Thursday, June 30, 2011

Canal Ecologies: Transportation

Today's excerpt from the Field Guide to Urban Industrial canals is on the ecology of transportation.  For earlier posts on canal ecologies see here, and to see or download the whole guide see here.
[the Riachuelo in Buenos Aires; at first glance the transportation structures seem to be a smashed-up menagerie of civil engineering agglomerated over two centuries; in the foreground the Autopista al Sur- one of the main commercial highways in the country]

Transportation:  The Wall of Sound
Transportation in American cities is supposedly all about the car.  The automobile dominates our perception on the street- horns honking, engines humming, brakes squealing- but it is not so important in the history of industrial canals.  Canals had their heyday in the mid-1800’s, well before the Model T got rolling.  While some canals initially had the jump on the railroads and so were used to span great distances such as the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, or most famously the Eerie Canal, the majority were quickly turned into a complimentary component of a sophisticated mash-up of an industrial transportation system made up of local roads, docks, and regional rail roads.  In fact, two of our examples- the River Rouge and the Riacheulo- continue to function today in just such a capacity.

In the case of the River Rouge, the canal is now surrounded by bands of regional highways and railroads.  Zug Island, located right at the mouth where the canalized River Rouge meets the larger Detroit River, is traversed by a major rail line and accessed by a single road.  The island was once a marshy peninsula on the edge of town unfit for settlement.  A new channel was cut through to create a straighter shipping route, and Zug Island was the byproduct.  It was purchased and reconstructed as a giant landscape factory for steel production and now receives loads of coal via dock to refine into coke for the steel-making operations which then gets shipped out via rail line.  However, the rest of the canal is ribboned with the freeways and highways that serve the number one export of the car capital of the twentieth century.
[a plan of the street car rail system of Detroit in 1941; Zug Island and the River Rouge is legible in the bottom left hand corner  but was not a component of the commuter transportation system]

In Buenos Aires the Canal Sarandi serves the main receiving docks of the petrochemical port as a spur off of the Riachuelo River.  This area of town is a prime location for the port because of the canal and its proximity to the railroad and Autopista al Sur which connects to the rest of the country without having to cut across the central city.  A hundred and fifty years ago when the canal was first being constructed the port was on the southern edge of the city, a fortuitous occurrence that kept the industrial factories and pollution segregated from the city proper.  As the city population grew from 1 million in 1850 to 13 million in 2000 the city reoriented itself around the river and the port, drawn by the cheaper lands to the south and the economic engine of the port and its concomitant industries.  This southern part of Buenos Aires has grown up around the freeways and railways that serve the port, the local municipal grids filling in around the lines of infrastructure, sometimes in an unplanned ad hoc way.

The freight rails, passenger trains, and commercial highways, and local street grids that are brought together at the industrial canals is a pattern that holds even for canals that are no longer used.  The abandoned canals, with their large vacant tracts and adjacent industrial zones were prime candidates for interstate freeways when the great highway projects of the 50’s and 60’s came through.  The effect today can be a wall of sound, especially in the evening as cars pour out of the city and into the suburbs.  But this wall is different than being in the rush hour traffic on Broadway.  The difference is due to an effect of displacement that occurs when one is along an old industrial canal.  And this displacement effect can be one of the special aspects of a canal.
[the Riachuelo in the 1930's; in the distance the Avellenada Bridge carries commuters gondola-like over the canal]

While canals in the city have historically attracted the great, hulking commercial infrastructures of transportation such rails and highways, they have simultaneously severed the local municipal street grid- the roads, the bus routes, and the sidewalk end here.  As a result the local traffic is usually at a minimum, while the commercial and regional traffic is loud and at a distance.  The effect can be magical- a quiet forgotten place in the city with privileged access to the great humming and rumblings of the modern city.  

In Brooklyn the Gowanus Canal maintains just this attraction.  It is a sublime landscape with the old ruined factories and rubble heaps and scrap yards interspersed among garages and warehouses.  The F/G trains and the Gowanus Expressway cross overhead and at night the little lights in the subway cars are beautiful.  If you go there on the right night and watch the subway crawl along the tracks and see the distant skyline of Brooklyn and Manhattan, if you notice the bats diving for insects against the dark silhouettes of the strange warehouses and factories around you will feel that New York City is the place for you; that despite our propensity for creating ugliness, beauty is bigger than us.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Canal Ecologies: Vacancy

Today's excerpt from the Field Guide to Industrial Canals is on the topic of vacancy.  For earlier posts on hydrology and toxicity see here, or click here to peruse or download the whole guide.

[a vacant house on Admiral's Row in Brooklyn, by the decommissioned naval yard; the yard has been turned over to the city of New York, though the vacant buildings on Admiral's Row are dministered by the US Army Corps of Engineers and the National Guard; image source]

Vacancy:  Borderlands of Intentionality*
If one wants to explore an industrial canal on foot and attempts to walk along its banks, they are likely to find that their way is frequently blocked by the fenced off, abandoned industrial properties.  Because of this, the best way to explore the canal is actually by canoe as one can move freely up and down, experience the water firsthand, and possibly get out to explore the shore should something catch your attention.  But why is it that vacancy, especially boarded up and walled off vacancy, is so prevalent along industrial canals?  And what can we make of it, in terms of our study to understand the generative capacity of the canal landscape within the city?

