Top Ten Holiday Cards from 2014

  Holidays are over

Well, that’s that. My holiday house guests have returned home. I’m all out of Egg Nog. The Christmas decorations are put away. And 2015 has begun. With all the chaos of hosting a big family holiday, I didn’t fully appreciate the holiday e-cards from firms and friends that rolled in the days leading up to the festivities. But today, with my newly found time to myself, I went through them all: the simple and serene, those tinged with nostalgia or laced with community and giving, the fun ones that spread a little holiday cheer in their own cheeky way, and even the overtly sales-y (really?!).

Here are ten to remember.

Lundberg Design's clever play on their fondness for the patina of old materials.

FXFowle's creative, simplicity

HMC's throwback to holidays past

Holiday pun from aquarium designers Tenji, "Here We Come a Wrassailing"


CE Solutions donated on behalf of the friends of the firm ... and gave them the choice of who gets it.

How Urbanism Is Reshaping Cities and Rekindling Community

Today’s world is an environment that is connected 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s nearly impossible to unplug from work, which means no boundaries and constantly being on alert. With these stressful work demands, more people are seeking “work-life integration” and more fulfillment in personal and family life, while also being productive and effective at work. For architect Teddy Cruz, this isn’t foreign territory – he’s been studying the blurring of boundaries at home and work for more than a decade in Tijuana, Mexico, where families adapt and expand their homes as needed.

Meagan Dickermann of Pfau Long Architecture says from a design perspective, “we know the mantra ‘form follows function’. Today’s offices look like living rooms, cafés function as workplaces, and homes have multiple offices. We are even seeing modern day communes where a mix of professionals choose to live (and sometimes work) under one roof to spark new ideas, relationships and ventures. This mix is driven by advances in technology and a we-can-have-it-all mentality.”

Cruz observed that an extra unit might be built as a retail or restaurant space to meet the needs of the neighborhood. When needed, the family may add another bedroom for their son and his new wife, or for a grandparent. “The form and function of the space is adapted to the family’s demands at that particular time of life. The result is a micro-scale mixed use “ecosystem” where family, business, and neighbors each perform essential roles,” writes Dickermann.

Dickermann says that “Cruz shares the shantytown lessons of organic growth and combined functions as a methodology for transforming the repetitious, single use, suburban developments in the sprawling areas of southern California.”

“Cruz describes multi-use frameworks with shared infrastructure—like community-owned storefronts that rotate vendors and give residents a place to conduct business. These bottom-up micro-scale developments provide a basic yet adaptable framework for neighborhoods to introduce opportunities for local commerce and connections close to home,” says Dickermann.

CEO Tony Hsieh, CEO of online retailer Zappos, has developed a concept similar to Cruz , one that embraces the potential of dynamic communities with urban design.  In 2013, Hsieh moved Zappos headquarters from suburban Henderson, Nevada, to a building that once housed Las Vegas City Hall. In creating the ideal work setting, Hsieh visited other corporate campuses such as Apple, Nike and Google where he noticed they lacked one thing: urbanism

Fremont East District in Las Vegas is part of Tony Hsieh's Downtown Project











Hsieh launched a project separate from Zappos called Downtown Container Park that aims to make Vegas a destination for tech entrepreneurship and rekindle the city’s community. The development, unique for its purpose and it materials: it’s made out of shipping containers in old downtown Vegas on a block-long pedestrian mall that was once made up of lower-end casinos and motels with the purpose of providing entrepreneurs space and resources to build their new companies.


According to the Downtown Project website, the project seeks to transform downtown Las Vegas into “the most community-focused large city in the world. We are doing that by inspiring and empowering people to follow their passions to create a vibrant, connected urban core.” Hsieh’s focus is on ROC, Return on Community, with the goal of helping to “make downtown Vegas a place of Inspiration, Entrepreneurial Energy, Creativity, Innovation, Upward Mobility, and Discovery, through the 3 C’s of Collisions, Co-Learning, and Connectedness.”

Of the $350 million Hsieh allocated to the revitalization of downtown Las Vegas, $200 million is invested in real estate, $50 million in small businesses, $50 million in education, and $50 million in tech start-ups.

So far, the Container Park has boutique shops, restaurants, tech startups and a treehouse, which is an interactive play area for children. It has also created 825 new jobs.

