The Adaptation of Alleyways Part 9: Structure / Drifting Gently Through the Gyre

It is not that I have forgotten to write here, but instead that I have been occupied attempting to maneuver the subtleties of adult life. Fear not, though, for I have cracked the code of adulthood and I have come here to scream it (type it) from the hilltops (my couch); structure and saunter. Perhaps not profound. Perhaps not even practical. But theoretically speaking, if one were to have a general structure for their larger life while allowing for curiosity, whimsy, and spontaneity to take over the smaller points of life, would that not be ideal? Though still a concept under construction, I have adapted this concept of structure and saunter to my project in hopes that it might eventually drift into my daily practice of being an adult. 

While Abroad

Months ago I spoke with Michael Martin on some of the finer points of my project's intentions. While I had a grand structure set up (studying the effectiveness of alleyways in Scandinvia), I was truly floundering when it came to the finer points. Michael told me that I should simply walk around the cities with no major expectations, and just discover. I spent at least two days in each city wandering around alleyways, searching for the most proper example of a space that just seems to "work." Below are the steps that I took to document each alleyway:

1. Experience: Before I would photograph, scribe, or actively observe, I would make a point of experiencing each space. For example, while in Skostredet in Bergen, I grabbed tea at the local brewhouse and grabbed prime real estate on the patio. I didn't need to take notes at this point, for I was enjoying the space far too much.

Folk and Rovere Coffeehouse, Skostredet, Bergen, Norway.

2. Photograph: After having garnered a more grounded understanding of the space, I would set out to photograph it. It was always important to photograph the details that set each space apart. Below are some examples: 

3. Scribe: Perhaps the most important of all steps was putting pen to paper. It brings me back to my most visceral reactions while abroad. Diagrams, perspectival drawings, interviews with local proprietors, and stream of consciousness scribbles. Below are a few examples: 

4. Disseminate: Within a day or two I (somehow) managed to sit down in my hostel or AirBnb and would summarize my findings. This included listing the most fascinating/important components of each alleyway that seemed to "work." If I hadn't immediately summarized my impressions of each city, I would not have nearly as much, or as high of quality work to pull from for my final submission. 

While 'Home'

As a sidenote, I have put quotes around 'home,' simply because I am having a difficult time entirely comprehending what that term means anymore. The more people I meet (millenials in particular), the less the term 'home' holds true in the traditional sense.

Almost immediately after returning from Paris to Chicago, I got on a plane to Sacramento for a job interview. What a fascinating sandwich of places that has become now that I have the privilege of retrospect. This series of events has disallowed me to really focus upon my final work until recently (December). Below are the steps I have taken, and continue to take, towards my final product:

1. Clarify: In each city, I came to general conclusions as to what I personally saw as the most important features of each alleyway. Here is the comprehensive list of features and accompanying descriptions that I found to be important in the collection of alleyways I studied:

  • Scale - The relationship of buildings, to groundplane, and users.

  • Multi-Use - The distinction of of having multiple programmed and unprogrammed uses.

  • Identity/History - Elements that provide a sense of place, thus attracting users.

  • Art - The use of creative material and media throughout the alleyway.

  • Access - The ability for all types of users to enter/use an alleyway.

  • Variance - The continual redefinition of space throughout an alleyway.

  • Cavities - The spaces that occupied the interior of a block that typically housed necessary services for an alleyway.

  • Nighttime Use - How comfortable and enthusiastic were users to use the alleyway at night.

  • Ownership - Proprietors pride in the space and likelihood to upkeep it's condition.

  • Details/Life - Whether spectacle or subtlety brought the space alive.

2. Rank: After distilling the major elements of space garnered from all of my studies while abroad, I then ranked each city's five most important features, with five holding the most importance and one holding the least. 

3. Identify: After peering into the importance of each city, it becomes more clear that below are the most fundamental elements in the sample size of alleyways that I studied: 


4. Recommend: From this point forth with all of this information compiled I plan to make recommendations. In addition to research that deciphers the history of American alleyways from that of it's European counterparts, I hope to identify the types of adaptations that we can make to our alleyways in order to have sidestreets that succeed in providing a user friendly experience. 

Going into this project, there was an obvious structure. Identify what makes alleyways in Scandinavia great, and see how we can apply that knowledge to our domestic alleyways. Simple. But what was not quite as obvious was the amount of saunter I would encounter along the way. Never before have I had a project that I could identify as ongoing, and despite the deadline of the end of this academic semester for a finished product, I fully intend to flaneur like a Frenchman throughout this concept. There are so many more sidestreets to unearth, both physically and metaphysically. 

News and Notes

  • I have officially been in California for six months. The only thing of note that comes to mind is that I wish that all months everywhere all of the time were like February in Sacramento. Beautiful weather, and blooms abound.

  • A few buddies and I have started piecing together a tour of the California parks system. This is of course punctuated by a summit up the cables of Half Dome in Yosemite. If you are curious what that might look like, and don't mind sweaty palms, take a peak here.

  • In late April I will be connecting with my family to take part in my father's induction as the President of the American Society of Golf Course Architects. Right now, nothing sounds better than Martins in Tartan.

  • I am currently listening to...Andrew Bird & Fiona Apple. A simultaneously ideal and unlikely duo, these two remind us that when you become a grownup that love is just as much structure as it is saunter.

The Adaptation of Alleyways Part 8: San Francisco / Wait for the Moment (This Too Shall Pass)

Hold pattern. Downtime. Filibuster. Moratorium. I have a lot of time on my hands to continue coming up with ways of saying the same thing. Intermission. I was warned that 'adult' life comes with an abrupt change of pace from those younger more boisterous years, but being warned and experiencing are two very different things. Abeyance. Though, being a twenty-something with a particularly eager energy and an unsettled spirit of inquiry doesn't generally lend itself to stillness, sometimes you need to take heed from the forces around you and. Take a deep breath. Justifying breaks in the action as simply 'waiting for the moment' and not as 'allowing this to pass' can be difficult, but necessary. One is active, the other eats you up. Recess. The acts of being passive and being active can lead to overwhelming feelings of remorse. Pause; Strike a balance and anticipate, because in the end things move fast. 

I have been writing about alleyways for about 7 months now, and I have to remind myself of the nature of the alleyways that I continue to muse. The Adaptation of Alleyways chronicles the activated alleyways, and those who activate them. Stagnancy rarely aids a decaying urban form. Even in moments such as Bergen's Bryggen where a place has been preserved throughout many centuries, there is still the act of preserving. So while in my momentary hiatus, I can act like my alleys and still be very productive. Perhaps I could go to San Francisco or something.......

Following Emily as she demonstrates how to properly move through Cypress Alley (done especially well with the balloon)

What makes Cypress Alley so successful?

(prefeace: this trip to SF was not intended for alleyway research....I plan on returning to SF to continue to look into what makes San Francisco's adapted alleyways amongst the best in the world)

  1. Art/Graffiti! - This should be self evident, as the alley serves as a platform for local artists to demonstrate their talents. Reminiscent of Skostredet in Bergen, Cypress Alley proves that public interest in alleyways can be as simple as allowing for artists to take over. 
  2. Location/Context - Cypress Alley can be find in the middle of the Mission District of San Francisco, which is one of the trendier parts of the city. With Mission Street close nearby, there is a lot of foot traffic that occurs within this particular node of the Mission.

As I stated above, seeing Cypress Alley was less of a destination during this visit to San Francisco, and more of a pleasant surprise. I plan on visiting Clarion Alley (an even more absurdly graffitied alley), The Secret Alley (a secret alley art collective within a secret alley?), and of course the many alleys of Chinatown.  

Annie Street Plaza is another space that we stumbled across during our tour of San Francisco. I have to admit, I have some very mixed feelings about this space. On one hand, there is obvious effort to attempt to transform this lifeless hard edged space with vegetation, a canopy, and integrated seating; all of these things are great. On the other hand, and perhaps this is a factor of the time I was there, it felt stiff and cold. Other than the two sitting at the table, for the 10 minutes we stood observing it, there was really nobody to go into it, and why would they? The facades are without any interest to pedestrians, there is nothing on the other end of the alley, and the alley is blocked off by concrete pile-ons. 

