An Evidence-based Approach to Therapeutic Landscapes

Therapeutic Landscapes: An Evidence-Based Approach to Designing Healing Gardens and Restorative Outdoor Spaces
by Clare Cooper Marcus, Honorary ASLA, and Naomi Sachs, ASLA, is more than an update of the milestone 1999 book, Healing Gardens: Therapeutic Benefits and Design Recommendations, by Marcus and Marni Barnes, ASLA. Compared to the earlier book, this book is more richly illustrated with color photographs, exemplary case studies, and practical design guidelines. This book also provides all the latest research on the benefits of exposure to nature.


Healthcare is currently undergoing tremendous change. Healthcare environments are increasingly offering gardens, with demonstrable benefits to patients, families, and staff.

Healthcare gardens have proliferated. Many healthcare grounds have evolved into functional spaces that provide intentionally restorative or therapeutic benefits. But not all gardens deliver as advertised. Some healthcare gardens featured in leading design magazines appear attractive in photographs, yet are missing elements and characteristics that optimize the health, safety, and welfare of the people that use them. Some gardens may actually be doing some harm, which is unacceptable in a medical setting.

Using the processes and guidelines presented in this book will improve garden design, enhance health care delivery, and boost economic return to healthcare facilities.

The book begins with a history of hospital outdoor space, provides a useful chapter covering research and theory, and follows with chapters on therapeutic gardens for specific medical populations such as: cancer patients, veterans, children, people with dementia, hospice care, and mental health facilities. These chapters present case studies of model gardens, supplemented with discerning analysis derived from post-occupancy evaluations of the design strengths and weaknesses. These evidence-based insights into which garden design approaches work or not in improving healthcare quality help make the case for including gardens in new construction or renovations to healthcare facilities.

The core of the book is Chapter 6: General Design Guidelines for Healthcare Facilities. Sachs and Marcus provide a checklist of both required and recommended guidelines for specific design elements, programming and site planning, along with general over-arching design considerations. Required guidelines are strongly supported by research or good practice, while recommended guidelines may have less evidence to support them or are less important when there are site constraints or programming conflicts. These guidelines will be enormously useful to ensure that a new garden provides maximum return on investment.

In another critical chapter, Teresia Hazen, Legacy Health Systems, outlines the participatory process used to create several successful gardens at Legacy Health in Portland, Oregon, a process that brings medical professionals, patients, family members, volunteers, and foundation directors together with designers to focus on the goals of a given therapeutic space. In the forward, professor Roger Ulrich notes that “an important theme running throughout the book, and expressly detailed in a chapter by Teresia Hazen, is that a participatory design process is vital to creating a successful therapeutic garden.”

In addition, there are useful chapters on planting design and maintenance, horticultural therapy, sustainability, and how to create the business case for healing gardens, including funding strategies, which can all aid advocates of therapeutic gardens.

While almost any garden provides a connection with natural elements, a garden design created on evidence-based principles — led by an informed designer and properly implemented — can facilitate stress reduction and improve health outcomes. Research has shown that exposure to natural environments enhances the ability to cope with and recover from stress, illness, and injury, and provides a host of social, psychological, and physiological benefits to humans.

This book beautifully illustrates how to implement the latest research to increase the quality and success of projects that provide access to nature.

Read the book.

This guest post is by Mark Epstein, ASLA, principal at Hafs Epstein Landscape Architecture in Seattle. Epstein was the long-time chair of the Healthcare and Therapeutic Garden Design Professional Practice Network at the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). He is on the board of the Therapeutic Landscapes Network. 

Image credits: (1) Clare Cooper Marcus, (2) AECOM, (3) Clare Cooper Marcus, (4) Legacy Health / Wiley

Landscape Architects and Their Clients Tackle SITES

We often hear from landscape architects about the cutting-edge sustainable design practices they are bringing to their latest Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES®)-certified works, but we rarely hear from their clients. In a session at the ASLA 2013 Annual Meeting in Boston organized by Liz Guthrie, ASLA, professional practice manager at ASLA, landscape architects and their clients together discussed their motivation to become certified Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) projects, the challenges involved in working with this new 200-point rating system, and the lessons learned.

Why a Sustainable Landscape?

For Richard Piacentini, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, the goal was to apply “systems-thinking” to their new Center for Sustainable Landscapes, which received the first four-star rating from SITES (see image above). “We wanted to know how we could truly integrate the building and landscape.”

He said too many buildings are “completely isolated nature.” This is a real problem because humans now spend about 80 percent of their lives in buildings of some kind. With the new center designed by landscape architecture firm Andropogon Associates, “nature is now not that far away.”

In the Bronx, Hunts Point Landing, a two-star SITES-certified landscape developed by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and designed by Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, shows how a “dead-end” in an isolated and unhealthy neighborhood can be turned into a park, said Kate Van Tassel, NYCEDC. The park is meant to ameliorate some of the health problems in the community, which has some of the highest rates of asthma and obesity in New York City.

