ParticiPlace2012, an international design competition for the Living Culture Center for the Pinoleville Pomo Nation was organized as part of my PhD. research in Architecture. The competition provided a test bed to explore the gap between global designers and local communities — the users in place.
Environmental psychology provided the framework for understanding place, specifically Canter’s definition of place as the overlap between physical attributes, activities, and conceptions. When interviewing practicing architects, it became clear that in the for-profit design world, architects use a variety of techniques to become familiar with the specific physical attributes of place while activities of place are usually provided in the design brief. However, conceptions of place are harder to communicate across wide cultural and geographical gaps, hence are often neglected. At the same time, in the non-profit world of architecture, while more attention is given to learning conceptions, the information provided is not always enough for the architect’s place-information palette. As technology and particularly the variety of social network tools develop and become widely used around the world, I decided to study whether these tools can be harnessed to bridge the gap between local communities and global designers providing solutions in developing regions.
Based on case-studies in the field of Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D), technology without human motivation is not enough to create development. Empowering local communities requires both a top-down approach and a bottom-up solution. The opportunity provided to Native American Nations in the US to use federal funds to both design and build their own housing solutions is a top-down approach that calls for bottom-up solutions to allow the community simple ways to influence the design — essentially the core of this project. Together with Professor Agogino from the department of Mechanical Engineering and Ryan Shelby, a Mechanical Engineering PhD. student, we established CARES — Community Assessment of Renewable Energy and Sustainability — with the goal to support Native American and other communities in making informed decision about sustainable design solutions.
CARES works closely with the Pinoleville Pomo Nation (PPN), a Native American Nation located near Ukiah, two hours’ drive north of Berkeley, to co-design sustainable housing and community design solutions that are culturally appropriate. Our trans-disciplinary design process encompasses faculty and students from architecture and engineering, and community members working together throughout the cycle of design, construction, and post-occupancy evaluation.
In the search for technologies that could facilitate our design process, we decided to organize an international design challenge for a Living Culture Center that the PPN is interested in building. Our proposal for the design challenge won second prize in the Berkeley Big Ideas competition from the Blum Center for Developing Economies, providing a kick-start to the project. We brought in a distinguished jury from leading design firms and received additional generous support from the College of Environmental Design and the College of Engineering, followed by a contribution from the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and from the PPN. These resources allowed us to run a design competition attracting professionals and students from around the world.
Out of 38 registered teams, 17 submitted their design ideas including teams from India, Japan, Spain, Georgia, UK, Dominican Republic, Canada, and the U.S. Three categories of prizes were awarded: the general prize; a Sustainable Engineering Innovation Prize, and a Social and Cultural Integrity Prize — each of these acknowledging different design qualities of the submissions. The blind jury, comprised of contemporary Native-American and sustainable design practitioners, as well as community leaders, evaluated the submissions to select the winners. The first prize was awarded to a team of graduate students from the CED that included Gabriel Kaprielian, Marisha Farnsworth, Liz Kee and Jonghoon Im. The second was awarded to Elements Architects, a firm located in the Greater Chicago area; and the third prize was shared by Kengo Sato from Japan and Kadi Franson, Nathan Pundt and Leah Nichols representing a team from Oakland.
ParticiPlace2012 allowed the PPN to define their building requirements and discuss a variety of ideas that they can use as they go forward in realizing the building. The Living Culture Center will allow the PPN to practice, preserve, and revive their unique, native-Pomo culture. The proposed designs encourage active social exchange, cultural education, and living cultural practice. Once built, it will create space for PPN citizens to integrate long-standing traditions with contemporary lives.
On a research level the project demonstrates that even under conditions of cultural and geographical distance between designers and place, community members and designers can bridge this gap by using available information and communication technologies. Based on analysis of a variety of data collected throughout the process, my own research showed that international designers who had never visited the site could provide solutions that were as place-appropriate as the solutions provided by those who were situated nearby. Though globalization may have created a chasm between designers and local characteristics of place, this research calls to empower local community members through common technology to help bridge that gap and to enable designers to become intimate with the places that they help to design.
A hallmark of the CED program is its relentless commitment to addressing the most critical challenges facing society today with an attention to sustainability, design excellence, community involvement, and technological expertise. CED faculty continually lead the way in promoting these values not only in the classroom but beyond it as well.
No event demanded the application of these principles more than the disaster that occurred March 11, 2011. The most powerful earthquake ever to have hit Japan caused huge devastation triggering a massive tsunami responsible for meltdowns and explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Along with tremendous rebuilding needs, the country whose lifestyle depended on reliable electricity, was now forced to rethink its energy use.
