Focus on Landscape Architecture: UT Austin Herbarium

The Plant Resources Center (PRC) at The University of Texas at Austin is hidden in plain sight: it occupies eight floors of the iconic UT Tower with over one million plant specimens. These specimens belong to both the University of Texas Herbarium (TEX), which was started in the 1890s, and the Lundell Herbarium (LL), the formerly private collection of Cyrus Lundell, which was added to the PRC in the 1970s-80s.

An herbarium is a library of dried plants. The specimens, collected from Texas, Mexico and other parts of the world, are dehydrated and pressed onto cardstock and labeled with their relevant information, including date collected and species name. These specimens provide a snapshot of a particular species’ morphology and taxonomy at a particular time and place on Earth. Many of UT’s specimens are unique in the world.

You can access the PRC online through a searchable database, or visit the collection in person.

The PRC and associated herbaria are located in the Main Building, Room 127. Hours are 8-11:30 am and 12:30-5 pm Monday-Friday. Please call in advance at 512-471-5904.

Sources: UT Department of Integrative Biology and JSTOR Global Plants

Focus on Landscape Architecture: Global Plants Database

Part of the online research and academic platform JSTOR, the Global Plants database allows access to nearly three million images dedicated to plants. Containing digitized plant specimens, paintings, photographs, diaries and other materials from universities, herbaria and private collectors around the world, Global Plants is a resource for anyone conducting botanical-related research or design. Whether you’re interested in the history of a plant, its uses in human culture, or its morphological characteristics, Global Plants provides a searchable database for you to access primary sources related to your query. You must have access to JSTOR, either through the University of Texas Libraries or through your own subscription to be able to use the Global Plants database.

One of the partners and contributors to the Global Plants database is The Plant Resources Center at The University of Texas at Austin, which will be featured later this week on Deep Focus

Source: JSTOR and Global Plants

Focus on Landscape Architecture: “Leaning into the Wind”

Image Credit: Thomas Riedelscheimer/Magnolia Pictures via NYTimes

In a follow-up to their 2001 documentary “Rivers and Tides,” artist Andy Goldsworthy and director Thomas Riedelsheimer again investigate and explore natural processes and humans’ place within them. The resulting film, “Leaning into the Wind,” showcases Goldsworthy’s fascination with time and its effect on his art. As a land artist, Goldsworthy operates at the scale of the landscape and uses media from his surroundings, such as stones and leaves, to create his works.

The film was an Official Selection of the San Francisco Film Festival, where it premiered in 2017. It is currently showing at the Austin Film Society through April 19, 2018. Tickets and showtimes can be found here.

Sources:, Austin Film Society

Focus on Landscape Architecture

Image Credit: ASLA #WLAM2018

April is World Landscape Architecture Month. Each year, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) celebrates the profession of landscape architecture through direct outreach to the public. The goal is to strengthen the everyday recognition of the designed spaces that surround us. This outreach includes a robust social media campaign, largely driven by Instagram and Tagboard.

This year, the ASLA Instagram account will feature one student ASLA chapter per day. Follow along to see how other schools are training the next generation of design thinkers and leaders. The University of Texas at Austin’s graduate Landscape Architecture program will be showcased on Monday, April 16.

In the coming weeks, Deep Focus will be highlighting landscape architecture resources at The University of Texas, in the Austin community, and beyond.

Source: ASLA

Digitally Fabricated Interior Design

In the near future, there are few industries that 3D printing does not stand to change, if not revolutionize. Interior Design is one industry where 3D printing, also called additive manufacturing, is currently changing the game. The new Loft flagship store in Ginza, Tokyo is a prime example of this fact.

The architecture firm DUS has been using additive manufacturing in their architecture for several years, but is now implementing that expertise in its interior design work as well. For the Loft store, DUS was inspired by Japanese paper folding traditions, and incorporated complex geometric designs in furniture and merchandise displays. These were shapes and ideas that would have been nearly impossible to model or fabricate without digital technologies and additive manufacturing.

When it comes to model making, research has already begun to show that the opportunities presented by 3D printing are beginning to change the way designers think. A study undertaken with interior design students showed that access to 3D technology shifted the modeling process  and resulted in quick prototypes with more consistently accurate scales, compared to model making by hand.

