Apprenticeship Learning in Interdisciplinary and Multi-cultural Environments / the Tejido Group from Panama to Palestine.
Unlike associations with traditional design and planning offices, Tejido offers clients an opportunity to afford in-depth applied research, and the subsequent generation of alternative concepts prior to design development and construction documents. In "real-world" situations, the conceptual design process is often foreshortened when financial resources are strictly limited. As we are essentially a non-profit organization dedicated to the education of our students and the needs of our clients, we can afford to focus our efforts on pre-design research and schematic exploration with our clients in developing complex, yet tailored master planning solutions. We see our relationship with practicing professionals as one of project creation and not of direct competition. We render conceptual design and planning services that otherwise could not be afforded. Tejido assists clients in developing their ideas to the point where they are ready to seek the services of professionals in the design development and construction document phases. The master planning documents we develop become excellent tools for our clients in the solicitation of international, federal, state and private funding. Many past clients have been awarded substantial development grants, and these funds were then used to hire professional firms to execute the design and planning concepts outlined in our conceptual master planning documents. We collaborate with host country counterparts in our international projects in both project selection and in the programmatic development process. We also work in interdisciplinary and international teams when abroad as a means of ensuring project relevance as well as guaranteeing that all participants, including government agencies and NGO's, are committed collaborators. This of course, requires that all participants effectively communicate desired pedagogical and design outcomes for the studio. General sequencing and scheduling strategies are then discussed and developed, and alternative project programs and sites are examined. The host country participants most often take the lead in these tasks as they best understand what projects are most relevant to the needs of their communities. They are also better prepared to articulate central economic, environmental and social issues surrounding the projects.
Participant selection: the globalization of our curriculum is a principal directive within Tejido and includes the development of our students into exceptional practitioners fully capable of working within a range of international fora. As we often work in politically and economically complex multicultural scenarios, selection of potentially effective participants is essential. The call for student and faculty volunteers is in itself a useful pre-selection mechanism. When we ask for volunteers to work in the refugee camps of Palestine, only a select group of individuals usually steps forward. Our selection interviews reveal that most often these individuals are predisposed toward international work and that they are interested in developing a professional set of skills that enable them to function in distressed urban areas around the world. They are usually adventurous at heart, and want to develop a professional and personal relevancy in their ability to address global developmental issues. They usually understand that the globalization of the design and planning professions is requiring of them a new, flexible and comprehensive repertoire of design and planning responses to an array of complex urban development issues.
Process: we have employed cultural immersion strategies from a
number of international organizations including Peace Corps, UNESCO
and the U.S. Department of State/ USAID. Prior to travel we immerse
potential candidates in a series of orientation seminars that
introduce them to key economic, political, environmental and
cultural issues of the host country. Language and cultural training
along with guest speakers and the viewing of relevant documentaries
are quite effective in introducing participants to the realities of
the task set before them. We also develop in-country immersion
experiences for student volunteers prior to engaging in design
activities. For instance, the Palestine project allowed our students
several days residence in old city Jerusalem prior to traveling on
to our housing and project site near Ramallah. This visit assisted
our students in familiarizing themselves with the diverse cultural,
political, linguistic and historical aspects of the region, thereby
reducing the inevitable "culture shock" felt by most individuals in
similar situations. The first early morning call to prayer from the
Al-Aqsa mosque adjacent to our hostel created quite a revelation in
students, and the realization that, "we're not in Kansas anymore"
became vividly apparent. The streets, the architecture, the food,
the music, the languages, the odors, the behaviors slowly began to
integrate our daily realities. Our design and planning processes
have been hybridized and developed through study of ideation and
concept generation and development strategies developed within a
number of exceptional design firms.
Pre-design Process: although Tejido advance teams visit project
sites prior to project initiation, effective liaison with host
country faculty, students and professionals is also essential during
phases of any project. Months prior to our arrival, host
collaborators assist in project selection as well as preparation of
demographic, cultural, environmental, economic, and site-specific
information for us to digest during pre-immersion activities at
home. We review this data prior to travel and attempt to distill
design and planning precepts/design implications, and sometimes even
fledgling site development concepts that can be tested later on site
and in early charrette sessions with host country participants.
