Landscape Infrastructure: Case Studies by SWA Hardcover – Nov 22 2010
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From the Inside Flap
Landscape planning with a keen sense of the ecological context
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
What types of infrastructure will this book delve into?
Will it extend beyond tired conversations on sustainable water management?
Those were my initial questions, or perhaps even skepticisms, when I picked up this book.
I was happy to find that the well written, succinct prose of the Preface by Gerdo Aquino quickly answered those questions and in fact piqued my interest further to see exactly what ideas would be explored through this book.
The authors' intention is clear:
`...to question the ongoing viability of these single-purpose corridors by proposing that a multifunctional approach is more in tune with contemporary society".
In order to achieve the goals set out, a book of topical essays exploring the different principles, which they define as Landscape Infrastructure, has been authored. After exploring the principles, ideas, and goals of what Landscape Infrastructure could be in the broader field of Landscape Architecture, the authors provide analysis of some representative SWA projects employing these ideas.
The book begins with an essay on "Reading the Recent Work of SWA" by Charles Waldheim, which I thought initially was a curious way to begin...as a book which seemed to stem from a topical idea as opposed to a firm biography. I soon found out that the rich history of SWA positions it well to be an authority on, or at least have a credible opinion on, the topic of Landscape Infrastructure.
"SWA, originally formulated as Sasaki Walker Associates in 1957, was conceived around the development of a distinct studio culture of multidisciplinary collaboration, decentralized autonomy, independent decision making, and design innovation"
With that history, SWA proves that the addition of a Los Angeles `think tank' office and conceiving of landscape across disciplinary boundaries is in stride with the original SWA mission.
For me, the strength in the book lies in the essays, critical thinking, and the large scale masterplans which show how all of the pieces of Landscape Infrastructure can come together and the sum of the whole is much greater than its parts. The large scale thinking in projects such as Beizhi River Waterfront, Shunde New City, Ningbo Eco-Corridor, Anning River - New South Town, and Central Open Space in MAC, which connect pedestrian networks, ecological networks, water quality management, vehicular networks, and bicycle networks really is at the heart of why Landscape Infrastructure can be such an important and valuable discussion in contemporary practice.
The smaller scale installations were less convincing, focusing primarily on stormwater management and pedestrian networks which overlap to create a multiuse corridor or `Infrastructure'. I would argue that small scale installations, although a step in the right direction, are not greater than the sum of their parts when not integrated within a holistic approach. Small scale projects need to fit within a framework of a new citywide vision of what the urban environment can be. We as landscape architects, urban designers, and landscape urbanists need to be involved in the holistic reinvisioning of not just new cities and new environments, but how to best improve our existing cities under a unified vision.
"Infrastructure is a connective tissue that brings together disparate elements, instilling cohesion and purpose"
It is important to note, that this is not the first book or essay on the topic of Landscape Infrastructure, but it is a great addition to the conversation and the progression of the field of landscape architecture. This book furthers the dialogue of activating a holistic design approach to the world we live in.
Gerdo Aquino and Ying-Yu Hung of SWA Group, Los Angeles, investigate the changing role of public infrastructure in our cities and towns and what it means to 'design' infrastructural corridors for the future. They define infrastructure as a system now being integrated within landscape frameworks, demonstrating a new way of understanding the structures and systems that organize where and how we live.
From the preface: "The role of public infrastructure is changing. As large, contiguous systems, these corridors are networked across a vast scale of public and private lands. [...] The primary aim of this book is to question the ongoing viability of single-purpose corridors by proposing that a multifunctional approach is more in tune with contemporary society."
This collection of essays and fourteen in-depth case studies posit that landscape is a medium through which we can understand larger, complex design issues, specifically through the use of networked circulation (read: pedestrian) systems and macro-scale understandings of natural systems. Particularly in the development of new cities around the world, landscape architecture becomes a means to formulate design and planning solutions in a more holistic approach.
Beyond the case studies and essays, Charles Waldheim and Ying-Yu Hung reveal how the work of a firm, over time, allows for the evolution of design thinking through iterative projects and processes. A closer look at the structure and DNA of SWA - an intentionally-small design practice located in 7 offices internationally - tells the story of the origins of the studio practice and the firm's expansion over time into multifaceted design, research and teaching efforts across the different studios. The work reveals the distinct studio culture of SWA: Founded around a culture of multidisiplinary collaboration coupled with independent decision-making and design innovation at the core, the practice is about design excellence and the development of a company structure that provides a framework to not only allow for, but to encourage the evolution and expansion of landscape architectural design and thinking over time.
A beautiful read about the practice of landscape architecture, about the involvement of landscape architects in innovative research initiatives, and a comprehensive study of a small sampling of the 50+ years of work done by this remarkable group of people.
Infrastructure of all sorts is an integral part of the urban condition. We have been building structures, aqueducts and roads for centuries. Landscape infrastructure is not quite as historic as Roman watercourses, but it is not an entirely new concept--the Emerald Necklace a ring of parks and conserved land in Boston was conceived of and installed between 1878-1896. It has seen a resurgence in popularity over the past in the past 15-20 years as both cities and the discipline of landscape architecture have grown. In particular over the past 10 years as the awareness of sustainability has increased, landscapes and ecological systems have gained new relevancy in urban design.
The fourteen SWA project case studies and four essays in this cleanly laid out and well illustrated new book take on the topic of landscape infrastructure in a variety of ways. The projects are organized by category but if looked at chronologically they present an interesting case study of the development of the concept of landscape infrastructure over the past 25 years.
The books earlier examples, built in the 80's and 90's, are based mostly in the United States and deal with the conversion of abandoned rail lines into pedestrian corridors (Katy Trail) and rehabilitating waterfronts in dense urban areas like the Buffalo Bayou Promenade in Houston, Texas. Moving into the 21st century, as Gerdo Aquino wrote in his preface "changing attitudes about water conservation [have] created a new set of performance criteria for existing and proposed infrastructural corridors." This is evident in the more recent projects many of which are in Asian countries and deal with the conversion of rural farmland into urbanized landscapes.
It was this shift that I found most interesting when reading Landscape Infrastructure. These six projects, Annin River New Town, Ningbo Eco-Corridor, Shunde New City, Beizhi River Waterfront, Central Open Space for MAC, and Chongming North Lake Masterplan, all begin with a relatively clean slate--predominantly agricultural land. Because these projects don't have to contend with the embedded constraints of old city infrastructure, the projects are free to explore integrated and innovative approaches to the conflux of water systems and urban design. These systems deal with issues such as the cleaning of phosphate heavy agricultural runoff, integrated stormwater management, establishing new habitat on the river side of levees, and other issues inherent in building on alluvial sites.
The flexibility of these projects to conceive of cities not as exclusively concrete developments but as systems that can accommodate humans and the natural environment is imperative as our population continues to increase. These projects are all still in the master plan phase and have yet to make it off the drawing board. Hopefully in another 20 years SWA will be able to publish a book that features projects like these as the status-quo rather than as the cutting edge.