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

Ala Moana Beach Park, Honolulu, Hawaii / John Hook

A Retail District in Houston Reimagines the Strip Mall, One Building at a Time The Architect’s Newspaper, 3/5/18
“Caution and timidity have been the ruling traits of Houston’s commercial real estate market for the past three decades.”

The Future of Honolulu Depends on Its Parks Next City, 3/5/18
“Public parks have emerged as battlegrounds in the city’s response to a changing climate and a growing housing crisis. Could they also hold the solutions?”

Building a ‘Second Nature’ Into Our Cities: Wildness, Art and Biophilic Design The Conversation, 3/7/18
“Given the increasing popularity of this urban design technique, it’s time to take a closer look at the meaning of nature and its introduction into our cities.”

Climate Readiness: Think Big, Act Fast The Boston Globe, 3/8/18
“Until recently, Boston was ahead of other cities in planning for sea-level rise and the effects of climate change before a catastrophic storm like Sandy or Harvey hit.”

In Britain’s Playgrounds, ‘Bringing in Risk’ to Build Resilience The New York Times, 3/10/18
“Educators in Britain, after decades spent in a collective effort to minimize risk, are now, cautiously, getting into the business of providing it.”

The Gateway Arch, a Global Icon, Reconnects to St. Louis CityLab, 3/12/18
“St. Louis’ Gateway Arch once stood in splendid isolation. A new $380-million renovation of its grounds brings it closer to downtown.”

Concrete Jungle Hong Kong to Get Diverse Array of Plants on Urban Streets in Drive to Green the City The South China Morning Post, 3/14/18
“About 20 tree and shrub species can now be found across urban areas but this will increase to 120, with city planners shown how to ‘match plants to places.’”

Is This the Future of Designing with Nature?

Responsive Landscapes / Routledge

“The Mississippi River is now an engineered system, so we are responsible for it,” said Bradley Cantrell, ASLA, chair of the landscape architecture department at the University of Virginia, at a lecture hosted by Landscape Architecture Magazine (LAM) at the Center for Landscape Architecture in Washington, D.C. The river has essentially been re-designed to serve as a conduit of goods and to protect human settlements from flooding. As civil engineers control and manipulate ecological systems for human ends, Cantrell argues landscape architects should be at the table. By creating models and simulations that mimic how natural systems function, landscape architects can get a better understanding of ecological complexity and help steer the future design of nature.

Cantrell’s work seems to be inspired as much by Ian McHarg’s influential book Design with Nature as it is by the Mississippi River Basin Model, a 61-acre hydraulic model set within a 200-acre model of the Mississippi River watershed, which was developed from the 1940s to 1960 and in operation until the 1970s near Clinton, Mississippi. Viewing the vast model from watchtowers, visitors could “collectively view and understand the river as a system.” Engineers could also get a better understanding of how the river behaved. They could tweak valves and pipes to re-create real-world fluvial events. This is instance where the “model could serve as a guide.”

Mississippi River Basin Model / Atlas Obscura

At Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD), Cantrell created innovative simulations using foam board, plywood, different forms of sand and sediment, and water. Rigging them up with a slew of sensors that measured water flow and sediment accumulation, Cantrell and his students “built physical diagrams that explain how natural fluvial processes occur.” Cantrell was careful to note that “these were only a form of projection, a publicity piece, really. We didn’t build the perfect model of nature. There is no more truth in them than formal models.”

But Cantrell thinks that even with the clear limitations, these models serve an important purpose: “we can let them inform design and generate new systems. Creating simulations is an act of design itself. We are creating an artificial reality that we can learn from, and then we can choose how we apply it to reality — in order to control or interact with the physical world.”

Responsive Landscapes, a book Cantrell co-authored with Justine Holzman and published in 2015, identified what models and simulations can accomplish:

  • Elucidate: “We can bring out features that are beyond human senses. We can create different forms of sensing.”
  • Compress: “We can compress the world around us — not only the physical but also the temporal world.”
  • Shift contexts: “We can displace context, taking experiences and manufacturing them somewhere else.”
  • Connect: “We can create direct connections — worm holes.”
  • Modify: “We can change our relationship with the world.”

Working with graduate students at Harvard GSD, Cantrell created advanced simulations that mimic natural fluvial processes. Some were later turned into point-cloud models and further visualized through software. Loaded with sensors, models had a dashboard that enabled real-time monitoring and interaction.

Fluid modeling table / The Architect’s Newspaper, courtesy Bradley Cantrell

Why do all of this? Cantrell said civil engineers are already creating models and simulations of natural processes, but to be able to participate in the development of these massive, constructed systems for managing nature, landscape architects must have access to the same tools. “To have a conversation with engineers — that’s really the most important part.” Within that conversation, landscape architects can then “be creative and drive new design pathways.”

