Friday, November 6, 2009

Current Projects: The Cocktail Party Courtyard

Gin Martini Please - Extra Dirty

Stemmler Design set out to design a front yard that would compliment the client's recently renovated, modern duplex. The client, a Portland entrepreneur and budding developer, had one main programmatic request: the landscape should accommodate all the necessities associated with an outdoor cocktail party.

The space needed to be flexible; accommodating the everyday uses associated with a front yard while also being able to transform into the occasional space for parties and informal get-togethers.

A open lawn area was proposed to accommodate various tables and chair configurations while a series of large steps create a sense of entry. Walls and complimentary plantings on two sides of the lawn create a courtyard feel while the west wall seconds as a seating area - a perfect place to perch and set down a martini (or two).

To assist in the transition from the landscape to the architecture, stone pavers set in the lawn were used in combination with an Ipe wood deck. The Ipe deck wraps the south and east portions of the duplex, "softening" the building while framing the south and west entries of the duplex.

With any luck the construction of this landscape will occur in time for summer and the parties that are sure to come.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Current Projects: Goodbuild Storefront

Corn+Bamboo+Bioswale+Pedestrian Way = The GoodBuild Storefront

GoodBuild on Martin Luther King prides itself on selling innovative, sustainable base materials for the home. From bamboo flooring to countertops and tiles made from corn and bamboo based products. The storefront is situated at the corner of MLK and Tillamook - a busy intersection for both bicycles and pedestrians. Currently, the storefront is encased entirely by impermeable blacktop asphalt - utilized as an expansive parking lot and shortcut for bicyclists on their way to the nearby crosswalk.

Stemmler Design saw great opportunity in the expansive asphalt surrounding the store. In working with the client, we explored how the landscape could serve an ecological function, capturing and filtering water through a vegetated bioswale, while better accommodating pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

At the same time, we proposed using materials in the landscape that mirrored what was being sold in the storefront - bold plantings of corn and bamboo serve as eye-catching devices, providing a dynamic and engaging way in which to advertise Goodbuild and its line of sustainable products.

The design is still in the conceptual phase. With further study we look to demonstrate how the application of sustainable-based design can solve programmatic issues and serve important ecological functions; all the while being leveraged as an innovative advertising and marketing tool for the small business. Stay tuned...

Monday, November 2, 2009

Current Projects: English Country meets Portland Agrarian

Recently, we were working in Northeast Portland. In collaboration with our client designing a backyard that would set the stage for all the activities one would expect from a young couple - summer outdoor dining, informal get-togethers and gardening opportunities galore. In determining the design direction for the backyard, we looked to the agricultural history of the neighborhood as well as the English countryside - the childhood stomping grounds of the client.

Prior to being partitioned up for residential homes, areas of Northeast Portland consisted of an impressive patchwork of agricultural fields and orchards. In exploring the design of this backyard, we gave a nod to this agrarian past by proposing a singular orchard tree as the focal point of the backyard.

The Prunus serrula
in our design scheme serves as the garden's living sculpture - providing year-round visual interest

Important to the client was recalling aspects of the English countryside. Beautifully crafted dry stack stone walls are synonymous with the farming fields of England. Our design proposed a stone seating wall to frame the outdoor patio.

Talk of English gardens pique your interest? Interested in learning about landscape architects who looked good in powdered wigs? Check out the combined design genius of William Kent and Capability Brown.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Landscape Journal (01) - Whoppers, Hogans & Navajo Code Talkers

"I'll get a Whopper Jr, Small Fries, and an Audio Tour."
Navajo Reservation - Kayenta, Arizona
Museums, interpretive centers, parks - all are common keepers of our history, providing tales of extraordinary individuals, monumentous battles, and moments of courage.

Many municipal and public settings often dictate where and how we engage our history.

So what happens when we're presented with relics of the past outside of this context? Say, sandwiched between a fast food franchise and an economy hotel?

On the Navajo Reservation a traditional hogan and a one-room museum/gift store bridges the parking lots of Kayenta's Burger King and Hampton Inn (the Burger King also has a Navajo Code Talker exhibit). Framing the interpretive area, rows of struggling, but persistently defiant, corn plants.

It all seems random. No doubt catching many a traveler off guard; leaving them bewildered and slightly curious.

It works though, and pretty darn well. This interstitial space could just as easily be another leftover landscape - a developer's afterthought.

Yet, it exists as something more, lending the story of the local Navajo to thousands of unsuspecting visitors every year, leaving us with something more than a value meal or a simple night's rest.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Landscape Journal (02) - Zulu & The Design of Cultural Tourist Attractions

"Zulu Lessons in Cultural Design & Planning"
KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

The planning and design of cultural-based tourism is big business. Communities around the world are recognizing the draw cultural destinations have for a tourist population who is increasingly interested in migrating away from the well-polished, scripted tour experience. Architects, planners and related professionals are being called to duty; asked to work with local communities in establishing cultural-based destinations all around the globe.

KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa is one region where an increasing number of indigenous tribes are turning to cultural tourism as a means in which to bring opportunity to their community. And with the upcoming World Cup coming to town later this year, efforts to establish and market cultural sites are at an all-time high.

In 2006, I visited dozens of recreated Zulu and Swazi “villages” as well as stayed in a local Zulu village (Mapapatepe) – all in the effort to understand what may be lost or gained from each experience, and hopefully, in the process, use what I learned to better design and plan future cultural-based sites.*

No surprise, spending several days in a community, eating, sleeping, even doing local chores, provides an outsider with a perspective that can never be quite captured in an hour tour or with a colorful brochure. And conversely, there were times that I yearned for a tour guide or brochure to help me navigate through various language and cultural barriers that often sprang up while staying in the Zulu village.

So, in the case of the homestay experience, what can be learned and potentially applied to the design of cultural-based tourist destinations?

Distilled from this experience are some of my questions and thoughts in regard to the design and planning of cultural-based attractions.

  • Can planning and design efforts positively impact individual communities (improve infrastructure, provide valuable resources, create business) in the process of creating an attraction for tourists?

  • Recognize that culture is not static and doesn't need to be framed entirely in the context of the past. Embrace the contemporary aspects of one's culture, telling the story of how the present intertwines with the past.

  • Deepen understanding of culture through the exploration of personal engagement and interaction between tourist and local community. How can design and planning efforts better facilitate this exchange?

No doubt more research is needed. It is my hope that with additional insight we as designers will be better equipped to assist local communities in effectively communicating and sharing respective cultural elements while providing opportunity for economic development.

*In 2006, I received the Scott Travelling Fellowship through UC Berkeley's College of Environmental Design. This research trip was one of many in my Fellowship travels; exploring the expression and transmission of culture in various indigenous tourist destinations.