These exercises often help us better understand central issues, site
potentials, and also help us identify what we don't know and what we
need to further investigate. We believe that designers gain insight
and inspiration from a variety of sources. An essential part of our
design and planning process occurs during pre-design research. We
involve our hosts during this phase, and information garnered from a
variety of sources is reviewed and incorporated into the design
intentions of our teams of landscape architects, MBA's, planners,
and architects. Critical socio-cultural, socio-economic,
environmental, functional, and identity-related issues are examined
in depth through hybrid qualitative and quantitative methodologies.
Our designers then distill relevant design and planning implications
from the analysis of the data collected. These bits and pieces of
design ideas (precepts), are eventually incorporated into
comprehensive design and planning concepts as a form of post-factum
hypothesis generation. As part of our pre-design research,
teams and hosts collect information regarding clients and site
through extensive case study analysis, video-tape protocol studies,
and structured interviews and questionnaires. We also undertake
exhaustive site inventories, as well as user-group analysis of the
site and surrounding context. During contextual analysis we spend a
great deal of time on and around the site as non-participant and
participant observers. Some methods we employ approximate those of
ethnographers and are qualitative in nature. While others are quite
factual and employ low inference descriptor variables, we begin with
a large scale contextual analysis – looking for key factors
surrounding the site that may influence our design decisions within
the site. This may involve detailed analysis of aerial photographs
and G.I.S. data. We also photograph the entire site and surrounding
urban and natural contexts – looking for existing positive design
features unique to the site as well as problem areas in need of
photographic inventories can become quite interesting in areas that
rarely see Americans. In Birzeit, one of our students was
photographing children playing in a vacant dirt lot and was
instantly surrounded by a large group of very curious children. One
bold child said something in Arabic to our student and then grabbed
her camera and ran into an adjacent derelict structure. The student,
being the intrepid traveler that she is, immediately followed the
child right into a living room to find him busily taking photos of
his entire family. She was eventually invited in and shared a very
pleasant afternoon with the family. That afternoon, this student
began to learn the language and diminish the boundaries. On another
occasion during a site inventory visit outside of Ramallah, three of
our students were walking past a fire station. One of the fireman
polishing an ancient fire engine yelled something and then walked
toward our group. Without
a common language the
first few minutes were quite awkward yet the encounter resulted in
well spent singing songs and sharing a meal in the station. In this
instance, the common language was i-tune generated. We try and
develop a very opportunistic environment regarding design and the
generation of design "ideas". Even during data collection and site
analysis activities we encourage idea formation. We are continually
looking for anything that will give us meaningful lines on paper or
monitor. As a summary task of the "pre-design" phase, all
participant data collection teams make detailed presentations of
their findings to all other Tejido and host design
team members. In this
manner information is disseminated to all participants and
collective design synthesis can begin. These
extensive review of all design precepts generated during the
collection and analysis phases. As mentioned, our process encourages
design activity throughout data collection and analysis. One general
guideline we use is that analysis of fact is incomplete without
discussion of the design implications generated by the existence of
said fact. These implications are discussed, developed, and
faithfully recorded for future synthesis activities. Our
international projects most often manifest themselves as intense
three or four week charrettes. In this foreshortened scenario, we
are most interested in formative not summative feedback. We
understand the importance of host and client participation, and that
formative feedback and thorough research designs are essential to
distinctive design products.
Concept Generation: this phase asks that each individual
participant attempts to synthesize issues uncovered during inventory
and analysis into cohesive planning and design concepts. The
individual concepts are reviewed in exhaustive design synthesis
sessions. Focus is maintained on idea-building activities where
reviewers are charged with the task of making each concept “better”.
Hosts and clients are fully involved during these “formation”
sessions. The relative merits of various design ideas are then
evaluated according to a variety of design and planning ordering
systems that we have embraced over the years. We ask ourselves the
These ordering systems are a form of checklist embedded in our design process, and we believe that an idea’s relevance and usefulness increases according to the number of different ordering systems that it engages. For instance, an idea that concerns itself with only aesthetic issues is not as useful as an idea that fully engages not only spatial and image-related issues, but also explores economic, environmental and social issues as well. A park with flowers is fine, but a park with flowers that meanders its way through a community increasing adjacent land values, creating economic infill incentives within existing infrastructure, mitigating erosion, promoting urban water harvesting, and encouraging meaningful social interaction is a richer, more layered and therefore more relevant concept and eventual urban component. The "best" ideas are recorded, and in subsequent group and individual charrettes, they are synthesized into 2 or 3 optimum solutions. At this point, client review is once again paramount, and alternative concepts are presented in three dimensional detail, including story boarding and digital modeling. Once again, we are interested in formative not summative feedback, and we have found that client feedback is more lucid and fluent when presented with a series of easily understandable images and models rather than two dimensional plan and section drawings.
