Americans’ Sexy Landscape

In the neighborhoods of Chicago, it is not uncommon to see front lawns lining the front of residential streets. In fact, as a culture, the majority has taken to mowing their lawns without even thinking about the consequences of their actions. We have developed this idea that it is just what needs to be done and so basically everybody does it. Our obsession with keeping up with this culture has even reached the point where neighbors allow themselves to obsess over the appearance of others’ lawns that one could be fined for not “treating” their lawn.

The life of grass is one that I would not wish to live. Grass is meant to grow long and tall; its roots would then also continue to penetrate further into the soil. Ideally, grass would grow in loose soil where it has the ability to absorb more nutrients from the soil. If you think about it, each blade of grass works like a solar panel as each one retains energy from the sun that also helps it to grow. Lawn owners invest a good deal of time, money, and effort to water and weed their lawns to attain a beautifully luscious and green lawn. Except, even after all that hard work and the time it has taken grass to finally start growing again they take the lawn mower and chop of some more of it. Grass never gets to grow to its full potential the way we allow other plants to do. In addition, it is also expected to grow in compact soil that does not allow enough water to seep through.


So, why do we bother to maintain a landscape of grass? Especially when we are all aware of the massive rain showers we have been getting in Chicago lately. Why don’t we let the grass grow and let it and the soil be much happier? Let’s invest in the type of plants that will be more fruitful in bettering our quality of life and allowing all of the excessive amounts of water to have somewhere to go other than the sewer, or sitting along a curb because the sewer is overflowing. Let’s face it, we have been treating our front yard in so many ways only to get stepped on by children and serve as a place for dogs to relieve themselves.  Instead, let’s design a front yard with textures and colors that will provoke awe and also manage our excess storm water. Wouldn’t that make for a better front yard worth being proud of?  


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Landscape versus Urbanism

ImageImage Credit: Dhiru Thadani (

The battle of land development versus land preservation seems to be truly perpetual.  As a society the emphasis we place upon certain “territories”, such as national parks or open spaces, is a constant reminder of the struggle between our perception and reality in relation to the origins of our environment.  We perceive these territories in existence through ‘natural right’, or ‘unexplainable origin’, when in reality they were just as constructed as our urban environment. The free-flow of parts through the openness of our ecosystem really allows for urbanism to be considered just as much a part of nature as landscape.  So, truthfully the existence of such a line drawn between landscape and urbanism is faint and perforated at best.  The challenge here is determining whether nature with more landscape is more appropriate than nature with more urbanism, or if there can even be an “appropriate” amount of either.  As with much of nature, for this dilemma balance and perspective hold the key.


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Contemporary Picturesque

ImageFoster + Partners – Apple Headquarters in Cupertino

While the origins of the picturesque date back to 17th Century landscape painter Claude Lorrain, the method continues today through the framed views of architectural renderings.  Ultimately, these renderings are meant to contain an experiential quality that transports a viewer into the scene, but many become washed down with false realities in favor of fantasy.  Take for instance the above rendering of Foster & Partners Apple Headquarters.  Here the scene is devoid of any “imperfections”, such as airplanes overhead, unclean air, animals, etc.  Truthfully, over time the style of picturesque hasn’t seen much development in terms of theory; use the landscape as a framework to portray what you want and leave out anything that doesn’t fit.  In striving for perfection with a non-temporal depiction of a temporal environment, there is actually a loss of perfection because this simply produces a picture of what nature might be “like”.  Through occupying the realm between the beautiful and the sublime, picturesque truly could be taken for an ‘ideal’ view, and in that light makes perfect sense as the candidate for representation of architectural renderings.  


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Cultivate a Better World

The scarecrow campaign taken on by the fast food chain, Chipotle, is all about image and perception, with an acute attention to contemporary culture. In addition to this film, an interactive mobile game addresses how our entire culture views changes in nature. The intentions of such a venture seem rooted in good philosophy that can actually provide meaningful insight into how the world of food operates, and its’ potential for change. In the very beginning of the film, when the scarecrow walks through the advertisement of the traditional farm painted on the side of the building into the actual ‘streamlined-industrial’ factory, we can see this apparent smoke and mirrors tactic coming to the forefront. Unfortunately, this picturesque billboard has such a psychological stronghold through its’ powerfully accepted image that when the truth is exposed it almost taken as fantasy. However, not so subtly, the metallic cow display in the middle of the film that houses the mechanical cows pushes more imagery of what would be considered “natural”. In essence, the overarching theme here is about revealing the false façade employed by industrial agriculture to make consumers feel as though they are part of a natural process that is reminiscent of past traditions.

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Sidewalk Swarm

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 Why is the human species incapable of swarming?  In recollection of my own various sidewalk experiences, there are countless times I can recall walking on the sidewalk and the people walking towards me have intentionally not made room for me to pass, even after making direct eye contact.  This clear disregard of another person to be mindful of the other’s intentions seems severely disappointing. Unfortunately, of the various types of swarming found in nature, such as decision-making, following a neighbor, or selfishly swarming, this type of behavior would have to occupy the last.  As a whole, the fact that we selfishly swarm may not be too surprising given the diverse individuality found in our species, but it is surprising in terms of our notion of having supreme intelligence.

In terms of communication, our development as a species has hinged on our use of language.  Interestingly however, this tends to be a crutch because if we had not developed language as our main form of communication, we might have learned to swarm in a more intelligent decision-making or follow-the-leader capacity.

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Future Cities: Vertical > Horizontal

ImageOrdos, China: The Kangbashi district, empty town meant for one million people

With major concern given to population growth throughout the world, our urban environments of the future tend to rest heavily on the issue of vertical development as opposed to horizontal.  On paper, this solution seems to have a strong base of logic.  However, the solution fails to take into account the well-established way of life our species has come to know, and for better or worse, love.  Also, in our ascent to grow taller cities we seemingly have lost sight of our necessity to connect with the outdoors.  To expect the same feeling when standing hundreds of stories above the earth as standing with two feet planted firmly on the ground is just preposterous.  Proposals such as the development in the Kangbashi district for a cluster of high-rise residential buildings show ignorance to the way in which people actually live their lives, and in fact suggests that economic interests out-weigh societal interests.  In addition, the vacancy of these residential units illustrates just how off target, wasteful, and truly unsustainable a planning scheme of this magnitude can be.  If vertical cities are the way of the future, attention must be given to the fact that even though technological means rapidly change we as a society are slow to change.

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The Jellyfish Shredders

According to Hyun Myung, director of the Urban Robotics Lab at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, jellyfish were the source of an estimated $300 million in economic loss to marine-related industries in South Korea, 2009. Therefore, this Lab’s solution is a robot that can both search and destroy the dangerous invader. However, the interesting dynamic here is the war waged on a species whose potential population increase could be linked to a changing environment. An environment that we have most clearly had an apparent impact on through our various innovations and moves towards progress. Even with the jellyfish population considered to be on the rise due to warmer waters, the fact remains that this killer robot is now a reality. So, of course with any new technology the question will soon become a matter of when is enough, enough. Is the ultimate goal a controlled situation or the beginning of just another extinction?

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