#WLAM2016: This Is Landscape Architecture Campaign Reaches 4 Million

Landscape sketch / Studio1619
Landscape sketch / Studio1619

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) just celebrated World Landscape Architecture Month (WLAM). In an effort to help the public better understand what landscape architecture is this past month, ASLA launched a social media campaign: #WLAM2016. The goal of campaign was to connect the term “landscape architecture” with the actual work of landscape architects in communities. We asked our members, colleagues, and friends to take pictures with cards that read “This Is Landscape Architecture” in front of their favorite designed spaces and post them on social media with #WLAM2016.

In total, 5,000 posts using #WLAM2016 reached nearly 4.25 million people around the world. People posted images that showed all phases of design and illustrated the breadth of the profession.

Pictures included preliminary sketches and project plans (see image above and below).

Project Plan - Louis Johnson
Project plan / Louis Johnson

While some featured iconic designed spaces.

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Washington, D.C.
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Washington, D.C. /
Brooklyn Bridge Park / Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy
Brooklyn Bridge Park / Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy

Others showed off residential work.

Residential - ASLA San Diego
Residential project / San Diego ASLA

There were some in different languages, too.

Pershing Park-Karen Trimbath-Grajales
Pershing Park / Karen Trimbath-Grajales

WLAM demonstrated that social media is an excellent tool for reaching the public and showing them how the profession improves everyday life.

Because social media is a highly visual platform, posting pictures of your finished projects on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram can not only raise the visibility of your own practice, but also landscape architecture as a whole.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (April 16 – 30)

A rendering of the forthcoming Presidio land development / The Atlantic

Disaster by Design: Houston Can’t Keep Developing This Way The Houston Chronicle, 4/20/16
“Let’s review the facts before this teachable moment fades away. We live on a very flat coastal plain — much of it only a four-foot drop over a mile. And much of it with very clayey, slow-to-drain soils.”

A One-Stop Guide to Designing the Streets of the Future City Lab, 4/22/16
“Not all urban planners or city governments agree on what kind of street designs are best. But one thing remains clear: Cities who want to plan for the future must prioritize transit accessibility.”

A Public Park for Dublin’s Liberties Within Reach for Locals The Irish Times, 4/22/16
“The steel gates on the fence surrounding a large derelict site in Dublin’s south inner city will be unlocked today as a community campaign to open a public park in the Liberties starts to bear fruit.”

This Water-Wise Landscape Should Answer Some QuestionsThe Sacramento Bee, 4/22/16
“As California’s drought dragged on year after year, local master gardeners kept getting the same question from worried homeowners: “What can I plant that won’t die?”

How Cities Can Revitalize Their Public Spaces The Wall Street Journal, 4/24/16
“What makes a city a great place to live and visit are the shared spaces in between—the sidewalks, the plazas, the parks, the waterfront, says landscape architect James Corner, the lead designer of New York’s High Line, a much-acclaimed park built on an obsolete elevated railroad spur that winds through portions of Manhattan below 34th Street.”

San Francisco’s Plan to Bury a Freeway The Atlantic, May 2016 Issue
“When the Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937, the road leading to it, a hulking viaduct of concrete and steel known as Doyle Drive, split the northern tip of San Francisco in two, cutting right through the Presidio, the U.S. Army base that guarded the mouth of San Francisco Bay. For as long as the Presidio remained a base, the land’s division into two pieces wasn’t a huge problem.”

The Case for Precision in Landscape Architecture

Renderings of Concurso La Carlota competition entry / Luis Callejas

According to Anita Berrizbeitia, ASLA, chair of the landscape architecture department at Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD), the question of whether to pursue a more regimented, process-based approach or use a more open-ended design model has occupied the field of landscape architecture for the past three decades. In a lecture at GSD, Berrizbeitia said landscape architects must contend with a range of dynamic forces in every landscape — from changing seasons, hydrologic cycles, and plant life-cycles, to more anthropogenic processes, such as climate change, economic volatility, and rapid urbanization. “One of the challenges with process is it’s difficult to calibrate. But with the fully open, come both good and bad. How do we design with a more precise notion of openness?”

In the face of destructive processes, such as rising sea levels or increasing socio-economic inequality, Berrizbeitia sees a problem with completely open-ended design interventions that indiscriminately let processes unfold, unobstructed and uncontested. She proposed precision as the primary approach that will enable designers to better contend with existing processes and create a better future.

Berrizbeitia noted that the word precision is most commonly associated with computation, architecture, and certain art forms, but rarely landscape architecture. She gave examples of a number of projects that use precision in an exemplary way.

