Since 1979, architects have been able to win the Pritzker Prize, known as the Nobel for architecture, receiving $100,000. And since 1989, architects can also win the Praemium Imperiale prize, which is awarded by the Imperial family of Japan on behalf of the Japan Art Association, receiving some $140,000.
Now, practicing landscape architects have their own grand international prize, which will be conferred biennially by The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), based out of Washington, D.C. The prize will offer a $100,000 award and will involve two years of public engagement to honor the prize winner’s “creative, courageous, and visionary work.” The inaugural prize will be awarded in 2021.
According to Charles A. Birnbaum, FASLA, TCLF’s founder, president, and CEO, landscape architecture is worthy of its own high-profile international prize because it “is one of the most complex and, arguably, the least understood art forms. It challenges practitioners to be design innovators often while spanning the arts and sciences in addressing many of the most pressing social, environmental, and cultural issues in contemporary society.”
Interestingly, landscape architects aren’t the only ones eligible to win the prize. Landscape designers, artists, architects, planners, urban designers, and others who have “designed a significant body of landscape-architectural projects” will also be considered. This is in contrast to the only other international landscape architecture prize — the Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe Award, bestowed by the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA), which is only open to landscape architects.
TCLF board co-chair Joan Shafran and her husband Rob Haimes underwrote the prize with a gift of $1 million, which was then matched by the rest of the board and other donors. A $4.5 million campaign to endow the prize in perpetuity is now underway.
New urbanist planner and architect Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, who was chair of the awards jury, said “Meyer has produced an influential body of theory, interpretation, and criticism on landscape topics related to aesthetics, sustainability, culture, and social impact.”
On October 30, NBM will host a public event in Washington, D.C. — a conversation between Meyer and Thaïsa Way, program director of garden & landscape studies, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collections.
7th Street Park and Recreation Pier at the Wharf: Michael Vergason, FASLA, founder of Michael Vergason Landscape Architects described how 7th Street Park and Pier is one piece of a larger redevelopment called the District Wharf in Southwest D.C. planned by Perkins Eastman and developed by PN Hoffman and Madison Marquette (see image above).
Vergason described his firm’s process: “we reach out beyond the boundaries of the site to think about how the design can grasp onto the site’s adjacencies to make a coherent place out of the larger setting.” For this park and pier, they were asked to ignore what the other five landscape designers in the broader development were designing. The pier is the only non-working pier at the District Wharf, which allowed them greater flexibility, so they added an undulating wood deck, swings, and a fire pit at the end looking out over the water.
Swampoodle Park: Adrienne McCray, ASLA, a landscape architect at Lee and Associates spoke about the challenge of meeting the needs of the different groups who shaped Swampoodle Park, which is named after a vanished 19th century neighborhood in Northeast D.C. Community outreach is an important aspect of the mission of the NoMa Parks Foundation, which financed the project, and McCray’s firm “didn’t want to bring any pre-concieved ideas of what the park should be,” instead asking the community what they wanted to see in their neighborhood.
On a 5,200-square foot (480 square meter) lot, plus a nearly-3,00 square feet (280 square meters) slice of public land, the community wanted a dog park, a place for kids to play, and a place to gather. McCray joked there was “not a lot of space for any of those activities.” The design team presented multiple options to the community to figure out which aspects the community liked. Through the engagement process, the firm was able to integrate all three programs into the small site.
Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge: AECOM was selected as the design-build firm for a new Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge, which crosses the Anacostia River in Southwest D.C. The current bridge is 20 years older than its lifespan. Reid Fellenbaum, a landscape and urban designer at AECOM, said the complex project not only includes the bridge but also 82 acres of public land.
AECOM was given a preset budget for the entire project by the DC department of transportation, which could not be surpassed, meaning that any hiccup in the construction of the bridge has to be dealt with somewhere else in the process. Fellenbaum indicated cuts were likely to come from the landscape design because it was the last phase of the design to be constructed. To combat this, the firm kept careful notes of what had already been value-engineered during the design process to push back on further value-engineering of the landscape during construction.
Center for Natural Sciences, Mathematics, and Nursing at Bowie State University: Perkins+Will was tasked with designing the landscape around a new building in the heart of Bowie State University’s campus, the oldest historically black college in Maryland. Stephanie Wolfgang, ASLA, detailed how the patterns found in the paving of the site came from a visioning process and discerning what is important to administrators, staff, and students.
