Over the last two months, I've been working on a personal project of mine: a mobile outdoor movie theater in my community of East Dallas. This newest hobby of mine has stemmed from a couple interests that I have - one being movies / moviegoing, and the other my interest in activating unused or overlooked urban spaces. I live and work in East Dallas and I've been wanting to set up a mobile outdoor theater for a while, so I went and made it happen.
The long-term vision for this theater, which I am calling Night Sky Theater, would be to show movies in under-used properties or parks, vacant lots, and open spaces nearby local businesses in the area. In order to do this, a couple things are needed. Some of these I have obtained, and others will be needed to put on future shows:
1. Equipment, including a screen, projector, and sound: I've spent the last month or so educating myself on building a screen, acquiring a projector (I am currently borrowing one from work), and getting the right sound for an outdoor theater. If you're interested in the specifics let me know but suffice it to say that everything for a showing, including the 8.5'x20' screen, fits in the back of my hatchback. Mobility is key.
2. Good Location: Because I'm renting an apartment, I don't have a place of my own to screen shows. This requires Night Sky Theater to get out into the community, make connections and inquiries, and find great spaces. The only two needed items are electricity and owner consent! Last weekend, we had our first showing at a relatively new bar, The Underpass, in Exposition Park. More about that in a minute.
3. Rights to a Movie: Any movie shown in public (basically, outside the home) needs to be licensed for a single showing, unless it;s in the public domain. This included 90% of all movies that I would want to show or that people want to see, so that's definitely a hurdle. Rights to movies typically costs between $200 and $400 so it'll be great to find sponsors to support the project.
I see Night Sky Theater as a personal hobby, but also as a great way to make an impact in the community in a real and flexible way. By temporarily changing the way a space is used, whether it's an empty lot with potential or a seldom-used city park, the theater can activate areas or potentially alter the way people view certain areas in their neighborhood. There is so much potential in flexible urbanism, including everything from temporary art installations, parking day-esque pop-up parks, or mobile food trucks (speaking of which, food trucks are an essential part of the plan for NST).
Last Saturday night, we had over 55 people attend the season opener screening of Jurassic Park at The Underpass! I was surprised and elated to see a great turnout for the first show. Hopefully we will be able to have a second showing soon, so let me know if you're interested in helping out, hosting a movie showing at your home or business, or know of a great space that could use a free outdoor movie night!
Follow us on Twitter @NightSkyTheater to get the latest movie time updates as well!
Do you remember the movie Idiocracy (2006)? It's a Mike Judge production (also Office Space, King of the Hill) that places normal-guy Luke Wilson in a post apocalyptic year 2506 U.S.A. due to a military experiment gone wrong. Wilson's character spends the majority of the movie roaming around a gomorrah-like city where the "President" is a WWE wrestler-type named Camacho and Starbucks has become an automated pay-for-sex station found on every corner.
Well, there's a memorable scene in the movie in which Wilson, co-star Maya Rudolph, and vacuous guide named Frito Pendejo arrive at a overlook to survey the waste in front of them (above). Their destination is Costco for a reason I can't entirely remember, but during that scene there was something else that caught my eye. As the trio walked under an abandoned highway (right before the overlooked scene), I was instantly reminded that the movie was filmed in Austin.
That abandoned highway was actually the opposite: one of the most massive and expensive highway projects under construction.
Texas State Highway 130, completed in entirety in 2012, parallels east of the infamous IH-35, intended to alleviate traffic on that major artery between Austin and San Antonio. It also happens to be the fastest highway in the United States, with a maximum speed limit posting of 85 mph. It's also in the middle of nowhere, having been planned to bisect farms and ranches to allow maximum efficiency of cruise-controlled vehicles.
As someone who grew up in Austin, went to college in San Antonio, and now works and lives in Dallas, I've beamed myself along that stretch of concrete (not asphalt, actually!) a few times now, and every time I have a similar reaction: "wow, this is actually pretty nice!".
This is not something that I would commonly say about a highway. Driving any stretch along Interstate 35 makes me generally depressed or angry about life. It's one of the least scenic, calming, healthy places in the world. I strongly believe that. So, in comparison, 130 is a breath of fresh air. There are no highway-typical intersections with fast food and gas stations polluting the view, no cookie-cutter suburban developments (well, maybe a couple), and best of all, no traffic jams. And, let's be honest, I'm driving upwards of 90 mph semi legally which makes it feel like a win.
