ARTIST - LANDSCAPE URBANIST
SKEPNEK BEAUTY FOR THE BEAST
ARTIST-LANDSCAPE URBANIST “The dialogue to open next would be among all beings, toward a rhetoric of ecological relationships.” - Gary Snyder
This book is about the beginning – the work of an artist who became captivated by the city, by the public of a city and its relationship to landscape and architecture. I have combined these fields around a common belief that in our need for resilient cities, art and design can be the instigators of change. For Art is about the world, and Design (architecture and landscape architecture) is about life. Therefore, in the movement towards resilient cities is a powerful instigator; the ArtistLandscape Urbanist. Whether through a painting, landscape or building, the artist and landscape urbanist is a storyteller whose narrative helps us discover answers to social, cultural and environmental questions. Perhaps the power of the combination of art and design (architecture, landscape architecture, urban design) lies precisely in its near boundlessness, its resistance to easy categorization or description, its willingness to nomadically sniff out opportunities where others see only waste or incomprehensible complexity. The artist-landscape urbanist must play her role in building continuous public support for the environment and a sustainable culture. To build resilient cities and a sustainable culture we need to provoke people to become more aware of how their actions affect the environment, and to care enough to make changes. Ecocritic Lawrence Buell suggests in Writing for an Endangered World, that American environmental policy is missing “a coherent vision of the common environmental good that is sufficiently compelling to generate sustained public support.” He argues that what is needed is not more policies or technologies, but more “attitudes, feelings, images, narratives.” In our urban landscapes we need ‘the promise of happiness’ – beauty. The Artist-Landscape Urbanist, like Mark Helprin’s Soldier of the Great War, must guide urban communities to sustainable environments by searching for and finding essential happiness/beauty. Beauty is necessary, and like all essentials must be studied; to know what has succeeded, what has worked, so that we can create sustainable cultures through sustaining beauty. The works in this volume share thought on, and ideas for, creating urban beauty, whether that means designing complex master plans for cities and communities, or a quick sketch of a garden while drinking a cup of coffee. These works reminisce over the months I spent in Paris in “Eternity in an Afternoon,” explores our tendency to migrate towards and return to public spaces in “Familiar Sites,” and illustrate the spontaneity of activity on the sidewalk in “The Perfect Little Street.” The works and stories vary, but they are all based on a similar goal to create and strengthen relationships and to find more meaningful ways to connect to each other and our environment. I want to celebrate the long-standing traditions of the city, urban design and landscape we cherish, while also reminding ourselves to explore our own needs to connect to city, landscape and infrastructure.
HONORS, GRANTS, FELLOWSHIPS
SEOUL INTERNATIONAL DESIGN FAIR 2010
| Seoul, Korea
Design for All | future technology & daily living ZGF ARCHITECTS NATIONAL ARCHITECTURAL FELLOWSHIP
| Portland, OR
2009-2010 National Fellowship Winner SCHENCK-WOODMAN COMPETITION
| Philadelphia, PA
University of Pennsylvania 2009 Winner, 3rd place: ‘Park as Infrastructure: Rethinking Franklin Parkway’ GIMME SHELTER:INTERNATIONAL SUSTAINABLE DESIGN/BUILD COMPETITION
The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education 2009 Winner: with Rebecca Popowsky (OLIN) Built a sustainably designed structure in an urban woodland
| Philadelphia, PA
| San Antonio, TX
Western European Architecture Foundation 2008 Prize Winner: Three months of individual architectural research and painting in Paris SUSAN CROMWELL COSLETT TRAVEL FELLOWSHIP
University of Pennsylvania 2007 Fellowship Winner: To study and paint traditional Chinese gardens.
