Friday, August 28, 2009

Review of the High Line

The New York Review of Books has a balanced review of the High Line. Most of which I would agree with. I walked the High Line the other evening with a horticulturist from The Horticultural Society of New York, which helped my appreciation for the variety in Piet Oudolf's planting strategy. One more point, however. I had been on the High Line some years ago before any work was done (I was working for Friends of the High Line at the time, and we did a press conference on the High Line with Mayor Bloomberg, (then) Senator Clinton, and actor, Ed Norton.) Now with the work done and lots of people up there, successful as the High Line is for all the reasons cited by the NYRB, the impression is decidedly not monumental. It has the feel on the east-west axis of a New York City pocket park -- which is dramatically contrasted by the north-south winding access which extends like an avenue -- and, of course, on the vertical axis, you're three stories above the streets. All in all, a distinctive experience, well adapted/integrated into the environment. But not stunning. It fits very well into the city in lots of dimensions. I don't think, however, it's going to be viewed ultimately as a transformative architectural/landscape addition to the city.

Another textscape: "adventure . . . the interrelationship between human beings and topography"

"Most great stories of adventure, from The Hobbit to Seven Pillars of Wisdom, come furnished with a map. That's because every story of adventure is in part the story of a landscape, of the interrelationship between human beings (or Hobbits, as the case may be) and topography. Every adventure story is conceivable only with reference to the particular set of geographical features that in each case sets the course, literally, of the tale. But I think there is another, deeper reason for the reliable presence of maps in the pages, or on the endpapers, of an adventure story . . . . People read stories of adventure -- and write them -- because they have themselves been adventurers. Childhood is, or has been, or ought to be, the great original adventure, a tale of privation, courage, constant vigilance, danger, and sometimes calamity. For the most part the young adventurer sets forth equipped only with the fragmentary map -- marked here and there by tygers and mean kid with air rifle -- that he or she has been able to construct out of a patchwork of personal misfortune, bedtime reading, and the accumulated local lore of the neighborhood children." Michael Chabon, "Manhood for Amateurs: the Wilderness of Childhood," The New York Review of Books, vol. 56, no. 12, July 16, 2009.

Friday, August 21, 2009

New from ASLA

ASLA's new Sustainable Urban Development Resource Guide.

People make parks

This is an interesting project in NYC for getting community participation into the design of parks/landscape. While getting community input during site analysis and planning is routine, this project seems to push it to the next level, using web-based tools, etc.

Why Grand Central works

Great analysis from Urban Omnibus.

Writing about place -- relinquishing control over your brand

Heathrow airport and the PR firm Mischief in London have undertaken a really smart textscape. It's a promotion of the airport through working with Alain de Botton -- giving him free reign, as writer in residence, to write anything he wants in his diary about his week in the airport. Neither Heathrow or the PR firm will have any control of the content. The book will be published independently. In new/social media, we talk about giving up trying to control your brand; your consumer owns and defines the brand, you don't. The Heathrow promotion shows how that principle can also apply to traditional media/marketing. I'm especially impressed by the selection of Botton.


Dwell magazine and have an interesting competition for re-thinking/re-designing suburbia.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A textscape: The text of our childhood and the landscape -- can your heart leap up?

I sat in tonight as an observer of the final design studio course presentations of students about to graduate from Columbia University's MS in Landscape Design. There was, as you might imagine, lots of variation in design solutions presented. But, repeatedly, a subtext arose in students's comments about why they made a certain choice (design or planting): It reminded him/her of some experience of their childhood. And this totally, authentically resonated with me -- I know my pleasure / engagement with landscape is very much influenced by the experiences I had with nature / gardens growing up. I'd say that those of use who've had the blessing of growing up with some engagement with the natural world carry that experience with us forever -- in sensual memory, in aesthetic principal. Without belaboring the point, remember Last Child in the Woods.

Even though grimy life today makes it tough. All these memories of Grandma's garden, etc., makes it understandable why William Wordsworth's heart lept up.

Another (good) obvious idea

The NYC Department of Buildings and the AIA are encouraging the aesthetic design of the ever-present construction sheds that are a part of urban life. I'd put that in the category of little, but great, ideas whose time have come. I remember, a decade or more ago, the Eglise de la Madeleine in Paris (not a church since Napoleon de-sanctified it) was under renovation. The construction shed and scaffolding that went up over the front of the building was draped with a scrim (?) with a massive print of the underlying facade -- but brighter and and in higher definition than the real facade beneath. The construction shed, scaffolding and the printed scrim were up for some time -- more than a year. I grew greatly fond of it as a bright focal point at the top/north of the Place de la Concorde. And I must admit, ever since the scaffolding has come down, and the restored "real" facade of la Madeleine is there -- that I miss the graphic evocation of the idea of the facade, with its underlying energetic promise that all is being improved/saved. In some interesting way, the "idea" of the facade, which is some variation of the front of a Greek temple, captured my attention more in the ephemeral representation in the scrim over the construction shed than in the real facade, before and after. (I've seen more more impressive/moving fronts of Greek temples elsewhere. Sorry, Paris.) Today, we've "just" got the real facade. Anyway, back to construction sheds in NYC -- Yes, why shouldn't they be engaging design?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Naming and connecting with life: textscape

A few years ago, I was taking plant identification/botany courses at Columbia University. I don’t want to exaggerate the impact of these courses – because it was and wasn’t in particular these courses – but the ability to See and confidently to Name the living plants of all kinds in my immediate environment became an open door to an enriched kind of perception. Such learning changes the way one walks down the street or through the countryside. You See differently. Today’s New York Times Science section has an enlightening feature on “taxonomy” which makes a more eloquent argument than I can for the rewarding human experience of Seeing, Naming, and Categorizing. I am reminded of one of the most commanding insights that I had many years ago in my Ph.D. studies in reading the Spanish essayist, novelist, poet, and dramatist, Miguel de Unamuno – he asserted: Without the Word, There Is No Thing. There is a hard to grasp but powerful relationship between the Text (language) and the Landscape (our perception of the living entities around us). Hence my blog: textscape.
A plug to my plant identification/botany instructor at Columbia. (Who gave me a B-. Not that I’m still chafing under her tough grading.) Check out Jennifer Horn’s blog, New York, Plants & Other Stuff.