While Cantrell admitted all of this is in the “speculative and very beginning stages,” and the models he is working with today may be “nascent and naive,” in the near future, models and simulations can be tuned against data collected from sensors in real landscapes, thereby creating a constant feedback loop between model and the real-world.

When that happens, landscape architects can then become more ambitious, engaging with even larger systems. Landscape architects can find new opportunities to design with nature — to harness intrinsic natural processes to direct the flow of water and process of sedimentation and land-forming. “We can use waste streams to create new land. We can use ecological systems to reconstitute the landscape itself. And we can manage the landscape in real-time.”

While all of this is exciting, engineering ecosystems — which are among the most complex systems on Earth — may generate unintended consequences. One can imagine the need for prudence in applying any model or simulation, which are simplification tools, to the real world. In addition, as more of nature becomes less natural and more designed, constructed, and maintained, questions of management and ownership arise. Who will own the designed ecosystems of the future? How will we decide how they should be used? Who will decide?

City Green: Public Gardens of New York

city green
City Green / Monacelli Press

A garden in any city is a special place. City Green: Public Gardens of New York, a new book by garden writer James Garmey, profiles some of the city’s most notable public gardens and green spaces. The pages are filled with photographs taken with the loving eye of Mick Hales, who captures well the serenity and beauty of the gardens.

Readers will know or have heard of several of the profiled gardens. The Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park, for example, maintains famously-enchanting gardens that sit at the heart of a medieval-style monastery in North Manhattan. Paley Park, too, has gained a reputation for the unique experience it provides. More a plaza than a traditional garden, Paley Park is perhaps the only place where one can find a waterfall tucked neatly between two midtown buildings.

Other gardens featured are less well known but worthy of inclusion. Carl Schurz Park on the Upper East Side sits in the shadow of Central Park, which is only eight blocks west. But its under-the-radar status adds to its charm. The park, originally the result of a Calvert Vaux design, languished during the 1970s. But it was revitalized through community engagement and renovated in 1992. The park now enjoys the dedicated attention of two full-time gardeners and a corps of volunteers. Garmey quotes a blogger when describing the Carl Schurz Park: “If this park was a guy, I’d be in love with him.”

Carl Schurz Park / Wikipedia

At the southern tip of Roosevelt Island lies another under-the-radar garden. Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park features a minimalist memorial garden with views of a changing Queens skyline. The memorial, designed by architect Louis Kahn and landscape architect Harriet Pattison, is as monumental and stoic one would expect. Garmey describes the garden as powerful in its simplicity.

four freedoms cropped
FDR Four Freedoms Memorial Garden softens Louis Kahn’s stark memorial design / FDR Four Freedoms Memorial Park

New York has several Japanese gardens, but the Noguchi Museum Garden in Long Island City, Queens, stands out for its playful sculptural works. The sculptor Isamu Noguchi designed not only the art works, but the park itself. The garden features several features of a traditional Japanese garden, included the generous use of gravel, but Garmey believes that it very much reflects Noguchi’s aesthetic: “meditative, playful, and filled with elegant shapes.”

Some of the featured gardens have successfully shed the conception of gardens as static creations. New York Botanical Garden’s native plant garden, for instance, is a site of tinkering and experimentation, according to its curator Michael Hagan.

“We have a mandate to monitor how plants respond to climate change,” Hagan says. He and his team treat the meadow as a work in progress, and are comfortable adding and subtracting plants based on their projected sustainability.

native plant garden
Part of New York Botanical Garden’s native plant garden / New York Botanical Garden

Garmey understands that green spaces and gardens come in a variety of forms. Green-Wood Cemetery, which occupies 478 acres in Brooklyn, offers the seclusion and beauty of any other garden amid 570,000 graves. The cemetery is equally as interesting as a case study in infusing English landscape style into burial ground. And, according to Garmey, Green-Wood helped inspire Central Park. The cemetery is lush and sprawling and, for over a century, has provided a habitat for wildlife and native vegetation. These attributes, as well as its ornate statuary, have made Green-Wood a popular destination.

Michael Sorkin: Eleven Theses on the Obama Presidential Center

Proposal for Barack Obama Community Library on 63rd and South Cottage Grove Avenue, a bird’s eye view from the South, with Jackson Park at the south edge of this rendering / Michael Sorkin Studio, 2013

1. Jackson Park wouldn’t have been my first choice as a location for the Obama Presidential Center (OPC). Better right on 63rd, half-way down to South Cottage Grove Avenue, where the public draw and ground floor commerce would have breathed life back into that dull, desiccated, yearning street. There might have been direct goals to shared vitality: the archive above, and clubs, cafés, and community facilities below to spark the lively commerce of strollers to and fro, equidistant from Metra and El.

