Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Waits Awards 2010

With the giddy bliss of a schoolgirl on the final day of class, in the gravelly voice of a crotchety old man yelling from the porch for you to get off his lawn as he chain smokes his Viceroys, we present to you the first inaugural Waits Awards.

The Waits Awards are named in honor of scoundrel/conjurer Tom Waits.  During his long career Waits has been prolific and versatile, consistently defying categorization.  We here at FASLANYC share his fascination with mythical characters and places as well as the belief that "all hardware items must be admired for their sonic properties."  This is a man who once took a 4 cubic yard metal dumpster, cut a 2 foot hole in it, strung it with piano string and played it, describing its sound as "trainlike and huge, like trash day with a purpose."  We admire that.

Meant to highlight innovative approaches to specific landscape initiatives, a Waits signifies that a project relishes the idiosyncratic and the bizarre, it values aesthetics without privileging beauty, it is primitive and clinical at the same time.  These projects are usually highly tactical and lo-fi, simple and sophisticated, ultimately working to demystify the act of intervening in the landscape.  Many of the projects are low-capital and labor-intensive, small yet scalable.  Though we appreciate the master plan and the capital project, those gain enough accolades from the powers-that-be who are constantly working to coalesce and cordon off the right to the city, and the right to have fun getting dirty.
[Tom Waits, doing something bizarre and awesome as usual]

We believe the world needs more landscape architecture.  And while the capital project, the international design firm, and the master plan are good tools and will continue to exist, what is sorely lacking are the mycorrhyzal interventions, myriad micro-projects implemented with professional involvement or not.  Cheap and dirty, they are made by individuals and groups as part of larger strategies to regenerate our soils, cities, and waters, and to have a laugh.

Rather than serving as an accolade for a job well done, the Waits Awards are meant to raise awareness of innovative initiatives and to stimulate dialogue and work.  Awards are not necessarily given out to recent projects, but there is an emphasis on timeliness.  We hope you'll offer up your opinions and insights as well as bring our attention to other projects being undertaken that revel in the nuance and idiosyncrasy of innovative interventions.  Without further ado, we present the following projects as recipients of a 2010 Waits Award.  

(For the Waits experience, click on the song title before each award which should open in a separate window before reading the summary and following whichever links catch your fancy).


All the World is Green:  "International Garden Festival"- Reford Gardens of Metis
Taken as a single project of ephemeral installations, the International Garden Festival at the Reford Gardens of Metis is currently the most significant experimentation ground in the Americas for landscape architecture as cultural commentary.  Begun only ten years ago, the IGF has hosted various kitschy and trendy installations like "Fractal Garden" and “Safe Zone“.  More significantly, it is proving an inspired test site for the exploration of the cultural landscape mythologies of the northeastern region of the American continent.  The IGF is organized around a different theme each year (this year's is "paradise") but the siting, scale and implementation methods are consistent.

The setting offers a forest, a field, and a river- the foundational landscape archetypes of eastern North America.  The most interesting installations are proving to offer some critical exploration of these archetypes and their contemporary significance, filtered through the theme of that year.  This garden-as-cultural-commentary (as opposed to botanical exhibition or cultural exposition), has proven to be a significant attraction in drawing visitors to this remote area of Canada.  As a model for exhibition and exploration, and in the context of the general trend towards regionalism and landscape ecology, it suggests that the other regions of the continent could benefit from a similar initiative.  A site where visitors already come to appreciate spectacular landscape with this type of ephemeral installation program folded in holds much promise as a potential regional cultural institution. 
["In Vitro" by NIP Paysage takes a clever look at the commodization of 
Canada's forests]

["Sentir Batu" by Group BGL destroys forest to create a beautiful green cloud
of plastic]

Jockey Full of Bourbon:  "The Yellow Line"- Supersudaca
This project by FASLANYC-favorite Supersudaca is a part of their Direct Architecture/Budget-less Urbanism work and was carried out in the armpit of South America- Lima, Peru.  Part of the reason we love Supersudaca is their self-deprecating approach; the name is a combination of "super", which means the same in Spanish and English, and "sudaca" which is a pejorative term used in Spain to describe people from South America.  