| Philadelphia, PA
ELIZABETH GREENSHIELD FOUNDATION
| Quebec, Canada
2006 Grant Winner: Representational Painting
UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA July 2006 - May 2010 Master of Landscape Architecture & Regional Planning Master of Architecture Graduated Cum Laude
| Philadelphia, PA
WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY IN ST. LOUIS Januar y 2003 - May 2005 Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting Graduated Cum Laude
| St. Louis, MO
MARYLAND INSTITUTE COLLEGE OF ART September 2001 - August 2002 Environmental Design
| Baltimore, MD
STORY OF PLACE
Places We Return
THE PERFECT LITTLE STREET: RHYTHM
The Importance of Walking in the City 21
BUILDING BLOCKS OF THE CITY
Feeling vs Thinking 30
INTO THE GARDEN
When the City Comes to Visit
ECOLOGIES OF CULTURE
URBANIZATION OF BEAUTY
OF FEAST AND FIELD
THE MEMORY OF PLACE
Our Connection to Each Other
EDUCATION AND COLLEGE CAMPUSES
URBAN BOTANIC ISLAND
Places for Demonstration and Innovation 66
Drawing a Line in the Sand 85
ETERNITY IN AN AFTERNOON
INTO THE BEGUILING WILD
Landscape, City, Beauty 94
BEAUTY FOR THE BEAST
PARK AS INFRASTRUCTURE
STORY OF PLACE THE LARGER CONDITIONS OF THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
PR OVOK E C H A NG E IN THE OR DI N A RY
FAMILIAR SITES PLACES WE RETURN
“An immersive, aesthetic, [poly-sensual] experience can lead to recognition, empathy, love, respect and care for the environment.” -Elizabeth Meyer
hese are challenging times for cities. Tthe Although enormously productive for past century, many American cities
In the Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn argues that scientific knowledge grows through two stages: normal change; and intellectually violent revolution. American cities have also grown, over the past decades, during a period of ‘normal’ (status quo) development in which designers have consolidated research around common puzzles of the urban environment. Now these same puzzles are suddenly seen differently and we are amidst an ‘intellectually violent (passionate) revolution’ to produce livable, resilient cities. The status quo becomes a foundation for processes of change, distortion, adjustment, subversion, and creation. The working mechanisms of a city are subtle, and we need to explore, to draw, to examine a particular place, and to try to understand more about the relationships between people, the things they make and do, their setting, and the world of nature and natural process.
have become unstable and susceptible to a host of problems. As existing models are being eroded by external factors – be it the economic crisis, disastrous storms, or changes wrought by the rise of mobile media – the City seems wandering in search of a solid ground upon which it can rethink itself. This discourse has understandably typically been driven by primarily economic considerations that ignore ecological sustainability, focusing instead on more immediate challenges and gains. But the larger challenge revolves around the question, how do we create a sustainable culture? ‘This involves considering the role of aesthetic environmental experiences, such as beauty, in re-centering human consciousness from an egocentric to a more bio-centric perspective.’ Elizabeth Meyer suggests in Sustaining Beauty that people must be provoked into a greater awareness of how their actions Therefore, while a study of the affect the environment, and care enough architectural behemoths of cities like to change. Rome (which are beyond magnificent) may not help us build resilient cities The enormity of our social and in America today, a study of the daily environmental difficulties suggests that environmental amenities of Romans as we should study those complex systems they live and interact might. that have shown an ability to adapt and survive, and have a fundamental cultural We need to walk the streets of the city, value in beauty. Paris, Rome, and meet at the piazza to talk, and sit along the great cities of Europe are obvious the river to listen. examples.
THE PERFECT LITTLE STREET: RHYTHM THE IMPORTANCE OF WALKING IN THE CITY
When walking the streets of the city you are confronted, daily, by the unexpected, the fantastic, and every human emotion. We see the character of the city come alive in its streets, piazzas, fountains, rivers and parks. These are the indispensable things in the urban environment, the functional artifacts of a vibrant city. “I’m always aware of the vulnerability of people and the heroism, the struggle to walk down the street, the choice of clothing. Where are they going? What are they doing? Who are they talking to? Walking enables your senses to really pick up lots of things.” - MAIRA KALMAN
BUILDING BLOCKS OF THE CITY Neighborhoods are the building blocks of cities – semi-autonomous areas where people build their lives and root their identities. Neighborhoods are also the right scale to accelerate sustainability – small enough to innovate quickly and big enough to have a meaningful impact. This link between people and scale makes neighborhoods the most critical “intervention points” within cities to identify and develop sustainability strategies. Called EcoDistricts, they provide the very ingredients needed in a resource-constrained world; the harvesting of water and energy, the production of food, the ability to move freely and affordably without a car, and careful stewardship and reprocessing of materials. Yet, in a city, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. While neighborhoods provide the right scale to accelerate sustainability, they regularly behave differently from each other and display unique characteristics. These unique traits can be an asset, providing a set of resources to share across a city. A neighborhood prone to flooding can supply fresh water to neighborhoods that run dry. Or a district with ample sun exposure can fuel a downtown that consumes more than its solar potential. Between them, districts create balance – the yin and yang of urban resources. The result is a city in symbiosis with its districts giving and taking resources from one another to maximize the performance of the whole. This approach is rooted in Portland. The city has long been a laboratory to investigate how civic investments lead to urban livability.
