Ever had the irrepressible urge to look in past that construction fence and see what is really going on?
Who hasn’t? The excitement commences as the Aspen Art Museum begins construction at its new downtown location. Deliciously taunted by word artist Kay Rosen, we are all eager to see the art, architecture and streetscape unfold.
Take a stroll by Spring and Hyman and see what you can see.
For those that seek it, the wilderness around Aspen, Colorado has ameliorating properties, and for those that live here, these properties endow permanent, perception-altering effects. The initial dazzle that a new visitor feels matures after time and slips into quotidian reality. The steeps of the mountains mellow, the sweet river air evens out, and spooking an elk becomes routine and not the exhilarating brush it once was. In short, you get spoiled. You become accustomed to a luxury that few get to experience: wilderness.
It is only when you leave do you become acutely aware of the effect it has had on you. As a former city-dweller, I was shocked when I went home to find familiar spaces hauntingly bare in what seemed to be a disturbing obsession with manicuring. Lawns stretched for miles, under trees and along roads, as did parking lots, their blank expanses broken with oil spots and tire burn. Even building facades were embarrassingly naked, without depth or complexity. I puzzled over these observations. Only when I returned to the Roaring Fork valley did I understand the reasons.
Wilderness is a concept and wilderness is an aesthetic. It is a messy, raw world without lines, frames or explanations. Wilderness lacks human dominion. Self-determining organisms inhabit spaces blessedly free of our obsessive manicuring. It is wondrous madness. And once this idea has worked its way into you like a really good splinter, you desire strange things. Larger spaces. Softer colors. More complex textures. Silence. Cities, in their garish ways, become grating. The line between a park and a forest blur drastically towards the latter. Fences become insults. Most notably, your definition of beauty changes, an alteration I fear irreparable. Your aesthetic becomes wild. You can see this in the residences and landscapes around Aspen. I won’t describe it; it is better to see for yourself.
Some may say that living here intrudes upon the wilderness. I might agree, but don’t forget the natural world is not helpless. Every second it is insinuating itself into us as well.
A recent move has given me ample opportunity to spend time on one of my favorite roads in the Roaring Fork Valley- Watson Divide Road. Traveling this road on foot has re-affirmed for me the power of simplistic rural detail and the refreshing presence of an endless vista. My favorite detail can be found on the post and rail fence lining the road–simple in aesthetic, yet functional. The migration corridor within which the road resides allows for elk grazing, deer bounding, and perhaps a coyote or two to conclude the journey. While walking the road, do not be fooled (wink wink) as this is not the Discovery Channel’s Animal Planet, it is a fulfilling experience that changes with every trip.
As I was walking to work this morning, I came upon a sight I had noticed many times before but never seen: the Ten Commandments. Conner Memorial Park, a vest-pocket park behind Aspen City Hall, is little used save for Farmers’ Market Saturdays, but this morning I stopped to study it. A large evergreen tree. A dormant drinking fountain. A picnic table and a bench. The usual suspects for a park, I suppose, and yet as I glanced about, I came upon the anomaly for which I stopped. Beside the park’s sign conspicuously stands a large polished granite slab inscribed with the Ten Commandments floating within a frame of floral filigree. Did the designer of this park place it here? Was it added post-design as the Memorial in the Conner Memorial Park? Regardless, whoever located the slab in the park wanted to tell me something, and they felt that something could be best told to me right here.
As landscape architects, we seek to forge space around specific programs. At best, form and program are clearly linked and a space is used as it was intended. This does not mean to say that a designer is able to predict or control content. Content, or narrative, of a space is left to the user and is highly mutable, subject to volatile change. How many spaces begin as grand and devolve into grimy? How many spaces meant for the use of all are leashed by dog culture, annexed by skateboard theatrics, or simply abandoned? While a use may stray from the original intent of the space, the narrative that emerges soon defines it. The design serves as a crucible for human interaction and spatial innovation. The use of a space defines its content.
