Not every project is a landmark competition winning project

Recently, I have been surveying World Landscape Architecture readers for their feedback on the design, content and user experience. I looked at some of the responses today and overall the feedback was good with some great insights on how to improve WLA. However, I think there are a couple of readers who miss the point of World Landscape Architecture with some reader comments about the level of design and build quality and also less projects from unknown designers.

When I set out to publish projects from across the globe the intention was to publish as many different projects from across the world – varying scales, qualities, and from different types of firms (landscape, urbanist, engineering, mega-firms to single designer shops). I feel that whether a small garden or large regional park or a urban masterplan that there is a need for landscape projects especially conceptual designs to published rather than linger on a shelf or hard drive somewhere never to see the light of day. Of course, there are some submissions that are of very poor quality and they are rejected, however I feel that we all need to see projects from across the globe to understand the profession and see how it is developing. Developing countries and design firms often don’t have the same finish as projects in developed countries(this is due to the skills of the builders) however, sometimes the designs and finished project give an insight into the culture and landscape of that place and nation.

Publishing work of various qualities allows the public and profession to see landscape architecture at it best and worst. I don’t make editorial comment or critique on projects as I feel that the text should be written by the designer or design firm. Should there be more project critique…of course, but there also needs to be a platform for work to be published by the designer unhindered by journalists, and editors. Although, I have made mistakes in the past by publishing text that was not of high-quality, often this was due to the text being written by the designer in their second or third language. I have also published text that was too much like a PR announcement, I am endeavouring to curtail these types of posts.

World Landscape Architecture will continue to publish projects that are not to everyone’s liking and expectations, but that is the beauty of the web and my publication; not all the projects are beautifully photographed places, some are raw places that we all experience on a daily basis.

Landscape architecture needs a voice that shows projects from not just the well-known design firms but also designers who are creating places across the world of varying scale and quality.

Thankyou to the readers who have given feedback for our annual World Landscape Architecture survey. If you would like to give feedback please fill out the survey or send me an email with your suggestions.

Public and Private Space

This week the protests continued in Turkey which began with the outrage at the privisation of Gezi Park, it is becoming clear that public open space is an issue that will always spark citizens to go into action to save their cities spaces.

The Gezi Park example is a extreme case but all over the world as state and city governments attempt to raise revenue they are turning to development of public open space as it is one of the only assets that many cities have remaining due to privitisation of services (utilities, education, health, transport).

There are some successful situations of private developments providing public open space in cities such as Hong Kong, there will always be a need for public open space for recreation and civic or cultural events. These whoever are usually small in scale to the large cultural spaces such as squares, local and regional parks. However, it seems many governments are overstepping the line by turning public space into private space whether this is leasing a local park or garden for a wedding or the extreme of developing a whole park or square for private use.

Public open space (parks, gardens, squares, etc) provide space for citizens and visitors to relax, recreate, meet and communicate and also to experience nature, culture and human connections. A lack of programmed and unprogrammed public open space creates soulless cities as landscape architects we need to push for public open space and rally against the push for privitisation of public spaces.

Footage from the RC drone that was shot down by police [HD] from Jenk K on Vimeo.

What I read that was interesting this week
Building Hyperdensity and Civic Delight | Design Observer | Vishaan Chakrabarti
“Sound urban development is the lynchpin of the hyperdense environment. Yet public advocacy for high-density development is extraordinarily low, primarily because its merits are misunderstood.”

Five Robotic Bike Parking Systems That Solve an Urban Dilemma | Gizmodo
Maybe New York should have looked at these first for citibike?

Atkins to develop Eco-Low Carbon Urban Planning Guidance in China
Funnily enough I was contacted by another group of companies to join this commission but they didn’t get it. Be interesting to see what Atkins develops and if its published publicly. I hope its more ‘practical’ for governments and developers rather that another dust collector.

5 Ideas Apple Gleefully Stole From Google, Twitter, and Microsoft | Fast Co Design

When I saw iOS 7’s new icons and features, I instantly thought they had Android and Windows features came straight mind. As for the new Mac Pro it is a disappointment and I think that they will have to develop a rack option for digital studios and heavy users as a cyclinder is not really an efficient use of space. I have used used desktop macs back in Australia including a G4 and G5 Macs including the ‘cube’ which cracked and overheated. There will always be discussion about Apple’s designs but I hope Apple continues to innovate.

