National Building Museum Reopens with Programs That Highlight Landscape Architecture

National Building Museum, Washington, D.C. / Kevin Allen, NBM

After weathering sixteen months of construction and then the pandemic, the National Building Museum (NBM) in Washington, D.C. is finally back open, with a great new visitor center that tells the story of landscape architecture, five exhibitions, and a new executive director. As part of World Landscape Architecture Month, the NBM has organized a series of online programs that explore historic and contemporary landscapes and equity:

Taliesen by Frank Lloyd Wright / Andrew Pielage

The Landscapes of Frank Lloyd Wright
Monday, April 19
6:30–8 pm EDT

In a program sponsored by the Darwina L. Neal Cultural Landscape Fund, created by former ASLA President Darwina L. Neal, FASLA, we will learn about how famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright considered the “landscape as an integral element in his work.”

Speakers include:

  • Mark Bayer, ASLA, founder and principal, Bayer Landscape Architecture, PLLC
  • Stuart Graff, president and CEO, Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation
  • Jennifer Gray, curator of Drawings and Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University
  • Justin W. Gunther, director, Fallingwater and VP, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy
  • Moderator Stephen Morris, chief of the Office of International Affairs, World Heritage Program Coordinator, National Park Service.

Speakers will discuss “how and why the work of Frank Lloyd Wright was sensitively integrated within their natural landscape settings and enhanced by their designed landscapes.” The discussion will explore many of the eight buildings and landscapes in the Frank Lloyd Wright World Heritage Site — which was announced in 2019 and became the first modern architecture designation in the United States — along with the recently restored landscape of the Martin House.

Franklin Park, Washington, D.C. / DAVID RUBIN Land Collective

Spotlight on Design: DAVID RUBIN Land Collective
Tuesday, April 27
6:30 PM – 8:00 PM EDT

DAVID RUBIN Land Collective, a Philadelphia-based landscape architecture, urban design, and planning firm, states that “empathy for the public’s engagement with memorials and park spaces” informs their work.

Founding principal David A. Rubin, FASLA, will discuss the “joys and challenges of navigating Washington, D.C.’s complex federal and local public space environment, all while steadfastly emphasizing and advocating for the equity, access, and inclusion of every visitor.”

Rubin will cover Canal Park, Potomac Park Levee, the National World War I Memorial, and Franklin Park in Washington, D.C. Jennifer Reut, acting editor of Landscape Architecture Magazine, will moderate the program.

Building for a Decarceration Nation / Designing Justice+Designing Spaces

Equity in the Built Environment: Restorative Justice
Thursday, April 29
6:00 PM – 7:00 PM EDT

In a program facilitated by landscape architect Maisie Hughes, ASLA, co-founder of The Urban Studio, Oakland-based non-profit Designing Justice+Designing Spaces will outline its efforts to “end mass incarceration by building infrastructure that addresses its root causes.”

Deanna Van Buren, co-founder, executive director, and design director, discusses her studio’s work countering the “traditional adversarial and punitive architecture of justice by creating spaces and buildings for restorative justice, community building, and housing for people coming out of incarceration.”

This program complements Building for a Decarceration Nation, a virtual exhibition offered by the University of California at Berkeley through May 15.

If in Washington, D.C. area, book timed entry tickets Friday through Sunday, 11AM-4PM for the time being. The NBM’s fantastic book store is also open.

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

Swampdoodle II / NoMA Parks Foundation, Lee and Associates

Here’s What NoMa’s Next Park, Swampoodle II, Could Look Like — 04/13/21, DCist
“Local landscape architecture firm Lee and Associates’ design for Swampoodle II emphasizes a mix of active and passive uses. The new space has spaces that can flex for a variety of uses: There’s a green oval surrounded by benches where people can sit or kids can run around, as well as a smaller concrete space for community art or performance activities.”

Great Parks Don’t Just Have Rec Space. They Create Jobs — 04/13/21, Fast Company
“A new report from the Knight Foundation reveals some of the ways that design, governance, and programming can turn parks from simple outdoor spaces to indispensable community assets.”

Lincoln Center’s Josie Robertson Plaza Will Become a Public Park for the Summer — 04/13/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“‘When invited to consider how the physical space of Josie Robertson Plaza could be re-envisioned to be a more inclusive and inviting environment,’ said set designer Mimi Lien, who created the expansive installation, ‘I immediately thought that by changing the ground surface from hard paving stones with no seating to a material like grass, suddenly anyone would be able to sit anywhere.'”

Philly Asks Residents What They Think of Trees for City’s 10-year ‘Urban Forest’ Plan — 04/13/21, The Philadelphia Inquirer
“The city has designed a 29-question survey to get a feel for how residents think about trees as part of a 10-year plan to reverse the declining tree canopy, especially in vulnerable neighborhoods.”

