Top 5 Architecture and Urbanism Blog Posts for Week of Sept. 2, 2013

090213 The excitement of  field trips. Returning streets to the people. Building under bridges. Public squares in the urban world. A trail for volunteering. Examining thought leadership.A trip into the field.

Melanie Kahl of Cannon Design discusses how field trips contribute to design, learning and place.

“Strange as it may seem, we think field trips are more of a mindset and lifestyle than anything else. A mindset central to learning and design. When we go on field trips, we become students of the world––our awareness is heightened, our inspiration is fueled, and our understanding is deepened. Life is a series of really awesome field trips.” – Melanie Kahl

Via Cannon Design Blog

Returning streets to people. Gerdo Aquino, president of SWA Group, examines how cities are finding opportunities to reintroduce car-free zones that give the streets back to the people.

Aquino provides five tips for going car-free in urban areas, including making sure that pedestrians already frequent the space, that the street is not currently essential to the city’s street grid and the place is a unique destination.

Via Ideas SWA


Under bridges. Jared Green of ASLA’s the Dirt explores Mexico City’s creative use of space under its bridges.
After the success of its pilot program Bajo Puentes, or Under Bridges, which turned four trash-strewn, vacant underpass spaces into vibrant shopping plazas, playgrounds, and cafes, the city is expanding the program. It will add another five and target 30 more possible areas that can be turned into commercial or recreational space. as candidates.

Public squares are center of urban world. Landscape Architects Network (LAN) features 10 festival squares as part of its Top 100 Squares, showing the world the power of people and the power of public space.

  1. St. Marks Square, Venice, Italy
  2. Circular Quay, Sydney, Australia
  3. Century Square, Shanghai, China
  4. Yonge-Dundas Square, Toronto, Canada
  5.  Zócalo Square, Mexico City, Mexico
  6. Jackson Square, New Orleans, USA
  7. Leidseplein, Amsterdam, Netherlands
  8. Parc del Forum, Barcelona, Spain
  9. Place Sainte-Catherine, Brussels, Belgium
  10. Bristo Square, Edinburgh, Scotland


A great trail for volunteering. Stantec landscape architect Dalton LaVoie assembled a volunteer team of local designers throughout Northern California to help create a road map for converting an iconic stretch of now defunct Northern California railroad into a landmark hiking trail.

When complete, the 80-mile scenic Great Shasta Rail Trail will link the Northern California towns of McCloud and Burney, as well as nearby recreation areas and local communities. “Volunteering can serve as a creative outlet and provide opportunities that may not otherwise present themselves through your everyday work. For design professionals, exercising creativity and imagination is one of our passions. When this passion is coupled with opportunities to learn, explore, collaborate and assist communities in need, we’re usually interested.” – Dalton LaVoie

Via Stantec Blog

Thought Leadership Article

Amanda Walter of Walter Communications examines the term thought leadership, discovering a growing movement toward thought leadership programs across the AEC industry.

Walter conducted a global survey, which indicated several common topics: sustainability, technology and business growth and operations, design process and project delivery. But there was one factor that was evident in each firm interviewed: “Leadership. Somewhere — maybe not directly conducting the research, but cheering on the team that is — there are passionate individuals who have sparked the initial curiosities. Permission to pursue ideas can have infectious results.”—Amanda Walter

Via Design Intelligence

Top 4 Architecture and Urbanism Blog Posts for Week of August 5, 2013

081113 Night out with bats. Using wood to build high-rises. Cultural vibrancy in Chicago. Effectiveness of user groups. Tweeting to help the homeless.

Night out with bats. Lake Flato talks about the nightly feeding exodus of Mexican Freetail bats from their roost at Bracken Cave, an event managed by Bat Conservation International which is a San Antonio group that seeks to educate people and protect bats.

Bracken Cave is home to the largest colony of bats in the world, with 15-20 million bats living in the cave. Before dusk, the bats steadily stream out of the cave for more than 3 hours en route to their 60 mile trip to feed, during which the lot will consume thousands of pounds of insects per night.

Via The Dogrun

Using wood for high-rises. Andrew Lawrence, a structural engineer at ARUP, discusses how urbanization is driving cities to build densely and sustainably and using wood to build tall buildings seems like a good alternative.

Wood is the only completely renewable building material and has almost zero embodied energy because it’s grown with solar power. Wood is also cellular material like bone, so it’s strong and light. Relatively easy to work with, wood lends itself to high quality prefabrication techniques. It’s light to transport to site, reducing transport costs and carbon emissions.

Via Arup Blog

Cultural vibrancy in Chicago. Keith Campbell, a vice president at RTKL’s Chicago office, explains why he likes to pay property taxes in Chicago – and why he thinks it’s a good deal.

The City of Chicago devotes a small percentage of taxes to the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, which is dedicated to enriching Chicago’s artistic vitality and cultural vibrancy.  This includes neighborhood music festivals, farmers markets, pilates, tai chi, yoga and zumba in Millennium Park.