Concept Development: during this phase, team members are asked to divide themselves into concept development teams according to their personal philosophical alignments regarding the alternative concepts at hand. Each of the alternatives will then receive additional attention. Prototypical focus areas located within the planning concept are identified and developed in greater detail. Ideas from these focus areas may have application to other areas contained within the concept. Ideation has been known to stall at times, and as design inevitably demands recursion, we may jump back into individual or group charrette activities. At other times, we might revisit data collection and analysis phases to better inform our process through the collection of new information or the analysis of old data through new eyes. Internal / external reviews are exhaustive and involved during this period. It is critical that participants have mastered small group dynamics by this stage in the process. Respect and positive idea building are the tools of choice during exhaustive and potentially contentious design tasks.
Working Environment: we have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to explore and at times, develop new collaborative environments and methods of design. We have found that above all else, the process should remain fun; it seems that we often forget what initially drew us to the design professions. This usually means equitable opportunity to participate and share ideas in a respectful and energetic learning environment. Collaborative design can be a miserable experience, or it can be delightful. We believe that enthusiasm for the material, the process, and the people involved in design enables us to effectively build learning environments where ideas flow freely, unimpeded by excessively harsh criticism, and where the advantages of collaboration are consistently apparent. In this context enthusiasm can become motivational, and could be described as an enabling process where participants listen, question, reflect, empathize, and advise in sincere, non-manipulative manners. The task is to look for strengths and possibilities rather than core-defects and inevitabilities. Given the complex nature of the global political, socio-economic and environmental contexts within which we often work, internal and external cultural and political schisms are at times all too apparent. Yet conversely, we often find that cultural and professional commonalities also emerge and become increasingly apparent to all participants involved. We also find that these experiences begin to catalyze better understanding of the potential influences and confines inherent in our design and planning professions regarding their ability to effect meaningful change in urban and small town fabrics. We seek to develop learning environments where mutual interests become increasingly apparent; where participants begin to realize that they are in the process of acquiring an array of global professional skills capable of effecting consequential change; and if we are fortunate enough, an environment where a shared sentiment begins to emerge that we are a part of something significant and enduring.
Implementation Strategies: our approach to phasing avoids purely chronological approaches, and focuses our energy on developing situational matrices for our clients. This type of phasing is based upon occurrences in the economy, demographics, political environments, or environmental contexts of the project, i.e. interest rates, new housing starts, environmental regulations, etc. We develop discreet development packages for our clients, and we call these modules of development. Given the appropriate political and economic environment, any one (or more) of these modules can be implemented independently from the others.
Product: the following is a brief discussion of products resulting from our processes. We will also attempt to point out and discuss defining moments in the development of our design ideas as well as in the maturation of our students into global practitioners and citizens of the world. In both Palestine and in Panama we were pleased with the relevance and usefulness of both our design and pedagogic products. Several of our students are now living and working in both locations following these projects. This spring semester, Panamanian faculty and students are visiting our University to participate with us on local projects in Arizona. This reciprocation is difficult for the Palestinian students as visa issues have prevented their travel to date, but we will certainly keep trying to make this work. In Panama our client was the Governor of Panama, Mayin Correa, and she received our revitalization master plan with enthusiasm. The design has gone through a preliminary cost estimating process and will be presented to the President of Panama - Ricardo Martinelli for approval this coming December. The Palestine project was very well received by the Mayor of Birzeit - Yusef Nasser, RIWAQ and UNRWA. As funding is a critical issue for the Palestinians, we created a "modules of development" phasing strategy for them that allows the project to be employed through a number of discrete developmental packages that can be initiated individually given the appropriate political and economic environment.
"Design has the capacity to affect
profound change in urban fabric":
For the past twenty-four years the Tejido Group has developed into an interdisciplinary and collaborative applied research program in which faculty and professionals in Landscape Architecture, Architecture, business management and Planning work side by side with University graduate and undergraduate students in an apprenticeship-style professional learning environment. Tejido is also an international and multi-cultural experience, and has collaborated on projects throughout the United States, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Middle-East.