We should first acknowledge two much larger, more prevalent, and readily understandable trends regarding vacancy:  it is fundamental to the concept of real estate in general, and much industry in the Americas has been shifted to Asia in recent decades.  But we won’t dwell too much on those.  What is about the American industrial canal that makes it particularly susceptible to vacancy, and what does this ecology of vacancy mean?  It is there for two reasons, one seen, and one unseen.

The unseen we know a bit about- the toxic ecologies of the canals drive away people.  Who wants to pay top dollar for a city apartment on top of an open sewer?  Who wants to worry that their kids are being exposed to damaging amounts of chromium or pcb’s?  But the seen- the old factory, the coal silo, the conveyor system rusted still- is something that we might dwell on for a minute, it is the thing that holds our gaze and draws us down to the canal.

The canals were constructed according to the logistical needs of modern industry, and the great “bodies” of modern industry immediately sprang up at its edges.  In the Americas, this happened quickly; if industrial development was limited until after independence, the floodgates burst open soon after and a flurry of factories and mills were built in a hurry.  These were built intentionally, for specific purposes in a moment in time.  Compared to other forms of city building, they did not evolve- they were instant.  Great boxes and cylinders and trusses of brick and wood and steel were created at impressive scales.  But when the canals were no longer the primary platform for industrial traffic- having been replaced by interstates- companies left the canal banks for cheaper rents in the suburbs or anywhere along the highway.  The old factories, storage yards, conveyance systems, and silos were left.  Some of these were knocked down, but many of the well-built ones were left standing precisely because it is expensive to demolish something that is well-built.
[an abandoned tug is hauled out of the Riachuelo canal as Argentine Naval officers oversee cleanup operations]

Today we are left with a particular ecology of vacancy along industrial canals, each one a mix of demolished buildings with the rubble strewn across the lot and abandoned brick factories and warehouses that have been left to slowly decay.  And each canal offers particular attractions and repulsions.

The demolishing of a building leaves the property utterly exposed; there is no shelter either for plants or animals or people.  In addition the entire lot tends to be covered in several inches of rubble as the primary method of building demolition on these sites is to bring in the wrecking ball.  Afterwards the spoils are simply spread out over the site, as this is much cheaper than paying someone to cart it away.  Unfortunately, this rubble makes it difficult for anything to take hold here, but it does make a prime staging ground.  For that reason these places are sometimes repurposed as a salt storage lot for local departments of transportation, or occasionally they mutate into some local initiative- a community garden of raised beds or local tree nursery.  But mostly these places stay unused, coated in the destroyed rubble of their former usefulness, colonize by only a few of the hardiest weeds and insects.

The other vacant lots are perhaps more interesting for our purposes, those where the buildings and facilities still stand.  Their walls create shade and shadowy places, areas that are protected from wind, perches for birds and protection from lines of site from the streets.  Weedy trees and grasses spring from the protected cracks attracting kestrels and nighthawks, offering beetles protection and shade for mycelia, cover for rodents.  Some of the buildings are reused by punk artists.  The building known as the Bat Cave along the Gowanus Canal, actually an old Con Edison powerhouse, supported an entire rave scene for years before a leaking roof ultimately drove all of the squatters away.  Even now, it supports a thriving fusion ecology of weedy trees and shrubs and grasses, all munching away at the pavement and rubble below, turning it slowly into a sheltered place for insects, microbes and birds.  As rosy as that picture is, the opposite is also true- abandoned buildings can offer refuge to criminals and runaways and can serve as incubators for illegal or illicit activities that threaten the larger community.

This phenomenon brings us to one of the most interesting characters yet on the canal- the mythical form.  These mythical forms attract us to them; ahistorical but immediately understandable, strange yet familiar, these forms are from our shared past which is constantly being erased.  The old factory or pier, the silo, the concrete bunker- coming across these forms in the city stimulates the mind and attracts new agents, suggesting a history while recoiling from revealing itself.
[the Salt Lot on the Gowanus Canal; formerly the site of four warehouses, this now vacant lot is used for road salt storage in the winter]

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Canal Ecologies: Toxicity

[a fitting tip of the cap]

Today’s excerpt from the Field Guide to Urban Industrial Canals is on the subject of toxicity.  For the first installment on hydrology see yesterday’s post, or check out the entire guide here.  We suppose it’s only right to acknowledge an obvious debt of gratitude to Reyner Banham’s seminal Architecture of Four Ecologies.  This chronicle of Los Angeles was an obvious inspiration, and is a great read if you have a chance on a lazy summer day.  Though we can’t compare with the lucid prose or critical analysis of Banham’s work, it is in a similar sense that we use the term “ecology”.

Toxicity:  Eccentric Substances
Toxicity is a tricky theme regarding the subject of canals, and industrial cities in general.  There are many ambiguous terms such as pollution, contamination, degradation, sewage, and landfills as well as a number of euphemisms such as brownfields or “post-industrial landscapes”.  For the most part these leave people confused, with vague sentiments resembling “that doesn’t sound too bad, but I don’t want to live near it” or “it’s fine as long as it stays over there”.  By being specific about certain substances, we may however be able to avoid this conundrum.

