How War Has Shaped the Landscape

Border wall prototypes, along the southern border with Mexico / Archinect

“The wall is a military structure that has gained new resonance today,” said Anatole Tckikine, the organizer of a two-day symposium on military landscapes at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C. But walls aren’t the only military structures that have shaped our landscapes. From the U.S. Interstate system, which was designed to facilitate evacuations from cities in the event of atomic strike; to the utopian, star-shaped forts of old Europe; demilitarized zones that separate warring lines; and commemorative memorials that demand our awe, like the imposing Motherland Calls in Stalingrad, Russia, military landscapes are not just empty spaces but “landscapes of people.”

Motherland Calls / i09

And as war has evolved over the ages, these landscapes of people have evolved, too, said Antoine Picon, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Up until relatively recently, military landscapes were about creating fortifications or gaining control over the conflict by achieving some physical advantage. Generals sought higher ground for their artillery. Rivers, hills, and other natural features would be used to hem in armies. The landscape of a battle ground was critical to reducing the number of variables and achieving military success.

But today, the ground for action has greatly expanded, Picon explained. “With our sprawling military geographies, the rise of boundless violence, and the infinite energy of atomic weapons, there has been a globalization of the landscapes of conflict.” One result is “that the landscape can no longer regulate military action. Fortifications no longer work.”

War now creates expansive environments, not just landscapes or territories. Imagine the drone flying overhead; war is like a video game. “Before the landscape contained the military event; now, the event generates the landscape.”

Predator drone / Intercepts Defense News

During the symposium, lectures zig-zagged through historical eras and regions, each making points about how the military has shaped our landscapes over time.

John Dixon Hunt, professor emeritus of landscape history at the University of Pennsylvania, delved into how military fortifications inspired peace-time landscapes in the 17th and 18th centuries in the United Kingdom. He explains that the “earliest use of ha-has in landscape dates from 1695, and then at Castle Howard and at Stowe in the 1710s: the ha-ha sought to distinguish the garden from the non-garden, but gradually worked to confuse the status and significance of each.” Beyond the ha-has, peace-time castles put in elaborate walls and other military-inspired fortifications. Dixon Hunt asked: “Why fortify a garden?” Protections could “keep out thieves and cold drafts,” creating micro-climates beneficial to growing food.

Grimsthorpe Castle’s walled gardens / Pinterest

Fortified landscapes ended up falling out of favor with the rise of picturesque view espoused by landscape architect Capability Brown and his contemporaries. Everything was opened up for the eye to enjoy.

For Finola O’Kane Crimmins, a professor at University College Dublin, the Battle of the Boyne, the only time that “Ireland was an arena of European War,” is a source of great interest. In 1690, protestant successor King William III vanquished the Catholic deposed King of England James II. Later, the battle ground became a designed focal point among the families who built great manors there in the battle’s aftermath, with the Boyne Obelisk serving as the dominant reminder of victory. “The obelisk is the most concentrated architectural form for power.”

Boyne Obelisk / Imleach Iseal

Topographical features of the landscape were highlighted in paintings as well, always from the point of view of the victor.

Moving forward centuries and to Southeast Asia, Pamela McElwee, an anthropologist and ecologist at Rutgers University, gave a fascinating tour of a military land use — the Ho Chi Minh trail, which was used to convey soldiers and supplies from the Communist North Vietnam to Viet Cong insurgents in the US-backed South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The trail wasn’t a singular pathway or even a set of trails, but a “plate of spaghetti or a spider web within a spider web.” Known as the Truong San supply route to the Vietnamese, the “porous, creative, and innovative” trails were “the lifeblood of the insurgency,” which some 33,000 North Vietnamese soldiers died to defend.

Ho Chi Minh trail map, 1967 / Wikipedia

Armed with new Vietnamese scholarship on the trail, McElwee was the first American scholar to gain access to the region of some of the most important trail heads. She discovered the trail was formed out of a balance “working with and against nature.” Soldiers created tree bridges to hide the trail and protect it from aerial bombardment, and they purposefully kept a light footprint, cooking and eating in constantly-changing locations, so that American soldiers wouldn’t be able to discover their whereabouts. But they also had to hack their way through jungles with machetes, fight off deadly snakes, build bamboo ladders to climb ravines, and carry their own pontoons to forge rivers. Some 80 percent of the soldiers and workers traveling the trail, and passing through places like the Gorge of Lost Souls, got malaria.

