Nick Offerman thinks Olmsted had gumption

Photographed against a tree, of course.

Nick Offerman and Ron Swanson have at least two things in common: they both know how to make useful implements out of wood, and they both seem to appreciate a quality burger.

There are also at least two places they diverge: Swanson must face Tammy 1 and Tammy 2, whereas Offerman only has to answer to Tammy 2, and I'm not so sure Ron Swanson would be a huge fan of Frederick Law Olmsted (although there's this: "Crying: Acceptable at funerals and the Grand Canyon"). He definitely would be against the government building a park.

But Offerman, who played the Swanson character on the critically acclaimed, smart and hilarious seven season comedy Parks & Recreation, thinks Olmsted had gumption, and included the nineteenth century father of landscape architecture on a short list of twenty-one gumptious Americans that are the focus of his second book.

What particularly stands out in chapter six is that Offerman tells the story of how he came to know Olmsted, a story that involved a coveted private tour of Central Park by Olmsted experts. For anyone wanting to delve deeper into the subject, Offerman recommends several other books about Olmsted and Vaux: Country, Park, & City: The Architecture and Life of Calvert Vaux by Francis R. Kowsky, Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted by Justin Martin (excellent, recommended), A Clearing in the Distance by Witold Rybczynski, and Frederick Law Olmsted: Essential Texts edited by Robert Twombly. And he makes the excellent point that Vaux seems to have gotten the short end of the slide rule, with Olmsted garnishing most of the modern recognition for works the two produced in partnership.

The eclectic mix of characters Offerman pays tribute to, intermixed with an honest and passionate discussion of some of his political views, makes for an interesting read and another way to get to know Offerman a little better through some of his heroes. Whether the initial draw to the book is the mention of a comedy legend, iconic artist, or notable diplomat, the reader is sure to delight in learning fascinating tidbits about someone equally extraordinary yet less familiar.

Like an epic film franchise, McDonald's combo meal, or any respectable list, the book has three parts. "Freemasons" comprise Part 1, "Idealists", Part 2, and "Makers" round out Part 3. Another reviewer commented that the selections become increasingly personal to Offerman, which in general seems true (he is, after all, a maker). The twenty-first gumptious individual is the brilliant and funny Conan O'Brien, who has nothing in particular to do with "landscape" but did play one of Offerman's hand-crafted kazoos a few years ago and may be the reason I pick up King Lear.

Watch Offerman discuss his book on YouTube. His third book "Good Clean Fun" comes out in October 2016. You can find autographed copies of it and Gumption on his website.

Did you read this book? What did you think? What books about Olmsted or Vaux would you recommend?

Cool stuff: Offerman's Meat Paddle

One can always use an extra meat paddle, and here is a fine specimen made of walnut that comes in three sizes - and can be monogrammed. Plus, it could be used to deliver other foodstuffs besides meat, like fish, which is practically a vegetable. Besides Offerman's Meat Paddle, the online store includes many other offerings that combine humor and utility, like the Yes Box, Luddite's Laptop, and Moustache Comb.

I have also been tempted more than once by the many fine looking wood cutting boards on Etsy (for example, this one).

(Photo from


About "Cool stuff":
A great botanical print or the convergence of aesthetics, function, and quality in a product can be hard to find. When I make such a discovery, I'll share it on the blog, but there is no affiliation between this blog and any of the products. I just think they're cool. Have you crossed paths with something noteworthy recently? Please do tell.

Lessons learned from behind the lens

Landscape design by landscape architect Stephen Haus.

Over the years, I've been able to improve my photography and have learned a few things along the way through trial and error. The photos in this post all happen to have been taken within the "built environment", but in my experience the lessons they depict are just as applicable to more traditional landscape photography of less developed settings. There is still so much more to know about photography and I continue to work on improving. Here are some of the things that have worked for me so far.

1. Use a polarizer filter

If you have an SLR, invest in a polarizer filter. They are inexpensive compared to the camera body and lenses at under fifty bucks and make all photos look amazing. Just like polarized sunglasses, you will be able to capture so much more definition in clouds and sky, and will be able to cut the glare out of water or glass sometimes entirely.