Toxicity relates to any substance which impedes the normal biological functioning of an organism.  One key to remember about toxicity is that it is almost always in relation to exposure.  That is, most substances considered toxic are not harmful until exposure reaches a certain amount, be it nuclear radiation or road salt.  Toxicity in urban industrial canals comes from two main sources:  the stormwater and sewage from the surrounding city, and industrial sources such as factories and storage yards along the banks of the canal.  The first is directly a result of the hydrological patterns of the canal and the city; as the canal is usually in a low point, all of the brake dust and motor oil and estrogen and caffeine that is contained in our sewers or lining our streets dumps into the canals during a storm.  This is because the canals are usually the output for sewer overflows, which become taxed by the extra water flower through the system during a storm.  The toxic inputs from these sources are usually ongoing.  In fact, one of the primary uses of canals after their industrial life was to turn them over to waste transport systems.  In the case of the Chicago River, the urban section of the larger Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal it was said to “run black” on the day that industrial operations ceased because the canal began carrying barely treated sewage from the city.
[the US Army Corps map of the Chicago River, an urban canal part of the larger Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal; this canal is one of the reasons Chicago became an important city, offering a logistical shipping connection between the Great Lakes region with the Mississippi basin waterways]

The second source of toxicity- the historical industrial uses along its banks- is a bit more insidious.  The list of industries is long and remarkably consistent from city to city:  manufactured gas plants, tanneries, chemical manufacturers, liquid gas storage, concrete plants, slaughterhouses, grain storage, steel production, glue factories, tobacco warehouses, road salt storage, ship building, and junkyards.  There are several more but I highlight a few of the common ones that appear in most American cities.  The reason for this remarkable consistency has to do with the technologies of the time period, and the role of the canal in industrialization.  The most important use of the canal was the transport of bulk materials that were fundamental to the industrial processes of modernizing American cities.  Massive quantities of grain, building stone, coal, cow hides, and road salt from the hinterlands as well as other cities was vital to these expanding economies, and industrial canals became widespread in the Americas at a time when the only overland option for transport were horse carts.  The railroad did not come into widespread use until several decades after the canal boom had commenced. 
[a diagram of a combined sewer system; this is the prevalent system in most American industrial towns; the term "combined" signifies that both stormwater and sewage from domestic, commercial, and industrial applications pour into the same pipes; during rain events overflows are frequent; often the release valve is into a canal]

Many of the burgeoning industries, including the manufacturing gasworks and tanneries, located themselves along the canals where they could receive their large daily shipments of coal and carcasses.  In addition to using the canals to receive shipments, it was also common to use the canals to dump the wastes and byproducts resulting from the tanning of hides, the drawing of candles, or the stamping of rivets.  In the case of the Riachuelo in Buenos Aires, newspaper reports of the river “running red with blood” from the livestock warehouses were reported right from the start.  Writer Thomas Wolfe, writing in the 1920’s in Brooklyn, notes of the Gowanus in Brooklyn:
    And what is that you smell?
    Oh, that!  Well, you see, he shares impartially with his neighbors a piece of public property in the vicinity; it belongs to all of them in common, and it gives to South Brooklyn its own distinctive atmosphere.  It is the old Gowanus Canal, and that aroma you speak of is nothing but the huge symphonic stink of it, cunningly compacted of unnumbered separate putrefactions.  It is interesting sometimes to try to count them.  There is in it not only the noisome stenches of a stagnant sewer, but also the smells of melted glue, burned rubber, and smoldering rages, the odors of a boneyard horse, long dead, the incence of putrefying offal, the fragrance of deceased, decaying cats, old tomatoes, rotten cabbage, and prehistoric eggs.
    And how does he stand it?
    Well, one gets used to it.  One can get used to anything, just as all these people do.  They never think of the smell, they never speak of it, they'd probably miss it if they moved away.

Many of the toxic substances in these places such as the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s) and polycholorinated biphenyls (PCB’s) from the manufactured gasworks still persist in the canal sediments.  High concentrations of solvents and oils are often leaked into the canals from the surrounding bus depots, and heavy metals including cadmium and lead from industrial processes and car exhaust tend to concentrate in the sediments and along the banks.  Sometimes, when the currents change, releases of oil from the soil can cause large slicks on the surface.  In addition, sewage overflow and stormwater runoff into these canals from the adjacent combined sewer outlets and city streets continually add to the nitrogen and phosphate loads in the water as well as oil and dust from the city streets.  Lastly the innocuous-seeming domestic chemicals, from cleaners and solvents we use to wash dishes to the estrogen and caffeine we use in our bodies, can become concentrated here and have huge detrimental effects to amphibious or aquatic life in the canal.