In the early 60s, routes through Laos multiplied with the help of indigenous ethnic minorities who had the most-intimate knowledge of the landscape, and by the early 70s, many trails had widened, so that more than 10,000 people were using it each day. Later, President Nixon ordered the widespread spraying of Agent Orange, a herbicide, in order to reveal the trail to bombers. The end result was to kill the tall trees, giving light to rapacious bamboo, which would form large masses that further hid the network of paths. For McElwee, the endless labyrinthine quality and “impossibility” of the trail, and the deep inhospitality of the jungle had an impact on Americans, perhaps weakening their resolve and contributing to their defeat.

And, finally, Astrid Eckert, a historian at Emory University, took us to the Iron Curtain, which began as a figure of speech Winston Churchill used to describe what he saw as the dark influence of the Soviet Union falling across eastern Europe at the start of the Cold War, but soon became a real presence once the borders between east and west became a walled and fenced-in no mans lands fatal to cross. While the Communists were known for degrading the environment — for example, the Aral Sea was desiccated to grow cotton — the borderlands became de facto protected landscapes teaming with biodiversity. When the walls came down and the borders opened in Germany and other eastern European in the late 80s and early 90s, conservationist rushed in to save these landscapes. Some 85 percent of these former borderlands are now preserved as the 7,700-mile-long European Green Belt.

The “ridiculously photogenic” green belt, where nature was granted a “40-year vacation,” serves as a “happy end to partition” and is a new ecological symbol of unification — the belt grew together and so former foes can come together again. Well, at least that is the prevailing narrative, Eckert said.

European Green Belt / Wikipedia

The reality is that constructing the border over the 1950s and 60s was an act of environmental destruction: marshes and wetlands were drained, hydrological systems were destroyed, and canals and trenches created gaping scars. Minefields killed so many deer that eastern Germans determined deer to be a nuisance — because they exploded so many mines. Except for bird populations, which benefited from the protections, especially Winchats, which enjoyed nesting on fence posts, “the borders meant the end of biological exchange.” Due to the work of conservationists, Eckert said, ironically, the borderlands are once again inaccessible, at least to development. But the green belt is now seen as the “flagship of German conservation.”

Anne Whiston Spirn, Mikyoung Kim Design Win National Design Awards

Anne Whiston Spirn / Arkitekten.se
Mikyoung Kim Design / Mikyoung Kim Design

The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian National Design Museum has announced its 2018 award winners. Among the 10 winners for a variety of design disciplines, MIT planning and landscape architecture professor Anne Whiston Spirn, FASLA, took home the award for “design mind” and Mikyoung Kim Design won for landscape design.

Spirn, who is the Cecil and Ida Green distinguished professor of landscape architecture and planning at MIT, is author of the seminal book The Granite Garden, which is now seen as the foundation of the ecological urbanism and landscape urbanism planning and design movements.

The Cooper Hewitt writes that Spirn’s “writings and action research have brought forth a new state of mind among designers and the general public—provoking the integration of city and nature, advancing design theory and practice, and transforming how people see and act.”

In an 2015 interview to mark the 30th anniversary of The Granite Garden, Spirn discussed progress since the book’s release and where we still come up short:

“We’ve made enormous progress, particularly with water. Ironically, we’ve done less well on climate and air quality. I say ironically, because there’s so much awareness of climate change these days. There’s been a lot of attention paid to design proposals aimed at adapting to rising sea levels, but less to the enormous potential that the design of cities holds for reducing the factors that contribute to climate change in the first place. We need to truly re-imagine the way we design cities.”

Spirn is also the author of The Eye is a Door: Landscape, Photography, and the Art of Discovery (2014), Daring to Look: Dorothea Lange’s Photographs and Reports from the Field (2011), and The Language of Landscape (1988).

And for 30 years, Spirn led the West Philadelphia Landscape Project, an “investigation into how to improve environmental equality and social equity at the same time.” On this work, Spirn said:

“The West Philadelphia Landscape Project was a laboratory for working out ideas about the language of landscape and landscape literacy. It was extraordinary working with 12- and 13-year-olds in Mill Creek, a low-income African-American neighborhood in West Philly, as they learned how to read that landscape.” Learn more about Spirn.

