Martha Schwartz: Landscape Architect

She started out by saying she never meant to be a landscape architect. Her uncles, cousins, father, son, husband are all architects; it’s like a congenital disease. She planned to go into fine arts but then she encountered earthworks and so smitten wanted to explore that. One thing led to another…

What is the landscape? We think of it in pastoral terms. We think of it in terms of purist erasure — Landscape is the world without us humans in it. It’s the remainder of leftover areas we don’t ruin. Or it’s when we make nice walking gardens. Trees, birdies, clean rivers and chilly hills.

But the landscape is a bigger circle encompassing every environment we’re in — the highways, the parking lots, the service areas, the sidewalks, the towers, the open pit mines. They are still the landscape. And we spent, statistically, 7 times more of our time on highways than in parks. It is what we create that then creates positive feedback loops in health, social lives, economics and environment. On some level we know that non-commercial space, like time off, pays for itself in a way. NYC’s Central Park brings $623 million/acre to the city because people want to see the park. It wouldn’t make economic sense to parcel any of its green space into any kind of “development”.

In a project she did in Toronto, Yorkville Park, having the park and public space has increased property values around it and increased the amount of shopping done because people want to be there. The green space takes its cue from the Victorian era houses and makes a collector’s box as if the landscape were each in cubicle of Canadian shield ecology. At the same time she remarked, it is better to do something that some hate and some like than something that people don’t care about because if people are blasé it won’t be maintained. If a project is taken to heart by some people, then it will be integrated into lives. For example, Grand Canal Square in Dublin, Ireland was a plaza to go in front of a waterfront performing arts centre. Even in Ireland’s economic downturn, the area was not effected economically because it served people’s needs for a space that worked.

She adds curves and colors to the built environment and green it but does so with a sense of whimsy that is considered from a design point rather than just random play such as in Ireland’s square which plays with colors and geometric shapes that mark outdoor areas.

Public spaces, whether commuter suburbs, or mixed use street plaza life govern the rules we employ against each other. Cultural change, she contends, happen in public space, not when we are sequestered and ghettoized.

She tries to tie in the project to its context. She talked about “creating a “there” there” as Stein put it. In a project going up in China she used sight lines to shape how people walked to see the model homes. The construction of the new homes was blocked from view by a wall with a vista with a cutout to see the distant hills. Along the path there are trees planted and metal sculptures that evoke Chinese lanterns and provide shade. The walk to the model home is so popular the developer has decided to keep it as a park.

Her commission in X’ian, China is a fascinating walled garden where none of the walls are parallel, most dead-end in the maze. You are always under the canopy of willows and approach them but never see the base of any trunks until the end. The end of each wall is mirrored.

Greenery is characteristically done unconventionally, like Vienna (pictures 5 and 6) or Minneapolis.

Another project for a tower in Abu Dhabi was to make a green roof. The hitch was typical. The architects did their work and left and then it handed over to handscape architects but the design load of the building didn’t consider the possibility of a green roof. Her solution was to give dimension with mounds of greenery and water trickle feature along the seating, but the green are all panels that at thin planting on a foam core to give shape without weight.

Also in Abu Dhabi was a beach with special demands. People want to be separated by gender so males can’t access women and children, and so the immigrant labour can’t access the employer class. As well the beach front is tucked in between the ocean and a freeway because infrastructure for transport was designed first and leisure and daily life second.

In Jakarta, her firm is working on Pluit City. Jakarta has a lot of problems in the sense of it sinking worse than Venice. In Jakarta they’ve emptied their aquifers and have to catch rain water to supply local water needs. The project reclaims land, builds seawalls, replants mangroves which were all cut down which should help stabilize the coastline and regrow the fishery.

She’s doing multi-family housing in Japan with a funky stone form of fish among bamboo.

In this interview she talks about renewing mines,

We worked in Winslow, New Jersey, on a clay quarry that had been a dump for 30 cars. It was a degraded and socially dangerous site. With the client, and an ecologist, we regenerated it so now it’s an informal nature conservancy. Now, people want to know if they can buy the land to develop it into housing (no). But the point is, that now, there is a whole new set of possibilities for the site and the town.