I have since done research on the space, and have found that there are occasional concerts, cocktail parties, and happenings that occur within Annie Street Plaza. So perhaps I am being to tough on this space. The greatest distinction between Annie Street Plaza and Cypress Alley is the level of control. One has let artists of all types take it over, the other has a very prescribed plan for its form and operation. One is passive, the other is active. Both could use a lesson from the other:

  • If Cypress Alley were to work more in tune with its artists identity, and provide a program that coincided with it, then suddenly you have a place that people actively seek out instead of stumble upon. 
  • If Annie Street Plaza were to permit more spontaneous behavior, and allow for its static nature to be interrupted with authentic life, then suddenly you have a space that is activated more often than just during its prescribed events. 

Anticipate what your space needs.

News and Notes

  • I'll be attending a Sac Grid 2.0 Open House tomorrow to lend my humble citizen thoughts on what could be done next in the project to improve Downtown/Midtown Sacramento. Even though some Jerry Brown chap has taken over, I still expect a cameo from The Arnold at some point. 
  • It is remarkable for me to think about how quickly time has passed since I have moved to California. With Thanksgiving only a few weeks away, and consequently a visit home in the works, I have already looked forward to my grandpa's pecan pie, thanksgiving day sandwiches, and the many many stories to be exchanged. I am already full, in every which way, thinking about it. 
  • I am currently listening to...Vulfpeck & Danny Schmidt. With similar meaning, and vastly different ways of executing, I just couldn't stick with one tune this time around. 

The Adaptation of Alleyways Part 7: Sacramento / So What

Liestal Alley located between L and M streets in Midtown Sacramento. 

Something generally viewed as major life event happened recently; I moved. To say that I moved feels understated in a way, as it involved a 5 day trek from Chicagoland to Northern California with my dad. There were peaks, valleys, beers, and breakfasts. We wove our way through the ridges of the west as if we were bound by some sort of western spirit. In many instances, it was a moment that I will cherish forever, but at the same time so what? I have been in transition for an unspeakable amount of time, and despite all of that moving, I feel sluggish. There is only so much fluff you can take before you want to be a real person again. I need production. I need consistency. I need to feel that I am working towards that next transition period. Enough of the peaks and beers, I need some valleys and breakfasts. 

I am currently writing this blog post while inside the shop shown in the photo above, a coffee house called Old Soul Co. Upon my arrival and first few nights in Sacramento, I stumbled across this place in my Midtown neighborhood. Located in Liestal Alley, Old Soul Co. is one of the leaders in the city's initiative to improve the alleyways throughout Midtown.

In 2011, Midtown decided to name their alleyways as a part of a way to develop more ownership and identity for the city's forgotten amenity. That was a small, yet important step in the development of the urban context within Sacramento. Still, the property owners saw alleyways as most of us do...narrow, scary, and filled with trash. What this coffee shop did with the city next is what changed perceptions around the community. With the help of Edible Pedal (an incredible bike shop located within the alley) and Old Soul Co., the city developed plans to improve Liestal Alley, the first alleyway adaptation of its kind in Sacramento. 

Skip a number of chapters ahead, and here we stand today, with Sacramento on the verge of entering the Pantheon of American Urban Alleyway Greats (alongside Seattle, Chicago, and San Francisco). But, before I jump ahead to what is still yet to be (something that I am still trying to learn more about) let us look back at Liestal Alley, the first adapted alleyway precedent of Sacramento. 



What makes Liestal Alley so successful?

1. First of Its Kind: This may not be a great design principal, but there is something to be said about starting an initiative. Not only does it bring great interest to a new concept for many, but due to the fact that it is the only one of its kind in Midtown, those interested have but one option to fill their burgeoning curiosity.  

2. Pavement/Groundplane: The night that I found myself in Midtown, I had an extensive conversation with one of the patrons at Edible Pedal. He was effusive about his alley, sipping wine and eating cheese with the owner of the shop while appropriately seated within the alley. I asked him what made it so effective, and he immediately answered by speaking to the paving. After showing me the before and after photos, explaining to me the ease of installation, and the permeability of the pavers, I too was convinced that the paving made all of the difference. Not only that, but by simply delineating itself as a pedestrian space, cars rarely passed through; and if they did, they made a point of avoiding eye contact with their pedestrian cohorts. 

3. Business Buy In: Something that I did not get the opportunity to experience while overseas was the immense importance that businesses have in these sorts of projects. Since I have been in Sacramento substantially longer than any of my previous cities of study, this weight has begun to set in. Not only have Edible Pedal and Old Soul Co. been integral in the approval and construction of Liestal Alley, but they have been major advocates for other businesses to make the jump as well. While at the public alleyway meeting, many businesses in similar circumstances looked to these two for guidance.

4. Identity: This principal could be debated, but based on my early observations and conversations, it would appear that most people know this place as the alleyway they are comfortable in. They know these businesses as the businesses along the alleyway. In fact, I would bet you that if you were to place businesses with the exact same services on the outside of the block, they would do markedly poorer than the businesses on the inside of the block. Why? Identity. 

How could you possibly forget a place like Edible Pedal? 

This is a long process, and one that has really just begun. Understanding the processes of city planning, and the drunken snails pace that they tend to follow, I think I will just sit down and enjoy this valley; perhaps over breakfast in Liestal Alley. Or just photoshop more Iowa cows in urban contexts. 

News and Notes

  • So Minneapolis is doing more cool stuff. This time, with woonerfs



    noun:  a road in which devices for reducing or slowing the flow of traffic have been installed. A Dutch term used to describe shared road, and to promote the badassery of pedestrian life.

  • Sacramento Porchfest, a small music festival put on by intersection at 21st and I streets, blew me away this weekend. Local artists, playing on local patrons porches, with local beer being served, with all proceeds going to a local school for the underprivileged? Sign me up for more of that. 

  • I am currently listening to....Miles Davis. It's not new. So what? Neither are alleys. 

The Adaptation of Alleyways Part 6: Paris / Brand New Start

Looking into my future at Versailles. 

Paris was the perfect cap. After the understated yet deservedly charming people of Scandinavia, Paris felt like a whiplash. It was a not so subtle reminder of what this trip has provided me; a brand new start. Perhaps I didn't necessarily need a new start, but after five years in Iowa, and three weeks in Scandinavia, it was time for a new perspective. Paris was exactly this. It was fiery. It was exciting. It managed to toe the line of madness. 

This concept of madness spills over in heaps in Parisian public lives. Many enjoy sitting outside of their cafes for this exact reason: to watch it all unfold. In a world (that certainly includes myself) that obsesses over being politically correct, somehow Paris managed to avoid it almost altogether while still providing loads of respect to one another. They speak out with the panache and exuberance that I had not yet experienced on my trip. This public environment undeniably transformed their alleyways, or as they are called in France, passages. 

Passage du Grand Cerf masterfully captures the beauty of a glass covered passageway. 

What makes La Passage du Grand Cerf so Successful?

1. Identity - Every one of the dozens of passages that I discovered while in Paris (primarily in the north-of-Seine neighborhood of Montmarte) had an identity of some sort. This identity generally arose from its exterior conditions within its context. The most successful passages, though, managed to set themselves apart from the rest of the ho-hum passages of Paris. In la Passage du Grand Cerf, the alley was littered with art as well as complimentary shops. This provided users with an idea of what to expect when visiting this passage. 

2. Art - I already started getting into it above, but it bears repeating (and even it's own fancy point). Art was a major part of la Passage du Grand Cerf, as the art ranged from the ironic deer head decor (du grand cerf translates to the large deer), to the beautiful geometric installations hanging from the ceiling. It provided people plenty to see as they passed through. 

3. Location/Access/Signage - These three points are really parallel as they are what initially draw people into the passage.  Located along the incredibly charming Rue Saint-Denis, there are many people out grabbing sandwiches and crepes eager to see where the next charming street takes them. With clear access on two ends, and interesting signage above, it is clear as to what makes this one of the more well designed passages within Paris. 

