Architect, Landscape Architect, Urban Designer, Land Use Planner, Environmental Observer

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Highway 152 revisited...

(with apologies to Bob Dylan for the re-numbering of his song and album title)

Every month for the last eight years I have crossed the width of California, from Santa Cruz to Auberry. That's from the coast to the foothills of the Sierras. One part of my journey is across the San Joaquin Valley from Highway 5 to Highway 99. It's not that long a section...75 miles maybe, but it is very straight and very flat.

For a long time, I yearned for something else to look at but almond orchards and cornfields. Don't get me wrong, the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains can be incredibly beautiful, but too often recently the valley has terrible smog and you can't see the 10,000 ft. peaks ahead.

There are some features of the journey that I do love...

Robertson Boulevard, Chowchilla

Who planted this alternate pattern of Mexican Fan Palms and Date Palms? This occurs for at least five miles along this road on both sides of Highway 152, south of the town of Chowchilla.

Dairy Barn on Turner Island Road

It is simply amazing to stand inside such a large structure that is built with little sticks of wood.

The House of Many Colors

Thank you to the unknown owner of this place for having fun!

I owe a great debt to Professor Kenneth Helphand of the University of Oregon for turning me on to the idea of Landscape in the bigger sense, and for having me read the great Cultural Geographers - John Brinckerhoff Jackson, Yi-Fu Tuan and Pierce Lewis.

. . .

Monday, June 29, 2009

Spatial Composition - part 2

The "Gate" -

Two columns placed in space creates a "gate". The two points of the columns imply a line. Given that, two domains are suggested - one side or the other. Now, the viewer can both be in one of two realms and can also approach the gate in a perpendicular or non-perpendicular manner.

There is a ratio that determines whether or not the gate is read as one unit or merely two elements. The further apart that the columns are placed, the more likely they will not form the mental image of "gate". This is related to the height of a person and the height of the columns. This is the beginning of creating spaces and announcing a directional approach.

the Golden Gate...

how do you know if you are
in the bay or the ocean?

how do you sail through -
at an acute angle or
at ninety degrees to the bridge?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A slight diversion -

The great public radio station of New Orleans, WWOZ (check them out) is having a tee shirt contest. Here are my entries :

. . .

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Go Native...BUT do it Right !!!

.., do you know which
Hint: you need to know what plant community you are in -
(click above to learn)

The Best Planting Guide for

Drought Tolerant California Native Plants

courtesy of Las Pilitas Nursery, Santa Margarita

1. Dig a hole of a size into which the plant will fit. Doesn't have to be perfect.

2. Carefully remove the plastic bag or plastic pot from around the plant (recycle bag/pot).Don't plant the pot! Don't rip up the root ball, run one finger along the side, like scratching your head.

3. Carefully place the plant into the hole, slightly higher than the surrounding soil. (Again, disturb the root ball as little as possible.) Not three inches higher, maybe a quarter inch, you know 4 millimeters or so.

4. Do not add amendments, just plant in native soil. Not a 'little', 'smidgen', 'trace' or shovel full, NONE.

5. Do not add fertilizer. Ya listening? None. There is no fertilizer or amendments on a hillside.

6. Backfill the hole with soil. (The dirt you dug out! (Not manure, compost, chicken poo or other such stuff.)

7. Water lavishly (lots and lots, like 30 gallons. If it rains five inches right after you plant, skip.)

8. How to Water (After the First Watering): DO NOT USE DRIP IRRIGATION. Use microspray emitters instead, so that the plant will be irrigated in a pattern more similar to rainfall. Do not water against the crown (the main stem of the plant at the soil surface) of the plant. Water should fall in the area of the drip line of the plant and beyond.

9. For perennials and subshrubs, place a rock next to the plant, on the west side of it.

10. Place mulch, 2 to 4 inches thick, on top of the soil around the plant in a four-foot-diameter circle.

11. The first year- check the soil, down about an inch or two, once a week with your finger; if it is dry, water it; if it is moist, don’t water it. Checking with a finger will give you an excuse to avoid such things as garbage and dishes, but, come on, no daily checking!