Via RTKL Blog

Effectiveness of user groups. Martin Valins, a principal at Stantec, examines the validity of user groups, or if by asking the right questions, you can get what you need.

“Planning around the specific requirements of a user group (or in some cases, that of a dominant personality) can lead to a solution that is a net fit to that one view point. The result will probably be fine, but how often do we find that the person with the most dominant voice leaves before the project is even completed?” – Martin Valins

Via Stantec Blog

Innovative Social Media

Tweeting to help the homeless. A new program called Everyday Connect leverages social media to help the homeless in San Francisco. Project Homeless Connect’s team of staff and volunteers meet between 10 and 20 homeless children and adults each day with a specific, urgent need such as a wheelchair or pair of socks.  A tweet (via @PHCSF) is sent to the community asking for an item with the hashtag #EDCDailyNeed. Usually, it takes less than a day to fulfill the request.

Via VentureBeat

Top 4 Architecture and Urbanism Blog Posts for Week of July 8, 2013

071413 Embracing daylight. Architect Barbie. Texas sand sculpture. Alternative outputs. Sharknado is Twitter bait.

Embracing daylight. Florence Lam, who leads Arup’s global lighting design team, discusses how daylight is critical to sustainable urban development in addition to a person’s health and well-being.

“Up until around the 1980s, architecture students were encouraged to develop an instinct for daylight and its qualities in different parts of the world. Today, I believe this part of their education has been neglected. The complex and crammed curricula of modern architectural education leave students lacking the necessary opportunity to observe, imagine and embrace daylight experience at the beginning of every design.” – Florence Lam

Via Arup Blog

Architect Barbie. Lisa Boquiren, chairwoman of the AIA SF communications committee, explores the changes needed to keep women practitioners engaged in the architecture profession which was discussed at the symposium The Missing 32%, which is the opt-out rate of women in the industry.

Boquiren looks at the advent of Architect Barbie, which was a partnership between AIA national and Mattel in which “architect” lost to “computer engineer” in 2010 for Barbie’s 125th career, eventually advising Mattel on “Architect Barbie’s” design.

Via Metropolis POV

Texas sand sculpture. Gensler’s Houston office was asked by Mayor Annise Parker to build a patriotic-themed sand sculpture for the city’s 2013 Freedom Over Texas Festival.

What emerged was a sand sculpture that included iconic American structures like the Statue of Liberty, Liberty Bell, Washington Monument and iconic Texas structures such as the Alamo and the Houston skyline. In the center of the sculpture is a star above a map of the US and flanked by the US and the Texas flags. Special elements that memorialized the teachers, students, runners, firefighters and factory workers that had lost their lives were also included: a book, an apple, a hammer, running shoes, a rose, and firefighter’s helmets.

Via Gensleron Cities

Alternative inputs. Geoff Manaugh of BLDGBLOG writes about how UK artist Ryan Jordan led a workshop in Montréal, building musical instruments out of geological circuit boards, an experiment in terrestrial instrumentation he calls "Derelict Electronics."

Manaugh says we should “plug our cities not just into giant slurries of wood pulp, like thick soups of electricity, but also directly into the forests around us, drawing light from the energy of trunks and branches, is yet another extraordinary possibility that designers would do well to take on, imagining what such a scenario literally might look like and how it would technically function, not solely for its cool aesthetic possibilities but for the opportunity to help push our culture of gadgets toward renewable sources of power.”


Innovative Social Media

Sharknado is Twitter bait. Syfy's made-for-TV movie 'Sharknado,' which is about tornadoes that scoop up sharks from the ocean and dispense them on LA residents, inspired a feeding frenzy on social media. The show generated 318,232 tweets during broadcast and 5,000 tweets per minute at its peak.

Two key factors contributed to Sharknado’s social media success: smart buzz generation, led by Syfy's senior vice president of digital, Craig Engler, and participation by leading Twitter celebrities such as Wil Wheaton, Damon Lindelof and others.

Via Mashable


Top 4 Architecture and Urbanism Blog Posts for Week of June 24, 2013

062413 Design is a research project. Pattern of blooms receives recognition. Renaissance in the Windy City. Women in engineering. National Zoo uses social media to find missing red panda. Design is a research project.

Peter Hourihan, an architect at Cannon Design, discusses how research opportunities are everywhere in a firm’s design work.

“There are a number of ways that project or design goals can be generated: overall client specific outcomes; design team design strategies; pressing or ongoing research topics; or novel, untested design innovations. Any of these categories can spawn specific large and small scale design goals. They can each become a hypothesis when the designer or team collects data and draws conclusions about the intended or possible outcomes of the design idea.” – Peter Hourihan

Via Cannon Design Blog

Pattern of blooms. OLIN Studio’s Lines in Four Directions in Flowers on the west lawn of the Philadelphia Museum of Art has been recognized by the Public Art Network as part of the group’s Year in Review Program, which honors outstanding, exceptionally creative, or innovative public art works.

