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Reviews and thoughts

Yesterday our Studio had its final revie (I write Studio with a capital letter… such an important word… a great work environment and an intelligent setup).
Exciting and frustrating.
Exciting to have your work looked into by several competent professionals and frustrating for not finding the time to finish off everything and being able to show in graphics what goes in our minds.
Also not sure about what really goes in my mind, complicating it a bit too much and being surprised at how much more simple some solutions and representations could have been.
A few brush strokes and you are done.
Today I had the opportunity to see last year grads presenting their work for Allen’s Studio.
They were dealing with projects for the Lower 9th Ward in N.Orleans.
Data presented showed me that the neighborhood is losing people and one port business, dealing with metal trade, is thriving next to the water, using the waterway for transportation and transferring materials from their warehouse to trucks.
One of the presentations dealt with the fact that this thriving business was causing big damage to the neighborhood. Too many heavy trucks and a disassociation with the rest of the residential community.
It crossed my mind that the whole approach of the projects was missing out on the fact that perhaps the neighborhood won’t ever go back to what it used to be. Perhaps its calling has turned towards an industrial site, since the land value has gone so far down and the population has abandoned the place voluntarily… of course forced by the tragic events of 1997 and the slow recovery or should I say, no recovery of the whole neighborhood.
Without any deep analysis it seems to me that, since port/commerce is thriving, why not favor those types of activities and shift the site zoning towards that type of use? Why not reseving less space for residential use, occupy land next to the water with warehouses, public parks and services, reserving historical parts separate from the heavy traffic that occurs due to industrialization and perhaps lose some historical heritage in favor of a more robust economy that would, in the end, benefit all types of innitiatives, shifting the face of the neighborhood from residential (today it’s more like a ghost town) to mixed use, better integrated to what it’s calling for?
Just thoughts…


DeSoto Thoughts

The search for open space, that’s protected, organized, structured and comfortable, is one of the main motivations for the creation of Public space.
To see and to be seen. Public space forms have taken all shapes and forms along these years. Some more structured, more formal. Some just happen on the streets as matter of fact.
Space includes traditional social concepts as well as the recreation demanded for. Design from a human perspective. Adjust needs to space use. Imagine the use that people will make of outdoor space.
How will they come? What type of access? What are their
It’s unavoidable to consider my own experience as a park user. Successful recreational parks, reflected in their high frequency and popularity, include several characteristics. Which is most important: Location? Maintenance? Safety? Sensations? Perceived threats? Views? Attendance?
Who will be the users? What do they need/desire? How to deal with the potential tensions established? What are the best opportunities? How much flexibility? How to create flexible space?
Active and passive recreation. Both need to be considered.
Provide a healthy social environment. Create spaces that inspire contemplation and harmony.

Assumptions need to be made when choosing what type of activities will be included in the recreational portfolio. A general approach at this level of study induces me to choose popular hardcourt sports, such as basketball and volleyball as well as more passive activities, such as fishing and family outings for picnics.
A very popular choice among teenagers and kids is a skate park and the climate of the place asks for water activities, such as swimming pools, water features to get into and refresh the body.
Moms tending for their babies need space to let them play on grass in a protected environment, putting them to sleep and strolling within a quiet and peaceful environment, protected by shade and choice exposure to sun. Such facility also asks for a rest house with structure for taking full care of toddlers.
Active sports need to be separated from these passive environments that, in turn, can be more appropriately connected to the riverside vegetation that will be included in the space that separates them from the river.
Being a treacherous and dangerous river, the Mississippi at Baton Rouge is something to fear. A clear message that one needs to stay away from water needs to be conveyed. My idea is to create clear cut edges, with sharp falls of at least 8-10 feet, producing a gabion wall that will also work as a stabilizing structure.
Spanish town residents and the residential neighborhood on the northeast side of the Capitol building will most likely be the frequent users of the park.
Surrounding parks are extremely limited and offer a small range of activities.
The only parks West of I 110 and North of I 10, i.e. close to DeSoto Park, are two, very simple, small and nonequiped BREC facilities: Seventh St. Park (0.3 acres and a playground) and Convention Street Park (0.73 acres).
Other open spaces provide for some relaxation on grass but in a non-structured manner except perhaps for Spanish Town Park, 2.05 acres big with playground, basketball court and a baseball field and Kerr Warren Recreation Center, about 2 miles from Spanish Town and 3 miles from our site. Spanish Town itself is in the 1.5 mile range from DeSoto Park, usually not a walking distance in the heat of summer.
Further away one will find well-structured parks with several soccer fields, community centers, adult activity centers, extensive playgrounds, tennis courts, skateboard tracks, sheltered pavilions, sand courts, water playing features, decent maintenance and good use. Especially on weekends.
Being close to the water and at an advantageous high point in town, DeSoto park has a great potential for views of the river as well as the landscape in the horizon, including the I 10 bridge, about a mile away as the crow flies and the productive industrial/agricultural park that surrounds Baton Rouge.

