Lecture Recap :: Diana Balmori

Diana Balmori at the BAC, photo by Ian Hester
By Ian Hester, BArch Candidate

As part of the Spring 2013 Student Lecture Series, designer Diana Balmori presented A Landscape Manifesto at the BAC. As principal of Balmori Associates in New York, she has worked on a variety of projects around the globe and developed a unique perspective on design.

Balmori describes herself as a landscape architect, an urban planner, and an artist. She notes that as a result of breaking with its past and reinventing itself, landscape architecture has become a field that is on the edge of architecture, engineering, urbanism, and ecology. She emphasizes that landscape architecture is not a part of these other fields, but that an overlap has developed which allows it to implement their tools and thus grow and expand in new directions. One of her key concepts is that the purpose and intention of landscape architecture is to be able to create a sustainable environment, and to bridge the continuously shifting gap between nature and people.

The first project that Balmori shared was Long Island (Green) City, which is a green roof project in New York that was designed to improve environmental conditions as well as aesthetics. Green roof systems, especially when constructed on a large scale, are able to mediate climate and improve both water drainage and water quality. They also create open space and what Balmori described as a ‘fifth fa├žade’, which is a roof that is visible from high rise buildings and bridges. The project began as a study, but upon being presented as a pamphlet, Balmori Associates found clients in Silvercup Studios and Gratz Industries in New York.

Silvercup Studios Green Roof, photo from thecityatlas.org
Although most of her work is done in urban settings, Balmori also presented a project that was done in suburban Minneapolis. The Prairie Waterway Stormwater Park in Farmington, Minnesota is a water drainage system for a residential development that is susceptible to flooding due to a flat plain and a high water table. Instead of a standard underground pipeline, she implemented an open drainage system that created a wetland area surrounded by fields and woven with paths for pedestrians and bicycles, thus becoming both infrastructure and a community amenity. The inclusion of recreational open space as a goal for the project did not detract from its infrastructural efficiency, as only one day after completion, a hundred year flood occurred and the system of ponds, channels, and swales worked perfectly.

Prairie Waterway Stormwater Park, photo from asla.org
Balmori then presented her work in Bilbao, Spain, beginning with the Abandoibarra Master Plan. The project was to design a public space in the heart of the city along the Nervion River, spanning the area between the opera house and Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim, that would work with nature to connect different areas of the city as well as the transportation infrastructure while emphasizing both green space and the incorporation of sustainable practices. One major challenge that Balmori spoke about was the occasional flooding of the river. To solve this issue, she designed the space with four terraced levels, each with intermittent depressions that allow the water to pool in controlled locations rather than flood the entire area.

 Abandoibarra Master Plan, photo and image from balmori.com

One of Balmori’s most artistic projects was also done in Bilbao. The Garden That Climbs The Stairs was a five month installation for Bilbao Jardin 2009, a landscape competition in which participants are given a plot of public space. Balmori noted that the decision to build on the stairs was a metaphor for landscape spreading over public space and architecture.

The Garden That Climbs The Stairs, photo from treehugger.com
Balmori ended with her recent work on the Sejong City Master Plan in South Korea, which will be a public administration town that represents the current and future cultural beliefs of South Korea. She talked about how creating a new city ‘from scratch’ was a unique design opportunity that allowed her to effectively incorporate sustainability. The project is based upon three primary concepts that determined the master plan. First, the center of the city is a grouping of government buildings that are each six stories tall, creating a level plane to represent equality. Surrounding this are residential towers that are taller, allowing citizens an overview that will allow them to “feel part of a larger harmonious whole.” Next, physical and visual links are designed to create links between people and their government as well as nature and the city. Finally, Sejong City is designed with four interconnected infrastructure systems that allow for a completely sustainable zero waste city.
Sejong City, image from archpaper.com
Diana Balmori’s lecture allowed the audience to understand her perspective on the role of landscape architecture in the world of design. She emphasized that landscape architecture has a clear concept of cities and urban design, largely because of its ability to work in large scale, both in surface and section. The projects that she presented are only a sample of her work, which can be found on the Balmori Associates site.