Transforming Main Street Automobiles lose their dominance by shifting rights of way and bikes, allowing Gateway residents and visitors to move homes, services and the regional transit center. This fuels a home to pedestrians, businesses and public transport, creating communication and connection.
to pedestrians easily between rich street life spaces ripe for
Urban Agriculture Envision the future of food: People grow food on every surface – organic fruits and vegetables are cultivated on the greenway, parks, rooftops, terraces and green walls. One of the city’s most needed fuels –food- right where it is needed.
UNDOCUMENTED HOURS FEELING VS THINKING
I know that beauty and art dwell here in these unseen places that exist in my memory without any traces of documentation. And often, as an artist, and in a sense a designer, I feel compelled to share it, to prove that I am living an artist’s life. Snap a photo, make a sketch, design a landscape – all to tangibly account for the many peaks of my productivity and accomplishment. Yet, there is much at stake in this place. For in our isolation and in our community, there is a beauty born of intimacy, experienced through our presence. Annie Dillard wrote that when we are fully present to an experience, when we see in a way that involves letting go, when we become holistically present, we stand “transfixed and emptied”. Our memoires are enough. So, partake of dinner without pause for a clicking shutter or a scribbling pen. Stay here, drink more wine, and let the memories of a time exist by themselves within you, and between you and the others.
“But there is another kind of seeing that involves a letting go. When I see this way I sway transfixed and emptied. The difference between the two ways of seeing is the difference between walking with and without a camera. When I walk with a camera I walk from shot to shot, reading the light on a calibrated meter. When I walk without a camera, my own shutter opens, and the moment’s light prints on my own silver gut. When I see this second way I am above all an unscrupulous observer.” - ANNIE DILLARD, PILGRAM AT TINKER CREEK
City, Landscape, Infrastructure
INTO THE GARDEN WHEN THE CITY COMES TO VISIT
Green infrastructure has evolved from being the bits left over in urban design to being sensitive to the underlying ecology. But today sustainable landscape must do more than function or perform ecologically; it must perform socially and culturally. Nature is not out there but in here, interwoven in the human urban condition. Hydrology, ecology and human life are intertwined. Landscape is a powerful facilitator towards building resilient cities, and will require green infrastructure to have an integrated function in recreational activity, regenerative activity (carbon sinks and biodiversity), and regional agricultural activity. The design of landscape involves the design of experiences as much as the design of form and ecosystems. These experiences are vehicles for connecting with, and caring for, the world around us. Therefore the element of beauty in the design of landscape is critical. It translates cultural values into memorable landscape forms and spaces that often challenge, expand, and alter our conceptions of beauty. It is through the experience of different types of beauty that we come to notice, to care, to deliberate about our place in the world. These participatory environmental experiences not only break down the barriers between subject and object; they change us and, at times, have the capacity to challenge us, to provoke us to act. These productive landscapes merge the boundaries between city, landscape and infrastructure.