Although we work on a wide variety of project types in an array of environmental and social contexts, we are most frequently involved in sustainable community development and the planning, design and revitalization of urban environments. Over the past 20 years we have developed a series of interesting design and planning methodologies that seem to serve us well in the formation of sustainable urban fabric.
As Tejido is inherently interdisciplinary in nature, we engage a range of design tools on any one project. But, in the formation of intelligent and versatile urban fabric, we have become very impressed with the capacity of certain LAR-based planning strategies to effect meaningful change in our cities, towns and neighborhoods.
We have come to understand and embrace Landscape Architecture as an effective catalyst of consequential economic, environmental, social and aesthetic change in urban environments. It is a remarkably effective tool for urban and small town revitalization. Although our process inevitably varies according to project type, client, site, budget, etc., we find that with most complex planning projects, landscape architectural organizational criteria and sources of form prove quite effective as design tools.
Although we remain apprehensive regarding the use of the term “sustainability”, we do honor it as an elusive yet worthy goal integrated into all of our planning and design efforts. We believe that a truly sustainable urban environment must necessarily be defined across an array of dimensions: economic, cultural, environmental, functional, and aesthetic.
Accordingly, in our more complex projects we evaluate the relative merit of our ideas according to the following design and planning ordering systems:
Economy; is the design economically sustainable? Does it create jobs and income sources for the community?
Environment; is the design environmentally sensitive? Does it connect and enhance existing ecosystems? Does it reduce our carbon footprint?
Culture; does the design create opportunities for meaningful social exchange and learning?
Function; does the design circulate effectively? Is it safe? Is it easily maintained?
Aesthetic; has the design identified and created an aesthetic sensibility appropriate to the history and culture of the region and its vision of the future?
These systems are a form of checklist deeply embedded in our design process, and we believe that an idea’s relevance and usefulness increases according to the number of different ordering systems that it engages.
For instance, an idea that concerns itself with only aesthetic issues is not as useful as an idea that fully engages not only spatial and image-related issues, but also explores economic, environmental and social issues as well. A park with flowers is fine, but a park with flowers that meanders its way through a community increasing land values, creating economic opportunities, mitigating erosion, promoting urban water harvesting and encouraging meaningful social interaction is a richer, more layered and therefore more relevant concept and eventual urban component.
We use these invariably interconnected systems as a means of verifying the relevance of our ideas. Our solutions must be multi-layered and satisfy the complex range of design determinants present in all urban settings. Over the years, we have come to understand and appreciate that landscape Architectural design and planning strategies have the ability to encourage meaningful transformation in urban environments. These ordering systems have in turn, become our definition of sustainability.
The following is a discussion of how landscape architectural strategies can lend dimensions of sustainability to our design and planning ideas and improve urban environments across all of the fore-mentioned ordering systems.
Economic: Our work in small town and urban revitalization projects has taught us that economic viability is perhaps the most critical issue facing our clientele. If our design and planning solutions are not economically sustainable then all other ideas and well-intentioned concepts rarely gain full realization.
** Catalyzing economic growth and revitalization with minimal capital outlay remains a primary concern in most urban design scenarios. The inertia counter to economic revitalization in many communities effectively postpones or cancels many well-intentioned urban design projects. Due primarily to significantly lower initial costs, we have found landscape architectural solutions to be effective facilitators of economic growth, as well as very useful organizers in urban revitalization and design scenarios. Landscape Architecture is relatively inexpensive when compared to urban design solutions predicated on large architectural and infrastructure-related projects. In the United States, the value of a property will almost always increase when a park, plaza, recreational opportunity or greenway is developed next to it.
** The creation of purposefully located parks also assists in controlling and concentrating development in designated areas of the city. Developers often respond favorably to opportunities to build near well-conceived open space. Most often, these urban amenities create higher demand and therefore higher unit prices. Well-placed parks encourage walkable, mixed-use development located within existing infrastructure. And, if correctly situated, they can also discourage sprawl and reduce the cost of extending infrastructure to new outlying development, i.e. transportation links, water, sewage, gas, electricity, etc. Cities should create economic incentives for development within existing infrastructure and disincentives for development that would encourage sprawl. In other words, rather than continually reacting to urban sprawl, anticipate it and control it, and begin defining the limits of growth.