[the molecular structure of PCB's, just one of the toxic residuals often associated with urban industrial canals]

The presence of toxic substances and perceptions and assumptions that come along with those substances are also responsible for creating so many of the opportunities that we find today literally lining these canals.  Because canals are so often spurned, considered outside of the normal urban geography, different people, plants and animals are able to find purchase here.  With regard to the folks hanging out here, one can imagine easily that it is the homeless, the prostitutes, the teenagers skipping school that spend time here.  And they do sometimes.  But you also have many people from surrounding neighborhoods who filter down here looking for a quiet place.  Canoe clubs set up shop in small shacks along their banks, birders come to watch the nighthawks, and rogue gardeners starved for a patch of land come here to find a place of experimentation.  The key in these ongoing activities and the new possibilities the canal creates is limiting and monitoring exposure to the toxic substances.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Canal Ecologies: Hydrology

[the cover of the industrial canal field guide]

Here at FASLANYC we are concerned with urban industrial canal landscapes throughout the Americas.  The reasons for this are many but the most important are 1) they are ubiquitous- during the canal boom early in the industrialization of the Americas canals were built in every region throughout North and South America.  If you live in an American city that dates to the beginning of the 19th century or before you probably have an old canal or its vestiges nearby2) they are heavily polluted- the industrial operations along the canals have left a legacy of heavy metals and petrochemicals soaked into the surrounding environment, almost without exception.  Due to their location in the heart of industrial and post-industrial cities that are also population centers, the health and safety risks associated with the canals, and public awareness of them, is an important issue.  3) they are generative- we’ve looked at the ways that canals and other terrain vague sites can generate new modes of operating- recreating, working, and living- in the otherwise highly structured city.  This is precisely because of their industrial forms, the presence of water and land together, their surrounding context, and their state of abandon offer an opportunity to agents- weeds, birds, skateboarders, and explorers- that might not otherwise find space in the city.

In recent months we’ve assembled a field guide to urban industrial canals in the Americas and just uploaded it to Issuu.  It is divided up into three main sections- ecologies, taxonomies, and operations, in addition to defining some of the history and terms useful for understanding this landscape typology.  If it’s useful and you get a chance to use down on your local canal, we would love to hear about that.  In the meantime, this week we’ll be publishing excerpts from the Ecologies section of the canal field guide.  Today’s excerpt- Hydrology.
[the canalized portion of the riachuelo in buenos aires at the turn of the 20th century; the canal was for a time the main port facility for the burgeoning industrial town]

Hydrology:  Bathing in the Ether
To obtain the slackwater (slowly moving water) needed for canal traffic, any navigable canal is constructed using some combination of three techniques:   cutting a new channel where none existed, dredging, or canalization of an existing waterway.  Dredging operations are almost always used during and afterwards in order to maintain the canal channel and is really a horse of different color.  Nonetheless, all three operations have in common their effect on the hydrologic ecology- they regularize it.  And they do this in both its route as well as the shape of the water channel itself. 

The regularization of the waterway usually means making the route straighter, the sides more vertical, and the bottom flatter.  It is important to remember that a hydrological system is a dynamic thing that usually wants to shift and change according to a change in global climate patterns, a shift in the Earth’s tectonic plates, a particularly high tide, or simply yesterday’s thunderstorm. 

This regularization is realized with structures known as bulkheads that essentially make a hard edge between the water and the land.  The reasons for this are twofold which we will look at in a bit of detail:  canals are made for barge traffic, and urban canals were located in cities.  Barges are essentially large floating platforms for the transportation of heavy bulk materials- coal, iron ore, grain, vats of petroleum- this is the stuff that the industrial revolution was made from.  In huge quantities.  These barges are designed to carry tons of this stuff and allow it to be loaded and unloaded easily and quickly, first by men and mules, later by gantry cranes and conveyors.  Of course, this means that they have specific dimensions and maneuvering capabilities which are not very flexible, and so the canal edges had to be designed and constructed so as to allow them to maneuver and dock.  This meant no more meandering streams with soft edges and boulders and sand bars in the bottom- the course is straightened, the edge is reinforced, and the bottom is deepened and flattened.

As for the urban canal, the lands adjacent to the waterway were often too valuable to leave as sloped earthen banks.  Often factory yards, docks or loading equipment needed to be directly adjacent to the canals in the city because the factories were there and the materials needed to be unloaded.  This called for not only a reinforced edge, but a vertical one, as more flat usable land could be claimed this way, and the barge could dock right next to the loading yard and equipment.
[the pre-industrial hydrology of the Gowanus Creek in Brooklyn, before the canal infrastructure was grafted on top of it]

[On the edge of Detroit Zug Island, home of US Steel operations and one of the only operational coke plants in the United States, exists at the confluence of the Rouge River canal and the Detroit River]

The effect of these measures on the pre-industrial hydrology can be imagined.  The plants, animals, and microbes that rely on a moisture gradient and open ground along the banks of the former waterways are all obliterated.  An iconic example of this is the Gowanus Oyster of Brooklyn, New York.  Once upon a time the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn was once a meandering tidal creek whose brackish waters produced oysters so succulent and sizable they were harvested by the Dutch settlers and shipped back to Europe by the barrel-full.  In the 18th and 19th century before the advent of the hot dog stand it was oyster carts that dotted the intersections throughout Brooklyn.  With the growth of industry and the concomitant population explosion in Brooklyn in the middle of the 19th century, the old Gowanus Creek was channeled and deepened to create the 1.8 mile-long canal, finished in 1869.  This allowed for brown sandstone ("brownstone") and other construction materials quarried in New Jersey and upstate New York to be brought into Brooklyn, where they were used to erect the future mecca of Hipsters and Hassidim.  This development entailed the utter annihilation of the Gowanus Oyster.

