Over the last few years there has been a significant increase in general interest as well as critical discourse within architectural circles about infrastructure.  Although some of it may be a kind of austerity or pragmatism during a flagging economic era, one would hope that this shift embracing performance based design is a positive move forward from an aesthetic based upon shapes, signs and symbols.  There’s a lot of thinking and writing about it and with good reason.  From the success of the High Line, shovel ready economic stimulus projects,  flooding and levees on the Misssissippi,  sexy bridges, and the burgeoning influence of green infrastructure, infrastructure is the set of  fundamental systems that allow us to function as a society, a body politic. As designers it seems as though we have been distracted by the shiny baubles for too long.

Three upcoming events in Seattle that touch on infrastructure in month of May:

Throughout May, Stokely Towles performs, “Life in the Gutter” at Seattle Center on Fridays at 7pm and Saturdays at 1pm. From the Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs website….Towles weaves interviews, observations and historical research together with images and props to talk about runoff in a humorous and illuminating fashion, revealing the world of drainage and stormwater and the people who manage its flow.

On May 9th, Mia Lehrer will present a talk entitled “Calibrating Infrastructure through Landscape Architecture” UW Architecture Hall at 6:30.  From the UW website…Lehrer will discuss the transformation of urban infrastructure and its reintegration into the community fabric shifting emphasis from single-purpose land use to multi-use, multi-benefit land planning.  I worked with Mia about 10 years ago and her vision to re-imagine the Los Angeles River as a dynamic open space, habitat and integral part of the city is really commendable.  I look forward to hearing her speak about the river as well as some of the other more recent work.

And thirdly in a tangental relationship to infrastructure is an exhibition hosted by AIA Seattle called “EXPERIMENTING IN PUBLIC SPACE: New Technologies & Making in Seattle’s Landscape Architecture”, which utilizes Rich Haag’s Gas Works Park as a starting point, for which the High Line and other post industrial public open spaces owe a huge debt.  A teaser from the AIA Seattle website…This collection offers glimpses of the ways in which Seattle’s community of landscape architects have pushed the boundaries of practice to experiment in new technologies in landscape architecture as they address the multiple layers of public space. It features the various roles that landscape architects play in working with public spaces, particularly those that are suspect such as toxic post industrial sites. The opening reception is May 10th between 4:30 and 6:30 at AIA Seattle.

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Elwha update

steve ringman/ seattle times

A quick update on the Elwha River restoration and dam removal from the Seattle Times. Amazingly different than the pre-construction images from my post over a year ago.    Upcoming is a meeting where you can learn firsthand about the status of dam removal, the living laboratory that’s being created, and how you can get involved with new opportunities to help in the revegetation effort on April 19th in Lacey. Event is free.

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Austin Kleon creativity in the age of remix

Attended the Arcade Magazine launch party last night. Very hip high ceiling, loungey work space where the music was bumping and I realized how hard it is for me to network in a room of people who are acquaintances at best, and trying to insert myself gracefully into conversations with the creative cool kids.   Glad to see that “go to industry parties and toot your horn” is not included in the above manifesto by Austin Kleon (check out the News Paper Blackout which is brilliant and reminds me very much the work of the previous blog post here) and also isn’t part of the  “Incomplete Manifesto for Growth”, by Bruce Mau which is included in the current issue of Arcade (it’s a oldie but goodie). Great content in the mag and I am really looking forward to reading the Big Foot Beautiful piece that frames landscape as a performance system instead of a decorative overlay.  Social awkwardness aside, I’m glad to support great writing and fantastic events like happy hours at ZAAZ, a tour of the Nucor Steel plant and a riverboat tour of the Duwamish River.

I first heard the phrase “bad artists imitate, the great artists steal”,  from this Banksy piece and it’s funny that the first images available on the web are protected, as if you capture an image of another artists work you have ownership of the image. Come on, do you even get the point? This image is from here.

So here’s Mau’s “Incomplete Manifesto” in case you can’t find a copy of Arcade. Savvy Seattle shoppers know a few locations where they can pick up a free copy…