The new Hunts Point Landing took shape on the site of an old coal gasification plant. Van Tassel said this little bit of “green space amid industry is very important.” To boost neighborhood health, NYDEC wanted a sustainable park. Old local materials were re-used within the park. Stones from a nearby bridge taken down were turned into blocks to sit on. The waterfront park helped “transform the shoreline into a recreation area.”

In the case of Taylor Residence in Chester, Pennsylvania, Margot Taylor, ASLA, is both the client and landscape architect. Taylor wanted to create a public demonstration project for sustainable landscape best practices on her own property. Her property includes wood systems and meadows. Ecological systems were re-established, with a focus made on soil and plant health. The landscape, which used to be a farm, now “directs, holds, absorbs, and cleans water.” She now has hundreds of people, including lots of school groups, touring the landscape each year.

One of Taylor’s goals in the move to a sustainable residential landscape was to reduce annual maintenance. She wants to get maintenance down to 55 hours a year. She has also “completely gotten mowing out of the system.”

Representing both himself and his client, Hunter Beckham, ASLA, SWT Design, described the design of the Novus International campus in St. Charles, Missouri. He said a “huge number of stakeholders” were involved in creating a sustainable campus, which was designed to yield many benefits for both employees and the environment. There’s a productive, edible landscape: a vegetable garden with bee-friendly plants. There are two bee blocks that provide home to seven different local species. In the first year, the landscape yielded 65 pounds of honey.

This vegetated garden terrace is accessible via a walking loop that circles the entire campus. The loop enables both employees and visitors to take a break from the office and get out in nature. Within the landscape, an old concrete-lined water detention pit was turned into a natural water habitat that manages stormwater and attracts a wide range of wildlife, including snakes.

What Were the Challenges?

For Jose Alminana, FASLA, a principal at Andropogon and one of the guiding forces behind SITES, the benefits far outweighed the challenges. He said achieving 4-stars for the Phipps’ Center for Sustainable Landscapes was no small feat, but perhaps made possible by the fact that “we started with no site.” The design team then had “complete control over the materials used,” which helped them improve site performance and earn points under SITES.

Still, “procuring the sand-based soils was a challenge, given the firms involved in fracking are very interested in applying the same soils to sites where they are extracting gas.” Separately, he added that it was “hard to change the plant palette to accommodate the new soil pH.”

For Signe Nielsen, FASLA, SITES seemed to be an exercise in frustration. She said there were three categories of SITES credits that deeply-urban brownfield sites like Hunts Point Landing “couldn’t take advantage of,” so the project could only get two stars.

She said she couldn’t preserve existing soils and vegetation because “they were highly contaminated.” There was “no structure to adaptively reuse,” so points couldn’t be gotten there either. Lastly, there were no “cultural resources to reuse or enhance.”

She added that working with public authorities, in effect, means “limited opportunities for integrated site design teams,” as many local governments don’t incentivize such groups.

More broadly, she thought that achieving many of the credits related to “recycled content materials will be challenging given the landscape industry has very few competitive vendors in this field.”

Urban public projects may have a challenge earning maintenance points as well, as the landscape architecture firms creating these projects often have “no control over future maintenance.” A firm could create a detail maintenance manual for a park, but then that’s it.

Taylor said working with a historic farm was a challenge in itself. The native vegetation had been stripped and topsoil eroded or compacted. The solution was to “rebuild healthy soil and native plant communities appropriate for different micro-climates.” SITES, she said, “didn’t want to give credits for the landscape’s past use as pastureland.”

She certainly ended up getting credits, though, for the 27 tons of barn stone she cut up and re-purposed on site by hand. “I lost about 15 pounds shifting all that stone out of the dirt.” Still, she thinks she needs to find a “smarter way to manage materials that were unearthed.”

What Lessons Were Learned?

Alminana believes that “integrated design is really the key” to achieving a return on investment for your clients and site performance. “SITES really puts an emphasis on this.” He said, unfortunately, this approach is still not “happening among a majority of the profession or in the public sector.”

Directing himself to those who complain they haven’t earned enough points for their projects using SITES, he said “if you are only focused on points, you are missing the point.”

Nielsen believes SITES can have a potent impact, given “metrics are crucial” and SITES really forces landscape architects to collect data and measure themselves against benchmarks. She said putting all that time into collecting metrics was worth the effort because it helps “clients understand the value of our work.” Landscape architects can measure how well they’ve “reduced noise, saved water, and reused materials.” Beckham reiterated how valuable SITES is as a “framework for accountability.”

Taylor learned that it’s important to “integrate a long-term land management perspective from the beginning,” something that SITES promotes.

The landscape architects all hoped that governments — both local and national — will get moving on incorporating SITES guidelines into their request for proposals (RFPs), which can also help push the landscape materials industry to provide more sustainable options. It will be a back-and-forth process to make SITES more mainstream: landscape architects, and their clients, must push for change among providers of landscape materials, but the market must also provide opportunities to enable that change.