The channelization of the banks has further implications, especially regarding the rate of water flow- it increases it.  Increased flow rate serves to help scour the bottom of the channel, lessening the need for constant dredging.  But a canal in an urban setting can also be imagined as a river, wilth all of the gutters and storm sewers and streets acting as ephemeral streams shooting surface water into the canal during rain events.  In addition, many canals are affected by tides and may contain brackish waters, such as the case of the Newtown Creek in Queens, New York.  This twice daily ebb and flow and mixing of nutrients and salts can work to stimulate biological communities, flush out chemicals that have accumulated in the canal, and cause metal structures to corrode or alter faster.  Because of this, the canals in cities along coastlines exhibit some of the most drastic change over time, and present great opportunity.

Ultimately, the structures and operations of canal-making might be seen as a kind of prosthesis grafted on top of an existing hydrological pattern.  Usually the result is intensified disruptions- storms cause higher rises in water level, faster rates of flow, and a more severe line between what is wet and what is dry.  With the passage of time, many of the patterns attempt to reassert themselves, pushing down bulkheads, depositing sediments and if constant work is not done to counteract this change, then the hydrology will begin to alter or destroy the bulkheads depending on their construction, or deposited sediment will accumulate.  Whatever the state of push and pull between the water and the structures in any given canal, it is the presence of this water- and all of the nutrients and chemicals and sediments in it- and its effects on the surroundings that is responsible for a great deal of the possibility and generative capacity of the landscape.
[industrial coal silos, bulkheads, and new fusion ecologies on the edge of the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn]

Friday, June 17, 2011

Surveying the Field: Guides and Manuals

Here at FASLANYC we hold in high esteem the tactical operations and procedures carried out by the people that are responsible for keeping the wheels greased.  And while we would never deign to descend from our tower and mingle with “the help”, we do appreciate the agency exhibited by the plumber, the maintenance worker, the amateur birder, and the 3rd grade science teacher in making landscapes.  We are interested to consider how design and planning might more fully engage these actors.

In particular we are interested in the possibility that landscape and architectural practice might move away from the plan set and capital project as the sole primary document for design and towards a more open arrangement defined by the manual.  As Brett Milligan of F.A.D. and Rob Holmes of Mammoth recently noted, we had a chance to work this idea out a bit in the most recent issue of MonU.  Recognizing that the plan set and specification book are relatively new tools, and that projects haven’t always been built this way and may not be in the future, we decided to dive in to the history of field guides and manuals and we present that work here to you. 

The survey isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritative- perhaps you know of a favorite or more interesting example?  If so, please say so, or challenge any of the insights offered here.  Individual examples have been chosen because in some way they are either exemplary or original in form or application.  The intent is to offer a critical analysis of these specific examples while knitting together in a larger narrative that hints at how they might be developed in the future by urbanists of all types- architects, sanitation engineers, skate punks, gardeners, and brew masters. 

Guides and manuals might be considered separate literary genres; the guide is a commercial endeavor meant to draw in a wide audience, with a carefully created allure.  This is typically achieved through abstraction and demystification- diagrams, maps, and photos or drawings are combined with clear prose and lists all to create character sketches which are provided in serial fashion and grouped according to themes such as typology, geography, chronology.  The object is made to seem at once more intelligible and more desirable.

The emphasis of the manual is technique- the manner and ability of a person to employ the specialized skills to execute specific procedures.  The manual is instrumental and operational and is almost always intended for a person or group that has prior training or knowledge of the instruments and situation; the mechanic must know which car model they are working on, the foot soldier must know which firearm is appropriate, the typesetter much interpret which font is needed. 

The genre of the field guide arose in the 19th century.  It’s earliest iteration- the city guide- was a commercial adaptation of the traveler’s notes that writers and politicians would use as raw material for their stories and reports.  These guides embodied a sort of commoditized, vicarious expert knowledge of the world’s burgeoning industrial towns, appearing in this commercial form right as cities were undergoing rapid urbanization and modernization.  The resultant wealth accumulation, luxury, and leisure for certain classes juxtaposed with squalor and filth of the lower classes contributed to the wonder and excitement of these industrializing cities.  Given the rise of of leisure travel and tourism on a relatively massive scale, it isn’t surprising that guides began to show up as a useful aide, and perhaps as a sign of the initiated.

In the late 19th century this genre was appropriated and further developed into what we’ll call the “naturalist’s field guide”.  Focused on exploring and enjoying natural phenomenon, the illustrations and maps from the earlier travel guides were given a taxonometric emphasis meant to help the amateur and professional alike identify the geodes, wildflowers, constellations, or soil types.  Over the course of the 20th century the genre and its applications continued to diversify, from the city guides of the Federal Writers Project of the Depression-era WPA to Frommer’s Travel Guides in the backpack of every 20 year old on a gap year.

