Students in the Department of Landscape and Environmental Planning (LAEP) won two top awards in the American Society of Landscape Architects’ 2010 ASLA Student Awards competition.
Cecil Howell won the Award of Excellence in the General Design Category for her project, “Vacant Lot Library.” Adjunct Professor of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning David Meyer advised Howell on the project. “Vacant Lot Library” proposed creating a network of outdoor libraries with the vacant lots scattered throughout San Francisco. By converting these spaces into learning landscapes, Howell asserts, San Francisco will have transformed the forgotten lots into public spaces that support creativity, education, and community.
The Landscape Progress Administration, a collaboration of six LAEP students, won the Award of Excellence in the Community Service Category. Hugo Bruley, Eustacia Brossart, Kirsten Dahl, Jesse Jones, Clare O’Reilly, and Adrienne Smith comprised the design team, which was advised by Associate Adjunct Professor Marcia McNally. The organization took action against the slashed budgets for public programs across the state. The team reached out to public schools and parks impacted by the budget cuts by volunteering both time and expertise in support of public landscapes.
Award of Excellence Vacant Lot Library
Cecil Howell, Student ASLA, College of Environmental Design, UC Berkeley
Faculty Adviser: David Meyer
San Francisco is dotted with vacant lots, unused and often-forgotten spaces concentrated in the poorest neighborhoods of the city. This project proposes creating a network of outdoor libraries within vacant lots. By converting these spaces into learning landscapes, San Francisco will invest in the knowledge of its citizens and transform the forgotten into public spaces that help support creativity, education, and community, the foundation for a truly sustainable city.
At the city-scale, this project proposes a new infrastructure of learning landscapes that is part site and part mobile library. The sites are selected due to their proximity to a school; each site is within one-quarter of a mile of a school. While students are not the only users of the vacant-lot libraries, they are an important element in maintaining the vitality of each site. The schools are not only visitors to the site, but can also help determine the content, either by helping to design the site or through displays, projects, and program. A mobile bus provides additional content, as well as helps to connect the sites together. The bus would bring not only books to the sites, but also science projects, artwork, and essays from other schools to create an exchange of knowledge and ideas throughout the city.
This project explores the design possibilities for one site, a vacant lot located at 5th and Folsom Streets in the South of Market district of San Francisco (SOMA). The area around 5th and Folsom used to be completely industrial, and while there is still some light industry, mostly auto body shops, it is transforming into a more residential neighborhood. Nine schools lie within walking distance to the park, including several elementary and nursery schools, a university of law, city college, and a medical college. These institutions are predominantly located to the north and east of the site.
Typical of industrial areas, there is very little public space in the neighborhood, even though there is an influx of residents and there has always been a large population of workers. This site, in addition to becoming a learning landscape, provides much-needed outdoor space to the workers, customers, residents, and students of the area.
The primary design move is an interactive wall that weaves through the site, creating learning spaces as well as providing knowledge. Looking to the library as a source of inspiration, the wall creates both small spaces for private and quiet learning as well as large rooms that can be used as classrooms and activity centers. Since the majority of students will be approaching the site from the southwest, the more active areas are in the southwest corner of the site, while the quieter areas are tucked toward the south end of the site. The wall is eight feet tall and constructed of rotating panels; each panel has information inscribed or mounted on it. By rotating the panels, the user is able to pull information out of the wall as she turns it — a movement inspired by the act of removing a book from a bookshelf. While the higher panels feature information for adults, the lower panels are designed for children and include number, color, and shape games, turning the wall into an enormous puzzle.
Along the wall, the content and material varies, responding to the type of space created. In the southwest corner, the space is divided into small reading rooms. Here, the content is permanent, including displays on the natural and social history of San Francisco, pieces of poetry, and other literature. The panels are constructed from aluminum, with the information etched onto them. The metal supports the permanence of the display as well as reflects light down into the rooms. In several spots, panels fold out to become seats, in addition to the benches and moveable chairs that dot the site.