This project was implemented for the cost of four buckets of yellow paint.  Essentially a yellow line was painted at night down the middle of a square that is always jammed with pedestrians, vendors, and taxis during the day.  The line served as an ordering mechanism for the deterministic vendors that set up daily and consequently directly influence the flow of vehicles and pedestrians.  The sophistication here is delightful.  The line wasn't the project, only the symbol of the real project- identifying the cause of the chaos (vendors), devising a way to organize the cause (get them to line up), and then create a mechanism through which to implement the organizational structure.  This last part was done by presenting the study of the place to the vendors, convincing them of the efficacy of a linear organization, and getting them to invest in the successful implementation- they bought two of the cans of paint.  Because they were invested, vendors who did not adhere to the new policy after painting the line were chastised by other vendors until they literally fell in line.

Most interesting, as the success of the project was not based on physical intervention, but rather creating a symbol for new mechanisms, the outcome of the intervention was extremely tenuous.  If it worked well for most, then the vendors would likely continue to self-organize and perhaps even maintain the symbol of their agreement- repaint the line.  If not, the plaza probably went back to chaos within a few days.
[instead of defaulting to some new construction, Supersudaca used tactical, 
budgetless urbanism to reorganize the hectic street life of this plaza in Lima]

Kommienezuspadt:  "Cuyahoga Habitat Underwater Basket"- Cuyahoga River Community Planning Organization
The Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio was once notorious for catching fire, most famously in 1969, spurring the creation of numerous environmental acts, including the EPA.  The Cuyahoga River Community Planning Organization was created in 1988 and is working to restore and protect the ecosystems of the river.  A major problem with the river has been that because of lack of oxygen, food and shelter due to the 11 mile stretch of bulkhead lining the banks of the river in downtown, fish making their way back to Lake Eerie would often die from lack of oxygen or food.  Recently, testing began for a new device affectionately called a CHUB.  These are essentially rubber baskets that hold plants and can be attached to the bulkhead and lowered into the water, providing a place to rest while improving levels of oxygen and food in the water for the migrating fish.

The project is still experimental and data is being collected regarding their effectiveness.  Nonetheless, the CHUBs are a tangible symbol of a larger strategy to rethink the Cuyahoga River as an amenity within the city, one focused on regenerating the fisheries of Lake Eerie and creating social spaces along the riverfront, and based on cheap, tactical, testable interventions that can be scaled up to form larger strategies.  If the CHUBs are successful, one could imagine a variety of similar interventions on the river that enable fish migration, recreation, and boat transportation.  As fresh water becomes the critical issue in the next 50 years and the Great Lakes region repopulates, it is initiatives such as these that are laying the groundwork for future living on the Third Coast.
[the installation of CHUBs along the Cuyahoga River promise to revive the 
local fisheries and activate the citizenry]

Swordfishtrombone:  "Oystertecture"- Scape Studio
Oystertecture by Scape Studio is by far the most visionary and appropriate concept developed as part of the MoMA's Rising Currents exhibition.  Whereas many of the other concepts were created by teams of designers, Scape teamed up with local engineers, ecologists, activists, and high school students (of the Harbor School).  Oystertecture proposes a designed oyster reef in the New York harbor as a way to remediate the polluted waters of the harbor (and recently superfunded Gowanus Canal), attenuate future storm surges that threaten Brooklyn's lowlands, and to reconnect New Yorkers with their harbor.

The brilliance of Oystertecture is that it revives a lost piece of New York's story- the oysters of its harbor- and repurposes them as storm attenuation and water filtration system.  The Gowanus Canal is re-imagined as the breeding ground for the young oysters- FLUPSY- from which they slowly disperse out into Buttermilk Channel between Governors Island and Brooklyn and establish themselves on the calcium-infused net-scaffolding constructed there.  The beauty of this is that the Harbor School is already doing work on the Gowanus Canal using oysters as an educational tool, the Gowanus Canal flushing tunnel is already under repair and very could be easily repurposed as a landscape-scale FLUPSY, and the oyster reef would grow slowly, with time, requiring a minimum of up-front capital investment and growing as the threat from sea level rise increased over the coming decades.  

