Garden Park Community Farm is a new coffee table book by Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects (NBW). The book highlights some of their recent and best designs, but also showcases their philosophy as landscape architects, one that “encourages a responsiveness to the environment through artful design and ecological narratives that connect people to place.”
The book begins with introductions by Warren Byrd, FASLA, and Thomas Woltz, FASLA, and with essays by University of Virginia landscape architecture professor Elizabeth Meyer, FASLA. Writing in their introductions, NBW’s design philosophy is clear: beautiful, site-specific, sustainable design accomplished through close dialogue and communication with architects, artists, engineers, scientists and residents, which adds “depth to the design process.” Of this site-specific approach, Woltz writes they “map the tangible qualities and inherent energies,” even beyond the confines of the site to create a “dynamic framework that often informs the design gesture.”
Indeed, this in-depth and thoughtful reading of sites, combined with a clear passion to create ecologically sustainable and healthy landscapes, results in some of the firm’s most successful projects, twelve of which are highlighted in the book.
Divided into four parts, with three case studies per section, Meyer’s essays set the scene for the lush images that follow, explaining design decisions and choices of plant material. But make no mistake, this book isn’t just about the creation of beautiful places. Woltz is clear when he states the aim of the book: They “hope to increase public understanding that the designed landscape is a powerful tool for implementing ecology and for telling stories of the land that promote stewardship.”
As one might guess from the title, the works in this book range in scope and scale from an intimate roof top garden in New York City to a massive restoration project in New Zealand, all the while skillfully defining these landscapes with a language of “abstraction, place-making, and memory that was inclusive of horticulture, but not limited to it.”
NBW’’s gardens play with their borders, simultaneously remaining distinct while artfully blending the edges, as seen in the garden at Iron Mountain House. As Meyer says, they exemplify the paradox of “all great gardens – that they exist as other spaces, separate from the world, while simultaneously referring to their sites and milieus.”
Frequently employing “narrative in their projects as a tool for imbuing meaning,” NBW seeks to connect many elements into a thriving whole. Citygarden in St. Louis, Missouri, is hugely successful at this, with its “abundant references to geology, hydrology and local botany,” all while creating an experiential place where residents and visitors both gather and create community.
The creation of community is important to the firm, who recognize that all “the landscapes between buildings –- whether streets, alleys, parks, plazas, quadrangles, or courtyards -– are social spaces,” and that the quality of the built environment will affect the “range and quantity of interactions” between residents. WaterColor, which won an ASLA general design award in 2003, focuses on these spaces between, creating shared communal areas, while paying careful attention to the restoration and protection the surrounding ecology.
Both Woltz and Byrd cite the natural world and rural landscapes as major influences on their path to studying and practicing landscape architecture, so it’s no surprise that their firm creates and preserves rural landscapes and farmlands. Landscape architects have historically looked to agricultural landscapes for design inspiration, but as Meyer writes, “few landscape architects have consciously taken on the shaping, transformation, and reformation of actual rural agricultural landscapes in the manner currently practiced by NBW.”
Their work in this realm integrates issues of “plant and animal biodiversity and watershed quality” to create landscapes that “express a community’s health and function, as well as its productivity.” For example, Medlock Ames, a winery project, makes a strong case for the “aesthetic possibilities of sustainable practices on a domestic scale.”
Byrd writes that the projects highlighted in Garden Park Community Farm were “borne of a desire to affirm life and to assure healthy, vital environments.” This book showcases the aesthetic and sustainable possibilities when landscape architects practice with a focus on not only making beautiful things, but ecologically-sound places.
This guest post is by Heidi Petersen, Student ASLA, Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and ASLA 2013 summer intern.
Image credits: Princeton Architectural Press