Issue 11
ISSUE
STORY TYPE
AUTHOR
10
PERSPECTIVE
June 17, 2024
We Need More Than Fewer, Better Things
by Deb Chachra
10
PERSPECTIVE
June 3, 2024
An Ode to Garages
by Charlie Weak
10
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
May 28, 2024
In Search of Domestic Kintsugi
by Edwin Heathcote
10
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
May 13, 2024
The Perils of the Landscapes We Make
by Karrie Jacobs
10
PERSPECTIVE
May 6, 2024
Using Simple Tools as a Radical Act of Independence
by Jarrett Fuller
9
PERSPECTIVE
April 29, 2024
Why Can’t I Just Go Home?
by Eva Hagberg
9
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
April 22, 2024
Why Did Our Homes Stop Evolving?
by George Kafka
9
ROUNDTABLE
April 8, 2024
Spaces Where the Body Is a Vital Force
by Tiffany Jow
9
BOOK REVIEW
April 1, 2024
Tracing the Agency of Women as Users and Experts of Architecture
by Mimi Zeiger
9
PERSPECTIVE
March 25, 2024
Are You Sitting in a Non-Place?
by Mzwakhe Ndlovu
9
ROUNDTABLE
March 11, 2024
At Home, Connecting in Place
by Marianela D’Aprile
9
PERSPECTIVE
March 4, 2024
VALIE EXPORT’s Tactical Urbanism
by Alissa Walker
8
PERSPECTIVE
February 26, 2024
What the “Whole Earth Catalog” Taught Me About Building Utopias
by Anjulie Rao
8
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
February 19, 2024
How a Run-Down District in London Became a Model for Neighborhood Revitalization
by Ellen Peirson
8
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
February 12, 2024
In Brooklyn, Housing That Defies the Status Quo
by Gideon Fink Shapiro
8
PERSPECTIVE
February 5, 2024
That “Net-Zero” Home Is Probably Living a Lie
by Fred A. Bernstein
8
PERSPECTIVE
January 22, 2024
The Virtue of Corporate Architecture Firms
by Kate Wagner
8
PERSPECTIVE
January 16, 2024
How Infrastructure Shapes Us
by Deb Chachra
8
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
January 8, 2024
The Defiance of Desire Lines
by Jim Stephenson
7
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
December 18, 2023
This House Is Related to You and to Your Nonhuman Relatives
by Sebastián López Cardozo
7
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
December 11, 2023
What’s the Point of the Plus Pool?
by Ian Volner
7
BOOK REVIEW
December 4, 2023
The Extraordinary Link Between Aerobics and Architecture
by Jarrett Fuller
7
PERSPECTIVE
November 27, 2023
Architecture That Promotes Healing and Fortifies Us for Action
by Kathryn O’Rourke
7
objects and things
November 6, 2023
How to Design for Experience
by Diana Budds
7
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
October 30, 2023
The Meaty Objects at Marta
by Jonathan Griffin
6
OBJECTS AND THINGS
October 23, 2023
How Oliver Grabes Led Braun Back to Its Roots
by Marianela D’Aprile
6
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
October 16, 2023
Can Adaptive Reuse Fuel Equitable Revitalization?
by Clayton Page Aldern
6
PERSPECTIVE
October 9, 2023
What’s the Point of a Tiny Home?
by Mimi Zeiger
6
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
October 2, 2023
A Book Where Torn-Paper Blobs Convey Big Ideas
by Julie Lasky
6
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
September 24, 2023
The Architecture of Doing Nothing
by Edwin Heathcote
6
BOOK REVIEW
September 18, 2023
What the “Liebes Look” Says About Dorothy Liebes
by Debika Ray
6
OBJECTS AND THINGS
September 11, 2023
Roy McMakin’s Overpowering Simplicity
by Eva Hagberg
6
OBJECTS AND THINGS
September 5, 2023
Minimalism’s Specific Objecthood, Interpreted by Designers of Today
by Glenn Adamson
5
ROUNDTABLE
August 28, 2023
How Joan Jonas and Eiko Otake Navigate Transition
by Siobhan Burke
5
OBJECTS AND THINGS
August 21, 2023
The Future-Proofing Work of Design-Brand Archivists
by Adrian Madlener
5
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
August 14, 2023
Can a Church Solve Canada’s Housing Crisis?
by Alex Bozikovic
5
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
August 7, 2023