Bowie State’s history, culture, and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) curriculum guided Perkins+Will’s decision to incorporate fractal patterns and the Fibonacci sequence (0,1,1,3,5…) throughout paving patterns, planting zones, and the structural spacing of custom benches.
Capital City Bikeway, Jackson Street Reconstruction: Toole Design Group, which is based in Silver Spring, Maryland, worked with the city of St. Paul, Minnesota to expand their bike network into the downtown area. The Jackson Street Reconstruction was the first phase of Capital City Bikeway plan.
Ken Ray, ASLA, detailed how St. Paul removed a travel lane and the existing parking on one side of the street, providing space for a “nice linear space” that could connect with nearby bicycle lanes. Initially, the community was concerned about removing street parking. Pop-up meetings were organized to talk to as many residents and potential bicyclists as possible. Ray noted a key factor in the project’s success was convincing local business owners the new bicycle infrastructure would bring hundreds, if not thousands, of new people past their storefronts.
A team led by West 8 was announced as the winner of the Baltimore Middle Branch Waterfront Revitalization competition. The core team, which includes Baltimore-based landscape architecture firm Mahan Rykiel Associates, Inc. and infrastructure engineering firm Moffatt & Nichol, will develop a climate-resilient, ecological plan to connect Baltimore’s southern waterfront neighborhoods through a series of new parks and trails while restoring wetlands in the Middle Branch Patapsco River. The West 8 team was ultimately selected by Mayor Bernard C. Jack Young after he received comments from the public and an esteemed jury of local stakeholders and nationally-recognized landscape architects.
The design re-imagines 11 miles of Baltimore’s Middle Patapsco River waterfront as an ecological cove populated with piers, boardwalks, and parks. The team will create new marshlands by “squeezing” the water channel under the Hannover Street Bridge and subsequently using the dredged material to build ecological habitats. Newly created marshland will help to buffer the cove from storm surges and clean the water.
A new island in the Patapsco River, named Riverbed Island, and peninsula on the south edge of the river, named Patapsco Park, will be constructed as the support points for a new bridge predominantly for vehicles that will replace the Hannover Street Bridge, which will be turned into a pedestrian-friendly linear park. The new island’s location was selected to maximize existing sedimentation flows in the river and will rely on naturally shallow areas to begin establishing wetlands off of the island.
The team proposes using geotube mud socks, a geotextile used to set dredge material, to help initiate the wetlands. Slurried dredge material will be pumped into the geotextiles, which retain the sediment but let water flow outward. In their competition presentation, the team describes the technique as “a simple, inexpensive way to protect and improve water quality through local plant communities while structurally stabilizing banks and shorelines to prevent erosion and slumping.”
Once established, slurried dredge will be used to fill in the rest of the wetland ecosystem back to the shoreline. The initial geotubes mark the boundaries of the wetland, allowing the team to shape the inlets and form of the wetlands.
While significant dredge and infrastructural work is necessary to develop the wetlands and reroute vehicle traffic, much of the work to redefine the “blue green heart of Baltimore,” as the team refers to it, is being done along the water’s edge.
The waterfront parks will span 11 miles of shorelines around the inlet of the Middle Branch Patapsco River. Pavilions, boathouses, a bandshell, a lookout over the marshland, and a repurposed swing bridge act as “cultural pearls” scattered along the waterfront. These design elements are a mix of revitalized structures and infrastructure and new amenities. For the design team, “the pearls celebrate and symbolize a time that once had and now again will represent optimism, innovation and progress.”
Among the new “cultural pearls” is the Lookout Loop, a circular ramp that brings visitors above the water’s surface, providing views of the Hannover Bridge in the distance. The Lookout Loop branches off from a boardwalk path that cuts through the newly created wetlands.
The Newland Band Shell will be an open air concert venue, located near the Hannover Street Bridge. A sloping hill will offer seating to see live music and performances.
The Hannover Street Bridge, which connects the industrial area of South Baltimore to Cherry Hill neighborhood, will be converted from a 5-lane road into a park space, completing the loop of parks. Bays of trees, flower plantings, and vine trellises fill the top surface of the bridge, while a new boat dock and seating area will be created under the drawbridge. The dock gives people kayaking a place to stop and rest while out on the water.
At Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., DeafSpace, a concept developed by campus architect Hansel Bauman, is now guiding the development of buildings and landscapes in order to better address the needs of the deaf and hard of hearing people, which also results in better spaces for everyone. Gallaudet University — the oldest university for the deaf community in the country and the only university in the world where all programs and services are designed with deaf and hard of hearing people in mind — is creating a new 2020 campus master plan that expands DeafSpace beyond the buildings and into the historic campus designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and the surrounding neighborhood.
DeafSpace is focused on five key elements that impact how deaf and hard of hearing users navigate buildings and landscapes: sensory reach, space and proximity, mobility and proximity, light and color, and acoustics.
The focus is on these elements because they are too often overlooked in the design of the built environment. And as Alexa Vaughn, Associate ASLA, a deaf landscape architect at OLIN, demonstrated through a project she called DeafScape, DeafSpace principles can be readily applied to many types of landscapes.
Bauman has been the campus architect at Gallaudet University for 15 years. In a conversation on Gallaudet’s campus, he said the masterplan is guided by Gallaudet’s heritage, its desire for sustainability, and its need for accessibility.
Understanding and interpreting the history of the campus is central to the development of the new master plan. Gallaudet was founded as a school for deaf and blind children in 1857 and was granted the ability to confer college degrees in 1864. Fredrick Law Olmsted designed the 99-acre campus in 1866 to include campus buildings, a small farm, and a large forested area. At the time of the university’s founding, it was outside the planned area of Washington, D.C. The area immediately surrounding the campus has subsequently urbanized over the last century and a half.
The original campus and its buildings, which are now on the National Register of Historic Places, were mixed-use; academic and private life was integrated. A working farm mixed with academic instruction, professors and students lived in the same buildings, and academic and living spaces lined the same hallways. Daily life happened throughout the campus core, resulting in what Bauman calls “vibrancy.” For the deaf, communication is primarily visual, and the centralized core of the campus offered a visually-accessible space interwoven into daily life. “Olmsted created a scuffy, working, living landscape.”
Olmsted was successful in establishing corridors for visual communication, while planting trees that created shade. He didn’t plant any understory that would block sight lines. But it is unclear if he deeply understood the issues facing the deaf and hard of hearing community. Bauman points instead to the original buildings on campus as models: higher ceilings and large windows bring in more natural light, glass transepts over doorways let deaf and hard of hearing people see if rooms are occupied or not, and the mixed use of buildings help create a sense of life.
During subsequent campus expansions in the 1970’s, unfriendly large Brutalist buildings were introduced along the north side of campus. This expansion was necessary in part because of the Rubella outbreak of 1964 and 1965, which resulted in nearly 20,000 babies born with Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS), which can result in deafness. Many of these buildings were designated as dorms, separating academic and private life. The vibrancy found in the heart of the campus was stretched out, preventing a central visual zone for daily life.
Restoring the vibrancy of campus is the primary focus of the 2022 campus plan. Maintaining visual connectivity throughout the center of campus will be balanced with planting more shade-giving trees. Many of the sidewalks will be widened to allow groups to sign to each other comfortably while walking through campus. For Bauman, “aesthetics are something to experience, not to look at.”
Using urban designer Jan Gehl’s methodology, Bauman and his students have been mapping the vibrancy of the current campus by observing and recording when, how long, and where people are moving through the campus or stopping to communicate, then turning this data into graphics. Using the historical documents of the campus, the designers are also creating similar maps for past configurations of the campus. These maps allow Bauman to see where students are avoiding spaces because the built environment isn’t conducive to visual communication and where design interventions would be the most beneficial.
The team at Gallaudet University are already using data from these analyses and applying DeafSpace guidelines to improve navigation throughout the campus. The new Kendall School Division II Memorial landscape design conforms with the principles, said Elizabeth Brading, director of program development at Gallaudet. There have also been piece meal efforts to plant more trees to create more shade and reduce glare in between buildings, update lighting, and expand sidewalks, explained Christopher Hoffman, a campus architect and manager of design services.
The university is partnering with the JGB Companies and the DC department of transportation to develop the corridor, which will include the first new public landscapes designed with DeafSpace principles. The goal is to better integrate the edge of the historic campus into the neighboring, gentrifying Union Market area and create a whole district accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing community.
In order for the design teams competing to understand the challenges the built environment present to deaf and hard of hearing individuals, architects and designers were asked to close their eyes and rely on touch and smell, so they could better understand the importance of these senses for those who use them to mentally map spaces.