Site Observation .006

Actual “in loco” site observation is now quite jeopardized by the healthy growth of vegetation, with its leaves blocking most of the views we could previously see when in winter.

Now the river has risen quite a bit and occupies most of the site, covering it with its spirit and its companions (snakes, turtles, alligators…). Birds seem to be in a tantrum! So much food! So many leaves to hide and produce its chicks.

The actual impression is that the site is much smaller than I previously perceived it to be. I imagine that, to make it more usable, we need to enhance dry area (apologies to the ecology frieks) by bringing in lots of earth/sediment to heighten some selected regions.

We also need to create solutions as to address the risk aspect related to possible snake bites. Accidents with snakes will represent the death of the park and also some innocent snakes.

Another important aspect is that we need not only to create vegetation and maintain it so that it can later “walk by itself”, but also we need to choose areas where to creat voids. The feeling within the batture now is of repression and “closedness” (am I inventing words?). I believe that one beautiful aspect of an open space is exactly that! It’s open! Planning views towards town and the river will give the user a sense of location and that should augment the feeling of safety. Being “out there” gives us urbanites a bit of an insecurity sensation. Opening up views and making access points clear from afar will contribute to reduce this feeling, I believe.

The batture residents tents are still there, defying the river… Are these people going somewhere else if a park is implemented there? Should they become part of the process? Do they want to?

The drafts I scanned and attach here represent some of my thoughts on how to deal with these issues.

This one below summarizes a few studies on earth movement ideas, mostly enhancing dry area (III in the sections). I play with the idea of separating or integrating the 3 zones previously mentioned (wet, semi-wet, dry). I also created some movement within the river enhancing its margin and exploring niches for boat safe housing as well as different experiences one may have at the water level when river level is below 20′ (right now it’s above 31′).

This one starts thinking of zoning. We have two main connections here: the Casino and the Visitor Center. Both have plenty of parking space, but it seems that the Casino on the north is not a very popular choice, having very little movement. Also its parking spaces next to the park are at a low level, so some work would need to be conducted over there.

Our concept of creating a new water feature next to the Visitor Center, renders itself appropriate to create a connection (through water) to a park feature. An observation deck would be a great pulling force for visitors to cross River Road and explore a little further. On their way there we’ll tease them to walk a little further into the park and observe what we have implemented there for their amusement. The main idea, though, is to motivate local residents to bring their families and share a fun space integrated with nature. The force of the river would be diverted by a structure at river level, mostly composed of Gabions, that will be installed in the river bed, reducing its speed and the perceived danger that the river currents bring in their soul.

The sections exaggerate separation between ecosystems as an attempt to allow for human use without too much interference from wildlife and vice-versa.

Finally the bike path that stops several yards before the beginning of the park will be brought into the park, indirectly integrating current use of walks to the intended constructed park.

And the deliverables! What can I say? Sections showing specially water features within the park, perspectives showing the “openess” idea as well as the way I intend to place the board walks. Plans with all the earth movement in contour level changes, including the observation deck, placement of multipurpose sports courts and possibly a big wet area with water disconnected from the river (this is a must). Location and aspect of rest areas, with users enjoying it. Mockup models and a permanent one to fit into the class model.

Visiting and site observation

Orange and I went to De Soto yesterday.
Motivation: site observation and strategy choices…
We were twice warned by Casino personnel not to get close to the water and were questioned by security people on what we were doing there. I guess that Orange’s figure seems very threatening motivating this concern, with the security head even mentioning 9/11, an unfortunate series of events in contemporary history.
Back to the site, the awareness that there are 14 Alligators and several types of snakes did make me more alert! We actually saw a water rattle snake about 5 feet from us. It saw us much before we saw it, so it had time to turn around and flee swimming into the water. It made me wonder how feasible it would be to have small children and moms in such an environment.
Does environment conservation and human recreation go well together, if taken to the urban scale of things? Keeping dangerous animals (not to mention human beings) out of the park or at least fencing them off would be and alternative?
Should we conceive a hovering park?… fluctuating above everything… unaffected by these dangerous intercourses?
Well, I guess that the attached pdf answers part of these questions…