2. But the Jackson Park site can still engender happy knock-on effects if the OPC meaningfully disaggregates by, for example, providing artifacts and art works to the Du Sable Museum of African American History, agriculture to vacant lots, a high school of governance and community affairs nearby, neighborhood nutrition centers, and a stimulating array of distributed community benefits, including many not yet imagined. 63rd Street should be the spine, and there’s plenty of vacant “adjacent land” in Woodlawn.

Woodlawn Botanic Garden & Village Farm Initiative. Commissioned for Blacks in Green (BIG), West / Terreform, 2017
Woodlawn Botanic Garden & Village Farm Initiative. Commissioned for Blacks in Green (BIG), West / Terreform, 2017

3. The OPC can enhance the park, activating the shabby streetscape of Stony Island, closing Cornell Drive to commuter traffic, converting acres of pavement to green space, improving accessibility for pedestrians. Even the reconstruction of Lake Shore Drive can be a wise piece of public work that would otherwise never happen. Getting rid of the proposed garage on the Midway is a real victory that offers hope for future influence and suggests that the OPC is open to serious negotiation about making itself better and more transparent.

Cornell Drive and proposed site of Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park / The Chicago Tribune

4. The argument from expense against these roadway improvements might have merit if the cash were truly fungible, assuredly going instead for rent-support or day-care. But does anyone actually believe in this zero sum? This is an opportunity to leverage major improvements in local infrastructure and it shouldn’t stop with roads. Restore the El anyone?

5. Of course, the subtraction of public park space reflexively affronts, but this isn’t exactly Columbia ’68, not an aggrandizing and oblivious act of racial imperialism. A more apposite comparison is the construction of the Metropolitan Museum in Central Park in 1876, built on donated public land with public funds and designed by Olmsted’s collaborator, Calvert Vaux. Would anyone now want it gone? Still, the OPC should acknowledge its effect on the ground and provide, in perpetuity, a two to one local replacement of any green space subtracted from the park.

Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould. Map of the Central Park 1871–72 (detail showing proposed Museum at 82nd Street and Fifth Avenue). From Second Annual Report of the Department of Public Parks (year ending May 1, 1872) / The Metropolitan Museum of Art

6. The preservationist claim from Olmsteds’ original intent conflates precedent and exception. The OPC is the project and commemoration of America’s first black president, itself an exception many of us never thought we would live to see. Obama was from here, an activist here, lived here, taught here, and chose a place for his library here. This seems an exception worth making, a celebration of rarity. Moreover, the precedent for the museum exception in parks – including Olmsted’s – is voluminous and includes the Art Institute, the Field, the Museum of Science and Industry, the St. Louis Museum, the De Young in San Francisco, not to mention the Brooklyn Museum in Prospect Park.

7. A Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) is a formula to compel a subsidy for the distribution of public goods in compensation for both a taking and a predicted effect. CBA’s are conceptually fraught, forced to negotiate the contradictions of their dual pursuit of stimulation and prophylaxis, building and conserving. They don’t always work and Staples – the invariable Exhibit A – is the exception not the rule. Columbia University’s agreement with Harlem’s pols – a deal made behind closed doors — has not decelerated the terminal gentrification of upper Manhattan in the slightest and it was just reported that nine years after the treaty was inked, less than 1% of the promised investment in affordable housing has been made. The Atlantic Yards CBA was a total developer con, achieved by dividing the community and then negotiating with a small minority of local groups who signed on to a gag order to prevent any criticism of the miserable project for which they offered cover.

8. What’s clearly different here is that the CBA is community, not developer, driven. However, its crucial intention – building an equitable, sustainable, and beautiful neighborhood — not simply exceeds its own particular demands but is beyond Obama’s power — or obligation — to deliver alone. That doesn’t mean the OPC’s feet shouldn’t be held to the fire! But putting too many eggs in the CBA basket — and conscripting Obama as savior — downplays the equally decisive roles the city, the university, the propertied, community institutions, and the people must play and focusing investment on defensive redress isn’t nearly bold enough a strategy to truly rise to the opportunity of this massive infusion. Any development must take responsibility for its social and environmental impacts but the South Side needs more than mitigation! Communities must resist the reflexive conflation of any development with gentrification and take a longer, more nuanced view, working for something far more visionary and wonderful through coalition building and an ongoing fight for community ownership and the right to the city.