In Search of Healing, Helen Cammock Confronts the Past
by Jesse Dorris
5
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
July 31, 2023
What Dead Malls, Office Parks, and Big-Box Stores Can Do for Housing
by Ian Volner
5
PERSPECTIVE
July 24, 2023
A Righteous Way to Solve “Wicked” Problems
by Susan Yelavich
5
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
July 17, 2023
Making a Mess, with a Higher Purpose
by Andrew Russeth
5
ROUNDTABLE
July 10, 2023
How to Emerge from a Starchitect’s Shadow
by Cynthia Rosenfeld
4
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
June 26, 2023
There Is No One-Size-Fits-All in Architecture
by Marianela D’Aprile
4
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
June 19, 2023
How Time Shapes Amin Taha’s Unconventionally Handsome Buildings
by George Kafka
4
SHOW AND TELL
June 12, 2023
Seeing and Being Seen in JEB’s Radical Archive of Lesbian Photography
by Svetlana Kitto
4
PERSPECTIVE
June 5, 2023
In Built Environments, Planting Where It Matters Most
by Karrie Jacobs
3
PERSPECTIVE
May 30, 2023
On the Home Front, a Latine Aesthetic’s Ordinary Exuberance
by Anjulie Rao
3
PERSPECTIVE
May 21, 2023
For a Selfie (and Enlightenment), Make a Pilgrimage to Bridge No. 3
by Alexandra Lange
3
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
May 8, 2023
The Building Materials of the Future Might Be Growing in Your Backyard
by Marianna Janowicz
3
BOOK REVIEW
May 1, 2023
Moving Beyond the “Fetishisation of the Forest”
by Edwin Heathcote
2
ROUNDTABLE
April 24, 2023
Is Craft Still Synonymous with the Hand?
by Tiffany Jow
2
OBJECTS AND THINGS
April 17, 2023
A Historian Debunks Myths About Lacemaking, On LaceTok and IRL
by Julie Lasky
2
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
April 10, 2023
How AI Helps Architects Design, and Refine, Their Buildings
by Ian Volner
2
SHOW AND TELL
April 3, 2023
Merging Computer and Loom, a Septuagenarian Artist Weaves Her View of the World
by Francesca Perry
1
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
March 27, 2023
Words That Impede Architecture, According to Reinier de Graaf
by Osman Can Yerebakan
1
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
March 20, 2023
Painting With Plaster, Monica Curiel Finds a Release
by Andrew Russeth
1
PERSPECTIVE
March 13, 2023
Rules and Roles in Life, Love, and Architecture
by Eva Hagberg
1
Roundtable
March 6, 2023
A Design Movement That Pushes Beyond Architecture’s Limitations
by Tiffany Jow
0
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
February 7, 2023
To Improve the Future of Public Housing, This Architecture Firm Looks to the Past
by Ian Volner
0
PERSPECTIVE
February 7, 2023
The Radical Potential of “Prime Objects”
by Glenn Adamson
0
SHOW AND TELL
February 20, 2023
Xiyadie’s Queer Cosmos
by Xin Wang
0
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
February 13, 2023
How Michael J. Love’s Subversive Tap Dancing Steps Forward
by Jesse Dorris
0
SHOW AND TELL
February 7, 2023
Finding Healing and Transformation Through Good Black Art
by Folasade Ologundudu
0
BOOK REVIEW
February 13, 2023
How Stephen Burks “Future-Proofs” Craft
by Francesca Perry
0
ROUNDTABLE
February 27, 2023
Making Use of End Users’ Indispensable Wisdom
by Tiffany Jow
0
OBJECTS AND THINGS
February 7, 2023
The New Lessons Architect Steven Harris Learns from Driving Old Porsches
by Jonathan Schultz
0
PERSPECTIVE
February 7, 2023
The Day Architecture Stopped
by Kate Wagner
0
OBJECTS AND THINGS
February 7, 2023
The Overlooked Potential of Everyday Objects
by Adrian Madlener
0
ROUNDTABLE
February 7, 2023
A Conversation About Generalists, Velocity, and the Source of Innovation
by Tiffany Jow
0
OBJECTS AND THINGS
February 7, 2023
Using a Fungi-Infused Paste, Blast Studio Turns Trash Into Treasure
by Natalia Rachlin
Untapped is published by the design company Henrybuilt.
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
05.13.2024
The Perils of the Landscapes We Make