2. Use trees to filter harsh lighting and block out monotonous sky

I took the photo below with a point and shoot that has no polarizer and very little control over the settings. When I was just starting out, I would have tried to photograph this historic building straight on from the front. Since the light was behind the building at the time, the result would be a dark building, the details of which would be hardly visible, against a large swath of white sky and a giant tree in the yard. When you have a simple camera that is limited in what it can do, and no control over the lighting, you have to get creative with the angle or composition. This is not my ideal shot of the building - I want to return at a different time of day and possibly with better equipment - but it was the best shot possible at that time.

The monkeypod filters harsh afternoon sun and blocks out bland white sky.

3. Less is sometimes more

Sometimes capturing just some interesting small feature of a landscape (or any subject) as opposed to the whole landscape is enough or even more effective at conveying the point you are trying to make. Think about the message you are trying to convey, and then think about how that can be done best with the tools and constraints you have. The site depicted in the first photo above has many great elements. You descend down lava rock steps to this hidden and unexpected plateau where the water feature is the focal point, but to the right is a gorgeous pavilion, and to the left are more steps that curve down to a lower terrace. Especially with an inexpensive camera, but even with a great camera, there is no way to capture all of its beauty in a single frame. The perspective above excludes most of the site, but I think the image still succeeds in conveying what the site and design are all about.

4. Have a point of view

Why are you taking the photo? What story are you trying to tell? Does the image convey this story effectively? Asking these questions will make your photo much more interesting, especially as the years go on. This is probably the most important lesson I've learned in photography.

Grandmother and grandson silently pass the time under the shade of this Thai sala (pavilion) fulfilling its purpose of creating a place for meeting and contemplation.

5. Plan out the best time to shoot at each location

If you're shooting outdoors, you have little control over lighting. With a good map and understanding of the site, you can figure out what the best time of day to be there is. My main goal is usually to avoid having to shoot into the sun, unless I'm trying to create silhouettes or want the subject back-lit. Generally, dawn and dusk are the best times for photography, hence why photographers call these times of day "golden hour". The mid-day sun tends to create harsh shadows that have to be avoided or manipulated. If you have to be outside mid-day, try to position either yourself or your subject in the shade. Standing in the shade to take a photo also makes seeing what you're doing much easier. The photo below was taken around noon from a shady position. It probably works in part because there's nothing overhead creating a harsh shadow through the courtyard. I'm standing under an interesting sculptural pavilion structure that is a focal point of this space when you enter from across the courtyard, and chose to point the camera away from it at least partly because of the time of day. It seems that there is a fine shot to be had at most any time of day or place, but if you want a particular angle, it is best to plan ahead.

If you have to photograph at noon, avoid harsh shadows.

6. The rule of thirds

For composing a photo, I will generally only center the subject dead ahead when photographing buildings or gardens that are formal and/or where I want to emphasize symmetry, as in the image above. In most other cases, I keep the subject slightly to the left or right of center.

7. Consider vertical space

I used to have a lot of sky in my photos. Unless sky is the point of the image (sometimes a dramatic sky is the subject, or conveys mood or weather or something), often times having a lot of sky in the picture does not add to the narrative. I now try to keep the amount of sky to the minimum, and sometimes will keep it out of the photo entirely. Where the sky is not important to the story I am trying to convey, sometimes the horizon line is. That seems to be the deciding factor of how much sky to include when the sky itself is not important: do you want to show the horizon or not? In the example below, I was interested in the transition from ocean to palms, so I opted to completely exclude sky from the image composition. Having the horizon line or sky in the background did not add anything to the narrative in this case.

Consider omitting the sky from the composition if it does not add to your narrative.

8. Bad weather makes for good photography

My absolute favorite time to take photos is in between downpours of rain. There are so many things that "bad" weather can provide that sunny days just cannot. Pavement looks better when wet. "Bad" weather can also introduce amazing lighting and dark clouds that make the sky look more interesting. "Bad" weather can sometimes make shooting in mid-day just as great as dawn or dusk. "Bad" weather also deters a lot of other people, meaning fewer crowds or that you can have what would normally be a tourist hot spot all to yourself.

9. Keep lines parallel, sometimes

If your photo has the horizon in it or you are shooting a building head on, make sure the lines in the image are parallel to the frame of the image itself. See the third and fourth image above for examples. Shooting at an angle is more complicated. In this case, you may want just one edge parallel (often the vertical edge if shooting from ground level) or none at all. Sometimes you just have to experiment to find the composition that "feels right".