This became the catalyst for Architecture.Energy.2011, an intensive 4-day workshop, June 23–26, 2011 in Tokyo, developed by CED Professors of Architecture Dana Buntrock and Susan Ubbelohde. Intended as a quick response to the catastrophe with longer-term follow-up, the workshop was designed to introduce advanced concepts of building energy use and occupant comfort through the lens of architectural space and material as a filter for the environment. A subsequent workshop was held in August of 2012 at Berkeley, offering participants knowledge and skills that continue to be applied today.
A different way of thinking
Having been involved in architectural research in Japan since the late 1980s, Dana Buntrock has an intimate familiarity with the country’s approach to building design and a strong affiliation with the architectural community there. She reached out to her colleague Susan Ubbelohde, realizing that while Susan and her firm, Loisos+Ubbelohde, had no prior experience in Japan, their leading-edge expertise in technical analysis and energy efficient building practices was essential.
Historically, Japan has placed little emphasis on basic energy conservation approaches, such as insulation, in architecture. Because living and working spaces are typically very small, and households are in the habit of heating only one room at a time, per capita energy use has been relatively low. Energy saving practices that we take for granted in the US — like thermal insulation, day-lighting and energy performance measurement and analysis — are rare in Japan and although a building code related to energy consumption exists, compliance has been voluntary. While Japan places great importance on environmental policy as it concerns greenhouse emissions, there was little relation to efforts to reduce overall energy consumption, especially connected to buildings.
Buntrock and Ubbelohde were not out to champion California energy policy. “We were not interested in suggesting we are better at energy conservation than Japan, but simply that we offered a way of thinking that filled out an area where Japan had not yet developed strengths,” explains Buntrock. Ubbelohde echoes the sentiment, “Japan has a challenge to maintain their current quality of life without nuclear power. Japanese architects now have the opportunity to look at building science as a means of addressing that.”
Light. Heat. Air. Energy.
The June 2011 workshop, funded through a variety of resources that Buntrock and Ubbelohde put together, including money from the UC Berkeley Center for Japanese Studies and personal resources, was designed to provide tools and ways of approaching energy efficiency for architects already leading the profession in Japan. Seminars on the physics of building performance based on daily themes — Light, Heat, Air, and Supplementary Energy — were followed by an Environmental Measurement segment where participants used devices to discover how metrics relate to experience, and a Design Lab where teams were tasked with re-designing a contemporary building. Energy modelers from Loisos+Ubbelohde and UC Berkeley simulated energy performance and gave feedback to the participants as they worked.
The workshops were truly a cross-cultural collaboration, with organizers and leaders from both Japan and the US. Along with Professors Buntrock and Ubbelohde, and L+U principal George Loisos, groups were led by L+U staff Brendon Levitt, Ibone Santiago, Eduardo Pintos — all CED alumni — and Santosh Phillip. CED graduate student participants included David Fannon (M.Arch ’12), Kyle Konis (PhD Arch ’11), and Jeremy Fisher (M.S. Arch ’11). Collaborators in Japan who helped with organization and logistics included Shuzo Murakami, Building Research Institute; Masao Koizumi, Tokyo Metropolitan University; Kengo Kuma, Tokyo University; Nobufusa Yoshizawa, Insitute for Building Environment and Energy Conservation; and Balazs Bognar, Kuma and Associates.
Response was overwhelming. All together, 57 individuals participated. Many firms and organizations, under pressure to respond not only to the paradigm shifts in thinking about energy, but also to the more immediate need to rebuild in devastated areas, sent different participants on different days.
The follow-up workshop the next year at Berkeley, funded by a grant from the Japan Foundation’s Center for Global Partnership, focused on energy efficiency from a policy and application perspective, and concentrated on a more substantial sharing of available tools. Many of the same participants or participant firms took part in the second workshop along with first-time attendees.
Expressing her amazement at the level of engagement of the workshop participants, Susan Ubbelohde remarked, “These were some of the best designers I had ever worked with. Since the workshop, we’ve had a number of architects and engineers from Japan visiting the office and now there is an ongoing dialog that has really benefited the entire office. It’s been great.”
Making a Difference
While it may be a while before significant results are achieved, participants are beginning to put their experience to use. Norihisa Kawashima, an architect at Nikken Sekkei who came to Berkeley as a visiting scholar and worked with L+U to learn Berkeley-based simulation approaches, is now back at Nikken Sekkei sharing what he has learned.
Partners from the Tokyo-based ADH Architects, designing publicly financed homes in the earthquake region, have been working with L+U to propose upgraded approaches to efficiency. They will work with another workshop attendee, Dr. Masayuki Mae of the University of Tokyo, to do thermal testing after completion.
Not surprisingly, the workshops have also had an impact on the Berkeley student participants and faculty. David Fannon now works as a building scientist and specialist in high-performance design for Syska Hennessy Group in New York. Kyle Konis was moved after meeting young Japanese designers who, though their lives had been dramatically affected by the disasters, were driven to have a positive impact. Konis now teaches sustainability classes at USC and has incorporated his Japan experience into the themes of his teaching.