the garden as retreat
“The trees, the animals, the buildings, the steady and serious scholarship taking place inside, the lighthearted recreation on the river outside, together presented a clear attempt by the men of the seventeenth century who created this ensemble to produce a harmonious world through the combination of art and science, nature and culture. It isn’t Utopia, but it is humane in the deepest sense of the word. Also it is beautiful. As I finished reading the plaque the intelligence and combined efforts that produced this ensemble struck me, and I burst into tears.” LAURIE OLIN, from Across the Open Field
nature is here, interwoven
inhabiting the city
ECOLOGIES OF CULUTRE THE LARGER CONDITIONS OF THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
RESILIENT CITIES & S U S TA I N A BL E C U LT U R E
OF FEAST AND FIELD SUSTAINABLE CULUTRE
“One thing is sure. The earth is now more cultivated and developed than ever before. There is more farming with pure force, swamps are drying up, and cities are springing up on unprecedented scale. We’ve become a burden to our planet. Resources are becoming scarce, and soon nature will no longer be able to satisfy our needs.” - QUINTUS SEPTIMUS FLORENS TERTULLIANUS, Roman theologian, 200 AD
Developing EcoDistricts can result in more sustainable neighborhoods and therefore more sustainable cities. By pursuing citywide sustainability through neighborhoodscale action the question becomes: How do we provoke people into a greater awareness of how their actions effect the environment, and care enough to make a change? What are the values, needs and priorities of the community? How can we address both current and future challenges within the neighborhood? The focus needs to be on building a sustainable culture which is an intimately woven system of interlocking relationships between social, cultural and natural systems. By challenging people to reconsider their understanding of existing relationships within their community and that community’s connection to their environment, allows them to be responsible for change in their community’s behavior and culture. This kind of shift in social values within, and by a community supports a lasting sustainable culture.
The integration of building and infrastructure projects to create district-scale sustainability initiatives, combining community and individual action.
LIVING CITIES As the building blocks of cities, neighborhoods are the right scale to accelerate sustainability - small enough to innovate quickly and big enough to have a meaningful impact. Yet in a city, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and neighborhoods balance assets like water and energy between each other to meet city-wide needs. This approach explores the symbiosis between five EcoDistricts in Portland and how strategies in a single district, Gateway, contribute to the cityâ€™s overall performance. SKEPNEK 45
re-ordering physical systems and cultural narratives
City is Landscape is Infrastructure
“What is the city but the people?” WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
China: Now and Then
These urban spaces are a clear and potent physical manifestation of the values, aesthetics, and aspirations of the citizens. The aesthetic environmental experience of these spaces allows us to begin to understand how the residents of the city use and think about their environment.
EDUCATION AND COLLEGE CAMPUSES Urban, higher education districts provides a bounty of thought leadership, demonstration and innovation power, with a resource capacity to support the city.
opportunities for intervention
places for interaction and communication
URBANIZATION OF BEAUTY THE LARGER CONDITIONS OF THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
S U S TA I N I NG BE A U T Y OF T H E E V E RY DAY
THE MEMORY OF PLACE OUR CONNECTION TO EACH OTHER
SUSTAINING BEAUTY My recent work has convinced me that the emphasis on the ‘data-driven sustainability of architecture’ has often prevented us from expanding these broader notions of sustainable beauty and cultural ecology; by approaching sustainability in more cultural or humanistic terms, beyond the immediate technical challenges, we allow people to connect, physically and mentally, with these urban landscapes. As Elizabeth Meyer states, “An immersive, aesthetic, [poly-sensual] experience can lead to recognition, empathy, love, respect and care for the environment.” Building livable, resilient cities requires a multi-layered understanding of how people interact in the city, and the developing layers of complexity, evolution, and composite systems. These layers create a communal memory of a place, and help connect people to that place. In Rome, for example, these layers and memories are the indispensable things (piazzas, arcades, fountains, gates, courtyards, rivers, and parks) in the urban environment. These urban spaces are a clear and potent physical manifestation of the values, aesthetics, and aspirations of Romans. The aesthetic environmental experience of these spaces allows us to begin to understand how Romans use and think about their environment. Therefore, while a study of the architectural behemoths of Rome (which are beyond magnificent) may not help us build resilient cities today, a study of the daily environmental amenities of Romans as they live and interact might. A beautiful landscape works on our psyche, affording the chance to ponder on a world outside ourselves. Through this experience, we are decentered, restored and reconnected to the biophysical world.
“What strange phenomena we find in a great city, all we need do is stroll about with our eyes open. Life swarms with innocent monsters.” CHARLES BAUDELAIRE
URBAN BOTANIC ISLAND The Hunters Point Botanic Island Project creates a new model for development and ecological remediation on post-industrial urban waterfronts. Hunters Point in Queens is an excellent demonstration site, due to its proximity to downtown Manhattan, its long history of industrial contamination and its draw for future high-density development. This design goes against the trends in typical private and public development, which do not stray far from the Corbusian model of the ‘tower in the park,’ parsing ‘leftover’ open space into small green slivers at the bases of monolithic architecture. These ‘left-over’ green patches have little positive impact on the urban landscape, as they lack the diversity, volume and density of vegetation that are needed to create habitat and remediate contaminated sites. They also tend to lack the strength of design needed to sustain vibrant public space. The design of the Botanic Island also moves away from the attempts of many contemporary architects and landscape architects to blur the boundary between the natural and the man-made, often creating architecture that mimics landscape either in form or in performance.
