Archive for the ‘Streetside’ Category

sneak peek

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.




the content of space

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.

in praise of alleys

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?

city scale holidays

the holiday spirit writ large

The building next to our office expresses it much better than we ever could:

A big happy holidays from all of us at Bluegreen!