12. The second and succeeding year- water, if needed, during the months of November through April, and try to abstain from watering in the summer. Desert plants, which receive summer rain showers, and coastal plants that normally receive fog drip/summer rain showers, like a once a week sprinkling. This gives more excuses for being in the yard with beverage of choice. But only wash the foliage, DO NOT wet the ground.

13. Depending on the origin of the plant, you may need to water extra or not. (If the plant originates from an area with equal amounts of rainfall and equal rainfall patterns, you don’t need to water extra; if the plant originates from an area of higher rainfall or different rainfall patterns, you may need to water extra).

Plant a redwood in Barstow, water it, plant a cactus in Eureka, don't water it.This basic planting guide, was written to help insure the long-term health of the native plants in your garden; if you water more than is recommended here, the plants will appear more lush, but their life span will be reduced.

. . .

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Examining a Single Space ....

With credit to Charlton Jones -

Here's a list of the opportunities that are possible in a single space or room :

1. What is the unit of space in terms of its relationship of height, width and depth?

2. How do the walls, floor and ceiling relate? Are there any particular relationships, i.e. solid to voids, voids to voids, etc.?

3. Is there a center or focus to the space and how is it made?

4. On entering the space, what is your position within the space?

5. What are the parts or pieces, and how does each set of parts relate in their position?

6. In consideration of the parts, and in particular their "spacing" (equidistant, alignment, etc.), are there other spaces formed within the larger place (wall thickness, balconies, beams, etc.)?

7. How are the "spaces" made in the sub-spaces noted above?

8. How do the sub-spaces relate to each other and to the overall formation of the place (size, shape, direction, proportion - of the volume)?

9. How many ways can the organization of the spaces of the place be understood - are there "multiple readings"?

10. Overall, are there pervading qualities or repeating characteristics which develop "unity" of the experience - creating the "spatial image"?

analysis of a plan of a house
designed by Bernard Maybeck

In summary, been in any notable rooms lately?

Can you remember the experience of being in a room and noting the proportions, the relationship of the elements, the great "sub-spaces"?

"Memories lodge in places that are distinct"

Chambers for a Memory Palace
Donlyn Lyndon and Charles Moore

. . .

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

FLASH !!! The Best City in America is NOT American.

Andres Duany moved to New Orleans after Katrina. The master of New Urbanism went there to assist the city after the disaster, of course -- but his revelations about the nature of New Orleans may reveal something about why some of us fell in love with the city.

"I realized at that instant that New Orleans
is not really an American city, but rather a Caribbean one."
- Andres Duany

views of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Getty Museum - the new Acropolis ??

Imagine a hilltop that overlooks a large city...a complex of buildings that celebrate the culture of the time..

Is it Athens and the Acropolis or Los Angeles and the Getty Museum?


How obtain the ideal commission. No budget, an amazing site.


On first viewing the Getty opens up after your tram ride up the hill. A grand staircase to the entry plaza comes into view. You get a glimpse of the complex. How many buildings? What is the organization? There is a unity of materials and order.

Okay, Richard Meier has always been one of my heroes, but he surpassed himself on this project. The landscape is remarkable...thankfully they let a talented artist take command of the exterior gardens. It is a surprise and a delight!

. . .

The "art" of Pop Culture...but it is really ART ??

My younger daughter Kate chuckles when she sees what kind of tee shirts I look at when I take her shopping at the mall. I am indeed fascinated by the new pop culture and the art it produces. It's not just the skulls with snakes running through them (although some of those are elegant!), it's the new comic book art, skate and surf board art and the graphics of magazines like Juxtapoz (

...some books at my bedside -

Disposable; A History of Skateboard Art,
Sean Cliver -

When did the underside of skateboards become "art" ? .....

The Art of Sin City, Frank Miller -

Frank Miller is the creator and artist for the comic books within the Sin City series. Although the stories are extremely violent, I find the art work stunning with his use of black and white and the emphasis on individual full page images. This is not your "Archie and Jughead" comics. I wonder how the transition happened?

Whatever, the effect of his artistic style is undeniable.


The amazing story of a group of African-American women living in deep poverty in the South who sew quilts from scraps of old clothes. The designs they create are remarkably modern - very different from the quilters of New England. For years they toiled selling quilts on the side of the road for $15. Now they are in museums and their quilts are being bought by the likes of Jane Fonda for $ 3,000.