One example is a competition proposal by Berrizbeitia and colleagues for a park: Concurso La Carlota in Caracas, Venezuela (see image above). The park was to be located in a former air force base, which had for years acted like a void in the city, prohibiting access to the everyday citizens of Caracas. Thus, the design became all about access, literally, by bringing people to an area that was once inaccessible, and, metaphorically, by providing “access to the political processes of a decaying democracy.”

A single, precise topographical gesture in the form of a massive earthwork was designed to serve various purposes. First, it would help reverse the hydrological processes that cause flooding in the area. Next, the earthwork would selectively keep an 8-lane highway out of view while also bringing in pedestrians from all the surrounding communities. The monumental earthwork would also create an elevated promenade with views of surrounding valley, creating a new view that would have been impossible before.

Another model of precision is a park in Santiago Chile called Quinta Normal, designed by Teodoro Fernandez and Danilo Martic, a renovation of a garden originally used for acclimatization of European plant species to Chile. The designers were tasked with creating public space for a densely-populated and impoverished neighborhood while preserving the beautiful old trees. The landscape architects resolved this by laminating the ground with a series of wood and stone surfaces, none exceeding one foot in height. These precisely-designed surfaces create space for new and unprecedented forms of public interactions in this under-served neighborhood. They allow public access to an important historical and cultural resource — the existing trees — while simultaneously protecting them from harm.

Children frolic in the fountain at Quinta Normal in Santiago / buenatela.wordpress.com
Children frolic in the fountain at Quinta Normal in Santiago / buenatela.wordpress.com

The lecture ended with a response by Michel Desvigne, a French landscape architect, who, through his three-decade-long career, exemplifies for Berrizbeitia a practitioner able to achieve a coherent ecological, social, and aesthetic vision through the implementation of precise interventions. Desvigne called Berrizbeitia’s lecture “a key moment” for landscape architecture. The scale of Devigne’s projects are so grand that they require new institutional frameworks between clients and designers. For example, one of Desvigne’s current projects, a master plan of Bordeaux, has a projected completion date of 2034. Desvigne emphasized that without precision, projects of this scale wouldn’t be possible.

Right Bank of Bordeaux succession diagrams / Scanned from Intermediate Natures: The Landscapes of Michel Desvigne
Right Bank of Bordeaux succession diagrams / Scanned from Intermediate Natures: The Landscapes of Michel Desvigne

“The precisely-designed landscape negotiates. Its forms reveal rather than obscure; its high-definition communicates, draws in, describes, and enables.” Berrizbeitia’s lecture was a heartening reminder that landscape architects have the power to give form to processes in the face of constantly-shifting conditions. With precision, designers can create landscapes that result in positive and lasting social and environmental change.

This guest post is by Chella Strong, Student ASLA, master’s of landscape architecture candidate, Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

What’s Next: Career Paths for Emerging Landscape Architects

Work and Days Symposium Participants / Katie Black and Colin Curley
Work and Days Symposium Participants / Katie Black and Colin Curley

This time of year design students everywhere are asking themselves, “What’s next?” Whether weighing summer options or searching for a job post-graduation, the closing of the spring semester is  a critical moment filled with the excitement and apprehension of choosing the right path. While students can draw on many traditional sources for advice, a recent symposium at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design sought to offer a deeper forum, not just about careers, but rather on “what the role of the designer is, can, and should be in the twenty-first century.”

The Work & Days symposium mined the broader field of landscape architecture, assembling 17 panelists who represent the “realistic breadth of jobs available to emerging landscape designers.” Career paths range from start-ups to large firms, publishing, conservation, interdisciplinary work, industrial and structural engineering, socially-oriented practice, and academia. The idea for the event originated with master’s of landscape architecture students Katie Black and Colin Curley. The duo “recognized the increasing agency and expansion of landscape and its allied professions,” and yet, a lack of honest discussion about the highs and lows of these varying career paths.

Although each 10-minute presentation had its own distinct story, many themes resonated across speakers. One common theme throughout the day was the pros and cons of the straight versus the meandering path. Ellen Nieses, an adjunct landscape architecture professor at PennDesign, kicked off the presentations listing the 30-plus jobs she had held before coming to landscape architecture. As an academic and practitioner, Nieses drew on her diverse experiences outside of the world of landscape “to meet people designers don’t usually meet and go places designers don’t always go,” expanding the reach of the profession as she seeks to “see big stuff happen.” However, she admits her approach has a “fruition problem,” in that big paradigm-shifting projects are slow, hard to complete, and thus result in little built work.

With 16 years of practice at Olin, Richard Roark, ASLA, offered students a different but complementary perspective, showing how a landscape architect can evolve at one firm. His more linear career in landscape architecture had allowed room for him to grow from a young student protester to a partner at Olin leading community-based projects such as the Philadelphia Rail Park and Detroit’s Eastern Market. Roark sees these projects as “political dialogue,” requiring “an act of collaborative intelligence.”