Asian universities are leaping up the league tables, but China is getting left behind
Personally, I think there is a shortage of qualified and experienced staff to join the many new universities opening in China. This problem will be solved over time but there will a period of transition. There is transition occuring in every industry in China as the national focus turns from looking out to to looking in. Interesting times ahead.

Why do we accept mediocrity in landscape architecture?

Recently, I have watched videos with Bjarke Ingels, Rem Koolhaus, Fabrio Novembre, Marc Newson, Michael Van Valkenburgh, Karl Lagerfeld and many others to gain more of an understanding of idea generation and design in various industries. What struck me during watching these videos is the willingness of society (and some designers) to accept mediocre design as something that will just occur as part of the marketplace and mainstream design realm. So why is it that we accept this mediocrity in the design profession and its not just architecture or industrial design but it seems that mediocrity is more and more prevalent in recent times in all design industries.

Does it necessarily need to be this way? Personally it seems that many have gone down the ‘path of least resistance’ and that the ‘market’ is influencing the way we design as a shift occurs towards developing markets and away from developed economies. Design standards seem to have been calibrated to the market and aiming at the lower level  to meet the standards of these immature developing markets with iteration after iteration of the same design to the point where is has become ubiquitous.  Where this can be seen more evidently is in the car industry where Porsche, Rolls Royce, BMW, Audi, Lamborghini, Bugatti have produced numerous ‘special editions’ and variations of the same model with very little design development for developing markets such as China.

The same is occurring in landscape architecture where the same design language and style is being used over and over again with little departure from the previous design. Some may see this as a firm/person developing a signature design language, I personally see it as lack of design energy and also a lack respect for the intellect of clients. Landscape architecture should respond to the culture, place, climate, terrain and numerous other elements that influence the design process to develop a unique concept that will create the best design for that site no matter how big or small. I understand that in China there is often little time to analyse, understand and design with the extraordinary short deadlines but I think we owe it the community, client and most of all ourselves as landscape architects to design something to the best of our design ability and to shun mediocrity.

Sustainable Landscape Architecture Part 4: Can standards and certification create sustainable landscapes?

At last I got round to finishing my blog posts – Part 4 and 5 of Sustainable Landscape Architecture Series.

Although I believe that standards such Sustainable Sites and certification such as LEED AP can contribute to advancing landscape architecture and creating sustainable landscapes they also become a crutch that we point to and say it meets X,Y,Z criteria then it is sustainable. The problem is they may be ‘sustainable’ for when the standard or certification was formulated but as we all know technology, education systems and people change.

I believe that to create sustainable landscapes you have to analyse and evaluate the landscape in the moment in time and then with all the information at hand you then formulate an approach to create a sustainable landscape. Beginning with a certification or standard as the starting point for sustainable landscape design is fraught with the danger of creating a landscape that meets your expectations as a designer (and the certification organisation) as a sustainable landscape but fails miserably to meet the expectations of the users and thus the user don’t use the space and thus the space is not sustainable as no one is using it. This is true of many urban spaces, of course natural forests or spaces are inherently sustainable ecosystem although they are rarely used. So there in lies a conundrum. Many spaces we create attempt to replicate a natural ecosystem so we view them as sustainable but if we create a space of materials and plants that may not be ‘natural’ or an ‘ecosystem’ is it still not sustainable if the usage rate of the local community is high. I think that in an urban setting sustainable landscapes need to used to be sustainable, if they aren’t used you have basically wasted, time, energy in construction, energy bound in materials and so on to create a space that may be technically seen as sustainable. This is were I basically take issue with certification and standards, they often are not flexible and usually out of date as soon as we publish them.

To create a sustainable landscape we have to realise that as designers we need to assess and truly understand the landscape before we lift a pen, click a mouse, or swipe a tablet. Standards and certification assist and sometimes lead the design direction in the creation of sustainable landscapes but its the designer and the design process that create the best sustainable landscapes.