Bauman said the development’s new streets will include 12 to 15-feet wide sidewalks that are consistently lit, ensuring people using sign language and lip reading can see one another. Circular seating will allow groups of varying size to sign to one another while maintaining a visual connection.
Lightweight, flexible seating will incorporated, allowing deaf and hard of hearing people to arrange seating so they can face one another. High tables offer people places to set down coffee, bags, or other items and use both hands to sign.
2019 marks the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus’s founding in the city of Weimar, Germany by architect Walter Gropius. The legacy of the Bauhaus has been felt throughout nearly every design discipline, in part because of the towering stature of its faculty and their many game-changing works of architecture, design, and art, but perhaps more deeply because of the body of theory produced, practiced, refined, and extolled at the school.
The ABC’s of Triangle Square Circle is a new edition of the 1991 collection of essays edited by Ellen Lupton and J. Abbott Miller that uses text, images, and experimental graphic compositions to explain Bauhaus art and design theory. “Triangle Square Circle” is derived from a theory that artist Wassily Kandinsky put forth about the intrinsic properties of the three shapes and their association with a primary color. As Lupton and Miller state in the introduction: “This is a book about theory. A theory is a principle that attempts to explain diverse phenomena, a concise concept capable of shedding light on countless situations.”
Bauhaus theorists saw simple geometric forms as the essence of natural, organic shapes. The bookend essays, Elementary School by J. Abbott Miller gives insight into how Bauhaus theorists reduced landscape and natural forms to simple geometric ones, and Beyond Triangle Square Circle: Fractal Geometry by theoretical physicist Alan Wolf explains how Bauhaus thinkers tried but ultimately failed to acknowledge nature’s complexity in their theories on geometry.
In 1925, Gropius designed a new complex for the Bauhaus school in Dessau, Germany, moving the campus from Weimar. The architecture designed in the international style became the emblem of Bauhaus architecture and thought, despite architecture not being taught at the school until 1927. The building is the centerpiece, a sculpture among a sea of rectilinear patches of grass, with ankle-high fencing to prevent people from walking on the green spaces. The landscape of the Bauhaus campus is a formal exercise, a decoration of the plinth the building sits on.
In Elementary School, J. Abbott Miller focuses on the development of the core principles of the Bauhaus through the creation of Friedrich Frobel’s kindergarten (or child garden).
As Miller explains, the name was “metaphorical as well as literal: early in his career as a teacher, Froebel discovered the importance of play in education and made gardening a central part of his pedagogy.” While gardening was lost in the Bauhaus school, playing with shapes and composition was fundamental to Bauhaus teachings.
The focus of Frobel’s teaching were a series of “Gifts and Occupations” comprised of geometric blocks (gifts) and basic craft activities (occupations). The gifts increased in complexity as the child progressed through the educational system, culminating in enough complexity to construct representations of their world with the blocks. The children began to see the world as a construction of basic elements, a theme continued and propagated by Bauhaus teachings.
Distilling the complexities of the world to their intrinsic properties became a central tenet of the Bauhaus. For Kandinsky, these often resulted in complex representations comprised of basic shapes and lines.
The practice of geometric simplification began in early education and continued through the university for those studying at the Bauhaus.
It is no wonder then that the complexities of natural forms were represented by rectilinear green shapes in the landscape of the Bauhaus campus in Dessau. They didn’t have the geometric language to represent the complexities of natural forms; fractal geometry wasn’t discovered by Benoit Mandelbrot until 1975.
In Beyond Triangle Square Circle: Fractal Geometry, Alan Wolf explains the mathematical principles of fractals as an abstraction of natural geometries that cannot be expressed through an intrinsic or simple geometry, only through an increasingly complex internal relationship between its parts.
Bauhaus’ attempts to distill all natural elements to their essences doesn’t work in a chaotic world. Today, complexity is central to our contemporary understanding of how natural and cultural systems work. For example, landscape and ecological processes, rather than formal qualities, guide projects like Fresh Kills Park by landscape architecture firm James Corner Field Operations.
The Bauhaus’ use of geometry to represent the world still holds, but the geometry we use to represent it has evolved alongside our updated conception of nature as an interwoven set of systems interacting in increasingly complex ways.
As Alan Wolf writes: “since the discovery of fractal geometry in 1975, it is no longer possible to represent nature with a starter Lego set limited to such simple forms as triangle, square, and circle. Now we know that we need an advanced set of building blocks, which includes fractal forms of various types.”