But there's something else. Something that maybe takes a little more contemplation to arrive at. It wasn't just unusual that I wasn't passing any gas stations, houses, or restaurants - it was fully surreal. Surreal. That's a good word to describe it, probably a similar feeling of awe that Luke Wilson felt staring out at the Costco Coast amidst the sea of trash. I felt like a participant in a future, maybe the opposite of the highway-burying trend in which everything but the highway is buried. Yeah, maybe that's where everything is, under the ground. I don't know.
Highway 130 is not only one of the most expensive and controversial highway projects since the Works Progress Administration, but it's also the largest piece of land art I've ever seen. It's like a massive sculpture on the ground that costs $7.13 (in tolls, one-way) to experience.
Only time will tell how 130 will impact the development of the Austin-San Antonio corridor (and I'll put my money on increased suburban development and sprawl tightly hugging it's infrastructural spine like gristle on the bone), but for now I find myself uncomfortably attracted to it as a huger-than-possible concrete sculpture, connecting nowhere to nowhere. Maybe that science fiction dystopia is closer than anyone thought.
Maya Rudolph: "Hey, how much further is it?"
Frito: "Uhh.....it's like.......far?"
Wait ... what is that there?
I was just browsing an interactive map of Dallas, using one of my favorite new online tools - City-Data.com's new and totally undersold (it doesn't even have a title or a "new! look!" banner advertising it) interactive mapping feature, and I noticed it.
Just there, just to the east of 75/North Central Expwy (aside: honestly never understood that abbrev, you might as well spell the whole thing) and south of 635. It's a dark patch of purple surrounded by light lavender hues. I click on another data point and it's still an island, but the colors are reversed.
It's an isle not in the marine sense, but in the demographic sense. The GIS-enabled software has allowed me to search for color-coded data on everything from housing density to racial diversity for specific and small units of census data from 2010 called census tracts. It's a quick and easy way for anyone to explore their city and see how their neighborhood compares demographically to the surrounding areas.
And for people like me interested in urban geography (and sadly, without a ArcGIS software license), it's pretty much a gold mine.
An Island Called Vickery
So back to the island.
I did a little research on this strange geographic zone in north Dallas and it's a neighborhood called Vickery Meadow. A quick google search on "Vickery Meadow" can easily shed light on the most vivid aspects of the neighborhood from a purely 10,000-foot overview standpoint:
- It's the most dangerous neighborhood in Dallas proper (violent crimes, 2013) hint: it's also called Five Points
- It's the most densely populated area in the city
- It's perhaps one of the most diverse parts of Dallas with a huge immigrant population
- Until the 1980's, it was considered to be a place for young up-and-comings to live while they searched for their starter home
Demographically, Vickery Meadow (also called Five Points, for the 5-way intersection at its core) is comparable to areas in southeast or west Dallas, but all surrounding Vickery Meadow is a completely different zone, a completely different shade or purple.
So, what happened? How did this island form?
I'll be exploring this curious island in more depth in the future (and certainly opening up the the human element of what is happening there), but for now check out the maps illustrating the island effect: Below is a gallery of all the maps highlighting the curious isle. Check the "data" toolbar in the top left of each image to see the map category.
Early last year, for four months, the local coffee shop was my office. I was back at home living with the 'rents. And I had just completed my Masters in Landscape Architecture a semester early (which means I graduated in December). I was entering the job market at an awkward time, when not a lot of firms are looking to hire, and the recession hadn't completely died away, leaving jobs in the construction and engineering fields relatively hard to come by.
When I wasn't sending applications into the ether or making cold calls, I was trying to think of new strategies for getting the jobs that I wanted. I thought I'd write briefly about some of the tools that I used to job search, and especially the ones that really worked out for me in the end (and landed me at my present firm, Studio Outside).
Okay, if you're a landscape architecture student you probably already know about this one. I've gotten a few interviews this way and it can be a valuable way to search for jobs as well as internships. This is maybe a good first step to see what kind of jobs are out there and available.
Advantages: fast, easy, no cold calls, internet based
Disadvantages: impersonal, job quality uncertain, pay uncertain (range at best)
A great second step after looking at the job link is to check out Glassdoor.com. Glassdoor provides reviews and salary ranges for many companies, and is the best tool I've found for those awkward questions you really don't want to ask a potential employer. This can also be a good way to research the pluses and minuses of working for a company before you head to an interview. It's a wealth of information, especially for larger companies.
3. Landscape Architecture Firms Map
Landscape Architecture Resource provides an awesome tool for those looking for landscape architecture jobs in specific places. It's an interactive map of all the landscape architecture firms in their system (whatever that is) around the world. While their job posting link is pretty much dead, this is still an awesome tool and introduced me to a lot of firms in cities I was considering.