“There are social implications to energy,” explains Dana Buntrock. “Without electricity thousands of buildings in Japan became at least temporarily uninhabitable because of poor thermal and day-lighting qualities. Beyond reduced reliance on fossil fuels, which Japan now must consider, energy efficiency has larger implications for human comfort. I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to continue working with Japanese colleagues on the energy demands of buildings.”
Apples & Wages, an undergraduate urban planning studio project, presents a program to increase food security and employment in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco with a job-training program that offers skill development and employment experience in food preparation and distribution. Taught by Andrea Gaffney and Kimberly Suczynski Smith, the students Dylan Crary, Heather Do, Rebecca Hui, Sandra Lee, and Christina Tanouye come from a wide range of disciplines including urban studies, business, architecture, and political economy.
The Story from the Students
The final studio presentation of “Apples & Wages” came a long way from the scattering of ideas that developed at the beginning of spring semester. For the final studio project, our team tackled the broad assignment of creating an innovative economic development proposal for the Tenderloin area of San Francisco. The assignment asked us to propose a long-term plan and a short-term, immediate action in which to test our long-range plan.
Like many good planners, we started our project with extensive background research and numerous site visits. We scanned the study area for possible economic development opportunities that were not directly addressed in the planning studies that we had researched. The corner stores and street culture of the Tenderloin caught our attention as a significant economy, about which we wanted to learn more.
We recorded existing land uses in great detail, noting the businesses and organizations present in the neighborhood. We noticed a disparity in the pricing of fresh food at the corner stores, so we created a map and pricing index to reflect the community’s access to local sources of fresh food. We documented activities on the street and talked with long-time Tenderloin residents to better understand the needs and issues in the neighborhood. From census and planning research, we learned about the high unemployment rate within the working age population of the Tenderloin community. As part of our land use research, we noted Single Resident Occupancy Hotels (SRO’s) as the predominant housing type; there are no kitchens in SROs.
The site visits allowed us to think on our feet and helped us arrive at our idea to propose a job-training program that could also provide access to fresh, healthy food. The idea is surprisingly simple: we propose the creation of a central kitchen where fresh produce could be prepared into healthy meals through the jobs training program, and then sent throughout the Tenderloin on mobile food carts.
Throughout the development of our project, we looked at a variety of precedents and case studies to provide the proof-of-concept for our proposal. We found some excellent examples of programs and organizations at work in the Bay Area and California, from which we developed a kit of parts for our proposal. We also identified a series of funding opportunities and local organizations that might be interested in further developing our idea.
After the final studio presentation, our instructors encouraged us to present “Apples & Wages” to the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, and through this exposure, we took advantage of submitting our idea to San Francisco’s Online Ideas Competition for Food Security in the Tenderloin over the summer. Talk about good timing! The jury loved our proposal and we won an internship at the Hub, a social venture incubator space, where we will continue developing our project to turn “Apples & Wages” into a real program for the Tenderloin. Thinking back on all those late nights spent at Wurster Hall, we are tremendously excited to see how all our hard work will truly give back to the community.
In their second year participating in Vertical Cities Asia, the 5-year series of competitions focused on high-density urbanism in Asia organized by the National University of Singapore School of Design and Environment, two student teams from UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design were presented with the theme, “Everyone Ages.” This year’s competition sought innovative design solutions for a balanced environment for high density urban life addressing the complexities of a rapidly ageing society. Each year, a one square kilometer territory is chosen, with teams challenged to design a visionary and holistic community for 100,000 residents. The solution must incorporate areas for work and recreation with the residential component allowed to comprise only fifty percent of the total site area. This year’s site was located in Yongshan, part of Seoul Metropolitan City, Republic of Korea.
The CED teams, led by Professor of Architecture René Davids, aimed to address the needs of all, removing the barriers created by age, social and family structure, and physical mobility.
Revitalizing the connection to the river through landscape integration and optimizing views, Team A’s entry, Succulent City, embeds a dynamic and productive natural network into the existing urban context. Integrating rainwater collection, grey water filtration, recreational public space and herbal healing practice into a branching building/landscape system, the network weaves into the existing urban fabric at the ground level and extrudes vertically into programmatically efficient, branching towers. The interaction and transition between wet and dry systems permeates the city at every scale, from the urban to the individual.
Inspired by the human aging process, Succulent City nurtures a relationship with the environment through sinuous bioswales and filtration basins that continuously and seasonally evolve, while respecting and responding to the diurnal fluctuations of contemporary urban life. Sculpted by the natural forces on site such as sunlight and wind, and by cultural influences such as feng shui and family relationships, this organic network is oriented along commercial routes to optimize accessibility for everyone.
