‘We All Want to Live on the Edge’: Designing Coastal Spaces With Both People and Place in Mind

Prominent Landscape Architects Present at LBI Foundation
Jul 11, 2018
Photo by: Juliet Kaszas-Hoch

“The water,” said José Almiñana, principal at landscape architecture firm Andropogon Associates, “is going to come in whether we like it or not.” At Andropogon, as Almiñana explained to a full house at the LBI Foundation of the Arts and Sciences, nature is a co-designer.

Almiñana, along with Ken Smith of the Ken Smith Workshop and Trevor Lee from Olin Studio, traveled to Loveladies last Sunday for a lecture and discussion associated with the Foundation’s “Landscape Design Architecture: The Coast” exhibition, which examines issues such as sustainability, resiliency and eco-preservation – issues critical to the Island and beyond.

“The significance of art, science and design working together is showcased” in the free exhibit and lecture series, notes the LBIF website, lbifoundation.org.

Almiñana explained Andropogon’s philosophy and design principles for public spaces: harmony of people and place, healing the ecosystem, encouraging exploration, remembering that “beauty is more than skin deep.”

He spoke of the importance of recognizing that habitat is everywhere, and that water is insistent. Public spaces, though, can be designed around the water’s resolve, with vantage points that allow people to see and understand tidal and seasonal changes.

On a very local level, Almiñana pointed to the “staggering” amount of bulkheading in coastal towns, to the detriment of the bay and its inhabitants.

In addition, he promoted the importance of centers of conservation and education, such as the Foundation.

Lee also emphasized education, which is part of the mission of the Hudson River Estuarium at Pier 26 in New York City, one of his firm’s projects. Plants and wildlife, along with the “health and well-being of the estuary,” were taken into consideration.

The designers also asked themselves, “How can we make this project really exciting? How can we get people involved?” Approaches to engagement included tactility, exploration and telepresence, Lee explained. The area, which begins construction this summer, includes upland forest, dune scrub, wetlands, play areas for kids, decks, seating and more, to bring people to the water, and to bring information about the water to the people.

Lee also detailed “Rebuild By Design: Hunts Point Lifelines,” which was designed not to be constructed. One of the largest food distribution facilities in the world is located in Hunts Point, a neighborhood on a peninsula in the South Bronx of NYC that was hard hit by Superstorm Sandy.

The task, for this project, was to research major storm consequences, contemplate how that could affect food distribution and consider how to prepare for future storms: integrated flood protection, evacuation points and strategy, leadership, cleanup and more.

Smith – who noted “my practice is a little idiosyncratic” – has also led recent public projects, in NYC and elsewhere, with a focus on social interaction, and interaction between people and spaces.

He discussed “The Elevated Acre,” above a parking garage in Lower Manhattan, as well as a redesign of the East River waterfront, which began in 2005. The latter project is intended to create an experience at the waterfront. “We wanted to slow people down,” to get them to meander and relax, said Smith. “We spent a lot of time thinking about the social space and how people are going to interact.”

Design elements include dunes and, of course, views of the water. And under construction now, at Pier 35 at the north end of the project, is a small “mussel beach,” co-designed with a mussel ecologist.

Following the presentations, moderator Jamie Hand asked for questions from the audience – who learned, from Beach Haven Mayor Nancy Taggart Davis, that the Island towns give out free trees each year – and asked for parting thoughts from the three panelists.

“We want to be careful not to over-engineer” and, for example, to prevent and protect areas from flooding in a way that fits the landscape, Lee remarked.

Water is important, said Smith, and nice to live near, so “we have to work around it, and we will.”

Almiñana concurred: “We all want to live on the edge.”

The free lecture series concludes next weekend. Light refreshments will be served.

Juliet Kaszas-Hoch

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