4. Scale - This is true for all passages in Paris. All passages are roughly 12' - 15' across. This provides just enough room for traffic on either side to be comfortable. It also means that when vendors place items along the passage, this actually causes people to run "collide" into each other and the items/stores. Collision theory (not the scientific one) is something being done in Las Vegas where it banks on having people running into others and activities. This then gets people to interact with each other and their environment more. This passage applies this principle (consciously or not) dutifully.  

It is difficult to chronicle other passages within Paris in specificity, as there were a vast array of them throughout the city. One that stood out from the others was Passage Brady. Located along Rue Saint-Denis, I also passed it with regularity during my time in Paris. It is described as Little India by some, where you can find an array of beautiful spices and intricate trinkets. I spent some time in Passage Brady, even grabbing a small Indian meal while there. This passage was again proof that a specified identity can set your space apart from another. 

Passage Brady proves Paris' diversity even follows through to the alleyways. 

News and Notes

  • Quite possibly my favorite moment in Paris was walking Rue Saint-Martin at midnight one night. The moon discouraged no one. In cafe windows crotchety old men still locked horns, young couples still managed voiceless communication, and loners still sat peering wistfully upon the exhaled streetscape.
  • In the spirit of new beginnings, I will be moving to Sacramento, California in just over a week. I have accepted a position at Callander Associates, a fantastic Landscape Architecture firm based in North Central California. With very little experience out that way, and without the ability to form my own thoughts on the situation, I'll quote Albert Einstein "The only source of Knowledge is Experience." I am catching on to this concept more and more....and boy does it make sense. 
  • This is my last city specific post for The Adaptation of Alleyways (for now!). But I will be posting my wrap-up post as soon as I begin to develop my findings and presentation for Iowa State. 
  • I am currently listening to.......ALB. A local of Reims, France, ALB manages to mix all sorts of silly percussion into his video below. My favorite of the songs in La Blogotheque video (a production that follows artists throughout the streets of France as they perform) is called a Brand New Start. It begins at 3:46 in the video, with a crowd of people banging their silverware over a killer riff. Enjoy it boys and gals. 

The Adaptation of Alleyways Part 5: Bergen / Dream Alone, Wake Together

Bergen is ethereal. It seems to be this little paradise that has thrived under incredible conditions. *Note that the above photo is of an island within the fjords and is not Bergen.

A place steeped in history. A place with a midnight sun. A place where sleep seems ever fleeting. Bergen is a place that knows no time. If dropped in randomly, I would have a hard time identifying whether it were eight in the morning or eight at night. Bergen rains a lot, is expensive as hell, and requires its citizens to be highly adaptable. So who can bear to live in this place? A different breed; and though they all dream alone (whenever the sun permits them to), they all wake together in this most wondrous, timeless place. 

Skostredet was many things. Many of these many things were fascinating. 

What Makes Skostredet So Successful?

1. Art - This is an artist's alleyway. Artist studios lined the space. Walls without art were less common than wills with art. This made the alleyway a kind of linear gallery, but one that was democratic in allowing the users & inhabitants to continue to develop its identity. 

2. Size - Because this 'alleyway' used to be a usable street, but was then developed in a way so that no vehicular traffic were allowed, I might be stretching the game out for myself with the example. But(!) I still believe that its adaptation from a simple vehicular sidestreet to an alleyway haven for local artists is certainly something to take note of. With the ambiguity of alleyways being questioned frequently, I figured that more than anything the principles must prevail. One of the principles of Skostredet that is working is its width. There is plenty of room for artists to stretch out, place examples in the street, and engage passerbyers as a result. 

3. Dichotomy/Multi-Use - This place upon first glance makes no sense at all. There is a famous high end fashion designer next to a second hand thrift store. A beatnik cafe next to an old school American diner. A grungy photography studio next to a fine oil painting gallery. Graffiti all over a decaying industrial building next to a beautiful chapel. I am not sure if it is by an act of Odin, but it all works beautifully together. People coexist, the space is beautiful in an authentic sense, and it is impossible to be bored while walking through Skostredet. 

4. Ownership - This point goes hand in hand with point three above. Though these are widely variant types of businesses, there is a collective interest and ownership of the space. Every store owner I spoke to made a point about how proud they were to be in the alleyway. This area is less heralded than others in others in Bergen, but that does not mean that the locals don't have great pride in what is created there. 

5. Cutouts - Again, we are seeing that allowing for some 'breathing room' within the alleyway is incredibly beneficial. By not simply making the space a long narrow passage, you are encouraging users to break off and stay for a while. This is displayed expertly by the raised turf grass area, as well as the additional seating patios in front of many of the businesses. 

One of the most influential precedents in why I wanted to come to Scandinavia was Bryggen in Bergen. Bryggen is a hark back to the olden days in Bergen, when many of the buildings were built out of wood. Due to many fires, only portions of Bryggen still remain from the original structures of 1702. What caught my attention to Bryggen so much, were the beautiful and quirky wooden alleyways. With a material that is highly uncommon, adjacent architecture that wistfully asserts itself in and out, and colors that liven up the space, it is no wonder that Bryggen is now on the register for World Heritage sites.  


*Video walkthrough to follow! Still uploading to Vimeo. Until then...enjoy this Iowa cow in Norway. 

News and Notes

  • One of the people on Skostredet renting out a studio space was an older photographer. His space was completely gutted, minus a camera on a tripod, a spotlight, and a wall of photos. He was a guy who has had a difficult time making it, due to health problems and issues of the past, but was now doing a photography project that he took great pride in. It involved photographing people that walked through Skostredet against the same brick background. As he would desaturate and unify the photos, it became increasingly difficult to differentiate much between people...until the photographer was able to ramble off each and every person's story. He was very proud to say that the local newspaper would be interviewing the following day.
  • I got a tip from a person whom I met in Oslo's father about where the best alleyways in town were. He did not disappoint. If it weren't for the incredible Skostredet and Bryggen, a place called Rosegrenden likely would have cracked the blog. The people of Bergen refer to alleyways as 'smau' or 'smug', and are simply proud of their small street culture. 
  • Yesterday was my first day in Paris...holy geesh. It is so massive, and so beautiful. I'm one part overwhelmed (especially after quaint little Bergen) and one part fascinated beyond compare. This place is real, and it is more than just the Eiffel Tower. *The alleyways/passages rock too!
  • I am currently listening to....Young Dreams. A sunny band like this is necessary in the rainy Bergen. Locals of the west coast port town, these guys can't help but get stuck in your head (day and night). 

The Adaptation of Alleyways Part 4: Oslo / Since Last Wednesday

Seen from Strøget Alley in Central Oslo, Norwegian Street Artist Dolk makes his mark on a popular spot in town. 

Seen from Strøget Alley in Central Oslo, Norwegian Street Artist Dolk makes his mark on a popular spot in town. 

Since last Wednesday, Oslo has proven to me that not all major Scandinavian cities are created equal. That is not to say that one is better than another, but just to say that Oslo is a bit different. Oslo is more closely related to an American city than a European city in my estimation. Sure, there are still palaces, cobblestone streets, and residents who have seen the last 27 queens, but the spirit of the place is a bit grungier. Now, I appreciate and actually enjoy grunge, so I have been a huge fan of Oslo, but it is clear that the tourists have stuck it out in Stockholm and Copenhagen a bit more. They can have it. Give me diverse cultures, street food, an ever-evolving city, and an alleyway culture that is as strong as any other city that I have witnessed. 

What Makes Strøget So Successful?

  1. Program - I spoke with the owner of 'Angst Bar' within the alleyway, and she explained how she felt that what brought people to the alleyway were the "strong businesses that have both regulars and adventurers." This might appear to have little to do with the design of a space, but in order for a successful business to thrive, you must first provide a corresponding space for them to use. 
  2. Access - Similar to that of Västerlanggatan in Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Strøget is easy to access. Along the beautiful Torgatta pedestrian street, Strøget is obviously marked and provides users for a more intimate space than that of Torgatta. I found that many people would venture through Torgatta for different shopping/food options, or simply to get to the adjacent block without having to go all the way around. 
  3. Inconsistencies - They do say that variety is the spice of life, right? Although stating consistent, and providing cities with clarity, sometimes the quirkiest areas catch our attention the most. This holds true with Strøget, as with the alleyway, there are bump outs, sky walks, walls of art, and variant businesses. These provide a user with a multitude of experiences without ever making the space feel awkward. 
  4. Nighttime Use - Now, anytime I pose the question to anyone (young & old; men & women; any race) about what they feel about alleyways, almost every single initial reaction consists of safety, or lack thereof. Many average alleyways are used as passages during the day, but nighttime...well that is an entirely different story. In this alleyway, it is without question that your safety is secure. With a booming nightlife at restaurants and bars up and down the alleyway, this question does not even need to be posed. 