Image credits: (1) Phipps’ Center for Sustainable Landscapes / Denmarsh Photography, (2) Hunts Point Landing / Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architecture, (3) Taylor Residence / Mark Gormel, (4) Novus International / SWT Design

SITES Certifies First Four-star Landscape

The Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES™) announced three new projects have achieved certification under the nation’s most comprehensive rating system for sustainable landscapes.

The newly certified projects are the Phipps’ Center for Sustainable Landscapes in Pittsburgh, which is the first SITES pilot project to have received the maximum four stars; Washington Canal Park in Washington, D.C., which received three stars; and Shoemaker Green, a university green space in Philadelphia that received two stars.

The SITES program is a collaboration of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center of The University of Texas at Austin, and the United States Botanic Garden. The SITES program was created to fill a critical need for development guidelines and recognition of sustainable landscapes based on their planning, design, construction and intended maintenance. This voluntary, national rating system and set of performance benchmarks can be applied to projects on sites with or without buildings.

The new projects join 23 others across the country that have achieved certification since June 2010 as SITES pilot projects. These diverse projects represent landscapes of various sizes, locations, types, and costs.

“We are very pleased to announce three new certified projects – particularly the first four-star rating,” said SITES Program Director Danielle Pieranunzi, who is at the Wildflower Center. “Each project has achieved a great deal by demonstrating innovative applications of sustainable land design and development practices while meeting the SITES 2009 criteria.”

As with the other pilot projects at universities, corporate headquarters and other landscapes that have previously achieved this recognition, the newly certified projects applied the SITES Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks 2009 and met the requirements for pilot certification. The guidelines and rating system were created by dozens of the country’s leading sustainability experts, scientists and design professionals.

The three newly certified projects incorporate diverse sustainable features:

Phipps’ Center for Sustainable Landscapes, Four Stars, Andropogon Associates, Pittsburgh, Pa (see image above). The Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL) at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens was designed to be the first project in the world to simultaneously achieve LEED Platinum, SITES four-star certification, and The Living Building Challenge (still pending). Built on a previously paved city maintenance yard and documented brownfield, the nearly three-acre site supports a new 24,350-square-foot education, research, and administrative building; manages all sanitary waste and a ten-year storm event on site using a range of green infrastructure strategies; has successfully reintroduced 150 native plant species; and is designed to be net-zero for energy and water. The CSL is open to the public and its building and landscape performance is being extensively researched and monitored to inform the design and construction of similar projects that restore ecosystem services, generate their own energy, and clean and re-use their own waste water.

Washington Canal Park, Three Stars, OLIN, Washington, D.C. One of the first parks built as part of the District of Columbia’s Anacostia Waterfront Initiative, Canal Park is a model of sustainability, establishing itself as a social gathering place and an economic catalyst. Located on three acres of a former parking lot for district school buses, the three-block long park is sited along the historic former Washington Canal system, and is a centerpiece for approximately 10,000 office workers and about 2,000 new mixed market-rate and affordable housing units. Canal Park’s focal point, a linear rain garden, functions as an integrated stormwater system that is estimated to save the District of Columbia 1.5 million gallons of potable water per year. The park also features electric car charging stations and a neighborhood-scale system for capturing treating, and reusing rainwater. Numerous opportunities are provided for residents and workers to enjoy the park, including an ice rink, a café, pavilions and space for concerts, movies, and farmers’ markets.

Shoemaker Green, Two Stars, Andropogon Associates, Philadelphia, Pa. As part of the University of Pennsylvania’s “Penn Connects” campus master plan, this deteriorating site with underused tennis courts was redesigned as a passive open space of lawns, tree-lined walkways, and sitting areas. The green space is both a destination and a pedestrian route from the core of campus to the historic buildings surrounding it. The site can be adapted for multiple events and activities at a wide range of scales, from secluded areas for eating lunch to staging areas for the Penn Relays and graduation ceremonies. Through the innovative use of various sustainable strategies and technologies, Shoemaker Green has also been optimized to capture and control stormwater from the site and surrounding rooftops, provide viable native plant and animal habitats, minimize transportation of materials to and from the site, and serve as a starting point for the development of a sustainable maintenance strategy for the university at large.

The 2009 SITES rating system for the pilot projects includes 15 prerequisites and 51 additional, flexible credits with assigned numbers of points that total 250. The credits address activities such as soil restoration, use of recycled materials and land maintenance approaches. Projects can achieve ratings of one through four stars by amassing 40, 50, 60 or 80 percent of the 250 points.

Based on the experiences of many of the pilot projects, a refined set of guidelines and rating system, SITES v2, is finalized and incorporates added recommendations from technical experts. This enhanced version of the 2009 SITES rating system is ready to be published for distribution and use by the general public.