In our interview with Kate Orff, she emphasized the importance of using biological processes and thinking in terms of scalable units to approach environmental issues facing New York City.  In comparison, the other Rising Currents concepts are hyperbolic, self-referential, capital-intensive solutions.  Oystertecture, with its intelligible concept, sophistication, sensitivity and appreciation for a lost piece of New York's history has generated interested discussion among a wide variety of different outlets about the issues facing New York City, and by extension all coastal cities.
[a new oyster reef off the coast of Brooklyn would help clean the Gowanus Canal and protect South Brooklyn from future storm surges]

[the Oystertecture exhibit at the MoMA in New York City]

I Don't Wanna Grow Up:  "Interfacephyta Multicapacitaceae"- Camilo Restrepo
Latinized Spanish for "Multicapacity Interface" (a clever take on the latin naming convention for biological species), this project is conceived as an "open infrastructure" that operates according to a paradigm of "intensification and regulation" of ecological-social process in the immediate environment.  Designed and prototyped by Camilo Restrepo Arquitectos, Interfacephyta Multicapacitaceae is a semiotic, techno-ecological intervention that is ephemeral, diffuse, and mobile.

The use of a latin biological name is bombastic and playful, but the project is more a tactical intervention, similar to deployable military technologies that support maneuvers and operations for a limited period of time to allow establishment of new parameters.  In this case, the parameters are ecologies and cultural expectation.  In a field that has been logged, or a vacant urban lot, these are packed with the right information and seeds and installed, creating a new campground with wifi that fosters reforestation, or establishing an urban aviary or butterfly garden where a big box retail outlet once stood.  The act of design as a "multicapacity interface" to regenerate ecosystems and engender new cultural attitudes holds much promise going forward.
[the 7 interfaces enabling biological/cultural activity]

[the role of interfacephyta multicapacitaceae changes as the context and use
patterns evolve]

[the working prototype by Camilo Restrepo]

Buzz Fledderjohn:  "Breakout"- Tom Leader Studio
The best in a series of "site work installations" by Tom Leader Studio, "Breakout" is weird, direct, and universal.  It is a full-on celebration/exploration of the sites, smells, rites and rituals a particular aspect of one type of living.  And because it is so personal- the sounds of creaking doors, the smell of hay, the views through screens- the installation becomes a character itself, conjurring images and stories and inviting visitors to take over it and make it their own for a moment.

Tom Leader Studio is an impressive concoction of critical and theoretical practice and experimentation.  Most importantly, they make room for the base characters and the irreverent aspects of life and landscape.  Their portfolio is diverse and prolific and an inspiration to us here at FASLANYC, but Breakout might be the best endeavor they have undertaken.
[Breakout by Tom Leader]

Hoist that Rag:  "The Vegetable Machine"- Tryptyque
The Vegetable Machine in Sao Paolo, Brazil is at first glance a bizarre bastard-child of Burle Marx vegetal exuberance and Bernard-Tschumi Hi-tech fetishism.  And that's what it is.  The full-on embrace of the fecund Sao Paolo environment is delightful and messy, and the use of technological intervention to capture rain and wastewater and to mediate the interaction between human programming and ecological processes is exciting.  

What is most significant about this house is the way that it challenges notions of architecture and vegetation.  While plants on the facade of a building have been en vogue for a decade, the integration of them into the layers of the wall section is new.  These plants are not just part of a system that attaches to the wall like so much ornamentation, and can be detached if desired.  They are a part of the wall- the wall is their habitat.  Plants are usually thought of as springing from the ground.  In fact, if a plant is growing from a cornice or a facade it is considered a sign of dereliction and decay.  But here in Sao Paolo, taking inspiration from the thousands of epiphytic species in the Atlantic Rain Forest, plants are literally bursting forth from the wall itself, exciting and comforting the owners, providing bug and bird food and habitat, and offering shading and cooling services in the hot, hot heat.
[the exposed plumbing for harvesting graywater and growing vegetation
dominates the facade of the Vegetable Machine]