Improve tourism development through holistic design

In China, government and developers are looking more and more towards tourism development to captialise on the growing market of middle class Chinese who travel across China on national holidays. They are seeking new places, different cultures, different food and new experiences to remember for years to come. The current developments they are visiting are all to familiar to many of them as the style and features of these developments blend into a common Chinese or South-East asia style with similar architecture, food and generic landscape.

The development market needs to take a fresh approach and realise that the local area, people and culture is what differentiates the place and masking it with a veneer of mixed cultures does the place and development a disservice. A more holistic design approach needs to be taken using influences from the local culture, architecture and people to create a unique experience to the place. There are many examples around the world were places (especially tourist towns) have lost their identity as they bend and twist to service visitors with a wide variety of cultures and nationalities. You only have to go to some of the islands in South-East Asia to see the effect where nearly all resorts and restaurants have a similar architecture and have abandoned local food to fly-in large quantities of produce to cater to the tastes of world tourists.

In some of the design competition for developments I have been involved in Hainan (southern island off China), I have tried to introduce the local culture, architecture and of course local people. I had one competition project a few years ago were the beach was long and had a small fishing village which housed a few hundred people and numerous long boats, crab pools, along with vegetable farms and pineapple plantation. My idea was to to take a holistic approach, maintain the village and locate the development within walking distance of the village. The village could supply the food with assistance of other nearby villages. The architecture would reflect local styles and include various landscape elements including a natural lagoon on the site. Our design was not chosen but a Balinese style development with large chlorinated pools and overbearing architecture was chosen for the development. It was probably more commercially viable and investment return would be quicker, but the long term implications to the social and environment will be everlasting due to a lack of sophistication and understanding of tourism development.

Holistic approaches for tourism development in China needed to be taken as development increases across urban and rural China not just in the booming tourism markets such as Hainan, Xiamen, Xian, Yunnan, Xinjiang, Guilin, Jiuzhaigou Valley and Huangshan Mountain. The environmental, social and cultural elements need to be incorporated to maintain the culture of the place, too many places are becoming homogenised thus loosing their identity. Through using holistic approach the local place maintains its identity, the local people can maintain and hopefully improve their lifestyle and the environmental impact can be kept to a minimum.

I write this after reading and reflecting on China becomes 3rd biggest tourism market (Xinhua)

Landscape in China | 2012

2012 will be another interesting year for landscape architecture in China. Currently a lot of people are looking at a slow down for 2012 as the real estate market continues to cool. I hope that it is not too great and that the market slows gradually. For landscape architecture this could be a good thing as many design and construction projects run a too greater speed often missing great opportunities to advance landscape architecture.

There will always be the residential market in China with its luxury residential and neo-classic designs which I am not a great fan of as they do little to progress landscape architecture in a nation which has a great opportunity to integrate green infrastructure into cities including residential developments. Green, Eco, Sustainable will continue to be buzz words inside and outside of China, but I think there is still great opportunities to advance the profession including many aspects including design, technical competency, quality and overall environment and ecology.

I think in China we need to concentrate more on quality of design, quality of green (not just creating 30% green ratio to meet regulatory standards), urban forests, green infrastructure, and talent within the landscape profession in China. If there is a slow down, I urge all principals and managers to take a step back and instead of cutting staff to lower costs look at other ways to captialise on the slow down and see it as an opportunity to train and enhance your team. You have reaped the rewards of a booming economy now its time to give back to the profession in 2012 and create a generation of great designers who can take China and your firm forward through the coming decades. Have a great 2012 and feel free to contact me

Design and Thinking – Documentary

Design Thinking was a term coined by Tim Brown, CEO of  IDEO. There are different interpretations of design thinking (like all theories and new ideas) and how it manifests itself in business and the real world. To me, I called ‘design thinking’ – design process in the past, basically taking the process of design and the way we think about design and apply that to a problem.

Design thinking has gained a large amount of coverage in recent years with more people writing blogs, books about the topic. Recently, I stumbled upon the trailer below about the documentary Design & Thinking that is trying to raise funds through Kickstarter to finish the documentary. I think it will be an interesting and hope that the interviews and documentary will get enough funding to be finished.