Image credits: (1) Phipps’ Center for Sustainable Landscapes / Denmarsh Photography, (2) Washington Canal Park / OLIN, Sahar Coston-Hardy, (3) Shoemaker Green / Barrett Doherty

At Home in the World: The Works of Reed Hilderbrand

Throughout October, the University of Virginia School of Architecture community got to see photographs of the landscape architecture of Reed Hilderbrand, touch samples of materials used in their projects, and grab post-card copies of their site plans. An exhibition of their work culminated in a lecture by founding partners, Douglas Reed, FASLA, and Gary Hilderbrand, FASLA, on their design philosophy.

Rather than being cloistered in an enclosed gallery space, the exhibit occupied the open, eastern hallway of the architecture school where it encouraged daily encounters between students and the firm’s work. It was clear from Reed and Hilderbrand’s talk that both believe places of cultural significance shape fledgling designers and the type of work they ultimately produce.

Each designer situated the firm’s work within his own personal biography and the landscape in which he was raised. In discussing his youth in Louisiana, Reed drew upon Jens Jensen’s belief that we are always longing to return to the “landscape of home.” His experience growing up in a landscape of extreme flatness — contrasted with Hilderbrand’s childhood in the rolling Hudson River Valley — plays a significant role in his unique understanding of the conditions of the ground. Together, they believe “a site’s history and the particular character of its ground – its shape, soil, moisture, vegetative cover – are what motivates meaningful form in our projects.”

While Reed and Hilderbrand may call upon their particular conceptions of home in their design philosophy, they also spoke of the importance of travel. Hilderbrand attributed his year in Rome as a Rome Prize recipient as the primary inspiration him to come together with Reed to found Reed Hilderbrand. Getting to intimately know the landscapes of Rome, not as a tourist, but as an extended visitor with the time and the freedom to “see and return,” made him want to build great places. “Seeing great things is both humbling and inspiring, ” said Hilderbrand.

In their first project together, the Leventritt Garden at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, their design drew upon not only a deep understanding of the conditions of the site, but also an experiential knowledge of Roman terraces, resulting in an “organic parterre” distinct from, yet perfectly suited to the rest of the Arboretum.

The success of this first project stemmed from their ability to grasp the site’s unique assets, while drawing on a vast inner library of places seen over years of travel.

In Reed Hilderbrand’s work at Bennington College, their reading of a set of disjointed site systems from previous eras of development, including an overlay of campus architecture of disparate styles, propelled the partners to bring cohesion to the campus. As Reed says, in this case “we realized that the larger regional context – the panorama of mountains,” with the elevated plateau of the college campus serving as a viewing platform, drew the campus plan together.

While it was inspiring to see images of Reed Hilderbrand’s work in the everyday environment of the school and in the pages of their new monograph, Visible | Invisible: Landscape Works of Reed Hilderbrand, the magnitude of their effect became more apparent after hearing them reflect upon their work. The elegant detailing, subtle sculpting of the ground, and the clearly distinctive quality of the work, are stunning and motivating.

This guest post is by Rachel Vassar, Master’s of Landscape Architecture Candidate, University of Virginia

Image credits: (1) Visible / Invisible, Metropolis Books, (2) Leventritt Garden / Andrea Jones, (3) Leventritt Garden Plan / Reed Hildebrand, (4) Bennington College plan / Reed Hilderbrand, (5) Bennington College / Michael Moran.

Designing with Soils

“Growing plants is the goal,” said James Urban, FASLA, Urban Trees + Soils, at the 2013 ASLA Annual Meeting in Boston. To grow healthy plants, one needs healthy soils, and landscape architects who understand soils and know how to call a soil scientist. In a wide-ranging talk, Urban and his co-presenter, soil scientist Norm Hummel, discussed how landscape architects can design with new soils the right way, particularly in challenging, damaged urban landscapes.

Whether natural or man-mixed, soils have physical, environmental, and chemical properties. These are all important to the health of a growing medium. Physical properties include organic matter, water, drainage, and aeration. Environmental characteristics include light and temperature. Chemical elements include the pH balance, and the presence (or not) of phosphorous, nitrogen, and potassium, which are all critical elements for plants.

To determine what kind of soil is needed for a project, Urban said goals and requirements are needed early on in the design process. Questions that need to be asked: “What type of trees and plants are you trying to grow? How big do you want these plants to get?” As an example, depending on the requirements, an oak can grow to 25 feet and last 50 years, or grow to its full extent and live hundreds of years. Landscape architects have think through these things in terms of soil early on.

It’s also important to know how a site is being used. A landscape may have lawn, but is that walked on a few times a year or thousands of times? Urban said the National Mall’s turf gets a quarter of a million visitors per day. That space gets 3,000 events a year. Use will determine what kind of irrigation and soils are needed.

Urban said there are eight critical properties of soils, which soil biologists can test to determine if soils meet specifications. They include structure, texture, density, nutrients, pH, organic matter, and density, which are all “inter-connected.”

More often than not, Urban said trees and plants don’t do well because of the physical properties of soils rather than the chemical. If something goes wrong — a tree is stressed, shows early fall color, or even dies — landscape architects may be planting the wrong trees and plants for the soil types.