  1. Allow events to change you.
    You have to be willing to grow. Growth is different from something that happens to you. You produce it. You live it. The prerequisites for growth: the openness to experience events and the willingness to be changed by them.
  2. Forget about good.
    Good is a known quantity. Good is what we all agree on. Growth is not necessarily good. Growth is an exploration of unlit recesses that may or may not yield to our research. As long as you stick to good you’ll never have real growth.
  3. Process is more important than outcome.
    When the outcome drives the process we will only ever go to where we’ve already been. If process drives outcome we may not know where we’re going, but we will know we want to be there.
  4. Love your experiments (as you would an ugly child).
    Joy is the engine of growth. Exploit the liberty in casting your work as beautiful experiments, iterations, attempts, trials, and errors. Take the long view and allow yourself the fun of failure every day.
  5. Go deep.
    The deeper you go the more likely you will discover something of value.
  6. Capture accidents.
    The wrong answer is the right answer in search of a different question. Collect wrong answers as part of the process. Ask different questions.
  7. Study.
    A studio is a place of study. Use the necessity of production as an excuse to study. Everyone will benefit.
  8. Drift.
    Allow yourself to wander aimlessly. Explore adjacencies. Lack judgment. Postpone criticism.
  9. Begin anywhere.
    John Cage tells us that not knowing where to begin is a common form of paralysis. His advice: begin anywhere.
  10. Everyone is a leader.
    Growth happens. Whenever it does, allow it to emerge. Learn to follow when it makes sense. Let anyone lead.
  11. Harvest ideas.
    Edit applications. Ideas need a dynamic, fluid, generous environment to sustain life. Applications, on the other hand, benefit from critical rigor. Produce a high ratio of ideas to applications.
  12. Keep moving.
    The market and its operations have a tendency to reinforce success. Resist it. Allow failure and migration to be part of your practice.
  13. Slow down.
    Desynchronize from standard time frames and surprising opportunities may present themselves.
  14. Don’t be cool.
    Cool is conservative fear dressed in black. Free yourself from limits of this sort.
  15. Ask stupid questions.
    Growth is fueled by desire and innocence. Assess the answer, not the question. Imagine learning throughout your life at the rate of an infant.
  16. Collaborate.
    The space between people working together is filled with conflict, friction, strife, exhilaration, delight, and vast creative potential.
  17. ____________________.
    Intentionally left blank. Allow space for the ideas you haven’t had yet, and for the ideas of others.
  18. Stay up late.
    Strange things happen when you’ve gone too far, been up too long, worked too hard, and you’re separated from the rest of the world.
  19. Work the metaphor.
    Every object has the capacity to stand for something other than what is apparent. Work on what it stands for.
  20. Be careful to take risks.
    Time is genetic. Today is the child of yesterday and the parent of tomorrow. The work you produce today will create your future.
  21. Repeat yourself.
    If you like it, do it again. If you don’t like it, do it again.
  22. Make your own tools.
    Hybridize your tools in order to build unique things. Even simple tools that are your own can yield entirely new avenues of exploration. Remember, tools amplify our capacities, so even a small tool can make a big difference.
  23. Stand on someone’s shoulders.
    You can travel farther carried on the accomplishments of those who came before you. And the view is so much better.
  24. Avoid software.
    The problem with software is that everyone has it.
  25. Don’t clean your desk.
    You might find something in the morning that you can’t see tonight.
  26. Don’t enter awards competitions.
    Just don’t. It’s not good for you.
  27. Read only left-hand pages.
    Marshall McLuhan did this. By decreasing the amount of information, we leave room for what he called our “noodle.”
  28. Make new words.
    Expand the lexicon. The new conditions demand a new way of thinking. The thinking demands new forms of expression. The expression generates new conditions.
  29. Think with your mind.
    Forget technology. Creativity is not device-dependent.
  30. Organization = Liberty.
    Real innovation in design, or any other field, happens in context. That context is usually some form of cooperatively managed enterprise. Frank Gehry, for instance, is only able to realize Bilbao because his studio can deliver it on budget. The myth of a split between “creatives” and “suits” is what Leonard Cohen calls a ‘charming artifact of the past.’
  31. Don’t borrow money.
    Once again, Frank Gehry’s advice. By maintaining financial control, we maintain creative control. It’s not exactly rocket science, but it’s surprising how hard it is to maintain this discipline, and how many have failed.
  32. Listen carefully.
    Every collaborator who enters our orbit brings with him or her a world more strange and complex than any we could ever hope to imagine. By listening to the details and the subtlety of their needs, desires, or ambitions, we fold their world onto our own. Neither party will ever be the same.
  33. Take field trips.
    The bandwidth of the world is greater than that of your TV set, or the Internet, or even a totally immersive, interactive, dynamically rendered, object-oriented, real-time, computer graphic–simulated environment.
  34. Make mistakes faster.
    This isn’t my idea — I borrowed it. I think it belongs to Andy Grove.
  35. Imitate.
    Don’t be shy about it. Try to get as close as you can. You’ll never get all the way, and the separation might be truly remarkable. We have only to look to Richard Hamilton and his version of Marcel Duchamp’s large glass to see how rich, discredited, and underused imitation is as a technique.
  36. Scat.
    When you forget the words, do what Ella did: make up something else … but not words.
  37. Break it, stretch it, bend it, crush it, crack it, fold it.
  38. Explore the other edge.
    Great liberty exists when we avoid trying to run with the technological pack. We can’t find the leading edge because it’s trampled underfoot. Try using old-tech equipment made obsolete by an economic cycle but still rich with potential.
  39. Coffee breaks, cab rides, green rooms.
    Real growth often happens outside of where we intend it to, in the interstitial spaces — what Dr. Seuss calls “the waiting place.” Hans Ulrich Obrist once organized a science and art conference with all of the infrastructure of a conference — the parties, chats, lunches, airport arrivals — but with no actual conference. Apparently it was hugely successful and spawned many ongoing collaborations.
  40. Avoid fields.
    Jump fences. Disciplinary boundaries and regulatory regimes are attempts to control the wilding of creative life. They are often understandable efforts to order what are manifold, complex, evolutionary processes. Our job is to jump the fences and cross the fields.
  41. Laugh.
    People visiting the studio often comment on how much we laugh. Since I’ve become aware of this, I use it as a barometer of how comfortably we are expressing ourselves.
  42. Remember.
    Growth is only possible as a product of history. Without memory, innovation is merely novelty. History gives growth a direction. But a memory is never perfect. Every memory is a degraded or composite image of a previous moment or event. That’s what makes us aware of its quality as a past and not a present. It means that every memory is new, a partial construct different from its source, and, as such, a potential for growth itself.
  43. Power to the people.
    Play can only happen when people feel they have control over their lives. We can’t be free agents if we’re not free.