Guides still tend to divide roughly into these two types- travelers guide and field guide.  Both are commercial meant to help the stranger decode a particular place or object.  However, the traveler’s guide organizes a particular geographic experience and so positions the identification process as a means to a consumption- finding the right hostel, brothel, or waterfall.  The field guide tends to emphasize identification within a specific typology of objects- birds, flowers, geodes, constellations.  Both, however, arose out of our conflicted relationship with modern industrial cities- the traveler’s desire to consume them, and the naturalist’s desire to consume their opposite.

The Gentleman’s Companion- 1870, New York City
[This 3”x 4” guide to the brothels of New York City could be “easily picked up on the newsstand before a night on the town” (NYTimes, “A Guide to Houses no Gentleman Would Dare Frequent”, January 26th, 2011).  While not a field guide, the utility and accessibility of this guide, and others like it, helped to pioneer the form that would later be co-opted by naturalists.  With a colloquial, gentlemanly tone, this guide intoned that if you had this piece, you were worthy and one of the initiated, much like lifestyle magazines today.  This is one of the few guides that was specifically targeted at a male audience, and one of a certain social and economic class.]

Historical Sketch Book and Guide to New Orleans- 1885
[This work by William Head Coleman for the US Census Bureau was intended to capture the image of the Creole City right as its population and popularity was exploding.  This guide followed on the heels of the famous stories of New Orleans by George Washington Cable.  Together, these two literary works invented the mythology of New Orleans, creating the image of the city we know today.  Using long-form descriptive prose paired with occasional illustrative perspectives, this guide was meant to unlock the secrets of the river town that had for so long remained a mystery to Anglo-Americans.]

The Blue Guides- Paris and its Surroundings- 1918
[The Blue Guides trace their traditions back to 1828 when early European guidebooks were being published for travelers (Rheinreise von Mainz bis Koln in 1828, the Handbook for Travellers in 1836).  This guide began incorporating fold out maps as well as descriptive text and diagrams of significant buildings or plazas in the city of Paris.  Like many guides, it worked according a principle of reduction, describing a complex geographical entity like the city of Paris with the simplest caricature sketch possible- a point made well by Roland Barthes in his “Blue Guides” essay.  The guide makes value judgments about what is important for the traveler to see in Paris.  Like all guide books, the notion that a local would use this seems silly, and likely did at the time as well.]

A Field Guide to the Birds- 1934
[Considered the first contemporary naturalist’s field guide, Roger Peterson’s seminal work is defined by its consistent, clear format that rationalized the identification and categorization of birds according to family, genus, and species.  His emphasis on identification systems for bird species, and the provision of clear illustrations are two of the hallmarks of the work that set a new standard for the field guide.  This work spawned a generation of amateur birders and enthusiasts, while also providing a useful backup to the ornithologist in unfamiliar territory.]

Fruit Key and Twig Key to Trees and Shrubs- 1959
[This work by William Harlow was one of the finest identification tools for woody plants by botanical trait, and the system developed is still the baseline.  The concept of field work that entailed working through a set of detailed biophysical features in order to identify a plant on site opened up radical new possibilities for understanding communities of plants and their associations because they could all be studied in the field.  This guide came out around the time that ecological thought, and recognition of the importance of plant associations, not just specimens, begins to gain importance.  This work was accessible to the amateur enthusiast but focused on students and professionals who possessed some familiarity with the subject matter.

This work is one of the first that begins to blur the line between the guide and the manual, emphasizing both identification and instrumentality through diagnosis.]

Manual of the Trees of North America- 1905
[Created by Charles Sprague Sargent and one of the first naturalist’s field guides (despite the name).  He had spent the previous two decades publishing larger, more academic compilations of the trees of North America, in addition to starting the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University and working as the Director of the Cambridge Botanic Garden.  This manual was reformatted and edited to be used out in the field, a utility he likely came to appreciate in his collaborations with Frederick Law Olmsted and the Olmsted Brothers.  This guide was for landscape architects, naturalists, and others with an interest and some familiarity with the plants of the continent.  The word manual in the name refers to its utility as a tool to carry around in the field by hand, hence the term "manual", from the latin "manus".  This is in contrast to other plant guides and taxonomies of the time which tended to be large tomes for use in offices or libraries.]

Los Angeles:  A Guide to the City and its Environs- 1941
[Part of the Federal Writers Project, commissioned and directed under the Depression-Era Works Progress Administration, this work sought to capture the city at a unique moment in its history; immigrants had fled the dust bowl for the west coast, and the city was already considered an economic and cultural capital of the West, but the violence and nastiness of the former frontier town was palpable.

Guides for states, regions, and major cities were commissioned through the federal writer’s project and many were highly political in nature.  Those such as the Tennessee Guide to the State elucidated social and environmental conditions in the state and contributed to the narrative of poverty and degradation which the TVA was combatting.  Many were contentious and some were contested by the states they featured.  They are a particularly interesting example, not only for the specificity they captured in well-written prose and compelling photography, but also because they provide an example of using the form of the field guide to directly engage users and an audience in a political discussion about the city and the environment.]