** For example, a well-conceived linear park can initiate economic growth simply by raising adjacent land values and homeowner equity. As people gather to enjoy these urban oases, opportunities for business to profit from this congregation will inevitably present themselves. This in turn, can entice builders, business owners and increased investment into the area thereby raising the city tax base. The city can then begin to invest this new income into more costly infrastructure-related projects as well as incentivize further mixed-use development in carefully designated areas of the city.
** So we see that landscape architecture can be a powerful economic catalyst in urban areas. With innovative investment partnerships among private, public and NGO entities and proper planning controls in place, landscape architecture and a relatively low initial investment. can encourage dense walkable mixed-use development through the strategic placement of linear greenways, pedestrian linkages and urban public space. All which are associated with property value appreciation, increased city tax base, and increased business development opportunities.
Environment: in the United States, as in most locations, environmental degradation has become a very real problem. Whereas past generations of designers were focused on social equity and justice, a great majority of our incoming students are environmentally motivated. They have recognized that truly sustainable urban environments not only need to preserve and remediate existing ecologies, but also need to approach carbon-neutrality in their formative principles.
** The good news is that the market for dense, walkable, mixed-use community configurations surrounded by preserved natural open space and recreation opportunities is rapidly expanding in the United States. Tejido is now in a position that enables it to work exclusively with clients that are interested in this sort of sustainable community development – in new carbon-neutral coastal communities, urban areas and ranching communities throughout Mexico, Arizona and Central America. In our small town revitalization master planning, as well as in our urban design and revitalization projects, cities, towns and developers are all realizing that dense walkable community configurations require less infrastructure outlay yet return comparable if not greater profit margin. They also carry unit premiums and form a significant and emerging market share. Building within existing infrastructure is now a very real option in the U.S. and the revitalization of its under-utilized downtown areas.
** Not surprisingly, we have found landscape architecture to be an excellent tool in the creation of new and in the linking of existing habitat, thereby better serving biodiversity. For the first time in the U.S., land values adjacent to preserved natural open space are outpacing golf course parcel prices. Marketing studies confirm that there is a quickly growing population segment interested in living within a densely configured, walkable, mixed-use community that is surrounded by preserved natural open space and recreational opportunities. Preserved open space is becoming a sought-after amenity and therefore an economically viable option. These are precious resources worthy of safeguarding.
** Landscape architecture can be used to cleanse and renew our water and air resources, as well as reduce urban runoff and erosion. Recent developments in LEED new building and neighborhood development guidelines (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – U.S. Green Building Council)4, are reinforcing this fact in that they reward sustainable site development, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere innovation and preservation strategies such as: Intelligent site selection; water management strategies including onsite purification scenarios, rain water harvesting, integrated grey water systems as well as storm water management; and, the use of non-potable irrigation systems as well as native and drought tolerant plant materials.
And, in regard to LEED neighborhood guidelines, Landscape Architecture can assist in: Creating Walkable Neighborhoods; Fostering Distinctive, Attractive Communities with a Strong Sense of Place; Preserving Open Space, Farmland, Natural Beauty and Critical Environmental Areas; Strengthening and Directing Development towards Existing Communities; and Providing a Variety of Transportation Choices.
** Landscape architecture can also be used to create comfortable urban microclimates. The phenomena known as urban heat island effect is definitely a relevant issue in intelligent urban design. To reduce thermal gradient differences between developed and undeveloped areas and minimize their impact on microclimate and human and wildlife habitat is a worthwhile and logical outcome of effective landscape planning and design. Landscape Architecture can accomplish this goal through the following: increase shade on paved surfaces (roofs and paved areas); decrease impervious hardscape areas; use open cell / grid paving systems which remain cooler; Increase the use of higher reflective paving materials; effective planting design and shade; water harvesting; implementation of cooling towers in confined exterior urban spaces, etc.
Culture: in the United States we are becoming culturally isolated from one another. We view the world through our car and television screens. Our urban fabric is formed of an anonymous grid of vehicles and garage doors with little opportunity given to consequential social interaction. We find that through the creation of interconnected green networks of parks and preserved open space as well as walkable and pedestrian-oriented streets we can encourage meaningful social exchange. In several of our projects, socio-economic differences were an issue. We have recently worked on revitalization master plans for several coastal villages in Mexico where the effective economic and social integration of existing Mexican settlements into new tourism-related development became a primary component embedded in our design solutions, and Landscape solutions proved quite helpful in these complex situations.