[the house will eventually be covered mostly in vegetation.  water tanks 
on the roof use the sun to heat water for the home]

Singapore:  "Urban Prescriptions"- Santiago Cirugeda
Urban Prescriptions (or "urban recipes" depending on the translation) is a resource document that explains, inspires, and offers precedents for "Subversive Strategies for Urban Occupation".  While serving as documentation of Santiago Cirugeda's works, the website is set up with specific instructions in six different European languages for how to carry out similar "occupational strategies".  The most exciting of these focus on simple things, such as working around bureaucratic morass that prevents simple acts like building a neighborhood playground.  

This idea of specific, free, “prescriptions” that allow for quick, agile participatory projects holds great promise for the future of our cities.  Just as now one can search how install a new bottom bracket on your bicycle or pour a concrete foundation for your dog pen, a future of extensive wikis with specific directions on how to navigate bureaucracy and account for socio-economic and environmental factors could empower groups who seek to mobilize to effect change in the built environment.  Considering the amount of work to be done rebuilding our cities, we will need all types of intervention, and Recetas Urbanas offers a tantalizing glimpse of one new way forward.
[permits to throw away mass quantities of material are easier to obtain than 
those needed for a play area for kids.  This urban prescription offers a way 
around that inconvenience]

We're All Mad Here:  "Pinohuacho Observation Deck"- Rodrigo Sheward
We admittedly have a soft spot for follies, shelters, and lean-to’s for backpackers and bikers set in an expansive setting that captures the raw and limitless landscape that is perhaps the one common trait throughout the Americas.  When one of these structures is built from found wood discarded by a lumber company with the expertise of local artisans, all in two weeks, and the outcome is as simple and beautiful as this?  It gets a Waits Award.

The resourcefulness employed in not only sourcing material but also labor- local furniture makers and woodworkers were used to mill and finish the found logs,  and oxen from the nearby town were used to haul the material to the work site as it is inaccessible by road- is a testament to the power of an invested designer who is sympathetic to local tradesmen.  Functioning almost as an architectural weed- springing up in an opportune and remote location from devalued and discarded resources and knowledge- the Pinohuacho Observation Deck is a worthy precedent not only for rural but also urban intervention.  It is also beautiful, simple, and celebrates the story of the great forests of Patagonia and the texture of the culture.
[nothing needs to be said here]

[here either.  just sublime]

Misery is the River of the World:  "Civic Center Victory Garden"- Rebar
The cause celebre of the last five years has been urban agriculture and urban farming.  Will Allen of Growing Power won a MacArthur Genius Grant, Public Farm 1 by Work AC proved you could have  Euro-fab parties and urban farming in the same museum exhibition, and Rebar ripped up 10,000 square feet of sod from San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza and turned it into a 5 month installation that produced 100 pounds of produce a week.  Located between San Francisco’s Civic Center and the working class Tenderloin neighborhood, the garden was a powerful symbol.  

The Victory Garden is significant because of its combination of symbolic and pragmatic functions.  By replacing an ornamental landscape associated with powerful social institutions with a working landscape that was beautiful, messy, productive, and relied on a constant influx of volunteer labor, the garden undermined and questioned class attitudes and assumptions about work in the city.  Rebar did the research, coordination, and permitting and led the volunteer installation efforts, as well as coordinated the ongoing maintenance and operations of the Garden.

This is just one of a number of interesting efforts by Rebar, a San Francisco-based design firm that defines itself as “operating at the intersection of art, design, and activism” (we wonder where science fits in there?  Why privilege art?).  The projects they take on promise a new mode of intervening in the landscape, one that is a blend of subversion and operation within establish power hierarchies.  Both have merits and faults, and Rebar is showing how to walk the line between the two.
[the Victory Garden in front of the Civic Center]

I'll Take New York:  "Green Light for Midtown"- NYC Department of Transportation
We have covered this project in detail over the last year, so there is no need to rehash the minutiae.  Nonetheless, Green Light for Midtown gets a Waits Award because, like the German side rolling through all comers at this year’s World Cup, it is simultaneously tactical, strategic, and loaded with symbolism.  The potential of the project is nothing less than the catalyst to revolutionize North American attitudes about transportation.

