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Not since the City Beautiful movement of the late 19th century and its most prominent advocates (including landscape designer Frederick Law Olmstead, designer of New York's Central Park) have designers, policy-makers and the public embraced ambitious landscape designs for public spaces. Today, as the world's foremost designers are joining efforts for the task of creating new urban green spaces, a few challenges arise: How to incorporate hardscape with landscape? How to design attractive drought-tolerant landscaping? What are the best practices in outdoor lighting? And with those challenges come solutions that each of us can apply to our own private green spaces.
The following six projects represent the vanguard of thinking in outdoor design. The first three are already completed; the second three may never break ground, but represent visionary thinking nonetheless in the greening of public space.
The Elevated Park - High Line Park, New York City
Manhattan's famous High Line park (above) opened in 2009. It occupies more than one mile of a former elevated rail line.
The Pocket Park - Materials & Applications, Los Angeles
This small green space in Los Angeles (above) is technically private property, open in the daytime to the public. With a rotating schedule of outdoor design exhibitions, M&A serves as a park space for neighbors and an innovative hardscape studio for designers and architects. Made from a series of interlocking plates, this sunscreen by Benjamin Ball & Gaston Nogues shares its inspiration with modern ceiling lighting designs.
Cassini Collection Bronze 16 1/2" Wide Ceiling Light Fixture
The Rooftop Park - City Hall, Chicago
Chicago was a leader of urban design 100 years ago with the advent of the skyscraper and it leads again today with rooftop parks popping up across the city. Among them, the Chicago Cultural Center, the Chicago Center for Green Technology and Millennium Park. Perhaps the most prominent sign of Chicago's all-in commitment to forward-thinking urbanization is the rooftop garden atop City Hall (above).
The Vertical Park - SkyFarm, Toronto
The SkyFarm (above) by designer Gordon Graff is a proposal to erect a 58 floor "agri-tower" in Toronto's Theatre District, intended to provide fresh, organic produce to the surrounding city with minimal carbon footprint.
Despite boasting some of the world's largest parks located within metropolitan boundaries, the City of Los Angeles ranks far behind other major U.S. cities in parkland per capita... Which leaves designers and developers (as well as this blogger) dreaming of expansive park projects in the horizontal city.
The Flyover park - Park 101, Los Angeles
A joint project between several different design firms, Park 101 (above) proposes to cover a section of the 101 freeway in downtown Los Angeles with a green lid, uniting the city's civic, cultural, transportation and historic centers with vital green space.
The Reclaimed Park - The Piggy Back Yard, Los Angeles
The Los Angeles River (yes, there's a river) has long been a target of reclamation projects intent on returning the notorious concrete viaduct to its natural state. The Piggy Back Yard (above) proposal transforms abandoned rail yards near downtown Los Angeles into a drought tolerant park and river flood basin.
As important as the landscape design is, it's only one step in a functioning outdoor space. Hardscape design and outdoor lighting is key to increasing access and safety. In the July/August 2011 issue of Monocle magazine, Christine Loh, CEO of the Hong Kong based think tank Civic Exchange, explained the need for reasonable lighting in city parks and streets: "Street lighting can obviously make people feel safer but it doesn't have to be bright, bright, bright." To minimize light pollution, both amateur and pro landscape designers are increasingly turning to dark sky outdoor lighting. The examples below are attractive but unobtrusive by day, and bright but not too bright by night.
Hinkley Luna Dark Sky 16" High Bronze Outdoor Wall Light
Hubbardton Forge Lightfall 13 1/2" High CFL Dark Sky Light
Not everyone is landscaping acres of reclaimed land or rooftops. Despite plot size, home garden or city park, the same general design principles will always apply... Use native and climate-specific flora when possible, let hardscape enhance the space without overpowering it and use lighting modestly for best results day and night.
Images: The Architect's Newspaper, Aether Journal, Archinect, Growing a Greener World, Torontoist, LAist
Brent Turner is an architecture, design and art writer who adores elegantly simple distillations of complex design problems. You'll often catch him waxing poetic about how such creative problem solving is not only the essence of a successful art and design practice, but of science, engineering, and well, life in general. A California native, Brent was educated at U.C. San Diego where he was first exposed to clumsy yet endearingly avant-garde institutional art and architecture. In the years since, he has expanded his interest base to include all types of interior, graphic and industrial design. His best personal designs are made with Legos, and it's for this reason that Brent confines his own public creative work to wordsmithing. When he isn't writing, he hosts an art and design podcast called Beer & Tall Buildings.
Brent lives in the Silverlake neighborhood of Los Angeles with his cat Buster. If you can't reach him by phone or email, he's most likely on a mountaintop somewhere and promises to call you back as soon as he descends.
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