The building network of towers, ground, and sky branches is thoroughly integrated with the wet and dry landscape, serving all ages with a gradient of mixed-use programs. Views of the river, accessible vertical swales that wrap the buildings, and ground branches that form a familiar commercial continuation of the existing streets, encourage residents and visitors to form a culturally and ecologically dynamic relationship with the landscape.
Succulent City’s approach to the Vertical Cities Asia challenge preserves the deep connection to the site’s historic and contemporary water systems, presenting a dynamic and revitalizing solution that changes, grows and adapts to the evolving needs of its urban population.
How can tourism improve the lives of poor people? Must tourism always destroy existing cultures? Can indigenous people plan and manage their own tourist resources? These are just a few of the difficult questions that CED students in the graduate studio, “Just” Tourism in the Tlacolula Valley, Oaxaca, grappled with during Spring, 2012.
The studio was based on the idea that to be equitable and sustainable, tourism planning needs to build on the existing environment, society and economies of the local area. Sponsored by the Ministry of Culture of the State of Oaxaca and in collaboration with professors and students from the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City, students from all three CED departments—Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, and City and Regional Planning—traveled to Oaxaca Valley to investigate its rich history and culture and to understand its current challenges.
Raul Cabra (M.A. Design, 2011)—Director of Oaxacalifornia, a cultural exchange program between Oaxacan craftspeople and California designers, who is also a local resident—led us through ten intensive days of fieldwork that covered nearly every meter of the valley. We surveyed local agriculture and gastronomy, craft traditions, markets that date from pre-Columbian times, unique Zapotec governance systems and the techniques of artisanal mescal production—the most important local industry. We met a range of Valley residents including government officials, returned migrants, organic farmers and American expats.
Returning to Berkeley, we incorporated different concepts from the anthropology of tourism, everyday urban design, local economic development theory, infrastructure planning and land-use law to create a strategic tourism plan for the Valley. Organized around flexible itineraries, the plan makes the valley accessible to tourists while protecting its physical and cultural resources.
Multi-dimensional and decentralized, the plan offers numerous options. Since villages value their independence and autonomy, each element can be adapted to local conditions. Last summer, local officials, businesses, and artisans enthusiastically responded to the Mezcal Route strategy, so we are optimistic that the rest of the plan will have an equally positive impact in Oaxaca.
In a now-neglected book entitled Notes on the Synthesis of Form (1964), Christopher Alexander approached design as a question of “goodness of fit” between form and context. I thought about this formulation frequently when I began traveling in 2002 the entire length of the US-Mexico border on both sides, a journey of 4,000 miles. I had the good (or bad) fortune to embark before the US undertook the fortification of the international boundary line and so witnessed the border’s closure, an experience that altered my understanding of both countries.
The US-Mexico borderlands are among the most misunderstood places on earth. The communities along the line are distant from their respective national capitals. They are staunchly independent and composed of many cultures with hybrid loyalties. Nowadays, border states are fast-growing places of teeming contradiction, extremes of wealth and poverty, and vibrant political and cultural change. They are also places of enormous tensions associated with undocumented immigration and drug wars.
Mutual interdependence has been the hallmark of cross-border lives since prehistoric times. After the Spanish conquest, a series of binational “twin cities” sprang up along the line, eventually creating communities of sufficient distinction as to warrant the title of a “third nation,” slotted snugly in the space between the US and Mexico. I came to understand the third nation not as a zone of separation but instead as a connecting membrane. This way of seeing substitutes continuity and coexistence for sovereignty and difference, running counter to conventional wisdom that the border is the place of last resistance against immigrant and terrorist.
In 1848 the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo established the international boundary, which was frequently marked by no more than a pile of stones. A second survey in 1892 added over 200 more boundary monuments. But in the 1990s, responding to increased waves of undocumented crossings from Mexico, large fences sprouted in border cities such as Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez. Following 9/11, the US unilaterally adopted an aggressive program of fortifying the entire line. The new barriers are without historical precedent, and threaten to suffocate the arteries of communication that supply the third nation’s oxygen.
On the US side, the border was transformed into an archipelago of law enforcement agencies dedicated to the apprehension and deportation of undocumented migrants, and supported by private manufacturing, detention and security corporations. On the Mexican side, the federal government’s war against drug cartels resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and may even have consolidated cartel power.
In places, the new Wall is sinuously beautiful as it snakes through desert, but it can hardly be construed as a good fit! Yet the environmental design responses it has provoked are immensely intriguing in their diversity. The Wall provides a canvas for artworks, or becomes an instrument to be played by musicians; and ‘windows’ cut into the Wall reduce cross-border incidents of rock-throwing. Design professionals are directly engaged in building the rising number of official Ports of Entry that establish new portals in the Wall that shuts out Mexico. My CED colleague Ron Rael has designed water, energy and anti-pollution schemes along the Wall’s length. And people invent surprising ways of going over, under, through and around the Wall.