9. The hope and the promise for the OPC CBA lies is its origins in a broad community coalition, its articulate goals, and its track record, most notably its roots in the remarkable campaign that led to the university’s construction of its new Trauma Center, a win for everyone.

10. Pushback to the OPC is also a displaced expression of rage at the university’s historic role in the ethnic-cleansing and self-sterilization of Hyde Park via its massive urban renewal project and its decades of malign neglect of Woodlawn. But it’s clear that the university is seeking – as it loads its south campus with dorms, a hotel, a conference center – to efface the 61st Street DMZ and reform its relationship to Woodlawn in concert with the OPC and the municipality. How can this be made broadly beneficial? Surely, hands off isn’t the way. How about building the new University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration building on 63rd Street for the active benefit of the people it aspires to serve? How about lending some lawyers to the cause?

Other Plans: University of Chicago Studies, A Master Plan for the University of Chicago / Michael Sorkin Studio, 1998

11. The task at hand is to make sure communities are equal partners in fomenting a beneficial mix that will guarantee existing residents the right to remain and build a diverse and sharing community that especially embraces low income residents and people of color. There’s risk in an othering of Woodlawn by “protecting” it from a potentially magnificent opportunity to flourish but a greater one in giving up this amazing momentum for a just and wonderful transformation. This demands real cooperative planning.

Michael Sorkin is the Principal of the Michael Sorkin Studio, Distinguished Professor of Architecture and Director of the Graduate Program in Urban Design at The City College of New York, and president of Terreform, a non-profit urban research and advocacy center. Terreform is currently engaged in preparing a visionary urban design plan for Chicago’s South Side and welcomes collaboration.

Landscape Architecture Services in the U.S. Valued at $2.7 Billion

ASLA Professional General Design Honor Award. SteelStacks Arts + Cultural Campus, City of Bethleham, PA. WRT / Christenson Photography

According to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) and National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), landscape architecture services contributed $2.7 billion to the U.S. economy in 2015. Total industry output was $5.3 billion and “real” industry output, which is adjusted for inflation, was $6.68 billion. Some 26,000 landscape architects earned $2.4 billion. The economic value generated by landscape architects increased 0.4 billion from 2012, or by 17 percent.

And in a state-by-state analysis, researchers found that landscape architecture services added the most to the economy of North Carolina — some $206.2 million in 2015, which is 2.7 times the national average.

Landscape architecture services were included in an analysis that covers 35 commercial and non-profit arts and design industries, such as publishing, motion pictures, performing arts, graphic and industrial design, and architecture services.

In case anyone doubts the value of the creative economy, the NEA and BEA’s data should put their concerns to rest. “The arts contribute $763.6 billion to the U.S. economy, more than agriculture, transportation, or warehousing. The arts employ 4.9 million workers across the country with earnings of more than $370 billion. Furthermore, the arts exported $20 billion more than imported, providing a positive trade balance.”

Other interesting findings: Creative industries are growing faster than the economy as a whole. Between 2012 and 2015, the “average growth rate was 2.6 percent, slightly higher than 2.4 percent for the nation’s overall economy. Between 2014 and 2015, the growth rate was 4.9 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars.”

In 2015, architectural services added $23.5 billion in value to the economy. Total industry output was $38.8 billion.

Fastest growth is seen in architectural services, web streaming and publishing, and performing arts presentation and design.

ASLA 2018 Communications Internship

ASLA 2017 Professional Analysis and Planning Honor Award. Fitzgerald Revitalization Project: Landscapes as the Framework for Community Reinvestment, Detroit, Michigan / Spackman Mossop Michaels

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) seeks a full-time summer communications intern. The intern will research and update ASLA’s sustainable design resource guides and write weekly posts on landscape architecture and related topics for The Dirt blog.


  • The internship is full-time Monday through Friday for 10 weeks, from June through August.
  • The intern will research and update resource guides on climate change, sustainable transportation, and other topics.
  • The intern will provide communications support for the upcoming Blue Ribbon Panel on Climate Change report launch.
  • The intern will also create original weekly content for The Dirt, covering projects, events, and new publications.
  • The intern will also have the opportunity to attend educational and networking events at the National Building Museum, Harvard University’s Dumbarton Oaks, and other museums and think tanks in Washington, D.C.
  • Other communications projects may come up as well.


  • Current enrollment in a Master’s program in landscape architecture.
  • Excellent writing skills. The intern must be able to write clearly for a general audience.
  • Excellent photographic composition and editing skills.
  • Proven research skills and ability to quickly evaluate the quality and relevance of many different types of Web resources.
  • Excellent interpersonal skills and ability to interact graciously with busy staff members and outside experts.
  • Working knowledge of Photoshop, Google Maps, and Microsoft Office suite.