Strøget at night. Despite what this photo suggests, it was actually approximately 11 pm at night. Scandinavia knows no time. 

I was blown away by the diversity of alleyways/sidestreets in Oslo. Unlike in Stockholm, and Copenhagen to a lesser extent, Oslo provided more than just historic sidestreets. Below are a few of the other alleyways I found in Oslo: 

This alleyway referred to as 'City Passage' adjacent to Genson reminds me of Jorcks Passage in Copenhagen. 

'City Passage,' is another architecturally interesting alleyway, but it lacks activity. This space could work considerably better if it has a fraction of what Strøget has in bunches...program.

Damstredet is the sort of alley who's cheeks you just want to pinch.

A left over street from centuries past, Damstredet is a narrow picturesque passage that harks back to a simpler time in Oslo's history. Surrounded by urban industrialization, this narrow passage stands out in all of the best ways. Unfortunately, for what I am looking for, this passage does not necessarily do it for me. 

News and Notes

  • Though I celebrated Independence Day in Oslo this year, I was happy to be surrounded by semi-familiar things. BBQ, bluegrass, and baseball just to name a few. I have to say though...Norwegians swinging a baseball bat was all it took to bring a smile to my face.
  • I arrived in Bergen today via train. People have spoken about how the train ride from Oslo to Bergen is one of the best in Europe, and it certainly did not disappoint. Moving from pastures, to snow covered mountains, to waterfalls, to crystal clear lakes, I had a difficult time believing that it was all one country. 
  • I am currently listening to......Highasakite. Ya know, mostly in case you haven't gotten your daily dose of Norwegian Feel Good Indie-Pop for the day.

The Adaptation of Alleyways Part 3: Stockholm / Hey Moon!

Järnpojke or Little Boy Looking at the Moon is the smallest statue in Stockholm. 

I am at the midpoint in my adventure in Scandinavia, and I can't shake the feeling that I am chasing something that is ever-fleeting. I keep expecting there to be a singular moment in which I achieve "AHA." This is naive. This is not how design works. If all it took were moments of "AHA," then the variety, the frustration, and the excitement of it all would drag design into an entirely different realm. So here I am, still looking at the moon, searching for an ultimate answer. I might be sitting here a while, so I might as well start getting to work.

Västerlanggatan is located in Gamla Stan, or "Old Town." Gamla Stan is located on the island just south of central Stockholm. These folks obviously love it. 

What makes Västerlanggatan successful?

  1. Scale- Again, this alleyway (throughway) is successful due to its scale. Sitting at about 15'-18' wide, with buildings doubling that in height, this alleyway is comfortable without being daunting for pedestrians. 
  2. History- The history lesson these alleyways (and really all of Gamla Stan) provide is undeniable. There is a sense of wonderment when you step through these places. Västerlanggatan in particular appeared to be a place for carriages and other larger carriers to pass through. The curbs in particular suggest this. Now, with the widths being inappropriate for motor vehicle use (99% of the time) this carriage way has now been converted to quasi-alleyway. 
  3. Access- Most of Gamla Stan is fairly similar throughout its alleyway culture, with only a few slight things making any difference. Västerlanggaten is different mainly due to its access to the waterfront and main roadways. Gamla Stan possesses a major roadway on its southwestern edge, exactly where Västerlanggatan is located. This means that this alleyway in particular is fairly lively. 
  4. Variant Consistency- This is perhaps another point that would have worked on the Copenhagen example as well. What is meant by variant consistency is the idea that the buildings, shop signage, materials, etc., are all very similar while still being able to break up the monotony enough to keep users interested. 

I do have to say that there were fewer alleyways of interest in Stockholm than in Copenhagen. This is not to say that Stockholm did not provide any lessons, because that is far from the truth; It is to say that there were less relatable examples (in regards to the United States). Because my project refers to "Adapting" alleyways, then it is important to be able to find some relatable examples. Unfortunately there was a lack of successful modern alleyways in Stockholm. The principles remain, but direct applications and "AHA" moments needed to subside in Stockholm. 

Like in Copenhagen, the most interesting example was not necessarily the best example in Stockholm. The most interesting alleyway was by far Marten Trotzig Grand in Gamla Stan. Known to be the narrowest usable alleyway in the world, this alleyway is as much a tourist attraction as it is a testament to the adaptability of a society....this alleyway is used, and used well. Below is a video of what it looks like to be walking through an alleyway that is shoulder width: 

News and Notes

  • Today I spoke with a professor at the KTH Institute, Maria Hakanssan about my project. Being the head of the Department of Urban Planning, she was an incredible wealth of information. I am excited to use her information for my publication at the end of this project.
  • Tomorrow I leave for Oslo, and I will be honest....Norway is what I have been most excited for all along. Between the happy people, the nature, and the incredible scenery...actually, that sounds like every place I have already been. Oh well; it is nice to continue being in beautiful places. 
  • I am currently listening to.....Molly Nilsson. Her lo-fi sound fits Sweden perfectly. When you are living in a hostel where you know nobody, and in a country that you have never been, there is something comforting in knowing that there is always the moon for company. (Even if the moon is only out for 3 hours a day!)

The Adaptation of Alleyways Part 2: Copenhagen/Around the Bend

One week into my four week trek across Scandinavia, and I am already buying into the hoopla. People in Copenhagen are as kind as Iowans, as cultured as Parisians, and as bicycle savvy as Amsterdammers. Many people refer to the people here as the happiest on Earth, and it is not hard to recognize why....they have INCREDIBLE alleyways.

In an attempt to avoid chronicling every single square inch of this beautiful city, I will be speaking about a single alleyway example. This example is Strædet in central Copenhagen 

Strædet is a multi-use passage where there is something new around every bend.

Strædet is a multi-use passage where there is something new around every bend.

What Makes Strædet a Good Alleyway Example?

1. Multiple Uses: It is never difficult to understand what makes an underutilized alleyway. Generally it has not been designed with the intent of use. It sounds simple, but providing an obvious program that also allows for flexibility must be first and foremost; Strædet does exactly this. 

2. Scale: Much like the rest of Copenhagen, the width of the street corresponds very favorably to that of the building heights. With a total width equaling approximately 25' with building heights sitting somewhere between 40' - 50'. This makes for comfortable travel for pedestrians and cyclists, while making travel for vehicles fairly difficult. 

3. Paving Differentiation: One thing that I found remarkable about Copenhagen is that 90% (rough estimation) of the city's sidewalks were of the same paving pattern shown below. 

The rustic paving pattern on the right is found virtually everywhere in Copenhagen. 

This paving differentiates between where people walk versus where people bike and drive. The roadway paving seen above is also different than the normal roadway paving throughout town, providing vehicles an understanding that they must drive differently here. 

4. Alleyway Cavities: Many people's first thought when it comes to alleyways is "garbage" or "service." These are entirely warranted, and are exactly why we must improve our alleyway culture. But, with such a beautiful and functioning alleyway like Strædet, where does the service occur? There are alleyways within alleyways. Small passages that lead to service courtyards within a block of buildings. I think of them best as "cavities." This strategy was newest one to me, and I think that it is genius. Service is still provided through the main alleyway, but you do not see it due to these "cavities." 

An alleyway "cavity."

5. Details & Life: The last, and arguably most important piece of the alleyway puzzle is the details as well as people who inhabit the space. These details are made for a more enjoyable environment for people. From small white pavers displaying parking spots to cafe awnings/seating, this place was thought out thoroughly. 

Integrated paving patterns display where vehicles ought to park. 

Though Strædet alleyway is a well designed place, there was no word that it had adapted from anything else previously. I figured that it would be a shame not to include an alleyway who's history did include some adaptation. Magstræd is one of the more famous alleyways in town as it was once known  as "Shit Alley" because it used to be ground zero for where much of the city's sewage was sorted through. It is now a quaint alleyway for visitors and locals alike to use and admire.