OLIN Partner Susan Weiler, who led the design team for Lines in Four Directions in Flowers,  said the team “spent months researching the color and flowering cycles of dozens of species and were able to design a system of plantings which ensures that there will always be an even pattern of blooms throughout the spring, summer, and fall.”

Via OLIN Studio Blog

Renaissance in the Windy City. David Broz of Gensler talks about how downtown Chicago is going through an urban renaissance as companies are returning, apartment construction is booming, and hotel stays are increasing.

These new urban inhabitants are digital native residents who expect a hybrid urban environment, different than what was previously in downtown Chicago. They expect pedestrian friendly streets, bicycle accommodating traffic lanes, a place to sit in parks and plazas, temporary pop-up-galleries and food trucks.

Via Gensleron Cities

Women in engineering. Emily Jones, architectural technician at Stantec, talks about Techsploration, a program that aims to increase the number of women working in science, trades and technology by promoting careers in these fields to young women in grades nine to twelve throughout Nova Scotia.

Jones, who became involved in the Techsploration program in 2011 while attending school, discusses events she was involved with and how girls are being encouraged to do anything they want to do in the fields of science and technology.

Via Stantec Blog

Innovative Social Media Campaign

Zoo social media swoop. The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., turned to social media to find missing red panda named Rusty. The zoo announced Rusty’s disappearance to its thousands of Twitter followers in a tweet at 11:51 a.m, which was retweeted nearly 3,000 times in an hour. Politicians and journalists, including Newt Gingrich, joined the online search. Around 1:15 p.m., a Washingtonian posted a picture on Twitter of Rusty in a patch of weeds in the Adams Morgan district, not far from the 163-acre zoo.

Via The New York Times

Favorite Design and Urbanism Blog Posts for Week of March 10, 2013

Olin Studio considers the intersection of planning and landscape. Landscape Urbanism spots an app for street design. SWA acknowledges the designers of the Golden Gate Parks.  An interview with an HOK designer. A different model for design education in Metropolis POV. 130318

Intersection of planning and landscape. OLIN Studio hosted a symposium that explored the intricacies of the relationship between planning and landscape architecture.

Several issues were brought up, including whether design should be brought back into planning. Or should planning sensibility be folded into the world of design? How are these topics relevant today? The symposium focused on the following themes:

  1.  Projective Work
  2. Powerful Players
  3. Global Scale
  4. Education and Conversation
  5. Art and Instrumentality

Via The OLIN Studio Blog


App for street design. Sarah Kathleen Peck, editor of Landscape Urbanism, writes about an app that lets you place various street elements in different spaces and adjusts the Right-Of-Way to desired traffic levels.

The app was designed by Code for America graduates and launched to increase real-time engagement at community planning meetings and allow people to work collaboratively with one another as well as share and edit each other’s creations. The app can be tested at at StreetMix.Net.

Via Landscape Urbanism

Related: StreetMix


Designers of the Golden Gate Parks. Rene Bihan of SWA Group blogs about the important legacy left by the designers and stewards of the Golden Gate National Parks. The landscape architect is hosting a fundraiser for The Cultural Landscape Foundation in honor of these citizens next month.

“Our vibrant and tightly-packed North Beach neighborhood is offset by the not-too-far-away wide open spaces of the Golden Gate National Parks (GGNP) that hint at the what the city was like generations ago and what the landscape was like before there was a city. It is no accident that these spaces are still here. The GGNP of today is the collective result of generations of activists, environmentalists, lawyers, stewards, and designers. We owe these individuals a great deal.” – Rene Bihan

Via IdeaSWA blog

Related: You’re Invited! An Evening Honoring a Model for Stewardship Innovation and Design Excellence


Interview with HOK designer. Todd Bertsch, Design Director for HOK in Atlanta, Georgia, discusses what it’s like to be an architect in Atlanta and some of the projects he’s worked on.

“Practicing architecture is this incredible collision of solving technical problems, exploring philosophical ideas and expressing creativity. We have the opportunity to affect what our communities look like, how society operates and how people live. We can blend beauty and poetry to create these high-performance buildings that have a positive influence on the world. These challenges thrill me every day.” – Todd Bertsch

Via HOK Life


Different model for design education. Sherin Wing examines the graduate program at the Art Center College of Design’s Media Design Practices (MDP), which provides a unique foundation of theory and on-the-ground training. Advocates of the program hope the model will influence other design programs.

While “activist” design has been around for years, the Art Center model unites critical analysis with design skills. The goal is to provide useful solutions for people locally and abroad without being culturally reductive or condescending. Too often, designers try to reinvent social intervention in their haste to be in the vanguard of a “new” approach and school-based design projects. These can be equally misguided. The result can waste material resources, human capital and money, while reinforcing cultural assumptions about the “other.”

Via Metropolis Magazine POV