For careers outside of academia and private practice, many speakers emphasized the valuable managerial skills and inquisitive instincts learned through design education. Nette Compton stressed the importance of effective “design translation” in her ascension to the position of director of green infrastructure at the New York City parks department and her current role as the senior director of ParkCentral and city park development at The Trust for Public Land.

Regardless of their career choices, many presenters acknowledged and even celebrated the inevitable role of serendipity. For Aaron Kelley, Assoc. ASLA, an associate at James Corner Field Operations, this meant landing his first design job while in line for a coffee, but for others, this meant bouncing back from unexpected professional and personal challenges. Olin CEO Lucinda Sanders, FASLA, spoke candidly about these “bumps” in her own life, adding that “the disorienting dilemma is an important moment — use it wisely.”

While the symposium highlighted the range of possible professional pathways for students to consider, it also revealed that the question of “what next” is not just reserved students, but is an ongoing question for the discipline of landscape architecture.

This guest post is by Nate Wooten, Student ASLA, master’s of landscape architecture candidate, University of Pennsylvania School of Design.

Finally, Recognition for Harriet Pattison

Harriet Pattison, who just became a fellow of ASLA at age 87, is now finally being recognized for her many accomplishments as a landscape architect. Pattison — who fell in love with architect Louis Kahn at a young age and had a child with him, went on to work with famed Modernist landscape architect Dan Kiley, formed her own firm, and then returned to work for Kahn and designed the landscape of the Kimbell Art Museum in Texas and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park in New York City — tells her fascinating story in the newest 90-minute installment of The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF)’s Pioneers of American Landscape Design® Oral History Project. Just spending a few minutes with Pattison, you can’t help but be drawn in.

The documentary is broken up into bite-sized 2-3 minute pieces, organized into three chapters: her early, formative years; her design philosophy; and a selection of her projects. Each segment deftly weaves in original images, drawings, video footage, along with interviews with Pattison.

In the early biographical pieces, Pattison focuses on the positive in her life-changing relationship with Kahn, which is also explored in her son Nathaniel’s brilliant film, My Architect. The film reveals that Kahn essentially had three families that he all kept separate and hidden from each other. Instead of delving into the painful aspects of her relationship with him, she focuses on their shared “love of art, history, and even words.” She explains how Kahn approached the architectural design process, and how, later in his career, he increasingly saw buildings as not a stand-alone element, but only something to understood in relationship to their surrounding landscape.

After Nathaniel was born, it was “arranged by Kahn” that Pattison would go work with Kiley at his studio near Lake Champlain in Vermont. She wanted to become a landscape architect, but felt the only thing she brought to the table was a “good eye and sensibility” that Kahn recognized in her. There, she was immersed in the environment of a landscape architecture office. Kiley provided shelter while she worked as a draftswoman, also doing all sorts of odd jobs, including washing the floors. She called it a “wonderful place” to begin life as a landscape architect and for her son to grow up, “skating in the moonlight.”

Having already attended the drama program at Yale University, with classmate Paul Newman, Pattison decided to go back to school, getting a master’s degree in landscape architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, studying with Ian McHarg, FASLA, Roberto Burle-Marx, M. Paul Friedberg, FASLA, and others. Upon graduation, she joined George Patton’s landscape architecture firm and then went to work for Kahn, where they designed the Modern masterpiece, the Kimbell Art Museum, along with the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park. Working on her own, Pattison also accomplished much, creating a master plan for the 125-acre Hershey Company headquarters and designing numerous private residences, including one with architect Peter Bohlin.

The video that explains the design process that yielded the Kimbell Art Museum is particularly fascinating (see video at top). Pattison worked with landscape architect George Patton but was given “incredible leeway” to create the landscape, deciding on an elevated ground plane and a sunken building to create “different levels, facets, opportunities,” all of which allowed for “new vantage points.” She said that adding moving water, a central, unifying element of the Kimbell, was her idea. The long troughs “reflect the building’s wonderful canopies and bring light in.” The flowing water “relieves the atmosphere amid the heat of Texas.” Pattison, amazingly, designed all of this without having seen the site. She worked off photographs, maps, and drawings at her desk in Kahn’s studio for two years to envision this work of landscape architecture.

