stephens Design; René Bihan, SWA and Sara Peschel, Groundworks will share industry trends and their techniques for maintaining and increasing their company’s business.   CLICK HERE for more info and to register.

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Former Landfill Becomes Park!

A Los Angeles firm turns to super-light interventions for a landscape bent on change.

A Los Angeles firm turns to super-light interventions for a landscape bent on change.

From the September 2016 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

It’s been nearly three years since Los Angeles County Waste Management’s fleet of rumbling trash trucks ceased their daily climb up and down the massive landfill in Puente Hills, for years one of the nation’s largest. Now, the 640-acre site is poised to become a public park, and despite its proximity to an area rich in outdoor amenities like the picturesque Powder Canyon and Arroyo Pescadero Trail, it lacks easy access and infrastructure that would allow surrounding working-class San Gabriel Valley communities a chance to experience its spectacular views and raw terrain.

“When the county came to us, they wanted us to think big, and they wanted the public to think big,” says Bryan Matsumoto, a landscape design associate at Withers & Sandgren Landscape Architecture and Planning in Montrose, California. On behalf of the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation, Withers & Sandgren worked with Auburn, Alabama-based Hillworks Landscape + Architecture and other consultants to develop a careful strategy of maximizing the site’s abrasively atypical features and orchestrated a series of surprisingly creative and lively community workshops to promote the master plan process. “We were bracing ourselves for conflict and uncertainty. People are skeptical and unsure of the environmental aspects of the site, but we were up front about the challenging aspects by saying, ‘Here are the constraints,’” Matsumoto says.

Moderate settling is characteristic of most landfill-to-park remediation projects, but Puente Hills’s dramatic elevation change will be precedent setting. Portions of the site will continue to settle over the next 75 years, resulting in a negative elevation change of up to 125 feet. The settling makes even the most basic improvements, like lighting stands or trees, an impossibility across wide areas of the future park. “This is a highly engineered and very disturbed landscape,” Matsumoto says of the mountainous terrain, which is 1,000 feet high in places. “The constraints for ball fields, for example, are significant: We’d have sinking trees, dangerous divots, and rolls. We can’t have turf. Water can’t percolate down through the site, or else we’ll create leachate.”

By identifying and deciphering where “islands” of nonfill land could accommodate structures such as posts and foundations, the team could propose a precious few structured amenities that might also neutralize or enhance the huge elevation change of the site. In the process of the community workshops, groups of schoolchildren, teachers, organizers, business owners, and hikers all responded positively to fun features like a zip line, slides, and a trail lift (imagine a gondola ride). Then it was determined which adjacent, lighter amenities could populate the larger, surrounding areas of ever-settling fill. For the design team, it was key to promote the plan’s passive elements as much as its few permanent features.

During a recent workshop (the fourth of five) at a local elementary school in La Puente, homeowners with families in tow, environmental activists, city boosters, and groups of teens were asked to choose one of three visions for the park, developed based on previous workshop feedback. Out of three schematic concepts, attendees chose a design that featured a more ecological approach instead of solely recreational or educational proposals. With a strategy of ephemeral and super-light interventions such as picnic areas, a dog park, and “hedgerows” of wildflowers to define edges and boundaries, locals felt it struck a balance. Sophia Espinosa, a park supporter and returning attendee, said, “I won’t be alive 70 years from now, but I see this as that I’m leaving my mark.”

Now covered with up to 12 feet of dirt, the former landfill and its master plan await a vote by Los Angeles County’s Board of Supervisors, which has pledged support for the park. “This is a park for all in the 25-mile radius it serves, so it can’t be habitat reserves only,” Matsumoto says. “On the other hand, we don’t want it to be Disneyland. And in a sense it can’t be.”

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Will YOU Rise to the Challenge?


Rising to the Stormwater Challenge

Join green roof and wall industry leaders this November in North America’s foremost city for green roof policy and implementation – Washington, DC – for the 14th Annual CitiesAlive Conference.

This year’s conference will highlight advancements in living architecture design, research and policy, with a focus on stormwater management. Explore the science behind green roof and wall performance and learn how these technologies are enabling designers to meet municipal stormwater management requirements. Discover new products and services at the CitiesAlive trade show, tour some of DC’s best green infrastructure projects, and enhance your professional practice via continuing education and networking events.

This year, let’s rise to the stormwater challenge.

Learn More Here!

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