They resculpted the 500 acres creating ponds, mixing in wood chip with clay so it could grow. It went from being a waste area to an area that migrating flocks use on their flight path. It is now trees and local species have moved back in. There are 11,000 clay quarries in New Jersey but it takes will and desire.

Martha Schwartz (of Martha Schwartz Partners of London, UK and her firm, Martha Schwartz, Inc. in Cambridge, Massachussetts with projects in over 20 countries) was the speaker on November 4, 2013 at the National Gallery of Canada.

She has received a couple pages worth of highly regarded awards and prizes including the Cooper-Hewitt Museum National Design Award for her body of work in Landscape Architecture, Women in Design Award for Excellence, Boston Society of Architects, 2005, an honorary fellowship from RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects), and several design awards from the American Society of Landscape Architects, including residencies, tenure and an honorary degree.

But more importantly for this she was one of the most articulate of speakers the series has had and she organized the lecture into the half of principles of why landscape matters and then details of a few projects. And she did so with smatterings of humour, and with loads of enthusiasm and inspiration.

I was wishing through the talk that Mayor Jim Watson should have been there. He would have enjoyed her ideas, spirit and talk. Perhaps he was there. It is open to the public and a full room.

Quote: “You have beautiful, living and inanimate materials, and one can create something that has cultural resonance. The narrative or idea can be about anything. All great art is, essentially, a very personal statement or inquiry. A built landscape is not required to look or mimic nature. If we are creating it, like any other cultural art form, it can be what we wish it to be. There’s no law that says it has to look like nature. What if all the books or movies or plays were about one subject matter or were dictated by the government? It would be stopping the evolution of culture. Without realizing it, people have very clear notions of what a landscape should be, while we’re much more open about what a building can be because we know it’s a cultural artifact.” ~ Martha Schwartz [via]

P.S. The Azrieli School of Architecture & Urbanism present forum lectures irregularly through the regular university year.

Nov 18th will be the next lecture. It is by David Leatherbarrow of the University of Pennsylvania. He does research on history and theory of architecture and the city. His books include: Books include: Topographical Stories, Surface Architecture (with Mohsen Mostafavi), Uncommon Ground, Roots of Architectural Invention, On Weathering: The Life of Buildings in Time, and Masterpieces of Architectural Drawing.


Distances, Travelling

Time for another 13 Thursday roundup.

You know about some of the travels thru talking with me or thru here. What else has happened?

  1. I did a write-up about the delectable Cobourg Poetry & Literary Arts Festival
  2. If every word is a world
  3. And every person is a world, therefore meeting a person is meeting a word?
  4. What’s your word?
  5. Paul Goldberger‘s word would be City.
  6. Paul
    This is Paul.
  7. He’s the Architecture Critic for The New Yorker & a Pulitzer Prize Winner who spoke at the architecture forum lecture on Monday.
  8. His premise is that cities are where people intersect messily as wildcards. It isn’t a gated private space based on exclusion.
  9. A city’s strength is inclusion and mismatch, uncontrollable organic growth.
  10. He called the city the original hyperlink.
  11. The vitality of a city’s public square facilitates face-to-face human contact, good and bad, random connections and choices that spark creativity and community.
  12. He asked us to ponder the demands for architecture where there isn’t a physical reference like gold standard and Greek temples to guide how a bank should look to suggest solidity, tradition, when money is now digital transfer.
  13. He asked us to consider the implications of where we’ve been and are now when someone living on the street is a bon vivant, a flaneur, a boulevardier vs. the connotation of English now of street person.

Quote: “If you’re going to be able to look back on something and laugh about it,
you might as well laugh about it now.” ~ Marie Osmond


Overheard in Paris, Bears, Baguettes, Locks and Gawks

It’s a rainy night here. Rain’s pinging on the roof. Presumably the pigeons are roosting under cover. It’s mid-afternoon Ottawa time, during John Lavery’s CD launch in Gatineau.

quiet evening
It’s a rosy evening.

Who could resist a blue rose, even knowing it is dye in the water?

In subways and streets, it’s as common to see under the arm as a baguette. Business people or commoners, adult or child, everyday there are kids trundling bouquets of flowers nearly their size. There are pairs of young boys walking home alone carrying a singe rose or small bundle of blossoms. There’s something endearing about people embracing flowers so literally. There are flower beds in backdoor gardens everywhere.