Sadly, the relationship created between the building and landscape, which she said Kahn saw as central to the work, has been severed by the architect Renzo Piano’s new pavilion. The original building was “enveloped by a canopy of trees.” As Pattison explains, “the land and building are inseparable; it’s a villa in the garden.” But with Piano’s addition, which mimics the tripartite organization of Kahn’s building, the dialogue between the building and landscape has been destroyed. “Piano’s addition diminishes Kahn’s masterpiece. The dialogue was supposed to be between building and landscape, not between building and another building.” Pattison acknowledges that Piano “thought he was being respectful,” but she wished he had seen the original 14-foot-long drawing Kahn’s studio had done that laid out the vision for the masterpiece.

Too often it sounds like Pattison had to create an “imaginary landscape,” given she wasn’t given the opportunity to travel and explore sites in person. But this may have perhaps only strengthened her impressive ability to envision new places and experiences and turn those ideas into reality. For the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on the tip of Roosevelt Island in New York City, she projected herself both into Kahn’s concept — a room and a garden — and the site itself, having never traveled there.

The site was a “heap of nothing, a derelict place,” but it was also a “remarkable site that couldn’t fail to be noticed.” With the Williamsburg bridge and East River in the background, “it needed to be something strong.” To provide design direction, Kahn simply drew the Washington Monument on a piece of paper, noting that it’s 555 feet tall. This was the vision: a tall monument but laid flat, a horizontal monument that could be of equal power. Kahn sketched a triangular form that petered out into a blunt end — a garden, then a room.

Pattison said creating the mount, which leads you towards the final room at the end, was her idea. As visitors ascend a grand staircase to the mount, there are allees of trees, purposefully designed to be “orchard size,” flanking a vast lawn. In between the trees are paths that allow for promenading. Down below, at the waterfront, visitors can walk or bike.

The experience is meant to be processional, leading visitors to the final room, where instead of being confronted with Roosevelt, “you are on your own.” There, visitors face the river and they experience a place “full of questions and the future.”

Some 40 years after Kahn and Pattison designed Four Freedoms Park it was finally opened in 2013. Invited to the opening ceremony, Pattison felt a “great sense of human agreement, and a moment of grace and joy.” She was introduced to former President Bill Clinton, and as he was holding her hands and looking into her eyes, he seemed like a god who had finally recognized her. At that moment, she felt “resolved of any resentment and neglect” experienced over the years. She said: “I felt thrilled. Ah yes, it’s been done.”

Watch all the clips at TCLF’s web site and explore the other 12 oral histories in the Pioneers series.

Video Competition: The Landscapes of the Anthropocene

Anthroposcene video competition
Anthroposcene video competition

Many scientists argue we have already entered the age of the Anthropocene, an era in which humanity now determines the Earth’s geology, climate, and ecosystems. While a number of scientists and writers argue this new era marks the decline of nature, others say it may be the start of a future where humans deliberately and responsibly manage the planet’s natural assets. Regardless of where you stand on whether we can achieve a sustainable future in the Anthropocene, this epoch has produced unique landscapes. Anthroposcene, a new competition sponsored by the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA), National Museum of Australia, and LA+ Interdisciplinary Journal of Landscape Architecture, seeks the most compelling videos of the “profoundly frightening and yet somehow incredibly optimistic landscapes” of this new age.

The organizers write: “The philosophical and practical consequences couldn’t be greater: in short, nature is no longer that ever-providing thing ‘out there’, it is, for better or worse, something we are creating. The landscape of the Anthropocene is a cultural landscape and therefore a question of design.”

Videographers of any discipline are invited to submit but are limited to just three minutes to tell their story. Entrants can use their mobile phones to craft videos.

The video story that resonates the most will take home AUD $10,000 (USD $7,800). Six finalists will be selected by the jury, which includes University of Pennsylvania landscape architecture department chair Richard Weller, ASLA, for a public screening at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra on October 27, 2016, with the winner selected right after.

The competition opens June 1 and closes August 1.

Another great opportunity for landscape architects and students: The National Park Service (NPS), the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), and Van Alen Institute are collaborating on Memorials for the Future, an ideas competition that seeks to “re-imagine how we think about, feel, and experience memorials.” The competition calls for landscape architects, artists, and social scientists to form teams and come up with new ways to “commemorate people and events that are more inclusive and flexible, and that enrich Washington D.C.’s landscape.” Entries will be narrowed down to three final teams, which will be asked to “develop site-specific designs for memorials in Washington, D.C., that are adaptive, ephemeral, virtual, event-focused, or interactive.” Submit concepts by May 4.

Margie Ruddick Is Wild by Design

Wild by Design / Island Press
Wild by Design / Island Press

“Combining ecological function and design is now mainstream,” said landscape architect Margie Ruddick, ASLA, in a talk at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. “It’s no longer fringe. The culture has caught up.” And it’s caught up to where Ruddick, the winner of the 2013 Cooper Hewitt National Design Award, has been for a while. A leading advocate of the “wild” landscape movement, Ruddick explained how she carefully balances ecological conservation and restoration with a strong sense of design.