Incomplete Manifesto for Growth.

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justin james reed "The Real Unknown"

I’m about half way through reading “Rambunctious Garden, Saving Nature in a Post Wild World” by Emma Marris and think the work of Justin James Reed may be the perfect visual accompaniment, especially his recent project “The Real Unknown“.  I’ve admired his work documenting a very contemporary version of the American landscape, with engineering and infrastructure as the proxy of the mundane architecture in the images of Louis Baltz and Robert Adams. His recent work is a strong move past the tongue and cheek irony of the new topographic photographers and a step towards visually addressing a multifaceted and much more uncertain world. There are interesting parallels between the ambiguous artistic representation of nature in Reed’s work,  and the current ecological thinking in Marris’ book that looks to embrace emerging hybrid ecosystems. It’s a messy vision, one with uncertainty and continual change,  one where the word landscape and its static scenic ideals have little resonance.  An interview with Reed about the project is at “The Great Leap Sideways” and some positive thoughts about the athropocene from Marris in this NYT op ed.

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Composers wanted, what does this sound like?

This soundscape by Marcus Fisher is from a fantastic project called “Instagr/am/bient” where 25 musicians composed short tracks inspired by instagram photos that were taken by each other.  Interesting to see how the visual and musical aesthetics intersect. Well worth a look and listen.  Here’s a description from the disquiet website:  “The project involves 25 musicians with ambient inclinations. Each of the musicians contributed an Instagram photo, and in turn each of the musicians recorded an original track in response to one of the photos contributed by another of the project’s participants. The tracks are sonic postcards. They are pieces of music whose relative brevity—all are between one and three minutes in length—is designed to correlate with the economical, ephemeral nature of an Instagram photo.”

record store

Related but of the analog variety, is a collaboration between Olson Kundig Architects and the Seattle Art Museum to create “Record Store” an interactive performance space in Pioneer Square that is an  extension the Theaster Gates “Listening Room” work now showing at SAM.   As described in the SAM blog: “The Record Store will feature a series of “listening parties” with guest DJs, artists, community folks, dancers, musicians, urban planners, activists, etc.  Each “selector” will borrow from the same collection of LP’s or brings a few of their own records that act as the sound track that illustrates their ideas. Irruptions might take various forms including: debates, writing or dance classes, silent reading, tastings, workshops, to-do-lists or a sermon.”  The installation and performances are occurring throughout the entire month of January on Tuesday through Thursday 12-4 with an interesting variety of selectors taking charge in the evenings.  Check out the schedule.

And finally, here is another installation in January that I am stoked to check out. It’s at the always excellent Jack Straw Media Gallery in the U District.  “The Network is a Blind Space” is by artist Stelios Manousakis. It’s quite a different take on sound, media and personal interaction utilizing ubiquitous technology to generate sound by responding to the mobile electronics carried by visitors.  Here’s the project statement from the website:

“The Network Is a Blind Space is a distributed, micro-telematic, site-specific sound installation that explores the physical yet invisible electromagnetic spaces created by Wireless Local Area Networks (WLANs). Two computers installed in opposite parts of Jack Straw, one in the gallery and another in the main studio, create an electromagnetic line-space that can be transversed and examined – perhaps broken. The piece spreads out from the gallery space, extending as far as the installation’s WLAN can reach. Sound is generated and modified in real time by visitors logging into the network with ordinary, wifi-enabled, mobile electronic devices (smartphones, iPods, tablets, laptops, etc).”