I've talked about this elsewhere, but if you aren't on LinkedIn and you're looking for work, it's a pretty good place to start. Specifically check out the "who's viewed your profile" to see if any of your potential employers are checking out your profile after you've sent in an application. (And while you're at it, check out the other tools I list in the article, they're pretty relevant too).
5. Real-life people (professors and classmates)
Is this real life? Why yes, yes it is. Your professors and classmates who have graduated in prior years (so I guess they would be alumni) are your best resource of all. Yes, it involves talking to actual people but getting in contact with those who are already employed or have connections at a particular job is by far the best way to land a job after graduation. In fact, yes, this is how I got my current job.
Best of luck to all those about to enter into the landscape architecture profession in one way or another! If you're having employment struggles, just know you will find something. It may take a while but hopefully these resources will help a bit along the way.
I was messing around with Google's Trends tool today and found that "interest over time" for the search term Landscape+Architecture has been on the steady decline since 2004 (the earliest data available). The above screenshot shows the graph. To see the fairly linear decline is surprising to me, given the seeming resurgence of the industry in terms of relevance over the last 20 years. Landscape Architecture as a discipline is as important as ever, with increased environmental awareness (see LEED programs) and the added relevance of landscape design in coming up with disaster recovery methods.
Adding Architecture as a search term for comparison, it's not surprising that the two follow each other closely. The top searches within each term are "landscape design" and architecture design", respectively. You can play with the chart here.
It's tough to really get going when starting a new blog. I've tried and failed more time than I can count, as blogging can be a never-ending and exhausting task. While writing is something I really enjoy doing, keeping up with the blog and staying current takes some of the pure fun out of it.
I have a short attention span. I need some incentive to keep going.
Enter Infobarrel. Infobarrel is a revenue-sharing website where writers submit articles for publication on a variety of topics, including lifestyle, sports, business, travel, etc. The revenue that is created by each article, from ads placed on the page, is divided between the article's author and Infobarrel. It's not an even split, with the writer getting the short end of the stick, of course. In theory, submitting articles to the website allows for the freelance author to make a little bit of money in perpetuity, or as long as people are still viewing the content.
Revenue-sharing sites, however, have their staunch critics. Freelance writers and professionals hate the site and feel that Infobarrel takes advantage of the writers, in essence using someone else's work nearly for free. On the other hand, there are proponents of writing for revenue-sharing sites who say that if you keep up with it long enough, the "passive" income created by the numerous articles posted will allow money to keep flowing into the author's bank account, often even years after the author has stopped writing at all. It's a very inexact science, and a very unreliable way to make money.
- Which is why I've decided to post articles on Infobarrel. Not for the purpose of earning a steady income and retiring to the Cayman Islands, but to really give myself some incentive to live on the keyboard more often. Over the past few years, I've almost completely stopped writing. I love writing. I don't want to stop, and I don't want to dull my senses and skills. So I'm challenging myself: post to Infobarrel. Post early and often, and write about all sorts of things. Things that may get a ton of views and topics that may get no views at all. I think this is a no-regrets experiment for me. Worst case scenario, I on't make any money and I increase my writing skills. Sounds like a pretty low-risk plan to me.
Why write on this blog at all, then? Well, this blog will still be my personal platform to write about things that I'm interested in and various happenings in my life, primarily related to architecture and design. Infobarrel is kind of a catch-all for anything else.
If you're interested, I've just posted my first article there. I will keep posting here and there, and keep the blog up to date on how the experiment is coming.
Do you have any experience with revenue-sharing, or incentivizing yourself to write? I'd love to hear it.
Well, we're already 5 days into 2014 so I don't know if this can count as my version of the ubiquitous "New Year's Resolutions" blog post. In fact, I've decided to forego the whole "resolutions" game this year. It just never works for me.
Most people, I think, make their New Year's Resolutions sometime on December 31st, then keep with them for a week or two and slowly taper off. We all know the ridiculousness of trying to go to the nearest overcrowded gym or health club on Jan 1st, only to find that ten days later it's back to normal, with the vast majority of people having already given up on their self-promise to get fit. This year, they say. This year, I usually say. For me it's usually not a fitness resolution - ain't nobody got time for that - but it often involves doing better in work or school, focusing more and spending less time messing around on the internet, or cooking more meals at home to save money.