In 2011, a New York Times article about Ruddick and how she was fined for growing “weeds” in her front yard in Mt. Airy, Philadelphia went “viral” among landscape architects and designers. She ultimately got out of the $75 fine by explaining to the judge the value of the wild plants she let live in her yard. “I told the judge: ‘This is actually not a weed. It’s Prunus serotina, a black cherry seedling. This is not a weed. It’s an oak tree, Quercus alba. The 10-inch weeds are rhubarb.’ ” Since then, Ruddick has become an advocate for ecological landscapes, explaining how important it is to create spaces for both people and nature.

Ruddick has turned her love of nature into a principled design approach, laid out in her new book Wild by Design: Strategies for Creating Life-enhancing Landscapes. In her talk, Ruddick walked us through some of her design principles — reinvention, restoration, conservation, regeneration, and expression — providing a few examples of each:

Reinvention: Ruddick first explained her complex project in New York City: Queens Plaza, which sits under a “tangle of elevated train infrastructure” that causes a constant, “horrible screech.” The plaza is where Riker’s Island releases prisoners at 2am with $3. It’s known as the “boulevard of death” because of the people who died trying to make it across the streets that had no crosswalks. “It was a sketchy, dangerous place.”

To make it more hospitable, Ruddick worked with a team at WRT, Marpillero Pollak Architects, and Michael Singer Studio, to find a way to embrace the infrastructure but also separate people from it with well-designed pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure and arrays of trees. New crosswalks create safe routes for pedestrians, while artful concrete obstacles were created in other places to prevent deadly jaywalking.

Concrete shard barriers at Queens Plaza / Margie Ruddick Landscape
Concrete shard barriers at Queens Plaza / Margie Ruddick Landscape

Meandering paths, which were calculated for different kinds of circulation, lead people to a small park. There, the surrounding trees are so effective at noise attentuation they’ve reduced the screech by 25 percent.

Queens Plaza /
Queens Plaza / Marpillo Pollak Architects

New bike lanes are lined with vegetation, too, so that “riding through, you feel protected from the traffic, like you are in a park.”

Queens plaza /
Queens plaza / Marpillo Pollak Architects

For Ruddick, the key to the success of the new Queens Plaza is that “it’s wild, but not unkempt.” The city was never going to pay for an irrigation system, so she created wild-looking constructed wetlands that generate their own cooler micro-climates, offsetting the heat from the street and elevated tracks.

Queens plaza /
Queens plaza / Marpillero Pollak Architects

Patterned, hand-made pavers and curbs, which were designed with artist Michael Singer, are designed to let water out into those wetlands.

Queens plaza pavers / Steven Yavanian

Paired with the ecological function of the wetlands, there is a rugged design language that is “carefully done, but not dolled-up.” Her goal was to maintain the “industrial character of the place,” in part by replicating the massive scale of the place with heavy-duty concrete slab pathways. “The dimensions and proportions help the landscape stand up to the big scale. It doesn’t feel faux.”

Queens plaza /
Queens plaza /Marpillo Pollak Architects

Restoration: In Chengdu, Sichuan province, China, Ruddick partnered with local Chinese landscape architects to design Living Water Park, which brings back a traditional Chinese garden approach to Chengdu, long known as the “city of gardens.”

Ruddick said Living Water Park was the first park in China to be explicitly designed to provide ecological services. It’s a water purification system: fountains remove solids from the water before it heads to wetlands where it’s filter and aerated. Ruddick believes it was also the “first park in China to showcase local plants.” The result is the park “feels like a refuge.”

Living Water Park /
Living Water Park / Jason Bregman

Conservation and Regeneration: “There are so many special places that you don’t want to mess up.” In Western Ghats, India, Ruddick restored the forest landscape in the Shilim Retreat and Institute, but the project was really about “cultural conservation” and the relationship of the local people with the ecosystem. Ruddick was thrilled to be working there: “It’s a precious range, a UNESCO World Heritage landscape, and a biodiversity hot spot. You feel like you are in heaven there.”

To the restore the environment in this 2,500 acre-resort, Ruddick first focused on the slopes stripped by erosion brought on by monsoons and local tree-cutting. To strengthen local culture, Ruddick purposefully leaned on local horticultural talent and their knowledge of how to grow plants in the Ghats environment. These locals were hired to grow thousands of trees, which were replanted on the slopes, and then to dig slopes so water could reach the saplings.

Resort rooms are carefully nestled into the landscape, and spa facilities, within the rice fields. The resort features a new institute, with a center for sustainable development.