Which brings us back to the Ten Commandments. This didactic object, questionably placed within a public park, acts as a catalyst. It raises questions that users choose to ignore or answer. While it does not dictate the content of Conner Memorial Park, it surely goads it on. So how can we as designers influence the content of a space? Could be as simple as an object placed within lawn, yes, like the Ten Commandments, or it could it be something more clandestine, such as materiality or other deftly hidden subtext?
While the content of space is not wholly within the hands of landscape architects, it is within our abilities to create and direct narrative. Need proof? Just head down to Conner Memorial Park.
As leaders in the industry, Ecolect and the Material Connexion bring to your fingertips a wealth of innovative materials research and strategic information. Bluegreen utilizes both of these libraries in complement with our own blueGREEN materials library and database, one of the first of its kind developed specifically for landscape architecture professionals.
photo credit: material connexion
All three databases provide an easily accessible and searchable format for environmentally sustainable products and resources, including local materials, innovative design solutions and clean energy technology. Setting the blueGREEN database apart, our team of designers tracks project materials from their extraction to their ultimate disposal and provides a resource for our staff, our clients and our community to understand the life-cycle assessments and life-cycle costs of materials.
photo credit: bluegreen
While each organization brings a slightly different approach to the concept of shared intellect, the foundation of these great resources are quite similar. Each library is available online and allows for:
Interactive uploading of data
Sustainability Highlights—who, what, how
High resolution imagery
photo credit: material connexion
The Material Connexion additionally features eight locations internationally where over 6,500 cutting-edge materials are stored in a highly refined library system. This network of libraries provides the largest selection of sustainable materials and the only Cradle to Cradle materials library in the world. While much smaller in scale, Ecolect offers a hands-on learning program known as the Petting Zoo, a traveling exhibition of ecologically responsible materials. And finally, the Bluegreen team welcomes you to visit our Aspen location to review our hands-on blueGREEN materials library and take a virtual tour of of our online database.
photo credit: bluegreen
Breaking news! Bluegreen is a finalist in the Rethinking Preservation contest sponsored by Dwell Magazine. The contest seeks to build support for historic preservation by honoring precedents of the past. Bluegreen’s entry, the Redstone Coke Ovens restoration project in Redstone, Colorado, is up against a host of wonderful preservation projects from around the country, and to win we need your help!
Check out the contest and vote for Bluegreen here:
Rethinking Preservation Contest
We started Community : Benefit a year ago. An opportunity to offer back innovation and solutions that broaden and better our spatial and personal experiences, we formalized our passion to be out there helping. Sometimes, the commitment is spawned from a nagging guilt over living and working in a breathtakingly beautiful place. Oftentimes, it is in response to a call for action, an immediate need that has to be filled. Most times, it conflicts with deadlines and other work crises making us wonder why we bother. Today, we are again reminded that whatever the reason for the commitment, and whatever the obstacle to honoring that commitment, we always get something wonderful in return—a Personal : Benefit.
We are not just talking about the warm fuzzy feeling one gets from doing good, although, that is really nice. We are talking about experiencing the camaraderie of being with like-minded and equally passionate, yet diverse, individuals. Building sustaining relationships that continue well past the volunteer service has ended. Using our skills to close a gap in resources to make something truly extraordinary. Having fun while installing art that speaks to a community-wide purpose. Experiencing the excitement of something new and challenging.
A year later, we are non-profit board members, organizers, and extra pairs of hands. We are pursuing our passions in the environment, community leadership, recreation, contemporary art, sustainability, and local food production. We are each experiencing wonderful returns as we give to our community. If an opportunity to volunteer presents itself to you, seize it. We promise you won’t regret it.
I’ll meet you at the corner
Is it the planner who defines perceptions of public space or is it the individual user? This chicken and egg conundrum has no definitive answer. Each individual moving through the city from destination to destination has a unique trajectory that ultimately helps define the ever-changing shape of the city. The planner, always on top of the game, recognizes the patterns and trends of the collection of individuals. Working together, the planner and the individual should create meaningful civic spaces. Consider examples of planners taking the tabula rasa approach (think Brasilia) and consider examples of bricolage-style community building (think illegal settlements) and you see can see how one does not work well without the other.