Instead, this project seeks to reinforce this boundary – essentially, to draw a line in the sand – in order to create a polarity between the hyper-urban and the hyper-wild, in order to make both ends of the spectrum more productive. On Hunters Point South, this polarity is created by cutting a navigable canal straight through the existing peninsula where Newtown Creek meets the East River, creating a large artificial island. This island becomes the seeding ground for the new botanic garden, which will support the entire spectrum of native vegetation that existed on the island of Manhattan before the 1600s. The island’s edges will recreate native wetlands, tidal marshes and shellfish reefs, while the island’s interior will house grass meadows and an upland forest. At the canal, the botanic garden is pushed up against the face of the city, creating vertical greenhouses that climb up the southern facades of existing buildings. This hyper-urban version of the botanic garden includes research, housing, and public gardens.
DRAWING A LINE IN THE SAND to create a polarity between the hyper-urban and the hyper-wild, to make both ends of the spectrum more productive.
ETERNITY IN AN AFTERNOON “So quietly flows the Seine that one hardly notices its presence. It is always there, quiet and unobtrusive, like a great artery running through the human body. In the wonderful peace that fell over me it seemed as if I had climbed to the top of a high mountain; for a little while I would be able to look around me, to take in the meaning of the landscape. Human beings make a strange fauna and flora. From a distance they appear negligible; close up they are apt to appear ugly and malicious. More than anything they need to be surrounded with sufficient space – space even more than time. The sun is setting. I feel this river flowing through me its past, its ancient soil, the changing climate. The hills gently girdle it about: its course is fixed.” - HENRY MILLER
our city, our places, our garden
â€œRegular maps have few surprises: their contour lines reveal where the Andes are, and are reasonably clear. More precious, though, are the unpublished maps we make ourselves, of our city, our place, our daily world, our life; those maps of our private world we use every day; here I was happy, in that place I left my coat behind after a party, that is where I met my love; I cried there once, I was heartsore; but felt better round the corner once I saw the hills of Fife across the Forth, things of that sort, our personal memories, that make the private tapestry of our lives.â€?
ALEXANDER McCALL SMITH
INTO THE BEGUILING WILD
BOTANIC ISLAND BUFFER | OYSTERS
“It is a pity indeed to travel and not get this essential sense of landscape values. You do not need a sixth sense for it. It is there if you just close your eyes and breathe softly through your nose; you will hear the whispered message, for all landscapes ask the same question in the same whisper. ‘I am watching you -- are you watching yourself in me?’ Most travelers hurry too much...the great thing is to try and travel with the eyes of the spirit wide open, and not to much factual information. To tune in, without reverence, idly -- but with real inward attention. It is to be had for the feeling...you can extract the essence of a place once you know how. If you just get as still as a needle, you’ll be there.” LAWRENCE DURRELL, Spirit Of Place: Letters And Essays On Travel
BEAUTY FOR THE BEAST IS HAPPINESS
As these industrial sites reach the end of their useful lives, they open up opportunities for intervention, provoking a challenge to rethink their potential linkages to new networks, both ecological and cultural.
exploring typologies that visualize these emerging urban narratives
“Don’t write anything that you can phone, don’t phone anything that you can talk face to face, don’t talk anything face to face that you can smile, don’t smile anything that you can wink, and don’t wink anything that you can nod.”
EARL LONG, LOUISIANA POLITICIAN, 1895-1960
PARK AS INFRASTRUCTURE We need multiple forms and forums for caring and learning about the impact of our actions on the planet: some visual, some textual, and some experiential. In this regard, design matters and beauty matters. It moves something in our psyche.
Seeking insight, provoking a challenge to rethink the potential interventions and networks.
To investigate the nature of resilience and then consider how it affects the essence of â€œimageâ€?, as well as the culture and economy that it generates.
Good enough, is not enough.
Good enough, is not enough.