Ultimately, the Wall separating Mexico and the US will come down. Walls always do. The Wall won’t work because the third nation has strong connective tissue that cannot be undone. The third nation is the place where binational lives and values are being created – organically, readily, and without artifice. It is the place of being and becoming between our two nations.
What should be done about the Wall that so rudely interrupts the third nation? The Berlin Wall was torn down virtually overnight, its fragments sold as souvenirs of a calamitous Cold War; and the Great Wall of China was transformed into a global tourist attraction. Left untended, the US-Mexico Wall would collapse under the combined assault of avid recyclers, souvenir hunters, and people offended by its mere existence. Nevertheless, we should preserve sections of the Wall to commemorate that fraught moment in history when the US lost its moral compass.
In this Fall 2012 issue of FRAMEWORKS, I am pleased to offer some important news of the college. First, Deborah Berke, the New York City-based architect widely recognized for her design excellence, scholarly achievement and commitment to moving the practice of architecture forward in innovative ways, has been selected as the first recipient of UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design inaugural 2012 Berkeley-Rupp Architecture Professorship and Prize. I could not be more delighted, for Deborah Berke exemplifies everything this prize is meant to celebrate. The excellence of her craft, her creative approach to sustainability, and her willingness to mentor women in the field and share her ideas and expertise make her the perfect person to receive the inaugural Berkeley-Rupp Prize and Professorship.
The Berkeley-Rupp Prize and Professorship, a $100,000 award made possible through a generous bequest to the campus by alumna Sigrid Lorenzen Rupp, is to be awarded biennially to a distinguished practitioner or academic who has made a significant contribution to promoting the advancement of women in the field of architecture, and whose work emphasizes a commitment to sustainability and the community.
Deborah Berke is founder of the New York City-based architecture firm Deborah Berke Partners, and is also an adjunct professor of architectural design at Yale University. Please save the date: Deborah will deliver a public lecture the evening of January 28 at Wurster Hall Gallery at the opening of an exhibit of her work.
Turning to faculty news, over the past three years, generous donors have endowed four professorial chairs, through $1 million gifts matched by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. I am delighted to report that Associate Professor of Architecture C. Greig Crysler has been appointed the Arcus Chair in Gender, Sexuality, and the Built Environment. Named after the Arcus Foundation, a private philanthropic organization founded by Jon Stryker, the chair builds on the work of the Arcus Endowment he established in 2000. Energetically led by Greig, the Endowment has sponsored a rich program including research grants and awards, installations and exhibits, and a visiting scholar-in-residence program.
Greig’s research focuses on the history of architectural theory, and the role of architecture in processes such as nationalism, globalization, and the cultural politics of difference. His books include, Writing Spaces: Discourses of Architecture, Urbanism and the Built Environment, 1960–2000 (2003) and he is co-editor, with Stephen Cairns and Hilde Heynen, of the Sage Handbook of Architectural Theory (2012). Greig, who served as Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies from 2008–2012, offers courses at the intersection between architecture, ethics and activism.
Lastly, I am happy to report that CED has embarked on an ambitious strategic planning exercise. The College of Environmental Design, founded in 1959, was premised on a shared vision and deep commitments to social responsibility, a place-based approach to design, and allowing students to shape their educational experience. With generous state resources, CED faculty went on to build specific disciplinary strengths and pedagogical models that together became the enduring signature of the college. Fast forward to today, and it is clear things have radically changed. New challenges face cities and regions around the world. Faculty have new interests, intellectual frameworks and methodological tools. Different sorts of careers are open to those with a CED degree. And with less than 11% of UC Berkeley’s revenue coming from state general funds, the financial context of UC Berkeley and hence the college is very different compared to 1959.
With these dynamics in mind, I asked the CED faculty last spring to undertake a strategic plan for the college. The basic charge was to address three fundamental questions: What new societal problems, intellectual arenas, and design challenges should we tackle in the future? How should our pedagogy change to reflect these new directions? And how can we maintain both academic excellence and access to a CED education?
The faculty response was enthusiastic and positive. Together, we are committed to producing a brief, elegant statement of vision and values developed on the basis of input from faculty, alumni, students, and staff. We will also establish a series of concrete, funded initiatives that will move us from vision to implementation. In the process, we aim to invent a college culture and practice for the 21st century.
The Occupy Wall Street movement, and its cousins that have emerged in cities across the country, arrived on the UC Berkeley campus last fall in the form of “Occupy Cal.” Students set up small camping tents outside Sproul Hall in front of Savio Steps, named for the famed free speech activist, Mario Savio. Police, in a scene involving protester-police conflict and violence, ultimately removed the tents stirring controversy across campus.
