|Grace Tang of Field Operations presenting Edge City|
This fall the University of Texas, Austin hosted the third annual Xtreme LA Challenge. Landscape Architecture Foundation in conjunction with Landscape Forms gathered leading landscape architecture professionals from around the country. Teamed with students in the MLA program, the group spent three days working to propose designs for an area of underutilized land on the shore of Lady Bird Lake. Chelsea Larsson, a third year student in the MLA program, was on one of the Xtreme LA teams and sent us this report.
Caffeine, lots of caffeine, piles of markers and a couple rolls of trace paper. That is largely what I remember of Extreme L.A. the two day charrette sponsored by Landscape Forms which brought award winning principals, young professionals, and graduate students together to solve an urban design problem. As the name suggests it was extreme.
we had a lovely dinner and everyone stood up and introduced themselves, Land Forms has a very playful and exploratory attitude so they had everyone tell a notable fact about themselves. Someone claimed to be the fastest man in Ohio, one of the leaders Susannah Drake told us she had been the captain of her field hockey team. We slept.
7:30: At breakfast, we were split into two teams and went to the site. Each group had about 6 professionals and 6 students. Our venerable leaders were Susannah C. Drake, RLA, R.A. of dlandstudio in Brooklyn, NY and Sarah Kuehl of Peter Walker Partners in San Francisco. It was an honor to have these two women as our leaders. Susannah recently won an ASLA award for her Sponge Park project in NYC and Sarah has headed numerous award-winning projects at PWP. Both leaders were full of gumption asking questions and snapping photos while they lead their teams to the site.
Teams visit the site: the north shore of Lady Bird Lake in central Austin
The site is a very sensitive place in the City of Austin because it is a transitional place between an urban area and a body of water known as Town Lake . Also, the site is flanked on one side by a beloved public park and on the other side by an abysmal sea of surface parking and impenetrable apartment buildings. The public park mentioned is none other than Zilker park where Austin City Limits music festival draws thousands of people every year. Just East of the park is Congress bridge which is famous for having the largest urban bat colony in North America, 1.5 million Mexican Free Tail bats. Therefore what we were dealing with was a very culturally celebrated part of Austin abutting a culturally scarce eyesore. We were challenged to add density to the site in the language of Austin which could be described as two –story houses, local businesses, and pedestrian friendly streets. It was also very important that we maintained a visual and physical connection to the park.
Team dland strategy session
On to the studios: We charreted all day-had dinner-then worked again until the wee hours of the night. I was in the dland group. Susannah ran the team by asking us to break into groups based on what we were interested in solving for example transit, character, water etc. Our groups drew up proposals and then we overlayed all the proposals and found similarities between the schemes. It was very smooth and we got to designing immediately and had enough time to produce 3-D renderings and plans. The PWP team worked in a similar fashion, they all talked about what they were interested in bringing to the site and went through some intense sight research. We slept…for a little bit.
Performance Team process diagram
7:30 Breakfast: lots of droopy eyelids but everyone was excited about presenting to the City of Austin. There was an intense buzz in the computer lab while everyone made a mad dash scramble to produce comprehensive power point. Both teams rendered really beautiful big plans to hang on the walls and prepared speeches to give to the audience.
12 Go time: The dland team's scheme, Edge City, was called a “soft boiled edge” like a soft-boiled egg where the outside is a little hard and the inside was soft. The outside was comprised of tall residential buildings and a hard edge urban beach which was programmed with awesome spots like an under bridge skate park and a place for food carts along the water. The soft part of the egg was a continuation of the beloved public park which, weaves through the development and mitigates the space between public and private as well as cleans urban water runoff. Our group took the stance that Austin is growing in such a way that high rises are necessary but can be used to frame views and protect the park from being covered in low density buildings.
The PWP team looked at the site as a place for performance whether ecological, cultural or economical. Their scheme was somewhat in the vein of the “garden city” ideas with smart urban massing surrounded by lots of greenways. The idea of performance was supported by waterways that performed to clean water before it entered Town Lake and by centralizing their path systems around performance like features such as the famous Congress Street bats that fly around the site every night at dusk.
Both teams did a stunning job presenting and were congratulated by the City of Austin planning committee. There was a piñata like explosion of business cards flying from hand to hand and then the professionals were gone on their planes and the students went home to sleep.
Landscape Architecture Foundation and Landscape Forms has a really useful and generous program going here. As designers who work in the public realm we all have to be collaborators and nothing tests your ability to collaborate more than throwing you into a design challenge with a bunch of strangers. It was inspiring to talk to people on our teams like, Grace Tang from Field Operations , Anthony Fox from Sasaki, and Daniel Sneider from JRA and to realize that as a student designer you can collaborate with people who you look up to. It was extreme and I hope Landscape Forms continues bringing this high-energy experience to other schools. From the chatter I heard both the students and professionals said they were happy to have been invited.
We slept for a day and then went back to studio. That was weeks ago and if I didn’t have the piles of trace it would all seem like a crazy dream.
Teams after the presentations. All photos taken by Landscape Forms.