Magstræd Alley 

News and Notes

  • Copenhagen as a whole has been more incredible than I could have imagined. The happiness is immense, the graciousness is consistent, and the sights are endless. I have described this place with many as utopian in a sense. 
  • I went to the Danish Architecture Centre for an exhibit on Snøhetta, a multi-disciplinary design practice based in Oslo. The exhibit centered around their design process....I was impressed. Their work struck me as particularly open, unorthodox, but extremely effective. Their work ranges from that of the famous Oslo Opera House, to the remarkably beautiful Norwegian currency. The term Snøhetta derives from a mountain that stood next to their original office, and signified a place where nobody lives, yet everyone owns. Fantastic stuff.  
  • Tomorrow I depart for Stockholm, and I have high hopes. I am having a difficult time believing it will exceed Copenhagen though. This place is remarkable. 
  • I am currently listening to....Asteroids Galaxy Tour. I have decided to find a band from each country that I am staying, and Asteroids Galaxy Tour is one of the most famous Danish bands. This tune just fit the description all too well. 

Rendering on Repeat...on Repeat

A good rendering should not just inform a viewer of what is happening spatially, but should also elicit a feeling. 

I'm having a difficult time containing my excitement in Iowa as my departure for Scandinavia nears. Thankfully, instead of sitting around and figuring out how many ways I can cook an egg with The Office playing on an endless loop, my professor has given me an opportunity. 

This opportunity entails: 

  • Taking renderings previously done in our Las Vegas studio and "sprucing" them up. 
  • Developing them into a hybrid type of rendered drawing. 
  • Doing this to approximately 20 images, and then sending them off with the hope that they are published in a book that speaks to different types of drawing techniques for Landscape Architects. 

Below I am going to take you through a rough version of how I have gone from good drawings to zesty drawings. 

1. Redline the existing image. 

Now, this part seems simple, but it requires the most imagination/creativity of any of the steps. Below is an image of the Victory Social Club site that I rendered for our final review. It is a nice image, no doubt, but it certainly is lacking a few key elements. 

So, this past week my professor, Ken McCown, and I sat down together and red lined this image. We agreed that the image needed a different perspective, one that provided more life. We also agreed that some additional design elements needed to be considered. Below is an image with (plenty) more red lines. 

As you can see, Ken was not a fan of the girl on the left. 


2. Choose a better view/perspective. 

This step opened up the entire image. It gave us the proper bones to construct an image that was more representative of what the space was meant for.  

This view allowed for us to focus in on the energy at the bar while still recognizing the activity in the background. 


3. Export view to Kerkythea (modeling program). 

What this does is it gives us a much truer look at what the light will look like in this space. By exporting it to Kerkythea as a clay model, it allows for a really clean image to overlay with our existing Sketchup image above. 

As you can see, by allowing for everything to have the same (digital) "material" we are able to understand the spacial qualities of the design better. This also provides a wonderful insight as to how the light of this space operates. 


4. Overlay and populate the space. 

By overlaying the Kerkythea clay model with the Sketchup model image, we are able to get the real materials along with the proper lighting. We get our cake and eat it too. After this it is a matter of populating your space with a proper entourage. These people, plants, objects are what will inform people as to the intent of your design and how people should activate the space. 

This image is the overlay of Sketchup and Kerkythea images with some added trees, lights, sky, and background buildings. 

Even without people at this point, this image is beginning to have more life than the images displayed above. 


5. Finish constructing your image. 

This is the most time consuming part of the process. This step is all about finding appropriate people, and playing with the light on them. It is simply about trying to find consistency amongst people and objects within the image. 

This image is fairly straight forward. You can tell that there are people at the bar, people dining, and music playing. This image tells you what is there; but until you apply the finishing touches, it does not tell the whole story. This image still feels a little stagnant. 


6. Finishing touches & Filters. 

In this step, I save off my editable PSD image as a JPEG in order to apply filters to everything at once. I will be honest, this step is a bit artistic, and undoubtedly subjective. I play with the filters in the filter gallery within Photoshop as well as imported filters that are similar to those used on Instagram. You push and pull, enhance and mute until you find something that you like. For me it is the image below. 

This part is certainly the fun part, as it transforms your image quickly and drastically. 

I would appreciate any feedback on my process from anybody willing to discuss! It is certainly a working process, and one that is far from finished. I would also be willing to give additional details that anybody would be interested in learning (I understand that this is an overview)!


News and Notes

  • I will not be the only student working on these drawings for this publication. Two other students will be assisting on the two other sites as we attempt to provide as much of a variety to the author as possible. 
  • I leave Saturday for Chicago, and then a week from Thursday for Copenhagen. With very few details left to figure out, it is all about experiencing and learning at this point. I have changed my expectations of what I will come away with after a conversation with Michael Martin (another professor). He suggested identifying a singular alleyway/alley like space that appears to be working best in each city, and really focusing in on what makes it successful. 
  • Currently listening to.......FIDLAR. These guys can jam. It is a bit heavy, but give it a chance and I am sure it will be stuck in your head. And just as the song and video suggest, this tune will be on repeat as I repeat my rendering process over and over again.

The Adaptation of Alleyways: Part One

June 18th marks the start of my journey through fjords, sidestreets, and alleyways. I will be posting here frequently throughout my trip as a means to let everyone know that I'm okay as well as help chronicle all of the incredible things that I am seeing. More to come soon. 

News and Notes

  • Lists are fun, even if they are occasionally click-bait. Regardless, I am pretty excited to be visiting three of the cities listed as shaping urban living
  • I have found my way back home after a bit of car trouble. Knowing how few times left I will be able to visit home in this capacity, I am enjoying it to its fullest. 
  • Currently listening to...St. Paul & the Broken Bones. First of all, they're in Paris. Second of all, they are covering a musical giant. Third of all, St. Paul sure can wail. 


It is difficult to wrap our minds around it. Until we earn the recognition, we do not feel that something is real. We need to announce it on Facebook. We need those sweet words of others showered over us. We need that expensive piece of paper handed over. Rarely anymore do we measure ourselves by our own personal experiences. I am as guilty as anyone, but I try as often as possible to challenge my urge to measure myself. One of those moments is upon me, as I graduate from college on Saturday. I know what I have accomplished, experienced, and ultimately overcome in order to get to Saturday; but oddly enough, until I get that expensive piece of paper and share with everyone what it means, it feels like these experiences lack an appropriate cap. 

What my trip will roughly look like in Bergen, Norway. Roughly. Very very rough. 


I am truly able to measure my time here at Iowa State as all but finished; and while that is all well and good, this moment of "completion" by no means marks my moment of "conclusion." In fact this last year has provided me with my greatest growth within my values of design. As the video I posted in my previous entry suggests, I was really unsure of what I wanted to do within Urban Design for a while. Experiences, good or bad, have truly been a gift. 

One of the most valuable experiences that I have acquired in my time was the urban design studio in Las Vegas. We just concluded this past Wednesday, and though we might not have accomplished every little objective that we wanted in full within our ambitious proposal, I can say with confidence that our project turned out stronger than ever anticipated. 

Our objectives read as such: 

  • Rehabilitate the Victory Hotel
  • Create and Art Center for Business Professionals
  • Make a Well Used Alleyway
  • Make Our Site Net-Zero
  • Have a Local Community Focus

Looking at these now, almost a week later, and understanding the time provided, I believe that we pushed these objectives to an admirable point. The unfortunate thing about the design degree, is that in most cases it is impossible to be able to fully measure your success. It is subjective and speculative until realized and utilized. But, what I can measure is the amount of work I have done, and the amount of knowledge/experience I have accrued. Below are some of the images of our final presentation. 

Some of the most consistent points of improvement brought up involved the consistency of the streetscape, the demographics intended for, and the need to fit within the larger scope of Downtown Las Vegas. These are all valid points, and ones that need to be considered moving forward within all of our design careers. 

This studio helped me to cultivate my interest in alleyways and adaptive reuse, and also provided me with a platform to express myself. I cannot understate the importance that this experience as well as other experiences this semester has played within my development as a designer. 