How long is the lifespan of a human-designed terrain—and what should it be?

Wide shot of wooden pathway that wades into a pond
Mary Miss’s “Greenwood Pond: Double Site” (1989–1996) in Des Moines, Iowa, in 2014. (Photo: Judith Eastburn. Courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation)


Roughly a decade ago, I interviewed an engineer named David Winter about the trio of newly constructed hills on Governors Island. Today the hills, thick with vegetation, look like they’ve always been there. But they’re designer hills, conceived of by Adriaan Geuze, a founder of the Dutch firm West 8, and constructed from scratch on the southwestern shore of a designer island—one that was dramatically enlarged early in the 20th century—with dirt left over from excavation of the Lexington Avenue subway and dredge from the New York Harbor. These hills fascinate me because they’re 21st-century landforms, artificial constructs that we accept as nature.

Winter told me that, because the Governors Island shoreline couldn’t support a hill made from heavier materials like rocks and dirt, his team had to find something lighter. They initially considered Geofoam—“big blocks of Styrofoam,” as Winter put it, though the company swears they’re two distinct materials—but it was too light. “Hurricane Sandy came through while we were in the design phase,” he continued. “So we had to think: Would a hurricane blow the hill away?”

The idea of a hill so insubstantial that it could be launched by a hurricane altered my understanding of the world. I began to look more critically at the urbane interpretations of nature that have become a hallmark of early 21st-century design. I became aware that, lurking somewhere inside, say, Brooklyn Bridge Park’s expanses of greenery or the upsy-daisy landscape of Little Island, is a material resembling that of picnic coolers and boogie boards. But my concern was less about the possibility of flying hills and more about simple wear and tear. How long can this stuff possibly last?

“Since it is resistant to moisture and environmental damage, including insect infestation,” the Geofoam International LLC website says of its product, “its performance won’t be diminished over its long lifespan of approximately 100 years.” Predictably, this somewhat reassuring answer raises more questions. For one thing, Geofoam has only been used in the United States since the 1980s, initially in highway construction, so its longevity hasn’t been fully tested. And I know for a fact that using new building methods and materials can sometimes lead to unpleasant surprises. (Google “synthetic stucco” and you’ll see what I mean.)

But let’s say Geofoam really does last 100 years. Is that long enough? If not, what should the lifespan of a designed landscape be? The one I know best, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux’s Prospect Park, in Brooklyn, has been around for more than 150 years … meaning that, if its hills had been constructed of Geofoam, it might have already crumbled.

Of course, geologically speaking, a century or two is a brief existence. And non-designer landscapes—the natural kind, if human beings don’t interfere—can last an eternity. Kinder Baumgardner, a Houston–based managing principal at SWA, a large international firm mostly known for landscape design, has wrestled with this conundrum. “Everyone expects this stuff to be permanent,” Baumgardner says of his work. “That’s the heavy thing that we have to bear as landscape architects: everyone wants it to last forever.” But usually, it doesn’t.

Aerial view of wooden pathway that wades into and under a pond
Mary Miss, “Greenwood Pond: Double Site” (1989–1996) in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1996. (Photo: Mary Miss. Courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation)


Charles Birnbaum, founder of The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), has long promoted landscape longevity. Prior to starting his organization, he spent 15 years at the National Park Service, where he authored the Secretary of the Interior’s Guidelines for the Treatment of Cultural Landscapes. The landscapes TCLF is most concerned with are of value not because they were the scenes of momentous events or had historically noteworthy owners, but because they’re important works of design.