Partly I’d like to think that is a love for beauty, for nature. Partly it’s also probably that Paris’ nickname could be le pissoir. Sewer smells are pretty common – and dog or humans urinating randomly, or at necessity of intervals of options for the homeless – and slightly more common than florists.

Our plans didn’t go all the intended direction. But new plans rose.

yiddish breads
We got these.

challas in the window
A family business for 150 years, La Boutique Jaune de Sacha Finkelsztajn, fell across our path just as the synogogue let out. There were long lineups out each restaurant door in the neighbourhood.

Ron in the park with a baguette
We met Ron by happenstance of our wandering. We had lunch together in the park. Ron thinks he’s a Rhino. He has a special attachment to them, much as Dali did.

He’s was adopted from L’Ours du Marais where there’s thousands of bears from part of an inch long to a couple feet, of all moods and types and prices.

L'Ours de Marais
I’d set them all free from behind glass if I could get them all homes.

While in the Metro a young woman and her beau seemed to be showing her parents her town. They spoke Manderin and I could catch some of it. The father was a senior and found his wife a place to sit while they waited. They seemed tired and disoriented. When the subway train came, it was packed. When we all crammed in as well, the father perked up and remarked cheerfully, this is just like Zhengzhou.

the bridge of locks
Pont des Artes where there are thousands of locks clicked to the chain link sides to commemorate a person’s visit, an anniversary, a couple’s declaration of intent to marry in the future or to love forever. Some are using permanent marker, some scratched into the metal, some formally engraved.

A group of Spanish youth sat on the bridge in a circle with guitars singing So Long Marianne. Other knots of conversational groups were here and there over the arc near sunset.

the photo that got away
This is the photo that got away.

It looks like it’s there, doesn’t it? But I saw another photo coming. I had to change lenses and didn’t get in time the shot as an old man with canes was approaching from the back of the scene. I expected he would either look a the statue or look away, but either way it would be a nice contrast of young and old male with a statue of female between. (he looked) but I was too slow.

This was taken in the Petit Palais, which contrary to what the American on cell phone was telling his daughter – that it was built hundreds and hundreds of years ago and lived in by many kings and queens – it was built for the world exhibition in 1900.

At the building, for the last day tomorrow is a show on Charlotte Perriand – what an incredibly impressive person. She worked with Corbusier in the 30s and moved onto Japan, and various nations and projects as a professional free spirited designer into her 90s.

thanking everyone
It’s almost a week ago already that we saw Cécile Besnard, Soprano, in that phenomenal dress with Orchestre Les Violons de France.

After the concert a pre-teen who kept skipping circles around the adult conversation then begun tugging and whining for money for a prayer candle. She got her 2 euros and got a long tapered one which she didn’t light. She took it out into the night with her swashing it about like sword and babbling a spell and pointing it like Harry Potter. It was a strange mix of sacrilege and innocent cute. The mom was looking too tired to protest anything else that night.

The concert was held in Eglise de la Madeleine, the church that nearly never was a few times. It got foundations razed at least 3 times as redesigns or changing times wrestled over the site. It was considered for a tribute to Napoleon, or a train station.

It must be hard to live in such layered recorded history. Everyone’s timelines on top of someone’s so that you can’t build without impinging on something and yet it keeps building, erasing, building.


Over the next 6 to 8 weeks, I have a lot on the go. (Maybe I can sleep in the second half of November) I expect to be challenging myself to remember not to fret it. It’s all small stuff. Adapting and taking breaks and non-equivocal walk-aways when I need a break will be the order of the day more than normal.

Perhaps I’m mad to try to do 5 poetry readings in 2 weeks. But if I didn’t enjoy it, why bother. I think I’m going to have to re-embrace the guiding principles of healthy hedonism.

You can vote up my poetry blog here or explore others from that link.

