Land Matters

We define disciplines and professions by the bodies of knowledge they advance. Academic disciplines and practice-based professions rise (and fall) based on the quality and the relevance of those bodies of knowledge. Magazines document state-of-the-art thinking while promoting endless future possibilities.

Bill Thompson, FASLA, devoted more than 20 years to Landscape Architecture, initially as a writer and managing editor, then as editor-in-chief for the past 10 years. In his leadership role, he acted as our gatekeeper, creating among many things this column, calling it “Land Matters”—two words that speak volumes about our values and aspirations.

Land indeed matters, a theme that Bill Thompson pursued not only in this column but throughout the magazine. In his column, Bill sought to stir the pot of discussion. He purposefully took on timely, often controversial topics with the goal of creating dialogue within the profession and beyond.

Bill guided the magazine in a consciously egalitarian direction. While the stars of the profession certainly received ample attention, Bill sought out under-recognized talent in less obvious places. He brought attention especially to projects located outside the Northeast and the West Coast. He consistently found interesting works in Canada. He observed that several fine European and Asian periodicals are devoted to landscape architecture but noted a gap in Latin America. As a result, Bill expanded coverage in Mexico and South America, connecting our practice across the Western Hemisphere.

As he discovered new designers and new places, Bill fostered contemporary voices in the magazine. He was constantly on the prowl for fresh writers. Among his many talents, Bill has been a wonderful mentor who has helped develop the voices of scores of young authors and photographers.

He remained curious and open-minded while possessing an encyclopedic knowledge of the profession. Bill greeted new ideas with enthusiasm and approached design fads with skepticism.

Like farming and teaching, editing a magazine is a cyclical endeavor—only the cycles revolve quicker. An editor needs to be able to produce monthly, while scheming three or four months into the future. Bill did this masterfully, while keeping his eye on the advancement of landscape architecture and the economic health of the magazine. Under Bill’s leadership, the magazine thrived financially, becoming a significant source of revenue (rather than a drain as it had been in the past) for ASLA. As resources increased, the magazine expanded in size, sometimes reaching as many as 200 pages.

Bill’s devotion to the magazine’s quality and to ASLA is deeply rooted in his background. He is a landscape architect, a Fellow of our Society, and earned his MLA at Georgia while also receiving degrees in English literature from Vanderbilt and Duke.

There is much of the New South that Bill embodies. A gentleman to the core, he is a thoughtful progressive. And, of course, he has the Southern attachment to the land. In the South, land matters.

Bill’s idealism shines through the pages of each issue of the magazine published over the past decade. While we will miss his leadership, we will always value what Bill Thompson has done to advance our body of knowledge, while expanding our view of the living landscapes that surround us.

Frederick R. Steiner, FASLA

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