In another moment of gauging success, I have recently received official word that my proposal The Adaptation of Alleyways has been accepted for the Barbara King Scholarship. 

What This Means

  1. I will be spending three weeks this summer studying alleyways primarily in Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo, and Bergen. 
  2. I will be reading the book Tight Urbanism by Daniel Toole, which chronicles Daniels journey to Australia, Japan, and the Pacific Northwest of the United States to better understand alleyways. 
  3. I will continue to update this blog per my own discoveries travels related to alleyways. 
  4. I will present my findings, make valuable connections within this narrow design world, and continue to grow within this niche. 

Tight Urbanism by Daniel Toole

The interesting part of all of this silly measurement talk is that the more I sit and ponder it, the more I recognize the value in measurements. If we are unable to recognize what we have accomplished, then what is the point in accomplishing them in the first place? Sure, there are more graceful ways of doing it than others. Within the buzz of the constant grind, it is important to take these moments of recognition in order to break up the monotony. With that said, as Saturday approaches, I am going to sit back, crack open a cold one, and enjoy this. As my favorite author, Kurt Vonnegut, once penned: "I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is." 


News and Notes

  • Word is that the Victory Hotel site was just sold, and has plans to become another container park. After having gained such a fondness for that little hotel, I am really going to miss it. But hey, at least it is going out like this.
  • My family is going to be in town (including my little sister) and I cannot wait to share some stories, celebration, and many Martin smiles with them. 
  • Currently listening to...Measurements by James Blake. The sultry (yes sultry) tone of his voice always sounds nostalgic. And this tune only amplifies that nostalgia. Kudos to anyone who watches the entire video. 

From Prairie to Practice - A Short Video About Me

For my professional practice class, we were asked to create a 2 minute video about ourselves. It could speak to our passions, our history, our future, or really anything else that we felt was pertinent. Below is my video (and yes, I know it is not quite 2 minutes with it): 


Hygge - The Small Things

Hygge: The Danish art of building sanctuary and community, of inviting closeness and paying attention to what makes us feel open hearted and alive. Hygge happens when we commit to the pleasure of the present moment in its simplicity.

I have been in a weird place lately. For the first time in my life,  I do not have to be anywhere in particular at any particular time. Of course the sooner I earn a job post-graduation, the better. But there is no sense that if I do not get a job this summer, my life is over. There is also no obvious next step. Sure, a career at a reputable Landscape Architecture firm does seem fairly obvious. But until something smacks me over the top of my head, I am not convinced that anything is obvious. This also might lend itself to significant realization about reality: nothing is obvious. If there is anything, though, that I can consider obvious, it is that I need to simplify. I feel cluttered. With graduation right around the corner, and no places to be, it is time to embrace hygge. 

Develop  hygge.  From many college experiences, to a few simple, yet meaningful, goals. 

Develop hygge. From many college experiences, to a few simple, yet meaningful, goals. 

Above represents how I feel about the Victory Hotel project. There is an odd mix of anxiety and calm. Our project is at a moment where uncertain footing must meet a confident step. We have pushed ourselves to a design worth being proud of, no doubt; and although we are definitely confident in our design, we have scuffled along in the representation of our design. Having been a part of a communication based project this semester, I understand the importance of what simplification can do. Especially when carried through to the masses. 

Our project involves business people and artists. Heavy use programs and sustainable intentions. Interior circulation and an important exterior context. Our project is immensely complex, there is no doubt about that. The impromptu critique from John Galloway left us with something difficult to swallow: our site is cluttered. There is a distinct lack of cohesion on site, and that is terrifying. 

Despite having a great concept, it might be time for Mad Men to simplify. 

In order to properly move forward, I think that we need to embrace hygge on site. We want this to be a community, so why not make this intention obvious in both our design and representation of our site? Our site should be about the local and providing a haven for people after work. Business folks are constantly cluttered in their lives, so it only makes sense to generate a place where they can escape the clutter. The same principles can be said for our boards. 

Our project, as well as my near future are no longer about a mass of stuff, but instead about being selective moving forward. In our overstretched, complex lives, hygge reminds us to be resourceful, and that simplicity matters. 

News and Notes

  • More information about the concept of hygge can be found here . 
  • Not much recent news about Las Vegas outside of the new developments on the MGM-AEG arena. It does not even concern downtown, so I will refrain from providing a link/additional info. 
  • Currently listening to: Ben Howard. Such simple and powerful tunes. 

    The Moon Belongs to Everyone

    Recently, I finished the first half of the final season of Mad Men, my favorite television show and the namesake for our art/business professional urban design project. In the final episode of the 7th season, the entire world watched together as the Apollo 11 mission took place. The episode managed to capture every character in a moment of being detached (while in their den in front of the television), yet all participating together.

    After a main character passes away, a dreamlike version of him tap dancing and singing "The Best Things in Life are Free" concludes the season. The commentary on how the "stars and the moon are for everyone" really plays up this idea of unified participation. Though the characters might not have exactly touched the moon, this moment was undoubtedly for every single one of them. 

    One spring break, and 100 hours later, and we have our boards. 

    These are not perfect at this point, but we are extremely proud with how far our work has come. Although I was sick for the presentations yesterday, it is my understanding that the discussions went well. I am eager to hear more about it as this week proceeds. 

    This project is a prime example as to why landscape architecture and urban design are so gratifying for me: everyone can participate in the product. If our design were to be built a year from now, it would not just be for our use, but for the City of Las Vegas to use. Because ultimately, the moon belongs to everyone. 

    News and Notes

    • So it has been about 3 weeks since my last entry here, and since then I have been back home in Illinois, applied for more jobs, finished applications for ASLA & Barbara King, and fought off a brutal flu bug. I could have sworn that senior year was supposed to be easier than this. 
    • The Downtown Project for Las Vegas has undoubtedly brought great development to downtown Las Vegas, but how much revenue has it generated since its inception? According to this article, it brought 23,000 annual visitors, $26.5 million in revenue, 1,048 permanent jobs, and 100 tech startups in its 3 years. 
    • Currently listening to: Patrick Watson. One of my favorite artists came out with a new song recently, and it is vintage PWats. Seems especially fitting as graduation approaches. 

    Be Popular, Play Pop

    The College of Design at Iowa State is a place where cultures collide, conclusions clash, and concepts convene. There is a sense of collective independence here. Here, a feeling of autonomy thrives, but this place is at its best when these feelings of autonomy pair together. This exact concept was illustrated by the recent social experiment done by students of the Toys Option Studio at Iowa State. Last Wednesday students crowded in the first floor of the open-aired atrium at the College of Design for a balloon drop. 

    The Balloon Drop. Courtesy of the Make It Rain Facebook Page. 

    The concept was as follows: There were hundreds of balloons piled in a net hanging above the five floors of the College of Design, some empty, some filled with monetary prizes, some filled with shuddering facts about student debt. At 11:50 am on Wednesday (with the balloon drop scheduled for noon) myself and hundreds of others pooled on the ground floor. Anyone that took the time to survey the atrium noticed few consistencies amongst the gathering of people. Rural kids, city kids, athletes, hipsters, and others that were far from categorizable. The consistencies were obvious, though. We all wanted a couple of bucks, the energy of others, and that striking Instagram photo. So while we all strive to be individuals, sometimes 'pop' levels the field; and we cannot help but participate. (Note the deliberate use of a balloon pun). 

    Now, how does that relate to Las Vegas and our most recent review on Friday? Simple: keep it simple. We have had fantastic success in developing our proposal for the Victory Hotel site thus far. We have worked so hard at innovating that we overlooked the obvious. We have been so focused on the interior of the block that we almost entirely left the site context out. Simple stuff, right? Street trees, cross walks, paving options, etc. This does not mean we have not addressed the surrounding sites, it is just that we completely lacked representation of this fact. So while we would look at our boards with the context in mind, our reviewers were left out of this conversation (or lack of conversation). It is fun to have these ideas for ourselves, but boy does it get better when you can share them with the general public. 

    The images above illustrate some of the spaces we have been working at developing. The alleyway, social club, and potential for food trucks are coming along fantastically. But until we can illustrate the context of place, how can people even arrive at these places? This place is not an island, and neither are design students. Eventually we all have to acknowledge our outside contexts. Without it, we lose touch with what makes our place, and ourselves, so real & so rich. 