Lets go back to the individual, who is each one of us, as we move through the streets between various destinations. As we walk, negotiating the sidewalk becomes a sort of dance, a unique improvisation of asserting, ceding, drifting and stopping. The route is not without form, as the street grid gives us a structural framework for finding and remembering our way. As we walk, we drift in and out of different states of awareness. Walking down the length of the block we may be lost in our own thoughts, but once we reach an intersection our focus is usually called to some thing or some body that requires our attention. As a nexus of streets and sidewalks, intersections are the most dynamic points in the grid, and the corners are places where we are more likely to have chance encounters, meet friends and greet strangers. They are natural places for pause and conversation, for seeing and being seen. We are more likely to make eye contact with passersby at intersections. Any business located on a corner will double its visibility and often be considered a landmark when giving directions, as in turn right at the cafe.
Viewing intersections in this light, the design possibilities are limitless. Street corners are more than just the intersection of streets and sidewalks, they are points of opportunity, and they could be designed to engage communal fraternization. If it is mandatory that pedestrians stop at crosswalks for traffic signals, we have a captive audience!
Community connections are a hot topic in Aspen these days. We are all excited about pedestrian friendly linkages between the mountain, downtown and river, and hopefully the city will consider the intersections as key points for design opportunity to enhance our vibrant civic environment.
It is obvious that as our cities become denser, the more important open space becomes. But what defines urban open space? Parks, plazas and greenways are wonderful expressions of sensitive and functional preservation of land for community use, but there are many unsanctioned spaces just as valuable. We have made it our business to seek out these untapped spaces and, similar to a collector of coins or baseball cards, amass them (at least mentally), waiting for their value to rise. Alleys are one of these untapped spaces.
Alleys are a city’s sleight of hand. While we shop, dine or trudge off to work along streets, avenues and boulevards, alleys deftly conceal all the unsavory truths of our urban habitation. Dumpsters, electrical meters, grease traps, smoke breaks, those that want to hide, and those that we want hidden. Alleys become little gray smudges in the urban experience that we observe from our peripheral vision, dark canyons into which we seldom pass. And though the alley and main street are spatially similar, their function differs so wildly that we are unable to see them as mirrored selves; and we are happy to ignore the alley.
Which is understandable. Next time you find yourself walking with a few minutes to spare, turn towards that gray smudge in the corner of your eye. Venture down that alley for a few blocks and mark what you see. Garbage, utilities, delivery men, loading docks, air conditioners, exhaust pipes. Note how truly unglamorous the alley is as it humbly accepts all that we need but don’t want to know we need. The esoteric exterior manifestations of interior functions. Delivery and removal of items that seem to exist without origin or grave. The gritty skeletons and organs of our urban lives.
And then look again. Because we are so willing to ignore alleys, they become spaces available for other uses. Private places for conversation. The real entrances to buildings. Canvases. The impromptu living rooms of smokers seen in two vinyl chairs. Alleys then are not just infrastructure passageways but vital components of the urban landscape, rich and inviting. And grimy, too. There is a reason we avoid alleys, but development pressure in our ever growing cities may force us to change our opinions of them. What might they become then?
any seat. Ian Schneller and Andrew Bird’s Sonic Arboretum and associated live performances at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago are designed for ambulatory experience. The museum’s atrium is temporarily transformed into a dynamic soundscape through the installation of sculptural speakers. These reinventions of the phonograph, formed from compressed recycled newspaper and clothes dryer lint, project a series of richly layered compositions generated by Bird during his recent residency at the MCA.
Defying the traditional (unidirectional) concert experience, the audience is intended to wander through the space during the event, catching variations in sound as it is amplified to different degrees, bounces off the confines of the space, and in some cases, is expressed in pulses through the rotation of speakers. Bird fades into the background: on stage, he manipulates the established loop, but vocals and live instrumentals fall into line with the recorded composition, with the result being less a performance and more the invention of an environment.