The rightmost columns and ground are parallel to the frame. Sometimes it takes experimenting to get it right. The point of convergence is to the right of center.

10. A thought on one point perspective

Like in drawing, lines in an architectural image converge to a point or two somewhere out in the distance. I'm not completely certain, but at least in general, I think the image is more interesting when the point of convergence is not smack dab in the center of the photo. In all of the images above, the point of convergence is offset from the center in one direction or another.

11. Back up

I used to go right up to the subject and attempt to take a good photo. I think that's a natural human tendency, as I see many other people do this. Now I look at what I'm trying to capture, and walk a ways backwards. Often times the more interesting angle is further away. The first photo is a good example of this. I visited that site three or more times trying to figure out the best time of day and angle, and it turned out I had to go to the fringes of the site. In the image below, it would have once been so natural to try to capture just the structure from a closer position, but backing up a bit introduced the tree canopy that adds interest, context, and filters the light.

Sometimes the more interesting vantage point is further away from the subject than you initially think.

12. Change it up

For a collection or series of images, I generally like to have a mix of wide angle landscape shots and close-up detail shots, but the story comes first. It's important to me to consider not only the composition of each image but also the overall composition of the collection as a whole. In other words, consider composition at all scales. This approach seems widely applicable to design in general.

Do these work for you? Did I miss any great tips? What lessons have you learned from photography?

Cool stuff: J.Crew Summer 2016's Ratti® Into the Wild print

J.Crew Off-the-shoulder dress in Ratti® Into the Wild print,
available in Regular, Petite, and Tall sizing.

Lovers of tropical fruit, rejoice! This may be the first time I have ever seen lilikoi (passionfruit; Passiflora edulis) flowers printed on fabric. Wait, is that lychee (Litchi chinensis), too? The print was also released on pumps, loafers, bikini separates (top, bottom), a machine-washable blouse, a bandana, and on the beloved Boy Shirt, which unfortunately appears to be completely sold out.

J.Crew says Ratti® is a major textile manufacturer based in Como, Italy, and that this print was resurrected from their archives. (See more of what I assume are Ratti® prints here.) J.Crew is known for vibrant and appealing prints sculpted into on-trend silhouettes, and tends to select just one to highlight each season. This Ratti® print is surely the star of the Summer 2016 collection.

Because of the passionfruit and lychee it incorporates, I put this print right up there with the well-received, head-turning Midnight Floral print from a few seasons ago. I think of this print, like so many tropical prints, as "generic tropical", because the design mixes flora and fauna from throughout the tropics. I would love to see more prints like this one by Sig Zane that feature place-specific plants. There are so many uncommon plants and creatures that help to define "sense of place" because they are endemic that also happen to be visually appealing. One of the reasons J.Crew's products are so compelling is because they often have a story to accompany them (here's one about their coats). It sure would be delightful if that story were a botanical one.

And because I had to scroll through a bunch of pages to find that link above, here's a story about Iris Apfel - just because.

What do you think about this print, and tropical prints in general? 

UPDATE: Check out the post about Ratti® on J.Crew's blog.


About "Cool stuff":
This blog focuses on "landscape", and people fascinated by "landscape" seem to often also love plants and great design. A great botanical print or the convergence of aesthetics, function, and quality in a product can be hard to find. When I make such a discovery, I'll share it on the blog, but there is no affiliation between this blog and any of the products. I just think they're cool. If you've seen something amazing, say something - by leaving a comment below.

Nine fruits I haven't seen before

Rubus idaeus var. Brinkles Orange (raspberries) by Mary Daisy Arnold (1873-1955) in 1915. There are also purple raspberries, black raspberries, wineberries, and cloudberries. Image source: U.S. Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection. Rare and Special Collections, National Agricultural Library, Beltsville, MD 20705.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a collection of pretty old watercolor paintings of a wide variety of fruits freely accessible online. Here are ten of them you probably won't find in an American supermarket chain. Usually when people talk about "exotic fruits" they mean tropical Southeast Asian fruits like longan, rambutan, or something in the latex family. This collection includes some tropical fruits, but also many older, perhaps rare varieties of common fruits.

According to the USDA, the paintings are "technically accurate" and were commissioned for use as illustrations in various USDA publications. The works were created between 1886 and 1942, with most painted between 1894 and 1916, and include species from all U.S. states, one U.S. territory, and twenty-nine countries. The collection includes 7584 watercolor paintings, lithographs, and line drawings by about twenty-one different artists, many of them women. Nearly half the works, 3807 of the over seven thousand, feature apples as the subject.