The project uses simple, cheap, temporary tactics to reclaim street space in Midtown Manhattan, focusing on areas of high importance such as Broadway and Times Square.  The interventions build on previous pilot projects tested in less-controversial areas since 2007 and benefit from years of forward-thinking transit planning in Northern European and South American cities.  The project is part of a larger city-wide effort to reclaim street space in areas of penultimate symbolic importance- including Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn and Union Square in Manhattan- to signify a diversification of possibilities regarding modes of transit.  Transportation is one of the critical issues facing our country in the next decade, one which is in flux right now with entrenched interests on either side, the symbolic importance of the automobile industry in the American psyche at stake, and under the influence of global economic and environmental concerns.  

Green Light for Midtown is the most visible and symbolic effort to rethink transportation in New York City.  And the sophistication and dedication with which it has been approached, the night-and-day attitude shift that it has engendered among some people, and the agility with which a hulking bureaucracy renown for intractability- the NYC DOT- has maneuvered is worthy of a Waits.  Most titillating, the policy outcomes of the project could go either way.  But the real, sustained effort to seek out new solutions and test them responsibly and radically is an example of the leadership and attitude that is necessary right now among our public institutions and bureaucracies.
[you can now do more on Broadway than just hail a cab]

Oily Night:  "The Nomadic Garden"- Torolab
Simple and beautiful in its conception, the Nomadic Garden is one of those projects that you can’t believe hasn’t been done before.  A few months back Polis Blog highlighted mobile libraries in South America, and the cart of the food vendor is an indelible image in the shared urban iconography.  Through the programming of a vehicle called the “Mobile Laboratory”, The Nomadic Garden is simply this idea applied to vegetation, and whatever else a garden signifies (the openness of the garden program enabled by the “Mobile Laboratory” is part of its appeal).

The Nomadic Garden is one of a series of research projects by Torolab under the rubric of “Molecular Urbanism”, an initiative which has a particular interest in interventions of scalable units which can be dispersed and diffuse, bringing about large-scale changes over time.  In this case the project was conceived of with ecologists, psychologists, architects, landscape designers, and planners from the City of Culiacan, Mexico, as part of a 30 year plan for planting gardens in the city to counteract urban heat island effect and lower the temperature 1 degree Celsius.

The Mobile Laboratory, or truck, is outfitted with equipment and materials for measuring environmental characteristics such as air quality and temperature, as well as the ability to build new gardens, collect and sell plants (mobile nursery) or produce.  In fact, the rig is not that different from a common maintenance truck in your local municipality’s parks department.  One could imagine, with a future proliferation of citizen scientists and engaged neighbors, maintenance fleets across the country could be retrofitted and staff retrained.  Operations would be less about taking out the trash and cutting the lawn, and more about education, experimentation and intervention towards specific ends, such as lowering temperatures 1 degree Celsius.
[the Mobile Laboratory]

[molecular urbanism in Mexico]

[my father was an exhaust manifold and 
my mother was a tree]


  1. Thanks for this. All excellent projects, and a couple I hadn't seen before that are really exciting -- "Urban Prescriptions", "Interfacephyta Multicapacitaceae" -- with the former in particular being a good example of the sort of urbanism-as-viral-meme that I've had on my mind of late.

  2. Now I want to crank up 'Frank's Wild Years' at 11 on my garden speakers and disturb the neighborhood. Brilliant post!

  3. How about "In the Colosseum" paired with the Walkmobile (

  4. ...or maybe "Green Grass" with Sheeps and Lambs eat City Parks (

  5. Thank you guys for the comments, and for cranking up the waits.

    Brett, you are right! Omitting the CCA actions was a ghastly oversight. Thank you for drawing our attention to them again.