Delta Primer:  A Field Guide to the California Delta- 2005
[This work by landscape architect Jane Wolff is an effort to foreground the socio-environmental issues of the contemporary California Delta.  The form of this guide- clear, beautiful images, concise text, an accompanying deck of cards with downscaled images- is meant to increase the accessibility and potency of the presentation and to pose specific questions.  Like most field guides, it casts a wide net.  The playing cards introduce indeterminacy and chance regarding the individual issues- as the cards are shuffled and assembled for a round of blackjack, curious and surprising juxtapositions begin to occur.  They are also intended to be whimsical and irreverent- the problems of the California Delta don’t belong just in academic periodicals, they belong on a picnic table by your Burger King bag.

This work is one of the early and best examples of what may be a trend- the rediscovery of the agency of the field guide by designers interested in public, urban, and environmental issues.]

Safari 7 Reading Room- 2009
[A collaboration between Scape Studio of New York City, The Urban Landscape Lab at the GSAPP, and Studio X, this pamphlet was meant to serve as a field guide to the synthetic ecologies found along the 7 train subway line in New York.  The guide develops a series of characters you are likely to encounter along the route of the 7 train, knowingly or not, connecting unexpected actors in a seemingly disconnected ecology created by the infrastructure and adjacencies of a particular New York City subway.  The guide was a pamphlet sized to easily fit in your purse or pocket.  Suddenly, locals carrying these become adventurers in their own town on their way to work, though they are still no match for the tourist on the double decker bus in Times Square wielding multiple travel guides and coupon books.]

The first manuals, arising almost simultaneously in the late 19th century, were the Chicago Manual of Style and the US Navy Bluejackets Manual.  While quite different in form and content both of these manuals were defined by utility- they were  useful for the execution of specific tasks by people with some prior knowledge of training on the subject.  This aspect is critical- manuals were not originally intended for the casual or leisurely consumer or amateur enthusiast.  Every person who used a manual did so with some significant prior knowledge and training. 

The manual remained primarily the purview of the armed forces and professions like typesetters where large numbers of people with basic training in a topic, and often operating machinery, are required to execute a series of technical operations, often coordinated and overseen by an editor or a sergeant.  This trend shifted early in the post-war period with the invention of the auto manual and the proliferation of sophisticated consumer products.  Nonetheless, the manual is still largely true to form.  The genre was adapted in the mid-20th century by US Government agencies, especially the USDA, as a way of disseminating information to farmers regarding soil conservation, crop rotation, and field windbreaks.  This trend has continued in recent decades, with local governments developing design manuals (though more often they are simply guidelines, a different genre for a different function) for street, infrastructure, park, and building design in particular locations.  These tend to be publicly accessible and are disseminated to any design professional interested in doing work in that jurisdiction.

Chicago Manual of Style- 1891
[Initially a simple brochure kept at the desk of the typesetter, who was “required to set complex scientific material as well as work in such exotic fonts as Hebrew and Ethiopic…  To bring about a common set of rules to the process, the staff of the composing room drew up a style sheet, which was then passed on to the rest of the university community…  That sheet grew into a pamphlet, and by 1906 the pamphlet had become a book.”

The Chicago Manual of Style is, since the 1960’s, considered the standard on style matters related to publication, and has continued to change as desktop and internet publishing have become common in the last twenty-five years.]

US Navy Bluejacket’s Manual- 1902
[The Bluejacket’s Manual was developed for incoming sailors to complement their basic training and reinforce baseline information and procedures including- terminology, rank structure, jobs, military drills, and small craft operation.]

USDA Conservation Pamphlets- (Unknown, likely Depression Era originally)
[These pamphlets, created and constantly updated by the USDA, were meant for a specific user- a family farmer- to execute a specific task such as planting and maintaining wind rows, contour stripcropping, our laying out contour lines.  These were typically meant to compliment a consultation with a soil conservationist and watching an instructional video which together were intended to provide farmers with the guidance needed to interpret their situation and implement the specific strategy.  To a great degree this effort was about demystification- helping farmers realize that these soil conserving measures were not out of reach.]

Field Book for Describing and Sampling Soils – (Unknown)
[This field book created by the USDA combines an emphasis on notational systems with explanatory diagrams and operations to undertake to describe the geology, geomorphology, and fertility of the land.  The notational systems and diagrams helped a user to identify and record the slope, soil makeup, vegetated cover, etc. and the operations describe how to take specific samples.  The result are fully geo- and materially-referenced soils that are brought back to a laboratory to be further described.

These were developed for field agents, including those with specialized training and farmers or university students assisting in documenting the soils of a region.]

Artillery Field Manual- 1941
[Developed for new soldiers in WWII when massive numbers of new soldiers needed to be educated and mobilized quickly, these field manuals set forth a set of specific operations for using artillery pieces.  The question of appropriateness- which artillery to use when- had to be answered in the field by the operator, an act that required interpretation based on prior education.]

US Army Parachute Rigger Commanders Manual
[As the technology and personnel of the US Armed Forces diversified and expanded in the twentieth century, so did the need for codification of a baseline of technical ability among agents from which tactical and strategic operations could be developed and deployed.  These specialized manuals saw the development of specific notational languages meant to communicate information quickly and specifically.]