How to Apply:

Please send cover letter, CV, two writing samples (no more than 2 pages each) to by end of day, Friday, March 30.

Phone interviews will be conducted with finalists the week of April 2 and selection will be made the following week.

The 10-week internship offers a $4,000 stipend. ASLA can also work with the interns to attain academic credit for the internship.

The internship is in-house located at ASLA’s national headquarters, which is conveniently located in downtown Washington, D.C., one block north of the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro Station on the Red, Yellow, and Green Lines. Learn more about ASLA’s Center for Landscape Architecture.

ASLA 2018 Education Programs Internship

ASLA Center for Landscape Architecture / ASLA

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) seeks a full-time 10 week summer intern working in the Education Programs department. The intern will analyze and identify trends in accredited landscape architecture education, research current community college and unaccredited programs affiliated with landscape architecture, and participate in the Diversity Summit for the purposes of developing resources to support the Landscape Architecture Accreditation Board (LAAB) and ASLA’s career discovery and diversity program.


  • The intern will be expected to work 10 weeks full-time from June through August.
  • Analyze current community college programs affiliated with accredited landscape architecture programs and propose case study resources.
  • Research unaccredited landscape architecture programs to understand the potential for future growth and develop a report.
  • Attend ASLA’s annual Diversity Summit, write a report on the proceedings, and assist in creating Summit resources.
  • Evaluate the current Study Landscape Architecture webpage, research design revisions, and design a draft framework for revisions to the webpage.
  • Review and analyze LAAB accreditation actions (recommendations affecting accreditation) from the previous five years and develop a report.
  • Create an original written piece for publication in one of ASLA’s outlets showcasing resources and/or reports established during the internship.


  • Current enrollment entering final year of Bachelor’s program or in a Master’s program in landscape architecture.
  • Passion to grow the knowledge base for landscape architecture and support ASLA’s vision, mission, and commitment to diversity.
  • Excellent writing skills with the ability to write clearly for a general audience.
  • Great data analytic, research, and design skills and an interest to present results effectively through graphic communication.
  • Excellent organizational skills, good judgement, and attention to detail. The intern will set, track, and complete goals in a timely manner.
  • Be an effective collaborator with excellent professional interpersonal skills to successfully interact with busy staff members and outside experts.
  • Working knowledge of Adobe Creative suite and Microsoft Office suite. Knowledge of web-based design is a plus.

How to Apply:

Please send cover letter, resume, two writing samples (no more than two pages each), and names and contact information of two references to by end of day, Monday, April 2. Up to three examples of graphic communications skills including an infographic is a desirable additional sample. Please submit all materials as one 8 ½ x 11 PDF file (8.0mb maximum).

Phone interviews will be conducted with finalists the week of April 9 and selection will be made the following week.

The 10-week internship offers a $4,000 stipend. ASLA can also work with the interns to attain academic credit for the internship.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (February 16 – 28)

“Desert Gardens of Steve Martino,” by Caren Yglesias / Steve Gunther/The Monacelli Press via Associated Press

Can the L.A. River Avoid ‘Green Gentrification’?
CityLab, 2/20/18
“Los Angeles is where it is because of the river that runs through it. Tongva people lived along the river, around what is now downtown L.A., for centuries. The Spanish camped there when they first passed through. Pobladores established a town there. It grew into a city.”

Phoenix Landscaper Brings Desert to Urban Yards The Washington Post, 2/21/18
“When I moved to Phoenix last summer, I was bewildered by all the bright green grass I saw smack in the middle of the Sonoran Desert — in residential yards, on golf courses, at community parks.”

On the Waterfront, Toronto’s Next Great Park Takes Shape The Globe and Mail, 2/21/18
“As central Toronto booms, many people have come to see the need for new open space in the core. But not far away, a great collection of park space is in the works: It will cover 80 hectares at the mouth of the Don River, and you’ll be able to splash in the river within less than a decade.”

The Price We Pay for LivabilityThe Boston Globe, 2/23/18
“Past generations in Greater Boston knew it was their duty to improve the landscape — to build parks and seawalls, subways and bridges — for the benefit of all future residents. In 2018, we can still dream up useful new pieces of civic hardware, such as the cool new footbridge now proposed for the Mystic River between Somerville and Everett.”

Welcome to the Age of Climate Migration Rolling Stone, 2/25/18
“Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas and Louisiana last August, causing $125 billion in damage, dumped more water out of the sky than any storm in U.S. history.”