Western Ghats resort /
Western Ghats resort / Writer Corporation

Expression: The Durst Foundation tasked Ruddick with creating a winter garden in the Bank of America in New York City. Working with WRT, and her mother, who was a sculptor, Ruddick decided to go up to fill in the tall interior space. She wanted to create something art-filled — “that’s also very important in my work.”

Inspired by the fern canyons of the Pacific Northwest, Ruddick and her mother created vegetated sculptural forms you can walk through and around.

She said many people go there to unwind and people who frequent the garden have told her that when they are there, “their blood pressure and stress levels go down.”

While many of Ruddick’s projects exemplify multiple design principles, Ruddick pointed to the New York Aquarium in Coney Island, a wonderful project she is now working on with WRT and Cloud 9, as the prime instance of how all her nature-inspired strategies come together.

She led a team of architects from Cloud 9, a Barcelona-based firm, to create an alluring canopy of 40,000 LEDs, all blinking according to a pre-set program. The canopy is a “sculpture composed of compression arches, tension cables, masts, and hanging cable mesh.” But it’s clearly inspired by sea creatures — from a whale opening its mouth, to the scales of a fish. “A lot of research went into marine animals and that comes out in the design.”

New York Aquarium / Margie Ruddick Landscape
New York Aquarium / WRT, Cloud 9

The new perimeter is only one facet of a broader revitalization of the aquarium, which includes a new light and soundscape on the boardwalk in front of the building, surrounding gardens, and more. Ruddick and her team also laid out a vision for how to better connect the institution to its waterfront, proposing the re-use of old jetties, constructing them as tidal pools that can attract sea life, so they can serve as an environmental education center.

New York Aquarium plan / Margie Ruddick Landscape
New York Aquarium plan / WRT, Cloud 9

Many more examples of her design principles can be found in Wild by Design.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (April 1 – 15)

Olmsted statue / The San Francisco Chronicle / AP
Olmsted statue / The San Francisco Chronicle / AP

Renowed California Landscape Architect Offers Take on Grand Rapids
Grand Forks Herald, 4/1/16 
“Walter Hood, in dreadlocks and a sport coat, sat Friday at the head of a set of tables draped in white cloth at the North Dakota Museum of Art, guests listening closely while his voice boomed through the art gallery.”

Reading Viaduct Park Would Make Getting Around Philly Easier Philadelphia Magazine, 4/5/16
“Last September, after visiting the new Whitney Museum in New York, I climbed up to the High Line for what I thought would be a breezy stroll with gorgeous views of the Meatpacking District. How wrong I was.”

12 Projects That Explain Landscape Urbanism and How It’s Changing the Face of Cities Arch Daily, 4/6/16
“In other words, spatial constructions in urban environments should no longer be attached to intractable functions or intent on isolation, but should instead integrate into the fabric of the city.”

New Wave of Landscape Interpretation The Irish Times, 4/7/16
“Much overlooked and under-financed since the foundation of the State, landscape architecture may finally have taken its due place on the podium of Irish-built design.”

New Statue Celebrates Park Designer Frederick Law OlmstedThe San Francisco Chronicle, 4/11/16
“If you’ve visited parks in New York, Boston or many other places around the U.S., you’ve probably experienced the landscapes of Frederick Law Olmsted. Olmsted designed hundreds of parks, gardens and other public spaces, including Manhattan’s Central Park, Boston’s ‘Emerald Necklace,’ the grounds of the U.S. Capitol in Washington and California’s Stanford University campus.”

NY State Supreme Court Greenlights Lower West Side Pier55The Architect’s Newspaper, 4/12/16
“Last spring, the City Club of New York (a nonprofit organization) filed a lawsuit against Pier55 Inc. and HRPT to stop the project.”

Material Provocations

Ken Smith Workshop, Croton Aqueduct, New York/Source: Ken Smith Workshop
Ken Smith Workshop, Croton Water Filtration Plant, New York/ Ken Smith Workshop

Landscape architect Ken Smith, FASLA, founder of Ken Smith Workshop, Andrea Cochran, FASLA, founder of Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture, and James Lord, ASLA, principal of Surface Design, can provoke reactions with their creative use of materials. While these landscape architects couldn’t be more different, what unites them is a passion for how materials can create  memorable experiences. At a recent symposium at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD), each practitioner revealed how they do it.

Smith draws much of his creative inspiration from fashion. “I go to clothing stores and look at clothes like people go to art museums. But when you go to stores, you can touch the clothes, inspect the seams, see how things are put together.”

He presented his work on Croton water treatment plant, a golf driving range located over a subterranean 9-story water treatment facility in the Bronx, NYC. He admitted it was challenging to control the expression of a concept through the use of materials in a project so large and with so many constituents, but found clever ways to push the boundaries. When the fire department came in late in the design process and required a fire lane, Smith could have seen this as an annoyance.