What other ways are businesses, small and large, rekindling community?

An interview with Olmstead Scholar Sara Zewde: Cultural Preservation, Landscape Architecture, and Kanye West

Contributed by Rebecca Greenwald

At 28, Sara Zewde is something of an architectural wonderkid- part landscape architect, part urbanist, part sociologist and cultural anthropologist, and-as of this month-the Landscape Architecture Foundation's 2014 Olmstead Scholar. As the first student from Harvard's Graduate School of Design to win the award, Sara will bring her perspective examining and designing landscapes with Walter Hood/Hood Design in Oakland and Asakura Robinson in Houston to creating spaces in both New Orleans' Treme and Rio de Janeiro's Little Africa that honor and reflect some of those cities’ most challenged yet culturally influential communities. I caught Sara in between final exams to talk about her grant work, the relationship between cultural preservation and landscape design, and why Kanye West is important to the design community.

Tell us a little bit about the two projects you'll be using your grant to pursue in Rio and New Orleans

A few years ago I was working in transportation planning in Rio de Janeiro when a discovery was made of slave bones in what they believed to be the old slave wharf, Valongo, in central Rio. At the time the city government announced that they wanted to memorialize the space with a plaza to represent the black experience in that community, Pequena Africa (Little Africa). With the support of a grant I received from Harvard I examined the design process and issues in that community. The city government and community organizations advocating for the project were interested in getting me involved in the design process but had no funds at the time, so this Olmsted grant will help me go back and get involved in these design issues looking at the Pequena Africa neighborhood.

A cross-section of the city's history is visible during the construction project in Pequena Africa (2011). Source: Sara Zewde

For the New Orleans part of my research, I’ll be revisiting a topic I explored in my master’s thesis at MIT, the potential removal of the Claiborne Expressway that cuts through one of the city’s most famous historically black neighborhoods, Treme. When I wrote my thesis, the project was theoretical and then about a year afterwards the city got a federal grant to study the feasibility of removing the elevated expressway. The Olmstead grant will give me the chance to go back and reconsider what I was talking about in my thesis and get involved in developing design strategies for the corridor as the project gets realized.

What similarities do you see between the two communities, design and otherwise?

In terms of the trajectory of these cities, they’re both in a period of hyper development—New Orleans is still seeing a lot of post-Katrina redevelopment and Rio is seeing a lot of World Cup and Olympics-related development which has the put the core of both cities under a lot of pressure. Because of this, areas that were historically under-valued, largely because of infrastructural decisions like putting freeways there, are now being redeveloped and reconsidered. In the case of Rio, the elevated freeway going through Pequena Africa was removed only very recently.

Claiborne Avenue in 1955, before the construction of the elevated expressway. Source: Louisiana Historical Society

Under the overpass today (2010). Source: Sara Zewde











Both of these neighborhoods are also the homes of forms of music and culture that have formed national identities—in New Orleans Treme is the birthplace of jazz and in Rio Pequena Africa is the birthplace of Samba. Despite that, there has been a lack of understanding of how the spatial cultures of those places are able to influence their contemporary design. That’s really where the intrigue for me lies- we can say we’ve been able to honor certain aspects of these neighborhoods, but in terms of architectural and landscape design we haven’t been able to.

That thesis from your first Masters at MIT is now being used to teach students about black architecture and urbanism- an area that is not usually given critical examination, especially in academic settings. Can you detail some of the defining elements you see in this area?

For the most part, the way urbanists view black neighborhoods (and other low-income neighborhoods and communities of color) are as problems that need to be fixed. At the heart of what I want to say is what can we as urbanists learn from these neighborhoods? There are actually a lot of spatial and cultural practices that lend themselves to contemporary design. It’s not really about defining some set of physical elements that are characteristic of all of these places, but more about the way we look at them and value these people, landscapes, and neighborhoods.

For both projects, how much background research did you have to do on the history of both places and what are some of the most interesting things you learned in that process?

In both Rio and New Orleans the most important part of the research process was simply talking to people: small business owners, local residents, members of city government, and civic, cultural and spiritual leaders. These conversations were about building relationships with the members of these communities and understanding what aspects of the spaces around them are most important. One of my favorite things about design is the empathy it requires of you.