. . .

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?

Great Music

Rebirth Brass Band

the Neville Brothers

Great Architecture

A house on St. Charles Avenue in the Garden District

Creole cottages in the Quarter

a classic image of the French Quarter

Great Food

Crawfish Etoufee

Shrimp Gumbo

but..... it's the Great People that make the fabric of the city what it is -

in a coffee shop on St. Charles:

the table next to us was occupied by a black family ... the older gentleman tells the waitress that he did not get a knife with his setup...the waitress (who is a rather large black woman) returns and puts the knife on the table barely missing his head....the man jokingly says "whoa, you almost got me with that knife"....the waitress says "Sir, if I had wanted to do some damage, I would NOT be using a butter knife! "

at the New Orleans Brew Pub:

the waiter (sharply dressed) gives me the menu and says he'll return to get my order...he comes back and says "..and what can I get you to drink?"...I said "man, I would love a tall glass of water"...the waiter says "Sir, I am going to bring you water, but what I asked you was what you wanted to DRINK!"

walking at the corner of Jackson Square headed for the Cafe Du Monde:

I see this guy with this hat and beads, greying beard, and I recognize him (our eyes meet) - DR. JOHN....and he says "Hey, how's it going, man?".....I say "great" and keep walking.

walking down Magazine Street:

I see a Levi's store and in the window are tee shirts that say: SHALOM, YA' ALL

at the Bed and Breakfast:

I come back from a longgg day at Jazz Fest, and Glenn and Randy are making martinis... I join the group, of course....after some chat, Glenn asks me where I am going to have dinner....I tell him I have no idea....they ask me "Do you like seafood?" ....I say sure...then they ask me "Do you like oysters?"....I say sometimes....then they go down the list...."Do you like them fresh, fried, barbequed, etc?".....they proceed for the next fifteen minutes to argue about which place has the best of each kind.

in a cab right after Katrina:

I ask each cab driver "How's it going"....some barely black driver has a conversation with us....I ask him "Did you have to move during Katrina?"....he tells his story "I moved to Houston, thankfully I had relatives there...My neighbor and I were best friends...He had three kids and I told him to get out of the city right now.....He said he could not leave his house....All five of them drowned....Now I think I should have argued harder with him."

Spatial Composition - part 1

Acknowledgment -

Almost thirty years ago, I attended a series of lectures at the University of Oregon with Professor Earl Moursund. His ideas and theories have stuck with me and I ponder them often. Thank you for your unwavering commitment to the big idea of Architecture. I also must give credits to my office mate, Charlton Jones and to Professor Gary Moye for their insights.

Introduction -

People both conceive and perceive space. If a person is located on a flat plane that extends endlessly, they have no reference in order to "place themselves in space". It takes elements situated in relationship to each other using principles of spatial composition that creates meaning to our environmental experience.

The "Point Reference" -

Adding a column (point reference) provides the
viewer with a specific point on the plane that a person can judge distance from. As in... I am "X distance from that point". The height of the point reference also indicates it's importance. If the column is some quantity less than the height of a person it is less than a reference. If it is very tall , it will provide for a guidepost for an entire city.

The Campanile in the
Piazza San Marco in Venice
is an
example of a point reference for the city.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Larry's Rules of Environmental Design

1. There is no such thing as a "small" project.

2. The rules of spatial composition apply.

3. Details always count.

4. Projects exist in four dimensions.

5. Design derives meaning from intent.

6. Without using organizational priniciples designs are merely assemblages.

7. Context and Program are givens - the addition of Aesthetics brings it to life.

8. Not knowing history means not having access to strategies learned.

9. Bilateral symmetry is a built-in feature of human beings.

10. Architecture includes both symbolism and iconography.

11. Plan, elevation and section are derived together.

. . .


Recommended Books

  • - Precedents in Architecture
  • - City Comforts
  • - A Pattern Language
  • - The Architecture of Happiness
  • - Architectural Composition
  • - Design Language
  • - Elements of Garden Design
  • - Chambers for a Memory Palace