Mikyoung Kim, FASLA, founding principal of Mikyoung Kim Design, was recognized for an “exceptional body of award-winning work that redefines the discipline of landscape architecture and inhabits the intersection of art and science.” Kim leads the firm along with Bryan Chou, ASLA, design leader, and Ian Downing, ASLA, technical leader.

Mikyoung Kim Design works at all scales — from big-picture master plans and large urban parks to bespoke residential spaces and art installations. The firm designs unique places that are not only sustainable and resilient but also magnets for people, especially kids. The firm makes memorable use of materials, transforming them through an intensive, creative process.

Mikyoung Kim Design is perhaps most well-known for its ChonGae Canal Source Point Park in Seoul, South Korea, along the banks of the restored Cheonggyecheon stream. The park became a model for stream and river restoration in a number of other cities. An environmental and cultural asset once buried in the name of progress was unearthed and saved.

ASLA 2009 Professional General Design Honor Award. ChonGae Canal Source Point Park: Sunken Stone Garden, Seoul, Korea. Mikyoung Kim Design / Taeoh Kim

The firm has also won acclaim for its inventive Crown Sky Garden at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago.

ASLA 2013 Professional General Design Honor Award. The Crown Sky Garden: Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. Mikyoung Kim Design / George Heinrich Photography

In a recent interview, Kim explained how they needed to design a healing space without exposing the patients, who had compromised immune systems, to water or soil:

“We had to put aside our preconceived notions of what healing gardens are and really start to abstract nature in order to create this indoor experience for these families and patients.”

She also explained how innovative materials helped forge the connections to nature everyone wanted:

“Throughout our design process, we worked closely with different constituents. We worked with families and patients and brought two options. We brought an option that used more natural materials, and then we brought in a design that had more innovative materials — materials people hadn’t seen before — more contemporary materials built in innovative ways. I’d say 99-percent of kids were drawn to those. They said, ‘Cool, that’s amazing. I’ve never seen that before.'” Learn more about Mikyoung Kim Design.

ASLA 2013 Professional General Design Honor Award. The Crown Sky Garden: Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. Mikyoung Kim Design / George Heinrich Photography

Also worth noting: WEISS/MANFREDI, an architecture firm known for its multi-disciplinary approach, won for architecture design. WEISS/MANFREDI collaborated with Thomas Balsley Associates to create the award-winning Hunter’s Point South Waterfront Park, a model for resilient landscape design, in Queens, New York City, and also designed the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle, Washington.

How to Copenhagenize Your Bicycle Network

Copenhagenize / Island Press

Mia Birk benchmarked the cycling upsurge of Portland, Oregon; Janette Sadik-Khan, Manhattan and Brooklyn; Pete Jordan, Amsterdam; and Talking HeadsDavid Byrne chronicled his experience in dozens of other cities in the USA and abroad.

Now we have Mikael Colville-Andersen opining his version of the Copenhagen success story in Copenhagenize: The Definitive Guide to Global Bicycle Urbanism. The continued popularity of books like these attests to a resurgence that erupted on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1970’s. The overarching goal: to tame the automobile and reclaim the streetscape at the scale of two wheels and a wicker basket.

Here, the author of renders a litany of do’s and don’ts on myriad topics. Many are familiar to bicycle and pedestrian planners, and range from legal and liability issues to the importance of tracking metrics and closely monitoring travel behavior. As expected, the core of his disposition reveals how Copenhagen, Denmark, where the busiest street carries 40,000 bike trips per day, sets the bar for cities around the world.

Morning rush hour in Copenhagen / Mikael Colville-Andersen, Courtesy of Island Press

As a bicycle planning consultant and TEDx speaker best known for his popular Copenhagen Cycle Chic blog, Colville-Andersen lays out the case for the Danish approach to infrastructure design (although, if one reads carefully, he occasionally confesses the Dutch do a better job). In principle, this translates to network design that is uncomplicated and deliberate, or as he states it, is “practical, functional and elegant.” He defends the many examples in his toolbox, some dating back generations, as the very foundation of what he calls “the life-sized city.”

The core of his case rests on the premise that an “elegant” infrastructure is one that optimizes “intuitive” travel anywhere within the overall network — as effortless as finding a light switch within arm’s reach when entering a room. The intuitive model, he argues, should be the standard for all cities, not just world champions like Copenhagen, or Amsterdam, or other of his favorites, such as Strasbourg, France or Antwerp, Belgium.

