What Role Can Landscape Architects Play in Designing Wildlife Habitats?

The 2010 Dumbarton Oaks Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium will gather designers, scientists, and historians to explore the question: What role can landscape architects play in conserving or restoring wildlife diversity? 

Protecting wildlife habitat has never been more critical because many species face increased threats of extinction. “Whether threatened by habitat destruction or climate change, displaced by urbanization or invasive species, poisoned by industrial toxins, or hunted to extinction, many wild animals have failed to thrive in the company of people. There is growing scientific consensus, most recently reported in an Elizabeth Kolbert essay in The New Yorker, that we are in the midst of the sixth great extinction in earth history—and the first caused by human activities. By some estimates, as many as half of earth’s species will be gone by the end of this century.”

The Symposium organizers argue that ecological conservation practices can create new hope for wildlife, and landscape architects have a key role to play through “reserve design for focal species and biodiversity; sizing and spacing of habitat patches, corridors, and edge conditions; and the analysis of food webs and predator-prey dynamics.” Furthermore, the organizers believe “ecosystem services, restoration ecology, and designer-generated ecological experiments” all provide new opportunities for landscape architects in developing productive wildlife habitats.

To date, landscape architects have succeeded in integrating botanical diversity into projects, but more research is needed on how to restore or create wildlife habitat through conservation design practices. The symposium will explore a range of questions related to wildlife habitat restoration: “From niche habitats in urban parks to biosphere reserves, what role can design play in facilitating wildlife conservation at different scales? Given extinctions and habitat fragmentation, can designers become involved in reconfiguring wildlife communities in the same way they have reconfigured plant communities? What are the opportunities and dangers of designing ecosystems with incomplete species composition, including missing keystone species or disjointed food webs? Are species introductions an option?”

There will also be questions around the optimal relationship between people and nature: “How should human inhabitance and use be managed? At one extreme, is it necessary for the survival of wildlife to exclude humans? At the other, many cities are now developing biodiversity plans: can urbanized areas be made more habitable for wildlife? How can designers address regional to global issues, including the impacts of invasive species and climate change on habitat quality and species distribution?”

The diverse set of speakers, representing many disciplines, includes:

  • B. Deniz Çalış, Assistant Professor & Vice Chair, Department of Architecture, Bahçeşehir University, Istanbul, Turkey, “The Wild and Wilderness in Ottoman Gardens and Landscape”
  • Jane Carruthers, Professor, Department of History, University of South Africa, “Designing a Wilderness for Wildlife: The Case of Pilanesberg, South Africa”
  • Joshua Ginsberg, Senior Vice President, Global Conservation Program, Wildlife Conservation Society, New York, “From Elephants to Mice: the Impact of Ecology and Spatial Scale on the Design of Conservation Strategies”
  • Stuart Green, Principal, Green & Dale Associates, Melbourne, Australia, “Biodiversity of Wildlife Habitats as an Educational Resource: Two case studies, Alice Springs Desert Park and Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary”
  • Steven Handel, Professor of Ecology, Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources, Rutgers University, “Restoring Habitats to Degraded Urban Areas: Dreams and Nightmares”
  • Kristina Hill, Affiliate ASLA, Associate Professor and Chair, Dept. of Landscape Architecture, University of Virginia, “Climate Change and Biodiversity in Urban Regions”
  • Shepard Krech Ⅲ, Professor of Anthropology, Brown University, “That’s real meat: Birds, Native People, and Conservation”
  • Nina-Marie Lister, Associate Professor, School of Urban and Regional Planning, Ryerson University, Toronto, “Adaptive Infrastructure: Network Strategies for Urban Ecology”
  • Jianguo (Jack) Liu, Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability & University Distinguished Professor, Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, Michigan State University, “A Coupled Human and Natural Systems Approach to Research and Design: The Case of Wolong Nature Reserve for Giant Pandas”
  • Shahid Naeem, Professor of Ecology and Chair, Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology, Columbia University, “Biodiversity, Ecosystem Functioning, and Ecosystem Services: A Useful or Useless Construct for Wildlife Habitats?”
  • Harriet Ritvo, Arthur J. Conner Professor of History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “Edging into the Wild”
  • Kari Stiles, Associate ASLA, Associate, Jones and Jones Architects, Landscape Architects, Planners, Seattle, WA, “Conserving for the Future: Design Without Borders”
  • Thomas Woltz, ASLA, Partner, Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, Charlottesville, VA, “Biodiversity and Farming: Defining a role for contemporary landscape architecture that encourages plant and wildlife biodiversity within the context of productive agricultural land”
  • Kongjian Yu, International ASLA, Professor of urban and regional planning, and founder and dean of the Graduate School of Landscape Architecture, Peking University, Beijing, China, “Integration across Scales: Landscape as Infrastructure for the Protection of Biodiversity” (see an interview with Kongjian Yu)

The symposium is organized by John Beardsley, director of Garden and Landscape Studies at Dumbarton Oaks, and Alexander Felson, a joint Yale University professor in the Schools of Forestry and of Architecture. 

Learn more about the Symposium held May-14-15, 2010 at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C.

If you are in D.C. in May, also check out the new exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum on Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s “Running Fence” land art installation, which covered more than 20 miles of Sonoma and Marin counties in the 1970’s. Viewed as one of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s most lyrical pieces, “this monumental temporary artwork was made of 240,000 square yards of heavy woven white nylon fabric, 90 miles of steel cable, 2,050 steel poles, 350,000 hooks, and 13,000 earth anchors. Paid for entirely by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the completed Running Fence existed for only two weeks in September of 1976.”

Image credit: 2008 ASLA Analysis and Planning Honor Award. New Terrain for the North Lake Region of Chongming Island, Shanghai, China. SWA Group, Los Angeles, California

2 thoughts on “What Role Can Landscape Architects Play in Designing Wildlife Habitats?

  1. R. Gus Drum 04/22/2010 / 7:45 am

    Landscape architects in Federal agencies have been restoring wildlife habitat and both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems for some time through multiple Federal authorities. NRCS, USACE, USFS, and other agencies have staff LA’s both leading teams and participating on teams that restore wetlands, riparian corridors, stream channels, and regional scale disturbed landscapes. Many of these agencies also hire landscape architecture firms to participate in these ecosystem restoration projects.

  2. Elizabeth 08/20/2010 / 9:17 am

    I read in the article “more research is needed on how to restore or create wildlife habitat through conservation design practices.” To date, what research has been developed, and are those articles/journals published?

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