The opportunity is great for this location. So close to communities to the East, before and beyond I-10.
My approach looks at the site in both ecological and practical manners.
I’ll divide the site in three tiers, as far as water intrusion is concerned:
I) Always dry (further away from river)
II) Sometimes wet
III) Almost always wet (next to river)
The north side of the site seems more appropriate do active recreation, since it presents a wider breadth of dry space so that more definitive structures can be established.
I intend to enhance the dry space somewhat, to harbor other more stable structures and uses, such as a strolling path for baby carts and rest areas for moms who are tired of being inside and need some air/interaction with nature.
The wet areas provide a great opportunity for space exploration and creation of interactive structures, such as underwater tunnels, protected boardwalks, undulating walks, going into and out of water as well as an advanced pavilion into the Mississippi River, creating and advantage point for observation of the surrounding environment, including DeSoto Park itself.
Propitiating plenty of shade for establishing picnic areas will allow users to enjoy their lunch in a calm and retired environment, with fixed furniture, protected from rain and sun.
These concepts are illustrated in the images below.
In the next couple of days I’ll gather realistic images of strategic points and illustrate these concepts in these frames.
Connection to the Visitor Center and town will be done by paths and street level crossings, leaving the main path closer to River Road, for higher speed bicycles and restricting their access to the inner paths, where I’ll seek to implement a calmer and more harmonious environment.


Some of our folks in studio were wondering where to get graphical data on the levels the water reaches over several months and years in Baton Rouge.

The Army Corps has a pretty good technical site with all this type of data at

In any case, here is the result of a query I did on their database.

In table format, from 1987 till today you can get at their above site and it’s raw data (no use posting it here).

Nevertheless there’s a good graph, that I copy below, for general use.

Levels of the Mississippi River 2003-2012

As part of the research on Riparian Ecological Succession, I found this list of plants from the Center for Watershed Protection .
We may already know some of these trees (it’s mainly trees), but organized data listing them by tolerance to several environmental conditions is a great resource, for obvious reasons.

Tree Selection Guide

Today’s desk crit with Gary Smith was very productive!
I was overloaded with scientific data and was lost on how to represent it.
He suggested that what I produce could be viewed as an inspiration for designing future work.
So, if you’re in a batture level where there is no flooding, the tendency for the vegetation is to mature into a high canopy, shading the undergrowth and creating 3 to 4 strata layers.
According to vegetative growth it would evolve (succession) slowly to this condition, but as designers we need to realize that there is all this time before this maturity arrives.
With that in mind, the design process can compensate for the immaturity of the successional phase with architectural elements or plant choice in such a way that the experience of place would still be close to a mature situation.
He observed that many designs forget to take this immaturity period into account and we end up with “empty” spaces in the beginning of a garden’s life. So design should take this into consideration.
Same thought process can be repeated for the two other main regions in the batture situation: commonly flooded region and eventually (for short periods of time) flooded regions.
Now all I need to figure out is how to put that in an illustration! Any suggestions?

Observation in Battureland

In this diagram you’ll see, besides the observations, an attempt to represent their collection in a created symbology.

The observations sometimes came in a fast sequence and these are represented close together.
Sometimes a while passed between observations and I spaced them accordingly.

Also as time passed, light changed from lighter to darker until it got dark. So the shades try to depict this situation counterclockwise. Why counterclockwise?

If you are struggling to find information on Watershed issues, there is a very good source FREE at

You can find info for lay people and some real scientific data. Up to you!


Contemplation c…

Contemplation can be a healing process. Turning off all else and immersing into the observation task.

Notation. To note. To notice. From latin: notare – to write, to mark.

Absorb lives of little beings, not so little beings.

The unavoidable immobility of a tree and its exposure to the elements.

A waiting ground for the weathers to come. Its effects recorded in the landscape.

Man’s notation on its landscape.

Most times deleterious. Sometimes constructive.

Inclement weather marks. Reconstruction by resilience.

Above and under surface. Submerged or emerged. Fast or slow. Pertaining or not.

Art or engineering?… or both?

Engage human into understanding its surrounds… long term endeavour. Cultural. Fast paced society.

Task at hand. Just do it!

Take a look at this guy!!!