Moving along the wall into the larger spaces, the content becomes more interactive and temporary. Nearby schools, as well as any local businesses or art, science, and tech groups, can take responsibility for a portion of the wall. These rotating exhibitions of work create an opportunity for people to display their knowledge and creativity as well as interact with their neighbors. The wall facilitates strange pairings, such as having an elementary school and a law school adjacent to each other, creating new opportunities for exchange and inspiration. In this area, the panels vary in material, from wood to aluminum mesh to cork-board, all of which are designed with clips and other mounting methods in order to facilitate the exhibits.
There are two classrooms on the site, both formed by large sweeping curves of the wall. Within these bulbs, the wall mimics the information found inside a science, history, or mathematics classroom, complete with periodic tables, maps, and formulas. Several panels together form large chalkboards and corkboards, allowing for easy teaching and amendment. Seating in these areas is primarily moveable chairs, for increased flexibility.
The mobile library enters the site at the north end. This area is very open, in order for the library to have the room to display the books and projects that it carries from school to school. This area is the main plaza of the site, and the wall supports this activity hub by displaying content that varies almost daily, including newspapers, videos, and message boards.
Orchard and Surface
Besides the wall, the site is composed of two other components: a bosque of fruit trees and a changing ground plane. The fruit trees help the site become active by providing a resource to the community. Within the quieter areas, the trees are planted more densely and are a small variety of plums, creating domes for the reading rooms. Moving out toward the more active areas, the trees become more spread-out and are larger varieties. The species changes from plum to pear trees and finally apple trees. This helps open the spaces up, while at the same time provides a canopy to create a more comfortable climate.
The ground plane also changes with the gradient of the trees and wall. While the predominant surface material is structural gravel, bands of wood decking interrupt the gravel wherever there are trees. The wood provides a soft surface for lying or sitting on as well as a feeling of warmth to the site. The simplicity of the ground plane directs the focus towards the wall and the knowledge it contains.
Award of Excellence Landscape Progress Administration
Hugo Bruley, Student ASLA; Eustacia Brossart, Student ASLA; Kirsten Dahl, Student ASLA; Jesse Jones, Student ASLA; Clare O’Reilly, Student ASLA; and Adrienne Smith, Student ASLA. College of Environmental Design, UC Berkeley.
Faculty Adviser: Marcia McNally
In the wake of California’s 2009 budget crisis, funding was slashed to public programs across the state. As we saw staff and faculty furloughed and student services threatened in our own Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning at UC Berkeley, we took action. Our student group led a participatory process to reach out to public schools and parks similarly impacted by the budget cuts. Dubbing ourselves the Landscape Progress Administration, our department volunteered both time and expertise in support of public landscapes.
In 2009, the California state legislature slashed the public higher education budget by $2 billion as part of a package of cuts to close a $26 billion state budget gap. This led to layoffs and graduated furloughs for all faculty and staff at UC Berkeley, resulting in fewer teaching days during the fall 2009 semester. Our college budget suffered a 16% cut in 2010, with deeper cuts promised the following year. Landscape architecture department members were also disturbed by the decline in state funding for places important to our profession, such as public parks and open spaces, as well as cuts suffered by the entire public school system.
In response, landscape architecture students, faculty, and staff initiated a constructive effort to mitigate and draw attention to the impacts of state-funding shortfalls on public landscapes and schools. Under the banner of the Landscape Progress Administration, our department took advantage of university-mandated furlough days to volunteer our time and expertise at a state park, public schools, and around our campus in an effort to make a difference within public landscapes and institutions that are facing similar state funding cuts.
The idea for a service-based response was introduced at a town hall meeting on the first day of classes, during which our department chair proposed using the furlough days at the end of the semester for volunteer service. Students, faculty, and staff voted enthusiastically in favor of carrying out community service projects, and agreed that the organization and implementation of the project should be student-led. We volunteered to facilitate the project as part of our coursework for our class in citizen participation in community design and planning.