As much as possible, spending time in the area is critical as well. It is important to experience the place with a sense of curiosity and wonderment, in combination with a rootedness, in order to tap into the rhythms and energies of the place.  And you layer on the more historical, archival and current events research in understanding the issues and politics of the place. Those elements of the research are really important in understanding how to enter these projects and what my potential contribution might be to those contexts.

How has your own diverse upbringing - both of your parents moved here from Ethiopia and you spent much of your childhood between Louisiana and Houston- represented itself in your work?

Every place I’ve lived has a very distinct landscape. Even as a child moving from Louisiana to Houston I became very conscious of the change in the way things looked, in the lighting, the smells, the pace of life, the sounds- all of that melded together into landscape. It happened again when I moved to Boston and again in California and in Brazil. For me it’s overlaying all of those moves with my parents’ upbringing in Ethiopia, I’ve always been very aware of what is represented in the landscape and how it makes you feel about where and who you are, where you’re supposed to be, what people, cultures and ways of life are validated and represented, etc.

In terms of the work I’m currently pursuing, both Brazil and New Orleans exhibit elements of Africa in the Western Hemisphere. And my parents are both Africans in the West. So they present this extreme hybridity, and I guess because my own life is of a hybrid nature that’s one of the reasons why I’m drawn to both places.

You were recently one of a group of students at Harvard's Graduate School of Design who brought Kanye West in to speak and engage in conversation around design- what was the significance of that experience and what is the importance of figures like him in raising the profile of black designers?

The reason why we reached out to Kanye was because we identified with the frustration he was expressing in the media about being pigeonholed into one form of art and the feeling that he wasn’t gaining access to a lot of the design world because of this. The media didn’t seem to understand it, but we did. For us, with black people being so underrepresented in architecture, landscape architecture, and planning (for reference only 2 percent of accredited architects in the AIA are black) we could certainly relate to that frustration. We want to be part of the design world and feel like we can make a unique contribution in the same way our peers can.

Kanye and AASU photo

Having someone with Kanye’s reach and platform come to the GSD and express his thoughts on design as an agency of change and how design can save the world was very significant for us. For people of all colors and socioeconomic backgrounds to learn craft is highly empowering and will only continue to widen the range of things that are possible for design. Kanye spoke directly to that.

I have to ask since you're now an official Olmstead scholar- what influence has Olmstead had on your interest in landscape architecture and on your work?

One of Olmstead’s greatest strengths was his ability to layer ecologic, aesthetic, and social aims. I think a lot of landscape architecture today either positions itself in one of two categories- it’s either a ‘public project’ like an urban plaza or it’s an ecological restoration project aimed at saving habitat. But Olmstead’s work manages to do both really well, and he was very conscious of accomplishing both social needs and landscape aims. Olmstead was also very good at observing people and you can see that in the very delicate hand that comes through even in his large scale works—you feel like you could venture through Central or Prospect Park forever. It’s this layering effect that is so evocative and timeless and is something that can be appreciated even as populations change around them. And that is what I’m aiming to do with my work.


About Rebecca Greenwald

Rebecca Greenwald is an associate with Walter Communications and consults with companies across design, travel and sustainability. In her free time, Rebecca enjoys getting lost in new cities and in cafes, markets, bookstores and record shops. 

Improving Collaboration in Design Teams

vectorstock_1956574contributed by  Jeff Caldwell

In the collaborative world of design, working together is key. When you’re planning a renovation or creating a new structure, there are many individuals involved in the process, all of whom must come together to create the finished product, from the project architect (PA) and the client to the civil engineers and the landscape architects. So how do you get so many different perspectives on the same page? Can you? Are there ways to encourage effective collaboration and amicable partnerships? The good news is yes. With that in mind, to help you get your key players functioning as a uniform whole, here are key tips for boosting collaboration, communication and, by extension, success in your upcoming projects.

1. Make Communication a Priority

The most important factor in how successfully a design team functions is how well its members communicate with each other and with clients. The finance team could have a certain budget in place, but the architects are making changes without discussing them with finance staff, leading to overspending and tension among the team members. That’s why everyone on the team needs to keep everyone else apprised of developments, changes and concerns throughout the process. How can you make this easier for your specific group?