Haynes Owner’s Workshop Manual- 1965

[These manuals were one of the first comprehensive manuals for a consumer product.  Based on the idea of completely tearing down and rebuilding the engine of a particular automobile model, the manuals were intended both for professionals and serious amateurs, and their widespread popularity contributed to the spread of automobile culture and people identifying with their cars.  This commercial effort to expand agency of automobile users meant that anyone with a few dollars, the right tools, and enough time could build or remake any model of any car, and the ranks of the wrench heads got a little more accessible.]

Landscape Ecology Principles in Landscape Architecture and Land-Use Planning- 1996
[The manual uses lists, tables, descriptiions, and diagrams to illuminate principles of landscape ecology, relating them to practices that designers and planners understand and describing them in ways that they can implement in built projects.  The manual presents specific examples of how those principles can be applied in the field at different scales and in different contexts; the implication being that the training of planners and designers will enable them to interpret these concepts appropriately in their given situation.  As such, the diagrams and examples emphasize pattern and form, a common language among landscape ecologists and designers.

The manual was for people with prior and extensive training in related fields, and meant to serve as a foundation for understanding landscape ecology, therefore being able to ask the right questions in a specific potential project.  This type is very similar to the professional handbook such as Parker and MacGuire’s 1954 Simplified Site Engineering for Architects and Builders.]

New York City Department of Transportation Street Design Manual- 2009

[“The New York City Street Design Manual provides policies and design guidelines to city agencies, design professionals, private developers and community groups for the improvement of streets and sidewalks throughout the five boroughs. It is intended to serve as a comprehensive resource for promoting higher quality street designs and more efficient project implementation.” (from the DOT website).

The manual is also easily downloadable and if purchased comes in a three ring binder so that pages can be added or deleted- it can be customized by users and authors over time. This manual is one of a series put out by the NYC agencies in the last decade as part of a concerted effort to implement PlaNYC.  The manual does not describe specific operations for actual design, construction, and implementation, but rather is operative in the sense that it helps users identify locations and problems and imagine specific material responses to those- an unused area of the street that is used simply as a zone for double parking gets bollards, chairs, and a new light-colored mastic coating on the asphalt and becomes a social and commercial pedestrian zone for nearby neighbors and businesses.]

Manual of Architectural Possibilities:  Antarctica- 2009

[Produced by architectural firm David Garcia Studio, the M.A.P. series is a collection of three different manuals, each dealing with a different theme:  Antarctica, Quarantine, and Archive.  “Antarctica” is formally organized as a large format, fold out pamphlet; the front side is a data page, seductively presenting geography, topography, climate, a history of building, flora and fauna, icebergs, political claims, and base stations.  While a relatively superficial survey- you won’t understand a great deal about penguins or icebergs from reading it- the data page functions as an assemblage of sketches for a cast of characters set in relation to one another. This relation on the page is intended both to stimulate a user’s imagination and curiosity on the topic, and to build an argument for the possibilities provided on the back- the project page.  The project page follows a similar logic; sketching characters created by implementing the proposed projects- a seed vault, a ready made base station, a sustainable living station- and setting them in relation to one another.

The result is something that blurs the lines between field guide and manual.  After all, it doesn’t really tell you have to execute anything relating to Antarctica.  However, the intended uses of the manual are not necessarily people in the field but rather enthusiasts and professionals interested in the topic and looking for an alternative reading of the architectural possibilities of Antarctica.]

The history of guides and manuals, their initial applications, and subsequent developments suggests a different way forward for executing design projects, a mode of operating that exists outside of the capital project and the plan set.  It is worth noting that those particular and highly effective documents are a modern development themselves, suited to the increasingly complicated specialization and technologization that occurred among the building professions, and will continue to be around for a long time.  Until the twentieth century works of architecture and landscape were executed frequently by auto-didacts pulling from pattern books or carpenters rather than by professionally trained architects. 

Recently a revived interest in guides as well as posters and pamphlets as a design tool that is fundamentally political in nature, and exciting efforts such as Recetas Urbanas, Iconoclasistas, Grassroots Mapping, or Unreal Estates to utilize tools such as websites, wikis and blogs suggest that methods for resisting the hegemony of traditional practice and opening up new possibilities for agency are needed and are actively developing.  What is more, the recent trend of both top-down governmental agencies and bottom-up grassroots non-profits in recent years to utilize the form of the manual suggests an aligning of possibilities.  When the maintenance manual- already a part of traditional design projects, albeit a neglected and unglamorous part- is considered in conjunction with the theoretical and speculative efforts to construct landscapes that are more open, performative, and adaptive over time, the manual might be repositioned in design projects as the primary document, with plans becoming secondary.

The history of the manual and the naturalist’s field guide immediately suggests that blending them might engender a synthetic reading of the city- as machine and natural phenomenon.  In addition, the fact that guides tend to be for the stranger, whereas a manual is often meant to supplement previous knowledge suggests a productive tension that might prove particularly useful to someone exploring the old mill or the roadside ecologies of their hometown- places which are strange yet familiar.  Perhaps more importantly regarding agency in the landscape, it suggests an ability to instigate new cultural practices- not only working on your car, spending leisure time in unusual places, or identifying orioles and nighthawks, but also exploring canals, guerilla gardening, or constructing a skate park.  As practitioners we might take on a different role, creating architecture as enabler; landscape making as educational process.