    News and Notes

    • I have finally finished my Mapleton project along with my three group mates this past Sunday(pending ASLA submissions). After a semester and a half of working with the residents of Mapleton in order set forth implementation plans for a Campground and a more Walkable 6th Street I am happy to be able to look back with great pride on what we were able to accomplish. 
    • Spring break is next week. I plan on spending time soaking up the Illinois sun. Nothing says break like home cookin' from your mom and a wet kiss from your dog. 
    • Currently listening to: Belle & Sebastian. These guys, despite unconventional measures, have had some staying power in the music industry...

    Alleys of Reflection

    I have to say, this blog has been a fantastic tool for me. In fact, reflection as a tool itself is one that I find to have nothing but benefits. It provides us a sounding board to set in concrete our own beliefs. Our ability to think audibly, and to get out of our own minds is huge. Especially on the cusp of the professional world of Landscape Architecture, this reflection strengthens our ability to communicate our vision more clearly; and if we can communicate our vision more clearly, then we can focus on design more, and selling the design less. Anyways, enough of the reflection on reflection (and really selling you on its usefulness), let's get to reflecting on design. 

    The Victory Hotel as it currently stands. Our intentions are to refurbish the historic facade. 

    As a quick debrief, our project exists on the block of the Old Victory Hotel in Downtown Las Vegas. Our big program elements include a social club, food trucks, community art spaces, and most importantly interior block access through the development of alleyways. 

    Recently, with the addition of two new group members, one Landscape Architect and one Grad Student Architect, the dynamic of our quaint three member group has changed. Thus far, the strong group dynamic shown in our 36 hour charrette has carried through, but simply grown in volume with added members. We have set out determined to accomplish a significant amount of work before Thursdays first review, and slowly but surely we have identified our strengths, interests, and intentions. 

    Our groups major investigative design pieces are as follows: 

    • Emmy: The design of the building footprints and programming. 
    • Ken: The investigation into the capability of a net-zero site (for the entire block). 
    • Aziz: The development of an appropriate and responsible planting palette/design. 
    • Kassia: The design and investigation of the historic preservation of The Victory Hotel. 
    • Tom (me): The design of the alleyways as well as congruent outdoor spaces. 

    Undoubtedly these pieces have a great deal of overlap. So while these are our focuses, we have many other investigations and collaborations as a team. From the onset, the alleyways have been where I have wanted to focus my energy on, so I am thrilled to head that charge. The edges of the block are surrounded by a hodgepodge of developments that include a prison, a large city hall facility, a tertiary casino entryway, as well as a massive parking lot. So the intentions of the alleyway is to develop the block from the inside out. If we can integrate a life within the block, the intention is for it to begin to bleed out on to the adjacent arts trail as well as across from Main Street where the parking lot stands. 

    Though it is less than ideal, the alleyway in the site provides plenty of space to work with.

    Void of vegetation, amenities, and really any interest whatsoever, the intention is for the alleyway to begin to look something like this: 

    An early representation of what the alleyway could look like. 

    As displayed in the early rendering, there is intent of creating a shading structure that works with our hope of developing a net-zero block. This would mean installing a structure of solar panels. There would be two types of solar panels: one that thrives in direct sunlight, and one that is efficient in both direct and indirect sunlight. The placement of these panels will be determined by the heights and footprints of surrounding buildings and where their shadows cast. 

    Regardless of its resulting form, we understand that when in a city with such great amounts of solar potential, in addition to such a lack of shade, that it only makes sense to work these two observations together into an effective shade structure. 

    Moving forward, we want to begin to identify how the layout of the ground plane within the alleyway works with the buildings designed by Emmy. That coincides with the plantings recommended by Aziz. We are feeling comfortable at this point, but we also understand the importance of pushing forward. Oh, and reflection. Reflection's important too. 

    News and Notes

    • As I noted a few weeks back, the MLS will not be coming to Las Vegas. This opens up an ongoing opportunity for the NHL to find a home in Las Vegas. As stated in the article, '7,350' season tickets have been sold to this point. They hope to keep The Strip from buying them up, and intend on marketing these seats to families of Las Vegas. 
    • 7 weeks of school left? How?! Why??? WHAT!?!!??
    • Currently listening to: Mac Demarco. This is one part lo-fi, one part rousing, and 20 parts reflection. It only felt appropriate. 

    The Charrette Vignette

    It felt a little bit like this:

    This charrette was a flurry of activity. 

    This charrette was a flurry of activity. 


    In an allotment of 36 hours between myself and two other students (ideally 12 hours apiece) we worked up a flurry of trace paper, markers, and computer rendering software. As I alluded to in my last post our site was the block of the Victory Hotel. Just southwest of The Fremont Street Experience, on the northern end of the Art Trail, and firmly planted within the Office Core District, our site had some interesting dynamics to work with. 

    Just to reiterate some previous points made, our objectives for the charrette were as follows:

    • To create connectivity within the block through the use of the existing alleyways.  
    • Provide areas for business professionals to meet for lunch, and after work drinks. 
    • Create artful spaces for the Office Core District.
    • Develop shaded outdoor spaces within the block. 
    • Address all of the edges of site, including those on the interior. 
    • Preserve portions of the Victory Hotel, and include it as a potential social club. 

    Looking back on these, I believe that we ultimately addressed each of these with our design, shown below: 



    As shown above, we focused on the alleyway as our main source of circulation through the site. While it is the primary source, that does not mean we are not creating points of entries at other points along the way. We believe that the entryway for service vehicles (garbage, utilities) and food trucks along 1st Street can also be a great place for people to enter with opportunities for art installations within that space. 

    Yes, we felt very confident about this project (especially in the time allotted) but that is not without saying that improvements are imminent. Whoever is placed on this project moving forward must begin to look at the role that the face along 1st Street presents. We didn't neglect it per se, but it was not a driving factor of the design either. Some of the other questions we have outstanding are as following: 

    Questions Needed to Be Addressed: 

    • How are we addressing people from the North?
    • How do we see the surrounding site developing?
    • What are the side alleys doing for us?
    • How do the nitty gritty pieces of Form Based Code influence our design?
    • What does our Landscape Plan look like? (dropped the ball on that one.)

    Some of the outstanding questions we have moving forward. 

    With all of these questions in mind, I'd be thrilled to continue on with this project. I think that my energy & interests pair up with it nicely. I have been intrigued with urban gathering spaces, as well as walk ability for quite some time now. With the food truck, social club, and alleyway spaces shaping up, I think it is only appropriate to see where this project goes. 


    The flurry has slowed, but it would be shortsighted to say that there is not another one of these on the horizon.  

    News and Notes

    • No major news going on in Las Vegas right now. Just ya know, that a bunch of Iowa kids are doing some great work for their Downtown. 
    • In semi-related news, a website I was just referred to recently, Boat, has been doing numerous issues each focusing on a different city. The Detroit one really struck me, having visited last semester. The urban farming information might be of interest to the Veteran's Village group. 
    • Currently listening to: Dead Man's Bones...a collaboration of Zach Shields & Ryan Gosling for a single studio album comprising of a "Spooky Opera." Pretty fantastic stuff. Here's a short video of them performing...

    Coming Home

    We are back from Las Vegas, full of perspective, and low on sleep. The stark contrasts between the blinding lights of Las Vegas, and the blinding snow of Iowa is, well, blinding. Now that I have had an opportunity to allow for my mental state to catch up with my physical state of being in Iowa, I see no reason not to reflect. 

    Having arrived late Friday, we stayed at the historic El Cortez hotel, and firmly planted within one of the most lively parts of Las Vegas. We were ready to dive in. 

    The view from our balcony at the El Cortez Hotel. 

    The view from our balcony at the El Cortez Hotel. 

    For much of our time, we really just wandered and looked into the feel of Downtown (and all of its districts) more than anything. What we found was a lively, yet disjointed city. With places like the Fremont Street Experience, the Container Park, and the Arts District (which holds the First Friday Festival each month) there are great amenities downtown. The issue is the inability to connect all of these amenities. There were few comfortable streetscapes, and even fewer consistencies between streets. Some had vegetation, some were blank. Some were narrow, some were comfortably wide. Some had great furnishings and ground plane interest, some completely disregarded these elements. 