Some details on soil’s physical properties: The structure of soils has to do with how well-glued together the soil particles are. Particles are attracted to other particles — and organic matter glues them together. Clay soil has a strong structure due to the stickiness of the soil. Silt soil has a weaker structure, while sand has no structure at all. Sandy soils are useful in areas that need to drain.

Urban added that man-made mixed soils are very different from natural soils. Mixed soils include soils that have been broken apart and put back together.

Soils are also made up of spaces or voids where water can flow. Ideal forest soils have a void space of about 50 percent, while urban compacted soils are around 20-30 percent. With the Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES®), Urban said more landscape architects will need to measure soil structure.

Soil texture is also important to examine. Clay, silt, and sand all have different surface areas given the unique sizes of the particles. Fine sand is .24mm, while silt is 2.4mm, and clay, nearly 24mm. Just within the family of sand, there are huge differences as well, with fine sand having properties distinct from coarse grains.

Hummel, who said he has examined over 100,000 soil samples in his career, said organic matter is a major contributor to soil health. Organic matter can be amended with either peats or composts.

He said many peats are actually not sustainable and shouldn’t be used to augment the organic matter in damaged soils. Peat farming can strip an area of nutrients, creating environmental damage. However, he made an exception for sphagum peat, which is more expensive, but a renewable resource. For Hummel, sphagum peat is “superior to compost, which breaks down rapidly.”

But compost is most often added to soils to boost the amount of organic matter. Compost is often used with disturbed urban soils that have suffered from erosion and compaction. Compost types include yard waste (grass, wood chips), bio-solids (treated municipal sewage), animal manure, and mixed waste. Some regional compost specialties include pine bark and rice hulls. Hummel added that soils have a “disease suppressive capacity.” Still, he cautioned against the practice of using 90 percent compost and 10 percent soil, saying that a “tree planted in that will simply fall over or die.”

Hummel also delved into the chemical properties of soils – and whether it’s possible to chemically amend damaged soils. He concluded that altering the PH balance of existing site soils is “unrealistic.” What’s better is to focus on the availability of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous in the soil.

While sending soil samples to a lab will yield data on all these properties, these properties can also be requested in soil specifications. Hummel said landscape architects can even specify things like permeability in soils.

Urban concluded that it’s best to reuse dirt where possible, but sometimes grading and compaction have “killed the soils.” To understand the problems and solve them, landscape architects can use web soil surveys, study soil maps, take their own samples, examine them, and send them to the lab. “Landscape architects need to learn how to do this.”

To learn how to go on to the next step and fix soils, check out Urban’s book, Up by Roots.

Image credit: Sugar Beach, Toronto, by Claude Cormier / Deeproot

The Legacy of Dan Kiley

At the 100-year anniversary of the birth of Mies Van Der Rohe in the mid-80s, there were tons of news stories, books, and conferences about the legacy of that great architect. But Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, head of the Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), said nothing would have been done for famed Modern landscape architect Dan Kiley on his 100th, unless he and his organization had stepped up to honor him. At the opening of a new photography exhibition on the work of Kiley at the Boston Architectural College (BAC), Birnbaum said Kiley was only second to Frederick Law Olmsted in terms of the number of his landscapes that have been added to the national register of historic places.

In this exhibition, we see 27 of his 1,000 works of landscape architecture. The vast majority are in the U.S. but one remarkable landscape, L’Esplanade du Charles De Gaulle, leads up to La Defense in Paris. Newly-commissioned photographs were taken by some of the best landscape photographers, including Alan Ward, FASLA, who is also a partner at Sasaki Associates.

Birnbaum said it was important to document these landscapes so they don’t “die silent deaths.” He added that writing about Kiley is crucial to “making his legacy visible. It’s really a case of publish or perish.”

For Cornelia Oberlander, FASLA, the grand-dame of Canadian landscape architecture and a Kiley firm alumna, the Esplanade in Paris shows “how he brought the grandiose nature of structure into the landscape.” Pointing at a photo of the project, she said, “that’s Paris. It’s brilliant.”

She said Kiley was inspired by 17th century French landscape designer Andre Le Notre, who laid out gardens with structural forms like grids and allees.  For her, Kiley’s legacy is taking that French structure and applying it to Modern landscapes everywhere. She said his genius was using a Modern approach to create a “classical feeling.”

Oberlander’s favorite Kiley landscape is the Miller Garden in Columbus, Indiana, which is viewed as his residential masterpiece. She said “this shows a new way of thinking, a new way of living in the garden.”

Gary Hilderbrand, FASLA, principal of Reed Hilderbrand, believes the best word to characterize Kiley is “itinerant,” given his constant travels across the U.S. creating so many works of landscape. He said Kiley was “deeply committed to landscape architecture.”

While he said cultures change — so most landscapes will not even last a hundred years — many of Kiley’s landscapes should live on, at least in some form. One he highlighted was the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, home to the famous arch by Saarinen. “The origins of that design need to remain in some form.”

