Monday, February 28, 2011


I recently attended the EPA's webinar about brownfields as catalysts for successful and innovative area wide planning efforts. You can learn more about the 23 pilot projects and respective communities at NALGEP and from the EPA.

The concept of adaptively reusing brownfields is something that will prove to be more and more important as we continue to understand shrinking cities and urban redevelopment. What's more interesting, and highlighted in the brownfield area wide planning pilot, is the idea of utilizing adaptive reuse or redevelopment to spawn community revitalization. This methodology seeks to look further than just site specific reuse and, instead, understand how entire neighborhood's and communities can reap the benefits of transforming a vacant, under utilized landscape.

This basic principle identifies the post-industrial landscape as multi-dimensional and able to plug into the surrounding landscape in numerous ways. It is this notion that opens the door for discussing adaptive reuse as it relates to area wide planning. Since there are so many different potential reuse scenarios for any given post-industrial site or region it is possible to think of how many different benefits these scenarios can have for the local people and landscape. Furthermore, it will be the ability to understand and build upon precedent cases of successful brownfield reuse and learn about the successful components of each project.

A disclaimer: This is only a fraction of the complexity that engulfs the post-industrial landscape. This idea spawns from a more pragmatic vantage point and does not even begin to address the theoretical constructs that reside within the realm adaptive reuse and the manipulation of cultural landscapes and infrastructural identities. However, in cities like Cleveland and Detroit, and the opposite end of the spectrum, the Brooklyn Waterfront and the current and proposed development of the Highline, it will be the reuse, redevelopment and re-integration of post-industrial sites, neighborhood's and culture into an ever changing landscape dynamic that will be an arena of innovation.

There is much to learn and there is no doubt that we will continue to look towards the vacancies of urban America as the catalysts for regrowth and transformation.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

¡¿Where'd My Layer Go?!

Have you ever made a new layer in autocad and suddenly, your layer disappears? Fear not, your layer is still there - it's just hidden! Autocad has a neat way of handling layers from multiple drawings (when there are multiple x-refs). To make sure you can see all of the layers in the drawing, simply go to the LAYERS MANAGER or use the command LA. Once you are in the layers manager look to the left side of the manager. This is where autocad organizes layers. Once you have highlighted the word ALL your problem will be fixed.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Walter Hood: Re-thinking the Design Process

Walter Hood (University of Cal, Berkeley and Principal of Hood Design) was recently at Pennsylvania State University for a five day design workshop.  While I did not personally participate in the design workshop, I did have the great opportunity to have lunch with Dr. Hood to discuss his ideas of design development in the field of landscape architecture.  If the idea is to progress with our designs, Walter emphasizes a change in the design process.  Particularly working in the urban environment, Dr. Hood focuses on making sites (of seemingly all scales) reflect the natural processes of reference landscapes (of the same scales) of the region.  Relating design approaches to patterns found in nature is unbiased toward different demographic groups and community members, and the resulting designed landscapes may easily adapt and evolve with different site users.  His principles parallel with the theories of urban ecology and his firm has done work all over the nation.

Above is a recent lecture (not from PSU) given by Walter Hood.  Check out some of his work at

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Working in different contexts and understanding vernacular landscapes other than where we grew up is undoubtedly difficult. We talk a lot about sense of place and the concept of being rooted in a place. It makes me wonder if as designers we are more apt to rooting ourselves in place than the average person, or vice versa? We are trained to analyze and interpret place in more perceptive manner, but is it possible to understand the idiosyncratic elements of landscape foreign to our subconscious self? Just because we may be able to understand place more effectively, or know what components to analyze, does it mean that we actually can design well for it?

The landscape that shaped our being as children is better understood than a romantic European park or an Asian garden (from the perspective of an American landscape architect). If we extrapolate that concept out to a broader scale, to say, city wide or regional, how long would it take to truly understand a city or a region that is foreign to us? How does this impact our design decisions and the legitimacy/ effectiveness of proposed alterations to existing landscape infrastructure?

How important is it to learn about the invisible landscape processes versus the physical, economic and social landscape processes? Geospatial data, on site surveying, economic analysis and demographic data can all be effective in telling the story about foreign physical landscapes, but is there anything that can supplement rootedness in understanding what can't be seen?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

tech tip : panorama

Panorama pictures can be easy to create even without the use of a fancy camera. To create great panoramas, take multiple pictures in the landscape and merge them together using photoshop. To do this, open photoshop and go to --> File --> Automate --> Photomerge. Next, use the browse button to find the pictures you would like to merge. Select OK, and watch photoshop do its magic!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

tech tip : nested xref

You just started working on a project and the CAD files are all over the place. You open up your XREF manager by typing XR and notice that there are numerous XREFs that can't be detached. These are nested XREFs, meaning they have been attached in other drawings and must be detached in that specific drawing.