Quote: “It’s easier to find a new audience than to write a new speech.” ~ Dan Kennedy at QB

11 Sep 2011, 1:33pm
Architecture Glad Game

Continuity with History, Baroque and Roman

Timothée Marcel
Violoncelliste, Timothée Marcel, from the National Conservatory of Music of Paris performing Les Suites 1 – 3 – 4 of Bach. It is part of the St. Ephrem concerts series amp concerts. The Syrian church, as it stands in this 3rd rebuilt building, went up around the time that Bach composed. Hearing it in stone and candelight seemed particularly fitting.

The Pantheon
The Pantheon from part of the far-flung empire pops up not far from what is now the club strip with bar-lures as most doors trying to call people in to dance or drink or eat. by 9 at night it is crammed, a flood stream of people.

Bookstores are everywhere. Each one has a dozen or dozens of people. A hum of constant activity at the cash register. One store just for science books. Another for history books. Another for antiques. Artisan books everywhere; cookbook chapbooks. Even the publisher catalogues are better produced and more lush than most published books in Canada. By a cash register, no key chains or candy for impulse buys but a Marcel Proust. What a lovely literate country.

even the statues are reading
Even the statues are reading.

Below the stone wall a nook with space for a bench and a couple. He sits, ankle crossed at knee and the magazine is open to a magazine article: 7 signs of Jealousy. Her arm is around his shoulder, her head on his other shoulder and the breeze lifts her waist length blonde hair so it wraps around his head.

where lions were caged
Where lions were caged and waiting for gladiator fights, now only folding chairs.

A pigeon above.

Below, a changing swirl of people. Strollers, a frisbee game crisscrossing the four games of boules and the 5 or 6 active soccer games coming thru that.

A father has a girl out on a two-wheel bike as she learns to balance and her little brother behind on a wooden push trike.

A kid has a remote control hovercraft. Kids chase each other through the stone stands. People read and sun, bill and coo. Kids have commandeered one of the water taps and are refilling their water bottles and using them as improv water guns. Where theatre troops staged, a team use for goal posts.

the kick
A kick.

Les arènes de Lutèce, built around 280, was filled in, built over, lost, found, considered for demolition, saved by a citizen’s movement, spearheaded in part by Victor Hugo, and made a public park almost a century ago.

A burst of color on the slope.

Glad I did that everyday act of heroism of getting out of bed, getting out of the humid misting rainbow-sparkling shower and getting outside.

I overdid it with this 12 hour jaunts about. It was wonderful, full Glad I have no where to go today because I was out of commission entirely for 13 hours after that and a, slowly getting into the day 6 hours into the day.

Glad for gentle tinkle of piano music coming from nearby.

Glad for a bookstore find of a 1976 chapbook of poetry printed on black with white ink.

Glad/Sad/Content to have finished Owen Sheer’s 2005 book. One of the best writers I’ve ever encountered. That is what a skilled communicator can do in the realm of poetry and story.

Too many small good beauties to enumerate or describe but here’s one more: drawers that slide themselves closed silently.

Glad for ample everywhere fresh food market and to avoid grocery stores (chains are inferior worldwide). Glad to have gadded about, found wonderful things, including pistachio pop and the world’s best mango. Glad to have a fridge of food to cook something new, ideas and a pressure cooker on hand.

Glad to be warm and with a roof and chance of sleep tonight.

Quote: “A man who lives, not by what he loves but what he hates, is a sick man.” ~ Archibald Macleish


13 Thursday: Green City

Larry Beasley gave a Forum Lecture on March 2nd, 2011 on Ottawa’s Quest to Be a World-Leading Green Capital He’s the Director of Planning for the City of Vancouver and regularly advises other Canadian municipalities and numerous cities worldwide, including Abu Dhabi, Dallas and Rotterdam. Mr. Beasley is a Member of the Order of Canada, the nation’s highest honour for lifetime achievement. He’s also an inspiring speaker and at home fielding questions with grace and detailed knowledge.