His favorite Kiley work is Fountain Place in Dallas, which he has to visit every time he goes to that city. “It’s otherworldy.”



And how does he sum up Kiley’s legacy? “Kiley’s work transcends his era.” His landscapes go beyond Modernism. “There is an essential quality.”

Explore all the Kiley projects and photos online or buy a gallery guide.

Image credits: (1) Patterns / Roger Foley, (2-3) L’Esplanade du Charles de Gaulle / David Bacher, (4) Miller Garden / Millicent Harvey, (5) Jefferson National Expansion Memorial / David Johnson, (6) Fountain Place / Alan Ward.

Personal Expression Against a Remarkable Backdrop

Private Gardens of the Hudson Valley
is a new book about American gardens of the northeast by Jane Garmey, a noted garden writer born in England and now living in New York and Norfolk, Connecticut. The 28 gardens featured are found in private estates to the east of the Hudson River, an area whose famed scenery Garmey appropriately describes as “inherently dramatic.” She has selected gardens whose creators, a mix of garden designers by profession and others who have made it a passionate occupation, primarily seek to create a private paradise while enhancing the remarkable qualities of the existing landscape.

Garmey chose the properties according to the following criteria: “I find myself drawn to gardens with age and maturity, and especially to those that strongly reflect the sensibility of their owners.” As her descriptions and the accompanying photographs reveal, the properties, ranging from 50 to 500 acres, display a range of gardens. Garmey emphasizes the use of trees and plants — and their unique qualities of texture and color and their capacity to transform and define space. She also strongly notes the element of time. Many of the gardens are lifelong projects that are slowly developing and always changing.

Several of the gardens are in keeping with the tradition of the older properties they occupy. Some property owners, admirers of 18th Century English garden design, have taken cues from famous places like Stourhead and Stowe. Several of the gardens feature planting designs that enhance the existing landscape and appear effortless and natural. Their spatial configurations encourage meandering walks punctuated by views of expansive vistas. Some even include classical temples, statues, and follies.

These elements are especially visible at Altamont, a 500 acre property in Millbrook with a vast parkland that includes streams, marshland, forest, and a succession of lakes and ponds. The formal garden adjacent to the house has four-walled areas planted with different themes. A ha-ha creates a seamless transition from the formal garden to the surrounding landscape.

A few of the gardens are located on properties with modern additions. A similar grandeur is achieved with landscaping suited to that aesthetic. In these cases, the property owners have sought to complement as well as soften the style and scale of the architecture. For a geometric house in Clinton Corners, plantings reinforce the garden’s rectilinear quality while muting its overall effect. Eunymous blankets the terraced garden and masses of bamboo help to partition space and create privacy. A maze-garden houses a sculpture collection within arborvitae hedging that humanizes the space and softens the surrounding metal walls. Beyond the cultivated area, a 360-degree view captures the expanse of wilderness, delineated from the property by only a boundary of stone walls.


Garden features express the unique sensibilities of their creators. Transitional spaces between the cultivated grounds and the larger landscape are important elements. Many of the properties employ methods to de-emphasize this transition, utilizing a ha-ha or a discreet fencing element to create the separation. One property in Amenia, however, accentuates the change with an engaging progression of enclosed spaces defined by stone walls and hedges that distinguish between the formal garden and the wilderness beyond.

In one exceptional property in Millerton, the owner constructed a rock garden made from 60 tons of stone from a bluestone quarry near Albany. The garden is planted with thyme, euphorbia, sedums, and various other plants using a Japanese technique of repeating the same arrangement of colors and plants varied across different scales.

Also, nearly all of the properties include a productive aspect, such as an orchard or kitchen garden. A 200 acre property in Rhinebeck houses a remarkable version. The property owner, Amy Goldman, is an advocate of heirloom fruits and vegetables. She has devoted one acre to an enclosed productive garden that serves as a laboratory for her research on different varieties. She hand-pollinates squashes and grows 20 different kinds of watermelon. At the time of publication, she had plans to cultivate 250 varieties of peppers from both the old and new world for research on a book.

Each garden in Garmey’s selection displays a unique appeal. The unifying principle among them is that they have been joyfully created, which is apparent in their perceived effortless. An important detail to note, however, is that despite the ease of their appearance, achieving their stature is no small feat. As Garmey notes, “In England, the English have gardens. Americans, as I have now learned, make theirs.”

While the English countryside enjoys mild weather and a gentle grade, the Hudson valley at times presents an intractable canvas. The 360-view for the house in Clinton Corners necessitated the clearing of 200 acres of steeply wooded land. Likewise, on a property in Craryville, the owner spent several years clearing the dense woods above a rock ledge measuring 180 by 45 feet. Today, it’s a primary feature of the garden showcasing lichen, moss, sedums, and birch trees.

