scarred landscapes

Dec 22.2016

scars

The creative process of each project begins with some method of reading and interpreting the existing landscape. We create diagrams to visually communicate our findings and support design concepts; sometimes however, the land is either so disturbed or so malleable that the drama of its past is explicit on the ground or through an aerial image.

A recent project immersed us into the rich historical geography of South Park’s landscape. Scarred through time, this land tells a complex story of resource dynamics, rugged climate, and evolving temporality. Charged with developing a historic masterplan for a piece of the ranch property, Bluegreen most enjoyed unravelling the landscape story and exploring ways to share it. Our design strategy merges history and land through light intervention simultaneously revealing changing ecological conditions and relative eras of human use. We strive to teach the past through the ecology of the present and future.

On a site like this, it’s not difficult: the land speaks for itself. In this aerial photo, look for mine tailings and landform excavated through the process of hydraulic mining, a deserted railway bed, the lines of a departed corral, informal trails to fishing spots, the tell-tale tracks of motorsport junkies, and countless scars few, if any, people remember.

Oftentimes in historically rich places, we are drawn most to the hard artifacts– man-made objects that have not been swallowed by time.  In Ashcroft we tip-toe through ghostly cabins, at Gettysburg we look for cannons, and in Rome we sprint to the Colosseum. Rubble, relics, castles and monuments present history beautifully, and they make terrific selfie backdrops, but are we cherishing the history in the land with equal enthusiasm? I implore you to study land. Use online maps, use a bicycle, use a sketchbook. Excavate history, and share your discoveries.

-WS

ASLA 2016

Nov 1.2016

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Last week I attended the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) National Conference in New Orleans along with several thousand fellow professionals from across the country. The four-day annual event is an exercise in time management and endurance, as scores of education sessions coupled with solicitations from cutting-edge product reps, reunions with classmates and colleagues, as well as a healthy dose of local flavor from the host city, can be overwhelming even under the most well-intended circumstances. However, the positive energy stemming from the gathering is contagious, and I imagine that many are basking in the afterglow of such an inspirational event. Simply put, the conference successfully entertains landscape architects of all ages, from students to those with decades of experience, and spins them in an intoxicating centrifuge of professional positivity, vision, and wisdom.

 
This year I had the honor to serve as a panelist for a session entitled Mid-Career Mania: A Look Behind the Curtain, along with three other practitioners. We explored topics relevant to professionals entering the midpoint of their careers and examined the associated realities, opportunities, and challenges. As candid participants, we referenced our own professional journeys throughout the session, underlying the notion that there is no one right way to go about things. I hope that our perspectives provided both insight and reassurance to those navigating similar mid-career circumstances.

The conference is inspirational by design, however, there are a few succinct points that I found especially memorable:

 
• Observation of human behavior is paramount in considering the design of spaces. GIS data is a significant resource, yet old-fashioned careful observation and meticulous notation of detail is absolutely critical for the creation of amazing places. Your sketch book is an invaluable tool.

• Public outreach and involvement is important. Really important. Context is everything, and the only way that you will understand is to ask the real experts– the community.

• Design is about problem solving and interaction. The tools may change, as hand drafting has given way to computer aided design, but the challenges remain, and they are outside of the studio. Get out, explore, and interface!

SB

Why We Volunteer

May 31.2016

When Sheri told me two months ago that we were sponsoring the 22nd Annual Ride for the Pass and volunteered me to be our representative Bluegreen rider, I was stoked. I completely ignored the fact that the ride was in mid-May because surely I would have spent plenty of time on my road bike by then. Right? Right? Wrong. The Ride for the Pass is a recreational ride and road bike race up Highway 82 toward Independence Pass that allows riders to enjoy the beautiful Scenic Byway before it is opened to cars for the season. May 21st marked the date of the annual Ride for the Pass as well as my FIRST time on my road bike this year. Undeterred, I jumped on my bike Saturday morning and opted to ride from my house, figuring that it would be a good way to warm up. Unfortunately, I miscalculated how long it would take me to ride up to the start and ended up arriving about ten minutes after everyone had already started the ride/race. Oops.

So, I just started pedaling. And pedaling. And pedaling. The weather was glorious, the view spectacular. I felt surprisingly good considering I hadn’t been on my bike in months. All of the trepidation I felt about doing such a tough ride with cold legs quickly dissipated. Once I reached the top, I was ecstatic! I had done it! I even managed to pass a few people on my way. The wind was howling, so I quickly bundled up in every layer I brought in anticipation of enjoying the best part…the descent.