Source: Archipreneur and Emerald Insight

An Untold Story of American Public Housing

In 2011, Ben Austen—a journalist working for Harper’s Magazine—found himself watching the demolition of one of Cabrini-Green’s towering buildings. Beyond the building’s physical mass, he viewed the complex as a looming monolith that represented the story of public housing and its occupants not just in Chicago but elsewhere.

In an interview with CityLab, Austen points out that many of the arguments for the destruction of public housing projects like Cabrini-Green, and the infamous Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis, echoed the arguments made in favor of their construction in the first place: to create safer, better accommodations. He argues that the failings of these projects gets disproportionally blamed on the architecture when in fact these large public housing complexes were an improvement over what they replaced. Since these public housing complexes have been demolished, poverty is less centralized and, Austen suggests, less visible but no less urgent. Read more about lessons learned and stories told in his book High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing.

Source: Citylab and Chicago Tribune.

Fun Friday: Ruby Silvious’s Marvelous Miniature Paintings

Photo Credit: Colossal

Instead of throwing out her tea bags after a hot cup of tea, Ruby Silvious takes advantage of the tiny fabric of the tea bag, creating miniature paintings. The paintings depict a wide range of everyday life scenes from leaves, homes, laundry, and cats. In January 2015, Silvious began painting on tea bags and traveled to Japan and Southern France where she drank a variety of teas discovering a wide variety of tiny canvases. Silvious has compiled a book of her paintings, and she exhibited her work in Philadelphia in late January 2018.

Source: Colossal

3D Printed Houses Address Homelessness

Photo Credit: ICON and New Story

ICON, an Austin-based construction company, and New Story, a housing non-profit based in San Francisco, have collaborated on developing a 3D printer that builds move-in-ready houses in under 24 hours for just 4,000 USD. The proof-of-concept home was presented at the 2018 SXSW Conference in Austin, Texas. The home has a curved porch, living room, bedroom and bathroom. By 2019, these innovative, highly efficient and economical homes will be used to create the first 3D printed neighborhood in El Salvador, a region hard-pressed for shelter.

The homes are built with a 3D printer called the Vulcan that is set on tracks on an axis, allowing for an unlimited print area. The majority of the home is printed with Portland cement.

Source: Archdaily

Building in Downtown Austin Scheduled to Implode

Photo credit: James Rambin.

The implosion of the Ashbel Smith Hall building will interrupt the mellow, Sunday-morning mood this weekend in downtown Austin. Traffic near Lavaca and Sixth Street is expected to be more congested than usual due to the demolition occurring in the early morning hours. Typically, demolitions provoke protest from citizens who are sentimentally attached to the building, but no one seems too upset about the leveling of Ashbel Smith Hall.

“We don’t always need to clutch our pearls when something old downtown comes up for demolition,” wrote James Rambin, author of an online realty blog. Rambin compared the building to a toaster, deriding its boxy shape and two small roof vents poking out the top.

Once used by The University of Texas as office space after being built in the 1970s, the building’s Brutalist architecture juts out among a skyline of shiny, new skyscrapers. The City of Austin Historic Landmark Commission provided a dismal assessment of the structure’s contribution to the life of the city:

“The building does not appear to possess architectural distinction. […] The building does not possess a unique location, physical characteristic, or significant feature that contributes to the character, image, or cultural identity of the city, the neighborhood, or a particular demographic group. […] The property is not a significant natural or designed landscape with artistic, aesthetic, cultural, or historical value to the city.” —City of Austin Historic Landmark Commission, September 25, 2017

The building must be imploded to mitigate the negative effects of demolition on the surrounding area and to speed up the process. After being demolished, developer Trammell Crow plans to build a 37-story tower with office, restaurant and retail uses, costing $1.6 million per year to rent.

Sources: Austin American Statesman, Towers,

Considering an Accessible Urban Landscape

Image credit: Caleb Pritchard

Passed in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) marked the beginning of a new era for property owners and public works entities. The ADA outlines the minimum standards projects  must meet in order to be safe and accessible, though many cities have chosen to adopt stricter policies. Cities like New York, where a large portion of the population uses public transit, and Portland, where steep grades and weather present challenges, have spent years studying and developing pedestrian strategies.