** Open green space can reduce social differences in a variety of ways, and can encourage social gathering and the potential for meaningful social interaction and exchange. We have found that strategically located parks can serve to encourage interactions through recreation-related activities. As children play and parents observe, opportunities to converse and share present themselves. In these types of social scenarios children as well as their parents are exposed to opportunities to interact in previously unavailable or unlikely interactive scenarios.
** Landscape architecture can also be used to enlighten and educate the public through urban historic trails and the presentation of public art associated with open spaces and recreational opportunities. Many of our urban and small town revitalization master plans include urban trails linking civic, historic, commercial, and social nodes throughout the town. These trails not only introduce visitors to the town and its history, but also connect citizens to their heritage and to one another. Landscape Architecture is also as an effective method of environmental education for the public. In many of our projects we illustrate how our environmental concepts operate, i.e. urban water harvesting, urban wildlife habitat, brown field development, etc. We find that these “demonstration gardens” are very effective means to environmentally sensitize the public.
Function: As previously mentioned, we consider functional issues to include: efficient vehicular and pedestrian circulation, user-group safety, and ease-of-maintenance issues. Urban connectivity is a critical issue in the creation of compelling urban environments. Dense, walkable, mixed-use environments that reduce our reliance on the car are paramount. Once again, one can see that green pedestrian and bicycle networks of linear parks and pedestrian-oriented streets are key design strategies.
** More pedestrians and bicycles in green corridors results in less traffic congestion. Centralized parking concepts connected to public transport and bicycle traffic will lead to more efficient urban transportation.
Washes, streams, river corridors also offer wonderful opportunities to achieve this sort of urban interconnectivity. They offer existing unused and unclaimed open space networks that can easily accommodate pedestrian and bike trails. When this pedestrian network is coupled with effective public transportation as well as centralized vehicular and bike parking strategies, walkability is increased as traffic congestion is lessened.
** Another important functional issue includes public safety. Livelier and well-lighted spaces containing numerous pedestrians usually lessen crime rates. Several of our past projects have been located within “high crime” neighborhoods. Consequently, many of our basic planning premises in these projects built off of a body of research that demonstrates that as there are more “eyes” on the street, crime rates lessen.5 In other words, as the number of linear parks, pedestrian networks, plazas, urban trails, and bike paths coalesce pedestrians, the likelihood of overt criminal acts lessens.
** In urban revitalization, initial investment and maintenance costs are often significantly less with landscape architectural solutions. In many of our projects located within financially challenged urban areas, the funding of regularly scheduled maintenance of public spaces was a critical issue. We have discovered that it is often easier to design and plan public spaces in many urban areas than it is to ensure their adequate and enduring maintenance. The designs of all of our urban spaces now embrace xeriscape as well as detailed funding strategies that serve to guarantee high quality maintenance. Some of these plans are public strategies, but the most successful seem to be formed of coalitions of business and home owners that want to ensure that their property values and commercial districts remain viable and prosperous.
Aesthetics: Our view and definition of “aesthetics” is a comprehensive one that necessarily considers and includes all of the ordering systems.
Can an urban area be “beautiful” if its inhabitants are financially destitute?
We believe that a truly “beautiful” community is one in which participants reflect a sense of well-being as measured through a carefully selected range of criterion.
We have found that the most accurate measure of a town’s health relates to the number of children that return to begin careers, raise families and eventually play with their grandchildren.
** Discovering, defining and enhancing identity are often important issues in urban design. A primary goal of our revitalization plans often includes the establishment of a “Community Face” – in essence discovering, defining, and celebrating the community’s sense of place. Defining a ‘Face’ delineates how the town/community/neighborhood meets the world and is also an important way to attract visitors to explore and enjoy the amenities the area has to offer. Further, it can be a tool both for attracting investors and for those stakeholders to market themselves. And most importantly, it can help to increase community pride and be a catalyst for the organization and care of the urban fabric.
In this search for identity, we often employ theory in Critical Regionalism and Agricultural Urbanism to assist in the development of our design and planning concepts. These design theories argue that one must look at and understand place, which includes: region, culture, history, natural surroundings and elements of the site, and then synthesize this information with technological innovation in order to design effectively and appropriately. It is an argument for honoring the vernacular of a place without reducing that attempt to honor into mere sentimental representation. Accordingly, we believe that much of identity can be described in the land and through land-use patterns. Preserving land-use patterns in and around a community therefore becomes an essential part of developing and expressing its sense of place – its identity.