Landscape Architecture Meets Industrial Reuse at Smith Oaks Sanctuary in Texas — 04/08/21, Wallpaper
“The green expanse has just been enhanced with the light, expert touch of internationally acclaimed landscape architecture firm SWA Group and the industrial reuse designs of New York- and Houston-based architecture studio Schaum/Shieh.”

Groundbreakers: A Century Ago, Landscape Design Was a Man’s World. But These Women Created a Garden for the Ages — 04/07/21, The Washington Post Magazine
“[Beatrix Farrand’s] ability to tackle the slopes of that site is brilliant,” says Thaïsa Way, the institute’s director for garden and landscape studies. “That to me is the power of landscape architecture — engineered and comfortable but also designed so it’s beautiful.”

Dream of Connected NYC Greenway Re-Envisioned as Path to COVID Recovery — 04/04/21, The City
“Even before Biden unveiled his massive proposal in Pittsburgh Wednesday, more than 30 environmental justice, cycling, and parks groups had sent a letter to New York’s congressional delegation. Their plea: a $1 billion commitment in federal stimulus funds to build out new and link sections of existing trails separated from automobile traffic.”

Walter Hood: Landscapes Can Tell New Stories

Saint Monica’s Tears / Hood Design Studio

Semiotics involves the study of signs and symbols. In a virtual lecture organized by the National Building Museum, landscape designer and artist Walter Hood, ASLA, kept returning to the idea of re-evaluating existing signs and symbols in American landscapes and creating meaningful new ones that speak to diverse audiences.

Designed landscapes use symbols to tell stories about places and communities. But for Hood, it’s clear that landscapes too often use symbols to create “fictions,” narratives told by someone else. This presents communities that have not expressed themselves before with opportunities to tell new stories that resonate with an increasingly diverse public.

Hood began his lecture by sharing a few recent projects, including Saint Monica’s Tears in Santa Monica, California (see above).

When the Spaniards arrived, there were sacred springs named Kuruvungna by the local Tongva tribe. When Father Juan Crespi saw the springs, he thought of Saint Monica’s eyes. Saint Monica (Santa Monica in Spanish) is known as the “weeping saint,” as she shed tears over her son Augustine’s “hedonistic lifestyle.”

Speaking to a Tongva elder, Hood learned about the lost landscape that existed before the Spanish colonialists arrived. He wanted to design a reminder of this landscape in the midst of today’s busy commercial and tourist mecca. “I wanted to create a duality — a conversation between the present and past — and explore materials that can help us remember the past,” he said. At a metro station, he designed large sand stones in Indian trapezoidal forms to make up a wall, with hand-made glass tears that form streaks running down the wall’s face.

A public art piece Hood designed more than a decade ago in Oakland, California, 7th Street Dancing Lights + Gateway, includes light poles that honor the community’s jazz and blues history. The artwork culminates in a gateway above a four-lane street with etched portraits of leading Black American figures — Barack Obama, Maya Angelou, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Like Saint Monica’s Tears, the projects brings to light a little known aspect of history — the Black history that defines 7th street in West Oakland. One West Oakland resident told him that each morning, seeing “the signs gave him confidence to go into the city every day. Seeing them ablaze gave him peace.”

7th Street Dancing Lights + Gateway / Hood Design Studio

Hood’s recent book Black Landscapes Matter, co-edited with Grace Mitchell Tada, Assoc. ASLA, came out of efforts, like the two projects just mentioned, to “change the semiotic,” and therefore change mindsets.

Hood had watched footage of the scene where Michael Brown was killed by police and wondered why these killings were always happening in the same places — liquor stores, the middle of empty streets. He initiated a series of lectures at the University of California at Berkeley, which then provided the foundation for the book. In the book and lecture, he returned to the ideas of signs and symbols in the landscape — and how they reflect different narratives for different communities.

One place for Hood to explore these ideas was the Tidal Basin Ideas Lab, an initiative to re-imagine the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., which is increasingly threatened by rising sea levels brought on by climate change.

Here, Hood and his team imagined a “speculative future” and decided to “do something different.” “I didn’t want to fix Washington, D.C.; D.C. is a fiction anyway.” Instead, Hood Design Studio proposed an elevated ringed pathway above a Tidal Basin returned to its natural wetlands. He imagined Black tourists and locals visiting D.C. to discover the untold Black history of the landscape.

Tidal Basin Ideas Lab submission / Hood Design Studio

In Nauck, Arlington, Virginia, Hood and his team are re-imagining a space dedicated to John Robinson, Jr., a beloved figure who passed away in 2010, as a true town square. Prior to emancipation, a community of freed slaves created Freedman’s Village, a space now taken up by Arlington National Cemetery. As the cemetery was created, the community was forced to move to this area of Virginia.