Here are 13 things he said in his talk about how to make a better city:

  1. Green design is not about giving things up or being selfless and limiting options but creating access to options that make for a better life. it’s not selfless good, it’s the best for selfish, what people really want. A streetscape that is alive, feels safe, where the air smells good, and its easy to move around and get the consumer goods you want.
  2. how to make green design work

  3. Working in Abu Dhabi Beasley pointed out that its extreme climate is comparable to Ottawa’s or Montreal’s. Even though there is half the year where the streets are comfortable, the U.A.E. city was built for the heatstroke season. His project made parallel systems to get around when it is also pleasant. Montreal has done a lot of work to make outdoor spaces comfortable pleasant places and a parallel underground system for the nastier weather months. In some cities with our climate, although there may be 3 or 4 months of the year not comfortable for walking, the city is designed as if the other 8 or 9 months weren’t either. They are built without sidewalks or human-scale businesses, built for the car on 1950s models of car as supreme and only means to get around.
  4. We need to start the dialogue of what we want. Each town has to go thru it own conversation. Some results can’t be imported. With a discussion led when heads are cool and no money is at stake, we can do an interest-based discussion rather than a position-based discussion on nitty-gritties. We can find common ground and find creative solutions to particular needs and create guidelines for when the cash and contracts do get involved.
  5. He pointed out that Ottawa has had a Choosing Our Future of the initiative of the City of Ottawa, the City of Gatineau and the National Capital Commission (NCC) to do a long-term plan of how to model our city over the next century. Since 2008 until Fall 2011 it’s asking residents to help and be involved in crafting what a sustainable city would look like.
  6. Beasley

  7. He was talking about on Eden Mills, Ontario which has decided to be the first carbon neutral village in North America. That makes the Eden Mills Writers Festival even more attractive. This town has made a commitment to self-audit, fund winterizing homes, making sure sidewalks work to walk on, all kinds of things.
  8. In particular to Ottawa he suggested we should keep the current Green Belt. The 203.5 square kilometers (78.6 sq mi) crescent of land is essential as lungs, as recreation, as somewhere to keep. London, England let theirs go wild and regret it. It should be maintained. A new green belt of land should be made, something to define the new urban boundaries that would also protect farmland as reserved.
  9. The downtown should be intensified of both Gatineau and Ottawa to keep a smaller footprint of people, like Vancouver, finding what people value, protecting the sun or views, or whatever consultation says we value. In downtown Vancouver 60% of trips are now made by walking and there are fewer cars and more green roofs, such as housing and green roof built over a grocery store. It makes for a more liveable community to have things at hand.
  10. How to fix the subdivision’s short-sighted designs? Urban growth is only 1% a year so it is more effective to fix what we have as well as changing how we built. Community actions to add community gardens, connect cul-de-sacs, create back lanes, subdivide lots, add in-law suites, diversify the type of buildings, add sidewalks, apply for variances to change zoning to add all the city main street features of real stores, not just convenience stores, parks, playgrounds, daycares and businesses that make the work-play-home triangle smaller and more walkable.
  11. Closer proximity, higher density living done right can solve most urban issues: gridlock, pollution, low quality of life, local foods, ideas sparking, sense of community, health problem, rich communities. Studies have found that the threshold for the sweet spot for best sustainable living is at 40 housing units per acre. Subdivisions are typically popping up at 10 per acre. When highrises are 80 feet apart people stop looking at each other across the gap. Closer than that people are uncomfortable.
  12. Clamp down on road building. Expand transit. People will drive less if the public transportation is more comfortable, more convenient and better. Add streetcars and light rail and heavy rail and boat or whatever. Add entertainment systems. Improve the comfort of transit stops. The best options for individuals can also be the best option for the society and for business.
  13. Larry Beasley

  14. Federal government complexes are nodes of offices isolated away from home and play. It requires people to drive. No housing or shopping is near there. Reconstruct the government towers as mixed used buildings, reintegrate street life to treasure principles of proximity. The properties are completely in federal hands so can be done top down.
  15. Ottawa is uniquely positioned because there are national, NCC, ngo and local bodies that all could cooperate. Ottawa could become a creative flashpoint for the nation to mobilize and create a supergreen exemplar, like the athletes village at the Olympics, like renovating an example suburb.
  16. Embellishment and beauty is part of green. . Beauty is a human need. Green planning is making a space work on all levels: economic, social, environmental, experiential.

See the other Thursday 13s

He also spoke with city council while in town. Another thought about the city? draining streets properly.

Quote: “Belief gets in the way of learning. ~ Robert Heinlein

  • RSS Humanyms

  • Archives