The Independence Pass Foundation is in amazing organization, and the Ride benefits the Independence Pass Foundation’s restoration work on the Pass. To learn more about the Independence Pass Foundation, please visit http://www.independencepass.org/.

Aspen Art Museum

Apr 20.2015

While passersby gazed up at the intricate wooden latticework of the New Aspen Art Museum, the team at Bluegreen kept all eyes street-side – necks craning over balconies, groups huddled at corner windows to catch a glimpse of a gathering swell of urban runoff headed (rather aptly) right down Spring Street.

The mass came swiftly, picking up speed and volume as rain intensified and topography ushered it on its way. Previously, it would have collected in storm sewers, eventually making its way back out to the Roaring Fork River. This particular rainy day, however, it found itself taking a rather different trajectory.

Strategically placed curb-cuts invited the swirling stormwater into the first bioretention basin to be installed in the City of Aspen Downtown. Designed by Bluegreen, the basin serves as the performative underbelly of an elegantly crafted series of ribbon-like seat walls that fold down and enclose mini-urban cells. Composed of a mixture of high-functioning ingredients (from structural soils, to plants that speed infiltration and absorption), the basins will serve as a living laboratory for performance metrics related to urban stormwater management over time.

As plants mature, streetscapes are cooled, and soils shift, the team at Bluegreen will be there, observing and developing a nuanced understanding of best management practices for designed stormwater management in the Colorado region. Engaged analysis will give way to experience that weaves its way back into Bluegreen projects Upvalley, Downvalley, and across the state.

As more is understood about the potential for site specific designs to impact local hydrology, Bluegreen hopes that bioretention systems like that implemented at the New Aspen Art Museum will become the norm for Colorado communities.

Should you happen to find yourself strolling through our community along Spring Street, look up: from its pervious pavers to its green-rooftop, the New Aspen Art Museum is a stunning expression of multifunctionality in the built environment.

 

Contextually-Rooted Green Roof

Apr 20.2015

When considered from the broadest perspective of ecosystem health and function, green roofs have the capacity to increase biodiversity and habitat continuity, moderate thermal fluctuations and maintain hydrologic processes in the built environment. At the level of the Colorado homeowner, these benefits are twofold in that they directly translate into energy savings, life-enhancing aesthetic improvements and an expanded scope of options for onsite stormwater management.

Regionally, the shifting climatic conditions of the High Rockies present quite the green roof design challenge. In a recent project in the Northstar Nature Preserve in Pitkin County, Colorado, Bluegreen had the unique opportunity to meet this challenge head-on and develop a contextually-rooted system featuring a native plant palette. Concerned with both performance and the vegetated dissolve of the home into the surrounding landscape, Bluegreen engaged in a rigorous process for Perpetuo to design custom seed mixes and plant pairings that facilitate ecological exchange with local floral and faunal communities, and secure long-term benefits for all residents of the Preserve, be they human, animal or vegetal.

Overlooking the Preserve, the site bears the marks of a lengthy period of alternation, but also holds in its topographic variation the ability to support an abundant array of plant communities. To best inform the development of custom seed mixes for the green roof and surrounding landscape, a number of plot studies were performed throughout the site to determine vegetative associations and proportions. Following thoughtful observation over several seasons, plug mixes were composed to enhance the existing structure and exclude a strong contingent of invasive species. In the case of the green roof, this mix included a dynamic layering of grasses to provide structure and orientation (e.g. Tufted Hairgrass, Thurber’s Fescue and Junegrass), and flowering perennials (e.g. Blue Flax, Rocky Mountain Penstemon, and Blue Harebell) that integrate subtle bands of blues.

Informed by soil and drainage requirements associated with the selected mix species, Bluegreen engaged American Hydrotech to provide the structural components necessary to make the green roof a success. From monolithic membrane to moisture mat, American Hydrotech’s suite of technical products laid the foundation for a fully-functioning – and long-lasting – green roof system.

For its novel integration of local plant performers, and advanced structural technologies, Bluegreen’s Perpetuo allows the dynamic ecologies of the High Rockies to be celebrated through seamless vegetative transitions. In its hybridized state, the green roof blends site and structure acting as a catalyst for an evolving landscape.

 

sneak peek

Jun 29.2012

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.

 

 

 

wilderness aesthetic

May 16.2012

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.


 

More Than a Road

Apr 23.2012

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

the content of space

Mar 16.2012

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.

who’s who of ecological intellect

Feb 21.2012
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:
Searchable attributes
Interactive uploading of data
Sustainability Highlights—who, what, how
High resolution imagery
Feedback circuit

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