Hood said the community’s real name isn’t Nauck, but Green Valley, as this is the name used by the Freedman’s Village diaspora who moved there. As such, Hood wanted to make sure the new Nauck Town Square is very green and feels like a place of refuge.

Nauck Town Square / Hood Design Studio

Hood also designed a gilded sentinel that spells out “FREED” and then turned it so it stands vertically. “It’s a celebration of early freed people. Nauck now has a different name and symbols — 40-feet-tall, gilded, and lit.” The sentinel itself is comprised of a pattern made up of slave badges.

Nauck Town Square / Hood Design Studio

In the historic downtown LaVilla, Florida, Hood designed the Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing Park, which honors the brothers James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamond Johnson who composed the song “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” in LaVilla and lived in a home on the park site in the early 1900s.

Hood said the community was once known as a Black commercial street, lined by flophouses and shotgun homes. “It was the Great Black Way, and there are ghosts of that neighborhood still there.” Hood is designing a new park that has gardens and an amphitheater. A shotgun house will be stenciled with lyrics from the Johnson brothers and form the foundation of a new stage. There’s also a “poet’s walk,” with inspirational quotes.

Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing Park / Hood Design Studio
Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing Park / Hood Design Studio
Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing Park / Hood Design Studio

For the International African American Museum (IAAM) in Charleston, South Carolina, Hood Design Studio is imagining a new landscape that can speak to the vast African diaspora in the U.S. who were brought to the country against their will. “Some 40 percent of the slave diaspora landed in Charleston.” The museum is near now buried landing places where “people were bought, sold, and perished.” It’s also near the aquarium, harbor, and the Black church where nearly a dozen people were killed by a white supremacist.

The old landing place where slaves disembarked in the U.S. for the first time has been “erased, built upon, forgotten.” Hood thinks its critical to exhume the history of the IAAM site, which is almost a burial ground, given so many perished there.

In her books, Toni Morrison has relayed the sentiment — there is no place for me to go and sit and hear my ancestors, Hood said. This idea inspired him to design a “landscape of memorial” at the museum site. He added that too often for Black Americans, “there is no tree, park, square — no place to think of who came before” — and the IAAM can provide this for the African diaspora.

The IAAM, designed in partnership with architecture firms Pei, Cobb Freed & Partners and Moody Nolan, will be raised up 13 feet off the ground in order to protect against flooding and sea level rise. The elevated structure created the opportunity for a plaza below the building where Hood is designing a landscape of crushed shells that refer to the sea floor.

International African American Museum / Pei Cobb Freed

Within this plane, Hood has etched forms of slaves who were chained head to toe together in galley ships that crossed the Atlantic. The corpses are marked with shells, in reference to the unknown many who perished on the journey and rest at the bottom of the ocean.

International African American Museum / Hood Design Studio

Surrounding the building are a series of gardens that include sweetgrass, which has been used by the Gullah community of the low country of the Carolinas to make artful baskets for centuries; rice fields, which highlight the role of Carolina Gold rice farming in the history of the region; and African ethno-botanical gardens, which will include a rotating display of plants with medicinal and other healing benefits.

African ethno-botanical gardens at the International African American Museum / Hood Design Studio

Two walls will provide frames for sculptures of “rice negroes” who worked in the fields of the Carolinas. “They are reflective figures, who appear trapped,” Hood said.

International African American Museum / Hood Design Studio

During a Q&A session, moderator Maisie Hughes, ASLA, a co-founder of The Urban Studio, argued that emancipation isn’t often viewed as worthy of memorializing. She wondered why some events are memorialized and not others.

Hood said that W.J.T. Mitchell, a professor of English and Art History at the University of Chicago, argues that “landscapes are fictions.” Institutions and communities design landscapes to create certain narratives, and this has occurred throughout history.

In ancient Egypt, one side of the Nile River represented death while the other bank represented life. In the Taos pueblo community, children lived on side of a river until they were old enough to cross over to the other side. Landscape use symbols to tell stories and create identities.

“The problem is that we are too often subjected to someone else’s narratives. Colonialism created its own fictions that were told to us. It’s fine if you want to have that story, but don’t subject me to that.” Too many communities have “never had an opportunity to own space, create their own narratives, and articulate differences.” Hood has set out to change that.

Celebrate World Landscape Architecture Month 2021

(Bottom Left): 2020 ASLA Honor Award in General Design. Deep Form of Designed Nature: Sanya Mangrove Park. Sanya City, Hainan Province, China. TURENSCAPE | Image by Kongjian Yu, Turenscape (Middle): 2020 ASLA Honor Award in Urban Design. The 606. Chicago, Illinois, United States. Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc. | Image by Alex MacLean (Top Right): 2019 ASLA Honor Award in General Design. Barangaroo Reserve. Sydney, Australia. PWP Landscape Architecture | Image by PWP Landscape Architecture

Last year, ASLA celebrated World Landscape Architecture Month (WLAM) with the theme “Life Grows Here” in the places and spaces that landscape architects create in communities around the world. This year, ASLA is building on that success with our new campaign: Growing Together.