This year, though, I think is different. I've got a full time job as a landscape architect, I'm already saving money living in a tiny shoebox of an apartment, and I've got plans to travel more in the future. I guess the main thing I'll be working on this year, then, is my writing. I've always enjoyed writing but rarely do I make time for it. Those of you who know me well (and I'm assuming that's all of you reading here, thanks by the way) know that I'm always starting a new blog or website or portfolio. I'm a serial starter. And that's the worst thing to be. Plenty of ideas and no follow-through.
So rather than saying I'm going to write more and keep up with my blogging this year via a "Resolution", I'm just going to do it. We'll see how it goes.
How are you keeping your resolutions this year?
p.s. I'll be using this website - Frisson City - as both a blogging home and a place to show my work.
Calling all LSU landscape students and grads: the design competition that was practically made for us. Mitchell Joachim's Brooklyn-based experimental firm, Terreform ONE, has announced the 4th annual ONE prize design competition based around innovative solutions for preventing or mitigating the negative impacts of mega-storms such as Hurricane Katrina or Sandy, specifically in relation to urbanized areas. The competition is international and open to anyone.
"ONE Prize Award aims to explore the social, economic, and ecological possibilities of urban transformation. This year’s competition is set in the context of severe climate dynamism. How can cities adapt to the future challenges of extreme weather? The ONE Prize is a call to deploy sophisticated design to alleviate storm impact through various urban interventions such as: protective green spaces, barrier shorelines, alternative housing, waterproofing technology, and public space solutions. We wish to reinvigorate infrastructure and repurpose spaces towards environmental adaptation in order to put design in the service of the community.
The ONE Prize seeks architects, landscape architects, urban designers, planners, engineers, scientists, artists, students and individuals of all backgrounds.
How can urban ecosystems be enhanced to prevent flooding?
What can restore Rockaway Beach social infrastructure and public space?
When can the New Orleans community change to accept storms without losing character?
What can protect Asian Coastal Cities against the unforeseen?
Where can shorelines be storm surge barriers as well as interactive zones?
How can storm proofing be seen as an opportunity to rethink the future of our cities?"
-- ONE Prize Call for Submissions
Being in design school at LSU, this concept of design for disaster (or remediation post-disaster) is a common one. A large portion of my graduate portfolio deals with ecological issues like wetland loss and flooding, and urban issues in New Orleans resulting from Hurricane K, such as the lower ninth ward public space project. The STORMPROOF competition calls not for reactive design after the fact, but rethinking the way that cities can become "stormproof", whether through landscape buffering, structural interventions, or creating waterproof infrastructure and architecture. I think there are a lot of interesting possibilities for not only finding ways to protect cities from storms, but perhaps even harvesting energy from the massive winds and waves created.
Seeing that the ONE Prize is sponsored by Terreform ONE, I would not be surprised to see a lot of outlandish submittals for this competition. Futuristic technologies married with impossible architectural interventions could be the baseline here.
Awards: first place 5k USD, second place 2k, third place 1k
A couple of years ago, I wrote about a new technology in 3D imaging, a technique for using digital photographs of a site to generate a point cloud of data for a building or street. Utilizing exif data on each image, including focal length and geotagged coordinates of the photo taken, objects in the scene could be identified.
I was recently reintroduced to the wonderful world of point cloud visualization when a cousin of mine, Doug Smith, started talking to me about a project that his company was working on, and he mentioned 3D scanning and point clouds as being integral to their process. SmartGeoMetrics is a division of Smart MultiMedia, a company that "specializes in high definition 3D digital scanning, the creation and deployment of digital learning tools, production of high definition digital video and consulting on digital and remote learning methods".
I was fortunate to be able to tour the office and see how the laser scanning technology works. As a landscape architecture grad, the applicability of the technology quickly became very clear. Essentially, the laser scans allow for a high-definition, incredibly accurate 3d visualization and computer model of the site to be made. The implications for site survey are obvious: it enables the designer to see exactly what the site is, rather than interpolating between sets of known survey points as a traditional survey does. Vastly more accurate and efficient than previous digital scanning techniques, the point cloud for an average park or home could be compiled in a few days using a few crew members.
SmartGeoMetrics has scanned anything and everything including homes, parks, historic structures, a symphony hall, a battleship, and even the Space Shuttle Discovery.
Some quick thoughts on possible applications (whether now or in the distant future):
1. site survey 2.0 - you're seeing the existing site in three dimensions with pinpoint (to the cm) accuracy within a few hours of doing the scan itself.
2. see through walls - multiple scans of a site from various angles can be put together using CAD software. This allows the point cloud produced to include, for example, both the interior and exterior of a building within one image, showing not just the skin but also the guts inside.