During the semester, we met with department members to determine goals to be achieved through project implementation, selected appropriate volunteer projects, and organized implementation. The first step was the “Courtyard Call to Service.” To make the connection between budget cuts and the need for community-service action, we organized students in our department to clean up, weed, and prune a neglected courtyard adjacent to our college’s building to coincide with a statewide walkout protesting the state’s disinvestment in the public university system. After we introduced the service-project concept, we conducted a student survey and interviewed faculty and staff to gather information about their priorities and project ideas. At a series of department-wide town hall meetings, we presented survey and interview results, set goals, and compiled a list of public landscapes and organizations that were also hit hard by state budget cuts and that could use help from our department. During one meeting, students, faculty, and staff voted to name the project the Landscape Progress Administration. By referencing the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration, students sought to bring attention to hard times — including unemployment at its highest rate since the Great Depression — and to call for a civic-minded spirit of public investment that we believe is currently lacking in our state.
Through the participatory process, and working with staff on campus and at other public institutions, we selected several service projects. Some projects were specific to the curriculum and skills of a particular course, and some were open to the entire department and other willing volunteers from outside the department. During the final week of the semester, over three hundred students, faculty, and staff volunteered their time.
Students of the Sustainable Landscapes and Cities class made ornate banners to display at each project site, promoting awareness of environmental issues, landscape architecture, community service, and civic investment. Other students undertook research and maintenance projects on our university campus. To compensate for lost staff time in the campus creek restoration program, one hundred volunteers removed invasive species from a creek corridor, making space for native riparian species. Eighty students in an introductory environmental design class learned about water conservation and building science through an audit of bathroom fixtures in campus buildings to identify those that consumed too much water. Ecological analysis students conducted a census of campus trees, updating an obsolete map. In addition, several geographic information systems students worked with local community organizations to provide needed mapping and analysis services.
Off campus, students from our department built relationships across educational boundaries by engaging middle and high school students. We developed two days of hands-on curricula for middle school students. Department members taught sixth-grade earth science students in their schoolyard, measuring surface permeability and examining the effects of simulated pollution on makeshift watershed models. Volunteers and students from the after-school garden program planted drought-tolerant species on school grounds. Students also introduced the children to the field of landscape architecture and helped them design and draw new plans for their school grounds. Across town at a high school suffering from staff layoffs, twenty-seven department members worked with high school students to build a coop for chickens raised in a biology class, weed and water the neglected edible school garden, create garden signage, and decorate the compost bin with educational messages.
Further afield, twenty-two members of the department worked with four volunteer coordinators to clear, re-grade, prune, and maintain approximately one mile of an overgrown hiking trail in a state park. Steep state funding cuts and the threat of closure forced park staff layoffs and furloughs along with cuts to hours and services. Our labor saved the park $4,500 and provided 165 hours of service.
Public reaction to the Landscape Progress Administration was overwhelmingly positive. Local news media covered some of the projects. The middle and high school students and teachers, the state parks volunteer coordinator, and our campus staff all expressed appreciation and great interest in continuing to work with our department. We conducted a follow-up student survey and discussed the project with faculty. All parties agreed that the volunteer experience was rewarding, and that the department should continue to work with these and similar institutions every year. We then traveled to Sacramento and met with seven state legislature staff members, advocating for greater public investment, both from taxpayers and the state to fund public landscapes and education, and from citizens through volunteering in the landscapes and schools that make our state great. Staff members told us that although the outlook is grim for increased state funding of public education and landscapes, they were delighted with our volunteer work and encouraged us to continue.
Over the course of the semester, we learned a great deal about organizing and managing groups, soliciting community participation in a democratic and iterative process, bridging institutional barriers, and the joy of teaching and volunteering within our valued public landscapes. Plans are currently under way to return to the state park and schools in the fall, and we hope that the Landscape Progress Administration will continue to cultivate relationships, awareness, and civic investment across public institutional boundaries.