All images in this post are from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection; Rare and Special Collections, National Agricultural Library, Beltsville, MD 20705.

1. Feijoa

Acca sellowiana by Ellen Isham Schutt (1873-1955) in 1909.

Also known somewhat erroneously as pineapple guava, feijoa is native to southern Brazil, western Paraguay, Uruguay, northern Argentina, and Colombia. It is in the Myrataceae (myrtle) family and is named after a Spanish botanist. Feijoa are eaten a bit like apples: raw, used as pastry fillings, or as flavoring for ice cream and sodas.

Schutt painted over 700 watercolors for the USDA and built a house out of concrete in 1906 (Wikipedia).

2.  Amanda strawberries

Fragaria var. Amanda (1912).

An agricultural bulletin published in 1915 about strawberry varieties lists the Amanda variety in the categories of "Desirable", "Prolific Plant Producers", and "Very Productive". Read more about the history of strawberries in an earlier post.

3. Clymans Russet apple

Malus domestica var. Clymans Russet by Deborah Griscom Passmore (1840-1911) in 1897.

The book The California fruits and how to grow them by Edward James Wickson (Dewey & Co, 1891) says the following about this variety:

Clyman's Pippin -- Originated in Green Valley Sonoma County from seed brought from Oregon by Lancaster Clyman early in the fifties. He fruited a large lot of seedlings and two of them were propagated and distributed by W. H. Pepper of Petaluma and others. These two were shown at the first county fair in Santa Rosa some years ago, and one was named Clyman's Pippin and the other Clyman's Russet, although it showed no russet except a little at the stem. Mr. Pepper has the latter in bearing and calls it the "Clyman." In the upper part of Santa Rosa Valley they are growing as the Clyman Pippin the one known in Mr. Pepper's neighborhood as "Clyman's Russet," or the "Clyman." This matter should be straightened out.

There are many other apple varieties that don't look like the Red Delicious, including the Decarie and Yellow Transparent varieties.

Passmore painted over 1500 watercolors for the USDA in the late 1800s and early 1900s, making her the most prolific artist there. She was also a teacher distantly related to Betsy Ross. In her paintings, she sometimes used a hundred washes to achieve the right look. (Wikipedia)

4. Popoulu Hawaii banana

Musa var. Popoulu Hawaii by Amanda Almira Newton (1860-1943) in 1907.

The description of this image lists the geographic origin of perhaps this Popoulu as Puerto Rico. Other sites report the origin of Popoulu as Hawaii and say it is common there, but at least today it is not readily available at markets or widely consumed in Hawaii. The World of Bananas in Hawai'i: Then and Now (Angela Kay Kepler and Francis G. Rust; 2011) says the origin of the Popoulu banana group can be traced back tens of thousands of years to Vanuatu. Five of eight known Hawaiian Popoulu cultivars still exist but are all Critically Endangered (the other three are extinct) due to pests and diseases. Kepler and Rust (2011) estimated that just 200 Hawaiian Popoulu plants remained in Hawaii altogether. None of the varieties they named were "Popoulu Hawaii", nor is that phrase listed in the index.

Newton painted over 1200 watercolors for the USDA, and made wax models of fruits grown or tested in the U.S. at the time. Her grandfather was the first commissioner of the USDA; she was the second most prolific watercolor artist there. (Wikipedia)

5. Shropshire plum

Prunus domestica var. Shropshire by Mary Daisy Arnold (1873-1955) in 1916.

I was not able to find anything about the Shropshire plum, but Mary Daisy Arnold was the third most prolific painter of watercolors for the USDA, colored lantern slides, and also painted landscapes in her free time. (Wikipedia)

6. Red Georges peach

Prunus persica var. Red Georges by Elsie E. Lower in 1910.

Like the Shropshire plum and Amanda strawberry above, this print is about the only information online about the Red Georges peach. There is also a variety called Wonderful, and another called Red Bird Cling, in the watercolor collection, among many others.

Lower also worked for the US Forest Service as an artist, and was one of a few of the fifty USDA artists that went on to become an exhibiting artist. She was the daughter of a decorated Civil War veteran and married a pomologist. (Wikipedia)

7. Etrog

Citrus limon var. Etrog by Amanda Almira Newton (1860-1943) in 1916.