Instead, he turned this moment into an opportunity to show an indeterminate edge, expressing one of the conceptual threads of the project by using simple unit pavers in an unusual way. “Usually, good craft with a unit paver is to have an edge restraint and cut the units because good craft is about expressing the form. But I adopted bad craft, and in this case, bad craft is good design.”

Ken Smith Workshop, Croton Water Filtration Plant, New York/ Ken Smith Workshop
Ken Smith Workshop, Croton Water Filtration Plant, New York/ Ken Smith Workshop

Cochran said she came to landscape architecture though an interest in art, but didn’t feel at home in the profession until she began to work at a design build firm. “Suddenly, it brought me back to materials — touching and feeling things and thinking more like an artist. My work really changed once I started to think from the building blocks to the bigger scale, rather than designing these huge things and trying to figure out how they would be composed.”

When seeing a site for the first time, she asks herself “how does it want to feel?” She is precise in the manipulation of color and texture to create perceptions. One of her projects is a residential project on a steep slope in San Francisco, in which a grade change of 18 feet had to be resolved from the entrance, to the doorway of the residence.

Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture, Perry Residence, San Francisco/Source: Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture
ASLA 2015 Perry Residence, San Francisco/ Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture

Cochran knew she wanted to make this a visceral, almost scary experience. She created cantilevered walkways out over the edge of the cliff, giving the illusion of falling off the edge. This effect was heightened by the addition of non-reflective glass at the end of the walkway, and a floor that is a porous grate. “Some people won’t walk out on it, it’s too scary. I love the fact that we have been able to elicit a strong emotion with use of material.”

Lord first completes a rigorous process of site analysis, which involves researching the history, culture, and even the folklore of the place, before he begins designing. What he learns informs the choice of materials.

He presented the IBM Plaza in Honolulu, which won an ASLA professional design honor award in 2015. In Hawaii, places on a map aren’t traditionally spoken of in terms of north, south, east, west, but in terms of that place’s relationship to the mauka (mountains) and the makai (ocean). There, what’s important is one’s location in relation to the Pacific Ocean.

With a deeper understanding of Hawaiian culture, Lord sought to bring the sensation of the ocean to the site, using materials like glass, metal, and water to evoke the horizontal, reflective, and blue nature of the surrounding Pacific. “Descendant stories were key. By listening, we were able to define the materials that makes a place authentic.”

ASLA 2015 Professional General Design Honor Award. IBM Plaza, Honolulu bt SURFACE DESIGN, / Marion Brenner
ASLA 2015 Professional General Design Honor Award. IBM Plaza, Honolulu, SURFACE DESIGN / Marion Brenner

These three landscape architects express their provocative ideas about materials through the manipulation of light, color, and texture, no matter how large or small the site.

This guest post is by Chella Strong, Student ASLA, master’s of landscape architecture candidate, Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

The Future of Suburbia

Rendering of Possible Future Suburbs/Source: Center for Advanced Urbanism, MIT
Rendering of Possible Future Suburbs / Center for Advanced Urbanism, MIT

Almost 70 percent of Americans live in a suburban environment, according to Alan Berger, professor of landscape architecture and co-director of the Center for Advanced Urbanism (CAU) at MIT, who kicked-off a recent conference there on the Future of Suburbia. United Nations estimates show about 1 in 8 on Earth now live in a dense mega-city, a city with more than 10 million people, which means that 7 out of 8 live in another kind of environment, likely suburban. For Berger, it’s easy to overlook the fact that the majority of people don’t live in dense urban areas and most likely won’t far into the future. Trends suggest cities are increasingly becoming the place only for the “super-rich and very poor.” The two-day conference at MIT, part of a multi-year research project at the CAU, aimed to generate some new ideas about suburbia. If suburbs are growing, what planning and design solutions can make them more just, sustainable, and livable? Can “heterogeneous, productive, autonomous, and experimental” suburbs provide the answer?

Heterogeneous: We often assume that the suburbs are demographically homogenous. A white, upper-middle class nuclear family comes to mind as the archetypal suburb-dweller. This notion is increasingly being challenged by the reality: suburbs are becoming more diverse. At the conference, Jed Kolko, an economist and statistical analyst, dismantled the assumptions we may have, showing how the poor and seniors are becoming more suburban. And Ali Modarres, director of urban studies at the University of Washington, used the suburbs of Seattle and Los Angeles as case studies to show that suburbs are becoming more racially-diverse as well as home to a growing number of people born outside of the United States.