In the wake of the tent removals, College of Environmental Design students led by students from the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning hung a large sign reading “OCCUPY PUBLIC SPACE” in full view off Wurster Hall’s 10th floor. To draw attention to the role of design in social change, they also created a unique intervention intended to provoke and amuse.
Since tents in front of Sproul Hall were banned, the students filled two tents with helium balloons, floating them on long lines, along with an enormous sign reading “OUR SPACE”. Marching down from Wurster Hall in an exuberant procession, they tethered the hovering tents and sign high in front of the Sproul Hall doors. I too was out there in the cold with our students, their floating tents, and their comic signs such as “Frank Lloyd Fight!” We had an animated conversation about social justice and the future of public universities like Cal.
Back at Wurster Hall, some of the students, enrolled in a graduate seminar on public space taught by Professor of Architecture Margaret Crawford, were eager to engage in a discussion about the role of public space in social protest and change. We immediately decided to organize a panel discussion, creating a locus for more serious, academic dialogue.
So, on December 1st, students packed the new Wurster Gallery to hear faculty members Ananya Roy (City & Regional Planning), Walter Hood (Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning), and Margaret Crawford (Architecture) and MLA graduate students Rob Tidmore and Chris Torres debate questions of design activism, the meanings of public space, and the serious social, political and economic issues raised by the Occupy movement. It was an electric evening of tough questions and rapid-fire exchanges among panelists and participants.
The challenges that our university and college face are rooted in the political and economic dynamics driving the Occupy movement. The entire campus community understands this. Today’s students and faculty all know that activism is a vital and cherished part of this university’s heritage, but knowledge about the strategies and tactics that actually build movements must be learned anew. We must always begin with the substantive issues, and thus along with other Cal Deans, I have worked to organize a series of campus-wide forums to explore issues of social inequality and opportunity, taxation and citizenship, the economics of higher education, and the public character of public universities. Student and faculty organizations in turn are rapidly beginning to map out strategies for mobilization and identifying political pathways for change.
The creative and powerful intervention designed by CED students went viral, astounding people all across campus. I realized anew how proud I am to be part of the College of Environmental Design and to have the chance to help CED build on its historical legacy of activism, and fight for a more just future.
Every day, there seems to be another news story about the dire state of higher education in California. With state government facing record deficits and the economy still struggling to recover, the University of California has been hard-hit with successive budget cuts.
UC Berkeley, despite its status as the system’s flagship campus, has not been exempt from resource reductions and staff layoffs. Funding from the state’s general fund now accounts for only about one-fifth of Cal’s budget; for the first time ever, both the share of funds from philanthropic support and the share from student fees exceeded contributions from the state. We are indeed living in interesting times!
Students in the Department of Landscape and Environmental Planning (LAEP) won two top awards in the American Society of Landscape Architects’ 2010 ASLA Student Awards competition.
Cecil Howell won the Award of Excellence in the General Design Category for her project, “Vacant Lot Library.” Adjunct Professor of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning David Meyer advised Howell on the project. “Vacant Lot Library” proposed creating a network of outdoor libraries with the vacant lots scattered throughout San Francisco. By converting these spaces into learning landscapes, Howell asserts, San Francisco will have transformed the forgotten lots into public spaces that support creativity, education, and community.
The Landscape Progress Administration, a collaboration of six LAEP students, won the Award of Excellence in the Community Service Category. Hugo Bruley, Eustacia Brossart, Kirsten Dahl, Jesse Jones, Clare O’Reilly, and Adrienne Smith comprised the design team, which was advised by Associate Adjunct Professor Marcia McNally. The organization took action against the slashed budgets for public programs across the state. The team reached out to public schools and parks impacted by the budget cuts by volunteering both time and expertise in support of public landscapes.
Award of Excellence Vacant Lot Library
Cecil Howell, Student ASLA, College of Environmental Design, UC Berkeley
Faculty Adviser: David Meyer
San Francisco is dotted with vacant lots, unused and often-forgotten spaces concentrated in the poorest neighborhoods of the city. This project proposes creating a network of outdoor libraries within vacant lots. By converting these spaces into learning landscapes, San Francisco will invest in the knowledge of its citizens and transform the forgotten into public spaces that help support creativity, education, and community, the foundation for a truly sustainable city.
At the city-scale, this project proposes a new infrastructure of learning landscapes that is part site and part mobile library. The sites are selected due to their proximity to a school; each site is within one-quarter of a mile of a school. While students are not the only users of the vacant-lot libraries, they are an important element in maintaining the vitality of each site. The schools are not only visitors to the site, but can also help determine the content, either by helping to design the site or through displays, projects, and program. A mobile bus provides additional content, as well as helps to connect the sites together. The bus would bring not only books to the sites, but also science projects, artwork, and essays from other schools to create an exchange of knowledge and ideas throughout the city.