If you're Jewish, you may know alot about etrog, one of four components of arba minim. A California citrus grower took on the challenge of meeting the strict rules for growing etrog suitable for Sukkot under the supervision of a rabbi even though only a quarter of his Etrog crop made the cut in 2010. He is the only known grower of etrog for Sukkot in the U.S as of 2011. Someone in New York said etrog can sell for as much as $250 each.

8. Tabog

Swinglea glutinosa by Deborah Griscom Passmore (1840-1911) in 1909.

One source describes the fruit as "aromatic" with a sour juice "like a lemon" used to make soda in the Phillipines, and says it has potential as Citrus root stock.

9. Baobab

Adansonia digitata by Amanda Almira Newton (1860-1943) in 1924.

Baobab trees have a distinctive form. Most species of baobab are native to Madagascar. They grow up to a hundred feet, are one of the oldest angiosperm trees, and store up to 26000 gallons of water in their trunks. They also shed their leaves in the dry season. (Wikipedia) Adansonia grandidieri is an endangered species of baobab endemic to Madagascar.

The tree has various uses. The fruit pulp is eaten raw, or mixed into various foods. The pulp dries out naturally in the pod, kind of like a coconut. Watch baobab fruit processing here, and find out how it tastes.

10. Mangosteen

Garcinia mangostana by Deborah Griscom Passmore (1840-1911) in 1909.

And because this painting is amazing, mangosteen is a bonus number ten. Of unknown origin, the "Queen of Fruits" is thought to have been domesticated in Thailand or Burma/Myanmar. The tropical tree is slow growing, does not respond well to vegetative propagation, and the fruit are said to have a short shelf-life. All of these aspects make the fruit rare and highly sought after. When buying, counterintuitively select fruit that are firm, not soft. The bark contains tannins used in leather tanning in China, the wood is used to make rice pounders in Thailand, and its rind when dried and made into a powder is used in India for various medicinal purposes. Read more about this fruit on Purdue's horticulture website.

Have you seen or eaten any of these? I'll have to be on the lookout now.

The presence of absence: the 9/11 memorial design at Ground Zero in NYC

One of two voids at Ground Zero in New York City. Photo credit: John Zacherle.

Michael Arad watched the second plane hit the World Trade Center from the roof of his home and saw the south tower fall from nearby. A former soldier, son of a diplomat, and young architect that the NYTimes called "unknown" who moved to New York two or three years before 9/11 happened began designing a memorial before the international design competition was even announced. His first-hand experience of the tragedy inspired his design:

"I wanted to create a memorial site people could connect with. After the attack I went to Washington Square at 2 A.M., and 20 to 30 people were standing silently beside the fountain there. There were a few candles. No one said anything, but there was a very strong connection between the people, who were all strangers. And suddenly you lost the sense of being an outsider that you get living in New York."  source:

When Arad began conceptualizing a memorial design, he initially could not conceive of it existing on the site of the attack, where nearly 3000 people lost their lives. He was drawn instead to the nearby Hudson River, and imagined the water flowing into two square voids and disappearing. "It was this persistent image that haunted me," he said in a presentation at his alma mater, Georgia Tech, "and I wanted to know, could you realize that idea". A year later he made a model out of Plexiglas as a personal project, and photographed it on his roof, the city skyline reflecting on the absence symbolized by the two square voids.

The competition received over five thousand entries from sixty three countries and all but one U.S. state. Daniel Libeskind's master plan required the memorial to be thirty feet below grade in a plaza with the site's buildings overhanging the Twin Towers' footprints. Arad was the only entrant that had the audacity to ignore the latter stipulation, instead proposing sunken reflecting pools within the footprint of each tower open to the sky, the immediate surrounding space at grade devoid of anything except trees.

Libeskind's master plan had positioned the memorial below grade. Arad felt this physical disconnection from the fabric of everyday city life would ultimately lead to forgetfulness, whereas a memorial at grade would create a public space relevant and integral to everyday city life. "Public space reflects those best values of a democratic society, that sense of a shared condition even through conflicting viewpoints," he said.

The eight finalists in the competition were asked to present a model of their design showing a specific extent: the memorial site only, not the surrounding context. Arad again broke the rules, opting to present his design within the context of the surrounding landscape. Said Arad,

"I thought it was very important to actually show what was beyond it, because this memorial plaza is...really defined as an urban space by the city...if you think of Central have these walls of buildings that create such a clear delineation...