We have worked on a number of new community developments located on former cattle ranches that begin with agricultural-based planning strategies and then poco a poco, evolve into a diverse array of agricultural plots surrounded by preserved natural open space, as jobs are created housing for the labor force appears, and then, as needed, commercial and civic venues that serve the workers and their families are phased in as the demand presents itself. Eventually a town emerges that radiates an economic, social, environmental and functional authenticity, a sense of place and a sense of self. A community arises that shows an authentic “face” to the world. It has a sound economic base, it has a range of housing types, and it has a node of civic activity that is surrounded by agriculture and open space. It is not one of our commonplace American “instant cities”. Over time it has evolved into a community with purpose, developmental history, and a sound and inextricable economic and social foundation.
** Landscape Architecture often works in collaboration with the fine arts, and can inspire and educate. We often integrate our linear parks and urban nodes with carefully sited “moments of reflection” catalyzed through installation art. These “learning” nodes can serve as way-finding icons, portals into urban neighborhoods and can also be used to illustrate moments in history that are relevant to specific sites and/or help explain ongoing natural processes in the surrounding landscape.
** Many urban areas we work within are visually chaotic and in need of cohesive design and planning strategies. Consequently, many of our projects include main Street beautification design and planning components in their scope. The creation of a community core or “sense of place” contributes to the development of community identity and a visually coherent main street as do fundamental streetscape design options such as: street trees, paving, signage, lighting, and furniture.
We also find that many neighborhoods and small towns that we work in have suffered greatly from automobile-focused configurations that reflect an urban morphology composed of continuous linear vehicular pathways that lend little ”sense of place” to the surrounding community. Once again, the creation of green urban nodes; parks, town squares, plazas, etc. can also contribute to urban way-finding and a sense of place. The careful development of a town square or a central market that is well connected to the surrounding urban fabric can contribute greatly to a community’s sense of place and identity.
** Landscape Architecture can create urban respites that allow momentary diversion from surrounding urban turmoil and visual anarchy. These “urban oases” provide reflective, meditative and recreative intervals in one’s daily urban life, and they serve to remind us of our complex relationship with nature, and our obligation to remain stewards of the land.
It is our experience that Landscape Architecture has the capacity to effect profound change in urban environments. And, it places an array of revitalization tools at our disposal.
It can stimulate economic development with modest initial investment.
It can purify and preserve our precious air, land and water resources.
It can preserve and remediate wildlife habitat. It can encourage meaningful socialization and recreation.
It can focus growth and reduce sprawl. And, it can offer an urban respite to soothe an otherwise stressful existence.
We designers are fortunate people, and are in possession of skills that can positively impact surrounding urban fabrics. The students in Tejido like to think of themselves as urban design street fighters, and they feel quite comfortable in “ugly” places. It’s where we belong.
Replace grey with green and blue.
Replace cars with shoes.
Replace garage doors with front porches.
Replace noise with sound.
Replace concrete with parks and children playing.
Landscape Architecture can increase land values and therefore equity
Landscape Architecture can increase tax base
Initial construction costs are less
People collect in green spaces and commercial opportunities therefore present themselves
Banks favor cohesive neighborhood activism
Landscape development is possible during slow economiesFunctionally:
More people in the street leads to Less crime
More pedestrians and bicycles in green corridors leads to less traffic
Centralized parking with public transport radiating outward will lead to more efficient urban transportation
In urban revitalization, the maintenance costs are less with landscape architectural solutionsCulturally:
Open green space encourages social gathering and exchange
Open green space can reduce social differences in a variety of ways
Open green space can reduce social isolation so often encouraged by our televisions and automobilesAesthetically / Image Development:
Landscape Architecture can provide visual and spatial cohesion to disparate urban form.
Landscape Architecture can create urban respites:
It can replace concrete with green leaves and flowers
It can replace noise with the sound
It can replace automobiles with pedestrians and bicycles
It can replace buildings with parks and open spaceEnvironmentally:
Landscape Architecture can be an effective method of environmental education for the public.
Landscape Architecture can be used to create the comfortable urban microclimates.
Landscape Architecture can be used to diminish urban runoff, thereby lessening erosion.
Landscape Architecture can be used to create new, and link existing, wildlife habit thereby assisting biodiversity.
Landscape Architecture can be used to purify water and contaminated air.