  • Assess Your Team: When assessing your team's ability to communicate, don't just look at project managers and assume that they're good indicators of the way things are. Decision-making staff may think they're being perfectly clear when actually they’re not as insightful or straightforward as they believe, especially when it comes to technical issues. To truly assess how things are going, garner responses from architects, designers, engineers, the client and so on. Ask for confirmations to gauge comprehension of the team’s goals and projects, and make open feedback an intrinsic part of the way you conduct business.
  • Establish Specific Processes: Put processes in place for your projects in order to establish who does what, and when and how. Give team members a place to go with problems. Provide a format or software for regular collaboration. “A good process establishes the roles and responsibilities, sets expectations around communication with other teams and aids in defining deliverables for the team,” says Mitch Ruebush at Developer Fusion. “Once you have a process you can work at making it more efficient and showing value through metrics and successful interactions with other business and IT processes.” When everyone on your team knows his or her responsibilities and is given the tools and time to accomplish them, your team automatically functions better.

2. Set Clear Expectations for Sharing

There are countless situations in which sharing can cause team conflicts. For instance, designers who have to share their work areas with engineers may be hurting for space yet feel uncomfortable about voicing their concerns. In other cases, a single team member in the same department may dominate his or her peers due to perceived seniority or some other factor. When one person on the team overrides the preferences and needs of the others, it's harder for people to work together.

That’s why you must establish standards for sharing. It's fine to institute a hierarchy based on seniority or performance, but ensure that you set the ground rules early on so that nobody abuses their privileges. While considering workplace preferences, such as meeting times, resource accessibility and other critical factors, never rely on unfounded opinions without making a detailed empirical assessment. Try different schemes and evaluate them based on open group feedback to determine which facilitates superior functionality.

3. Provide Accountability and Reward Do your team members feel that their work actually matters, or do they feel like anyone could fill their role? One of the potential drawbacks to group organization is that some people tend to sit back and let others pick up the slack, particularly if they feel undervalued or unmotivated. If your landscape designers are treated as the unimportant extras in a project, it will affect collaboration. If the engineers don’t give the project architects adequate space to do their job, it will create problems. And while you could write off work conflicts as something caused by the few bad apples in any group, the truth is that the corporate culture you create also plays a major role.

It's important to recognize team members for their positive output as well as their mistakes. So while instituting penalties for failure is largely unproductive, incentivizing people to succeed will often motivate them to work together and compete in a healthy fashion as they build designs and complete projects. Set the tone by showing your appreciation for those who do things right, and others will follow suit in creating a more positive corporate culture. This encourages teamwork across your staff and provides incentive for collaboration.

Whatever structural design project you’re managing, teamwork is critical. Learn how to recognize the signs of cooperation, and facilitate free and open feedback in order to see drastic improvements in the way your staff accomplishes tasks. About the author: Jeff Caldwell is Brand Manager of Litchfield Landscape Elements in Carrollton, GA. Litchfield Landscape Elements accepts shelter design challenges from designers, landscape architects, and architects around the world, creating custom shelters specific to your outdoor needs.

Social Media and the Built Environment—the Research Continues

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Two years ago, our book Social Media in Action was published to help architects, landscape architects, engineers and environmental consulting firms use these tools in ways that help them reach their business and marketing goals. For this, we surveyed, studied and interviewed hundreds of firms, but much has changed in two years: new tools have  emerged and more firms are embracing social media in creative and innovative ways. So inevitably, new research is required.

2012 Survey Results

Yesterday, in collaboration with Reed Construction Data, my co-author Holly Berkley and I launched a new study on the social media efforts of building product manufacturers to help these companies understand the most effective + efficient ways social media can be used to support their core business goals.

We need your help keeping this data current!

We’re looking for building product manufacturers–of all sizes and across the U.S.–to take a short online survey (it should take about 10 minutes), sharing insight into why, how and when you use social media. We’re also digging into costs, time and ROI of social media use among your building industry peers today. Select participants will be contacted for follow up interviews and possibly featured as a case study.

In exchange for your time, all survey participants will get a first look at the 2014 data results, along with a special white paper written by Holly and me, analyzing how building product manufacturers can best use that data to make social media work for them. In addition, as a special “thank you”, we’d like to offer anyone who takes this survey a discount code for 25% off your purchase of Social Media in Action.

Ready to get started?