And what are the key network characteristics? Some of these have been cited earlier, but they beg reaffirmation:

Travel routes should match desire lines, otherwise the cyclist will simply ignore the bike path and take a direct route. Cycling routes should be continuous from suburb to city center, and located on main streets, not side streets. The author eschews bicycle boulevards, which thread through residential zones in Portland, Berkeley, and elsewhere in the USA, ridiculing such designs as dysfunctional “detours,” and he detests painted “sharrows” on low volume streets.

Colville-Andersen affirms one-way (as opposed to two-way) cycle-tracks, which typically run next to the street at curb height. Such traffic separation assures safety and speed in urban contexts. But he cautions that they must be smooth, composed of asphalt, not pavers, and as free of gravel, snow and debris as car lanes. Cycle-tracks should be wide. Wide enough for cyclists to ride side-by-side, which in Copenhagen is at least 7.5 feet.

Complete traffic separation, with one-way cycle track / Mikael Colville-Andersen, Courtesy of Island Press

As one might have guessed, traffic control signage and pictograms, the kind that litter American cities, is anathema to the author. Intuitive cycling shouldn’t require much in the way of signage, even way-finding.

Bikes should have preference over cars at traffic lights, not only for safety considerations, but because maintaining proper “cycling momentum” in an urban context is crucial. The recent Copenhagen innovation, Green Wave, has traffic lights that are timed to coincide with the pace cyclists (not cars) travel. One can only envy a city where it is possible to legally and safely whisk through a succession of street intersections without stopping.

The long view is important and a chapter is set aside tracing the historical ups and downs beginning in 1892 when an equestrian trail was converted to Copenhagen’s first bikeway. In another he disputes the many myths about Copenhagen’s success story that others use as excuses for not doing a better job of their own.

Bicycle commuting tops car commuting / Mikael Colville-Andersen, Courtesy of Island Press

One distinguishing and indisputable fact, however, is Copenhagen’s bicycle budget, which averaged $31.7 million per year from 2006-2016. With budgets like that it isn’t all that difficult for bicycling advocates to imagine a day in their own cities when the largest traffic swarms during rush hour will be composed of more bikes than cars.

This guest post is by Martin Zimmerman, who writes from Charlotte, North Carolina, where he is an urban planner, journalist, consultant and daily cyclist.

LAAB Invites Comments on Proposed Revisions of Accreditation Standards

ASLA 2017 Professional Communications Award of Excellence. Digital Library of Landscape Architecture History / Benjamin George, ASLA

The Landscape Architectural Accreditation Board (LAAB) invites comment on its proposed revisions to the LAAB Accreditation Standards. LAAB last approved revisions to the standards in 2016 as part of its periodic review of its standards. LAAB conducts a formal, comprehensive review of the accreditation standards every five (5) years (page 4, LAAB Accreditation Procedures). The proposed revisions are posted on the LAAB website under LAAB News & Actions.

LAAB currently accredits first professional programs at the bachelor’s and master’s level in the United States and its territories. Of these programs, all are traditional programs housed within universities and colleges throughout the United States. While some courses within a few programs are offered via distance education, there are no LAAB accredited programs that currently offer a large portion or all of their curriculum online. However, as more students enroll in online courses and programs during their time in higher education, the demand for an LAAB accredited online program will likely grow.

About 5.8 million students were enrolled in at least one distance learning course in a U.S. institution in fall 2014 – up 3.9 percent from the previous fall, according to Online Report Card: Tracking Online Education in the United States, an annual report by the Babson Survey Research Group. Additionally, a majority of calls and emails received at ASLA Center for Landscape Architecture regarding landscape architecture education involves the availability of online programs. Therefore, LAAB has undertaken the process to review its standards relative to the delivery of online courses in landscape architecture. This review began in February 2017 and its timeline is included below.

Timeline for development of accreditation standards for online delivery of content in professional landscape architecture degree programs:

February 2017 LAAB Winter Board Meeting

LAAB began discussion of the potential for incorporating standards language that would allow the assessment of online delivery of courses in landscape architecture bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. The board agreed to sponsor a visit to the only known institution offering large portions of landscape architecture degree programs online – Academy of Art University’s (AAU) BFA and MFA in landscape architecture.