Productive: “The purpose of this panel is to get beyond the typical planning view of vegetation as ‘green blobs,’ and to look at how the ecological systems actually function in relationship to socioeconomic systems, which is what productivity is all about,” said Peter Del Tredici, urban ecologist and professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD). Because of their inherent horizontal nature, suburbs enable a more productive and “metabolic” use of the landscape, whether for growing food, carbon sequestration, or waste and floodwater absorption, even to the point where they could support urban cores.

Professor Susannah Hagan, professor of architecture at the University of Westminster, said looking to the past for models of productive suburbs could be a useful exercise for today’s planners and landscape architects. “Ornamental landscapes and productive landscapes have not always been mutually exclusive,” she said. The 18th century English landscape was a quintessential metabolic landscape.

Next was professor Joan Nassauer, FASLA, professor of landscape architecture, University of Michigan, who talked about greening sprawl, lawn culture, and carbon storage in the suburban landscape. While the suburbs are rife with mowed turf lawns, they under-perform ecologically. “What we should be asking from these spaces is more ecosystem services.” Allowing for the growth of more diverse and mature vegetation will sequester more carbon, but this requires a major shift in cultural preferences.

And Mitchell Joachim, founding co-president at Terreform ONE, showed his speculative ecological-design prototypes, such as his modular cricket farm, so that the protein-rich crickets can be harvested as food.

Prototype of Urban Farm Pod, by Terreform ONE/Source: Inhabitat
Cricket farm / Terreform ONE

Autonomous: This panel, moderated by Joseph Coughlin, founder of the Institute of Technology AgeLab at MIT, addressed autonomous mobility. “Transportation reflects and reinforces how we chose to live with each other. How close do you want to live to your neighbor? What activities, and in what density and intensity, do you want to do?” Each panelist looked at how to retrofit our current suburban fabric to enable more autonomous mobility.

Dr. Knut Saue, Hyperloop Tech, advocated for his public transportation project called the Hyperloop, the brainchild of Elon Musk of Tesla, which he sees as the “backbone of the future transportation,” transporting not only people, but also goods at speeds of up to 700 miles per hour in a system of tubes.

Rendering of Hyperloop Pod in Dock / Source:Hyperloop Tech
Rendering of Hyperloop Pod in Dock / Hyperloop Tech

Eran Ben-Joseph, head of urban studies and planning at MIT, said personal transportation will continue to be a major force in shaping the suburban landscape. “Did the car destroy the environment, or was it the way we designed for it?” Widespread use of autonomous vehicles (or driverless cars) could change the way we design and plan the suburbs. For example, parking could be made more spatially-efficient, which means impervious surfaces could be greatly reduced.

And Nick Roy, MIT associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics, provided yet another example of autonomous mobility: transportation of goods by drone. The drone industry, he said, aims to “take the friction out of transportation, so that anyone can get anything at anytime and anywhere.” Roy didn’t foresee drone-filled skies in the near future, as he outlined the many regulatory, economic, infrastructural and safety obstacles standing in the way of this reality.

Experimental: Allison Arieff, SPUR, led a discussion among panelists in the final series of presentations, which presented suburbia as the future site of innovative and experimental land-use, in a state of permanent flexibility, changing in response to shifting environmental or economic conditions.

Robert Geolas, Research Triangle Foundation, presented an alternative model of suburban living and working: the suburban research park. The Research Triangle Park was initiated in the 1950s, on a piece of land in North Carolina that was “all pine trees and possums.” Fast forward six decades and it’s the largest research park in the country, with at least 200 companies representing sectors such as biotech, green technology, and finance.

Paul Feiler, CITE Development, thinks “there are many more exits than there are entrances for innovators.” He views government regulations as obstacles preventing innovations from entering the market. To bypass these obstacles, he and his colleagues have created CITE, a privately funded “ghost town” in the middle of the desert in New Mexico, a self-sustaining testing evaluation and certification facility modeled after a typical American town of 35,000 people, except it will be uninhabited. The above-ground town exists only as a test site; below ground are laboratories and facilities where innovation occurs.

Rendering of CITE in New Mexico / CNN
Rendering of CITE in New Mexico / CNN

And David Neustein, Other Architects, presented experimental ideas for suburbia in Australia, the most suburbanized country in the world, with the largest houses on earth, located on lots half the size of the average U.S. suburban lot. He presented ideas of how to retrofit existing Australian suburban architecture to make homes more socially and environmentally sustainable, allowing residents to downsize without having to relocate.

An aura of cautious optimism at the conference kept energy levels high. Conversations with attendees revealed relief that discussions about the planning and design of suburbia can be speculative and inventive.

This guest post is by Chella Strong, Student ASLA, master’s of landscape architecture candidate, Harvard University Graduate School of Design.