Regardless of their intensiveness, the gardens are clearly worth the effort for those who create them. As the book demonstrates, these places are personal expressions, some decades in the making, of passionate interest and individual taste. In Private Gardens of the Hudson Valley, Garmey’s selection captures these unique expressions against a remarkable backdrop.

Explore the book.

This guest post is by Shannon Leahy, former ASLA summer intern and recent Master’s of Landscape Architecture graduate, University of Pennsylvania.

Image credits: Monacelli Press

New MIT Report: Places in the Making

Places in the Making, a new report from MIT’s department of urban studies and planning (DUSP), argues that the process of making a place is as important as the place itself. With this fresh take on “placemaking,” MIT planning and urban design professor Susan Silberberg, who teamed up with a few of her graduate students, along with Aaron Naparstek, the founder of Streetsblog, has written highly readable, well-organized report worth exploring.

Placemaking first appeared in the 1960s as a “reaction to auto-centric planning and bad public spaces.” In their intro, they write: “Place-making as we now know it can trace its roots back to the seminal works of urban thinkers like Jane Jacobs, Kevin Lynch and William Whyte, who, beginning in the 1960s, espoused a new way to understand, design and program public spaces by putting people and communities ahead of efficiency and aesthetics. Their philosophies, considered groundbreaking at the time, were in a way re-assertions of the people-centered town-planning principles that were forgotten during the hundred-year period of rapid industrialization, suburbanization, and urban renewal. Placemaking may come naturally to human societies, but something was lost along the way; communities were rendered powerless in the shadows of experts to shape their physical surroundings.”

Since the 1960s, place-making, as a discipline, has really “grown up.” Today, placemaking is a powerful tool for “enhancing quality of life and supporting collaborations that connect people and support local action.” Placemaking now includes “broader concerns about healthy living, social justice, community capacity-building, economic revitalization, childhood development, and a host of other issues facing residents, workers, and visitors in towns and cities large and small. In its contemporary form, placemaking ranges from the grassroots, one-day tactical urbanism of Park(ing) Day to a developer’s deliberate and decades-long transformation of a Denver neighborhood around the organizing principle of art.”

Over the past fifty years, the focus and form of place-making projects may have varied, but successful local initiatives have shared an emphasis on the “making” part of place-making. Silberberg writes: “Placemaking puts power back in the hands of the people. The most successful placemaking initiatives transcend the ‘place’ to forefront the ‘making,’ and the benefits for community can be substantial and long-lasting.”

But the MIT researchers also argue that it’s time to re-evaluate what has worked well — and not so well — in this approach over the past 50 years, and further understand the crucial role of process innovation in the creation of unique, community-sustaining places.

Through a set of case studies, Silberberg and her co-authors then show how positive change comes out of community-led processes aimed at transforming a physical space. “The research shows that, at the most basic level, the act of advocating for change, questioning regulations, finding funding, and mobilizing others to contribute their voices engages communities – and in engaging, leaves these communities better for it.”

The report outlines some key findings:

  • Process is equal to the outcome.
  • Placemaking creates a virtuous cycle.
  • Public places are never “finished.”
  • Temporary initiatives and tactical methods can be remarkably effective.
  • Placemaking is open-source.
  • Public/Private partnerships elevate what’s possible.

The 13 case studies cover both well-known successes like Bryant Park in New York City, Eastern Market in Detroit, and Guerrero Park in San Francisco and cutting-edge models like pop-up Better Block project in Dallas and StreetsAlive in Fargo and Moorhead. (The Better Block project, created by SWA Group, a landscape architecture firm, and StreetSpace Collaborative, recently won an ASLA professional design award).

In the Better Block example, we learn that temporary projects can have a significant impact and help both the community and local officials envision a new future for a place. The case shows that “city officials can use temporary zoning and transportation ‘grace periods,’ allowing placemakers to break regulations to explore permanent regulatory changes.” These grace periods are actually crucial for urban innovation. The San Francisco government has also used pilots to great effect.

Indeed, the MIT researchers seem to conclude that the key to success in placemaking is taking the risk to innovate in the making process. They argue that “the most successful projects seem to be those that can combine tactics that historically would have been kept separate.”

Read the report.

Image credit: ASLA 2011 Professional Design Awards. The Better Block Project. SWA Group and StreetSpace Collaborative / Image credit: Jason Roberts, David Thompson 

Three Perspectives on Designing Resilient Cities

Hurricane Sandy has changed the national conversation on climate change. Unlike Hurricane Katrina, which much of the country was happy to pin the blame for on New Orleans itself (“they shouldn’t have built there in the first place!”), Sandy revealed climate change to be a growing threat to nearly all coastal settlements. Formerly abstract warnings of growing inundation risk, stemming from rising sea levels and increasing storm frequency, suddenly became concrete and impossible to ignore. A new found sense of vulnerability descended on coastal cities. In this light, urban design cannot be dismissed as merely a luxury or an aesthetic consideration. The discipline has taken on a new relevance and sense of urgency: cities, particularly in coastal settings, must reconsider their built form in order to adapt to radically altered environmental conditions. Three new books by Island Press approach these issues with renewed sense of the value of the urban design.