This project explores the design possibilities for one site, a vacant lot located at 5th and Folsom Streets in the South of Market district of San Francisco (SOMA). The area around 5th and Folsom used to be completely industrial, and while there is still some light industry, mostly auto body shops, it is transforming into a more residential neighborhood. Nine schools lie within walking distance to the park, including several elementary and nursery schools, a university of law, city college, and a medical college. These institutions are predominantly located to the north and east of the site.
Typical of industrial areas, there is very little public space in the neighborhood, even though there is an influx of residents and there has always been a large population of workers. This site, in addition to becoming a learning landscape, provides much-needed outdoor space to the workers, customers, residents, and students of the area.
The primary design move is an interactive wall that weaves through the site, creating learning spaces as well as providing knowledge. Looking to the library as a source of inspiration, the wall creates both small spaces for private and quiet learning as well as large rooms that can be used as classrooms and activity centers. Since the majority of students will be approaching the site from the southwest, the more active areas are in the southwest corner of the site, while the quieter areas are tucked toward the south end of the site. The wall is eight feet tall and constructed of rotating panels; each panel has information inscribed or mounted on it. By rotating the panels, the user is able to pull information out of the wall as she turns it — a movement inspired by the act of removing a book from a bookshelf. While the higher panels feature information for adults, the lower panels are designed for children and include number, color, and shape games, turning the wall into an enormous puzzle.
Along the wall, the content and material varies, responding to the type of space created. In the southwest corner, the space is divided into small reading rooms. Here, the content is permanent, including displays on the natural and social history of San Francisco, pieces of poetry, and other literature. The panels are constructed from aluminum, with the information etched onto them. The metal supports the permanence of the display as well as reflects light down into the rooms. In several spots, panels fold out to become seats, in addition to the benches and moveable chairs that dot the site.
Moving along the wall into the larger spaces, the content becomes more interactive and temporary. Nearby schools, as well as any local businesses or art, science, and tech groups, can take responsibility for a portion of the wall. These rotating exhibitions of work create an opportunity for people to display their knowledge and creativity as well as interact with their neighbors. The wall facilitates strange pairings, such as having an elementary school and a law school adjacent to each other, creating new opportunities for exchange and inspiration. In this area, the panels vary in material, from wood to aluminum mesh to cork-board, all of which are designed with clips and other mounting methods in order to facilitate the exhibits.
There are two classrooms on the site, both formed by large sweeping curves of the wall. Within these bulbs, the wall mimics the information found inside a science, history, or mathematics classroom, complete with periodic tables, maps, and formulas. Several panels together form large chalkboards and corkboards, allowing for easy teaching and amendment. Seating in these areas is primarily moveable chairs, for increased flexibility.
The mobile library enters the site at the north end. This area is very open, in order for the library to have the room to display the books and projects that it carries from school to school. This area is the main plaza of the site, and the wall supports this activity hub by displaying content that varies almost daily, including newspapers, videos, and message boards.
Orchard and Surface
Besides the wall, the site is composed of two other components: a bosque of fruit trees and a changing ground plane. The fruit trees help the site become active by providing a resource to the community. Within the quieter areas, the trees are planted more densely and are a small variety of plums, creating domes for the reading rooms. Moving out toward the more active areas, the trees become more spread-out and are larger varieties. The species changes from plum to pear trees and finally apple trees. This helps open the spaces up, while at the same time provides a canopy to create a more comfortable climate.
The ground plane also changes with the gradient of the trees and wall. While the predominant surface material is structural gravel, bands of wood decking interrupt the gravel wherever there are trees. The wood provides a soft surface for lying or sitting on as well as a feeling of warmth to the site. The simplicity of the ground plane directs the focus towards the wall and the knowledge it contains.
Award of Excellence Landscape Progress Administration
Hugo Bruley, Student ASLA; Eustacia Brossart, Student ASLA; Kirsten Dahl, Student ASLA; Jesse Jones, Student ASLA; Clare O’Reilly, Student ASLA; and Adrienne Smith, Student ASLA. College of Environmental Design, UC Berkeley.
Faculty Adviser: Marcia McNally
In the wake of California’s 2009 budget crisis, funding was slashed to public programs across the state. As we saw staff and faculty furloughed and student services threatened in our own Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning at UC Berkeley, we took action. Our student group led a participatory process to reach out to public schools and parks similarly impacted by the budget cuts. Dubbing ourselves the Landscape Progress Administration, our department volunteered both time and expertise in support of public landscapes.
In 2009, the California state legislature slashed the public higher education budget by $2 billion as part of a package of cuts to close a $26 billion state budget gap. This led to layoffs and graduated furloughs for all faculty and staff at UC Berkeley, resulting in fewer teaching days during the fall 2009 semester. Our college budget suffered a 16% cut in 2010, with deeper cuts promised the following year. Landscape architecture department members were also disturbed by the decline in state funding for places important to our profession, such as public parks and open spaces, as well as cuts suffered by the entire public school system.