Currently, Austin’s Public Works Department is responsible for more than 2400 miles of sidewalk. According to the department, as of 2016, 80% of those sidewalks were in poor condition. They also estimate an additional 2500 miles of sidewalks still need to be constructed, with much of North Central and East Austin having an ‘Absent Sidewalk Score’ of more than 59 points. The updated Sidewalk Master Plan for Austin calls for 390 miles of those needed sidewalks in the next 10 years, prioritizing the areas around bus stops, schools and parks. Austin’s climate presents another challenge, and many areas with or without sidewalks lack tree cover and the micro-climate that makes traveling by foot possible on hotter days

Sidewalk-related issues came to the fore this week when the Austin Monitor published a photo of a newly constructed sidewalk taking several 90 degree turns in quick succession. According to the article, it appears that the unorthodox  shape of the sidewalk was the result of the contractor attempting to keep the sidewalk’s grade, or rate of decent, at no more than 5%. City engineer Bill Hadley confirmed that the sidewalk appeared to adhere to the law as it is written. However, the National Center for Bicycling and Walking recommends a wider sidewalk on grades, allowing those in wheelchairs to travel in a zig-zag pattern. In addition, a wider sidewalk as opposed to a zig-zag shaped sidewalk, would ensure that visually impaired pedestrians would not be faced with navigating an unpredictable path.

It’s time for a frank conversation about pedestrian design as Austin is experiencing rapid expansion and is expected to spend $250 million on sidewalks over the next decade.

Sources: Austin Monitor and the National Center for Bicycling and Walking.

California to Launch Fleet of Autonomous Vehicles

Currently, all autonomous vehicles in California must have a human in the passenger seat, but not for long. Autonomous vehicles will be truly autonomous starting April 2, when a human safety-net will no longer be required by California’s Department of Motor Vehicles. In addition, in January, Waymo, a Google-affiliated company, debuted one of the first autonomous ride-sharing services in Arizona.  

Some question the ethical implications for a world with autonomous vehicles. For example, if a driverless car detects a tree branch, it could stop abruptly to avoid swerving outside of the lines, but hitting the breaks could cause a pile-up behind the driverless car. Others wonder whether the cars will truly be able to adapt to traffic in real-time conditions.

To the relief of some citizens, California’s new regulation requires a person to be operating the autonomous vehicles remotely, and companies are required to report how many times a human has to take over for the car. Waymo’s track record is pretty good; the company’s robot cars have traveled over 300,000 miles and remote drivers only intervened 63 times.

While a couple of accidents involving autonomous cars have been reported, the fault did not belong to the driverless vehicle, and the vehicles did not belong to Waymo. Accidents will happen, though, and when they do, who will take the responsibility? One suggested solution is an “ethical knob,” or a button that passengers can switch from complete self-preservation to self-sacrifice, or to an impartial setting. However, if everyone chooses to be impartial, the ethics knob is pointless.

It’s too early to know how autonomous vehicle issues will play out legally or even ethically, but cities in Arizona, California, and possibly even the City of Austin are emerging as leaders in the ride-sharing field. To check out the autonomous vehicle craze yourself, be on the lookout for prototype-driverless shuttles picking up passengers in Austin during South by Southwest.

Sources: New Scientist, The Atlantic, BBC, The Texas Standard, The Verge, Waymo


Extraterrestrial on Earth

Image Credit: Reuben Wu

Photographer Reuben Wu has been using adapted drones to light-paint in natural environments, creating beautiful and otherworldly landscapes. His image series “Lux Noctis” transform natural landscapes into images that evoke ideas of extraterrestrial exploration and science fiction. Wu’s photos endeavor to explore unknown and hidden places and present them as if they were a memory of a foreign place.

Wu uses drones to create light trails around rock formations and to provide supplementary light from above. The long exposure images are ethereal, colorful, and otherworldly. His other work similarly blends landscape, futurism and architecture.

Source: Colossal and Rueben Wu