Here’s a piece by Manousakis called “Do Digital Monkeys Inhabit Virtual Trees” (I love the title’s nod to Bladerunner/Philip K Dick) to give you a little flavor of what this may be like.  There is an artist talk on January 20th at 7pm.

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duck or decorated shed?

warehouse composition in 5 colors - a "Dumb and Ordinary" building

I’ve had the chance to do a little traveling to some cities on the west coast over the last month. I was planning on checking out the “Bloom” installation at “Materials and Applications”  while in Los Angeles but never made it up to Silver Lake. Luckily, it’s going to be around for a few more months. The photographs of the structure look pretty amazing and I really am interested in seeing it in operation, so it probably was best that I didn’t make the trip on a fairly rainy day.

I did however, quite by accident, come across a collection of works by Eric Owen Moss, in a typical grubby low-rise industrial park in Culver City. After a wrong turn heading north from LAX in an attempt to stay off of the 405, I decided to continue through Baldwin Hills, where the open rolling terrain and working oil wells amidst west LA is always an interesting experience. The Moss works stand out dramatically in the context of a  generic industrial park and range from entirely new buildings, to towers, to pavilions/follies, to renovation/interventions, mostly along Hayden Avenue.  Although I am generally not a huge proponent of parametric architecture (or making overly complex forms because you can), the rawness and exhuberant character of these structures seems to be a great way to distinguish the firms doing high tech, creative work in what I image was once a collection of bland beige boxes.  Here are a few pics of the Samitaur Tower and Cactus Tower and a link to Moss’ project page. Well worth seeking out in person and learning a bit more from his website.

Samitaur Tower - Eric Owen Moss Architects

Cactus tower - Eric Owen Moss Architects

Coincidently Design Boom posted an interview with Moss a few days after I returned. Some of the questions are a little “cream puff” but the short video of Moss speaking provides some interesting insights.

I also had a chance to spend a day in Portland, exploring the Pearl District. Plenty of character left in the western portion, with its high loading dock entries, happily flaunting guardrail requirements, the lack of sidewalks and maintaining some of the original flavor in what could have been bland gentrification. We ate some good food and generally enjoyed a walking and exploring a bit.  Reminded me a bit of South Lake Union in Seattle but maintaining much more character and much less traffic encumbered.  The placement of new parks and transit facilities seems quite smart and effective.

But what really got me on the “Learning from Las Vegas”, post modern riff and title of the post was a quick drive by the “Portland Building” designed by Michael Graves. It’s fashionable and easy to bash 80’s post modern architecture but a visit to that building several years ago convinced me that it is probably one of the worst buildings, and most definately the worst piece of “serious” architecture, I have had the chance to experience. The setback of the first floor lobbies is way too deep to engage the street and bunkered in with blind staircases, the interior layout, at least on the ground floor, is completely perplexing, the service side of the building is clad in poorly aging tiles, a clown suit of brutalist architecture. Most telling was the unprompted question from my wife who asked “what is that butt ugly building?”.  An important piece of architecture historically and conceptually yes, but also a detriment to the urbanism of Portland. Interesting to see that the National Trust for Historic Preservation has included the building on its register of historic places in 2011.  Article from portland tribune here, don’t miss the comments, harsh. Surprising that a building less than 30 years old can even qualify.

Its inherent problems are much more eloquently framed by Ada Louise Huxtable in an essay called “building in the Real World” in an anthology entitlted “Goodbye History, Hello Hamburger”.

“most of us think of architecture as a series of isolated great structures, related only by style, country or sequence in time…They have little to do with building of the real world, of which masterpieces are such a small part and “nonarchitecture” is such a large part…Architecture is…building the entire man-made environment, in terms of the way it works as much as the way it looks….The point is that we are in the midst of an extremely important shift in the perception and consideration of the critical relationships between a building and its surroundings and the people who use it or are affected by it, with emphasis on effect.

What counts overwhelmingly today are the multiple ways any building serves a very complex and sophisticated set of environmental needs. What is it part of? How does it work? How does it relate to what is around it? How does it satisfy the needs of man and society as well as the the needs of the client? How does it fit into the larger organism the community? What does it add to or subtract from, the quality of life?