3. material analysis - when the laser hits an object and reflects back to the sensor, it records a certain level of intensity. That intensity is determined on how directly and strongly the beam returned to the sensor. This allows a surface analysis that cannot be seen by the human eye. A painted surface would be rendered in the point cloud as a different color than a steel one, etc.
4. change over time - multiple scans taken over a ide-ranging period of time can be compare to one another, as long as there are a couple points that always remain the same. In this way, the changing conditions of the landscape can be viewed in vivid detail. I'm imagining using scanners to record erosion of a creekbed over the period of 100 years, or infill development in a post-industrial downtown area using multiple scanners mounted on poles that activate once a month. View a timelapse of shrinking and calving glaciers using 3d scans taken from helicopters or sattelites.
5. scan it all! - imagine Google Earth's 3D Buildings feature, times a million. Now we have 3D Earth, in which the world can literally be viewed true to life and to scale, with the ability to zoom in to Manhattan to explore the rooftop gardens, or zoom into Jerusalem's Old City and explore the twisting streets and colorful shops in three dimensions. It does bring up some issues with big brother and people's privacy, but wouldn't it be cool? As a landscape architect, I'd love to be able to do an EarthGrab, simply selecting an area of land that I am interested in knowing about, and having an instant 3D model in CAD or 3DSMax to manipulate to my heart's content.
So.....why aren't all architecture and landscape architecture firms utilizing this technology? It's a good question. At this point, the technology is still at the level of independent contractors and suppliers- the equipment is far too expensive for design firms to own. It seems that for any site design project, an accurate 3d model of the site would be invaluable. Instead of designing in plan and section all the time, we can utilize 3d modeling tools such as Maya, 3DSMa, and Rhino to model in three dimensions from the start, getting a sense of the space.
My hope is that just like 3d printers, the costs associated with scanning become low enough for universities and firms to adopt the technology, or at least use scanning in early phases of a project.
Keep a close eye on this technology, guys, I'm sure one day soon we'll all be using it in one form or another.
On a tip from @pwdarden, she and I took an afternoon break from the Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans to check out what seemed to be a colossal abandoned power plant, sitting riverside and towering over adjacent warehouses in the Lower Garden District area. Near the LEED Silver Second Line Stages film studio and a newly-redeveloped residential neighborhood, the area has seen signs of reinvestment in recent years. Though the hollowed-out and vandalized brick structure seemed at the very least uninhabitable and likely very dangerous, the location and historical value of the property makes it an intriguing opportunity for redevelopment.
What turns out to be the Market Street Power Plant was constructed in 1905 and shut down by 1973. The decaying structure, once owned by Entergy Corp, is believed to have powered a large percentage of the city's streetcars in its more youthful days. Unfortunately in its old age and abandoned nature, street capitalists have taken to illegally stripping the building of everything worth salvaging, including copper wiring, steel beams, and even old bricks from the walls. According to Gwen Filosa of the Times-Picayune, this has reduced the property value of the old building by millions of dollars and hampers redevelopment efforts by the owner, Market Street Properties, LLC.
"Market Street spent about $14 million for the sprawling post-industrial site that has for years been coated with graffiti -- some vibrant and artistic, some just disturbing to police -- and pillaged by vandals seeking scrap metal to sell. With the acreage, the riverfront view and the proximity to the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, Ullian and his partners promise a retail and entertainment project that includes an undisclosed "iconic tenant" who, they said, City Hall has been trying to lure into town for years." source
Apparently, Market Street Properties is trying to decide what best to do with the property, and that previously mentioned "iconic tenant" is actually Bass Pro Shops (via nola.com). I'll leave it to the reader to decide whether a Bass Pro Shops would be the most appropriate occupant of a historically-significant building with river views. An expansion of the film industry-targeted development that is springing up nearby seems to be a logical eventual use of the site, or a continuation of the residential repurposing of industrial buildings that we are seeing in other parts of New Orleans and other rustbelt cities.
Turning the corner and heading down what seemed to be a dead-end street, we came upon another small, abandoned industrial building that had seen a few things in its day. The brick wall was supported by an external steel brace and there were vines and grasses attempting to overtake it, but curiously there were multiple cars parked outside. Upon further inspection, the upper floors of what seemed to be an abandoned building were all renovated, with new window frames and even a roof A/C unit. A work space? Residential apartments disguised as urban blight? Is the urban industrial residence of the future hiding inside and behind walls and building shells of crumbling brick and mortar?