January 2011

Drawing of Slum 31 by Daniel Miranda

The exhibition small architecture, BIG LANDSCAPES explores the overlooked in the urban landscape – both overlooked materials left for scrap, and overlooked human beings – those of the informal housing world – who must improvise when it comes to where to live and what to build their dwellings out of. The collection of work from an array of artists challenges the viewer to think critically about design and building and how they occur and happen endlessly and very much in the absence of a licensed architect and monied clients. The exhibition has been curated by Wes Janz, whose onesmallproject endeavor examines similar themes but in a blog format. It runs from January 24 to March 6 at McNeal Hall, Goldstein Museum of Design on the Saint Paul Campus of the University of Minnesota.

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Harumi Kurihara, the Martha Stewart of Japan

It is about this time of year that we start dreaming – just a little – of a landscape that isn’t blanketed in white. It’s a proverbial thaw, a mental window of opportunity, albeit a fleeting one, that should be taken advantage of with gusto. In our case, it is to start plotting out what to plant for still-distant but impending growing season. And this year we are going to try something different, to start with a cookbook. This is still that broody, holing-up time that is ever-conducive to reading and thinking too much. To channel our thoughts into something productive rather than into a spiral of self-doubt and Lars Von Trier-esque nonsense, we propose the following: pick out a new cookbook, pour over its pages, hone in on several recipes, then on the vegetables the recipes call for; search out a seed catalog, locate the seeds for the corresponding vegetables, order them, plant them, plan your menus, wait; then harvest, cook, and eat. Our pick for a cookbook is Harumi Kurihara’s Everyday Harumi. The deceptive simplicity of Japanese food requires the freshest of ingredients, vegetables whose flavor alone can almost carry the dish. What better way to provide the ingredients for these recipes than to grow them oneself?

Seed Savers Exchange annual catalog

For seeds, we turn to Seed Savers Exchange. We love the back stories that accompany so many of the seeds in the catalog (re:/a la Hungarian immigrants from Szeged brought this variety of tomato over back in. . .), and the selection will keep you busy for many an hour narrowing down the best option for your plot and recipe. Heirloom daikon, perhaps?

So go forth and read, dream, plant, cook, eat.

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Cover for a recent design competition that PRAIRIEFORM and several Swedish landscape architects, designers, and planners entered. Our mission statement focused on urban design as a tool for production

Intrinsic to the economic troubles we are living in lies the simple fact that the United States has by and large become a nation of consumption and not one of production. By production we mean not only a producer of goods, but also of ideas, energy, ecological diversity, and, as President Obama repeatedly said in his State of the Union Address, innovation. We perhaps don’t always think about how urban design and landscape architecture play a role in this shift, but they do and they have.

MIT-led design for the Denver Design District

The prototypical urban design paradigm du jour has been to create spaces and places of a mix of housing and retail that by and large give people the opportunity to consume products and goods. Only, instead of consuming them via automobile, you do so via walking and/or transit. While the efforts have been laudable for their attempt to increase pedestrian activity, and to reduce the strain of the car on the city, we still are not getting down to the tough but transformative business of changing fundamental systems. The design and programming of these spaces and places rarely attempt to tackle the challenge of production and how urban design and landscape architecture can play a key role in shifting the country back to a nation of production – a producer of ideas, energy, biodiversity, innovation. To these ends, we recently submitted a proposal for a design competition in which our end objective was to conjure up spaces and places that would produce energy, ideas, biodiversity, innovation, and products and goods. For a quick view, click here.

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It seemed quite fashionable in the ’90s and early 2000s to wholesale write the suburbs off, to harp on them as vacuums of culture and waste pits of eyesore urban planning that should simply go away. However, as the urban form and demographics of cities like Los Angeles muddle the urban/suburban dichotomy, and as city centers become cost-prohibitive for the very producers of culture to live in them, the suburbs can no longer be brushed off as irrelevant – particularly, as Professor of Urban Planning Ann Forsyth points out in the video above, they will absorb much of the skyrocketing urban population growth sweeping the modern world. What is most instructive and refreshing about Forsyth’s lecture is her genuine interest in how practically suburbs can be designed and redesigned into spaces and places that can simultaneously absorb population growth while not becoming the faceless, completely auto-dependent agglomerations of development that they’ve up until now largely been. For the full video, click here.

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