...To walk out on to this eight acre clearing is significant. It's a clearing the same way that these two voids are sort of empty spaces, that is also an empty space within the city, and I wanted to share that with the jury to give them a sense of the scale of the space..."

Arad's design, which he named "Reflecting Absence", won in 2004.

Construction progress, May 2, 2011. Photo credit: Rex Sorgatz.

Arad's original landscape plan included just a few trees that the competition jury thought did not welcome the everyday uses of the site that Arad had envisioned. How do you create a landscape that is both park and memorial? How do you design a landscape that enhances the experience but does not compete with the focal point that is the voids?

Sensing that a strong grid of trees would compete with the strong geometry of the voids, Arad devised a concept he called "abacus-like bands": linear, parallel strips of pavement that could vary in width, with trees along the center line of every "band" spaced randomly like beads in an abacus. This creates orderly allées in one direction, and a non-uniform arrangement from other perspectives. The bands run in the east-west direction to track the sun.

Arad tapped California architect Peter Walker, whose firm had submitted a competing design, for help with the landscape design. After Walker revised the landscape plan and presented the changes to the jury, the jurors insisted Arad partner with Walker.

Walker included over four hundred sweet gum and swamp white oak trees replanted from the surrounding area. Floating hardscape inhibits soil compaction, and security equipment is hidden in the light fixtures, the light posts ridged to minimize their appearance and discourage vandalism.

Landscape. Photo credit: Morgan Davis.

One tree that survived the attacks, a Callery pear tree, was extracted from the wreckage, restored to health by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, and replanted on the memorial site in 2010. Symbolic of the resilience in all living things, you can view photos of the Survivor Tree's journey to recovery on the memorial website. Arad noted that the tree distinguishes itself from the others on-site by blooming early, and said that people like to leave offerings.

Another design challenge was how to create the waterfalls. They tested different methods, aiming for the greatest visual impact requiring the least amount of water. They ended up with a ridged weir that produced individual strands of water at the top of the falls that coalesce down below, symbolizing both individual and collective loss.

Individual strands of water pool together below. Photo credit: Todd Van Hoosear.

Arad originally wanted the names of those that lost their lives in the attacks inscribed in galleries at the base of the falls, where sunlight would flicker through the falling water as one viewed the names. There, they would symbolically exist beyond the reach of visitors arriving at the top of the falls. Due to budget constraints or a perceived security risk or both, the inscriptions were moved above ground around the perimeter of each pool. During the day, the names, voids in bronze, are dark shadows, whereas at night LED backlighting illuminates them. Because of the thickness of the bronze, light shines through names directly in front of you at night, but the names disappear into the darkness when they are viewed at an angle while new names appear in front of you as you move along the memorial.

For the layout of the names, Arad came up with the idea of "meaningful adjacencies", such that the names would not be arranged alphabetically but by existing relationships between those that lost their lives. This idea required reaching out to survivors, families, and friends for their input, and was initially deemed infeasible.

When Mayor Bloomberg became Chairman of the memorial foundation, Arad met with him about the names issue that had by then become controversial. "Family members cared almost solely and exclusively about [how the names would be arranged]," said Arad. The mayor proposed arranging the names by nine geographic locations of where people were on 9/11, and arranging the names within each group by Arad's original "meaningful adjacencies" concept. Over 1200 requests for adjacency were received and all were accommodated. One of the groups of names was arranged entirely by hand through trial and error. The rest were arranged using a computer algorithm.

Arad recounted a poignant example of a woman that lost both her father, who was on one of the planes, and her best friend, who was working in one of the towers that her father's plane collided into. They were able to place both names next to each other by ending one section with her father's name and beginning the next group with her friend's.

Inscription shadows. Photo credit: m01229.

Back-lit inscriptions. Photo credit: Billie Grace Ward.

Arad preferred the spatial arrangement of the names in a sort of random array as opposed to a list. Lists convey hierarchy, whereas a "staggered order" as was employed in the tree layout, seemed to provide a personal space for each person named while introducing order to the randomness. The font used is Optima, the interior of the letters (like the center of the "O") pinned in place from behind.

The corners of the voids are chamfered and tapered in cross-section primarily to make viewing of the pools accessible, but the geometry is also a nod to the towers, which had chamfered corners.

