Best Books of 2012

This past year shows us all that the publishing world isn’t dead yet. A number of must-have books on landscape architecture, urban design, and ecology came past our desks this year. All would make great presents for your favorite landscape architect or designer. Here are our top ten books of 2012:

Architecture Now! Landscape by Philip Jodidio (Taschen, 2012). Landscape architecture finally gets the world-famous Taschen book treatment in this 416-pager filled with tons of color photographs. Jodidio, who has written on starchitects for Taschen for years, features many of the big-name landscape architects practicing around the world today, along with a few architects who have crossed over to the landscape side. And it’s nice to note that this book’s scope truly is global: everyone from Ken Smith, FASLA, to Vladimir Djurovic, International ASLA, to Adriaan Gueze, International ASLA, at Dutch firm West 8 is included. Check out the book and then let Taschen know your thoughts for the next edition.

The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water by Charles Fishman (Free Press, 2012). Keynote speaker at the ASLA 2012 Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Fishman takes readers on a journey around the world — but all focused on water, its history and use, and, increasingly, on how it’s being wasted.  Still, despite all the discussion of a global water crisis, Fishman is optimistic that “smart water use” can help solve the challenges facing many communities. Landscape architects, who he calls “water revolutionaries,” are also seen as playing a key role in educating the public about how to more intelligently use water.

Carrot City: Creating Spaces for Urban Agriculture by Mark Gorgolewski, June Komisar, and Joe Nasr (Monacelli Press, 2012). Written by a group of Ryerson University professors, this full-color, photo-rich text book presents nearly 50 case studies that examine food production, processing, distribution, and marketing. These proposals, some visionary and others built or underway, explore how food production works — from the small components for growing, like raised beds and greenhouses, to city-scale systems of urban agriculture. The authors show how urban agriculture can re-integrate food production into the urban fabric in meaningful ways, eventually becoming, as the authors argue, as central to a city’s functioning as public sanitation utilities. Read the full review in The Dirt.

Designed Ecologies: The Landscape Architecture of Kongjian Yu by William Saunders (Birkhauser Architecture, 2012). To many, Kongjian Yu, FASLA, is the Frederick Law Olmsted of China. Winner of innumerable ASLA professional design awards, Yu and his Beijing-based firm, Turenscape, which has a staff of more than 500, gets an in-depth review by William Saunders, former editor of Harvard Design Magazine and now the books editor for Landscape Architecture Magazine. This book offers up 18 case studies and 10 essays by both leading landscape architecture practitioners and thinkers like Peter Walker, FASLA, and John Beardsley, Dumbarton Oaks. Read an ASLA interview with Yu, and learn more about his innovative ecological design approach.

Lawrence Halprin’s Skyline Park by Ann Komara, ASLA, with a forward by Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, and contribution by Laurie Olin, FASLA (Princeton Architectural Press, 2012). Lawrence Halprin’s now defunct Skyline Park in Denver gets the full treatment in this brand-new book by Komara, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Colorado, Denver. In more than 140 pages filled with beautiful drawings and photographs, Komara delves into the economic and social trends that spurred the creation of Halprin’s park and led to its eventual decline. Read the full review on The Dirt.

Petrochemical America by Kate Orff, ASLA, and Richard Misrach (Aperture, 2012). According to the publishers, this book combines “Richard Misrach’s haunting photographs of Louisiana’s ‘Chemical Corridor’ with landscape architect Orff’s ‘Ecological Atlas’–a series of speculative drawings developed through intensive research and mapping of data from the region. Misrach and Orff’s joint effort depicts and unpacks the complex cultural, physical and economic ecologies of a particular region along 150 miles of the Mississippi River, from Baton Rouge to New Orleans–an area of intense chemical production that became known as ‘Cancer Alley’ when unusually high occurrences of the disease were discovered in the region.” Read more on Orff’s discussion of the book at the University of Virginia.

Recycling Spaces: Curating Urban Evolution: The Work of Martha Schwartz Partners by Emily Waugh (ORO Editions, 2012). The iconic landscape architect Martha Schwartz hasn’t been the subject of a major book since the 1990s so this welcome new edition may be the only source for her more recent, international work. This new book by Waugh, a lecturer in landscape architecture at Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD), uses Schwartz Partner’s work to focus on “four critical urban conditions of the late 20th and early 21st century city: dying city centers, depleted resource landscapes and affiliated towns, non-existent urbanisms, and changing populations.” The book argues that “one of the most important questions facing urban centers today is how to keep people attracted to live in, invest in, and participate in the city.” Read an ASLA interview with Schwartz.

The Social Conquest of Earth by E.O. Wilson (Liveright, 2012). Famed Harvard University biologist and Pulitizer Prize-winning author Wilson delves into how humans came to take over the planet in this highly readable book (which also includes a fascinating discussion on why humans do landscape architecture in the first place). According to The Atlantic, “[His] new book is not limited to the discussion of evolutionary biology, but ranges provocatively through the humanities. Its impact on the social sciences could be as great as its importance for biology, advancing human self-understanding in ways typically associated with the great philosophers.”

Visible | Invisible: Landscape Works of Reed Hilderbrand by Douglas Reed, FASLA, and Gary Hilderbrand, FASLA (Metropolis Books, 2012). While this book won’t officially be available until January, 2013, it’s worth adding because it’s gorgeous. A range of essays by Peter Walker, FASLA; William Saunders; Gary Hilderbrand, FASLA; Niall Kirkwood, FASLA; and others provides a frame for this Massachusetts-based firm, which has won numerous ASLA professional awards. Hundreds of lush black-and-white and color photographs and beautiful master plans show this firm’s elegant projects at their best. As Walker writes in his forward, “this monograph is a wonderfully real and mature contribution to the art of landscape architecture.”

Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time by Jeff Speck, Honorary ASLA (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2012). Speck, one of the country’s leading urban planners and a consultant to many of the most-cutting edge mayors, offers up a new book on walkability and how to make it happen. Washington, D.C.’s planning director Harriet Tregoning is obviously a fan: “Companionable and disarmingly candid, Jeff Speck perches on your shoulder and gets you to see your community with fresh eyes. He gradually builds a compelling case for walkability as the essential distillation of a vast trove of knowledge about urbanism and placemaking. The case he makes has you both nodding at the intuitive and seemingly obvious wisdom presented, and shaking your head at why those basic principles of fixing our cities have eluded us for so long.”

Also, here are a few notable books for sustainable design educators, students, and practitioners: Designing the Sustainable Site: Integrated Design Strategies for Small-Scale Sites and Residential Landscapes by Heather Venhaus (see The Dirt review); Rethinking a Lot by Eran Ben-Joseph (see The Dirt review); The Sustainable Sites Handbook: A Complete Guide to the Principles, Strategies, and Best Practices for Sustainable Landscapes by Meg Calkins, ASLA (see The Dirt review); and Urban Ecological Design: A Process for Regenerative Spaces by Fritz Steiner, FASLA, and Danilo Palazzo (see The Dirt review).

For more, check out Books by ASLA Members, a hub offering up hundreds of books written over the years (all available via, and the top 10 books from 2011.

Image credit: Taschen

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