Archive for October, 2008

With gigantic new “Wetland Machine” for Pontine Marshes, Alan Berger FAAR’08 takes on multi-millennial challenge

October 22, 2008

The challenge?

A highly polluted zone in the Lazio region of central Italy, located six kilometers from the town of Latina, in the Pontine Marshes. The Marshes are a vast, low-lying environmental system southeast of Rome that have bedevilled planners and builders before the ancient Romans even started to write their own history.

Mussolini finally drained the Marshes with an ambitious system of canals. But now those canals are contaminating agricultural land and dumping farm, factory and domestic waste into the Mediterranean.

MIT professor Alan Berger faces down a canal in Latina. Credit: Claudio Palmisano for the NYT

Enter Alan Berger, FAAR’08. Berger is an Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture and Urban Design at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning. He also directs MIT’s Project for Reclamation Excellence (P-REX), which provides transdisciplinary research and consultation on the planning and design of the natural and built environment.

As Elisabeth Rosenthal of The New York Times describes him in a 22 September 2008 profile, “Professor Berger specializes in creating new ecosystems in severely damaged environments: redirecting water flow, moving hills, building islands and planting new species to absorb pollution, to create natural, though ‘artificial’, landscapes that can ultimately sustain themselves.”

Berger had caught the attention of The New York Times already a couple of years ago, for his redesign of an area around an abandoned mine in Breckenridge, Colorado, as part of a Superfund cleanup underwritten by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Thanks to a 2007-08 Prince Charitable Trusts Rome Prize in Landscape Architecture Fellowship at the American Academy in Rome, Berger was able to work closely with the Provincia di Latina Planning Agency and Consorzio dell’Agro Pontino in developing a set of innovative solutions for an environmentally challenged and challenging area.

In addition to extensive archival research—more on that in a moment—Berger conducted aerial photography of the Latina region and created the largest contemporary image archive of the landscape systems (all that water!) and ecological conditions of the area.

Berger’s studio at the American Academy in Rome, June 2008. Courtesy Alan Berger.

“He studied the zone from a different point of view than ours,” said Carlo Perotto, the planning director for the province, to The New York Times. “We had different people concerned with water, industry and agriculture. He opened a new way of thinking.”

The site strategy? To artificially re-introduce a gigantic new “wetland machine” (2.3 square km) for water filtering and biological exchange. Specifically, Berger’s design retro-fits and widens existing Pontine canals to serve as flow distributors. Plus he “terraforms” shallow ridges and valleys to hold and treat water. These soil cut and fill operations make raised areas for new public space and programs.

Berger’s future “Wetland Machine”, systemic site and aerial perspectives. ©2008 Alan Berger, P-REX

The upshot? Berger’s “natural cleansing station” will drastically improve the regional water supply, spur biodiversity, and provide open space for recreation—in an area that now completely lacks large open landscapes with diverse vegetation. For more details, read here.

“MIT has funded the collaboration,” Berger tells the SOF Weblog, “for me and two students to work for two years, and Latina has acquired a site and budget for moving this to reality. The research is now reality!”

There’s even more after the jump… (more…)


Paul Shaw (FAAR’02) presents “Lettering Tour of NYC: Midtown” for SOF on Sunday 26 October 08

October 8, 2008

Make sure to bring binoculars.

On Sunday 26 October 2008 from 11 AM to 2 PM Paul Shaw (FAAR ’02) will lead “A Lettering Tour of New York City: Midtown” for members of the Society of Fellows of the AAR and their guests.

This introductory tour to lettering in New York City will focus on the riches of Midtown—with a slight deviation to parts of the Upper East Side.

From the facade of St. Bart’s, Park Ave between 50th and 51st

Participation is limited to 15, and SOF members can RSVP here (best by Wednesday 22 October). The meeting place will be in Manhattan at a location in the East 60s (details upon registration).

Shaw will show the group a full range of lettering styles, techniques and materials from carved capitals inspired by those of ancient Rome to Art Deco neon signs. The tour will encompass colleges, churches, department stores, office buildings, bars, subway stations and more.

Plus Shaw in his commentary will discuss different lettering styles and their historical origins, the many methods of making letters, the factors involved in designing letters for outdoor use, the diverse roles that lettering can play in the urban environment, and the symbolism and meaning behind certain letter styles.

Paul Shaw is a graphic designer specializing in calligraphy, lettering and typography and a design historian with a similar focus.

Upon winning the Franklin D. Israel Rome Prize Fellowship in Design Arts, he spent his time at the American Academy (2001/2002) researching the lettering connection between the calligraphy of the Paduan scribe Bartolomeo Sanvito and the Roman sculptor Andrea Bregno in the late Quattrocento.

Shaw is the author of “Looking for Letters in New York: A Tale of Surprise and Dismay” in Letters from New York 2 (2006) and in 2007 was profiled by Christopher Gray in The New York Times.

Paul has led walking tours of lettering in New York for the Society of Typographic Afficionados, the Type Directors Club, the Society of Scribes, the American Printing History Association and the 2007 GEL conference. He has also conducted similar tours in Boston and Buffalo and from 1997 to 2001 he co-led the Legacy of Letters tours in Florence and Rome.

The Society of Fellows is pleased to host what should be a red letter date in your cultural calendar.

PS [29 October 2008] the event fully lived up to the high expectations, and opened up new vistas on the NYC letterscape for the 15 participants…

Left to right: Bunny Harvey (FAAR’76), Paul Shaw (FAAR’02), Jeffrey Schiff (FAAR’77), Blair Tate, Elizabeth Bartman (FAAR’83, RAAR’09)

Detail from General Electric Building at 570 Lexington Avenue