Now the question is how to find which drawing that nested XREF belongs to. When you are in XREF manager simply hit F4 to enter into Tree View. This view shows you exactly what files belong to specific XREFs. This is extremely helpful for removing nested XREFs and also figuring out where large, obsolete JPEGs are located so they can be deleted and reduce overall file size.

To return to List View in the XREF manager simply hit F3. This is a quick trick that will save you lots of time and help to better organize your CAD file structure.

Monday, February 7, 2011

natural architecture

There is an interesting article from that reflects on the notion of natural architecture, a movement that seeks to reconnect architecture with nature. The article speaks to the work of Alessandro Rocca, who published 'Natural Architecture' in 2006. The concept behind natural architecture expands on the land art movement and ultimately seeks to merge humanity and the environment. It challenges the standard concept of architecture, to create shelter from nature and instead seeks to embrace nature in shelter.

It seems to me that natural architecture is simply a synonym for landscape architecture. In fact, I would challenge this "architectural" movement and insist that as landscape architects, we strive to design within the constructs of natural systems and bring people closer to the idea of nature.

Agree, disagree, agree to disagree?

Friday, February 4, 2011


Is there a place for the notion of central park in a 21st century fringe? In a sprawled, disconnected landscape, the concept of nodal and multimodal infrastructure is one proposed design intervention. Spatially, this would look at structuring nodes in areas of existing infrastructure and access to potential or existing mass transit. In this scenario, the spatial configuration of open space would develop into a series of networks and decentralized parks that connect nodes together. Thus, one must ask, is a central community park part of the phased out 20th century American dream?

Moreover, is decentralization actually a viable remedy to the plague of sprawl? To support this argument I would ask the following question: if we seek to reconfigure a sprawled fringe landscape by centralizing development in a single town center, what happens to the scattered development far outside of walking distance, or even biking distance? Have we done anything to reduce the daily vehicle miles traveled per person or the frequency of car use over walking or biking? (One stipulation of this conceptual spatial pattern is scale - a study area of a 1/4 or 1/2 square mile would need to be treated far differently than a study area of 16 square miles.) Instead of concentrating all commercial, retail and services in a single town center, what if we spread them out in a series of smaller satellite centers that offered similar basic amenities? Big box stores could still be concentrated in a larger hub where people could drive from further distances to reach, but ideally could walk, bike or carpool to a smaller satellite center for every day items.

This would be a process of strategic infill that could begin to connect seemingly disconnected suburban entities to each other and eventually to larger urban centers and cities. This revised pattern of development could have significant impact on open space networks, ecological systems and transportation options. Instead of focusing on simply preserving land we would be able to focus on integrating under utilized, disconnected open space parcels into a larger system.

So, decentralization to fix disconnection?

tech tip : one layer at a time

Ever wish you could work in autocad with just a couple of layers on at a time without having to use the layers manager to turn layers on and off? Well, you can! By using the command LAYISO you can simply select which layers you want to isolate. When you are done editing those layers you can use the command LAYUNISO, and autocad will restore the layers which were previously hidden. These commands are useful when there are a lot of layers in a drawing and the drawing is getting difficult to edit.

Revisiting LEED-Certified Projects

We recently looked at the number of LEED certified projects for each state (here)... but do those numbers actually tell us anything about what states are being the most progressive in sustainable design? Perhaps a more accurate measurement would include population data (2010 Census Data) to draw out different comparisons. Listed below are the Total Number of LEED-Certified Projects per 100 thousand residents of a given state.

LEED-Certified Projects per 100k People
Top 10
1. Vermont (5.91)
2. Oregon (5.72)
3. Arizona (5.04)
4. Illinois (5.00)
5. Colorado (4.91)
6. Alabama (4.65)
7. Washington (4.52)
8. Iowa (4.15)
9. Massachusetts (3.59)
10. Maine (3.39)
Bottom 10
50. Idaho (0.23)
49. Alaska (0.31)
48. Louisiana (0.35)
47. West Virgina (0.43)
46. North Dakota (0.45)
45. Oklahoma (0.53)
44. Mississippi (0.61)
43. Arkansas (0.63)
42. Kentucky (0.78)
41. Tennessee (1.17)

Interesting note- Washington DC (14.48), has far more LEED-Certified Projects than any state.

What can we derive from this? The "Top 10" has drastically changed between the two most recently discussed lists, and there are some definite regional-patterns shown in the Bottom 10. Whats this mean for designs? Do the LEED rating systems fail to effectively account for regional differences in their rating systems? Is it a cultural issue? A demographic issue?

country scale brownfield seminar

For those interested in brownfields and how they can be integrated into larger environmental, social, economic and cultural systems, there is an upcoming webinar worth looking at. The talk will focus on 23 pilot communities around the country that are affected by brownfields and the strategies they are developing to reuse them.

tech tip : email a cad file

Coordinating autocad drawings with consultants can be a hassle. File sizes can sometimes get large, making the file hard to email. Design firms are starting to invest in FTP websites and with the recent boom in 'cloud technology,' this problem will soon be a thought of the past. For those of you who are still looking for the quick fix to this problem, fear not. Autocad has the solution!