In these terms a very beautiful building can be very bad architecture. And what Robert Venturi has dubbed the “dumb and ordinary” building may serve cheerfully and well. It is a matter of measuring by priorities and values that a critically changing world not only requires but demands.”

Her words from forty years ago do not sound the least bit tired but quite contemporary and fresh. They set a high bar for practicing urbanists and landscape urbanists currently crafting buildings, “nonarchitecture” and the systems that serve our communities.

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river of time

using time to great advantage

michael kenna

I never got around to posting from the Art + Environment conference at the Nevada Museum of Art in October, maybe because it was an overload of amazing people and ideas, or maybe I just got behind on making cider, a persistent stomach bug for the following month, managing the fall garden, keeping clients happy and trying to shake the proverbial tree for new ones.  Anyway, it was a little too long ago and too many other things happened in the interim to devote a whole post to it but I thought I’d start the stream there and see how it flows. Hopefully not a year in review, but it will touch on plenty of past subjects.

The title of this post is from Bill Fox’s introduction and conference kickoff.  It’s got to be hard to be the smartest guy in the room and at the 2008 conference Bill’s talks were some of the sharpest, touching on ideas from painting, literature, science and the history of western expansion. Vast, a weaving of seemingly disparate points, accessible and very much like the writing of Lawrence Weschler but the kind of talk that inspires further intellectual exploration and fires curiosity. However at the 2011 conference Fox’s role had changed and in a more administrative position as Director of the Center for A+E,  the talking points felt a little less charged and a little more obligatory, if not a tidy summation.  I think that’s what Bruce Sterling caught onto when he described using Fox’s theme of “time as a river” as “seeking refuge in metaphor”.  I thought it was a warranted shot from the smartest and snarkiest guy in the room to the brainiest. Here’s a link to the video of the closing comments, rant or riff by Sterling that benefits from attendance at the conference but is brilliant none the less.  Full endorsement of the 2nd conference and looking forward to 2014.

Bruce Sterling Closing A+E closing remarks

One of the highlights of A+E was having the chance to have a short conversation with Edward Burtynski, one of my favorite photogs, hearing Chris Jordan speak and seeing the extremely comprehensive landscape photo exhibit (but where was Stephen Shore?) which was fantastic.  The idea of time in most of the photographs in the exhibit was one of bearing wittness, capturing a moment and documentation, instead of what I think is one of the most interesting effects of time in photography which is the unexpected magic that can happen when a shutter is left open for long periods.

I posted about Michael Kenna in October but had a chance to hear him speak recently at the Tacoma Art Museum and he currently has a show at Gibson Gallery in Seattle.   What surprised me most, were some of his brightest images that are actually long exposures taken during night. The silky effect of these long exposures really contributes the ghostly atmospheric quality of his work.  It was great to hear some of his personal story and hear how it led to his stripped down aesthetic (during his teen years he was studying to be a priest) and I really look forward to seeing the actual prints at G Gibson (he still shoots film and produces all of his paladium prints himself).

I guess I may be a little overloaded with the vast majority of digital imagery and look to Michael Kenna for some refuge from the perfectly sharp and evenly exposed pixelated nirvana.  It’s a little like the room full of 1000 monkeys with typewriters, typing away for 1000 years to write the next great american novel. With the immense quantity of images produced and shared via social media each day, I often feel like shooting photos is just one pixel in a split second of a white noise screen. I somehow long for the days when tv would sign off with the national anthem, the lowering of the flag and gray fuzz.  While this cynicism has slowed my shooting with the SLR recently it has nudged me to find situations where opening the aperture and letting light work its magic may create interesting results. Here’s a few long exposures of a recent sunset shot through a scrim of trees.

And like salmon back to their source stream, I had a chance to sit on the panel at studio crit at UW last week where professor Ken Yocum challenged the students to find ways to manage/restore the Glacier gravel pit site on Vashon that was recently acquired by King County Parks.  My innagural post on this site started in that location and it was great to have a chance to hear student proposals for the highly complex and dynamic system; goats, fire, seed bombs and expressive use of landscape fabric, ala Cristo and Jean Claude.  All good stuff.

I would have really liked to see the students stretch the project both temporally and physically.  A sixty year timeline sounds pretty ambitious but as in Sterlings closing remarks, we are possibly entering the anthopecene, a new geologic epoch and by speculating on this trajectory of a warmer and drier climate, it could have produced some exciting senarios. There’s a saying that planting a tree is the most optimistic thing you can do since its timeframe vastly exceeds a humans lifetime.  At what point do we start thinking about planting coastal redwoods instead of red cedar in the Puget Sound region?

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