Significant landscapes, however, rarely get the same respect as significant buildings. We seem to lose them more easily. I’m not talking about lightweight hills flying away. More often, Birnbaum says, we let them fall apart. “Landscapes are a whole lot less forgiving when it comes to deferred stewardship,” he says.

He’s referring to the impending destruction of an artwork by noted environmental artist Mary Miss called “Greenwood Pond: Double Site” (1989–1996), a supposedly permanent part of the Des Moines Art Center’s collection. The work, which connected Iowans to one of their remaining wetlands, was a precursor to the current generation of reinvented waterfronts. “Ninety percent of the wetlands in Iowa had been drained for farming,” Miss recently told me. “What if I could give [people] the direct experience of going into a wetland, and a sense of what lives and grows there?”

Her piece consists of a boardwalk that traces the water’s edge and dips down into a trough so that visitors can encounter the water at eye level. Created in collaboration with a local garden club, it became a template for the way Miss works today, tackling issues of resilience and sustainability through her non-profit City as Living Laboratory in conjunction with community members, scientists, and other artists.

In Des Moines, the museum’s director, Kelly Baum, says the piece requires $2.7 million in repairs—money it doesn’t have. “From what we can gather,” Birnbaum says, “they’ve done very little over the last nine years to take care of it. So now they’re blaming the artwork.” TCLF announced last month that Miss had filed suit in federal court to save the work. A judge in Des Moines has imposed a temporary restraining order, halting the demolition that was scheduled to commence on April 8.

While it’s unusual for a museum to destroy a work in its permanent collection, the loss of designed landscapes is beginning to feel all too commonplace. In New York City, we’ve lately dismantled two of them. First, there was the highly controversial 2019 decision by New York City’s Department of Design and Construction to bury the East River Park (opened in 1939, it almost made it to to 100) in eight feet of dirt, effectively transforming the entire park into one huge berm, intended to protect the neighborhoods directly inland from future storm surges.

And last year, Wagner Park, at the south end of Battery Park City—a grassy enclave designed by landscape architect Laurie Olin with Hanna/Olin, Lynden Miller, and Machado and Silvetti Associates—disappeared. The 3.5-acre oasis with stunning views of New York Harbor opened in 1996 and was demolished a mere 27 years later because, although it was designed to survive flooding, that’s no longer enough. “Now it’s been destroyed,” Birnbaum tells me, “because a park is now going to have to harden and protect lower Manhattan. There’s going to be these big gates and sea walls.”

Carved out seat in pond that wooden walkway leads up to at Mary Miss’s “Greenwood Pond: Double Site”
Mary Miss’s “Greenwood Pond: Double Site” (1989–1996) in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1996. (Photo: Mary Miss. Courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation)


So achieving that 100-year lifespan of a landscape, with Geofoam or otherwise, turns out to be quite difficult for modern humans. The natural world is falling apart all around us, largely by our own doing, and we have the hubris to think that we can find ways to replace it. But our needs and desires change too fast, and our attention spans are too short. Most of the work done by Baumgardner’s firm, he says, is “going to get torn out in ten years.”

However, as any visitor to the newly remade stretches of the Brooklyn and Queens waterfronts will attest, we’ve gotten very good at reinventing, or replicating, the natural landscapes that earlier generations methodically destroyed. We can conjure up salt marshes and rolling meadows that look like they might have during the millenia before the Europeans showed up.  And these fabricated landscapes are not just there for pleasure, but to help mitigate the damage increasingly inflicted by un-designed nature, so-called acts of God.

But if this sleight of hand is to work, we need to invest in these fabricated landscapes, to build and maintain them as if they were culturally and historically significant. We need to take care of them as if we need them to last, not for a decade or even a century, but much longer. Because, practically speaking, we’ll only survive if we learn to think—now and then—in terms of forever.