ASLA’s vision is “healthy, beautiful, and resilient places for all.” This April, we will show how landscape architecture projects embody that vision in all communities — communities of all colors, socioeconomic backgrounds, and abilities. We want to highlight how the spaces landscape architects create promote and facilitate people growing together with each other and with nature.

Keeping in mind restraints like the ongoing pandemic, this year’s campaign is designed to be flexible and versatile and focused on diversity in the landscape architecture profession.

ASLA members, landscape architects, and the public can participate by:

And as part of this year’s World Landscape Architecture Month, ASLA is also teaming up with EarthDay.org to sponsor The Great Global Cleanup 2021. ASLA members and the public can organize and join local cleanup projects as part of the effort.

Now in its third year, the Great Global Cleanup is building on its record as the world’s largest coordinated volunteer event, providing opportunities for individuals and organizations to make positive, tangible impacts on our environment.

Emerging from the coronavirus pandemic and guided by updated safety protocols, the collective goal this month is to remove millions more pieces of trash from our green spaces, urban communities, and waterways.

“Pollution is a prodigious issue in public open spaces — causing flooding, spreading illness, contaminating water sources, and at the root of a myriad of other problems,” said Torey Carter-Conneen, CEO of ASLA.

“Plastic and other types of pollution challenge every community every day,” said Kathleen Rogers, EarthDay.org President. “They are contaminating our oceans, clogging our drains, causing floods, spreading disease, transmitting respiratory infections, and killing wildlife; and low-income communities suffer the worst impacts. Thank you to ASLA for joining our efforts to restore our natural and urban landscapes.”

The goal is simple: as many local, pandemic-conscious cleanups as possible.

Organize a cleanup: We’re hoping every ASLA chapter can host at least one cleanup in April, but any member can take the lead. When organizing a cleanup, be sure to comply with all federal and local safety and health guidelines related to COVID-19.

Join a cleanup: Many cleanups have already been organized across the country. See where you can join in.

Register your cleanup on ASLA’s portal: Visit the portal to register your cleanup and keep track of your progress! The data you enter will be aggregated with cleanups across the country.

RSVP to Frederick Law Olmsted’s 199th Birthday Celebration

Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY / tupungato, istockphoto.com

By Olmsted 200

To mark Frederick Law Olmsted’s 199th birthday, Olmsted 200 is inviting everyone to participate in a special two-part event — a viewing of Olmsted and America’s Urban Parks, narrated by actress Kerry Washington, and a panel discussion with landscape architects and park directors from around the country.

Stream the film for free at your leisure from April 24 to 25 and then join Olmsted 200 via Zoom on April 26 at 5:30 pm EST for a discussion on Olmsted’s thinking about today’s social, environmental, economic, and health challenges. TIME Magazine’s senior correspondent for climate, Justin Worland, will moderate.

Panelists include:

  • Dr. Thaisa Way, FASLA, Resident Program Director for Garden and Landscape Studies at Dumbarton Oaks
  • Happy Haynes, Executive Director of Denver Parks and Recreation
  • Justin DiBerardinis, Director of FDR Park, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation

To learn more about the birthday celebration, RSVP on the event page.

This event is hosted by the National Association for Olmsted Parks (NAOP), the managing partner of Olmsted 200. ASLA is one of ten founding partners of Olmsted 200, the bicentennial celebration of the birth of Frederick Law Olmsted (FLO).

Olmsted 200

April 26, 2022, marks the 200th birthday of FLO— author, journalist, public official, city planner, and father of American landscape architecture—and Olmsted 200 is teaming up with organizations across the country to celebrate him all year long.

Olmsted and his successor firms designed thousands of landscape projects across the country, transforming American life and culture. His vision of public parks for all people — and their ability to strengthen communities and promote public well-being — are now more important than ever.

Through events, education, and advocacy at the local and national levels, Olmsted 200 ensures that Olmsted’s legacy lives on by renewing public and policy commitments to the preservation and maintenance of our historic parks and places.

We hope you’ll use Olmsted 200 as a resource to find parks near you, share your stories, and celebrate with us.

Visit the Olmsted 200 website for event information, blog posts written by diverse thought leaders, teaching materials, and so much more.

Subscribe to the Olmsted 200 newsletter for updates and inspiration and follow Olmsted 200 on social media: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Use #CelebrateOlmsted, #ParksForAll, #KnowFLO to join the campaign conversation online.