To easily send an autocad file the command is ETRANSMIT (you can also find this under File --> etransmit). This command will bind all of the x-refs, blocks, and lines in the drawing and compress the file into a smaller, email-able file. When the command is run it will bring up a new box. Clik OK and the a new file will be saved to your folder!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

rethinking waste

These images are from a project looking at the potential for adaptively reusing a landfill site in Leonia, New Jersey. The rendering illustrates the overall concept of challenging the typical notion of waste as ugly and discarded. We designed multiple voids in the landscape that revealed the infrastructure of waste which supported the program of the park. These voids were termed scars, acting as a reminder that the waste we produce does not disappear. We wanted to construct compositions of physical, non-toxic decay that would change the way people interact with and understand waste. The plan called for a series of scars, each addressing a different component of the landfill system and the decomposition of waste products.

The design created a vision for a 21st century park; one that interacted with multiple urban systems and provided people with valuable open space and an educational tool for all age groups and demographics.

Sustainability: Who is LEEDing the nation?

LEED is a product of the United States Green Building Council (along with various other organizations), and is an internationally known method for rating sustainable design. The USGBC has developed numerous variations of the LEED rating system for different project types, but has offered a comprehensive list of every certified project in the United States. Here is how the States compare to one another.

LEED-Certified Projects by State
Top 10
1. California (977)
2. Texas (366)
3. Illinois (324)
4. Florida (308)
5. Washington (304)
6. New York (280)
7. Pennsylvania (277)
8. Colorado (247)
9. Massachusetts (235)
10. Georgia (230)
Bottom 10
50. North Dakota (3)
49. West Virginia (8)
48. Delaware (10)
47. Wyoming (12)
46. Alaska (15)
45. Louisiana (16)
44. South Dakota (17)
43. Rhode Island (18)
43. Mississippi (18)
41. Oklahoma (20)
Anything look surprising? More on this to come…

3D as process communication

Lately, the trend of 3D modeling has been embraced by designers and we are delving into programs such as Rhino or 3Ds Max to develop beautifully rendered images that capture our design intent. However, when we think about the value of 3D modeling, the conversation generally leans towards final renderings and sharp graphic composition. What about 3D as an extremely effective design tool? We have the ability to model with exact dimensions and directly understand relationships between design elements. The idea of modeling as final product seems to overshadow the ability to use models as a way to communicate design process to clients and team members.

What about when we begin to cross platforms and utilize programs such as ACAD Civil 3D and 3Ds Max simultaneously? When we can apply materials and textures in ACAD and shorten our time making a product more elegant in Max we are effectively bettering our overall utilization. This is strong evidence that the future of design communication and construction documentation will begin to stray away from conventional 2 dimensional drawings and standard construction methods. Further, when we think about implementing 3D technologies into the construction process we can effectively impact how things are made. This makes me wonder, what will students be learning in construction courses 5 or 10 years from now and how will professional design and construction process shift?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

taught to think

Many students are taught specific facts pertaining to their chosen major or memorize countless facts to pass tests. The beauty of going to design school is you leave having learned how to think. We are armed with more than just a database of information, we are taught how to access, utilize and manipulate that database in order to solve a multitude of unique problems. This also sets us up to be successful leaders when working across a wide range of professions. To this end we can imagine a future where designers are making big differences in the world because we aren't simply affecting change in one arena, we are working to engage and design for a variety of systems at local and global scales.

tech tip : aec objects/proxy graphics/xrefs

Design programs are constantly changing and can be difficult to keep up with. The Dimensions Team will be posting a weekly tech tip to help our followers keep up with these programs. Feel free to leave comments and ask any computer questions you may have!

Have you ever opened up a consultant's autocad file and seen a message about proxygraphics or aecobjects. Simply put, this message is alerting you that the file you opened was produced by a different version of autocad. This may not seem like a big issue, however, if you look closely you will find that these aecobjects are autocad blocks that may actually vanish from your drawing when try to x-ref the drawing into your own file!

To fix this problem, we suggest handling all consultant's autocad files the following way:

1. Save a copy of the orignal autocad file. Incase something goes wrong, it's always good to have an original copy of your consultants file archived away.

2. Open the file and type AECTOACAD or EXPORTTOAUTOCAD. These commands will ask you to create a new file which will contain the flattened proxygraphics.

3. Close the file you are currently in and open the new file which you just created from step 2.

4. Select all of the objects/lines in the drawing and make sure that the linetype and lineweight is set to BY LAYER. This will make things much easier when you go to change layer colors in your drawing.

5. Check all of the blocks in the consultants drawing, and make sure they were drawn on the 0 layer. Similar to step 4, this ensures that you can change a block's color in your drawing.

6. X-Ref the new consultant's drawing into your own drawing.

While it may seem a bit tedious, we have found that using this process before x-refing a new drawing into your file will save you lots of time!