In response, landscape architecture students, faculty, and staff initiated a constructive effort to mitigate and draw attention to the impacts of state-funding shortfalls on public landscapes and schools. Under the banner of the Landscape Progress Administration, our department took advantage of university-mandated furlough days to volunteer our time and expertise at a state park, public schools, and around our campus in an effort to make a difference within public landscapes and institutions that are facing similar state funding cuts.
The idea for a service-based response was introduced at a town hall meeting on the first day of classes, during which our department chair proposed using the furlough days at the end of the semester for volunteer service. Students, faculty, and staff voted enthusiastically in favor of carrying out community service projects, and agreed that the organization and implementation of the project should be student-led. We volunteered to facilitate the project as part of our coursework for our class in citizen participation in community design and planning.
During the semester, we met with department members to determine goals to be achieved through project implementation, selected appropriate volunteer projects, and organized implementation. The first step was the “Courtyard Call to Service.” To make the connection between budget cuts and the need for community-service action, we organized students in our department to clean up, weed, and prune a neglected courtyard adjacent to our college’s building to coincide with a statewide walkout protesting the state’s disinvestment in the public university system. After we introduced the service-project concept, we conducted a student survey and interviewed faculty and staff to gather information about their priorities and project ideas. At a series of department-wide town hall meetings, we presented survey and interview results, set goals, and compiled a list of public landscapes and organizations that were also hit hard by state budget cuts and that could use help from our department. During one meeting, students, faculty, and staff voted to name the project the Landscape Progress Administration. By referencing the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration, students sought to bring attention to hard times — including unemployment at its highest rate since the Great Depression — and to call for a civic-minded spirit of public investment that we believe is currently lacking in our state.
Through the participatory process, and working with staff on campus and at other public institutions, we selected several service projects. Some projects were specific to the curriculum and skills of a particular course, and some were open to the entire department and other willing volunteers from outside the department. During the final week of the semester, over three hundred students, faculty, and staff volunteered their time.
Students of the Sustainable Landscapes and Cities class made ornate banners to display at each project site, promoting awareness of environmental issues, landscape architecture, community service, and civic investment. Other students undertook research and maintenance projects on our university campus. To compensate for lost staff time in the campus creek restoration program, one hundred volunteers removed invasive species from a creek corridor, making space for native riparian species. Eighty students in an introductory environmental design class learned about water conservation and building science through an audit of bathroom fixtures in campus buildings to identify those that consumed too much water. Ecological analysis students conducted a census of campus trees, updating an obsolete map. In addition, several geographic information systems students worked with local community organizations to provide needed mapping and analysis services.
Off campus, students from our department built relationships across educational boundaries by engaging middle and high school students. We developed two days of hands-on curricula for middle school students. Department members taught sixth-grade earth science students in their schoolyard, measuring surface permeability and examining the effects of simulated pollution on makeshift watershed models. Volunteers and students from the after-school garden program planted drought-tolerant species on school grounds. Students also introduced the children to the field of landscape architecture and helped them design and draw new plans for their school grounds. Across town at a high school suffering from staff layoffs, twenty-seven department members worked with high school students to build a coop for chickens raised in a biology class, weed and water the neglected edible school garden, create garden signage, and decorate the compost bin with educational messages.
Further afield, twenty-two members of the department worked with four volunteer coordinators to clear, re-grade, prune, and maintain approximately one mile of an overgrown hiking trail in a state park. Steep state funding cuts and the threat of closure forced park staff layoffs and furloughs along with cuts to hours and services. Our labor saved the park $4,500 and provided 165 hours of service.
Public reaction to the Landscape Progress Administration was overwhelmingly positive. Local news media covered some of the projects. The middle and high school students and teachers, the state parks volunteer coordinator, and our campus staff all expressed appreciation and great interest in continuing to work with our department. We conducted a follow-up student survey and discussed the project with faculty. All parties agreed that the volunteer experience was rewarding, and that the department should continue to work with these and similar institutions every year. We then traveled to Sacramento and met with seven state legislature staff members, advocating for greater public investment, both from taxpayers and the state to fund public landscapes and education, and from citizens through volunteering in the landscapes and schools that make our state great. Staff members told us that although the outlook is grim for increased state funding of public education and landscapes, they were delighted with our volunteer work and encouraged us to continue.
Over the course of the semester, we learned a great deal about organizing and managing groups, soliciting community participation in a democratic and iterative process, bridging institutional barriers, and the joy of teaching and volunteering within our valued public landscapes. Plans are currently under way to return to the state park and schools in the fall, and we hope that the Landscape Progress Administration will continue to cultivate relationships, awareness, and civic investment across public institutional boundaries.