Today’s post is by contributing writer Kirby Hoyt:
A couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of sitting in as a juror for a graduate-level design studio’s final presentation at Arizona State University. The topic of the class was landscape as infrastructure, something I have been interested for a long time.
What intrigued me the most, I think, was not so much the work, but the interpretation of the concept of ‘infrastructure.’ While most people think of infrastructure as roads, bridges, utilities and the like, some of the class took the concept further to include other realms. This was good since I believe in the idea of sustainable infrastructure which includes social, economic and environmental components.
My only criticism with the students’ work was their one-dimensional quality, i.e. striving for singular goals. Had they undertaken the opportunity to infuse social, economic and environmental issues into the work and strive for a holistic approach, the concepts would have garnered much more favor from me. While I won’t go into any specific projects, my concern was the lack of over-lapping program and creating diverse and complex ecologies.
The term ecology simply means the relationship of organisms to each other and their surroundings. When thinking of landscape as infrastructure, one should emulate the conditions of the natural environment in a conspicuously designed manner. The diversity of the landscape should meet those of the natural environment, if possible. At the very least, landscape as infrastructure should contain overlapping programs to ensure a diverse ecology.
If one were to design something as simple as a parking lot, it should be done in a manner that respects the local climate. Currently, most parking lots are designed to accommodate as many cars as possible, drain the water off the surface quickly, and allow traffic flows. Taking the climate into consideration in two completely different cities, Phoenix and Portland, there should be two significantly different design solutions, but need one say, it usually doesn’t happen.
Parking lots in Phoenix should be created with materials to minimize the heat island effect and provide shaded parking, while being able to accommodate large amounts of storm-water run-off in short spans of time (think deluge), whereas in Portland, an effort to capture more generous amounts of run-off over much longer periods of time (think drizzle) while simultaneously celebrating the seasons (allow for snow and sunshine in equal amounts). Of course each should utilize local plants and materials.
Taking the idea of the parking lot a step further, concepts of overlapping use should be fed into the equation. For instance, there are a multitude of temporary uses that can take place in parking lots when they are not full. Anything from car shows, flea markets, radio-controlled racing cars, tail-gating, to social events such as beer fests and carnivals.
Once we start thinking about a holistic approach to not only designing our cities for wide-ranging uses, but to also utilizing places in our cities for a variety of uses, i.e. ecosystem diversity. From an ecological perspective, this leads to a richness of place and therefore higher degrees of sustainability.
Photo Credit: A parking lot in Provence, France. Photo by the author.