April 2017 Academy of Art University Visit

Ned Crankshaw, FASLA (LAAB/University of Kentucky); Kelleann Foster, ASLA (Pennsylvania State University); and Kristopher Pritchard (LAAB) visited AAU in San Francisco to review pedagogical process and outcomes in their programs.

July 2017 LAAB Summer Board Meeting

LAAB invited Dr. Leah Matthews, executive director of the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC), to discuss online professional program accreditation. Dr. Matthews confirmed LAAB’s general direction concerning additional review areas needed for on-line program delivery. The board discussed next steps in a deliberative process of online standard development and evaluation. Each step involves input from LAAB’s community of interest and board review and revision.

October 2017 ASLA Annual Meeting

LAAB shared AAU visit summary and ASLA Committee on Education discussion summary with LA program leaders and invited them to provide any feedback and comments to LAAB.

February 2018 LAAB Winter Board Meeting

LAAB reviewed and discussed an initial draft of standard(s) and assessments directed toward online educational delivery.

March 2018 CELA Annual Conference

LAAB organized a panel discussion about online professional degree program accreditation. Comment period on draft standards is open through the end of May 2018.

July 2018 LAAB Summer Board Meeting

LAAB will analyze comments received and frame a revision of draft standards with final language development following the meeting.

LAAB now invites members of the community of interest and the public to review and comment on the proposed revisions found on the LAAB website. We welcome comments and input on the revised LAAB Accreditation Standards until Friday, June 1. Please send comments to Kristopher Pritchard, accreditation & education programs manager.

LAAB anticipates final adoption of the revised Accreditation Standards by winter 2019. Follow-up questions and inquiries may be directed to Manager Pritchard.

#WLAM2018 Reaches 2.8 Million

This year the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) looked to the future for World Landscape Architecture Month (WLAM) by featuring ASLA student chapters, who are the next generation of landscape architects.

In 2018, ASLA continued its This is Landscape Architecture social media campaign. More than 1,638 users posted nearly 6,000 instances of their favorite landscape architect-designed spaces with #WLAM2018. These posts helped educate 2.8 million people around the globe about the profession.

To see a glimpse of the future of landscape architecture, ASLA asked a different student chapter to take over our Instagram each day in April. Arizona State University showed us how they are exploring the basics of design: sketching.

Thomas Jefferson University showed off the latest technology in designing landscapes.

The student chapter at the University of Maryland showcased how landscape architects shaped their campus.

ASLA student chapters also work with their local communities on projects. Auburn University shared its Alabama Lab, where students “use design to help create and continue conversations about local issues across a larger geographical and disciplinary spectrum.”

The chapter at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, featured their public awareness initiatives, like PARK(ing) Day.

As we focus on the future, ASLA also used April as an opportunity to unveil its new logo and rebranded look.

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

The Frick’s 70th Street Garden / Photo credit: Navid Baraty, 2014, courtesy of The Cultural Landscape Foundation

A Minneapolis Landscape Architect Creates a Picture-Perfect Party Garden The Minnesota Star Tribune, 4/21/18
“When Frank Fitzgerald feels like socializing during the summer months, he has the perfect Instagram-ready venue right out his back door.”

Letter to the Editor: the Frick’s Viewing Garden Is Worth Preserving The Art Newspaper, 4/25/18
“Brian Allen’s opinion piece about the revised expansion plans for the Frick Collection—The Frick’s expansion is a sensitive, elegant plan—starts off on a high note: ‘The first order of business in a building project involving so lovely a setting as the Frick Collection is do no harm.'”

Who Benefits When a City Goes Green? Next City, 4/25/18
“Going green is a cornerstone of contemporary urban policy planning — and cultivating a green identity has become vital in boosting a city’s economic profile.”

A Mexican Pavilion Offers Space for Post-Earthquake Renewal and Reflection The Architect’s Newspaper, 4/26/18
“At MEXTRÓPOLI, temporary built environments activated Mexico City’s public spaces to promote reflection of those events and fuel sustainable future building.”

LOVE Park Was Supposed to Be the People’s Park. How Did it End Up as a Granite Sahara? The Inquirer, 4/26/18
“Parks aren’t called refuges for nothing. A great urban park can make you forget you’re in the city.”