Arad describes the bronze panels that contain the inscriptions as wing-shaped. They are intended to appear floating above the water beneath. Visitors can touch the water and then touch the names. The surface temperature of the panels is regulated by water that runs inside the panel so that it remains cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Creating a tactile experience was important to Arad.

Chamfered corners make viewing the pool and falls from a seated position possible. Photo credit: Tom Hannigan.

A women rests her hand on the memorial. Photo credit: Tom Hannigan.

When Fisher Marantz Stone (FMS), a New York firm specializing in architectural lighting, began researching options for lighting the waterfalls in 2005, incandescents were the only available option. FMS bet on LED technology advancing in time for the memorial opening in 2011. After two years of work, FMS had a solution in water-cooled LED luminaires encased in polycarbonate for waterproofing. A hundred and fifty-six lights, each five feet long, were installed along the perimeter of each pool.

Each LED luminaire is five feet long. Click to view larger --> Photo credit: unixsource.

Below the memorial there is a museum, gift shop, and other infrastructure, making the memorial landscape technically a green roof.

The memorial design seems quite literal. The vast square shapes seem to symbolize the towers, the falling water draining out of reach seems to symbolize the towers falling and our individual and collective loss, the trees and reconstruction a metaphor for resilience, survival, and continuity. There is also something striking about a fluid as elemental and natural as water confined to a rigid square, a shape so quintessentially human, that speaks to the relationship between man and nature and thus himself. Arad's design asks the visitor to explore the dualities of man and nature, chaos and order, life and death, absence and presence, solemnity and play. When I first heard about the 9/11 memorial, I wondered what one could possibly build there that would be "enough". Perhaps the answer is to bring forth the presence of absence.

The pools literally reflect the absence of the towers, but also provoke reflection. Reflecting on the memorial, it is heartbreaking to listen to the stories about 9/11, and even more devastating to learn that more Americans lost their lives in Iraq than the World Trade Center.

What do you think of the memorial? What does the memorial mean to you?

Visitors at the memorial. Click to view larger original image -->Photo credit: Joshua Kehn.


Sources and more information:

Quotes from Michael Arad and much information about design intent and process are largely taken from his presentation "Reflecting Absence" given at Georgia Tech, available online free at

Michael Arad and Peter Walker's original design submission

"The Politics of Remembering Ground Zero"

"Architect and 9/11 Memorial Both Evolved Over the Years"

"A Memorial to the Unthinkable"

National September 11 Memorial & Museum website

"Under Glow: A Fusion of Water and Light for the Memorial at Ground Zero" by Jane Margolies. Landscape Architecture Magazine, May 2014, Vol 104, No 5.

"Michael Arad's 9/11 Memorial 'Reflecting Absence': More Than a Metaphor or a Monument" (a review)

Also see links above.

Cool stuff: Anthropologie silk watercolor "New York, New York" dress ca. 2010

Anthropologie "New York, New York" dress featuring vintage Vera Neumann print of Olmsted's Central Park, ca. 2010. This is a photo of the back of the dress.

In the 1800s, there was Frederick Law Olmsted designing Central Park. In the 1960s, there was Vera Neumann designing textiles. And in 2010, there was Anthropologie, introducing their genius to a new generation in the form of a silk dress. If you told me it was possible to find a dress by Anthropologie made of silk featuring a watercolor Vera print of an Olmsted creation, I would not have believed you. A rare trifecta and must-have for any collector of Vera or Anthropologie that loves Olmsted or parks.

According to one source, 2010 was the first year that the label We Love Vera began bringing Vera's prints back to the fashion industry (it also pre-dates the fast-fashion craze). It does not appear to have been as lasting as either Olmsted or Neumann's legacies: a quick search of the Anthropologie website returns no results for "We Love Vera".

This dress has popped up on EBay in size 0. You can view the original 2010 product page here and read the product reviews here.


Introducing "Cool stuff":
This blog focuses on "landscape", and people fascinated by "landscape" seem to often also love plants and great design. A great botanical print or the convergence of aesthetics, function, and quality in a product can be hard to find. When I make such a discovery, I'll share it on the blog. If you've seen something amazing, say something - by leaving a comment below.

Moment no. 1

Abiqua Falls, Oregon. Photo credit: Thomas Shahan.

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