Entertaining and attractively designed, Alexandros Washburn’s The Nature of Urban Design: A New York Perspective on Resilience provides a fantastic introduction to the discipline of urban design for non-designers. Washburn, the chief urban designer for New York City, uses that city as a case study to explain what exactly urban designers do and why it matters. He broadly defines urban design as “the art of changing cities, guiding growth to follow new patterns that better meet our challenges while improving our quality of life.” Of course, perhaps the biggest challenge facing cities today is climate change, and The Nature of Urban Design uses Hurricane Sandy to illustrate the need for adaptation, and how urban design can act as an agent of change.

Washburn includes the suburbs in his definition of the city, stating that the suburbs simply represent low-density cities, thus breaking down the false city/suburb dichotomy. Washburn’s inclusion of the suburbs is important because it allows him to expand the purview of urban design beyond the city center to the entire metropolitan area. Urban design isn’t about recreating a single notion of what the city is, but instead about adaptation and improving living conditions, regardless of location within the metropolitan region. Instead of seeking a rigid urban design toolkit, Washburn asks, “Is there a form of the city that can survive new extremes of weather, that can accommodate millions more citizens in dignity and prosperity, that can avoid contributing more to climate change, and still be worth living in?”

He methodically walks us through why urban design matters, how urban designers work, how urban design can be a catalyst for transformation (using the High Line as a case study), and how it can lead to resilience in the face of climate change. He discusses two strategies for resilience: mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation means reducing greenhouse gases in order to prevent adverse climate change, while adaptation involves reducing vulnerability to projected climate change. With a certain degree of environmental change now inevitable and a dramatic, global reduction in greenhouse gas production seeming less and less likely, Washburn’s approach to resiliency is both idealistic and practical.

Like Washburn’s book, The Hidden Potential of Sustainable Neighborhoods: Lessons from Low-Carbon Communities, by Harrison Fraker, uses global climate change to frame the new importance of urban design. Unlike Washburn’s broad overview of the profession, however, Fraker’s is more narrowly focused, using four European case studies to dig into the specifics of several low-carbon urban design projects. Fraker describes how sustainability issues such as energy efficiency have historically only been considered on the building scale. The neighborhood scale, however, represents new opportunities for carbon reduction. Fraker argues that the neighborhood scale has the “potential to integrate the design of transportation, buildings, and infrastructure while engaging the design of the public realm as part of the system.” He refers to this as a “whole-systems approach,” where all urban systems are considered together, greatly expanding the potential for resiliency.

The Hidden Potential of Sustainable Neighborhoods is about mitigation, citing examples of low-carbon urban design projects. This does not mean, however, that Fraker is merely presenting a series of utopian designs. Each of the examples in the book is actually built, and Fraker looks back at commonalities between each project’s implementation and subsequent performance. Furthermore, he applies the lessons learned from the four European examples to sprawling, patchwork American urbanism, describing the potential for infill opportunities. Fraker could have spent more time addressing how to retrofit existing development rather than concentrating on new development. Still, as he states, new models can catalyze paradigm shifts, and we should appreciate his effort to translate European lessons to messy American cities.

If The Nature of Urban Design is a layperson’s introduction to urban design, and The Hidden Potential of Sustainable Neighborhoods is a case-study resource for urban designers, The Guide to Greening Cities, by Sadhu Aufochs Johnston, Steven S. Nicholas, and Julia Parzen, is probably of most interest to urban planners. Like the other two books, The Guide to Greening Cities lays out the challenge of designing cities in the face of climate change. Johnston and his co-authors also refer to Hurricane Sandy, as well as other climactic events, to establish the new urgency of resilient city design.

Instead of studying the design of resilient cities, however, Greening Cities explores how city leaders can implement new sustainability projects. Johnston and team state that the book is “written from the perspective of green city leaders and champions who are working inside city governments in North America and who have succeeded in pushing forward innovative green projects.” Rather than emphasizing the design of sustainability, Greening Cities walks through how city leaders can make a case for, fund, implement, and subsequently monitor green projects. In this way, The Guide to Greening Cities is a useful book for urban planners wishing to increase the resiliency of their communities.

Cities are now faced with the task of both adapting to inevitably changing environmental conditions and minimizing their contributions to future climate change. The political, economic, environmental, and technological challenges associated with this task are bewilderingly complex. However, recent events such as Hurricane Sandy have shown inaction to be an increasingly tragic prospect.

The complexity of designing for urban resilience requires a broad cultural shift across many different disciplines. These three books address the same problem of designing in the face of global climate change, but do so for different audiences – the general public, urban designers, and urban planners. With the consequences of global warming no longer abstract, hopefully the sense of urgency that inspired these books will not abate.

This guest post is by Ben Wellington, Master’s of Landscape architecture graduate, Louisiana State University and ASLA 2012 summer intern.

Image credits: Island Press