    I am sure you get the point. There is no continuity between one block/street to another. Even being the "district guy," I had a difficult time differentiating between districts while walking around. That poses a much larger issue than what our current site parameters can provide. In an attempt to bite off what we can chew, my group mates and I have concluded that a block of development that is respondent to the successful contextual pieces, yet catalytic in its approach to the area is the appropriate route to take. 

    Joined by two other students, our team has embarked upon a 36 hour design charrette for the coming week. Our site: The old Victory Hotel (located below). 


    What has already heavily framed our concept of this block is the fact that it is within the Office Core District. As I have stated in my earlier blog posts, the Office Core District is home to many courthouses, banks, and business buildings. This means business people. These people are generally settled down, and are looking for an opportunity to relax at lunch, and wind down after work. Now combining this block with how it butts up against the Art Trail on 1st Street, this has framed us with an interesting need; an art center for business professionals. 

    Our objectives for the site: 

    • To create connectivity within the block through the use of the existing alleyways.  
    • Provide areas for business professionals to meet for lunch, and after work drinks. 
    • Create artful spaces for the Office Core District.
    • Develop shaded outdoor spaces within the block. 
    • Address all of the edges of site, including those on the interior. 
    • Preserve portions of the Victory Hotel, and include it as a potential social club. 

    These are just early concepts and directions; but we already feel confident about these concepts and directions. More to come after the 36 hour charrette deadline this Wednesday. Any way you slice it, though, a good ol' fashioned brain dump is in order.  


    News and Notes (and observations)

    • It would appear that the MLS will not be coming to Las Vegas. This is huge, because our Victory Hotel Site is just southwest of the site in which the stadium was proposed. The Symphony Park's development will surely be changing in some capacity in light of this news. 
    • I was amazed how often our group would bump into Tony Hsieh while downtown. Whether it be in the Container Park, or the Gold Spike Hotel, the CEO of Zappos (and major developer for Downtown Las Vegas) is obviously not deterred by his own fame. It is obvious that he cares about this community moving forward. 
    • Currently listening to: Leon that we are back and local, it only felt appropriate to throw this track on. 


    Shaking The Snow From Our Boots

    T-Minus 3 days until we trek to Las Vegas, and leave this snowy winter in the dust. The timing could not be more perfect, having recently garnered 14" of snow in Central Iowa. 70 degrees and a dry heat sound exactly like what the doctor ordered. 

    Iowa winters are beautiful, but they come with a bite. This is a view from the College of Design at Iowa State.

    Iowa winters are beautiful, but they come with a bite. This is a view from the College of Design at Iowa State.

    Since my last post we have made some new iterations to our research presentation boards (mine being research on Downtown Las Vegas Districts). The old boards are in my previous post, with the updated version below: 

    The main additions that I made to the previous iteration was the new zoomed in maps of each district. This closer look allows for us to peer into the size, structure, and important landmarks of each district. For instance, now you can see the placement of the Fremont Street Experience within the Central Casino District. 

    Another addition was the clarification for what the terms like landmark, district, and nodes actually mean. These terms derive from the previously referenced Image of the City by Kevin Lynch. Lynch's work is hugely important in identifying what is working within an urban context, and what is not. Without the terminology described on the first page of the PDF above, it would be immensely more difficult to articulate what is necessary for urban improvement. 

    Veteran's Village & What is Next

    So now that we as a class have exchanged such fantastic information in preparation for the trip this Friday, we decided to once again pool our knowledge (or lack there-of) to see what we still need to know prior to the trip as well as what we need to do while on site. These tasks ranged from identifying important information about each site's demographics, to understanding the prominent homeless population within the downtown context. 

    So, my task was to look into the incredible work by Arnold Stalk (as well as countless others) on the focus of the homeless veteran's population, and more specifically The Veteran's Village. Now, Veteran's Village can be described as a transitional and permanent housing residence for United States Veterans. It is located in the heart of Downtown South and provides specific programs such as on site employment assistance, career & life planning, and access to medical services. If you are interested in learning more, or getting involved, the website for Veteran's Village is: . 

    I am currently in the process of putting together a "Homeless Veterans Process Diagram" which will display the process of how Veterans go from combat to homelessness. The hope is to provide some insight into how exactly we can intercept that process through design to give Veterans a more stable transition. It is a huge problem, but undeniably one that needs attention. 


    News and Notes

    • Word is that Las Vegas is looking to get an NHL team...sounds like the perfect escape for those "hot" Vegas winters. It would be interesting to see if this develops faster than the talk of a Major League Soccer team. 
    • Currently listening to: The Greyhounds...this one will be on repeat all the way to Las Vegas. 

    Districts of Insomnia


    Having made our first passes through the research on Downtown Las Vegas, with what might not be recognized as a fine-toothed comb, it appears that we are sitting pretty moving forward. On one hand we now have information ranging from the history, form-based code, weather/climate, and demographics. We are more knowledgeable today than we were yesterday. That is undoubtedly good. On the other hand, the gap that needs to bridged between now and the design phase is still very wide. That is to be expected. 

    But, with such an engaged and invested class, we were able to give each other much needed input in order to move forward. Below are my boards of research (rough, and with plenty of work left to be done) and some of the comments made about what I can do to take it a step forward:

    As I highlighted in my previous post, my focus was on districts. I used the background information that I learned from Kevin Lynch's Image of the City and provided some definitions about districts. From there, while locating them on a referral map, I highlighted some of the big points and takeaways from each district (ten in all), and also provided the user with a QR code that would take them through a walkthrough or additional information about a feature of the district. Overall, great start. If nothing else, this research has allowed me to prepare myself mentally for all of the nightlife of Las Vegas. In a way I have been preparing for this trip for a long time. 

    All of the years of design induced insomnia have prepared me for Las Vegas. 

    As far as feedback goes, here are some of the more directional comments that I received last Monday. 

    What did I learn?

    I learned that Las Vegas has a little of disconnect between the districts. This is partly because of the character strength within certain districts, but it is mostly due to the lack of continuity and identity as an entire downtown. For our 2nd site (the one highlighted on the map above) because it spans three different districts, and because the districts are either so vastly distinct, or lack any identity at all, it is going to prove immensely difficult to conceive a design with such continuity. 

    I also learned that there are numerous factors that must be weighed when working within a city of this type. Between the obvious climate/environmental limitations, to the fresh topic of Form-Based Code, we will not be afforded any obvious privileges to a designing "sand box." But, with these limitations come a much richer opportunity. A framed question, instead of an open ended one. There are obvious answers, but there are great opportunities to rethink the frame, and what our limitations might entail.  

    How did the feedback go?

    Well, mostly good. Lots of encouraging words. But, it would appear that I need to rethink how I display text as far as readability is concerned. Other than that, as some of the notes above show, it would be smart to begin making connections between districts and demographics, connections between each district, as well as providing a map of each individual district within the presentation. These are fantastic critiques, and ones that I intend to move forward with.

    Why is this important to us in this project?

    Well, I always "knew" districts were important, but now I know districts are important. There is a little bit of an identity crisis going on in Las Vegas as the idea of gambling as an industry becomes less certain. Districts can provide diversity, depth, and stability within a city, and provide an eclectic mix of people the opportunity to enjoy it. 



    • Last night I decided to do some "research" and popped on the cult classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It was always a movie that I had intended on watching, and while not perfectly accurate in describing Las Vegas by any means (especially given that it is set in 1971), the movie left me with a little bit anxious. I am unsure as to whether it was anxiously excited, or anxiously nervous. Nonetheless, it got me thinking. I'd recommend it. Maybe only once. Not sure I get could through that wild ride again. Even a Toby McGuire with silken white hair could not convince me otherwise. 
    • Despite almost entirely being framed around The Strip, there was a short glimpse of Fremont East in an early scene. Chalk one up for Downtown. 
    • One and a half weeks until Las Vegas.
    I might need to purchase a bucket hat prior to Las Vegas.

    I might need to purchase a bucket hat prior to Las Vegas.